Movie Reviews: Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)

Title: Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
Release Date: March 31, 2023
Director:Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley
Production Company:  Paramount Pictures | Entertainment One | Allspark Pictures | Hasbro

I’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons.  It wasn’t a thing in my childhood, and in college the people I knew who played the game were kind of obnoxious.  That being said, from what I know about D&D it sounds like a fun and creative way to spend some time with friends.  This film features a high fantasy setting that reminds me of 1980s movies because of the unabashed sincerity, but also a Monty Python movie because of the comedy.  The humorous way the characters interact is reminiscent of, well, how you might joke around with your friends while playing a game of D&D.

The basic plot involves bard/thief Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) attempting to reunite with his daughter (Chloe Coleman) after he he escapes from prison, but she has been influenced to not trust her father by her guardian, the conman Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant).  Edgin puts together a team of misfits including his barbarian friend Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), Simon Aumar (Justice Smith), a sorcerer with no self-esteem, and Doric (Sophia Lillis), a shapeshifting druid. Together they go on a series of quests which feature a good balance of action and humor.

It’s a fun movie and one that is accessible to wider audiences than just D&D and fantasy fans.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Title: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Release Date: May 5, 2023
Director: James Gunn
Production Company: Marvel Studios

The Guardians of the Galaxy movies have always stood out from the MCU because they are largely untethered from Earth settings allowing them to full embrace the imaginative and weird.  The third (and final?) entry in the series is no exception.  This movie explores the backstory of Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and how he was genetically engineered by the mad scientist the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji).  When Rocket is injured his friends can’t heal him because of a kill switch implanted by the High Evolutionary’s corporation Orgocorp.  Rocket’s friends go on a quest to find the code to override the kill switch and in the process uncover the full enormity of the High Evolutionary’s eugenic plots.

The movie does a great job of balancing action/adventure, weird and wild settings (especially Orgocorp’s biological headquarters), and a central message of love and friendship among found family.  All the main characters get some good moments and story arcs while newer characters in the Guardians universe are blended in (I particularly like Cosmo the Spacedog as voiced by Maria Bakalova).  And Drax (Dave Bautista) gets to be a dad again.  Like the other Guardians’ movies, popular music is significant and this movie features a lot of great needle drops expanding the playlist into the 1990s and 2000s.

Rating: ***1/2




Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Title: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
Release Date: February 17, 2023
Director: Peyton Reed
Production Company: Marvel Studios

In the third (and final?) Ant-Man movie, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) along with Scott’s teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) and Hope’s parents Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank (Michael Douglas) are transported to the Quantum Realm.  They find that the life forms in the Quantum Realm suffer under the tyranny of an exiled variant of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors, playing a character introduced in Loki) and his enforcer M.O.D.O.K. (Corey Stoll). The fivesome find themselves caught between trying to escape and find a way home and aiding a rebellion against Kang and prevent his ability to conquer other universes.

This movie introduces a wonderful visual feast of landscapes and alien characters reminiscent of classic Sci-Fi movies from the 1950s to 1980s.  It moves quickly, has a lot of action, and typical of the Ant-Man series, is also humorous.  The one thing I didn’t like is the storytelling convention of a character refusing to share their knowledge simply for dramatic effect, in this case Janet withholding what she knows from her experience of spending 30 years in the Quantum Realm.  I’m surprised that this movie has been excoriated by critics and fans.  It may not be among the best of the MCU movies, but it is still very entertaining and fun.

Rating: ***1/2





50 Years, 50 Movies (2014): The Grand Budapest Hotel

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously.


Top Grossing Movies of 2014:

  1. Transformers: Age of Extinction
  2. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy
  4. Maleficent
  5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners:

  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • American Sniper
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed:

Title: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Release Date: March 7, 2014
Director: Wes Anderson
Production Company:Fox Searchlight Pictures | TSG Entertainment | Indian Paintbrush | Studio Babelsberg | American Empirical Pictures


The Brattle Theatre is running all of Wes Anderson’s movies and as I only had time for one, I chose Grand Budapest Hotel as the one with the best reputation.  I have mixed feelings on the Anderson movies I’ve seen as I really loved Moonrise Kingdom, hated Rushmore, and The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Isle of Dogs all fall somewhere in-between.

The movie is nested in several framing devices but the main plot takes place at the titular hotel in a fictional Eastern European country in 1932.  Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) is a skilled concierge who befriends and mentors the young lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori).  F. Murray Abraham narrates the film as an older Zero.  The movie captures the grandness of Golden Age Hollywood films with a story that is homage/parody of spy thrillers, prison escape stories, war movie, and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World/Cannonball Run-style ensemble comedies (there should be a name for that genre).

If it’s hard to describe Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s because I’ve not seen a movie quite like it before, not even in other Wes Anderson movies (although perhaps Jean-Pierre Jeunet could’ve made a movie like this).  Fiennes is excellent playing someone who is so studiously refined but can also be disarmingly crude.  Revolori is perfect as the straight man that Fiennes plays off of. The main cast also includes Adrien Brody as Gustave’s rival, Willem Dafoe as a hitman, and Saoirse Ronan as Zero’s girlfriend.  The ensemble also includes numerous famed actors, some in no more than a cameo but nevertheless significant, including: Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson.

Like all Anderson movies it is beautifully shot, with bold colors and designs.  The sets are amazing, particularly the mid-century modern appearance of the decaying Grand Budapest Hotel in the 1960s framing story.  The costumes are also brilliant.  But all this beauty would just be twee showmanship if not in service of a story.  And this story is essentially one of duty, loyalty, and friendship in the time of rising fascism feels timeless and relevant.

Rating: ****

Boston Movie Festival: Funny Ha Ha (2002)

Welcome to my first monthly “film festival” where I watch a bunch of movies on a theme.  This month, in honor of Patriots Day weekend I will be watching a bunch of Boston movies, also known as “Film No R.”  There are so many movies set/filmed in my hometown that I made a list on Letterboxd.  I probably will never watch all of them, but this weekend I’m going to check of some of the more prominent movies I’ve missed.

Title: Funny Ha Ha
Release Date: September 2002
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Production Company: Fox Lorber | Sundance Channel | Goodbye Cruel Releasing | Wellspring Media

Filmed in Boston’s Allston neighborhood, noted for its population of college students and recent graduates, Funny Ha Ha is a movie about that time in life when twentysomethings figure out how to be an adult. There’s not much of a plot, but the movie definitely has a mood, and as someone who was in my twenties in Boston at the time this movie was made, it’s definitely relatable.

Marnie (Kate Dollenmayer) has a lot of things to figure out: getting a job (which ends up being temping), self-improvement (doing things like drinking less and spending more time outside), and finding a boyfriend.  She has a crush on her good friend Alex (Christian Rudder), but he’s politely clear that he’s not interested.  Meanwhile she’s pursued by Mitchell (director Andrew Bujalski), and spends time with him even though he’s kind of obnoxious and is clearly not interested in him.

This movie is credited with introducing the mumblecore genre.  But it’s low budget, handheld cameras, and use of non-professional actors has antecedents going back at least as far as Italian neorealism.  Besides the characters don’t mumble so much as awkwardly struggle to find words to express their thoughts.  I don’t know if this movie was scripted or improvised, but either way the verisimilitude to the way young adults talk is impressive (and probably annoying to anyone who wants them to “just say it!”)

Rating: ****

Boston Movie Festival: Boondock Saints (1999)

Welcome to my first monthly “film festival” where I watch a bunch of movies on a theme.  This month, in honor of Patriots Day weekend I will be watching a bunch of Boston movies, also known as “Film No R.”  There are so many movies set/filmed in my hometown that I made a list on Letterboxd.  I probably will never watch all of them, but this weekend I’m going to check of some of the more prominent movies I’ve missed.

Title: Boondock Saints
Release Date: November 19, 1999
Director: Troy Duffy
Production Company: Franchise Pictures | Brood Syndicate | Fried Films | Lloyd Segan Company | Chris Brinker Productions

The McManus twins, Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus), are Irish immigrants working as butchers by day and spending the nights drinking in their South Boston local.  After a run in with Russian mobsters, they feel called by God to carry out vigilante justice, killing numerous criminals throughout Boston.  The wildly eccentric FBI agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) tries to track the brothers down while secretly admiring their ethos.  David ‘The Funny Man’ Della Rocco (David Della Rocco) is an errand boy for the Italian mafia who joins Connor and Murphy’s vigilante crew.

Boondock Saints is clearly one of the many 90s action films that took all the wrong lessons from the success of Quentin Tarantino by reveling in stylized violence and ironic detachment. I honestly can’t tell if this movie is supposed to be a comedy or is unintentionally comedic, but either way it made me laugh.  There’s a scene where Dafoe appears to be parodying his character’s death in Platoon and he’s ridiculously over-the-top throughout.  The accents – Boston, Irish, Russian, and Italian – are all so comically bad that I feel that someone consciously made the decision to play it cartoonish. That being said there are some charming performances and interesting ideas in this movie, just not enough to make a coherent whole.

As for Boston content, apart from Irish American Southie stereotypes and some wide-angle footage of scenery from the city, it doesn’t feel all too much like a Boston movie.  This is something that could happen anywhere just arbitrarily set in Boston rather than a Boston story.  It was mildly entertaining to watch once, but I won’t be watching the sequel.

Rating: **

Movie Review: I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978)

Title: I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Release Date: April 21, 1978
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Production Company: Universal Pictures

Robert Zemeckis’ first feature film is a lot like his later works Back to the Future and Forrest Gump in its focus on the cultural touchstones of the Baby Boom generation.  In this case all the action happens on one day in New York City as fans gather to welcome The Beatles for their first performance in America on The Ed Sullivan Show. It’s interesting that the events that took place 13-14 years before the movie was made already feel like “a long time ago.” The movie feels very influenced by American Graffiti with a lot of the madcap antics of 70s comedies like The Blues Brothers or 1941 (a movie that included a lot of the same cast members).  The antics don’t really work for me, but the overall themes and character development are actually pretty good.

The story focuses on a group of teenagers who drive into the city from New Jersey.  The key characters are Grace (Theresa Saldana) who wants to take photos of the band, Rosie (Wendie Jo Sperber) who is obsessed with Paul, and Pam (Nancy Allen) who reluctantly comes along for the ride even though she’s planning to elope with her boyfriend. Also along for the ride are Larry (Marc McClure), who agrees to drive a limo from his family’s funeral home because he has a crush on grace, Janis (Susan Kendall Newman), a folk music fan who plans to protest the Beatles, and Tony (Bobby Di Cicco) who also hates the Beatles and unfortunately expresses this through homophobic and xenophobic comments.  In the city, Rosie befriends Richard (Eddie Deezen), a nerdy teen who obsessively collects Beatles paraphernalia, while Janis teams up with Peter (Christian Juttner), a younger boy whose father will give him tickets to the performance but only if he gets a haircut. Iconic NYC radio disc jockey Murray the K appears as himself and his narration provides a thread among the stories (much like Wolfman Jack in American Graffiti).

The movie is hit or miss, but I think the whole is better than the sum of its parts.  The scene where Pam basically has a sexual awakening by being along in the Beatles’ hotel suite is well done, and the scene where Peter is forced into a barber’s chair is truly frightening.  There’s a lot of slapstick involving cops getting injured as they fail to catch determined teenagers.  The soundtrack is entirely made up of Beatles songs of the period which must’ve been expensive to license.  There’s also archival footage of the Beatles and body doubles who are never seen in full and have atrociously bad accents.  I was surprised to learn that none of this movie was filmed on location because it really does capture the feel of New York City.

Rating: ***1/2

50 Years, 50 Movies (2010): Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously.



Top Grossing Movies of 2010:

  1. Toy Story 3
  2. Alice in Wonderland
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1
  4. Inception
  5. Shrek Forever After

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners of 2010:

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed from 2010:

Title: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Release Date: August 13, 2010
Director: Edgar Wright
Production Company: Marc Platt Productions | Big Talk Films | Closed on Mondays Entertainment | Dentsu

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a movie that is a cultural touchstone, at least on the internet.  There are no mild opinions on the movie, people seem to either love it or hate it.  And after watching it, I can see why.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is the film’s antihero protagonist, a 22-year-old bassist for a garage band in Toronto.  Scott is really a jerk and the movie basically is the story of how he becomes something less of a jerk.  The first thing we learn about him is that he’s dating a high school student given the cringey name of Knives Chau (Ellen Wong).  Then he meets undeniably cool Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a mysterious woman closer to his own age.  They begin to date, but Scott learns that in order to “win” Ramona he has to fight her seven evil exes to the death leading up to a boss battle with Gideon “G-Man” Graves (Jason Schwartzman, challenging Cera for the nerdiest actor inexplicably playing a cool guy in this movie).

I didn’t know what to expect from this movie, but it is delightfully weird and keeps on leaning into absurdity.  Visually, the movie creatively uses the effects of video games and comic books.  It also has a cast packed with talented young actors who were just on the verge of greater fame, including  Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, and Brandon Routh. Kieran Culkin steals scenes as Scott’s gay roommate Wallace. There are a lot of flaws and questionable content in this movie that could be critiqued, but honestly I enjoyed it because it’s just so different and funny.

Rating: ***1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, most of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Release Date: 17 August 1979
Director: Terry Jones
Production Company: HandMade Films | Python (Monty) Pictures

Of the four Monty Python movies, this is the only one that is most thoroughly a story rather than a series of sketches.  It’s also the one that’s always rubbed me the wrong way. The movie is about Brian (Graham Chapman) who is born at the same place and time as Jesus Christ and is mistaken for the Messiah but crowds of eager followers.  Jesus comes off pretty good in this movie but the satire of religious people runs deep. The Pythons also skewer intellectual revolutionary movements who waste time on committee meetings and in-fighting.

There are definitely some brilliant parts such as the “blessed are the cheesemakers” scene, Latin instruction from the Roman centurion, “Biggus Dickus,” and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”  For some reason I always forget the scene where Brian ends up in a space battle. On the downside, a lot of the  crowds chasing Brian scenes and the crowds laughing at Pilate scenes are one note and just go on and on.  And then some parts have aged poorly, especially a scene where Reg (John Cleese) basically goes on a transphobic rant against Loretta (Eric Idle), which is sadly not too far removed from how an older, reactionary Cleese acts today.

I guess I can see why many people consider this the Pythons best movie, but while there are some great parts it’s still hit or miss for me.  I am happy to have learned a great story about Welsh actor Sue Jones-Davies who plays Judith in this movie.  Her hometown of Aberystwyth banned showing the movie, but in 2008 she became mayor, and oversaw the first screening of the movie the next year.

Rating: ***1/2

50 Years, 50 Movies (1978): The Cat From Outer Space (1978)

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously.



Top Grossing Movies of 1978:

  1. Grease
  2. Superman
  3. National Lampoon’s Animal House
  4. Every Which Way But Loose
  5. Heaven Can Wait

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners of 1978:

  • The Deer Hunter
  • Coming Home
  • Heaven Can Wait
  • Midnight Express
  • An Unmarried Woman

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed from 1978:

Title: The Cat from Outer Space
Release Date: June 30, 1978
Director: Norman Tokar
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions

The whole 50 Years, 50 Movies project is in a sense autobiographical, so let’s go back to one of the earliest movies I remember seeing in the movie theater.  Star Wars may be the first movie I saw since it was released in 1977 but in my memory it came later (was it re-released in summer 1978?).  In 1978, I remember seeing Heaven Can Wait, Superman, and the Radio City Music Hall premiere of The Magic of Lassie.  I also remembered not being able to see Grease because I was grounded (I didn’t miss much).  But even though I only saw it once as a 4-year-old, I’ve always held a fondness for The Cat from Outer Space.

Well, it’s as cheezy as you might expect from a 1970s Disney movie and stylistically hasn’t changed much since Blackbeard’s Ghost.  Released shortly after Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the special effects are lacking, but they’re not really trying to be a special-effects spectacular.  See, there’s this alien cat, nicknamed Jake (played by Rumpler and Amber and voiced by Ronnie Schell), who makes an emergency landing on Earth.  He reveals himself to scientist Frank Wilson (Ken Berry) for assistance in repairing his spacecraft.  In turn, Frank brings in two other scientists, the inveterate gambler Norman Link (McLean Stevenson) and his romantic interest Liz Bartlett (Sandy Duncan).  Meanwhile they are being pursued by the military under General Stilton (Harry Morgan) and an industrial spy named Stallwood (Roddy McDowall).

The movie holds up better than expected and I love Jake the space cat, and Duncan and Stevenson’s performances are charming.  I’m also amused that Stevenson and Morgan are both M*A*S*H veterans playing characters similar to the tv show.  The movie runs a little long and a whole section in which Jake uses his powers to help the win money gambling could be pared down significantly.  But I feel that in the right hands, and with a more charismatic lead actor, The Cat From Outer Space could be remade today as an excellent family film.

Rating: ***