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Movie Reviews
Creed III
(Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, et al. | PG-13 | 1 hr 56 min | United Artists Releasing)

Overview: After dominating the boxing world, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has been thriving in both his career and family life. When a childhood friend and former boxing prodigy, Damian (Jonathan Majors), resurfaces after serving a long sentence in prison, he is eager to prove that he deserves his shot in the ring.

The face off between former friends is more than just a fight. To settle the score, Adonis must put his future on the line to battle Damian -- a fighter who has nothing to lose.

Verdict: OK, in truth, I want a rematch! Creed III is a predictable boxing movie that employs many of the genre tropes. It telegraphs its punches, you might say. Who cares? Itís a blast!

Michael B. Jordan, making his directorial debut, and Jonathan Majors are so intense, so compelling, just so good that you canít take your eyes off the screen when theyíre together.

Which, happily, is often, including a final slug fest that is both brutal and impressionistic, not necessarily the smoothest combination, but as long as theyíre together, slugging it out with their fists, their words or the shards of their shared memories, it works.

The film begins with a young Adonis Creed (Thaddeus J. Mixson) and his best friend, Damian Anderson (Spence Moore II), sneaking out for a Golden Gloves fight. Only itís Dame who is the gifted boxer; Donnie, as his friends call Creed, carries his bag and gloves.

At a liquor store afterward, Donnie sees someone from their past and starts hitting him. A couple of guys jump him and Dame pulls a gun.

Cut to Donnie 15 years later, now played by Jordan, in the last fight of his career, unifying the heavyweight title. He retires, and hangs around his ridiculously gorgeous home with his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and their daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez), the current heavyweight champ, fights out of the gym Donnie runs with Duke (Wood Harris).

All is right with the world. Until it isnít. One day, Donnie walks out of the gym to see a man he doesnít recognize leaning on his Rolls Royce. After a moment, he realizes who it is: Dame (now played by Majors), out of prison after 18 years, where heís been for pulling the gun at the liquor store all those years ago.

Dame wants to fight. Not only that, he wants a shot at the title. Donnie is flooded with guilt and wants to help his old friend, but can realistically only do so much. Dame is even older than he is, after all, and he hasnít fought in years.

Perhaps you know where this is leading. One improbable step after another leads to a showdown in the ring between Dame and Donnie, each feeling betrayed by the other. It has to. Anything less would be narrative malpractice. Itís the getting there that is interesting. As with any boxing movie, there are plenty of montage sequences of the fighters engaged in nearly superhuman workouts, looking ever so serious as they suffer. Donnie must work through tragedy as well as the feelings of guilt and the past Bianca canít convince him to talk about. Dame, meanwhile, remains fueled by rage; it seems to be an inexhaustible resource for him. [B.G.]

Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre
(Jason Statham, Aubrey Plaza, Cary Elwes, Hugh Grant, Josh Hartnett, et al. | R | 1 hr 54 min | Lionsgate)

Overview: In the film, super spy Orson Fortune (Jason Statham) must track down and stop the sale of a deadly new weapons technology wielded by billionaire arms broker Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant).

Reluctantly teamed with some of the worldís best operatives (Aubrey Plaza, Cary Elwes, Bugzy Malone), Fortune and his crew recruit Hollywoodís biggest movie star Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett) to help them on their globe-trotting undercover mission to save the world.

Verdict: Guy Ritchie has enjoyed an eclectic career thatís seen plenty of ups and downs, which comes with the territory when youíre responsible for both one of the worst films ever made and one of the biggest box office bombs in history through Swept Away and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword respectively, but Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre feels like the end result of what the filmmakerís career has been building towards for the last few years.

The sorely underrated The Man from U.N.C.L.E. proved that Ritchie was a dab hand when it came to wildly entertaining and preposterously-plotted tales of international espionage and intrigue, while The Gentlemen showcased that he hasnít lost his knack for crafting propulsive crime thrillers packed full of creatively-worded insults, before Wrath of Man reunited him with former muse Jason Statham for the first time in a decade and a half.

Throw the three elements together, adding a dash of Hugh Grant once more playing against type in his third Ritchie vehicle using the same ridiculous accent he sported in The Gentlemen and youíve got the basic gist of Operation Fortune. The fact that the globetrotting adventure has been delayed by well over a year from its original January 2022 release date sounds like a cause for concern, but itís heartening to discover that the restructuring of STX Entertainment really is to blame, because itís a blast.

As youíd expect from an irreverent tale of deceit, double-crossing, and infiltration shot through with Ritchieís signature anarchic streak, the broad strokes of the plot donít really make a lick of sense, but thatís not really the point. The Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Sherlock Holmes architectís work has largely been defined by slick style, witty asides, and a penchant for never stopping to catch breath, something thatís on display throughout almost every one of Ruse de Guerreís breezy 114 minutes.

The opening scene deals with the expositional heavy-lifting, where we find Cary Elwesí stiff upper-lipped wine connoisseur and government agent Nathan Jasmine enlist the services of Stathamís elite operative Orson Fortune. In case youíre wondering if everyone in the film has such a wonderfully silly name, the answer is largely yes, as Aubrey Plazaís Sarah Fidel, Josh Hartnettís Danny Francesco, and Eddie Marsanís Knighton can attest.

A plan is put in place to try and thwart the sale of deadly weaponry being orchestrated by Grantís wildly exaggerated scenery-chewing billionaire Greg Simmonds. The crack team leverages adulterous blackmail to infiltrate the Cannes Film Festival with the help of Hartnettís A-list movie star, of whom Simmonds is a massive fan, to try and retrieve a stolen device known as The Handle thatís capable of ruining the global economy without even having to think twice about it.

As mentioned previously, though, the narrative is nowhere near integral to either your understanding or enjoyment of Operation Fortune. Plaza sets the tone nicely for whatís to come when sheís introduced to our title hero by cracking a joke about not wanting to be peed on, which gives you an indication of how seriously Ritchie and his cast and crew are planning to treat the world-ending stakes at play in a continental criss-cross that ventures from Spain to Turkey via France and Qatar without ever coming close to taking itself remotely seriously.

One drawback is that the action sequences arenít what youíd expect them to be, given Ritchieís penchant for dizzying camera tricks and Stathamís well-earned reputation as one of the modern eras most prominent action heroes. Theyíre fine for what they are, but when the two focal points of the storytelling are capable of so much better, as theyíve been demonstrating for decades, thereís a very good reason to be underwhelmed.

Speaking of Statham, the longtime ass-kicker luxuriates in getting to put a more suave and charming spin on his usual scowling shtick, which shouldnít be a surprise when his comic timing has always gone unnoticed and unappreciated. The rest of the supporting cast pitch their performances to the level youíd expect of such an inherently ludicrous concept, but itís nonetheless a touch disappointing that the promise of Aubrey Plaza: Action Hero largely goes unfulfilled.

Thereís nothing earth-shattering, groundbreaking, or even particularly original about Ruse de Guerre, but thatís precisely why it delivers everything action junkies desire. Ritchie has gathered his friends, regular collaborators, and some new faces to simply make an old-school spy flick that doesnít have any airs or graces about reinventing the wheel. In that respect, it has to be deemed as an absolute triumph, because thatís exactly what you get given by the time the credits come up, complete with the payoff for an earlier running gag.

Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre doesnít have anything new to say, and in this instance, thatís no bad thing. Fast-paced, lightweight, and inoffensively entertaining, thereís definitely more than a few reasons to hope that the sequel-baiting ending doesnít prove to be for nothing. [S.C.]

Cocaine Bear
(Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, OíShea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta, Isiah Whitlock Jr., et al. | R | 1 hr 35 min | Universal Pictures)

Overview: Inspired by the 1985 true story of a drug runnerís plane crash, missing cocaine, and the black bear that ate it, this wild thriller finds an oddball group of cops, criminals, tourists and teens converging in a Georgia forest where a 500-pound apex predator has ingested a staggering amount of cocaine and gone on a coke-fueled rampage for more blow ... and blood!

Verdict: A film with an instantly catchy and unforgettable title like Cocaine Bear might sound like it is going to be some frivolous D-grade schlock like Sharknado, but it is, believe it or not, well made with an A-film budget, an A-list cast and crew, and B-grade horror film sensibilities.

Whatever sliver of fact informs this based on a true story film - in the 1980s a bear was found dead having ingested a smugglerís enormous haul of cocaine - what matters is what filmmaker Elizabeth Banks does with that premise.

For those who like their horror with a dash of comedy, Banks has made a laugh-out-loud-funny rollicking good time at the movies.

In the home of single working mum Sari (Kerri Russell), her sassy teenage daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) has planned a day ditching school with her best pal Henry (Christian Convery).

Not your usual teenage hoodlums, Dee Dee and Henry plan a day hiking in the Chattahoochee National Park so that Dee Dee can do some landscape painting in nature.

These scallywags donít know the tsunami of bad luck theyíre walking into, starting with the series of red backpacks a drug trafficker has dropped from the sky into that same park.

Then thereís the posse of bad guys heading to the park to collect their multi-million-dollar payday.

They include the small-time drug dealers Daveed (Oíhea Jackson Jr) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), and Eddieís violent drug kingpin father Syd (played by the late, great Ray Liotta).

A danger to truanting child and armed drug dealer alike is the enormous grizzly bear who accidentally sniffed one of the parcels of cocaine that burst open on impact, and has developed a violent need for more and more of the Bolivian marching powder.

The bear has already mauled some Scandinavian tourists, the national park ranger (Margo Martindale) and a visiting wildlife expert (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), but when Dee Deeís mum Sari discovers her daughter has bunked off from school, she heads into the forest on the hunt for her daughter.

Even a cocaine-fueled rampaging bear might not be the apex predator against a pissed-off mum worried about her child.

Now, Iím the parent of a Doberman puppy, so Iím very used to being in the presence of an unstoppable rampaging animal you cannot reason with, but for this production, no animals were harmed.

The bear itself is CGI from the WETA workshop, with some performers credited with bear movements. Thatís important to know so you can feel reassured as you suspend your disbelief and enjoy screenwriter Jimmy Wardenís adherence to the rules of the horror genre.

He signposts the awfulness of some of these humans, and makes their comeuppances at the paws of Cocaine Bear so earned.

The film harnesses the renaissance of that í80s culture and aesthetic that weíve all been loving in shows like Stranger Things. [C.K.]

Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania
(Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, et al. | PG-13 | 2 hr 04 min | Walt Disney Pictures)

Overview: Super-Hero partners Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) return to continue their adventures as Ant-Man and the Wasp. Together, with Hopeís parents Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and Scottís daughter Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton), the family finds themselves exploring the Quantum Realm, interacting with strange new creatures and embarking on an adventure that will push them beyond the limits of what they thought possible!

Verdict: If thereís one thing that characterized Ant-Manís little corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), itís that itís small.

Small doesnít mean insignificant, and those movies certainly had connections to the rest of the MCU.

But there was something really charming and loose about its goofy, lower-stakes, self-contained vibe. The second film, Ant-Man and the Wasp from 2019, didnít even have a villain, just a couple of antagonists.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania takes a wild departure from these smaller-scale capers and goes big, like really big. It makes Scott Langís Giant-Man persona look like Regular-Man.

The third installment in the Ant-Man movies, and the 31st overall MCU film, is a superhero epic of gargantuan proportions that overwhelms and overstimulates, but still manages to deliver some human emotions despite the CGI circus.

Directed by Peyton Reed, itís a movie of many moving parts - and some of them work, and some of them really donít.

After the events of Avengers: Endgame, Scott (Paul Rudd) has almost gone into superhero hibernation. Heís written his memoirs (a book you can actually buy in real life from September), heís basking in the love that comes from saving the world, and he and Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) are gentlemen who lunch.

But when his now-18-year-old daughter and budding activist Cassie (Kathryn Newton) shows him that she and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) have been trying to map the Quantum Realm by sending signals down, the device seemingly malfunctions and sucks them into it, along with Hope van Dyne (an underused Evangeline Lilly) and Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer, spectacular as always).

You might remember that the Quantum Realm is a secret universe that exists beneath ours. It was briefly shown in the first two Ant-Man movies, and Janet was trapped there for 30 years.

What we didnít previously see was the layers and worlds of the Quantum Realm, an alien-esque landscape that visually draws from other MCU titles such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok.

But it is most derivative of Star Wars, in more ways than one - if Disney didnít own both Marvel and Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy mightíve considered suing.

Thereís a Big Bad lurking inside the Quantum Realm, and heís the arch-villain of this tranche of MCU movies to be known as the Multiverse Saga.

Kang the Conqueror (an intimidating Jonathan Majors) is a fierce, megalomaniac and powerful figure who experiences time in a non-linear fashion.

He is genocidal, manipulative, to the point the other versions of him have exiled him to the Quantum Realm. He is to the Multiverse Saga what Thanos was to the Infinity Saga.

The marriage of Ant-Manís wacky sense of humor to the Shakespearean extravagance of Kang makes for uneasy tonal bedfellows.

Maybe the real battle in Quantumania is the one of the more straight comedy you want it to be, and which it wants to be, versus the imposing and lofty plot-moving story the wider MCU tapestry demands it be.

It often feels as if the spirit of Ant-Man was sacrificed to service the cogs of the Marvel machine.

The jokes, quips and gags ratio is still high, and there are genuinely fun moments including tete-a-tetes with a supporting Quantum Realm telepathic character played by William Jackson Harper, or the return and evolution of Corey Stollís Darren Cross into MODOK.

There are plenty of other positives to be found, including the movieí focus on the relationships between the characters, especially that of the father-and-daughter dynamic of Scott and Cassie.

That Reed and screenwriter Jeff Loveness grounded Quantumaniaís colossal set-pieces in these relationships is what saves the movie from being only an overblown shambles.

Rudd has always been a charismatic performer, the kind of actor you always want to root for, and he creates tangible onscreen bonds with his co-stars. Ruddís charm isnít bombastic or obviously blinding, but there is a magnetism to his presence that yanks you into his orbit.

So, you want to see Scott pull through, and you want everyone around him to pull through because, while those characters all have their own arcs, theyíre important to Scott. And Quantumania has the benefit of goodwill from Ruddís eight years in the MCU to offset the grandiosity of the Quantum Realm.

But there is no denying that the Ant-Man you knew is not the Ant-Man of Quantumania - and itís not an upgrade. It is so bogged down in excessive CGI action sequences, its extravagance dissipates into a numbing nothingness. [W.M.]

Children Of The Corn [2023]
(Kate Moyer, Elena Kampouris, Callan Mulvey, Bruce Spence, et al. | R | 1 hr 32 min | RLJE Films)

Overview: Directed by Kurt Wimmer and based on Stephen Kingís famed short story, the reimagining centers on a 12-year-old girl (Eden, portrayed by Kate Moyer) possessed by a spirit in a dying Nebraska cornfield. Eden recruits the other children in town to rise up and take control, leading the kids on a bloody rampage.

Verdict: Bo (Elena Kampouris) and Cecil (Jayden McGinlay) live in a rural town of Rylstone, Nebraska where a school massacre took place. The government wants to pay the town to stop planting corn which has already been damaged by pesticides from corporate farmers. Eden (Kate Moyer), a.k.a. the Red Queen, leads a group of children who resort to violence to protect the corn crops. Bo, an activist, refuses to join Eden and her gang; her brother, Cecil (Jayden McGinlay), does.

The new remake of Children of the Corn suffers from the same systemic issue that ails Cocaine Bear: it wastes too much time with dull, contrived exposition and subplots while failing to entertain the audience when it comes the meat of the story. The screenplay by writer/director begins with a prologue that provides a little exposition about the dark history of Rylstone, Nebraska before it flashes forward to add more exposition and to introduce the characters of Bo, Cecil, Eden as well as Cal (Joe Klocek).

Oh, and thereís also an evil creature lurking the corn field called He Who Walks Beyond the Rows made out of roots. Children of the Corn generates little to no suspense or horror from the evil creature and from Eden and her murderous gang. The villains are poorly-written, there are too many characters, and even the heroes remain underdeveloped, so ití hard to root for them. The film quickly becomes a monotonous bore without comic relief. Itís just as unscary and disappointing as **SPOILER** Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey.

The on bright spot, though, is Kate Moyerís lively, charismatic performance that invigorates the film. Sheís very well-cast and does her best to make the most out of her role. Elena Kampouris gives a decent performance which is undermined by the weak screenplay. The cinematography is just as bland as the screenplay, and the visual effects and design of the He Who Walks Beyond the Row creature look unimpressive.

Thereís some gruesome violence and gore, though, which adds an ick factor to film, but not much in terms of horror. Disgusting the audience with blood and guts isnít enough. At a running time of 1 hour and 33 minutes, which actually feels more like two hours, Children of the Corn is an undercooked, unfocused horror film that lacks suspense, thrills, and palpable scares. [A.O.]