REVIEW: “STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” (2019) LucasFilm/Disney Pictures

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Ah, that familiar opening sequence that we know so well.  Where we know we are going to a galaxy far far away…is about the only thing left from over from the original that will never get old seeing. Even with “STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” having this terrific memorable opening sequence, it is sure note that this isn’t a ‘George Lucas’ vision of Star Wars. To be fair, when it comes to Star Wars, the appreciation and the significance of it all is not lost on me, as well as the quality and enjoyment of the films that people feel. But alas, I probably am not in the high percentile of top fans and really wouldn’t consider myself a big Star Wars fan per se. While having seen most of them, I was just one who never grasped onto to the films so completely as others have. With that, seeing the conclusion of the Skywalker series wasn’t going to make me emotional mess in the lead up as maybe it would be to some others – so just know this review truly has no bias on that end.

Episode IX takes place some number of years after The Last Jedi where Rey (Daisy Ridley) has been training to take down the first order.  The Resistance lead by Leia (Carrie Fisher) are figuring out a way to lead the charge with the few alliances they have left, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is trying to become a powerful Sith. The unknown time after which this is set definitely has a few holes in the character progression that were possibly needed in order to ‘damage control’ on the story direction. It’s is also hard to talk about the film without spoilers, but doing my best to get across the jist of it, without really going into heavy spoiling. The Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is not a spoiler as it’s in the trailers and posters so mentioning him, but not any external story elements stemming from his return noted.

As mentioned the biggest problem with Episode IX is the direction of this story. There is just an excess of side stories in the film which absolutely kills the run time and the effects of what the main story being told is. And can we say Cameos GALORE? Boy there were some good ones though. But if you were of the thought that ‘Force Awakens’ had nothing original to offer, well the Rise of Skywalker will double down on that premise. It’s hard to believe how they set it all up, had conflict and executed the conclusion of these characters, all in one unsuccessful sweep here. Plus smack dab in the middle of battle, leading us down the road to clearly what is to become the new series of films or possibly a new show for Disney +, with a quick little story line with Finn (John Boyega) and Janna (Naomi Ackle) have a little convo about how they came to be Troopers and how they need to ‘try and find where they came from.’ Yep, there is your next movie or TV story line people.

As many have already said, there was clearly no plan by Disney for the trilogy. What Abrams set up, then Rian Johnson stepped in and had total control to then do what he wanted, and now Abrams is back to ‘save’ the film by bringing back the Emperor. Okey Dokey. The way the film quickly establishes how and why it is nothing short of lazy. Because there was no mention in the previous sequel films, the Emperors return is ruined due to the franchise factor forcing it back in. The film originally was having Colin Trevorrow as director, so there was clearly no connecting person here like George Lucas and his vision, to step in and help the story take place and progress. Bringing in different directors bring a new look to the film is not a problem, if you can still have a solid story told throughout. Then the bunch of side stories that are being told, just fail to have the time to conclude properly. Maybe they needed more than one film in order to explore them – or should have done so previously. Everything is just rushed into the film and Rey, Finn, Po, Ren and the Emperor, all have to share the screen and some arcs don’t feel earned.

The new band of heroes here as well, just don’t have the same charm, personalities or chemistry together (actually this is the first movie in the new trilogy, where they do stuff together). They feel more like they have been cast for a commercial shoot of the film versus what type of character and personality they had to portray – they are all just so empty, like cardboard-cutouts with calculated screen-time and one-dimensional personalities. Most of them hardly even have an arc or any real character-development over the course of these three movies. The final scene with Kylo Ren and Rey is laughable bad, you’ll know what this is if you’ve seen the film, and if not, you soon will. I was just in awe that the writers ruined a perfect moment by including a said ‘particular action’ which eluded gasping laughs. One character though who was fun and has always been great, is C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). He always been essentially kinda bullied and the film knows this and consequently builds on this to create a somewhat compelling character. Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) wins for the most emotional moment though. Finn and Po Dameron (Oscar Isaac), had character problems that needed to be established in the earlier films as their pay offs don’t feel earned. Rey was also somewhat disappointing mostly due to the direction of the story, but her arc is so unbalanced throughout the first two films that once her character conclusion is just unsatisfactory.

The action as well often doesn’t serve a purpose to the story – it’s just more timely inserted space-battles, chase-scenes and sci-fi fights. Mostly just overblown shiny CGI stuff with a few practical puppets, sets and costumes thrown in to pander to the old fans. These characters didn’t have a lot of time to be together unlike in the original trilogy, so their interactions weren’t memorable. This is also due to the forced jokes and dialogue. I felt like Isaac’s Po was just trying to hard to fill Harrison Ford‘s old shoes of humour when he was Han Solo. Sure the original Star Wars movies had some humor, but in those movies it felt natural, not these wink-wink-moments, slapstick humor and juvenile self aware meme-jokes. What’s worse, is that this movie also tries to be dark at the same time, but this isn’t Empire Strikes Back or Revenge of the Sith, as those movies really were dark chapters in the Star Wars saga with hardly any humor in them.  But in The Rise of Skywalker, it just makes the movie feel even more like a tonal mess, since the movie tries so to be funny, upbeat and happy at the same, making both the humor, the drama and the darker elements feel even more forced and out of place.

The originals worked because they didn’t try to be funny, and the characters were written like they could almost be normal people in the space, whereas the sequel characters are just yelling stuff out that is not natural.  At least the CGI was great. It’s expected to be and it looked cool. What they did with Carrie Fischer was surprisingly good and it fit as well. Yes, it was kind of obvious at points where extreme editing was in play, but her tragic passing was so sad and they had to do what they could after the unfortunate circumstances. (#RIPCarrie). Some of the the battles, while looking good, weren’t all that well executed. As well, lacking a lot of suspense the light-saber duels between Rey and Kylo – on the one hand they were interesting  – on the other they don’t get you as excited as the film wanted you to be. The final fight was just really over the top. I get there’s a finality to the film but there’s so much that’s happening that leaves unanswered questions toward the state of the galaxy.

Lastly, is the music. Yes it’s essentially the same, but John William score is perfect and on every level and is possibly the only thing that elevates the movie. It adds all the tension and emotion to all the Star Wars films to be sure. It’s something we never tire of it after all these films and would still gladly listen to it in future films.

Overall, Rise of Skywalker is underwhelming in it’s execution yet has some good ideas. Even though I’m not it’s biggest fan, there still felt this unsatisfying feeling as the film clearly had no plan and the end result of the story is clearly forced. Is it wrong to have just wanted to see a good conclusion to one of the most popular franchises ever? Instead, the film misses the mark and fails to have an overall finality feeling.

Grade: C

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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, December 17, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Disney Pictures

“STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” IS OUT IN THEATERS WORLDWIDE

REVIEW: “THE INCREDIBLES 2” (2018) Disney/Pixar Pictures

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All these years later, Director Brad Bird, the creative force behind the original ‘INCREDIBLES’, is back with the much anticipated sequel – “THE INCREDIBLES 2”.

And Bird is not the only returnee for the sequel. Also back is the entire Parr Family: Holly Hunter as Elastigirl/Helen/Mom, Craig T Nelson as Mr. Incredible/Bob/Dad, Sarah Vowell as Violet, Huck Milner as Dash, and Eli Fucile as baby Jack Jack. The story picks up not long after the original ended. “Supers” have been outlawed, and the Parrs are in some type of Super Protection Program – similar to Witness Protection. Of course when one is a superhero, doing the right thing just comes naturally, and the opening scene finds them battling their old nemesis Underminer (John Ratzenberger). Our heroes stop the crime, but cause significant damage to the city. This leads to our first social commentary when the powers that be scold the Parrs and inform them that the banks have insurance, and it’s cheaper to let the criminals get away so that the damage is minimized.

As superheroes non-grata, the Parrs try to go “straight” and live a normal life. That is until a powerful brother and sister corporate duo offer a proposal. Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener) want to generate a PR plan to help rebuild the reputation of supers. The idea is to make Elastigirl the public face of the program by having her wear a body cam to show off her heroic deeds (in this age of ‘pics or it didn’t happen’). She’s chosen over Mr. Incredible for economic reasons, and he’s relegated to stay-at-home parent – basically a ‘Mr. Mom’ so to speak. Elastigirl plays up her time in the limelight and clearly enjoys it immensely, while Bob doesn’t much like being just Bob. Plus he can’t understand why they’ve changed math (something I can VERY much relate too, being someone who really doesn’t like the maths at all 🙂 ), as he gets frustrated trying to help Dash with his homework. He’s also challenged with Violet’s teen angst over a boy, and even more so over the discovery that Jack Jack has POWERS! Yes, you read that right. Jack Jack has powers. And boy are they fun! In fact, Jack Jack has multiple powers, but as a baby, he has little control – though his battle with a raccoon is not a segment you’ll soon forget.

Also returning is Frozone(Samuel L. Jackson), and costume designer Edna Mode – voiced by director Bird himself. Other new voices include Jonathan Banks as Rick Dicker, Isabella Rossellini as the Ambassador, and Sophia Bush as Voyd, one of the new generation supers (which includes Reflux – one you’ll just have to experience).

The big new villain causing problems for Elastigirl is ‘ScreenSlaver’, who hypnotizes large groups of people through their screens – more social commentary on our dependence on technology and the addiction/affliction we have toward device screens. The flood of superhero movies over the years since THE INCREDIBLES exposes the not-so-complex story in this one, but it’s terrific that the film keeps much of the original look and feel, and yet brings something new in that baby Jack Jack is a star!

Filled with the beautiful colors and art design we’ve come to take for granted from Pixar, the film also features some of the best action sequences you’ll see in any movie. The train sequence with Elastigirl is simply spectacular – as is the final action sequence. It’s also nice to see the flip in gender roles as Mom aka Elastagirl here, takes the lead. Honestly, Family films don’t get much better than this, and even though it runs 2 hours, the closing credits feature the theme song for each of the superheroes, and could easily have been a short film unto itself.

What can I say except..This movie truly has no flaws and “THE INCREDIBLES 2” is soooo worth the wait of every one of those 14 long years. Not only has it upped it’s game, but somehow it actually improved on those still fun and amazing characters, Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Edna, but with new break-out characters, notably Jack Jack, it goes full-tilt fun!!

Grade: A
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Review Screening: Thursday, June 7, 2018 – Courtesy of Film Independent and LACMA
“THE INCREDIBLES 2 WILL BE OUT NATIONWIDE ON FRIDAY, JUNE 15, 2018 // U.K AND WORLDWIDE IN JUNE/JULY/AUGUST

REVIEW: “THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD” (2017) LIONSGATE

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So what’s this movie about? Well it’s about a guy Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), who used to run a Triple AAA Protection Service before he lost a big-time client Kurosawa (Tsuwayuki Saotome), who was murdered after boarding a plane and while in the ‘security’ of Bryce. Flash-forward to two years later and we see Michael’s business failed in a big way, now having become a personal bodyguard for low-end, eternally coked-out paranoid players. Now being forced by ex-girlfriend/agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) to transport an important ‘witness’ to The Hague, Netherlands to testify against a murderous Belarus dictator (ring any bells anyone?) Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), only to discover when he arrives that star witness is none other than Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) the world’s most deadly assassin, who is only doing this in exchange for his wife Sonia’s (Salma Hayek) freedom. Now with half of Eastern Europe hot on their heels, Bryce is discovering that being the bodyguard of a hit-man turned informant is no easy task. And viola’ ladies and gentlemen – that is how we have “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”.

While the story sounds interesting, it plays out in a pretty typical and predictable way, not that I should have expected much more as after all, it is billed as a action/comedy film. But all predictability aside, the story does get the job done. Yes, you’ll be able to figure out how the film will end within the first 30 minutes or so, but truly in the scope of all that’s going on, it’s not all that important, because it’s all about the journey to that very predictable, albeit quite fun, entertaining and satisfying ending.

Ryan Reynolds on the other hand is, once again, cast as the somewhat fussy do-gooder who’s in over his head and constantly put upon, but manages to pull through because he tries really, really hard! The results are pretty fun though and the chemistry between Jackson and Reynolds is very spot on throughout the film, while the storyline between Michael and Amelia is well..boring, the one between Darius and Sonia is on a whole other level and they may just win the ‘crazy movie couple of the year’ award. Sadly the rest of the cast doesn’t really hold up as well as it’s leading men. Gary Oldman is very much here for the paycheck, as Belarusian President (cough) Dictator, while Salma Hayek is given near nothing to do as Kincaid’s incarcerated wife, though she makes her mark in her few scenes. Elodie Yung’s character does have a little more bearing on the plot, but her early-onscreen promise to be noted as a capable Interpol agent is set aside so she can be honored with the role of the proverbial last act love prize. *sigh

As formulaic as ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is, it’s light – maybe even too light for all the blood-splatter that takes place – but it never insults its audience by say, trying to even begin to explain why Samuel L. Jackson can take a bullet to the leg then jump a multi-story building like it’s nothing. It’s can be dumb but it never makes you feel dumb for watching it. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously and I was perfectly fine with that because it’s was more than enteraining to watch.

Grade: C+
@pegsatthemovies

 

Media Review Screening ~ Wednesday, August 9, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Lionsgate Film

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” will be in theatres nationwide on Friday, August 18, 2017

REVIEW: “KONG: SKULL ISLAND” (2017) WARNER BROS.

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**IMPORTANT NOTE: Stay for the credits — You won’t regret it!

Is it just me or does it just seem like writers might be a bit bored these past few years and are perhaps running out of ideas? Hasn’t this been done already and then done again? Or did the box office success of movies like Jurassic World inspire studios & producers to opt for remakes instead of the road not taken. Well I don’t have the answer to all those questions BUT…I didn’t hate this remake in all it’s CGI super-glory.

To be clear – Kong: Skull Island is not simply a remake of a film that has been re-made time and time again. It is kind of what you could refer to as an ‘re-imagination’ of the original. If you ever lost sleep at night wondering what it would have been like if King Kong was not sedated and taken to New York to be pointed and laughed at and swatted away little planes with a Faye Wray or Jessica Lange or hey..even Naomi Watts, in his possession. Well fret no more, as that is exactly what this film explores.

The premise here is it’s 1973 this time and a group of eager-beaver scientists discovers what they thought was an uninhabited island a LandSat (land mapping satellite) has taken pictures of. An elusive island called – you guessed it – Skull Island, that although rumoured to exist it’s never been proven to…until now. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) are eager to be the first to explore and geologically map the island, so they persuade the US government to back the expedition by supplying them with the support and expertise of some US Army soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his team, Chapman (Toby Kebbell), Mills (Jason Mitchell), Cole (Shea Whigham), Slivko (Thomas Mann), to name a few of the supporting crew, who are conveniently just leaving Vietnam and can stop on over. They also pick up a British ex-special forces “tracker” James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) a former British Special Air Service Captain and an “anti-war” photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).

They start the mission by dropping bombs on the island to map the bedrock, ostensibly to look for mineral deposits. That’s when Kong shows up to smack the helicopters out of the air, and generally wreak mayhem on the team. The scattered survivors then have to survive on an island filled with oh-so-many-monsters and have to try get to the extraction zone. One group finds Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who brings a well-done dose of humour to the production and who has been stranded on the island for 29+ years with all the non-speaking island natives where KONG is ‘god’ and most definitely King of this island.

And that’s about all I’ll say about the story, so as to avoid serious spoilers. The story line is fairly conventional with very little arc to the characters except just as in the past, you ARE cheering once again for KONG. In many regards it actually sets up more like a horror movie than action/adventure movie. In fact, there are numerous jump-scares and other basic horror movie devices throughout the movie. Sorta of reminded me of the old school Godzilla vs. whomever monster films and while KONG might be the main guy, he is definitely not the only monster in town here.

In some ways, it felt like the movie couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be between a monster movie and a horror movie… Or was it an action movie with an anti-war theme? It’s a toss up. There are also numerous characters who seem like they were intended to play more significant roles but then don’t. For instance they bring along a biologist, San (Tian Jing), who does no absolutely no biology (or good acting) at all and seems to mainly appear to allow another character to give a statement of sorts. Similarly most of the LandSat team seem to be around for comic relief, even if it is just horror movie style comic relief. Even some of the major characters do little aside from provide a single plot piece and I’m sure you can already guess, no one is going to be winning any awards for acting from being in this pic.

As for KONG himself, I think they could have spent a bit more time developing him, partly as a character as again, his name is in the film’s title after all. The CGI was quite good not only for KONG himself, but his fellow monster buddies as well.

I think there might have had just too much going on, and not enough time for this movie to be really good. As it is, it’s an entertaining enough of a movie that is fun, if you go in with a somewhat low-bar intention, so I enjoyed it completely on that level alone.

Grade: C+
@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Tuesday, March 7, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
NATIONWIDE RELEASE: Friday, March 10, 2017

“KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” (2015) 20th CENTURY FOX

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Watch out James Bond ~ the “Kingsman:Secret Service” is in town!!!
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Starting off my 2015 with a early preview screening of this oh!so!fun! fantastic joyride of a film is just what I needed. Simply put, I LOVED IT! and I’m thinking spy movies will NEVER be the same.. 😀 This film truly injects the fun & thrills back into the spy movie genre as it’s a ridiculously entertaining action comedy that will certainly be hard to top – not just by the other parodies but yes, by the actual spy movies themselves. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is enjoyable, well-made action film with a fair dose of humour, lots of slicked along style and panache’ ~ yes I said panache’ because that’s the only word that comes correctly to mind with it’s wonderful style & wardrobe fashion sense, but it’s definitely made by, for, and about people who’ve seen far too many Bond films…and yes, you can count me as one of the latter. 😀 kingsman colin in front of suit store

And while I won’t give away any spoilers….”Kingsman” is the story of a streetwise London youth named Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) who is rescued from his life of petty crime and run-ins with the law by a posh secret agent named “Harry Hart/Galahad” (Colin Firth) and trained to be a new generation of spy working for a top secret privatized spy operation aka “The Kingsman”. How fun is it to see Colin Firth so polar opposite type-cast as a bad-ass and a good one at that?? REALLY FUN ~ I mean who knew??!! Certainly not me as who could even come up with this idea and make it work so well. Matthew Vaughn is who. Truthfully, Vaughn has cast his film fairly perfectly. Firth is game and great in his yes albiet, computer-aided fight scenes with his delivery of the dialogue spot on and with Egerton a naturally charismatic presence with smarts behind his cutesy smile. The always wonderful Mark Strong plays gadgetmaster “Merlin”, while Michael Caine is brilliant, although brief, as “Arthur” head of Kingsman. kingsman colin  taron

Samuel Jackson goes for broke here and strikes it big-time in riches as a over-the-top billionaire Steve Jobs type in villain form, “Richmond Valentine”, and supported wonderfully by henchwoman “Gazelle” (Sofia Boutella), who sports a pair of sharpened-and-bladed prosthetic legs and slices & dices her way through the film with them as divinely mad as any deadly dentures Richard Kiel ever wore as ‘Jaws’ or Harold Sakota as ‘Oddjob’ with his deadly flying top hat in Goldfinger. kingsman blades

But the biggest surprised nestled within “Kingsman” (and trust me, there are a bunch) might be the fact that it isn’t just some knock off doodle of a film. This is a hugely entertaining, heartfelt out and about thrillride!! It’s that bold, unique and whipsmart about what it puts out. There’s a real emotional through-line and Eggsy is a terrific main character, one you want to root for far beyond the boundaries of this film. Also, it doesn’t hurt that it’s a total blast. This is a movie, after all, where the villain sets his diabolical scheme in motion to the disco grooves of KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Give It Up.” I mean come on..what are you waiting for??? that alone should dictate that you see this movie at least twice! And though the action may be ludicrous at times, it’s also hugely engaging and delightful. Yes, the design is full of tributes and nods to other films and other bits of pop culture, but it also creates a logical world for itself. The tone of the film is spice but with a dose of sour but not in a bad taste way, it’s ‘knowing’ yet rarely cynical. And the British-isms of it aren’t lost or sanded down for an American audience. Firth is a killer, but never a brutish bad guy and Eggsy’s up-from-the-bottom determination to do good is clear in every scene, as Egerton pulls off loads of charm in his acting and skill in his action work. kingsman taron water

The whole plot is delivered with a dash of wink and pizzazz, with such bits of wittiness that even at one point Harry Hart/Galahad is conferring with Valentine and notes how much he misses “fun” spy movies. The genre, according to him, has become too stuck in “real world” politics all the while we note that this discussion takes place while the two characters are eating Big Macs of course, because hey, why not right? The movie is very much a throw-back fun return to the splashy, colorful films of the sixties that emphasized outlandish gadgets, deadly vixens and global plots where people push buttons and thousands could possibly die. kingsman big macs

With its fashion-forward flair — the film may borrow liberally from the Roger Moore 007 era, but there’s also a touch of Patrick Macnee’s gentleman spy character ‘Mr. Steed’ from “The Avengers” thrown in especially with Firth’s character. But all in all “Kingsman: The Secret Service” feels like a well-made gentleman’s suit, with superb cut, distinctive colour, and excellent flair. You get all the required gear of an action film, the gadgets, and delights ~ but you also get a good dose of sly winks at how ludicrous it all is yet also how parts are just out-and-out genius. It’s fakes a stiff upper lip but also constantly raises an eyebrow in amusement. It’s full of fun Bond-isms, little bits such as when Eggsy orders his martini with “gin as that’s the way it’s meant to be, shaken for 10 seconds while looking at a closed bottle of vermouth” I mean how can we not laugh out loud at this. (yes, Bond fans will know exactly what I am talking about here)

It’s like Kingsman is perfectly perched at just the right pop cultural moment as this is most likely the perfect moment to give the middle finger to the genre, and start a whole new, self-aware fun franchise in the process. The jokes are sharper, the plotting swifter, the violence more shocking. the sexual innuendos way more prominent as it deconstructs the old school spy genre while also celebrating it and it does so with wit and intelligence and style and yes again, panache.
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It’s clear that as a Director, Vaughn is able to handle world-class actors here getting them to loosen up and play, in ways that feel engaging and new. Sam Jackson’s lisping villain is a genocidal madman who gets weak-kneed at the sight of blood, all the while being able to turn new-comer Egerton, who is all rough-around-the edges charm and brittle good looks, into a movie star with charisma and magnetism. Most will talk about how great it is to see the star of “The King’s Speech” kick ass, but truly Egerton is the real revelation here as he is pure magic in this film.. Mark my words Taron Egerton ~ breakout star of 2015.
All in all, Kingsman:The Secret Service is a thoughtful, exciting, whip-smart spy adventure that doesn’t let its smart-ass post-moderism overwhelm its playfulness or its heart. And lest we forget..we are thoroughly reminded throughout the film of it’s own quote ~ “Remember the suit is a modern gentleman’s armor and we’re the new Knights.” Do I want a sequel? My only response is HELL to the YES!!

Grade: A-
@pegsatthemovies

(See grading scale – as yes, usually an A would be regarded as an Oscar-worthy pic for me, and while this isn’t that..the fun level is so high..I couldn’t go any lower!)

First Advanced Screening in Los Angeles at AMC Century 15 on Thursday, January 8th, 2015.