Tag Archives: Comedy

Dodging Doppelgängers: A Review of Us

Film poster for Us. Image on poster is a photograph of one of the main characters holding a mask that is identical to their face. Their real face is crying. Content warning: mental illness, blood, violence, and trauma.

Us is a 2019 American horror film about a family who was terrorized by their doppelgängers while they were on what was supposed to be a peaceful beach vacation.

It was directed by Jordan Peele, the same director who released Get Out in 2017.

This is one of those films that works best in my opinion if you know as little about the storyline in advance as possible.

For this reason, my review is going to skirt the fine line between avoiding all spoilers and still managing to discuss the important social messages in this story.

Save this post to read after you’ve finished watching Us if you’re the sort of viewer who wants to know nothing at all about it in advance.

For everyone else, this will be a 99% spoiler-free review.

Characters

Lupita Nyong'o as Adelaide Wilson (née Thomas)
Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson (née Thomas)

 

Adelaide had never fully recovered from a traumatic childhood experience she had at the same beach her family now wants to visit on their vacation. Her hyper-vigilance and flashbacks were now threatening to derail the cheerful trip her husband and kids had been looking forward to for so long.

She was an intelligent, dedicated person who always thought through every possible scenario before making a decision.

 

Winston Duke as Gabriel "Gabe" Wilson
Winston Duke as Gabriel “Gabe” Wilson

 

Gabriel was Adelaide’s fun-loving husband. He had a trusting, kind personality and usually looked for the best interpretation of possibly unsettling events.

Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora Wilson
Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora Wilson

 

Zora was Adelaide and Gabriel’s exasperated teenage daughter. She was just a little too old now to still fully enjoy family vacations, especially when they involved a cottage that didn’t have Internet access.

Her hobbies included jogging and googling everything before she believed it.

 

Evan Alex as Jason Wilson
Evan Alex as Jason Wilson

 

Jason was Adelaide and Gabriel’s son. He was approximately ten years old and still thought family beach vacations were the highlight of the summer.

His hobbies included practicing magic tricks and pushing the limits on which words his parents would add to their list of forbidden swear words if he said them with the right intonation.

 

Elisabeth Moss as Kitty Tyler
Elisabeth Moss as Kitty Tyler

 

Kitty was Adelaide’s saucy childhood friend who always spoke her mind. Her hobbies included finding the humour in everything and dreaming of what her life would have been like if she’d waited until she was older to become a mother.

 

Tim Heidecker as Josh Tyler
Tim Heidecker as Josh Tyler

 

Josh was Kitty’s husband. Finding the right drink for every occasion was his favourite hobby. I understood him as someone who genuinely enjoyed alcohol but who did not have an unhealthy dependency on it. He simply loved the challenge of matching drinks to people’s moods and current activities.

My Review

Some of the films I’ve reviewed in the past can be watched while doing other things that briefly take your attention away from the screen. The first clue about what was really happening here technically popped up before the first scene even started, so I strongly recommend giving this your full attention from beginning to end. In other words, grab your snacks and mute your cellphone ahead of time!

Adelaide clutching her children in fearOne of my favourite type of horror is anything that comes embedded with a social message. The preview for this film makes it look like a slasher flick. While there were certainly elements of that horror genre, there was a lot of thought-provoking material that couldn’t be included in that clip for spoiler reasons.

I find it difficult to say much about what that social message was or why it was so thought-provoking because of how late in the storyline it was fully revealed. What I can say is that it is a good idea to have a basic grasp of U.S. history before watching Us if you’re not already familiar with it. Don’t worry about memorizing dates or names or anything like that. Just get a feel for how that country was founded and how it’s developed over the past few hundred years.

This was the sort of story that can be interpreted in multiple ways. There are at least four of them, and maybe more than that depending on which viewers are polled. Don’t worry, I won’t be listing those theories here. What I will say is that the plot gives varying levels of evidence for all of them and I personally suspect more than one of them is right. (Maybe all of them are right!)

The doppelgängers were simultaneously frightening and fascinating. Yes, there were  logical reasons given for their existences. Somehow figuring out what those reasons were only made them scarier to me. I really liked the way they quickly evolved from generic bad guys into something much more than that.

Gabriel and Adelaide singing in the car. There was one subplot that I wish had been given more attention and development. It involved the inclusion of rabbits of all things. I still haven’t been able to figure out why that particular animal was added to such a dark storyline. It’s a minor criticism of something I really enjoyed, but I do wish they’d either been cut out of the plot altogether or, even better, given more opportunities to get tied in with everything else.

The characters occasionally pivoted from terrifying experiences to brief moments of humour. That was a pleasant surprise, and it was one of the many reasons why I enjoyed Us so much.

So long as none of the content warnings involve things that you personally avoid watching, I recommend Us to all adult viewers.

 

Us is available on Crave and Apple TV.

Satirical Thanksgiving: A Review of Addams Family Values

Film poster for Addams Family Values. Image on poster is of entire Addams family posing eerily and humorously in front of a large fireplaceContent warning: Childbirth and dark humour. I will go into detail about the latter in this review. 

Addams Family Values is a 1993 fantasy comedy film about a macabre but loving family who is trying to rescue their uncle from his new girlfriend who has a dark past and may have ulterior motives for dating him.

This is the sequel to the 1991 film The Addams Family which is in turn based on the 1964 television series by the same name whose reruns were my first exposure to these delightful characters. There was a 2019 reboot of The Addams Family as well.

While I do suggest checking out this entire franchise to anyone who is intrigued by it, they can be watched in any order you choose.

Would you believe that this is also a Thanksgiving film? Yes, I’m completely serious about that. Keep reading for more information.

Characters

Anjelica Huston as Morticia Addams
Anjelica Huston as Morticia Addams

 

Morticia was the busy, young mother of the family. She loved her children but wished she had more time to, as she put it, “seek out the dark forces.”

 

Raul Julia as Gomez Addams
Raul Julia as Gomez Addams

 

Gomez was Morticia’s devoted husband.

Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester
Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester

 

Uncle Fester was Gomez’s loyal but lonely brother. More than anything, he dreamed of the day he’d meet someone special and start his own family.

 

Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams
Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams

Wednesday was Morticia and Gomez’s first child. At approximately twelve years old, she was just beginning to show interest in things beyond the spooky hobbies that had delighted her for her entire childhood so far.

 

Jimmy Workman (left) as Pugsley Addams
Jimmy Workman (left) as Pugsley Addams

Pugsley was Morticia and Gomez’s second child. At approximately ten years old, he delighted in surprising everyone who underestimated him.

 

Carol Kane (centre) as Grandmama Addams
Carol Kane (centre) as Grandmama Addams

 

Grandmama Addams was the mother of Gomez and Fester. She adored including her grandchildren in all of her hobbies, especially if they involved spells!

My Review

Okay, so I’m going to be perfectly honest with all of you here. I find most traditional Thanksgiving films to be a bit too sappy for my tastes. There are only so many jokes that can be made about a pet who climbs onto the counter and starts eating the turkey ten minutes before everyone was supposed to sit down for Thanksgiving dinner before the screenwriters tend to lose my interest.

One of the things I love about the Addams Family is how well they avoid excessive sentimentality. Do all of the members of this family love each other? Absolutely! But that is always tempered by the same sorts of ordinary disagreements the rest of us occasionally have with our loved ones as well as by the macabre interests of this family that peek out time after time.

The Waltons might be terribly confused if they ever moved in next door to the Addams. If you watch this, expect jokes about everything from beheadings to electrocutions.  This would be a dark horror film if written slightly differently, so if there are any kids around they should be old enough to understand exactly who the Addams are and why there’s no need to cover your eyes while watching (unless you enjoy missing scenes).

This was the first reason why I decided to review this shortly before we Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving. Each family has their own unique vibe, and I think it’s important to honour that instead of expecting everyone to behave the way fictional families do on TV as long as your relationships are healthy ones. For all of their eccentricities, the Addams are always coming from a surprisingly wholesome place (as much as it would irk them to be labelled that way).

Speaking of Thanksgiving, I can’t go into much detail about how this holiday affects the plot without giving away spoilers other than to say that it most definitely does. The scenes involving this particular storyline were the funniest and most on point ones of all in my opinion. Their messages were just as relevant today as they were in the early 1990s when this came out, and they were my second big reason for wanting to review this.

The other cool thing about these references is that they don’t require prior knowledge of the history of Thanksgiving in the United States. Anyone who didn’t grow up hearing stories about how Pilgrims at the Plymouth colony and Native Americans who lived nearby gathered together for a harvest meal in the autumn of 1621 will learn everything they need to know about the mythology and reality of that tradition by seeing how the characters react to it. No history books needed (unless you’re like me and enjoy that stuff!)

If you need something amusing to watch during the holiday season, I definitely recommend checking out Addams Family Values.

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Addams Family Values is available on Amazon Prime.

A Review of Jumanji: The Next Level

Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, and Karen Gillian posing as their characters in a film poster for Jumanji: The Next Level. They’re all surrounded by baboons. Jumanji: The Next Level is a 2019 fantasy, action, and comedic film about four people who were  transported into a magical video game. Just like during the first visit, they must figure out how to win in order to return to their ordinary lives.

This is the sequel to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle which I previously reviewed here and would strongly recommend watching first. The franchise in general is a reboot of the 1996 Jumanji film. It is not necessary to watch the original in order to understand what’s going on  here.

I will go into more detail about why I recommend watching Welcome to the Jungle in my review below.

Once again, I’m leaving secondary characters out of this post for spoiler reasons. Please note that this review does contain some spoilers for the first film, so reader beware!

 

Characters

Game World

 

Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Xavier Smolder Bravestone. He's standing in a jungle.
Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Xavier “Smolder” Bravestone

 

Dr. Xavier Smolder Bravestone was a strong and confident archeologist, explorer, and team leader.  He was Eddie’s avatar.

Jack Black as Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon
Jack Black (centre) as Professor Sheldon  “Shelly” Oberon

Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Obero was a cartographer, cryptographer, archeologist, and palaeontologist. He was Fridge’s avatar.

Kevin Hart as Franklin "Mouse" Finbar
Kevin Hart as Franklin “Mouse” Finbar 

Franklin “Mouse” Finbar was a zoologist and weapons carrier. He was Milo’s avatar.

Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse
Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse 

 

Ruby Roundhouse was a martial artist and fighting dancer. She was Martha’s avatar.

Real World

Danny DeVito as Edward "Eddie" Gilpin
Danny DeVito as Edward “Eddie” Gilpin

 

Eddie was the grandfather of Spencer, a character from the first film. He was a pessimistic man who believed his best days were behind him.

Ser'Darius Blain as Anthony "Fridge" Johnson
Ser’Darius Blain (right) as Anthony “Fridge” Johnson

Fridge was a college student now. His group of friends wasn’t as close-knit as it used to be, and he struggled with that shift.

Danny Glover as Milo Walker
Danny Glover as Milo Walker

 

Milo was Eddie’s old, dear friend. Despite knowing each other for decades, there was an underlying tension between them that none of the younger characters were cognizant of at first.

Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply
Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply

Martha was also a college student now. She was as intelligent and cynical as ever, but her new educational environment had caused her to blossom in ways that weren’t possible for her as a shy high schooler a few years ago.

 

My Review

If you’re in the market for a light, fluffy storyline, keep reading.

One of the criticisms I noted about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was the lack of character development. While it remained pretty shallow, I did enjoy seeing some growth in the two returning protagonists as well as in all four avatars in general . Martha and Fridge had obviously had a chance to grow up a bit since high school. It was interesting to contrast their behaviour to the behaviour of their elders.

Ordinarily, I’d expect senior citizens to be more self-assured and level-headed than people who haven’t even left their teens yet. The fact that all four main characters were thrown into a situation that only the two younger ones knew how to handle made it fascinating to tease out the differences between all of their reactions.

We need more films that include senior citizens as heroes. Having not one but two of them included in this storyline made me curious to see how things would play out for them.

Why should you watch this series in order? The character development is part of it. Most people mature rapidly in their late teens and early 20s. I thought it was cool to see how Fridge and Martha had changed since we last met them. There were also some switch-ups to the cast of main characters that won’t be as meaningful to anyone who wasn’t aware of how things were in Welcome to the Jungle.

In addition to that, some of the plot twists work better for audiences who are already aware of how Jumanji is supposed to be experienced. Let’s just say that Milo and Eddie had a unique approach to winning that is best understood if you have firm expectations of how one should behave in a video game.

By all means watch the original Jumanji, too, if you love this universe, but enough of it was revisited here that I wouldn’t make that mandatory.

There were a couple of sexual jokes that made me roll my eyes. The first instalment in this reboot did a great job of poking fun at the idea that women who play video games are something unusual or that identifying as a woman should affect how you play or what you do with your avatar. I wish that same snarky energy had continued in this sequel. It made this franchise stand out in my mind in a truly refreshing way, and I’d love to recommend future instalments of it to people who love gaming but shy away from the sometimes juvenile and sexist comments people make about women in this hobby. Sometimes the best way to change harmful social scripts like that is by mocking the hell out of them, so here’s hoping we get more of that in the third instalment if or when it happens.

Do you need to be a certain type of gamer, or even a gamer at all, to enjoy this story? Absolutely not. I’m the sort of gamer who generally sticks with sandbox games like Minecraft, and I had no problem keeping up with what was going on. Everything was explained well. Although my spouse who knows more about the topic once again enjoyed a few jokes tucked in there that seemed to be geared towards viewers who are into more strictly structured storytelling.

Jumanji: The Next Level was brain candy in the best sense of that phrase. If you need a fun distraction that doesn’t require any deep thought, this might be right up your alley.

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Jumanji: The Next Level is available on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

A Review of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Content warning: snakes and bugs. I will not be discussing these topics in my review.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a 2017 fantasy, action, and comedic film about four high school students who were accidentally transported into a magical video game and needed to beat every level of it in order to get back to the real world.

This movie is a reboot of a franchise that began with the original Jumanji in 1996. According to my spouse, there were multiple Easter eggs from the first version of this tale tucked into the storyline, so keep an eye out for them if you’re already familiar with this franchise.

With that being said, I’d never seen the original and had no problem figuring out what was happening in the plot or who the characters were because everything was explained clearly.

Some of the secondary characters had too many spoilers wrapped up into their backstories to be introduced in this post, so I’ll stick with the four protagonists in the character section of this review. They will be described both as their game world avatars and real life personas.

Characters

Game World

Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Smolder Bravestone
Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Smolder Bravestone

 

Dr. Smolder Bravestone was a strong, confident archeologist, explorer, and team leader.  He was Spencer’s avatar.

Jack Black as Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon
Jack Black as Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon

 

Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Obero was a cartographer, cryptographer, archeologist, and palaeontologist. He was Bethany’s avatar.

Kevin Hart as Franklin "Mouse" Finbar
Kevin Hart as Franklin “Mouse” Finbar

 

Franklin “Mouse” Finbar was a zoologist and weapons carrier. He was Fridge’s avatar.

Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse
Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse

 

Ruby Roundhouse was a martial artist and fighting dancer. She was Martha’s avatar.

Real World

Alex Wolff as Spencer Gilpin
Alex Wolff as Spencer Gilpin

Alex Wolff as Spencer Gilpin.

Alex was nerdy and sometimes socially awkward student at Brantford High School.  He and Fridge were childhood best friends, but now he feared he’d been left behind.

Madison Iseman as Bethany Walker
Madison Iseman as Bethany Walker

 

Bethany was a  popular, pretty, and self-centered student at Brantford High School. She spent a great deal of time taking selfies and posting them on social media as shown in the photo above.

Ser'Darius Blain as Anthony "Fridge" Johnson
Ser’Darius Blain as Anthony “Fridge” Johnson

 

Anthony was a strong and athletic student at Brantford High School. He was proud of how much work he’d put into his body and enjoyed showing off his strength.

Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply
Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply

 

Morgan was a quiet, shy, intelligent, and cynical student at Brantford High School. She struggled with letting people get close to her, especially if she thought they wanted something from her.

My Review

My characters descriptions were more negative than usual in this review. The beginning of this film made it a point to hammer home each character’s flaws, how aware they were of them, and how those problems were affecting their lives.

The four main characters moments after they were transformed into Mouse, Dr. Bravestone, Ruby, and Shelly.

Since the four teens the audience were just introduced to were about to be transformed into video game avatars, getting to know them was crucial.

One of the things this film did incredibly well was to show how each character’s tics and habits carried over into the game. All of the adult actors mimicked the teens they were playing so well that it was easy to forget they were acting!

I loved seeing all of the little ways they reminded the audience of their teenaged selves. This was especially funny when it came to Shelly because of how she’d been transformed from a beautiful young girl into a fairly average middle-aged man.

Yes, the storyline did address the gender flip there, but it was done in a very respectful manner. Gender and gender identity was never the butt of the joke in this tale which was refreshing. When the storyline gently made fun of Shelly, it was for her self-absorption and other character flaws, not the fact that she had no idea how to properly urinate standing up. (Although there was a hilarious scene involving just that early on in the plot!)

What I would have liked to see was more attention paid to the character development. The four protagonists were all written in pretty stereotypical manners as you might have gathered from the descriptions of them above. While I understood that much of it was written that way to poke fun at some of the more ridiculous – and even sexist –  tropes in video games, I think more time could have been spent developing the main characters and showing how they were different from typical video game avatars.

As entertaining as the plot was, there were times when I was honestly a bit bored with the characters at times because of how easy it was to predict how they’d behave. I’m saying that with the understanding that a casual video game player like me probably isn’t the ideal audience for this sort of film at all. People who immerse themselves in that hobby may have a very different reaction to it, so I don’t want this criticism to dissuade anyone from giving it a try if the trailer grabs their interest.

Just remember that there is a lot of tongue-in-cheek stuff going on here. The less seriously you take it, the better.

The cartoonish violence was a lot of fun, though. I’m the sort of person who looks away from the screen or TV when a violent scene pops up, and I was able to handle the fight scenes without a problem. Characters certainly get thrown around a lot in all sorts of ways that are only possible in a virtual world, but there was no blood or gore to make my stomach turn. That was definitely something I appreciated.

All in all, this was an amusing way to spend a couple of hours. It was a light, cheerful storyline that didn’t require the audience to do much analyzing at all. You just had to sit back and enjoy the show. There’s something to be said for movies like that!

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is available on Netflix.

Creepy Christmas: A Review of Krampus

Content Warning: Blood and a dysfunctional family. I will be briefly mentioning these things in my review.

Krampus film poster. It shows the demon standing on the roof of the home the main characters live in. Krampus is a 2015 dark fantasy horror comedy film about a young boy named Max who has a disappointing Christmas with his argumentative, dysfunctional relatives and accidentally summons a festive demon to his home as a result of it.

In Central Europe, Krampus has been known historically as a  “half-goat, half-demon” creature who punishes naughty children at Christmas time. Some folklorists think he might have been invented long before Christianity existed!

He is generally described as a creature with cloven hooves, horns, fangs, and a thick pelt of black or brown hair covering his body. Think of him as a contrasting figure to Santa who rewards good children with presents, but stories about him probably existed in Central Europe long before Santa did.

I was vaguely aware of the legends surrounding this mythical figure before watching this film. It was fascinating to learn more about him both by watching it and doing some research about where this legend came from and how it has evolved over the years.

As always, my descriptions of the characters are written in the past tense to avoid giving away spoilers.

Characters

Emjay Anthony as Max Engel. He is licking an envelope in this scene.
Emjay Anthony as Max Engel

 

Max was the main character. He still believed in Santa when this film began, and he accidentally summoned the Krampus after having a fight with his cousins about the existence of Santa among other sensitive topics in this family.

 

Adam Scott as Tom Engel.
Adam Scott as Tom Engel

 

Tom was Max’s loving and devoted father.

Toni Collette as Sarah Engel
Toni Collette (left) as Sarah Engel

 

Sarah was Max’s perfectionistic mom. She wanted all of her relatives to have a nice time over the holidays and spent weeks preparing for Christmas to help this come true.

 

Stefania LaVie Owen as Beth Engel
Stefania LaVie Owen as Beth Engel

 

Beth was Max’s exasperated older sister who was dreading spending the holidays with her rowdy and uncouth relatives.

 

Krista Stadler as Omi Engel
Krista Stadler as Omi Engel

 

Omi Engel was Tom’s mother and Max’s grandmother. She only spoke German, but she did understand English. Several of her relatives were fluent in German and could translate for her. Much of her time was spent baking sweet treats and brewing hot chocolate for her family.

 

Conchata Ferrell as Aunt Dorothy
Conchata Ferrell as Aunt Dorothy

 

Aunt Dorothy was Beth and Linda’s passive aggressive, prejudiced, and mean-spirited aunt. No one wanted to invite her to Christmas festivities, but no one could bear to turn her away either.

 

Allison Tolman as Linda
Allison Tolman as Linda

 

Linda was Sarah’s sister. She and her husband were overwhelmed by their four unruly children.

 

David Koechner as Howard
David Koechner as Howard

 

Howard was Linda’s husband and Max’s uncle. He loved hunting and making off-colour jokes.

 

Thor as Rosie the Dog
Thor as Rosie the Dog

 

Rosie was the Engel family’s dog. She was a friendly pooch who was always in the market for a nibble of human food.

 

Luke Hawker as Krampus
Luke Hawker as Krampus

 

Krampus was the demon Max accidentally summoned.

My Review

Yes, this film is part of the horror genre, but with the exception of one brief scene it was not gory. There’s a lot a storyteller can do to freak out an audience without showing anything graphic. The people who worked on this project did a great job of finding the horror in anticipation instead of bloodshed.

The buildup to Krampus’ arrival was well done. I felt like I had plenty of time to get to know the characters before their lives were turned upside down. It was also nice to see the juxtaposition between the sentimental approach to the holiday season at the beginning of this film and the darker turn it took later on.

Krampus was a wonderfully scary villain. It was rare for the audience to see his face during the course of this story. Somehow, that made him even more frightening than he would have otherwise been. Hearing heavy boots clomping on the roof or seeing the quickest glimpse of his long, sharp fingernails put my imagination into overdrive. Picturing what he might look like was far  scarier than actually seeing him, and I’m saying that as someone who thought that the film makers did a great job of bringing this creepy legend to life.

I liked the way the character development was handled. The younger Engels had good reasons for dreading another visit with their relatives. While the extended family wasn’t abusive or anything like that, they did have some pretty unhealthy communication and behavioural issues. Spending time with Aunt Dorothy or the young cousins looked exhausting. Nothing satisfied them, and they seemed to change their minds about what they wanted from one moment to the next. It was pretty interesting to see how the Engels dealt with this and what happened when Max in particular reached his breaking point with them.

As mentioned in the content warning, there was one scene involving blood in the storyline. It happened quickly and was important to the plot development. The rest of the film relied on jump scares, psychological horror, and other non-gory means of frightening the audience.

There was a plot hole that was never resolved. It involved what one of the characters knew about the legend of this demon creature and what they did with that information. This was something so surprising that I was pretty surprised to see the plot brush over it so quickly. It sure would have been nice to explore this more in depth.

With that being said, I still had a good time watching Krampus. It was the first Christmas horror film I’ve ever seen, and I thought it did a nice job of combining imagery from both types of storytelling to come up with something unique.

If you’d like to try a Christmas movie that doesn’t have the slightest whiff of sentimentality to it, I’d recommend starting here.

Krampus is available on Apple TV.

A  True Selfless Act Always Sparks Another: A Review of Klaus

Last year I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative fiction films. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, Coco, Winchester, The Little Stranger, Astraea, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, A Dog’s Purpose, and Jurassic… Read More