Monday, October 7, 2019

Joker, 2019 - ★★★★★

Todd Phillips' Joker brings us yet another incarnation of Batman's top adversary following some good performances (Jack Nicholson, Cesar Romero) and one AMAZING performance (Heath Ledger). I was pretty sure I would never see someone reach the heights of Ledger's work in The Dark Knight but 11 years later, the uber-talented Joaquin Phoenix has quickly put himself in the running for best Joker ever.

In a similar vain to what Chris Nolan did with Dark Knight, Todd Phillips crafts his Joker film as a 70's-set dark crime saga that doesn't seem to fit in with the recent superhero genre. The movie seems dirty throughout as we see Arthur Fleck slowly descend into a maniacal killer. Fleck's relationship with his Mom is both caring and flawed at the same time, muddled by a questionable adoption scenario in Fleck's past. While nearly a stand-alone film in DC universe, Joker does touch on elements of a young Batman and there is a clear setup for a follow on film. I just can't believe Phoenix would play this role again, although I'd love to see it happen.

The choices that Phoneix's Joker makes are certainly questionable but Phillips does a great job of letting us inside Fleck's head and understand some of his motivations. The actual killing scenes are brutal and blunt with gunshots ripping through the theater speakers. The scene near the end of the film with Fleck in full Joker dress and makeup as a guest on Murray Franklin's (a game Robert De Niro) talk show is the culmination of pent-up rage. I couldn't take my eyes off of Phoenix in that entire scene from him dancing backstage to his matter-of-fact behavior in the guest chair. It's a riveting performance that totally overshadows the work of legendary De Niro sitting next to him. Speaking of dancing, Phoenix does a weird swaying dance several times in the film and I thought it was a perfect strange addition to an already strange character/actor. His over-the-top cackling laugh that he delivers (along with a card explaining his mental condition to strangers) is powerful and horrible at the same time. Joaquin is just a weird kind of dude and that's what makes him perfect to play this role.

In fairness to Ledger, The Dark Knight earned him the Oscar in a supporting role. Joker is all Joaquin, all the time so it may not be a fair comparison. That being said, I really do feel Phoenix's performance is a notch above Ledger's. He simply does deranged differently and a little better than Heath did. This film is a tour de force showcase of one of the best actors of my generation. I'm not sure if he'll win Best Actor but he should definitely be nominated. Joker is a fantastically entertaining and depressing look at a monster brought to life. This is easily Phillips' best film and I'm curious to see what he does next.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Ad Astra, 2019 - ★★★★½

I don't believe I have seen any of James Grey's prior films, but his first venture into outer space is a very beautiful and emotional one that is powered by a movie star having the best year of his long career. Ad Astra is the story of Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) an American astronaut following in the footsteps of his legendary father Clifford McBride (the grizzled Tommy Lee Jones) on a mission across the solar system. A power disturbance has been detected from the Neptune area which just so happens to be the same area Clifford McBride disappeared from 16 years earlier.

Grey and his cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (probably the third-best cinematographer working today who shot Interstellar and Dunkirk) manage to build a gorgeous and realistic look at how space and planet/moon inhabiting would look in the near future. We get to see an Applebee's on the moon and take a glimpse at what Virgin Intergalactic space travel would look like when commercial flights in space become a real thing. There are a few scenes with action sequences (including Moon pirates which is apparently a thing in the future that I have so many questions about), but most of Grey's film is a slow emotional introspective that is peppered with self-evaluation exercises that the astronauts need to complete regularly to remain employed and engaged in their missions.

Liv Tyler plays McBride's lonely wife in a throwaway role (hardly any real screen time) while Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga and Natasha Lyonne show up in brief but serviceable roles. Jones is solid as the elder McBride as we see his steely non-compassionate way of communicating with his son that adds to the emotional toll of the film.

The real heart and soul of this movie is Pitt's performance. As he did with his portrayal of Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pitt is cool calm and collected. However, in Ad Astra he emotes so much with his face and eyes, shedding a lot of meaningful solemn tears along the way. Whenever he's on screen (which is quite a lot) you can't take your eyes off him. He simply gives a magnetic, raw and real performance that takes this movie to the next level. You really do feel how isolated he feels in his life and how he wishes he had more of an emotional relationship with his father.

While this film is not really in the same breath as Gravity or Interstellar it is certainly better than some recent sci-fi space efforts (The Martian, Life). This is despite a few completely unbelievable sequences in the last third of the film that help with Pitt's attempt to return from the far reaches of our solar system. The music of Max Richter helps enhance the calm of the movie and heightens the atmosphere of space. This is worthwhile viewing on as big a screen as possible. Go see Ad Astra and witness a movie star at the top of his game. Brad Pitt provides big time acting fuel for two of the 10 best films I've seen this year so-far.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, 2019 - ★★★½

A lot of over the top nonsense including virus-extraction machines that can be repaired by a Samoan mechanic but still survive a helicopter crash, but if you look past all the ridiculous plot elements you'll still have fun watching this movie. Dwayne Johnson is super likable as Luke Hobbs and his awkward ball-busting chemistry with Jason Statham's Deckard Shaw is worth the price of admission alone. The combo of well choreographed action sequences and one-up-man-ship back-and-forth banter is what makes the movie tick. Vanessa Kirby is gorgeous and delightful as the kick-ass sister of Shaw. Her recent turns in this film and the last Mission Impossible prove that she's a bona fide action star that's ready for a lead turn. Thankfully Idris Elba delivers a dependable rugged performance as the film's villain whose motivation and associated sinister syndicate is a bit cloudy.

This movie works as a spin-off to the Fast and Furious franchise but ultimately is just end-of-summer filler. The last third of the movie seems to be forced to take place in Samoa and didn't really work for me. I still had a blast watching it though and it's definitely worth a rental for people who are invested in the Furious saga.

Friday, September 13, 2019

It Chapter Two, 2019 - ★★★★

Way too long of a film but still entertaining throughout, Andy Muschietti's follow up to the 2017 hit Stephen King adaptation excels based off it's carefully crafted cast. Bill Hader, James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain are the headliners, but ALL of the adult versions of the characters we saw in IT Chapter 1 in 2017 were cast perfectly by the producers of this film. Everyone looks like a grown-up version of the child actor that played the same character, but little known James Ransone stands out as a virtual doppelganger of Shazam's Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie.

Despite the strong casting and production value, the story just isn't that engaging at times and I found myself waiting to see the excellent Bill Skarsgard return to the screen as Pennywise. Skarsgard's performance in both films is a total creepy revelation. Something the Academy should honor although we all know they never will.

This movie explores the deep inner fears of the main characters and culminates in a loud messy final 30 minutes. It's not a film I really want to see again but it did entertain and engage me. Every time Pennywise is on screen it's riveting cinema in my opinion. The ratio of Pennywise-to-runtime in this film was not as high as I had hoped for. All in all, this is worth a viewing in the theater, especially if you invested in Chapter 1. Hader and Ransone bring the comedy to help mute the overall ominous tone of the movie. In fact, my favorite scene in the whole film comes during a Chinese restaurant dinner in which the main characters meet back up in Derry and share drinks and jokes. The believable chemistry between all the adult actors is earned instantly.

Kudos to a very spry and fit Stephen King for showing up in a clever cameo. I'm interested to see where Muschietti (only 46) goes from here. It looks like a DC comics "The Flash" film is next on his filmography.

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Peanut Butter Falcon, 2019 - ★★★½

An entertaining road trip movie with some heart that features a very effective Shia LaBeouf performances and a delightful debut by disabled actor Zach Gottsagen (who has down syndrome). The film has DNA associated with Rainman and Sling Blade but shines the most when Gottsagen and LaBeouf get to display their excellent on-screen chemistry. Dakota Johnson is serviceable but forced at times as the love interest for LaBeouf.

As we go along with the two leads in their quest to get Zach to Thomas Haden Church's wrestling camp, there are a lot of convenient meet-ups with the major characters along the way. In particular, the whole sub plot of John Hawkes and Yelawolf trying to collect money from LaBeouf is really a nuisance and should have been left on the cutting room floor. I just found it hard to believe that these people kept meeting up randomly all over several locations in North Carolina. The constant coincidences took me out of the narrative at times.

That being said, this film is entertaining and worth viewing (you can wait for video). Kudos to Gottsagen for giving one of the best disabled actor performances I've ever seen. LaBeouf is at the top of his acting game here and I can't wait to see what he brings to the upcoming Honey Boy.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Good Boys, 2019 - ★★★½

Jacob Trembley puts the horrible The Predator behind him and flexes his comedic muscles in this elementary school Super Bad that surprisingly has a lot of heart. It's way over the top at times and definitely NOT a kids movie. Some big laughs are earned but a lot of what I found funny was hearing all the curse words come out of the mouths of the kids. Keith L. Williams is a find as Lucas and I expect to see a lot out of him as he matures as a comedic actor.

This is a mindless comedy that is probably best viewed at home on video.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, 2019 - ★★½

Really good creature effects but not much else redeeming in this one. It's not very scary and it moves along at a sluggish pace. The acting is forgettable but the monsters save this film from being a waste. Not too interested in the sequel that's set up at the end of the film.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 2019 - ★★★★½ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

The 9th movie from Quentin Tarantino is not his best ever but it's without a doubt his funniest and "coolest" as we get an inside look at the Hollywood machine in the late 60's. The film focuses on 1969 Los Angeles as we lead up to the infamous Sharon Tate murders in the Hollywood hills. The movie looks fantastic and gives an authentic feel to that time in the movie business. We get to see numerous scenes of back-lot banter on various sets and we actually feel that we've snuck on to actual Hollywood sets.

The real catalysts of this movie's engine are Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt who give two of the best performances of their careers as fledgling actor Rick Dalton and his stunt man Cliff Booth. Tarantino wisely spends a lot of time with these two best friends and there are quippy lines and laughs a plenty. DiCaprio in particular plays the grizzled veteran actor role to a tee and should be in Best Actor consideration come Oscar time. Pitt is more restrained but still gives a perfect nuanced performance as Dalton's reliable buddy.

Margot Robbie is beautiful and effective as Sharon Tate in a limited role but a role that helps ground the movie in Hollywood reality. The way Tarantino sprinkles in real-life celebrities into the mix with the made-up Dalton/Booth combo is a bold choice but one that definitely pays off. The audio in this film is all over the place as Tarantino drills into your ear songs from the era as well as countless advertisements and commercials. I felt like I was playing Grand Theft Auto at times with all the in-car radio ad snippets.

This film flew by and I never really noticed the 160-minute-plus runtime while watching it. I was too invested in the two leads and just wanted to keep the ride going. It's rare that we get to see such an excellent chemistry between these two leads (and two of the biggest movie stars we have today). Tarantino was the perfect director to tell this story and to get these performances out of these actors.


There seems to be a lot of controversy about the film's ending and the way Tarantino chose to handle the Sharon Tate murders. I absolutely LOVED the decision Quentin made to re-write history and have Booth and Dalton kill the Manson gang before they could get to the Polanski house. I just assumed that Booth and Dalton were gonna be slaughtered in the process but having been so invested in both characters I was downright giddy when Booth started taking out the Manson gang. Dalton's final flamethrower flambe was the icing on the cake for me. I just totally enjoyed this ending which nearly catapulted my rating to 5 stars.

This is simply a fun time at the cinema and Tarantino has given us a feel-good buddy-film that lives and breathes in a certain era.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Lion King, 2019 - ★★★

"It's enough... to make Kings and Vagabonds... Believe the very best....." These are lyrics from Tim Rice that Elton John baked into the original 1994 animated Lion King film that helped make it such a memorable movie. Jon Favreau's CGI re-imagining of the original has it's strong suits but ultimately de-Elton's the original and with it the soul of the first film.

Can You Feel The Love Tonight is still in this film but is totally butchered with new lyrics and is played during the day time (despite TONIGHT being the title of the song). The love between Simba and Nala feels a bit forced and some of the other emotion of the original is diluted with the new CGI treatment. This doesn't mean that this remake experiment is a bad one. The movie looks AMAZING. I felt when watching it like I was watching Planet Earth on Netflix but with a more intricate storyline. This movie is a total breakthrough from a technical perspective. There really is no need for using practical real-life animals in film anymore as the CGI creatures seem 100% real at this point.

Despite the music and "soul" issues, this movie is still a joy to watch featuring high quality voice acting across the board, with Seth Rogan (Pumba) and Billy Eichner (Timon) leading the charge. It was great to hear the dulcet tones of the legendary James Earl Jones one more time as Mufasa. Donald Glover is solid as adult Simba, Chewitel Ejiofor gaves a suprinsingly nasty performance as Scar and Beyonce is well.... Beyonce as Nala.

The new song by Beyonce is not memorable, and I can only imagine what this film would have been like if they left in all the Elton John songs. It's interesting to think that one of the best movies of the year (Rocketman) brought Elton's songs to the screen again in a whole new light, while this remake stripped us of his cinematic magic.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Midsommar, 2019 - ★★

Ari Aster and Florence Pugh are both very talented artists, but this "horror" film goes so far off the rails that the enjoyment of watching it ends about hallway through the movie. Featuring what has to be the single most awkward sex scene in a rated R film, Midsommar launches into ridiculousness in the third act. It's a shame because I feel that Aster has a strong visual eye and has some amazingly shot scenes in this but he's wasting his talent by sticking with ritual films like this one and Hereditary. If you thought Hereditary went bat shit crazy at the end, this one about triples the lunacy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Yesterday, 2019 - ★★★

Danny Boyle is an interesting directing choice for this fantastical look at a world in which the Beatles don't exist. This film tells the ridiculous tale of an English pub singer Jack Malik who is the only person to remember the Beatles after a massive worldwide blackout. He writes down all the songs he can remember and makes a new album featuring the ripped-off work. All-along trying to win the heart of his lifelong crush in Lily James.

While newcomer Himesh Patel is excellent in the lead as Malik, the rest of the supporting cast stumbles a bit especially Kate McKinnon as an annoying cobble of characters she's played on SNL. Game of Thrones' Joel Fry is a bumbling mess as Patel's best friend. James is quirky and real, but her connection with Patel feels a bit forced at times.

The biggest issue I had with this movie is the story and the lack of explanation. We never get any follow-up as to why Patel (and two other random people) remember the Beatles. As Patel meets up with a legendary Beatles band member at the end of the film, there's no explanation as to if the Beatles ever existed at any point in time. Also we find out that Coca Cola and Harry Potter never existed as well for no good reason. There's a lot of unknowns that scream of lazy script writing that made me frustrated at times. The core concept is great, but the execution is lacking and I really expected more from a movie with Danny Boyle at the helm.

That being said, this is still a very fun movie to watch and there are laughs to be had here and there. Hearing Beatles anthems in a "live" stadium environment is also a treat similar to Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. Just don't expect a lot of the story to make sense.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Spider-Man: Far from Home, 2019 - ★★★★ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

After his second solo film and 5th portrayal of Spider-Man, it's safe to say that Tom Holland has cemented himself as the best actor to portray the web-slinger on-screen. His Peter Parker / Spidey performance in Far From Home is the glue that holds this wild movie together.

I'm going to go ahead and spoil some of the plot details for you here, so if you haven't seen this, come back and read the rest of this after you go out and see it.

Overall I thought the Mysterio villain (portrayed by the always-effective Jake Gyllenhaal) plot twist was well done and another crafty way of bringing back some highlights of prior Marvel films. However, I thought the idea that drones could create such vivid destructive illusions was a little far fetched, even for a comic film. Once the threat is revealed to be an illusion, it's hard to understand how an army of drones could create all the weather effects (especially wind) that the innocent bystanders feel. All of the visuals make sense based on holographic projections, but the destruction and force-related effects don't seem possible. It's a small nitpick in an otherwise great film.

Watching Holland and his high-school classmates (led by the hilarious Jacob Batalon as Ned) interact with their surrounding and idiot teachers on a Eurotrip was a delightful follow-up to the somber events of EndGame. Bonus kudos to Angourie Rice for following up her Ashley O fandom from Black Mirror with a comic turn as Ned's European love fling.

The moment that Holland totally nails comes near the end of the film where he kisses MJ (Zendaya) for the first time. His reaction as he leaves the embrace that he's been spending his whole summer trying to achieve is priceless. Holland is playing someone 6 years younger than his real age but he time-and-time-again nails the youthful exuberance that makes Spider-Man a unique hero. Despite a few plot holes and cinematic Sam Jackson overload, this is yet another fun and effective time at the movies courtesy of the Marvel machine.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Triple Frontier, 2019 - ★★★½

Total guys movie and a callback to the 80's team-up action adventure genre. Affleck is running the show here but Hunnam and Issac bring their share of testosterone as well. The story ain't that original or memorable, but the cast definitely has chemistry and the high stakes towards the end makes this a worthwhile viewing.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Toy Story 4, 2019 - ★★★★½ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

I'm not sure if we really needed another Toy Story film after being 9 years removed from the previous edition, but we get one none-the-less and director Josh Cooley's version is a solid effort with a serviceable story by Rashida Jones. Most of the gang is back together again and Andy has finally been replaced in the narrative by Bonnie (which was hinted at with the conclusion of Toy Story 3).

The plot focuses on a new homemade toy that Bonnie crafts together in kindergarten, a spork monstrosity named Forky. Forky (voiced wonderfully by Tony Hale) doesn't realize he's a toy and it's up to the rest of the gang to keep him with Bonnie as she goes on a road trip. Woody ends up meeting us with his long lost crush Bo Peep (once again voiced by Annie Potts) at an antique store.

The rest of the voice cast is really good including a clever turn by Mr. Everything these days, Keanu Reeves as Canadian daredevil Duke Kaboom. Christina Hendricks lends her sweet convincing voice to Gabby Gabby, a 50's era doll without a voice-box. Key and Peele play Ducky and Bunny respectively and seem to be sort of forced into the story a bit. They are funny at times but just seem to be extra fluff (pardon the pun) on top of an already crowded cast.

After having recently watched all 3 previous films in succession over the weekend in preparation for this film, it's really amazing just how much Pixar's animation prowess has grown since the original film. Sequences with rain near the beginning of the film seem like they were put into the film to have the Pixar animation wizards flex their muscles. Simply put, no Pixar movie has looked as smooth and refined as this one. I found myself marveling at the porcelain texture of Bo Peep and the lifelike faces and eyes of the humans in the story that totally contrast against the lifeless primitive human figures in the original film I had just re-watched. 24 years of CGI technical innovation is easily summed up in comparing Toy Story and Toy Story 4.


At the end of the film we see Woody stay with Bo Peep and leave the rest of his gang (and his kid Bonnie) behind. I'm assuming this means that Toy Story 5 will not include Tom Hanks. It seems that Hanks is hanging up his cowboy hat and spurs, leaving this role. That final nod made the goodbye scene with Woody and Buzz a very emotional moment. I had a few tears. It lifted my rating a full star because I realized that for two toys to hug and leave me with that powerful of a feeling is really a tribute to Pixar and the character development they've put into these 4 films for nearly 25 years.

This is a worthy addition to the Toy Story franchise but it may ultimately be the weakest of the 4 films despite a welcome addition to the cast with Forky.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Secret Life of Pets 2, 2019 - ★★★½

A father's day trip to the movies for me today. The kids liked it well enough but it definitely was not as good as the first film. Kevin Hart shined a lot more as Snowball in the first film. He doesn't have much to do here and his role is kinda wasted.

The crazy cat lady angle was pretty spot on and Tiffany Haddish's Daisy was a welcome addition. Bonus props to Harrison Ford for voicing the grumpy farm dog with the same gruff personality Ford bring to his interviews. If you liked the first one, you'll like this one, just don't expect anything mind-blowing.

Murder Mystery, 2019 - ★★★

Harmless fluff that has it's funny moments. Sandler and Aniston have good comedic chemistry. I guessed who the "Murderer" was halfway through the movie though. Worth a watch, but don't expect too much.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Rocketman, 2019 - ★★★★½

Taron Egerton is a full-blown Hollywood star after this fantastic turn as Elton John in Dexter Fletcher's Rocketman. As a biopic/musical of the life of the English musical legend, this film stands out as the PROPER way to do a rock biopic. A much more accomplished and engaging experience than the bland Bohemian Rhapsody from 2018, Rocketman delivers on all levels thanks to inventive and creative musical numbers and strong performances all around.

Jaime Bell shines as Bernie Taupin, John's frequent collaborator and songwriter. Bell brings a loyalty for Taupin and we really understand his platonic love for John which built one of the most prolific collaborations in the history of the music industry. Richard Madden (Game of Thrones, The Bodyguard) is excellent as well as John's manager/love interest John Reid. We get two strong turns by Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh as John's disapproving parents. All of these characters end up explaining why John's life turned into a symphony of drugs and alcohol which Fletcher ends up illustrating brilliantly through fantasy sequences perfectly timed to John's discography.

The real meat of this film comes from two sources: Elton John's wonderful song catalog and Egerton's dynamic and personal performance. From the get-go we know that Egerton is going for it full blast. He's very engaging and outgoing as John, delivering one hit after another. His singing is actually very good and makes me fully enjoy his performance far more than last year's undeserving Best Actor winner Rami Malek. Let's hope the Academy at least honors Taron with a best actor nod after the complete control that Egerton brought to his portrayal of Elton John.

This film just works from start to finish and is really a fun ride in the theater. I found myself listening to the Elton John catalog days and weeks after I saw this. This is a great tribute to an influential musical pioneer and a fun film that has a lot of rewatchable potential.

Booksmart, 2019 - ★★★½

Olivia Wilde's directorial debut is clever and witty, featuring a great performance by Jonah Hill's sister Beanie Feldstein and a solid supporting turn by Kaitlyn Dever (Beautiful Boy) as two best friends finishing out their days in high school. The movie has some clever scenes and is written well but ultimately doesn't really deliver as many laughs as I was looking for. There are slow moments and it seems that Feldstein really is the only one bringing her true "A" game.

Wilde's direction is very good though and her choice of musical scoring is very effective. I feel she has a future behind the camera as well as in front of it. It was nice to see her include her husband Jason Sudeikis in a handful of scenes as the school principal. While the film tries to hard to push the played out Superbad theme of one "wild and crazy night" it manages to be relatively entertaining throughout. Definitely worth a home viewing and I'm thinking that Feldstein is about to break out as a true young star with her next film.

Ma, 2019 - ★★★½

Tate Taylor's Ma is an interesting take on the high school party scene and what happens when a social outcast tries to take revenge later in life. This is an Octavia Spencer vehicle all the way and she simply dominates every scene she's in. You can't take your eyes off her and you know she's just having a blast playing the role of "Ma" a local mother who invites high schoolers into her basement to party with friends.

What starts out as a seemingly friendly gesture from Ma turns into a typical horror gross-out slash fest along the way. Supporting turns from Luke Evans, Juliet Lewis and newcomer Diana Silvers help move the story along, but we're always just waiting for Ma to get back on screen. The movie really goes over the top towards the end and it's really not inventive or memorable overall. I did enjoy Octavia so much that I would recommend a home viewing here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, 2019 - ★★★

This is more of the same and just a continuation of the first film. In a ways, watching this type of film this feels a lot like playing a video game (Uncharted, God of War, and other third person action games). There are levels setup between nearly useless plot advances and narratives. Reeves, Fishburne, Berry and others service the story well and bring their top bad-ass personalities to the table, but overall it's just more of the same. I find myself zoning out in some of the fight sequences because it's so repetitive. There's a lot of gross out moments in this one including the knife to the eye early on. However, I can only take so much of the same punch-kick-punch then pistol to the face or skull over and over again.

I'm not sure if I'm ready for a fourth film but I bet we get one. Maybe I'm just burned out from watching all three films for the first time in a span of a couple weeks. Worth watching if you've seen the first two, but expect more of the same and not a lot of imagination.

Bonus kudos to Mark Dacascos who went from being the chairman in Iron Chef (SECRET INGREDIENT) to going toe-to-toe with John Wick.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Wine Country, 2019 - ★★

Great concept, poor execution. Rudolph is the best thing here, but too few laughs for the quality of comedic actresses involved.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Shazam!, 2019 - ★★★★½

Review coming soon...

Avengers: Endgame, 2019 - ★★★★★

Review coming soon....

Little, 2019 - ★★★

This is a funny-enough reverse Big that has a few solid laughs but never really ascends to a great comedy. Regina Hall and Marsai Martin (who co-wrote this at such a young age) are solid as they play both little and big versions of entrepreneur Jordan Sanders. BUT, the real star of this movie and someone I need to see more of (never watched her HBO show) is Issa Rae who plays Sanders' assistant. Rae's comedic timing is amazing and she gives commentary on screen to the ludicrous situation in the exact voice that we as an audience are thinking inside. Rae definitely elevates the overall quality of the movie. Rent this for a few laughs when it comes out on video.

Hotel Mumbai, 2018 - ★★★★

In the same vain as United 93, this is a harrowing, realistic "you are there" look at modern terrorism. Dev Patel and Armie Hammer simply react to all the events happening around them. The actors are solid (especially the terrorists who show absolutely NO remorse) and the script is tightly paced. I'm not sure there's anything really redeeming about reliving this and seeing so many people slaughtered for no real reason. But the film is very well crafted and a gripping, sobering ride. I would NEVER see it again, but it's worth a single viewing.

Pet Sematary, 2019 - ★★★½

Great casting especially with John Lithgow in the creepy neighbor role. I knew nothing about the King story going in as I never saw the original. Clarke is solid here and is finally a dependable leading man. There are some scares throughout but not overly terrifying. The jump scares when the trucks whiz by the road are the most jolting events of the film. Way over the top near the end and I'm not sure I loved the actual ending, but still a good time at the theater and this really makes me think about the afterlife in a different way.

Aquaman, 2018 - ★

Watched this mess on the plane yesterday. I find that I don't really care about sharks battling crabs underwater. Mamoa is a one-note actor and there's way too much grunting and screaming through lukewarm battle sequences. The CGI is overly cartoony and people "swimming" around seem so unnatural. Patrick Wilson is a total mess here and it seems that James Wan is just trying to cram him into this film because of The Conjuring. Wilson IS a good actor but he does not make a good villian. Really the only reason to watch this trainwreck is to look at Amber Heard. I don't know how DC went from this film straight into a funny and engaging movie like Shazam. The visual effects are night and day between those two movies as well.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Captive State, 2019 - ★

The concept is cool (it has a raw present day Alien Invasion feel similar to District 9). The effects are ok (despite shotty cinematography). But the Achilles's heal in director Rupert Wyatt's sci fi mess is a murky convoluted plot that never takes flight. So many useless characters are introduced and we don't care at all about any of the featured ones. At the end I was just happy that it was over and I didn't have to care about this movie anymore.

Wildlife, 2018 - ★★★½

Dano has a real eye for direction and Oxenbold is a future star. The story is a little muddled and not much of a payoff at the end. Decent film though.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Us, 2019 - ★★★★★

Jordan Peele's latest directorial effort is a film just as creepy as Get Out and features another original story concept from one of the most original minds in Hollywood. It's hard to believe that this actor/filmmaker who seemed to be on a one-note career has completely switched over to become a master of suspense, crafting unique "horror" films. Peele delivers another amazing film with Us, the story of a family who comes to grips with a carbon-copy version of themselves in a Santa Cruz beach setting.

The movie builds slow at the start but kicks into high gear when the "red" version of the family arrives. With a clever and original premise that delivers twist and turns similar to Get Out, Peele is able to simultaneously resurrect Luniz's 1995 rap hit I've Got 5 On It and 1986's Hands Across America. I won't give away any spoilers, but the real motivation of the "red" family is a great story twist that made me think about the connection of events in the film long after I left the theater.

It's really early for Oscar talk considering we just had the last ceremony a month ago, but Lupita Nyong'o is a standout amazing star in this film. Her performance as her doppelganger is so creepy and calculating that you can't believe the same actress is playing both characters. I thought she was excellent in 12 Years a Slave (her Oscar-winning role), but she's even better in this film. The rest of the cast, led by Winston Duke is strong and supports Nyong'o's herculean effort. We also get a wonderful contrasting performance by Elizabeth Moss in a supporting role. Everyone in the cast is having a blast delivering Peele's vision here.

Jordan Peele has done it. He's gone two-for-two with his first two films, both earning 5 stars on my scale. I can't wait to see what he does next and I'm hoping he'll veer slightly from this type of film as I'd love to see what he can do in another genre. Go see this movie right now on a big screen and buckle up for a signature Jordan Peele ride.

The Dirt, 2019 - ★★½

Entertaining but way "extra" and over the top. I realized how free Crue songs I really know. Most of the acting is sub par but Machine Gun Kelly (Tommy Lee) really stood out as a rapper who may really have a future in acting.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Paddleton, 2019 - ★★★★

Available on Netflix, this is a small, short and simple movie with a real look at the "Right to Die" decision. This film is basically just Mark Duplass and Ray Romano on a bittersweet buddy road trip for 90 minutes. Duplass' Michael has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and enlists the help of Romano's Andy to fill and deliver a lethal prescription of pills. It's hard to believe that these two best friends have really nothing in their lives but each other, but that premise makes the movie's ultimate decision that much more critical and painful to watch. Outstanding acting from the two comic leads in muted, low key, real performances. This is a swift breezy movie to watch with real stakes at the end. While there are some dull moments (including way too much old school kung Fu movie references), this is just more proof that the Duplass brothers know how to make good movies.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Captain Marvel, 2019 - ★★★★ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

It's Marvel's turn to roll out a high-profile superhero in this answer to Wonder Woman. In many cases Marvel outshines DC comics here (as is common with most Marvel movies). There are elements I liked better in Wonder Woman, but overall Captain Marvel just sets up the universe going forward a little better. Brie Larson is the proper casting decision and is great in this role.

The movie is well paced and entertaining combining good action sequences with outstanding visual effects. The anti-aging effects of Samuel L. Jackson in particular are just amazing to behold. We're getting to the point where we don't even need to have actors faces appear on-screen. It's scary and cool at the same time. The biggest drawback I have with the script is the confusing introduction of the movie. During the first 30 minutes of the film it's hard to follow the timeline and keep the different alien races straight. Despite the rough start, things smooth out as the film steams along to a pivotal mid-credits stinger scene that got me all jazzed for Avengers EndGame.

My biggest spoiler-filled issue here is with Captain Marvel's space helmet. Through most of the movie we see Cap in space required to wear her crazy Mohawk helmet. However, towards the end of the movie, she flying through space without the helmet. I guess her powers got so great that she didn't "need" it anymore?

Bonus points to Marvel for putting in a cute, resourceful alien cat into this film that closely resembles my cat Chip. I had a great time watching this and can only think this will serve as a launching pad for a lot more Captain Marvel appearances in MCU movies over the next 10 years. Larson better buckle-up, because she's going to be the face of Marvel for a long time.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, 2019 - ★★★★½

This film concludes one of the best animated series in film start-to-finish. In what might well be the best of the trilogy, HTTYDTHW focuses on family and love with a pretty straight forward story of finding a new home and dealing with a ruthless villain. It introduces a love interest for Toothless in the form of a new "Light" Fury dragon.

As in the first two films, the animation is spectacular especially during the sequences of flight. The colorful phosphorous wonder of the Hidden World and especially the fine details in the granules of sand in a scene on the beach show just how far Dreamworks Animation team has come since the first film.

The voice acting is strong all-around but Kristin Wiig in particular shines as the motor-mouthed Roughnut, as she delivers the funniest moments in the movie during a rant while held captive as a prisoner. There are a few laughs throughout but this movie's drawing point for me is its heart. The final 15 minutes of the film are extremely emotional as friends and family change for the main characters. It's right up there with Coco as one of the best endings I've seen in an animated film. Thankfully we get to hear a couple final plays of the fantastic signature theme music of the series by John Powell in the closing moments, which added to the emotional pull of the film.

If you've seen either of the first two films, you owe it to yourself to witness the very satisfying conclusion to this series.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

6th Annual ARCademy Awards

You'll find the annual Oscar Preview Podcast I do with my friend Omar Latiri of Arts Review and Commentary below. Enjoy my half-assed attempt at being an aging rock-star.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Minding the Gap, 2018 - ★★★★

Bing Liu is a budding filmmaking superstar. His very personal tale of him and two friends lives in Rockford Illinois is one of the best documentaries of the year. Liu is able to get real and raw emotion from his friends, including a remorseful and powerful recounting of a troubled marriage from his Mother. Like Jonah Hill's Mid 90's, Minding the Gap illustrates clearly how skating can be a true outlet for troubled youth in America. I actually enjoyed Won't You Be My Neighbor and Free Solo more than this, but it still is well deserved of it's Oscar nomination.

What Men Want, 2019 - ★★½

Unfortunately all the funny moments were in the trailer. Taraji is game but the rest of the cast is kinda lukewarm. Super weird resurgence by Brian Bosworth and a random cameo by Karl Anthony-Towns. Definitely wait for video for this one.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Prodigy, 2019 - ★★★

Slightly above average "horror" movie that wouldn't have worked as well without a pretty solid child actor. Orange is the New Black's Taylor Schilling is effective as a loving and concerned mother of a "possessed" child Miles. There are some jump scares but this feels more like a serial killer thriller than a traditional horror film. The story is kinda hokey in parts and Peter Mooney (a Chris Evans wannabe) is god awful as Miles' father. You can certainly wait for video on this one.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Wife, 2017 - ★★★½

It's hard to review this movie without giving a huge spoiler. In a story that's not what it seems at the beginning, Glenn Close plays the wife of an American author about to receive the Nobel prize for literature in Sweden. Close delivers a slow burning performance that really builds to a breaking point near the end. Throughout the first half on the film I was pretty confused as to why Close was tabbed as the front runner for Best Actress. My confusion totally vanished towards the end of the film. This movie is definitely slow at times but rewarding in the final third. Jonathan Pryce is effective as "The Husband" in his most prominent role since Evita. This is the best I've ever seen Glenn Close and she really does deserve the win she will get in a couple of weeks.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Three Identical Strangers, 2018 - ★★★½

Interesting story, but this movie suffers from telling the main story in the first quarter of the film. The rest of the movie is kinda sad and serves as a show drain from the initial excitement. Still, well crafted and worth a viewing.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, 2019 - ★★½

Saw an early screening of this follow-up to the AWESOME original Lego Movie and I have to say I was a little disappointed. The movie isn't bad, but it just doesn't feel very fresh after experiencing the original and the Lego Batman movie. We have most of the same characters and voices with the addition of Tiffany Haddish as an evil queen.

The script by Lord and Miller is solid, and there are some good jokes and gags sprinkled throughout but overall it just feels a bit lazy and tired. Not as inventive and engaging as the animated Spider-Man film I saw last month. Worth a watch, but certainly no one needs to rush out to a theater to see it.

In what is surely an analogy to the current political climate, this film proclaims what I feel about Lego Movie 2: Everything's NOT Awesome.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Glass, 2019 - ★★★★

M Night is not at the top of his game but he is still an accomplished filmmaker and has made a solid conclusion to a comic book trilogy with Glass. There first half of the film is show and plodding but things wake up when the super trio of Bruce Willis (David Dunn), James McAvoy (The Beast) and Samuel L Jackson (Mr. Glass) plan their escape from a psychiatric hospital. Night explores some awesome and unique camera angles during the escape and follow-on battle. He still had that great visual eye as a director. The star of this film once again is McAvoy who goes bananas playing 24 different personalities and actually improves upon his Split performance. It's also nice to see Spencer Treat Clark again playing the role of Bruce Willis' son which ties in well to clips from Unbreakable that Night mixes in.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Escape Room, 2019 - ★½

Pretty much a waste of time. The room design is pretty cool overall but the story is a mess and the film can't decide how it wants to end things. Awful acting all-around but that was expected. There really was a way to make this movie a better experience in the hands of a more capable director.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Upside, 2017 - ★★★½

Based on a true story, The Upside gives us some outstanding chemistry between two actors who know how to be charming and hilarious. Kevin Hart is perfectly cast in the fish out of water roll of Dell, an ex-con who ends up impressing a wealthy quadriplegic Phillip Lacasse played by Bryan Cranston and becoming employed as a full-time care giver.
Hart is able to be Hart in this film, commenting on all the new tasks he has to learn with a variety of hilarious scenes including an awkward catheter removal sequence. Despite his real life Oscar hosting drama, he remains a likable and charismatic comic genius. Cranston being confined to just using his head to act, shines and reminds us just how charming and effective he is as an A-plus actor. The two leads alone make this a movie worth watching.
The Upside is not amazing or really powerfully moving as a drama, but it works so well in key scenes with Hart and Cranston playing off each other. Nicole Kidman's Yvonne is a necessary albeit under-used supporting character but her sparse involvement in the story makes the end of the film less impactful. In fact, the end of the movie was the biggest drawback for me. The story just seems to end abruptly and didn't feel very satisfactory.
This movie is worth a viewing but you can probably wait for rental/streaming.