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.