Monday, December 30, 2019

American Factory, 2019 - ★★★★

This is a great look at culture clashes between the United States and China. The work ethic of American and Chinese couldn't be more different and this brave attempt at creating a synergy between the two cultures at the Fuyao Glass America plant in Dayton Ohio is documented brilliantly with this film.

Kudos to the Obamas for producing this movie and they may be in line to accept an Oscar in February.

Little Women, 2019 - ★★

Greta Gerwig's adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott classic novel is what it is. A safe, simple story of little girls growing up to be women and it's a story that just isn't my cup of tea. I was thoroughly bored throughout this film and while I did respect the performances (especially the up-and-coming Florence Pugh and the grande dame herself Meryl Streep) I just wasn't engaged with this movie.

Gerwig has made two films in a row (2017's Lady Bird) that really just didn't do it for me. The biggest issue I had with this film is the rapid jumps back and forth through time. The film is paced through a series of present-day sequences intercut (with almost no explanation at times) with flashback scenes. It was very confusing to know what time frame you were witnessing throughout the movie.

The score by Alexandre Desplat is one of his worst film scores and the movie felt entirely too long. I'm sure there's a target audience for this type of film but it certainly isn't me.

Cats, 2019 - ★★★

I know. Everyone HATES this movie. I'm sure this will sweep the razzies this year, but let's all pump the breaks a bit. Tom Hooper tries to recreate the magic of Les Miserables with this Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptation of the Cats musical. The movie is not awful and works in a variety of ways. The issue here is that those who are seeing this musical for the first time will probably hate it and the CGI effects will just become a barrier to prevent them from enjoying the music.

I came into the screening having just seen Cats at the Kennedy Center two months earlier. I saw this musical several times as a child and was fully aware of the plot, costuming and all of the music in the film. Tom Hooper takes the existing story and adds in a white kitten named Victoria (Francesca Hayward) to lead the audience through the story and to participate in many of the musical numbers. I thought this was an interesting choice and not quite necessary but Hayward is very good with both her facial emotions and her singing.

The real issues I had with this movie were some of the casting choices. Rebel Wilson in particular is god-awful as Jennyanydots. This is a role that in the stage musical is not played like a bumbling bafoon acting crass and ridiculous as all of Rebel Wilson's performances are. Her sequence in the film is horrible with tons of forced practical "comedy" featuring dancing rats, mice and cockroaches that falls on its face. James Cordon as Bustopher Jones is also overly comical and not as endearing as the character in the stage musical. Jason Derulo is not as "cool" as the Elvis-esque stage character of Rum Tum Tugger. I thought that Idrid Elba (Macavity), Robbie Fairchild (Munkustrap), Ian McKellen (Gus), Judi Dench (an excellent spin to have a female Old Deuteronomy) and even Taylor Swift (Bombalurina) were very good.

The CGI in this movie is not the best but it did not bother me as much as it seems to bother all of America. I thought a lot of the facial closeups with ears perking up and the CGI fur was well done. This is the look the Hooper and his team wanted. The choice of not animating hands and feet was very strange but the base CGI is passable for what it was engineered for. The biggest visual issue I had was all the anthropomorphic animating of the smaller-than-cats creatures like cockroaches,mice, etc.. . I think the people-as-animals stunt casting should have ended at the cats phase.

The story of this film is borrowed loosely from the musical which already has not much of a plot. This film/musical is really all about the music. If you don't like the music, you're going to hate the play/film. If you're going into it for the first time seeing CGI people-cats you'll probably hate it. But as someone who likes some of the music and thought the musical was halfway decent, I thought this adaption wasn't all that bad. I was entertained and really did enjoy the power-moments of Jennifer Hudson's Memory despite the snotty nose.

Bombshell, 2019 - ★★★½

Charlize Theron totally nails her portrayal of Megyn Kelly in this semi-true story of the fall of Roger Ailes at Fox News. Whomever was in charge of the prosthetics/makeup on this film should win an Oscar for morphing Charlize into a spitting image of Kelly. Theron added in the proper voice affect to finish the stunning transformation.

The film itself is an insider look at the outbreak of the me too movement in media. Director Jay Roach makes sure to look at all sides of this issue in laying out the facts and opinions on both sides of the political aisle. Nicole Kidman is effective as whistle-blower Gretchen Carlson and Margot Robbie SHINES as fictional up-and-coming reporter Kayla Pospisil. Robbie in particular conveys both youthful exuberance and first-hand fright and trauma based on what she experiences in her interactions with Ailes (John Lithgow in a brilliant performance).

While Theron and Robbie are the highlights here, the story and plot are a bit too inside-politics for my taste. Supporting turns by Mark Duplass and Kate McKinnon help move the pacing along but I found myself overwhelmed by intricacies of politics that just don't interest me personally. Still this is a very good female-driven vehicle that does a solid job of lifting the curtain on the seedy underbelly of American journalism.

Uncut Gems, 2019 - ★★★½

The Safdie Brother have created a raw and real look at the NYC underbelly and in the process have given Adam Sandler another "dramatic" role to sink his teeth into. Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a NYC jeweler who is addicted to betting on sports. The movie gets ramped up at times especially in the jewelry store scenes where everyone is yelling and vamping on top of one another. I found these scenes to be particularly annoying as it seems that everyone is trying to yell louder than one another. I suppose the Safdies were trying to make the audience uncomfortable here and it worked, but I didn't find this rewarding at all.

Sandler is serviceable here in the lead role but he really just yells and yells like he does in his famous comedy roles. There's nothing groundbreaking about his performance. I also really hated the score in this film by Daniel Lopatin. It didn't compliment any of the scenes and actually served as a distracting presence throughout.

The real star of this movie is Kevin Garnett who plays a 2012 version of himself with authenticity and a sense of realness. As an NBA fan it was pretty cool to see real-life playoffs clips spliced with the dramatic context of the fictional narrative. The perils of sports gambling are brought to the forefront with a shocking ending that makes up for some of the over-the-top acting/screaming along the way.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, 2019 - ★★★★½

This movie has divided a large fan base like no other. People who loved Last Jedi are clamoring that director JJ Abrams has once again copied the story and themes from a previous film in the series and that there's a lack of creativity in this movie. Others who weren't as enamored with Jedi are loving this film for what it is, a solid send off to this saga of nine films.

Let's be clear... I liked Last Jedi. I didn't LOVE it. The visual choices that Rian Johnson made in that film were perfect and it may be the best LOOKING Star Wars movie ever. I did not like the choices made for Luke Skywalker with the whole lightsaber over-the-shoulder toss and his exaggerated reluctance to teach the force to Rey. Going into the screening of Skywalker I wished that episode 9 contained a hybrid of the visuals from 8 and the nostalgia from 7 and I pretty much got my wish there. Rise of Skywalker looks great and is jam packed with great references to the past including a lot of big-stakes resolution at the end. This movie does borrow a lot from Return of the Jedi just like Force Awakens borrowed from A New Hope. It didn't annoy me in Force Awakens though and it didn't annoy me with this film either. I just felt that there were enough throwbacks to the past (I loved the return to the throne room from the Return of the Jedi Death Star) that gave the film an emotional connection to my lifetime of watching all these films. Was there a lot of original plot ideas here? NO. But I don't think I needed that with this film. This movie simply needs to wrap up everything in this Skywalker thread and I think it did so rather nicely.

This film is a showcase for the acting talents of Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega and Oscar Issac, all perfectly cast characters that pay off in this final film. You really buy the chemistry between all of them and there are multiple jokes throughout that really work. Ridley especially has a lot to carry on her shoulders with the narrative here and she pulls it off brilliantly.

It's a shame that we have episodes 7-9 with two "battling" directors at the helm. Overall I think the sequel trilogy sits head and shoulders above the prequels but definitely behind episodes 4-6. JJ Abrams did an admirable job and I was entertained and mostly satisfied with Rise of Skywalker, a film I want to see again and I feel is getting a bad rap from most critics.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Richard Jewell, 2019 - ★★★★

Clint Eastwood is still chugging along as a top-list director at age 88. His latest true-story effort is a retelling of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bombing and the subsequent aftermath. I remembered a lot of these events as I was and am a huge Olympics fan but what this movie does really well is showcase the media/FBI involvement in wrongfully accusing an innocent man.

Sam Rockwell plays Jewell's attorney Watson Bryant and delivers another excellent performance while Kathy Bates shines and earns her Golden Globe nomination as Jewell's concerned mother. Both of the actors I just mentioned are Academy Award winners and proven commodities, the real bright spot of this film lies in character actor Paul Walter Hauser who absolutely nails the title role of Richard Jewell and gives him a level of complexity that I really wasn't expecting going into this. We're able to see Jewell as an aspiring law enforcement officer and as a fish-out-of-water when he's suspected to have planted the fateful bomb in Centennial Park. In a crowded Oscar race, I'd almost want to save a spot for Hauser in the Best Actor category although I know that won't happen. He was simply the right actor choice for this role and delivers way beyond what he's done in other films like I Tonya and BlacKkKlansman.

The acting is great here (John Hamm and Olivia Wilde are solid as well), the story is solid but it does drag along in places. Similar to his work with Sully, Eastwood is able to spin some depth and character development into another from-the-headlines story. Hauser will never be better in a film and it's worth buying a ticket just to watch him embody Richard Jewell.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Knives Out, 2019 - ★★★★

Rian Johnson brings back the murder mystery whodunnit genre with this enjoyable yarn about a powerful man and his extended family. Coming off the heels of The Last Jedi, Johnson gives us a clever twist on the "Clue" mystery-thriller staring a long list of celebrities I won't fully mention here. The stars that shine brightest are Christopher Plummer (Harlon Thrombey - patriarch of the family) Daniel Craig (as the Southern twanged detective Blanc), Ana de Armas (Marta Cabrera - Harlon's nurse) and Captain America himself (Chris Evans as Thrombey's grandson Ransom). I won't give any spoilers away to whodunnit, but the mystery goes on throughout the film and the best part of this movie is watching Daniel Craig try to solve the case. This is one of his best performances of his career and his southern mannerisms are spot-on and hilarious at times. Basically everything he says in this movie is worth a chuckle and you can't take your eyes off him when he's on-screen even in background scenes.

It's interesting to contrast this film with the recent success of Succession on HBO. There's a lot of similar dynamics here but Succession manages to fully paint the family members, adding depth that can't be duplicated in a two-hour film. Most all the cast here is excellent while a few key actors are under utilized (Toni Collette and Jaime Lee Curtis in particular).

This isn't a perfect film and there are parts that drag. I wish the mystery was played out a bit differently too, but Craig alone powers this movie to a high rating. de Armas is really clever and engaging here and shows us so much more than she brought to the table in Blade Runner 2049. This is definitely worth seeing and you'll have fun watching this play out. It'll be interesting to see where Johnson goes from here.

The Irishman, 2019 - ★★★

I don't fully get the whole universal praise of this film. I enjoyed watching it and really do appreciate all the technical work done with the de-aging of the main characters. The performances by De Niro, Pesci and Pacino are all top-notch in this "true story" look at the disappearance / murder of Jimmy Hoffa. De Niro in particular carries the film and it's really his best work since Goodfellas. You can tell that this was a passion project for the cast and Martin Scorsese as every scene is beautifully detailed and well crafted. The film looks great in 4K as well as I was able to watch this on Netflix at home, a trend that I am starting to enjoy more and more.

The major problem I had with this film is the run-time. This movie is waaaay too long and over indulgent. I felt we just got every single detail of Frank Sheeran's (De Niro) life and some of it could have been cut out. So many conversations ad nauseum between the main characters that after a while it's overkill and I started zoning out. Goodfellas is the best comparison to this film and that film just was so much more engaging than this one with memorable scenes and characters. The Irishman tells an intriguing story about growing old and coming to grips with what you've done over your lifetime but the way it's conveyed on screen is just a series of brutal killings peppered between forgettable conversations. Maybe part of the problem here is a lack of strong/memorable female performances in this movie. Lorraine Bracco brought so much to Goodfellas and that edge seemed to be missing here.

Marty Scorsese is a brilliant director but this is not in his top tier of films. It's really great to see Joe Pesci working again and I hope this isn't his final film. This is worth seeing for sure, but you may want to break it up in several chunks if you're watching via Netflix.

Marriage Story, 2019 - ★★★★★

Wow, this was a powerful film and very personal for me. As someone going through aftershocks from divorce and custody disputes, this felt very familiar at times. Noah Baumbach delivers a raw and gritty look at a real marriage falling apart before our eyes played out by two brilliant performances in Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. The two play two aspiring thespians. Nicole (Johansson) is a film actor turned Broadway art-house actor who decided moving to LA to be in a hit TV show was important for her career. Charlie (Driver) is a Broadway director who loves the pulse of New York City and runs a theater company there. Nicole's desire to be in LA pulls herself and her child Henry (Azhy Robertson) to relocate there with Nicole's Mom (Julie Hagerty).

What plays out through the bulk of the film is the back and forth between not only Charlie and Nicole but the dynamics of legal battling between Laura Dern (Nicole's attorney) and Alan Alda / Ray Liotta (Charlie's council). I fell like I've already given away too many plot details, but the draw of this film is the amazing performances by Johansson, Driver and Dern in particular. ScarJo has never been better. There is a scene early on that just focuses on her telling her marriage story to Dern in a raw uncut take where you can't take your eyes off her. She's so believable and makes you sympathetic to her plight even as I tended to side with the father in this situation. Driver is really really good as Charlie and he comes across as a genuine dad who loves his son but also loves his craft. The scene of him singing Stephen Sondheim near the end is a culmination of so much emotion throughout the film.

I don't believe I've ever really seen a Baumback film before and now I feel I should go and watch some of his earlier work. What he does here is lets his actors shine through unfiltered scenes that feel so real and natural. His takes are just long enough to let the emotion come out and bring us in as first-hand witnesses to this dispute. This movie is a masterpiece and only has a fault in the casting/writing of the child in the movie. Henry comes across as such an annoying / limited kids for an 8 year old. There is literally a scene where he's learning to read the word "iron" at age 9. He has a lot of pointless lines and he just isn't as real/genuine as the child in Kramer vs Kramer. Still, all the other performances are so good that they overshadow this small drawback. I haven't seen Judy yet, but I find it hard to believe there will be a better acting performance than what ScarJo delivers in this movie.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, 2019 - ★★★★½

Mr. Rogers is a role that Tom Hanks was born to play. The consummate nice-guy actor fully embodies the role of nice-guy children's TV show host. Hanks' performance oozes empathy and sincerity and never comes across as hacky or corny. The film, directed by Marielle Heller is a beautiful look at the life of magazine writer Lloyd Vogel (portrayed brilliantly by Matthew Rhys) who is struggling to find his way as a writer, new father and son to an estranged father (Chris Cooper). The film plays out like an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood targeted at grown-ups and Heller does a wonderful job of cross-cutting scenes from the show with real-life interactions between Lloyd, Mr. Rogers and his attempt to reconcile with his dad. The scenes toward the end with Cooper and Rhys are powerful and brought out a few tears in me.

I really enjoyed this film and can't recommend it enough. The only problem I had with it was watching This Is Us' Susan Kelechi Watson play Lloyd's wife. Her performance was OK, but I feel she'll always be Randall's wife from the TV show and I couldn't really believe her in this role for some reason. Of course this is a minor nitpick. See this movie which comes across as chicken soup for the soul and a great tandem film to the Won't You Be My Neighbor documentary about Fred Rogers. Tom Hanks is a national treasure and this is another in a long line of classic performances to add to his resume.

Honey Boy, 2019 - ★★★½

A slightly depressing but honest look at Shia LaBeouf's childhood and his relationship with his alcoholic-abusive father. LaBeouf plays a character similar to his real-life Dad named James, alongside Ford v Ferrari's Noah Jupe (as "Otis" aka Shia as a child). Director Alma Har'el paints a whimsical picture of innocense mixed with the pressure of working in show business and what . Otis ends up smoking a lot at a very young age and we see how his abusive relationship with his Dad turns into trouble later in life when a 20-something Otis is played by Lucas Hedges. The movie does a solid job of showing how a tough-love father can impact the life of an impressionable child. Touching on themes of divorce, Har'el delivers and allows Shia to shine in the lead role. His chemistry with Jupe is excellent, but overall I wanted a little more here. The film is short and to-the-point but there's nothing really new with this story. Still, this is a showcase for LaBeouf and we really need to look out for Noah Jupe as an up-and-coming your actor.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Frozen II, 2019 - ★★★½

This movie looks brilliant and you can tell this sequel has been in gestation for a while based on the flawless animation. I "liked" but didn't love the first film and I sort feel the same about this one. Anna and Elsa are front-and-center once again and this time they embark on a quest to find out more about their past and relationship with their parents.

This movie deals with serious issues of purpose, finding your place in the world and touches on colonialism. Everything is wrapped up in a nice Disney bow with a slew of new songs throughout. The comedic high-point is a nice Peter Cetera - meets Queen ballad video by Jonathan Groff (who I much prefer in Mindhunter) as Christoph (Anna's love interest).

The story didn't blow me away and the songs are mostly forgettable (besides the terrific Into the Unknown) but I still enjoyed the return to this world. I would say that Josh Gad's voice acting as Olaf the bumbling snowman is the best part of this movie. He was slaying the kids left-and-right in my theater. If you have a kid, you're probably going to see this. If-not, you should probably wait for video or Disney Plus.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Doctor Sleep, 2019 - ★★½

I may be in the minority with this one, but I just didn't really like this movie all that much. As a follow-up to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, it just wasn't all that scary and I didn't really get into the whole steam-eating eternal-life subplot. Rebecca Ferguson (someone who I really like in most everything she's been in) plays Rose the Hat (yes that's her name in the credits). Rose indeed wears an annoying hat throughout and her and her rag-tag band of shinning vagabonds prey on other "special" shiners and end up prolonging their lives by feasting on the steam ("essence") that is excreted upon their death. That's really the premise of the whole film and whether this is a Stephen King brainchild or not, I just didn't like that whole supernatural element.

Ewan McGregor is great in the lead role of an older Danny Torrence with an alcohol addiction and the powers to be able to communicate with others like him through mental telepathy. The rest of the "True Knot" characters that are hunting child-shiners are forgettable and look like they're rejects from Twilight with the way they feast on the essence of others. Newcomer Kyliegh Curran was actually very good and believable as Abra (a new "shiner" that befriends Danny). Her solid chemistry with McGregor helps move the film along.

Now I really did like the Shining and all the creepy shit that went on in that film. Maybe I just was more moved by Nicholson's crazy metamorphosis and Kubrik's weird-ness but I didn't get that same feeling watching this film. My wife really liked and I know others did as well, but I feel like I missed the boat with Mike Flanagan's film here. Flanagan does do a few cool tricks including a trippy astral-projection sequence in which Rose "flies" over to Abra's house and all the musical and visual tie-ins to The Shining are well done, but overall I was just underwhelmed by the film as a whole. I think I wanted it to be more of an isolated horror story rather than the broader supernatural tale I was presented with. By all means, go and see it for yourself and make your own judgment. This isn't a bad movie, but it also just isn't for me.

Ford v Ferrari, 2019 - ★★★★★

James Mangold is on a nice streak of films coming off Logan (the best X Men movie) a couple years ago. With Ford v Ferrari he gives us an inside seat within the Ford racing team in their efforts to surpass Ferrari and become the top racing team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France in 1966. The chief players in this film are Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), the legendary race car designer, Ken Miles (Christian Bale, absolutely killing another performance), an English endurance auto racer, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), the head of Ford Motors, Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), VP of Ford Motors and Leo Beebe (a dick-ish Josh Lucas) Senior Executive VP of Ford Motors. The cast all plays off one another beautifully in re-telling the true story of Ford's rise to respectability in the auto-racing world and Mangold drives the truck full-bore by delivering some of the best and most immersive auto racing footage in film history.

Thankfully I was able to see this movie at my local Dolby Cinema AMC theater. These theaters have seats that vibrate along with the sound of the film you're watching so I really did feel that I was along for the ride during all of the race sequences. The final 50-minute sequence at Le Mans is really worth the price of admission alone. I'm somewhat of a life-long auto racing fan (NASCAR and Indy) but I've never watched Le Mans before and now I feel like I actually lived the race. Mangold brings us details and intricacies of each race that aren't glossed over in showy highlights like we would see in other racing films. We get to see real team strategy and decision-making both on and off the track.

The real glue of this film lies in the chemistry between Damon's Shelby and Bale's Miles, two hard headed determined individuals who compliment each other perfectly in forming a powerful racing team. Bale is amazing as Miles, you really share his joy for speed as he talks to himself during his races. There's a little bit of his "The Fighter" character in Ken Miles but he makes it his own creation by showing his devotion to his wife and son and making him a figure you root strongly for throughout the movie. Damon gives another every-man performance that is highlighted by an emotional scene with Miles' son towards the end of the film.

I walked out of this theater feeling like I just raced 24 hours at Le Mans and I enjoyed every single minute of the ride. I can't recommend it enough to see this movie on the largest, loudest screen possible. Mangold (admittedly not a car-racing fan) took 60's endurance racing and made a cinematic showcase of a film that stands out in a year of constant sequels and reboots.

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, 2019 - ★★★½

This is the first J&SB movie where I've officially felt that Jason Mewes is OLD. He looks weathered but still has that same youthful exuberance that make him so much fun to watch. Once again, Jay and Silent Bob race around the country running into the same cast of characters who all look older (especially Joey Lauren Adams). There's not much in the way of plot here but there is a bit more depth to Jay's character now that he has a daughter along for the ride (Kevin Smith's real-life daughter Harley Quinn Smith.... yes. that's her real name). The younger Smith seems like she might have a bright career ahead of her in acting. This was a fun escapist movie to watch and I can't help but think we'll keep getting J&SB films every 5-10 years until Kevin Smith or Jason Mewes die.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The King, 2019 - ★★★

Timothee Chalamet is excellent as always as a war-seasoned prince turned king in this retelling of Henry V's rise to power in the 15th century. With a supporting cast of capable veteran actors including Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn and Sean Harris, the film moves along and showcases the significant events in the life of the young king.

Robert Pattinson's cheeky turn as "The Dauphin" is the performance that steals the movie. Overall I was entertained somewhat but The King really brings nothing new to the table. It's a rehash of Braveheart-style fight scenes and some throne politics that we've seen before in other shows like Game of Thrones. The excellent brooding score by Nicholas Britell helps build the tension throughout.

Not very memorable, but not a bid film either.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Jojo Rabbit, 2019 - ★★★★

Thor Ragnarok's Taika Waititi directs this off-kilter satirical look at the end of World War II through the eyes of an impressionable 10-year-old who had an imaginary friend that just so happens to be Adolph Hitler. Newcomer Roman Griffin Davis plays Jojo, a young boy who enlists in a bootcamp for aspiring Nazis. After scarring his face during an accident in the camp, he is re-assigned to a Nazi office and helps with day-to-day activities while his Mother (Scarlett Johannson) helps raise him on her own thanks to her war-enlisted husband.

The cast in this film is fantastic highlighted by Davis' pure and real performance. Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace) shows up mid-film as a Jewish teenager in hiding. Waititi himself portrays the imaginary Hitler character who starts out as a hysterical addition to the narrative but ends up growing a little thin at times towards the end of the movie. Thankfully the core of the film is the great chemistry between Davis and McKenzie. Just wait... within the next 10 years, McKenzie is going to win an Oscar. You heard it here first! She just has that special ingredient in her effortless acting ability that's going to vault her to A-list status at some point. Sam Rockwell (hilarious as always), Alfie Allen and Rebel Wilson round out the excellent ensemble cast as instructors at the Nazi youth camp.

We've heard a lot of the Nazi "Jew jokes" before in other films like Borat. They're over the top ridiculous characterizations that remind of us of just how narrow-minded Hitler and his followers were. Despite those re-used jabs, the humor in this movie is really well done and I can't wait to see what Taika does next (will he direct a new film before he helms the 4th Thor movie for the MCU?). This is a worthwhile comical take on Nazi propaganda and a brilliant showcase for two stellar young actors. I had a great time watching this film.

Harriet, 2019 - ★★★½

A deep dive into the accomplishments of the legendary navigator of the underground railroad, this film is a solid reenactment of the slave-freeing movement. The acting across the board is servicable but the spotlight shines brightly on Cynthia Erivo playing the title role of Harriet Tubman. I first noticed Erivo in Bad Times at the El Royale in which she stood out as a future star. She's one Oscar short of an EGOT and may come close to grabbing it this year. I expect her to be nominated for Best Actress for this bold turn as Tubman. She does a great job of conveying fear and confidence at the same time. You really can't take your eyes off her when she's on-screen.

Director Kasi Lemmons paints a vivid picture of the pre-civil war East Coast with desolated and isolated farm houses and small villages that set the stage for the Underground Railroad. The plight of Tubman's repeated treks across this landscape is heightened by the tense relationship between her and her former slave owner (Joe Alwyn).

Overall I liked but didn't love this film. I feel it didn't have the soul or passion of previous slavery films like Glory or 12 Years a Slave. That being said, this is still worth a watch if only for Erivo's excellent performance.

The Laundromat, 2019 - ★★½

Soderbergh means well here with an educational/entertaining look at American insurance fraud that crosses the line becoming a preachy twisted mess of a film. Streep, Bandaras and Oldman are all having a blast in the lead roles but unfortunately we don't get enough of their characters. There are too many splintered off sub-plots surrounded by an explain-it-by-numbers approach ripped from The Big Short. I applaud the effort here but this film just isn't for me.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Zombieland: Double Tap, 2019 - ★★★

This was a fun follow-up to the original although there's nothing really original about it. More of the same really and some good laughs throughout. It's interesting to see the ever-engaging Emma Stone back in this role after so much career success over the past decade. She impresses as usual as does Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee.

Zoey Deutch (Lea Thompson's talented daughter) is kinda funny as the over-the-top stranded valley girl who gets worked into the mix of the main four. But her character's shtick goes on forever and becomes really grating after a while. This is without a doubt a streaming or rental movie. No reason to shell out any money to see this in the theater.

Terminator: Dark Fate, 2019 - ★★½

Nothing really new here... Another middling Terminator sequel where the future is decided and we get to see two new terminators battle. Is all been done before and I found myself not caring about any of the new characters. Thankfully Arnold is brought in mid-movie for some much needed comic relief.

There were a few nice touches like the bonus scene at the start featuring a young (de-aged?) Edward Furlong and some good lines by the forever bad ass Linda Hamilton. Arnold is the big draw though. He's not on screen much but when he is it's impossible to take your eyes off him.

I don't think we need any more Terminator films unless the narrative gets changed up significantly. Don't waste your money seeing this in a theater to witness a drab story and cartoony cut-rate special effects.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, 2019 - ★★★½

This movie didn't need to be made. We didn't need to see the follow-on moments as Jesse Pinkman fled from the authorities after Walter White died on the last episode of Breaking Bad (spoiler alert). Vince Gilligan didn't care if we wanted this film or not but now we have it. It's methodical and slow at times like an episode of Better Call Saul, but it's still a Gilligan film through and through and it's well worth watching. The scenes in the apartment where Jesse tries to find Todd's (Jesse Plemons) stowed money are gripping and classic Breaking Bad drama.

The constant guest appearances from memorable BB characters from Cranston's White to Krysten Ritter's Jane are fun to see but seem like forced call backs to the Breaking Bad series. Still, this movie is interesting and paced properly with a perfect platform to show off Aaron Paul's acting as Jesse. He runs the gamut of emotions in this performance through present day scenes and flashbacks. He really loves playing this character and you can tell he takes portraying Jesse on-screen very seriously.

I'll watch anything that Vince Gilligan does and hopefully he isn't done exploring this type of film experiment.

Between Two Ferns: The Movie, 2019 - ★★★½

Hilarious at times, this is nothing more than extended series of Ferns sketches that give us a ton of celebrity cameos and a few very good laughs.

Gemini Man, 2019 - ★★½

This is little more than a technical experiment. Ang Lee delivers a bland by-the-book spy "thriller" that stalls at times and really doesn't add much character development. The action sequences are well engineered and watching this in 120FPS was pretty cool, but really this is just a showcase for a particular kind of technical innovation. De-aging.

We've seen de-aging in other Marvel movies recently and while done well, nothing has approached the heights seen in Gemini Man. Will Smith's younger clone looks nearly identical to his Fresh Prince self. Some of the combat sequences where young Will is running and jumping make it seem like "yes this is a CGI person". But there are other scenes like the one where young Will confronts the individual that cloned him (his "father" Clive Owen), where we see tears and real emotions on the de-aged Smith that it really does seem like a physical younger version on-screen.

The problem with this movie is that the technical wizardry is really all that's redeeming about the experience of watching Gemini Man. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Dr. Strange's Benedict Wong are just under developed side characters that help service the story. The government conspiracy that surround the plot is laughable and forgettable. I found myself not really caring about the "DIA" (I mean they really couldn't use CIA in this film?).

Is this worth a ticket spend to see this on the big screen? Maybe not. But this film might be remembered most for blurring the lines between real and CGI even further. Who knows, in 10 years we may no longer need physical actors in our big-budget films.

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.