DUNE: PART TWO Review

Denis Villeneuve's Grand and Gorgeous Epic is as Insightful about Sincerity and Strategy as it is Engaging on the Broad Levels of a Big-Budget Studio Blockbuster.

ARGYLLE Review

Matthew Vaughn has Officially become a Director of Diminishing Returns with this Overstuffed and Laughably Corny Slog of a Spy Caper.

MEAN GIRLS Review

This Trip back to North Shore High Justifies itself by still being Sharp in its Observations of Vacuousness.

AMERICAN FICTION Review

Writer/Director Cord Jefferson’s Feature Debut Splits the Difference Between Searing Satire and Emotional Family Drama Coming out a Winner in Both Respects.

POOR THINGS Review

Emma Stone is Daring and Mark Ruffalo is Hilarious in this Surreal Fever Dream of Philosophy and Attempting to Understand our Nature through Unorthodox Methods.

2024 Oscar Predictions


It feels like, for one reason or another, this has been the longest awards season I've ever experienced. Maybe it's because last year's biggest movie-related story was that of "Barbenheimer" and because both have ended up playing heavily into this awards season it seems we've simply been on this wave for eight months straight or maybe it is simply the deluge of precursors and other ceremonies I've paid attention to, but either way I think I'll be more relieved by the time this weekend is over than excited about any of the (mostly foregone) results. To put it simply, this is the year of Oppenheimer and I don't really see things swaying in another direction even if the manifestation of Christopher Nolan's career doesn't win in every category it's expected to. Oppenheimer leads all nominees with thirteen nominations this year, one fewer than Titanic's record and listen, this is all fine by me. As someone who saw Batman Begins twice opening day, a few days after graduating high school, and then stood in line for five hours to get a good seat at the midnight showing in the only IMAX theater in Arkansas as a 21 year-old (before assigned seating and early Thursday night previews were a thing) I have been on the Nolan fan train as long as his name has been relevant. Given I saw Dark Knight at such a formative and impressionable point in life I've been rooting for the auteur to win the big award ever since. With a historical biopic of one of the more complicated if not necessarily influential figures in American history, the worlds of Nolan's aesthetic and Academy prestige came together to give us this moment and I just can't imagine the likes of Poor Things or The Holdovers overtaking that. All of that to say, while Oppenheimer may appear as the predicted winner in many categories below 2023 was a strong year for movies all-around and a fair amount will still be celebrated as winners at this year's ceremony.

DUNE: PART TWO Review

We tend to like our space operas with well-defined heroes and villains. Whether it be Star Wars or the latest incarnation of Power Rangers, the line between nobility and corruption is made clear whether it be through direct action or the color scheme of the costumes. Hell, even in something as sophisticated as Denis Villeneuve's two Dune adaptations the heroes are largely surrounded by pure, white sands while the villains literally dip themselves in black goop (neither this review nor the Dune movies are sponsored by Gwyneth Paltrow -- as far as I know). What is immediately striking about Dune: Part Two is how it continuously questions its own mythology. While the whole of Dune is essentially a story of heroes and villains in a race for ultimate power and control through the ultimate commodity, what it is actually about (the films, anyway) are the power, control, influence, and questions the presence of a messiah manifest. In Villeneuve's first Dune film Timothée Chalamet's Paul Atreides was a boy born into a destiny beyond his understanding. What makes Part Two the more complex, interesting, and arguably more epic of the two films is both Paul's understanding of and ultimate embrace of this destiny that has been prescribed to him his entire life. 

In the first film, Paul's father (Oscar Isaac) tells him, "A great man doesn't seek to lead; he is called to it." In Part Two, we see that calling play out as Paul is guided in his decisions - through both dream-like visions as well as his mother (Rebecca Ferguson) parlaying a prophecy into as much of a reality as she can - to the point there is hesitation in Paul's actions, a sincerity as Zendaya's Chani sees it, that makes him question whether seeing this prophecy through or putting a stop to it altogether is the better decision for the universe as a whole. There is of course, much more going on around Paul, the Fremen people, and the planet of Arrakis on which they reside that factor into Paul's deliberations, but for as much time as Dune: Part One spent on building the mythology of Frank Herbert's universe it only seemed natural that Part Two might then define what makes this mythology, these characters, and these worlds worth investing in. Rather, Villeneuve and screenwriter Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) spend much of the runtime of this continuation within the ethical questions Paul seeks to (re)solve - questions that could also be applied to the religion and politics of this universe that naturally mirror our own. The result being that by investigating these questions and conflicts the characterizations and significance of what could easily be perceived as pure nonsense do, in fact, become meaningful as if the attention and care paid to the depth allows for the breadth to sustain itself.

ARGYLLE Review

I could watch two Channing Tatum movies in The Vow and The Lost City and get this same movie while having a more rewarding viewing experience and I would absolutely rather watch two consecutive Channing Tatum movies than ever experience Argylle again. 

That is to say, unfortunately Matthew Vaughn has officially become a director of diminishing returns. Out of the gate, Vaughn only continued to improve with each of his first five features. In his first (seemingly) original film since 2014 after making three films in the same universe and launching a third franchise with Argylle clearly intended to be a fourth (even though that definitely won't happen), it would seem Vaughn has finally hit a career low. While this would seem to indicate he can only go up from here, this winking hodgepodge of a meta-comedy, action caper lets us know early on what we're in for when it becomes clear just how little Vaughn is invested in the construction of the film by the placement of the title card. Why would you not at least save it until after the worst looking high speed car chase in history? 

Written by Jason Fuchs (Wonder Woman) and including such classic dialogue as, “You and I, we’re not so different…” it is important to stay aware of the film's intent as Argylle unravels (pun fully intended). The point being, there is no intention or ideas outside of being "big" entertainment. Not even pure entertainment because if that were the case this would have been half an hour shorter, but in keeping with the "big" part of being entertaining this is nearly two and a half hours and absolutely doesn't need to be. Had they streamlined some of this overly convoluted nonsense it might have actually resonated simply as entertaining and fun, but it instead becomes a laughable (as in definitely laughing at and now with) slog. Even worse, a lot of the admittedly inventive action set pieces would be really clever and genuinely funny if they didn’t look like complete shit. I just can't understand how Vaughn's modern action sequences are so much uglier than the outright classics he was concocting ten and fifteen years ago?

ORIGIN Review

Why do we do the things we do to one another? Maybe it's because I'm a fairly new father, maybe because I see the faces of a 9 year-old, 4 year-old, and almost 2 year-old whom I am responsible for daily and they have softened me, but I can't see a movie that deals in even the tiniest infraction against an innocent child and not question not only why the collective "we" do the things "we" do, but how people can perpetrate such hatefulness and bigotry toward someone else, much less an innocent child who has not only done nothing wrong but also doesn't understand why there is a prejudice against them in the first place. Not to spoil anything about Ava DuVernay's latest, Origin, but while much of this fictional adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson's nonfiction book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is focused on Wilkerson herself (portrayed by the great Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) as we follow along on her journey to research and write the eventual book many of the ideas in this film are based on, where Origin really flourishes is when it detours into the past and recreates these stories from throughout different stages in history that inform the present story Wilkerson is desperately trying to shape and make sense of. Undoubtedly, these detours are what will cause some critics and viewers to hasten toward thoughts that the film is disjointed and tonally uneven, but the way in which DuVernay uses these reenactments to not only emphasize to the viewer the reality of these things Wilkerson is learning, but – for my money – beautifully weaves them throughout are what make both the film’s narrative and Wilkerson’s arc feel whole. To use a tired turn of phrase, they complement one another in such a way that by the time we reach the final moments where these two strands of storytelling coalesce, I was moved to tears – asking myself the basic question of, “Why do we do the things we do to one another?”.

MEAN GIRLS Review

Like so many movies these days, 2024's Mean Girls first had to prove its reasons for existing were valid. And like so many movies these days, I tend to appreciate them for where they succeed rather than condemning them for where they don't. In the broad scheme of things this new Mean Girls movie is perfectly fine, but when remaining within the stratosphere of this movie adaptation of a stage musical that itself was adapted from a twenty year-old feature film based on a 2002 non-fiction bestseller titled "Queen Bees & Wannabes" it becomes something bigger, something more; an investment in the material, the thought behind it, and how as much earned it the place it holds in our culture. 

"Like all history, this is emotionally layered and culturally dense." I was seventeen in 2004 when the original Tina Fey adaptation was released, I remember writing about it for my school newspaper, and realizing Fey had officially made the leap while simultaneously cementing Lindsay Lohan as a figurehead of my generation. Mean Girls never didn't feel like a big deal and so it wasn't surprising so many of the jokes and bits from that original film endured, but because of the endurance factor I couldn't help but wonder what the translation to the modern high school experience might have to say about our less PC and, as a result, more merciless environment. Additionally, I’d never seen the stage play and was thus unfamiliar with the production and music (written by Fey's husband, Jeff Richmond with lyrics by Nell Benjamin). While Mean Girls '24 then had to really justify itself what was maybe most surprising about the addition of the not exactly memorable music was how quickly it helped move me past the nostalgia factor and into appreciating what this retelling had to offer.