Mission: Impossible - FALLOUT Review

Tom Cruise and Writer/Drector Christopher McQuarrie Re-team for the Sixth Mission Film and Create One of the Best Action Films in Years.

Christopher Robin Review

Winnie the Pooh and his Friends from the Hundred Acre Wood Help Ewan McGregor's Title Character Remember his Past in this Forgettable Ode to Childhood.

The Spy Who Dumped Me Review

Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon Star in this Buddy Comedy that Might Have Been Worth a Look Were Anyone Actively Trying to Make it Worthwhile.

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again Review

The Whole Gang Returns for a Sequel/Prequel that Downs the Stakes, but Ups the Emotional Investment while Recycling Some of the Songs.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation Review

Adam Sandler and his Animated Gang of Monsters Return for a Third Go-Around that is Wholesome Fun if not Exactly Innovative.

BLACKKKLANSMAN Review

A history lesson and galvanizing procedural all in one, Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman is one for the ages. An incredibly heavy, effectively powerful film that drenches you in the world in which it operates, pulls absolutely no punches, and delivers a film from a focused filmmaker who is not only presenting a timely conversation that needs to happen, but conveying his side of the conversation with style, eloquence, and immense profundity.

Spike Lee has always been something of an enigma of a filmmaker for me. Having been born in 1987 and only two years-old when Lee broke onto the scene with the film he’s now seemed to be chasing his entire career, Do the Right Thing, I didn’t really come to know who Lee was until realizing he directed Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us” music video. I was too young to see the much heralded 25th Hour when it was released, but Lee’s one-two punch of more accessible films in the mid-2000’s with Inside Man and Miracle at St. Anna allowed me my first, full experiences with the filmmaker while being something of a misdirect as many of his smaller, less mainstream films don’t follow the clean structure and story beats familiar to most audiences. Rather, most of Lee’s films are pointedly about what they’re about, but when Lee actually has a story to work his themes through he is able to create more fulfilling and profound experiences. This is what makes BlacKkKlansman the perfect story for Lee to tell. The true life events the film is based on provide an entertaining template to discuss the politics Lee desires to discuss while that true story is at the same time entrenched in the racially charged dilemmas of the late seventies (and unfortunately, of today as well). In essence, it’s a perfect melding of artist and material.

EIGHTH GRADE Review

I watched an interview with Elsie Fisher on Jimmy Kimmel where she said she was reading Letterboxd reviews and now I’m as anxious as Kayla was at that pool party; wondering what I should say and how much I should divulge so as to not stick out, but not be completely invisible either.

Honestly though, what Kayla does at that pool party is braver than any thought I would have even pondered at her age. Kayla, if you’re wondering, is the mostly balanced if not sometimes age-appropriately dramatic teen at the center of comedian and all-around genius Bo Burnham’s directorial debut. Kayla is shy and possesses very little confidence. She lives in a modest home with her single father (played so lovingly by Josh Hamilton) and yearns only to be accepted for the version of herself she is able to project on her YouTube channel.

For all intents and purposes, Eighth Grade doesn’t stick out for any one particular reason as it could easily be described as a millennial’s most accurate coming of age story, but that would be to dismiss all the small, but vital attributes (LeBron James!) that make its heart beat in earnest. For example, did anyone else who’s pretty far removed from the middle school/junior high experience forget how anxiety-inducing it was when you went to a friend’s birthday party and had to wait on them to open presents all the while hoping that your present will be deemed cool not only by the birthday girl or boy, but by everyone else in attendance? Yeah, me too, but Eighth Grade does a beautifully haunting job of capturing such an experience in all its dreaded glory.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN Review

There is a moment within the opening credits of Disney's latest attempt to turn one of their classic animated properties into a live action ATM that hints at the devastating nature of our lives. It is fleeting and it, if only for a moment, says all it needs to say about what this movie aspires to be. As it passes though and as it becomes more and more apparent the film doesn't really know how to accomplish what its initial ambitions intended the film instead becomes all the more broad and all the more safe. This moment is one in which a young Christopher Robin (Orton O'Brien) comes to the Hundred Acre Wood for the last time. He is going off to boarding school, you see, and won't be able to visit his friends as often anymore. His friends being his stuffed toys, which include that silly ol' bear named Pooh (voice of Jim Cummings), the perpetually petrified Piglet (voice of Nick Mohammed), the ever-exuberant Tigger (also Cummings), the steadily gloomy Eeyore (voice of Brad Garrett), as well as Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), her little Roo (Sara Sheen), and of course Owl (Toby Jones). Robin's toys know change is afoot and are throwing Christopher a farewell party of sorts in which treats-ranging from pots of honey to carrots, of course-are served and where even Eeyore is moved to make a speech. It is in light of the depressed donkey's surprisingly apathetic speech that Rabbit reacts to accordingly that we hear Cummings as Winnie the Pooh whisper a soft, "I would've liked for it to go on a bit longer." And just as fleeting as the moment itself is it simultaneously felt as if I'd been knocked over by a half ton barrage of scattered thoughts and emotions that reminded me just how fleeting time itself is. It's the one thing we can't get more of no matter how much wealth we possess or the circumstance of our lives; we all have a finite amount of time and Christopher Robin, in its first five minutes, exists to remind you that your children will grow and change just as you did and even though you feel you're different, that you're special, and that despite knowing it was a fact of life all along you were never really meant to grow old and become like your parents before you. Time truly waits for no man. This affected me to the point I wondered why I was sitting in a theater watching a movie when I should have been at home snuggling my three year-old daughter. In short, that would have been the more entertaining option of the two and certainly the more fulfilling one as it is only in this aforementioned moment that Christopher Robin was able to pull any genuine feeling out of me. And might I remind you, this is a movie wholly designed to pull on the heart and nostalgia strings. One moment.

First Trailer for Barry Jenkins' IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

The first look at writer/director Barry Jenkins' follow-up to his Best Picture winner (and first feature film), Moonlight, has appeared online today in honor of author James Baldwin who would have celebrated his ninety-fourth birthday today. How this is relevant is the fact Baldwin is the author of the source material for Jenkins' latest feature, If Beale Street Could Talk. The 1974 novel, which took its title from the 1916 W.C. Handy blues song "Beale Street Blues", is a love story set in Harlem in the early 1970's and follows Fonny (Stephan James of SELMA and who played Jesse Owens in Race) and Tish (KiKi Layne who will also star in the upcoming Rupert Wyatt thriller, Captive State, alongside John Goodman and Vera Farmiga). Fonny and Tish are in love with this beauty providing some layer of protection from the harsh reality of their family lives as well as the outside world. That is, until Fonny is falsely accused of rape. Of course, one wouldn't really get any of these story elements from this first trailer as Jenkins and Annapurna Pictures have decided to go more the route of a Terrence Malick-like pitch that features the stunning imagery of the film as captured by cinematographer James Laxton. This is largely effective as it is clear Jenkins is going for the emotional gut-punch to reel you in as he has his characters look directly into the camera, the expressions on their faces conveying a multitude of thoughts and feelings while their lips quiver as if on the edge of letting it all come out, but Jenkins cuts to black before they have a chance to do so. We're both mystified and hooked because we long to know what these beautifully rendered images have to say. I missed the 2016 documentary, I am Not Your Negro, which chronicled Baldwin as he told the story of race in modern America with his unfinished novel, "Remember This House". The film is available to stream for free with an Amazon Prime subscription at the moment though, so I'll be sure to catch up with it soon as my anticipation for this new work from Jenkins is obviously through the roof.  It's also notable that this is the first time any Baldwin work has been adapted into an English-language film; something that Jenkins has acknowledged was difficult. Though, judging by this first trailer it certainly seems the filmmaker figured out a way to do it justice. If Beale Street Could Talk also stars Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, Regina King, and opens November 30th, 2018.

New Trailer for VENOM Starring Tom Hardy

Sony has now released what is the second "official" trailer, but what is the third overall if you count that teaser trailer anyone unfamiliar with the fact a Venom movie was being made would still be unfamiliar with that fact after seeing that teaser. It's been difficult to be optimistic about a solo Venom movie since the get-go even with the casting of credible talents like Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, and Riz Ahmed. Sony was smart in waiting to release a new trailer that likely contains a lot of what the Comic-Con audience saw until after all the Comic-Con hype had mostly calmed down as this thing would have most certainly got lost in the shuffle among all the DC trailers (never thought I'd write that sentence). And while this latest and presumably final trailer for director Ruben Fleischer's (who hasn't made a solid film since his feature debut, but indeed made a hell of a debut with Zombieland) anti-hero movie is definitely the best one yet it's still hard to fully get behind this thing. Visually is where it seems to have the most trouble. The CGI in many places continues to look iffy and we can only hope this isn't the finished product, but given we're less than three months away from release it's difficult to not be skeptical. I'm not saying it looks X-Men Origins: Wolverine bad, but it definitely doesn't look convincing. We could have a similar situation to Green Lantern here where the unfinished effects in the trailer cause people to not show up for the finished product even if there is some improvement in the final product. There's also this hazy hue hanging over everything that makes the film look as if it were shot in 2002 which is to say the movie already looks dated and if your movie that features a completely CGI creature already looks dated before it comes out you might be in trouble. How some films can look so effortlessly real while relying on gobs of CG (see both Guardians of the Galaxy movies) while others seem to be limping to the finish line with their climactic computer generated battle (see Black Panther) I'm not sure, but this is a movie that needed more attention paid to the special effects than it did craft services and while I wasn't on set I'm willing to bet those spreads were more aesthetically pleasing. The story seems familiar enough if you know the arc of Eddie Brock and despite all my pessimism I still hope this turns out well-for all involved and for fans of the character, but I can't help but to feel the writing is on the wall. Venom also stars Woody Harrelson, Jenny Slate, Marcella Bragio, Michelle Lee, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, and opens October 5th, 2018.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: July 31, 2018

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT Review

The older Tom Cruise gets, the less time there is between his Mission: Impossible sequels. There was a mere four years between the first and second installments and it seemed that might be the end of things, but six years later when Tom Cruise needed a public face lift it was Ethan Hunt who was called on to come to the rescue. Five years passed and the series reinvigorated itself with Brad Bird's franchise-best, Ghost Protocol, and then four years passed before writer/director Christopher McQuarrie took over and teamed with Cruise to produce the worthy follow-up that was Rogue Nation. Now, only three years have passed between the last and what is now the sixth installment in this ever-expanding action franchise. I can only imagine that we'll have another Mission: Impossible movie by 2020 at which point Mr. Cruise will be fifty-eight years-old. It is not only Cruise's age that splinters the race against time these movies will become though, but also the fact the one-time biggest movie star on the planet is hard-pressed to find success elsewhere outside the franchise. This creates questions of what might Cruise do once he's no longer able to jump out of airplanes, scale mountains, or fly helicopters, but these are questions more curious than they are concerning. For now, audiences should simply revel in the fact Cruise can still accomplish what he has in order to bring FALLOUT to the biggest screen ever-which is where you should see it. Mission: Impossible - FALLOUT is the pinnacle of what it seems this entire series, knowing or unknowingly, has been leading to. It is McQuarrie's The Dark Knight, it is Cruise's commitment to celluloid that will define the middle act of his career, and it is by far one of the best action movies ever made. Yes, FALLOUT is everything a fan of the previous films could want in that it revolves around a convoluted plot of double crossings and inconspicuous baddies throwing obstacles at our beloved team of core heroes, but what elevates this latest entry above many of the others is the way in which it caps off this trilogy of sorts that began with Ghost Protocol where these movies weren't just using Cruise's Hunt as a conduit for action or trying to humanize him, but more discover the person Hunt actually is while detailing his journey to figure out who he truly wants to be. FALLOUT is as much a coming to terms and peace with who the character is for Ethan Hunt as it is a clarification on the haze that still tinged who Hunt was over the last few films. How this will affect future installments will remain to be seen, but as the core of FALLOUT it only adds substantial weight to a movie that excels in every other facet of the genre it is excited to exist within.

Mission: Impossible Retrospective (Updated)

Note: This is a reprint of a retrospective previously published prior to the release of the last Mission: Impossible film, which originally ran on July 30, 2015. I am publishing it again today (with the addition of Rogue Nation as well as other necessary edits) as Mission: Impossible - FALLOUT hits theaters this weekend.

With the release of Mission: Imposible - FALLOUT tomorrow I decided to go back and catch-up on the previous five films in the series this week. To be honest with you, I'd never before sat down and watched the original Mission: Impossible all the way through. I'd seen bits and pieces and tried multiple times over the years to make it all the way through, but it never happened for one reason or another. So, in sitting down to watch the 1996 film that started it all I was surprised to find out there wasn't actually too much I hadn't seen. Basically, I hadn't made it around to the climactic action sequence on the train and that was about it-otherwise I'd seen the major set pieces and had enough to go on that I knew the gist of the plot. This isn't just a look at the first film though, as it's probably been the full eighteen years since M:I-2 came out that I'd actually sat down to watch it again. I can remember going to the theater to see it as I'd just turned thirteen the month prior to its release and it was one of the first legit PG-13 films I saw on the big screen. I'll obviously get into more detail around it later, but to summarize-it holds up better than I expected and though it is definitely the least of the series it still isn't what I would necessarily label as bad. It was also nice to return to J.J. Abrams third installment that I remember really enjoying when I saw it at the early Thursday night show in the summer of '06 and given I've re-watched Ghost Protocol so many times since it's release seven years ago there was hardly any reason to return to it other than the fact it's ridiculously entertaining. The fifth Mission film, Rogue Nation, followed on the heels of Ghost Protocol quicker than any sequel in the franchise had-separated by only three and a half years due to the fact its planned Christmas release date was moved to summer in an attempt to clear the way for Star Wars: The Force Awakens it seemed only good things and good things were what was delivered in the first of what are now two Christopher McQuarrie offerings in the franchise. And so, as we anxiously await the release of FALLOUT, let's take a look back at the adventures that have brought us to this point.