Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Review

A Rock-Solid Ensemble and Fun Spin on the Original Jumanji Premise make this Holiday Family Film One Worth Watching.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure Review

This Final Film in the Last of the Dying YA Fad is Competent if not Emotionally Investing in the way it thinks it is.

Winchester Review

Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke Class Up this Otherwise Generic Horror Flick that Wastes an Intriguing True Story.

The Greatest Showman Review

Hugh Jackman Leads this Wholly Original Big Studio Musical whose Songs Soar while the Story Simply Suffices.

Hostiles Review

Director Scott Cooper Deconstructs a Genre as well as the Hardened American Soul with this Christian Bale-led Western.

ANNIHILATION Review

Everything about writer/director Alex Garland's (Ex Machina) latest film, Annihilation, is subtle; it more alludes to everything than it does outright tell you what it wants you to think or what you should believe. This is key as Annihilation still presents a very specific set of circumstances and specific set of details around what is happening within these weird circumstances, but if you're going in for the creature effects and twist endings don't be surprised if you walk out disappointed on both accounts. In fact, as the credits began to roll in my screening last night the first thing I heard from a viewer seated behind me was a disdainful, "...okay?" as if they were more than a little unsatisfied by the conclusion Garland delivered. It's not hard to see why this might be case though, as most viewers and people in general have been set-up and conditioned to expect explicit answers and resolutions from our mainstream entertainment, but it was clear after Garland's 2015 directorial debut that the filmmaker wasn't interested in pleasing the masses, but more in pondering the possibilities. Annihilation, in many ways, is a movie that explores this very phenomenon of what our minds create when prompted and how so often what is imagined is greater than anything the reality of a situation could ever deliver. Each of the leading women who participate in the expedition that takes place in Annihilation have certain ideas of what they might encounter when entering "The Shimmer", but none of them really have a grasp on what they're getting themselves into or what lies ahead prior to their journey; each has no doubt imagined what might lie ahead of course, and it is in these ponderings that the reality of what they encounter comes to be so frightening. There is likely a large metaphor of some kind and/or a deeper meaning to the film at large that my limited mind has yet to comprehend, but after an initial viewing it is clear that what is going on in Garland's latest is more than what can be comprehended in a single viewing. In fact, I almost wanted to re-watch the film again as soon as it finished because I knew what I'd gathered from that first viewing barely scratched the surface. Annihilation, I think, is largely a movie about self-destruction with the catalyst of "The Shimmer" serving to personify whatever type of self-destruction the individual viewer might relate to most, at least that's what I'm going with at the moment.

THE 15:17 TO PARIS Review

The 15:17 to Paris is not a good movie and likely never should have been a movie in the first place. Prior to Gone Girl coming out in 2014 there was an interview with director David Fincher where he stated in regards to the adaptation process that, "The book is many things. You have to choose which aspect you want to make a movie from." This is likely what writer Dorothy Blyskal should have done were she to stand the chance of making a compelling picture out of the lives of the three young men that saved a passenger train full of people from being killed by a terrorist in 2015. There is no disputing what these guys did was heroic and that, if their story was going to be turned into a feature film, that it deserved to be a compelling one, but The 15:17 to Paris is not that movie. No, The 15:17 to Paris isn't really much of a movie at all despite the fact it could be looked at as one of great risk and ambition. Directed by Clint Eastwood, Blyskal's script decides to tell the broad story of the friendship between our three protagonists whom Eastwood decided to cast with the real heroes themselves rather than having actors portray them. Unfortunately, Blyskal not choosing an aspect of these guy's lives to zero in on and make a movie out of essentially separates the picture into two distinct halves: one being the military recruitment ad the first half functions as while the second forty-five minutes may as well be a European travelogue with the event we're all in the theater to see being tacked on in the last twenty or so minutes. This final sequence is the only part of the film that holds any real tension, any real drama, or hint of any real style that resembles that of a film produced by a major studio and made by an Academy Award winning director and actor. Of course, just as The 15:17 to Paris probably never should have been a feature film it was never going to be a feature film in the traditional fashion, but more one that solidified Eastwood is now making statements with his efforts rather than simply pondering and contemplating with his art. For Eastwood, The 15:17 to Paris is the definition of heroism; no qualms, no frills, no debate about it. That's fine and I can appreciate the choice, but defining a certain quality doesn't automatically make that representation of the same quality. Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos are heroes, no doubt, but their movie is (unfortunately) pretty terrible.    

Teaser Trailer for SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

We got our first, brief glimpse of proof last night during Super Bowl LII that Solo: A Star Wars Story is an actual movie that exists and that it is in fact coming to theaters on Memorial Day weekend this year (that's just over three months away, mind you). The morning has now brought us the full version of that tease. Outside of the fact this thing looks pretty spectacular from a visual standpoint (it was shot by Arrival cinematographer Bradford Young) there isn't much to go off of as far as how the final product will turn out given the rocky production the film faced. If you haven't heard, don't follow movie news, or have otherwise been living under a rock you may not be privy to the fact that original Solo directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 Jump Street, The LEGO Movie) were essentially given the boot with less than a month to go in principal photography. Lucasfilm, and more specifically Kathleen Kennedy, then brought in Ron Howard to re-shoot much of the film and complete production. At the very least, Solo will be a film that will keep attentive audiences brimming with curiosity up until the release date as it's worth speculating as to whether or not Disney and Lucasfilm will even drop another trailer prior to the film's release. I'm sure there will be another trailer of some sort-likely an extended "Official Trailer" released just before Infinity War bows in early May, but I'm willing to bet the new footage included will be minimal and the story beats even more so. With this teaser no doubt being attached to prints of Black Panther though, Disney and Lucasfilm seem to be using Solo as a test case for how far they can push the Star Wars brand name with how much they can limit the advertising while still managing to have a sizeable hit on their hands. As a result of this, it will also be interesting to see how fans respond in terms of awareness and excitement for what will undoubtedly become more common in the Star Wars filmscape as these kinds of anthology films are far more easier to develop and make in terms of nailing down stories than the episodic films will be. Where will Lucasfilm and Kennedy take the brand after the current trilogy finishes and Rian Johnson begins work on his own trilogy? Who knows, but films like Solo seem to be the future of Star Wars. Solo: A Star Wars Story stars Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, and opens on May 25th, 2018.

WINCHESTER Review

Though the directing duo of brothers Michael and Peter Spierig made one of the worst films of 2017 in what was the eighth Saw film it was hard not to hold out hope for what these guys might do outside the IP pool given Jigsaw was likely an opportunity they couldn't (financially) turn down. And so, in what feels like their true follow-up to their highly underrated and underseen 2014 time travel flick, Predestination, the brothers Spierig take on the real life mysteries likely still held within the walls of the winding Winchester mansion that is located in San Jose, California and was constantly under construction by the widowed Sarah Winchester for thirty-eight consecutive years until her death in 1922. Weird, right? Definitely. Couple this unique spin on the haunted house premise with the fact the Spierig's have somehow managed to attract the talents of rather pedigreed actors like Jason Clarke and the indelible Helen Mirren and one has to wonder what the attraction was. The Spierig's also reunite with Predestination star Sarah Snook here, but Snook is unfortunately underutilized as Mrs. Winchester's niece who has recently moved into the ever-growing mansion with her son after the death of her husband. This is all to say that Winchester has plenty of potential and while it never fully capitalizes on the ample opportunity it has to transcend the genre trappings and become something of a more self-conscious and timeless work it is a solid and sometimes even surprising haunted house tale that uses the audiences expectations to its advantage and takes certain elements in directions that feel fertile. The Spierig's screenplay, in collaboration with Tom Vaughan, relies too heavily on jump scares to garner the necessary reactions for being a member of the horror genre, but even still-they serve their purpose more often than not. Resorting to these easy, cheap scares feels a way of accounting for a requirement the Spierig's weren't really interested in though, as Winchester is seemingly more inclined to explore how cruelty, grief, and loss can affect people in different ways and to varying degrees. If the Spierig's had figured out a more inherently haunting way to convey their tone and the actions of those supposedly trapped souls in the rooms of the titular mansion this might have been a more convincing study on such topics, but as it is the film comes and goes with more simplicity than it does depth or scares.

Trailer Roundup: SUPER BOWL LII

With the Super Bowl happening this weekend audiences are guaranteed a look at some of the bigger movies coming out this year, but sans the potential first glimpse at Solo: A Star Wars Story most of what will be glimpsed Sunday night will all be footage that has been seen before. As Forbes writer Scott Mendelson pointed out last year, the appearance of a new Star Wars movie every December has more or less turned the Super Bowl into a rerun exercise when it comes to movie trailers (of course, if we do get a Solo trailer Sunday and Lucasfilm sticks with that May release date next year may be a little different). It's an interesting trend to consider and one that likely won't be going away anytime soon, but the Super Bowl is still the biggest television event of the year drawing between 110 and 115 million people each year. Taken on those terms and considering the current price tag for thirty seconds of airtime is a record high $5 million it makes sense why studios still want to buy up the spots available as many of them mark the first time those who haven't been to the theater since The Last Jedi will see anything from the upcoming 2018 slate that they might be surprised by or excited to see. Per usual, Warner Bros. will likely sit the event out so there will be no new or first looks at Ready Player One, Ocean's 8, Fantastic Beasts 2, or Aquaman, but Disney always plays the field with several of their upcoming releases as we'll no doubt get a few spots for this year's Marvel Cnematic Universe offerings in Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp (the full trailer of which ca be viewed below) as well as likely spots for A Wrinkle in Time and possibly Incredibles 2. Universal will no doubt take the opportunity to earn their Jurassic World sequel some strong word of mouth while Paramount has apparently purchased two slots during the game one of which will most definitely be used to debut our first look at Mission: Impossible - Fallout, the sixth installment in the Tom Cruise action franchise. That second slot might have originally been for the latest Cloverfield film, but with Netflix now in talks to acquire what was once titled God Particle (and may still be? who knows), will we still get our first look at what mega-producer J.J. Abrams and director Julius Onah have up their sleeves? Time will tell, but one thing is for sure in that Amazon Prime will have a spot for their new Jack Ryan series starring John Krasinski as the streaming giant has already released it as can be seen after the jump. Keep checking back as I will continue to update this post with all of the movie trailers that debut before or during the big game.

MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE Review

As it goes with these adaptations of popular dystopian YA franchises it is best to know from which perspective a particular review is coming and how passionate the (re)viewer is about the source material they have just witnessed adapted for the big screen. Warning: I have not read James Dashner's version of the "chosen one" narrative so, for me, The Maze Runner series sits somewhere comfortably in between the gold standard that is The Hunger Games and the deplorable Divergent series that couldn't even muster enough fandom for Lionsgate to follow all the way through on it (I guess the first one was fine). Maze Runner is nestled comfortably in between these two opposite ends of the spectrum though, because it is more or less a different take on the exact same story Divergent tried to pull, but done so in a much more enthusiastic manner (which is saying something as these Maze sequels have lacked the energy of that initial flick) as well as being much less convoluted with the main detractor being they have failed to create anywhere near the emotional investment on the part of the audience in these characters; sorry, Tommy, Teresa, and Brenda, but you are no Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. That said-there are A LOT of characters in these movies as tends to be the case in each of the examples cited thus far and by virtue of this requirement there is ample opportunity for solid talent to enlist themselves as part of a guaranteed series of jobs and to that point it is nice to see the likes of Barry Pepper, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, and Walton Goggins in supporting roles where they are hamming it up the best each of them can even if at least three of them are playing the same type of ringleader role. To this end and to the end that I'm thankful 20th Century Fox decided against splitting this finale into two movies Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a well-made and well-executed action thriller that is more or less comprised of the same sequence of events again and again until our gang of ragtag heroes reaches the last standing city and faces the bad guys down once and for all. That may be a bit harsh as there are shades of honor on both sides of the line that make things more complicated than one might expect from such a film and there is a clear theme of loyalty that screenwriter T.S. Nowlin and franchise director Wes Ball have never strayed from, but much like WCKD, the evil corporate enemy in these movies, The Death Cure delays the inevitable conclusion we all know is coming due to our genre conditioning just a little too long.

PHANTOM THREAD Review

Phantom Thread, the latest film from auteur Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will be Blood) that once again stars Daniel Day-Lewis (in what may very well be the actor's final on-screen performance, but probably isn't), centers around Day-Lewis's renowned dressmaker, Reynolds Woodcock, and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) who are at the center of British fashion in 1950's post-war London as Woodcock designs for royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants and dames alike. The appearance of Alma (Vicky Krieps) in Woodcock's routine then tends to upend every aspect of his life in slow, methodical, and often times even conniving ways. This is an odd movie, but it wouldn't be a Paul Thomas Anderson movie if it wasn't mostly off-kilter and if it didn't go into the numerous layers of meaning and substance coated in what is a seemingly simple and straightforward narrative. This short summary is more or less what the plot of Phantom Thread entails, but Phantom Thread of course concerns itself with more than just the toppling of the structure that is Woodcock's life made relevant by the appearance of Alma, but more it is about the inner-dynamics of a relationship, the give and take that is necessary if even able to bring one's self to compromise in such a way. This is a question the film and Woodcock ponder endlessly as our protagonist is someone who seemingly knows what he wants and what he expects out of himself in his life and by living according to that standard never lets himself down and fulfills each of his expectations. This lifestyle also allows for his focus to lie solely on what he desires and to not be distracted by the passions or interests of another. In essence, Phantom Thread is about that struggle that naturally takes place in all of us that pulls between what society and tradition tell us we should want out of life that can often times be opposed by our more personal desires and ambitions. That is, of course, unless your sole desire in life is to find a mate and pro-create. It is true that often times our ambitions and desires remain a certain degree of selfish in that to solely give them their due would result in a life of satisfaction and maybe even one of great legacy, but one that lacks a certain meaning while fully giving over to what we're naturally pulled to accomplish in life leaves a greater sense of meaning if not as grand a legacy as one might have imagined for themselves. Either way, the meaning is what the individual makes of it and Phantom Thread is the journey of Woodcock having to learn that balance for the first time in his life as Alma is apparently the first in a long line of muses that challenges the meticulous and powerful mentality that Woodcock has effortlessly exuded over those in his life up to this point.

2018 Oscar Nominations

Here we are once again with the 2018 Oscar nominations and while I attempt to limit any coverage of the awards season hoopla (simply because there are so many to cover and too little to care about) the Academy Awards are obviously the biggest show of the season and so it was with great anticipation I awaited this morning’s announcements. What has been great about this year's award season thus far is the seeming lack of any clear front-runner. There have been so many films vying for the attention of awards season audiences this season, including a few that hardly got noticed at all including The Florida Project and The Disaster Artist, and thus it has resulted in a field of nominees that, while more concentrated than I imagined, still leaves room for an open playing field come the night of the ceremony. Let's start with things I'm happy to see. Obviously, with Get Out being my choice for the best movie of 2017 I am thrilled to see writer/director Jordan Peele and his film not only grab a Best Picture and Original Screenplay nomination, but to also to see Peele get a directing nod as well as Daniel Kaluuya get nominated in the Best Actor category makes me ecstatic for the film's possibilities come the night the winner's are announced. This makes Peele the first African American to ever score Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture for the same film.

In other firsts, I have to imagine a Best Supporting Actress nominee isn't often nominated for writing/performing a Best Original Song nominee as well, as Mary J. Blige garnered both nods for her contributions to Dee Rees's Mudbound which, despite being distributed by Netflix, had a strong showing delivering another first by way of its cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, becoming the first female director of photography to be nominated for the Best Cinematography. Furthermore, Rees is also the first African American woman to be nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Continuing in firsts, Logan is the first comic book movie to ever receive a writing nomination while I would have loved to have seen Hugh Jackman get a nod for his Wolverine swan song over Denzel Washington's replacement nomination for Roman J. Israel, Esq. in what would have been James Franco's spot had the sexual allegations against him not come out. And this is coming from a guy who enjoyed Roman J. Israel, Esq. more than most. Qualms aside, Washington just broke his own record for being the most nominated African-American actor, this year being his eighth nomination.

THE COMMUTER Review

In their fourth film together, director Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson have seemingly set the bar too high with their previous three efforts that include Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night to make this as enjoyable as it probably is. You may also be familiar with Collet-Serra's style via last summer's sleeper hit The Shallows, but while the expert B-movie director and his late-in-life action star may have proved to be a collaborative dream team in the past when it came to crafting guilty pleasures the excitement within the relationship seems to have worn off a bit with their latest, The Commuter. It's funny because everything one could hope for from a Collet-Serra/Neeson collaboration is here in terms of the plotting, tension, and action spectacle, but while it is evident from the opening title sequence that Collet-Serra is going for something a little more nuanced than a movie like The Commuter might actually deserve the film ultimately falters in this ambition as it ends up feeling rather hastily put together via a rookie screenwriting duo (Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi) that was then seemingly revised by Non-Stop screenwriter Ryan Engle. This makes sense given The Commuter is more or less Non-Stop on a train, but no matter how little or how much effort was initially put in by Willinger and Blasi and/or how much of an overhaul Engle ended up doing the biggest problems with The Commuter still boil down to the screenplay and its slight excuse of a story. One can feel Collet-Serra attempting to infuse this thing with style and nuance as well as Neeson giving everything he seemingly has left in his aging body that might inspire him to continue the fight. The veteran actor is frazzled though, and that mentality is kind of present from the get-go. At this point we know the routine and we understand the stakes-The Commuter needed to do something to break the monotony as Run All Night did exceptionally well as compared to this, but instead this latest in the long line of varied actioners that compose Neeson's career resurgence as an action star is a middle of the road effort; something that looks the part and acts the part, but doesn't feel authentic in its portrayal of what it's actually supposed to be.

Movies I Wanna See Most: 2018

With a new year we are brought many a new prospects for our entertainment and in looking forward to 2018 I decided there was more than enough I was looking forward to in order to compile a most anticipated list. Too much, probably. That said, even in counting down twenty-five titles there is still plenty else that I would have loved to include. While I adored writer/director Alex Garland's directorial debut in Ex Machina his follow-up that comes out next month, Annihilation, has seemingly been shifted around in ways that make it feel less of a prospect. While I'm curious I'm not as excited to see the movie as I thought I might be. Others that were close to making the cut were director John Curran's (The Painted Veil) Chappaquiddick about how Ted Kennedy's life and political career became derailed after his involvement in a fatal 1969 car accident that claimed the life of a young campaign strategist. The film received strong reviews out of Toronto last year and I'm anxious to see what all the buzz is about when the film opens in early April. And then, there are of course the obvious big tentpoles that I'll be more than happy to see including The Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Ocean's 8, The Predator, Equalizer 2, Sicario 2: Soldado, and Mary Poppins Returns, but beyond being happy to see these come their opening weekends I'm not exactly looking forward to what they'll bring to the table. There is also supposed to be that live-action Mulan from director Niki Caro (McFarland USA) that is set to open this November, but I didn't include it here as I'm rather skeptical given we've heard little about it besides the casting of the lead and the main players in the creative team being in place. Time will tell and I'm looking forward to the film, but if we'll see it in 2018 I'm not sure. Finally, I would love to have highlighted lesser known upcoming titles such as The Diary of a Teenage Girl director Marielle Heller's new film, Can You Ever Forgive Me? Starring Melissa McCarthy as bestselling celebrity biographer, Lee Israel, or John Krasinski's latest directorial effort, A Quiet Place, that stars himself and wife Emily Blunt along with Wonderstruck breakout Millicent Simmonds in what looks to be a departure for the actor/filmmaker. Jim Henson's son, Brian, also returns to feature filmmaking with The Happytime Murders which sounds like a blast and then there is of course the likes of Red Sparrow, the new Steven Soderbergh flick, Unsane, Richard Linklater's Where'd You Go Bernadette? not to mention new efforts from both Adam McKay and Alfonso Cuaron that don't have set release dates yet, but that we can probably expect at some point this year. There just isn't enough space in the world for everything that sounds promising in 2018 and so, here are twenty-five I definitely can't wait to watch and know I'll see this calendar year.