Venom Review

Tom Hardy Attempts to Salvage this Dumpster Fire of an Experiment, but while Venom is Certainly Bonkers, it's not Frequently Fun Enough.

A Star is Born Review

Bradley Cooper Writes, Directs, Sings, and Stars in this Fourth Incarnation of this Story Alongside Lady Gaga to Rapturous Results.

Smallfoot Review

Warner Animation Group and Director Karey Kirkpatrick Create a Fully-Realized World with a Well-Rounded Story in this Surprisingly Heavy yet Hilarious Children's Film.

Night School Review

Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish Pair-up for this Well-Meaning, but Inconsistently Funny Comedy that is More of the Same from All Involved.

The House With A Clock in its Walls Review

Jack Black and Cate Blanchett's Combined Charisma Carry this Spooky Story for Kids a Long Way, but Unfortunately Not Far Enough.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: October 9, 2018

VENOM Review

There's always been this desire by a certain generation of Spider-Man fans to see the web-slinger's villain, Venom, portrayed on the big screen in the effortlessly cool yet terrifyingly fun way he was presented in both the comics and the nineties animated series that devoted an entire stretch of episodes to the Stan Lee and Avi Arad-created story titled "The Venom Saga". Venom's popularity has always been about little more than how "cool" the character looks as there is little else of actual depth to the character beyond the fact it's a sludge from space that requires a host to bond with for its survival. In the comics, Venom became most notable as one of Spider-Man's archenemies after Peter Parker realized the insidious nature of what was referred to as the "symbiote" and trashed the suit only for the symbiote to then join with a second host: Eddie Brock. In the animated series Brock was a well-meaning guy looking for his big break who just so happened to view Parker as a rival reporter. Needless to say, in joining with the symbiote and becoming Venom Brock inherited the alien's enhanced abilities and felt a power for the first time in his life he wasn't going to readily give up. So, one can see how-despite the rather artificial intrigues of the symbiote in and of itself that-once this liquid-like form joins with a human host who has their own personality and problems things might become more complicated and therefore more dramatically interesting, right? Well, consider that and then consider the fact director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Gangster Squad) and screenwriters Jeff Pinker, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel only have about half of those source material ideas to work with in order to create a full-length feature around the character. This is what 2018's Venom was tasked with and thus why it turns out to be a mostly forgettable B-monster movie made in the vein of Sam Raimi's original live-action Spider-Man, but with none of the fun or genuine thrills that movie packed in. It's a re-purposed Spider-Man origin story, but with a symbiote instead of a radioactive arachnid where the individual blessed and/or cursed with these powers has to figure out how to control them and then decide how to use them for good. Seriously-Venom, the symbiote, likes to bites heads off, but Tom Hardy's Eddie Brock is an out-and-out good guy with no shades of moral conflict leaving the film itself to not be the interesting anti-hero tale it billed itself to be, but instead feels like a recycled Spider-Man movie from an alternate universe where the symbiote was brought to a world where Peter Parker doesn't exist (at least for the time being) and the titular character becomes by default the hero of the story. In other unfortunate words, Venom adds nothing to these tropes audiences have seen countless times over the last two decades, but is all the worse for it due to the promise of being a real scoundrel's story.

A STAR IS BORN Review

Often in movies about individuals who strive to make a living telling stories the process of capturing the true essence of such lives strays from the actual topic of why the way these particular people tell stories is so special. What it actually takes to get from a lyric to a melody to an arrangement or in whatever order inspiration decides to strike is completely glossed over. With A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper goes from movie star to film director, screenwriter, musician, and songwriter with no doubt countless other titles one could heap upon him. While there are plenty of leading men-types in Hollywood these days what has always allowed Cooper to stand apart is his full immersion and commitment to each and every role he takes on. Given as much, it then felt inevitable that Cooper would bring such qualities and thus the same level of commitment to these new, more principal, roles. In taking on these new roles though, and applying them to what is the fourth incarnation of A Star is Born Cooper has seemingly found a way to work through the finding of his artistic voice in a thinly veiled metaphor of sorts via the world of musicians and the music industry in place of Hollywood and the studio system. While past incarnations of the film have dealt specifically with actors and featured no music whatsoever 2018's A Star is Born is not so much a re-make of the previous versions as much as it is a familiar set of archetypes by which Cooper can work through his creative process by exploring the creative process. I say all of this having only read about the past films while having decided to not watch any of them prior to seeing this latest version so as to have as little precedent or expectation of what should come to define it. The point being, A Star is Born never struck me as a movie about the rise of a young and talented artist through the ranks of fame, but more as an exploration of more introspective shades of fame e.g. why some people and not others are "famous" despite the likely fact one may possess more talent than the other. Someone might be a technically proficient singer, so why would they not aspire to sing? Okay, but do they have something to say and not only that, but do they have a way to say it that will make people shut up and listen? This main idea works as both a throughline for Cooper's film as well as his own trajectory as an artist who has to figure out if how he wants to say something in fact merits this fourth incarnation of a well-worn story. In short, 2018's A Star is Born has plenty to add to the conversation.

Official Trailer for VICE Starring Christian Bale

I'm not someone who delves much into or cares to delve much into politics, but I am someone who is fascinated by the ins and outs of as much. I enjoy political movies, House of Cards sucked me right in and had I been the right age when West Wing was in its prime I probably would have loved it too (I should probably go back and check that out, actually), but it does take a special something about a politically-heavy piece of film or TV to pique my interest given my general lack of interest in the topic overall and lucky for me-Vice has a lot of special somethings that make me more than eager to see it. I questioned whether or not the film might even be released this year given all we'd seen up until this point were a few unauthorized stills of star Christian Bale heavily made-up and as the film hadn't been included in any of the major fall festival line-ups it seemed unlikely to bow this year, but it now seems this will be the wild card in this year's Oscar race. Vice chronicles the rise of Dick Cheney (Bale) and how he, though his eight years as the power behind the throne in the Bush Administration, was able to reshape America. Now, of course it's interesting that Bale will be transforming once again to play the former vice President, but what makes the film all the more engaging is the fact Bale is re-teaming with his The Big Short director, Adam McKay, for the project. McKay, who has also made Will Ferrell's best films in Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys jumped into the big leagues in a major way with 2015's The Big Short and if this trailer is any indication it should be fascinating to see how his take on Cheney will inform the current state of our country. I also love the use of The Killers track in this spot. The enticing elements don't stop at McKay and Bale though, as Amy Adams is playing Lynne Cheney, Steve Carell is Donald Rumsfeld, Tyler Perry is Colin Powell, and Sam Rockwell will no doubt make for a glorious George W. Bush-I mean, his performance in this trailer alone is enough to garner him another Oscar. Vice is set to open on Christmas Day and one can only hope that is a wide release day.

NIGHT SCHOOL Review

At this point I question if there’s even a point to me sitting down and taking time out of my day to write a review of a new Kevin Hart movie. I mean, unless Hart decides to work outside his comfort zone with a director that might challenge him or unless he’s part of an ensemble cast one pretty much knows what they’re getting from a Kevin Hart comedy, right? Given Night School is the first production to be released under Hart’s own production company though one can safely assume that if this is successful-which all signs point to why wouldn’t it be?-that the general viewing public can expect more of this same, middle-of-the-road comedy with recycled premises and recycled jokes that hold Hart at the center as a character who must overcome something in order to realize something about himself...while being made fun of for being short, of course. That said, I appreciate and kind of admire Hart for always willing to be the brunt of the joke and despite Night School being a rather large missed opportunity given it pairs the immensely charming and infinitely likable Hart with Girls Trip breakout Tiffany Haddish and her director on that film, Malcolm D. Lee (who’s also made The Best Man films and the most recent Barbershop picture), there is still enough here for it to qualify as an entertaining enough time at the movies. No, that’s not necessarily a ringing endorsement, but it does mean this doesn’t feel wholly like a cheap, quickly manufactured product with little effort put in and therefore little expectations held for it. In fact, it’s actually the opposite in that it’s not hard to see Hart, his co-stars, and his company are genuinely trying to make something with, well...heart. Does this mean it actually holds some weight? Not really and it isn’t as consistently funny enough given the stars of the film, but this is a rare comedy that doesn’t have an ugly side to it. It’s an optimistic comedy, if you will, whereas the majority of big studio comedies tend to be both cynical and egotistical Night School sets itself apart from the pack if not for being the funniest of the year, but for holding out the most hope in humanity and seeing the good in the resilience of the human spirit. Not exactly an easy thing to do these days.

First Trailer for X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX

Simon Kinberg, the long-time writer and architect of all Marvel properties not owned by Disney, will make his directorial debut next year by continuing the convoluted storyline in the follow-up to the terrible X-Men: Apocalypse with X-Men: Dark Phoenix. The X-Men films have always held a special place in my heart as I was at just the right age of thirteen when the first Bryan Singer film debuted in theaters in 2000 and ushered in a new wave of comic book movies that would essentially instigate everything that has come along in the nearly twenty years since. In those years since there has of course been the sequels, the spin-offs, and the First Class re-boot that is now having its own trilogy extended as Kinberg will attempt to not only regain audiences trust after the misfire that was Apocalypse, but also re-write the history of the worst reviewed entry in the franchise prior to Apocalypse: The Last Stand. With Dark Phoenix, Sophie Turner's Jean Grey begins to develop incredible powers that corrupt and turn her into...you guessed it...the Dark Phoenix. The X-Men, including the majority of the First Class cast is (somewhat surprisingly) returning for a fourth go-around-including Michael Fassbender's Magneto, James McAvoy's Professor Charles Xavier, Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique, and Evan Peters' Quick Silver-as well as adding Jessica Chastain's villain to the roster which undoubtedly adds some weight to the project, but that's what we thought when Oscar Isaac signed on as the titular villain in the last movie, so...we'll see. What concerns me is the fact that in the comics, and even in that original trilogy of films-no matter how deep your hate for Last Stand runs, we'd had two previous films and some solid character arcs that were explored that granted a genuine compassion and familiarity for Famke Janssen's character. With Turner, we've barely had a single movie to get to know her iteration of the character and so it is with great optimism that I hope Kinberg has penned a strong script and worked with enough talented filmmakers to do justice to this iconic storyline as fans have already seen how wrong this can go once before. X-Men: Dark Phoenix also stars Tye Sheridan, Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Jonigkeit, and opens on February 14th, 2019.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: September 25, 2018

THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS Review

Eli Roth’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls, despite being a straight-up kids movie with a release date in the dead of September, was one of my most anticipated films of the fall if not of the entire year. Despite the obvious warning signs though, I think it’s actually pretty easy to see why this was the case. First, there is Jack Black who has done well to understand the current phase of his career; with last year's Jumanji sequel as well as Goosebumps he is slowly establishing himself as the guy that will be fondly remembered by the tweens and younger teens of the current generation as that funny guy who was in all of their favorite movies. Better even, when those same kids get older they can go back and discover more of Black's rather impressive collection of work. Another encouraging factor going in was the fact this was a kids movie with Cate freakin' Blanchett in it. Now, Blanchett has been doing more work in more commercially viable popcorn flicks as of late with the last Thor film and Ocean's 8, but it seemed it would take a really great script or great character to really entice an actor of her caliber. Blanchett certainly seems to be having a great time exploring the genre, but unfortunately she doesn’t have nearly as much to do as one would expect sans the excellent bickering back and forth between her and Black. This cast, this genre, this time of year...what more could there be that might help propel this project to the heights it seemed so obviously destined to reach? I say this somewhat ironically as it seems most critics and audiences didn't expect much from another kid-centric Black film-especially one based on a children's book from the seventies and especially not one directed by the guy who made 2018's Death Wish, but alas...here we are. As someone who has always adored Black's range and versatility there was this sense of optimism and support, but the point of concern was always Roth. Roth is a director raised on the Amblin films that are very clearly an inspiration for his The House with a Clock in Its Walls, but unfortunately Roth's homage to spooky if not exactly scary kids fare doesn't pass that test of being a magical film about magical people. The finished product can certainly be endearing for long stretches, but the big picture never gels and is more a hodge-podge of several different "chosen one" archetypes than it is a single, focused, satisfying narrative. And though The House with a Clock in Its Walls proved to be more disappointing than hoped for it’s not impossible to see how the film might become more appealing over time-especially to the generation that will grow up on it.