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.

The Post Review

Steven Spielberg and an All-Star Cast led by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep Deliver a Compelling if not Exceptional Historical Drama.

The Commuter Review

Liam Neeson Once Again Re-teams with Director Jaume Collet-Serra, but Fails to Capitalize on the Success of their Previous B-Movie Excursions.

The Greatest Showman Review

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

Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi Review

Visually Stunning with a Handful of Great Moments, Rian Johnson's Entry in this New Trilogy Ultimately Fails to Live up to what The Force Awakens so Gracefully set-up.

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. 

On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 9, 2018

PITCH PERFECT 3 Review

In my review for the first Pitch Perfect five years ago I called it pure formula, but damn entertaining formula at that. Though the shine may have worn off a tad bit in the course of two sequels and inevitable growing pains it is clear the Barden Bellas are still more than happy to kick it with one another and turn in a handful of generally great A cappella performances with virtually no rehearsal time whatsoever. Like how self-aware that sentence was? Then you'll once again love the very self-aware and insanely self-deprecating Pitch Perfect 3 as it pretends to struggle to get over the hump of what this threequel should be about given all the girls from the original film are now out of school and pursuing actual careers where singing in their college A cappella group is undoubtedly the last thing they planned to and/or should be doing in their free time. People love them though, myself included, so count myself and every other person who found an affinity for this big screen version of Glee that became more of a cultural milestone than it was ever supposed to among the faithful that are happy to sit through another Bella adventure. This is all to state up front the perspective this reaction to Pitch Perfect 3 will be coming from, but what has always been most appealing about these films is what writer Kay Cannon (New Girl, 30 Rock) was able to capture in a sense of humor that is so of the moment it will, if nothing else, serve as a hallmark for how judgy, temperamental, and downright assured this particular generation was for a short time when it felt like anything was possible and the world was headed in all kinds of positive directions. Pitch Perfect 3 comes at a different time though, a time of less assurance and of more genuine attempts at staying positive both in the lives of the characters and the current national climate surrounding the film's release (as well as all the shade that typically comes along with being the third entry in a franchise many thought never should have been more than a single film) and thus we have what is presumably the final film with what is at least the original incarnation of the Bellas that, while not nearly as sharp or interesting as its predecessors, is very much a movie of its time as well: a safe, somewhat cautious third excursion that doesn't try to re-write the beats of the first two movies as much as it does lampoon them completely. Sometimes Pitch Perfect 3 feels like a Pitch Perfect movie and other times it doesn't, but mostly it's just an enjoyable time at the movies you won't think much about afterwards until you buy it on Blu-ray in three months to complete your collection and remind yourself of just how much carefree fun it really is.

Official Trailer for RED SPARROW Starring Jennifer Lawrence

Like last March when we saw a series of major studio tentpoles open every week as if it were the summer movie season this March will be no different and kicking off major movie March this year is director Francis Lawrence's Red Sparrow. The director, who ushered Jennifer Lawrence through the majority of her Hunger Games stint has taken Justin Haythe's adaptation of the 2013 Jason Matthews novel and granted the actor what could be the beginning of a new franchise, albeit a more grown up one. I generally tend to like Lawrence as a director as I remember the guy fondly from MTV's Making the Video days when he orchestrated some of the more popular music videos of my formative years. Since breaking into feature filmmaking though, the guy has been able to craft generally original albeit big-budget films that range in genre from something like I Am Legend to that of the sorely underrated Water for Elephants. With Red Sparrow, Lawrence seems to have a very specific type of style and visual language as the film looks to be exactly that: one of pure style with the grace of the equation being brought via Jen Lawrence's performance. It should be noted also that this seems to be a very different type of performance than we've seen from Lawrence in the past. Not only is she doing an accent, but she is seemingly playing the victim turned hell fire in a way that is more bleak and more furious than anything she has been allowed to execute in the past. I love the color palette of this thing and the overall feel as well as the rather stellar, but understated supporting cast they have put together for this thing. I haven't red Matthews novel on which the story is based and focuses on Lawrence's Ballerina Dominika Egorova being recruited to a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon, but even if this stylistic excursion ends up being little more than a solid little spy thriller I don't think I'll be too upset as Lawrence tends to do more reliable than he does exceptional and sometimes, reliable is just what you need. Also, it doesn't hurt that we'll get A Wrinkle in Time the week after, or Tomb Raider the week after that, or Pacific Rim: Uprising the week after that, and then Ready Player One the week after that. So yeah, here's to March. Red Sparrow also stars Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker Jeremy Irons, and opens on March 2, 2018.

HOSTILES Review

There are opening scenes and then there is the opening scene to Hostiles. Why do people treat one another the way we have for all of history? This is the question the opening sequence within director Scott Cooper's (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) latest brutally forces us to ponder. The United States, since its inception in 1776, has only not been in conflict with itself or another country for a total of eighteen years. Why are we like this? What is it in our human nature that allows us to always be at odds with others and their inclinations? It's a fascinating and broad mentality to deconstruct, but dammit if Cooper doesn't try his darndest in what is itself a seeming deconstruction of the classic American Western. Maybe it's the fact I haven't seen as many classic Westerns as I should in order to be able to understand where Hostiles goes wrong in its breaking down of the mythos of the old west, but for what it's worth, Cooper's film feels pure in its intent to accurately portray this time period and the dynamics that existed in as honest a fashion as possible-no matter how gruesome and no matter who comes out looking worse. This opening sequence then, which I won't go into detail about here, is an immediate and gut-wrenching reminder of the fact hate is often one in the same no matter where it comes from, but is often not seen as hate from the perspective from which it comes. In Hostiles, Cooper examines all the complexities of war and the purpose of the meanings behind words like honor and courage while stripping them down to not so much the definitions we've come to immediately relate to such words, but more the intent behind them. It's a rather simple suggestion, a simple consensus to come to even, but as history has shown us there is typically a lot of bloodshed and a lot of lives lost in the process of trying to come to such a consensus. And so, Cooper communicates these simple, but resounding themes through a straightforward story that is executed with the scope of that grand American Western. Channeling this idea that somewhere along the lines of history we found war to be the most effective tool of persuasion into a narrative that is able to say much more with the implications of the events it documents rather than serving as an excuse for an adrenaline rush via the shootouts or misplaced pride in whatever side you might genetically fall, but more in being an understanding of the value of life and how much of it has been lost over what comes down to little more than inconsequential details.

DOWNSIZING Review

Immediately after walking out of director Alexander Payne's latest, Downsizing, I wasn't sure what to think. My first thought was that it was all over the place, but in a commendable way. I think I like it, I thought. I'm still pretty sure I enjoyed it and it has been quite some time since I saw it. Everything about the film though, is designed to upend your expectations of it. Being an Alexander Payne film titled Downsizing one immediately assumes this is will be a raw human drama about a middle-aged white male losing his job and realizing his life never amounted to the ambitions of his youth while likely coming to terms with the passing of time and its fleeting nature. It would be fair to assume that, but this Downsizing is not. Rather, the consistently good yet similarly themed films of the writer/director seem to have sparked a need for a different kind of endeavor in Payne and while Downsizing still shares a number of ideas (maybe one too many, even) that have very clearly sprung from what is on Payne's mind at the moment he certainly doesn't go about conveying them in the fashion one might expect given his filmography. Rather, Downsizing is very much designed to be one of those sincere, but rather goofy high-concept comedies of the nineties. One where everything in the world of the movie isn't that bad for our protagonist even though they seem to be discouraged by the results of what they've become i.e. lame adults. One where the production design relates this new technological advancement to something familiar a la the microwave "ding!" that goes off each time the shrinking procedure is complete. One where the score is heavily made-up of those cheesily inspiring springs that intend to make the audience really feel the wonder of the moment at the film's main discovery (think Jurassic Park). I guess, in a lot of ways, Downsizing is like Jurassic Park as it is a movie that revels in a discovery that is potentially the greatest thing since landing on the moon while also being one where man plays God; warning us of the potential dangers of technology. These advancements in both films, one being cloning dinosaurs and the other being shrinking humans, are thought of inherently as beneficial. While Downsizing ultimately seems to be for the better it doesn't shy away from the controversy that grows to surround the procedure and so, unlike Jurassic Park, Payne isn't preaching that just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. He seems to think we should. He knows we need to do something and Downsizing is a way of saying as much about saving the planet without being overly serious or hackneyed about it. Too bad it doesn't have dinosaurs though.

TOP 10 OF 2017

For me, 2017 has been something of an off year. It seems the majority of avid movie-goers and critics have found much to enjoy-too much even to be able to narrow down their favorites of the year to a simple top ten. For me, I have struggled to find ten films worthy of what I would say are exceptional pieces of work that will stay with me past the calendar year into which they will forever be categorized. Sure, there have been films with exceptional moments-glaring omissions from my favorites list that will make many others are that of Lady Bird, Call Me by Your Name, and The Shape of Water. I couldn't agree more that each of those films possess inspired moments that transcend the art form, but as a whole were they films that made an impression on me that will last, if not forever, but at least a few weeks after seeing them? Not at this point, no. I have thankfully managed to whittle the two hundred or so plus new releases I've seen this year down into ten that have stuck with me, but this admittedly pessimistic discourse thus far doesn't mean I couldn't fill out a top fifteen or twenty. There are films not present on the list below that I would highly recommend and that would no doubt come in somewhere in the next five spots just outside my top ten. Though 2017 has been something of an odd year for my own personal tastes and the lack of as many being able to meet or exceed my expectations it would be a shame not to mention the likes of the pigeon-holed Stronger as it is much better than its Oscar bait facade would have you believe, the weird and deliriously entertaining The Disaster Artist, the criminally underseen and overlooked Brigsby Bear, Steven Soderbergh's return to feature filmmaking in Logan Lucky, and Sofia Coppola's re-make of The Beguiled with a handful of pitch perfect performances all deserve your love and attention if they haven't received it already. I've pretty much seen everything I imagine might have a shot at making my list except for maybe Phantom Thread (which isn't scheduled to open in my neck of the woods until January 18th), but Paul Thomas Anderson has always been hit or miss with me given his films always feel easier to appreciate rather than enjoy. With the film being touted as Daniel Day-Lewis' final bow as an actor though, it demands to be seen and I'm eager to see what all the buzz has been about once it does open near me. Furthermore, I look forward to re-visiting award season heavies like The Post and Molly's Game when they make their national debuts in January as they were both films I liked, but came nowhere close to being the giants many in the press touted them to be. All things considered, please know that I went into every film this year really wanting to like it and the ones that follow are the ones that surprised me with their quality or surpassed every expectation I held for them. Enjoy!

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD Review

Despite Christopher Plummer’s J.P. Gettty very clearly being the antagonist in director Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World the film also seems aware that this is very much a complex character that holds more substance and conflict than what might otherwise be optioned to be portrayed as the straight-up villain of the piece. That said, Scott will often times play to the dark comedy of how much of a penny-pincher the richest man in the history of the world was. Such is true when the director will set-up a scene with the intention of making the audience think one thing only to pull the rug out from under them a moment later; Getty not actually bargaining on the cost of the ransom, but rather on that of an otherwise invaluable painting for example. This technique emphasizes the relationship, the fondness, the affinity Getty has for his money in a movie that is about his refusal to fork over untold millions for something that might offer a greater relationship or something he has a greater fondness and a greater affinity for: his grandson. This again may make Plummer’s Getty out to sound like the obvious villain of All the Money in the World, but there are lessons to be learned-even from those who might not be the most sincere or honest people in the room. Getty might not have always even been the smartest person in the room at any given time for he himself says that any fool can “get” rich, but there is always a strategy or plan in place with Getty-an ability to read the room and/or any offer that came across his desk-that paints this portrait of a man who isn’t being let off the hook for his misplacement of priorities in life (it’s hard to read if the man might have even had any regrets in his final moments when it came to realizing all he had were things and no one in particular that cared about him that he could leave all of his things to), but rather is being conveyed just as he was which was anything but complicated-the man seemed to have a very strict code of conduct-but is all the more complicated for applying that code to every aspect of life. After all, Getty likely could have cared less what anyone thought of him given the power such wealth afforded him. This all brings the conversation back around to that golden rule of he who has the gold makes the rules and in the case of All the Money in the World and the narrative it encapsulates, Getty never takes his hands off the wheel. Thank God for Christopher Plummer.