Coco Review

Disney and Pixar Have Crafted Yet Another Moving Tale of Love and Family Through Familiar Beats, but with Unparalleled Execution.

Justice League Review

The DCEU has Shifted From Fascinating Critical Backfires to Bland, Vanilla Filmmaking with their First Super Friends Adventure.

Wonder Review

Based on RJ Palacio's New York Times Best Seller Writer/Director Stephen Chbosky and a Winning Cast Remind the World How far a Little Kindness Can Go.

Thor: Ragnarok Review

Director Taika Waititi brings Chris Hemsworth's God of Thunder into the Current Marvel Phase with a Standard Structure, but some Hilariously Inspired Moments.

Daddy's Home 2 Review

Stars Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell Reunite in this Unnecessary Sequel, but are Charming Enough to Provide Reliable if not Quality Entertainment.

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE Review

I was born in 1987. Meaning I turned a perfect eight years-old in 1995. I don't know if I first saw Joe Johnston's Jumanji when it opened that December, but I know I saw it within a year of that release and many, many times after. Admittedly, I haven't revisited the whole of the picture in quite some time, but what I clearly remember about the experience of Jumanji at that impressionable age was the unexpected grandeur of it all-the substance the film carried in the tragedy of this child disappearing from this pristine town and the unfortunate dynamic between he and his parents that, when he did finally return, would lead to a lifetime of regret. These were big themes for a little kid and maybe even the first time I'd really been forced to contemplate as much. It was a movie that made a big impression if not for the mystery and implied scale, but for these themes of loss that resonated with me and now allow me to have these fond and rather heartfelt memories of the film. And so it goes, I could not have been less excited for a twenty-two-year later sequel that would seemingly have no connection to the original, but instead be branded as such to entice the interest of audiences such as myself while selling the movie to younger crowds on the concept of stars like Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Heart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan appearing in an all-out action adventure with a cool premise. I wasn't ready to think this kind of backwards engineering of new franchises by mining old movies that appealed to those who now have disposable income and children of their own so as to get as many butts in seats as such brand recognition could, but dammit if this twenty-two-year later sequel isn't a whole lot of fun. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn't going to break any barriers or win any awards, but that's not its intention and given that intention and my lowered expectations out of nothing more than my affection for the original I went into this new film hoping the well-rounded cast could turn what undoubtedly had to be a half-hearted story into something at least remotely entertaining. Not only is Welcome to the Jungle entertaining though, but it is consistently engaging in the obvious, but well executed video game-level structure it possesses as well as offering far more frequent and less obvious laughs than I would have expected the script to deliver. At just under two hours (credits and all) this belated, but welcome (who would have thought?) expansion on the world of Jumanji is certainly an adventure worth taking for those of us that seek to find a place to leave their world behind (and for those who just want to have a good time at the movies).

THE DISASTER ARTIST Review

Full transparency: I love Hollywood stories. This fact may be questioned when I tell you that I haven't yet read actor Greg Sestero and journalist Tom Bissell's book that documents the behind-the-scenes look at the making of, "the greatest bad movie ever made" that is The Room, but I assure you I am. I know, I know-this may be an even less convincing statement when I tell you that I've still yet to see Tommy Wiseau's 2003 film that Sestero ad Bissell's book, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, is based on which James Franco has now adapted into a movie of his own with The Disaster Artist, but I assure you-I am. I listen to the You Must Remember This podcast, if that helps my credibility at all. The point being that, even without having little to no reference point beyond the handful of clips I've seen of The Room on YouTube Franco's The Disaster Artist is still very much an accessible and easy to understand piece of work that is as much about chasing one's dreams of stardom and realizing your own passions into a formidable career as it is a good movie about a really bad movie. That said, I loved this movie in a way I kind of haven't loved a movie in a long time. I mean, I've loved other movies this year and loved other movies more, but there is this unique relationship with The Disaster Artist in that it is a movie made completely endearing by the total lack of awareness of its main character and the complete willingness of the second lead to fling himself into whatever he has to do to make his ambitions become reality. Sure, some of these decisions are ill-advised, but the point is that, for an aspiring artist of any kind that feels the industry is designed to keep you out, The Disaster Artist offers a portrait of a couple of guys who decided to take things into their own hands and build their careers on their own backs in the most bizarre and questionable way possible. The idea that this story is being re-created by two brothers whom Hollywood has accepted with open arms and who book consistent, high-profile work is a little ironic, but so is the existence of this movie at all. This caveat of Hollywood elite making more money off of the (once) failed aspirations of those looking for a way in aside, The Disaster Artist is not a movie that looks down on those who want to create, who want to make movies, and who want to be actors, but rather it is a movie about embracing the struggle that finds great affection for the drive of these people that is made into a story worth telling for the pure mystery and oddity at the center of it that is Tommy Wiseau.

First Trailer for JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM

I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of the Jurassic Park franchise, but I enjoy them well enough. I can remember being ecstatic about finally getting to rent the third, non-Spielberg directed installment, when it arrived on DVD because my parents weren't big fans of going to the movies (and with five kids, I get it), but my excitement mainly came from finally being old enough to see one of these movies I'd heard so much about and been too young to see before. I saw snippets of the original throughout the years, but never watched the trilogy as a whole until buying the blu-ray box set a few years back. I also revisited the original when it was re-released in theaters three years ago and though I haven't re-watched Colin Trevorrow's (Safety Not Guaranteed) Jurassic World since seeing it on the IMAX screen upon its initial release, but I simply remember having a lot of fun with the movie, not worrying too much about logistics or details, but simply becoming wrapped up in the experience of it all. I genuinely liked and enjoyed the film upon seeing it and will definitely make time to re-watch it prior to venturing out to see director J.A. Bayona's (The Impossible, A Monster Calls) follow-up in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  Bayona is a director who can work with big scales on comparitvely smaller budgets and while both of his previous films have left me a little lukewarm (though I did enjoy A Monster Calls more than The Impossible, so maybe he'll only continue to get better) I look forward to seeing what the filmmaker can do with as big a budget as he was no doubt granted here. All of this taken into account, this first teaser for Fallen Kingdom is visually magnificent with the aesthetic overall looking slick and impressive while it be hard to argue the dinosaurs themselves have ever looked better. What is really important though is tone and the tone of the trailer is keen to let the audience know what they're in for here. This doesn't look to be little more than a rehash of an earlier film or something that is retreading old ground, but while some have balked at the idea of the premise it only seems a natural progression of what might have come next in the real world. Not that I wasn't ever going to be, but I'm on board and can't wait to see this on the biggest screen possible. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, James Cromwell, Ted Levine, Justice Smith, Geraldine Chaplin, Daniella Pineda, Toby Jones, Rafe Spall, BD Wong, Jeff Goldblum, and opens on June 22nd, 2018.

THE SHAPE OF WATER Review

Guillermo del Toro films are typically notable for their aesthetic choices, their production design, and their attention to detail. One can look back at the filmmaker's body of work and quickly see that there are countless themes that re-surface time and time again, much of this happening within the realm of the types of stories del Toro likes to tell and the visual prowess with which they are presented in. With his latest, The Shape of Water, the director is still very much working within his wheelhouse, but for the first time in some time it feels as if there is nothing more important to the movie no matter the extravagance of the sets and costumes or the practicality of the monster make-up than the story itself as well as the core relationship that both grounds this story and lifts it up. Now, if you know anything about The Shape of Water prior to going into the film then you know that this core relationship is formed between a human woman and a mysterious sea creature that is housed in the bowels of the top secret facility where she works as a maid. If that initially weirds you out a bit just think of it as the opposite of Ariel and Prince Eric; this way you can find some solace in the fact you at least understand you were holding a double standard against the picture. I understand there is a slight difference in the two because of the full-on creature feature being portrayed in this film whereas the scenes featuring Ariel and Eric being romantic in The Little Mermaid were ones where she was walking on land, but the concept still supports it and more, The Shape of Water completely owns this relationship from the moment we first glimpse our meager protagonist in Sally Hawkins' Elisa Esposito. Yes, of course The Shape of Water is a gorgeously rendered portrait of some alternate universe in the early sixties where government experimentation goes as far as studying a God-like merman and feels like a fairy tale of sorts for adults where not everything is perfect, ideal, or even necessarily magical, but what The Shape of Water does find and allow are these fantastical elements that breathe a fresh life and perspective into what are otherwise some dark and troubled times both in this universe and in the lives of characters who were seemingly never given a fair shot at life in the first place. This is effectively why The Shape of Water succeeds for as much as one can go on about all of the beautifully crafted extraneous factors it is this belief that comes to be sustained in this abnormal relationship and the beauty of the affection it conveys in its own right that we are, maybe unexpectedly, moved.     

THE POST Review

The Post is as much a movie as it is a strict documentation of a sequence of events that deal in something as fleeting as time and the importance man places upon the construct of time. Time, by all definitions, is a mental construct used to make sense of movement. There is a great sense of the collusion between time and movement in the latest from director Steven Spielberg and how what man has created to help maintain order can also spin us into the very midst of confusion as chaos is so often categorized. Simply by defining how long something has the potential to be powerful or life-changing we set ourselves up for large successes or failures. It is no surprise then that Spielberg focuses not on the passage of time or how this fleeting thing called life is formed against the backdrop of the time we just so happen to have been born into or exist within, but rather how time is what we do with it. What defines our lives and the time we are able to spend on this earth is not simply how we make it through one day to get to the next, but by the actions we take, the strides we make, and the deadlines we set for ourselves and either meet or don't. It's a thesis based on the hope that nobility is a prized possession in any viewer that sits down to take in history as told by the movies. This thesis of sorts is meant to both stir something deep within for the pride in one's country that allows for, "the press to serve the governed, not the governors," while at the same time utilizing this message to remind us all that history undoubtedly repeats itself. One would be remiss to go through a full discussion around The Post without mentioning its relevancy, but more so-its poignancy-in relation to the present state of the world and the leaders that are in power; utilizing their power for personal gain and favorable poll numbers rather than in the interest of world peace. Our present day is not the world the characters in The Post thought they were shaping or being bold enough to attempt to usher society into and while Spielberg makes no direct indication of his intent the opportunistic quality of the project is enough to suggest as much. It would be futile to not mention such obvious parallels and why this film in particular feels more like a product of today despite taking place forty-six years ago. This isn't a negative in terms of how it plays throughout the narrative either, but is more a return to this idea of time, time as a construct, and how it isn't a neat and tidy sequence of events one can always apply a narrative to, but something that is forever reminding us, the human race, what we must do and what values we must continue to uphold in order to ensure our continued survival. The Post may not exactly be a revelatory piece of work, but it is certainly a direct and not so gentle reminder there has to be examples of the best of us in the worst of times.

WONDER WHEEL Review

One might summarize Wonder Wheel, this year's offering by the prolific Woody Allen, as being the epitome of what many would call, "meh." "Meh" is what one would call expressing a lack of interest or enthusiasm. "Meh" is what one could define as uninspiring or unexceptional and in the pantheon of Allen-produced films over the past fifty years Wonder Wheel certainly falls into the category of "meh". That said, the visual elements that see legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Last Tango in Paris) shooting Allen's fifties-set melodrama like it were a postcard where the colors are saturated to the point they are about to burst off the screen are fantastic and serve to be the only thing that is somewhat memorable about Allen's latest effort. The sweeping sequences that involve Storaro's re-creation of Coney Island that is partly comprised of practical effects, part location B-roll, and other part full-on digital trickery would seem to encourage the movie to immerse the viewer in this setting and yet, even as the strongest facet of the film, the location serves as little more than a backdrop. A backdrop for yet another of Allen's explorations of the kinds of characters made famous in the likes of Tennessee Williams works that he's already explored in Blue Jasmine and has probably explored multiple times before that, but my Allen filmography knowledge gets a little spotty prior to 2005 sans the obvious stand-outs. What I kind of expected from Wonder Wheel given Justin Timberlake's (yes, Justin Timberlake is your Woody Allen stand-in this time around) delivery of certain lines in the trailer was that of an homage of sorts to (or even parody of) the big melodramas of yesteryear where the actors were performing with a knowing sense of what they were going for and of letting the audience in on the fact of what they were going for. Were this true and we, the audience, ended up laughing with the movie instead of at the movie it might feel like a completely difference experience, but as it is Wonder Wheel is a movie out of touch with what it should be and what it needed to be in order to pull-off what it seemingly wanted to be. But hey, it really is visually stunning, so there's that.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 5, 2017

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER Review

My first experience with a Yorgos Lanthimos film came two years ago when, in a spur of the moment decision, I decided to see what The Lobster was all about while attending my first Toronto International Film Festival. I walked out of that film a little mystified and largely confused about what I'd just experienced and, looking back, that was undoubtedly appropriate. While I wasn't overly fond of the film I found myself thinking about it day after day in what likely ended up being the film my brain latched onto the most out of that festival as far as contemplating what it meant and how it was crafted. There were other films I liked more, but I was more than fascinated with The Lobster. Months later, I found myself eager to purchase the Blu-ray when the film arrived on home video and eager to re-watch what had perplexed me to see if I might gain new perspective or insight. I made it through about half of the film before it started to feel like this great concept that Lanthimos was tracking began to wear thin. Funnily enough, this is similar to the experience I've now had with Lanthimos' follow-up, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, as well. To this end is to say that, while it's best to go into the film cold, it's hard to know what to expect even if you have seen a trailer or read the synopsis. With either kind of expectation the first forty or so minutes of the film prove to be especially engaging. There is a frankness to the whole affair that is rather shocking while at the same time wholly engulfing due to the fact these characters can and do say literally anything that is on their minds at any given moment of conversation. While the basic character dynamics are established within the realm of this first hour there is still no real indication as to why it's vital to know who these people are or why they're in each other's lives. Moreover, Lanthimos is crafting this off-kilter universe where we, as a race, still operate under the same societal structures (which you couldn't say about The Lobster), but our behavior as such is completely altered. In this type of scenario one can't help but to be naturally intrigued as to what the hook with such a set-up might be, but as it comes to be in The Killing of a Sacred Deer I would have much rather been allowed to just exist in this strange world for, as soon as the general conflict kicks in, the rest of the film feels largely senseless and hollow. 

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI Review

In the first scene of writer/director Martin McDonagh's (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) new film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Mildred Pierce (Frances McDormand) drives past three billboards that are falling apart on an old road outside the titular small town she lives in that no one has used since the freeway opened. Hell, the last time a company even utilized the billboards for actual advertising was Huggies in the mid-eighties. Due to the contemplative look on Mildred's face we know the inciting incident is set to occur at any moment, but more important is the fact we take in the appearance of Mildred. Her hair is down, her clothes rather casual, and while Mildred never seems like she was ever the kid of woman to get too made-up, she looks to be in a certain place in her life that, while not peaceful, is one where she's come to terms with the reality of her situation. You see, Mildred's daughter was murdered a year or so prior to the beginning of the film and the investigation by her local police department seems to have waned over time-Mildred stating she hadn't heard a peep from them in at least seven months-prompting her to take matters into her own hands, but not in the manner of a revenge fantasy a la The Punisher or a recent Quentin Tarantino flick, but more in the vein of calling out those responsible for seeking her daughter's killer and rapist and holding them accountable for failing at their civil responsibilities. If you've seen the trailers you know Mildred does this by renting the three aforementioned billboards to send a very clear message to the Ebbing police department, calling out Police Chief George Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) in particular. Once Mildred goes through with this though, her look changes and, in turn, so must her mentality. No more does Mildred ever look as casual as she does in that first scene. No more does it feel as if Mildred might ever be at peace with what has occurred in her life. Rather, from the end of this scene on through to the end of the movie Mildred pulls her hair up into a tight ponytail, the back of her neck now shaved as if to say she has no frills about what she's doing. Never again do we see her in public with her hair down or her wearing anything resembling khaki or flannel, but rather Mildred only wears her industrial work uniform and bandana. This outward exterior that takes no crap from no one is key to her surviving the ramifications that come from her actions and the complexities she didn't expect as a result of those actions. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri takes on this exterior as well, but don't be fooled as this is one of the most brutal, funny, dark, sad, and best movies of the year.