The Upside Review

Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart Star in this Re-Make the 2011 French Film, The Intouchables, that is Charming Enough to Sustain its Existence.

Aquaman Review

James Wan Takes Over the DCEU and Delivers a Solo Aquaman Film that is So Bonkers it's Impossible not to be Entertained, but it Never Delves Beyond the Surface.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Review

Another Year, Another Spider-Man Film, but per Usual Producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller Flip Expectations on their Head and Deliver an Exceptional Animated Film.

Escape Room Review

Writer/Director Adam Robitel and a Charismatic Cast of Misfits Deliver a January Horror Flick that Overcomes the Odds with Genuine Thrills, Laughs, and Tension.

Mary Poppins Returns Review

Director Rob Marshall and Star Emily Blunt Create a Worthy Follow-Up to the 1964 Julie Andrews Classic by Balancing the Old and the New.

Teaser Trailer for SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

It's been quite the a month or so for Marvel Studios-kicking things off with what feels like the ramp-up for their first film of 2019 with the much anticipated, first female-led Captain Marvel and of course following that up with the glorious teaser that finally revealed the title and our first real look at what we now know is Avengers: Endgame. And now, today brings us the first look at what will be Marvel's (in association with Sony, of course) third film of 2019 in the official sequel to 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far From Home. Far From Home only just wrapped shooting in October, but while filmmakers and digital effects artists are now able to work almost simultaneously with one another, building sequences that require large amounts of CGI as dailies are being sent to them from set, this did leave one curious as to just how much has been accomplished in the three months of post-production as rumors began to swirl as early as the same week the Endgame trailer dropped that we'd be getting a Far From Home trailer. Sony no doubt wanted to give their animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie time to breathe before reminding people there would be another movie featuring the web-slinger hitting theaters in less than a year and good on them for it as Spider-Verse certainly deserves all the acclaim and accolades it is receiving, but no lie-this looks great and the effects look better than expected meaning we get more money shots here than I thought we might. Given the events of Infinity War and the fact we don't yet know what happens in Endgame it was always going to be a tricky task to market a film featuring a character that supposedly "died" in that movie, but this teaser makes no reference to that seminal work in regards to superhero films, but instead goes one further and confirms Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury is also back from being dusted. Jon Watts returns to direct this sequel that will see Peter Parker and his friends, including Zendaya's MJ and Jacob Batalon's Ned, going on a summer vacation to Europe where Peter and co. find themselves in a plot with Jake Gyllenhaal's Mysterio. Spider-Man: Far From Home also stars Cobie Smulders, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Michael Keaton, Angourie Rice, Martin Starr, Tony Revolori, J.B. Smoove, and opens on July 5th, 2019.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 15, 2019

MOVIES I WANNA SEE MOST: 2019

With a new year we are brought many a new prospects for our entertainment purposes and in looking forward to 2019 one thing is more than clear and that is the fact audiences will have an abundance of interesting material to choose from. In setting out to make a most anticipated list I actually began with some fifty-something films I found interesting or knew I'd care to see based solely on surface factors such as director, cast members, or synopsis. It pains me that movies like John Crowley's follow-up to Brooklyn, Goldfinch, won't get acknowledged here nor will James Mangold's Ford v. Ferrari, Danny Boyle's Beatles project, or Joe Wright's The Woman in the Window, but that is the way these things work. That is without mentioning the long list of blockbusters that won't appear here-including Glass, Shazam!, Captain Marvel, John Wick: Chapter 3, The Lion King, and the Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle sequel-as I'm certainly excited to see what each of those deliver, but am not anticipating any with the fervor my top ten bring.

THE UPSIDE Review

Charming is the key word here. You will be charmed. The Upside is charming. Charmed in the sense not that The Upside will put you under a spell necessarily, but more in the sense of it being a pure pleasure; a delight, if you will. Many a foreign films are re-tooled into American stories so as to make the context more familiar and the circumstances more relatable/understandable, but oddly enough the 2011 French film, The Intouchables, might be the last foreign film to come to mind when considering what would benefit from a re-contextualization as it, by virtue of its broad and rather simple odd-couple premise, feels the least foreign in terms of beats and emotions relayed. Still, for one reason or another it was deemed a big enough hit overseas and therefore must have been doing enough right to make a stateside studio want to re-make it once more (it has already been re-made in India as well as having a Spanish-language re-make to boot) and so why not hire the likes of Walter White and the most reliable comic actor of the moment to bring it to a wider, English-speaking audience? Thus, The Upside was born and first premiered on the festival circuit back in the fall of 2017, but was shelved and sold off following the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. Eventually bought by STX Entertainment, the studio is either hoping people overlook the time of year in which they are dumping this into theaters and simply trust the inspired pairing of Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart or they are just trying to unload what is sure to make some money, but what they ultimately realize was always an unnecessary piece of cinema. And yet, unnecessary as it may be, the inspired pairing of Cranston and Hart is what makes director Neil Burger's (Limitless, The Illusionist) re-make of the film a film with genuine heart and even a little insightful substance from time to time rather than that of a film completely devoid of any charm or wit that exists solely as an opportunity to replicate a previous winning formula. The Upside is certainly formula and it goes without saying any seasoned movie-goer will know to expect every beat this hits, but that doesn't mean it's neither appealing nor endearing as it strokes its familiar elements to the point it is these charming qualities that stand out most.   

ESCAPE ROOM Review

Though I haven't seen Vincenzo Natali's 1997 film, Cube, I have seen about thirty-two Saw movies and, in all honesty, could take or leave a PG-13 version of those movies that decided to utilize that same premise while also capitalizing on the recent fad of going with your friends to an "escape room" and seeing if you can figure out the clues in enough time to, well...escape. It's a nice little riff writer/director Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key) has come up with, sure, but he's essentially re-contextualized that aforementioned Natali picture for modern audiences as the synopsis for Cube is surprisingly accurate for Robitel's Escape Room. "Six complete strangers of widely varying personality types are involuntarily placed in an endless maze containing deadly traps." Change that "involuntarily" to "voluntarily" and you have yourself a whole new movie. Despite the glaring similarities between itself and a number of other subgenre peers though, Escape Room still manages to make itself feel fresh in ways that emphasize the journey rather than leave it all up to the destination. Escape Room doesn't necessarily improve upon any of these well-worn tropes, but it isn't a completely wasteful take on the premise either; it doesn't re-invent the wheel, but it re-designs it to the extent a wheel can be re-designed.

New Trailer for HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U

With a budget of under $5 million and a domestic gross of $122+ million it was inevitable that Blumhouse and Universal would be jumping on this train and quickly pumping out a sequel to the surprise Halloween smash that was Happy Death Day-which will have only debuted sixteen months prior by the time its sequel hits on Valentine’s Day this year. While the premise of Happy Death Day was tried and true it had never really been attempted in the vein of a horror movie-or more specifically-a slasher movie before, but it made sense: in slasher movies a mysterious killer goes around killing this core group of teens we come to know in an order we can easily guess based on a combination of race, gender, and screentime, but instead of being a predictable, run of the mill slasher what if it was the same kill every time with our hero trying to figure out how they both got stuck in said loop and how they might escape it; it’s defeating the killer on a whole other level and while this premise doesn’t typically lend itself well to sequels, it can’t help but seem Happy Death Day 2U (one of the greatest sequel titles of all time, I might add) is taking things to a whole other level with where this next film may in fact go next. Given the sequel’s plot picks up from Happy Death Day's conclusion it almost feels like Christopher Landon’s film will reach for Back to the Future 2 aspirations where not only does the second film become a satisfying continuation in executing the logical next step, but also goes about lending the events of the original more meaning at the same time. Landon, who directed the first film from a screenplay by Scott Lobdell, has penned the sequel screenplay on his own (though he's no rookie having written Disturbia and several of the Paranormal Activity sequels) and seems to have infused more of his comedic tendencies (see Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse if you haven't already) into the fabric of the film as star Jessica Rothe definitely seems to have more opportunities here to show her full comedic range as was hinted at in the first film while the film itself feels more like a horror/comedy than a straight-up scary movie. Happy Death Day 2U also stars Israel Broussard, Suraj Sharma, and Sarah Yarkin and opens in theaters on February 14, 2019.

TOP 10 OF 2018

As opposed to last year, 2018 has made it difficult for me to narrow things down to a finite ten films that I thought worthy of making my list. These kinds of lists, no matter how superfluous, would always fare better were they put together in a couple years time rather than in a rush in the last few days of the year as one is attempting to cram in all the end-of-year awards contenders being released simultaneously as well as catching up on everything that might have been missed throughout the year, but that is supposed to be really good and you don't know why you didn't watch some of these sooner. Alas, some will slip through the cracks and while I made as valiant an effort as I possibly could (I even saw Holmes & Watson yesterday-more out of an undying loyalty to Ferrell than the potential of it making my list, of course) I still managed to miss more than I would have liked to. Furthermore, there have been films with exceptional moments that might feel like glaring omissions from my favorites list given you've likely heard a lot about them over the course of the last few months that will make many others; examples include films such as Green Book, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and The Favourite. 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, though I'm suspect this might change with at least two of these.

On the other hand, there are a handful of narrative features competing for spots on my list that, on any given day, might have been in one of those top ten spots; HBO's The Tale, the Joaquin Phoenix-starrer You Were Never Really Here, Steve McQueen's Widows, what could possibly be Robert Redford's swan song in The Old Man and the Gun, as well we Bo Burnham's feature debut in Eighth Grade would round out my top fifteen at this point, but if I included documentaries on this list it would be a completely different story. The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, Three Identical Strangers, Whitney, Free Solo, not to mention Won't You Be My Neighbor? were all fantastic documentaries released this year where at least three of those would have made my top ten, but given the differences in the approach to filmmaking it only seems fair to highlight them outside of a traditional top ten list. Of course, going back over the year there are many regrets around films like Blindspotting, The Hate U Give, Searching, Bad Times at the El Royale, Halloween, Instant Family, Vice, Shoplifters, Love, Simon, and Hearts Beat Loud that I wish there were space for as I enjoyed each and every one of them to the extent I would genuinely label them as "great". All things considered though, please know I go into every film truly hoping to see one of the best movies of the year and the ones that follow are the ones that surprised me with their quality or surpassed every expectation I held for them. Enjoy!

MARY POPPINS RETURNS Review

My wife and I took our four-year-old daughter to see this despite her having seemingly no interest in the trailers or TV spots that have been on heavy rotation-especially over the past week or so. Admittedly, this was partly for the reason both of us wanted to see this fifty-four-year-later sequel to Mary Poppins and didn't want to have to go through the hassle of finding a babysitter the weekend before Christmas, but it was mostly due to the fact that despite the lack of interest in the promotional materials that sometimes you just have to trust your parents know better than you and, lucky for us, our little four-year-old girl decided to indulge us on this particular matter (the slush and popcorn might have factored in, but I digress). The point being, that once director Rob Marshall's (Chicago, Into the Woods) Mary Poppins Returns began and Emily Blunt's incarnation of the practically perfect nanny showed up and began teaching the new generation of Banks children (as well as reminding their parents) that while imagination may not always be approved of, that it's more than necessary to make life fun and largely bearable, the little one was more than hooked by the magic of the titular character. And so, while Mary Poppins Returns is admittedly more of a re-hash or re-imagining of that first, 1964 film than I would have either thought or hoped it to be it is also a reminder of how powerful and delightful the imagination can truly be. Though my personal experience with the film may not be as heartening as those who take their teenagers to the theater and see their faces revert to a state of child-like wonder; to experience the kind of magic and possibilities Mary Poppins brings to the table and exerts with pure enthusiasm strike our daughter in such a clear and distinct way-especially during the numerous musical numbers-was quite something. The Julie Andrews picture was always one of those movies that was always on whenever we needed it to be growing up and taking on the burden of crafting a follow-up to that respected classic (the only live-action film Disney saw garner a Best Picture nod in his day) there was a degree of respect built-in for even attempting as much and while Mary Poppins Returns could have certainly done a little more to stand on its own it is so excessively charming, appropriately cute, and full of original songs and creative executions that it's hard to argue the film is anything but perfectly pleasant in every way.