The Grinch Review

Illumination Delivers Another Perfectly Acceptable if not Necessarily Exceptional Animated Diversion in this Re-Telling of the Dr. Suess Classic.

Bohemian Rhapsody Review

This Queen biopic Fails to Transcend the Genre the Way its Subjects Transcended the Music Scene, but at Least the Music is Good.

Overlord Review

Overlord Combines the Terror of War with the Terror of a Zombie Apocalypse and Accomplishes Exactly what it Means To.

The Nutcraker and the Four Realms Review

An All-Star Cast Attempts to Usher The Nutcracker Story to a New Generation Via Disney Blockbuster, but Unfortunately the Results Fall Short of the Ambition.

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.

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.

Initial Reaction: Video Review - JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

The holiday movie season is always a crowded affair. This year is especially so given we not only have what will be an annual affair with a new Star Wars entry and this year with it specifically being the latest entry in the main trilogy, but there is also that of The Greatest Showman, a wholly original musical feature starring Hugh Jackman, the second sequel to surprise hit from 2012, Pitch Perfect, that no doubt looks to capitalize on an underserved demographic during the holidays, an adult-aimed Matt Damon-starrer from director Alexander Payne in Downsizing, a broad comedy starring Owen Wilson and Ed Helms that was supposed to be released nearly a year ago that has since be re-branded as Father Figures, Ridley Scott's headline grabbing All the Money in the World, and finally...Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. That's six new releases over the course of the last week not counting Star Wars, which remained number one at the box office, and doesn't include the expansions of smaller fare like The Shape of Water and Darkest Hour that went wide this past Friday or the limited releases of Steven Spielberg's The Post, Aaron Sorkin's Molly's Game, or Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread. All in all, there is a lot of competition at the movies right now, but while it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that The Last Jedi would end up on the top of the heap once more there was a bit of a mystery as to where everything else might fall. As these things have fallen thus far though, it seems as if the twenty-plus year later sequel to Jumanji will come in second to Rian Johnson's Episode VIII as the Dwayne Johnson action comedy is expected to garner an estimated $34 million for the three-day cycle with the film expected to gross nearly $65 million by the end of the day today after opening on Wednesday. Next in line will be Pitch Perfect 3 as this threequel is expected to finish around $27 million for the four-day holiday weekend. Showman will likely fall in place next with an expected six-day cume topping $18 million after opening alongside Jumanji on Wednesday.Downsizing pulled in just $4.6 million over the three day weekend and is expected to finish just over $6 million for its four-day opening with Father Figures coming in around what is likely to be a $4+ million four-day opening. Additionally, Darkest Hour is expected to reach nearly $6 million for the four-day holiday weekend while The Shape of Water brought in an estimated $3 million for the three-day and is expected to reach $4.3 million by the end of today. As always, be sure to follow the official Initial Reaction YouTube channel as well as on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter where you can find a new review (or reviews) each week!

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN Review

The Greatest Showman, a wholly original musical from the mind of Jenny Bick (and ushered through the big studio system via Rob "Dreamgirls" Marshall) that tells the story of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), is a weirdly fascinating experience. There were instances throughout this brisk, but admittedly epic in ambition musical that at one point might feel alarmingly slight and free of any such substance while at other points-specifically during the musical numbers-it could feel akin to a religious experience. Crazy, right? Like most things, The Greatest Showman is a balancing act, but surprisingly-so is gauging one's reaction to the film. While the film, narratively, falls into refurbished clichés of countless other rags to riches stories it also doubles down on sweeping love stories, including large themes of inclusion and tolerance for those different than what society and humanity have deemed as normal and then, somehow matches all of this up with the terms of a musical that require dance numbers, songwriting, and lyrics that both explore these aforementioned themes and narratives as well as pushing as much forward. The viewer's balancing act comes from the then aforementioned disparate elements of those cliché story beats and the rather impressive soundtrack of songs as composed by La La Land composers Justin Paul and Benj Pasek. It's so strange, even now, twenty-four hours after having seen the film and I can admittedly understand every complaint I've since read about it; sharing many of them in regards to the boxing in of Barnum's story to that of a standard Hollywood storyline. And yet, there is this undeniable aspect of the film and all the joy and hope it provides in these moments that says something about the movie, the craft behind it, and the reaction they garner. First time feature director Michael Gracey (who has mostly worked in the visual effects departments on other projects) certainly seems overwhelmed by the scope of what he has taken on here as glimpsed in both how he captures and conveys the themes as well as a majority of the musical numbers, but seriously-by the end of nearly every number and, as a result, the film-what has just occurred on screen leaves you feeling so gleeful and allows the characters to be so endearing that it's impossible to deny the appeal of The Greatest Showman despite its many, many flaws. 

I, TONYA Review

The story of Tonya Harding is one of a true American tragedy. Tonya Harding is America. She is unapologetic for the way she was raised and is seemingly either embraced or rejected immediately. She is emblematic of America's tendencies to always need someone to laugh at, a necessary punchline to fool ourselves into believing we're better than something or someone despite the outward appearance of wanting to be welcoming and tolerant of all walks of life. I, Tonya is a portrait of this single woman's life that would seem the perfect vehicle for a rags to riches story, the kind of story America typically likes to celebrate and champion in showing how much we, the people, promote this idea of advancement and the improvement of one's status through nothing other than hard work, but in the case of Harding we get the opposite: a life of nurturing that was anything but; where every person wanted a piece of the only beacon of light and hope in their lives while punching her down to feel better about themselves rather than pull her up. Tonya worked hard her whole life-devoted every fiber of her being to this passion (which is something it seems no one in her life, with the exception of maybe her mother, would question the hyperbole of or dispute), but no matter how hard she dared work she was never a match for the fact her image was not that of who the skating world desired to represent them. It is these constant battles, the ones that cause people, relatives, coaches, to ask, "Why are you the way that you are?" that come to define exactly who Tonya Harding was and no doubt still is. She is a real human being who dared to have the right amount of balls to not be defined by a sport that never wanted her, but that she couldn't do without. Her relationship with figure skating being indicative of every other relationship Harding would have in her life; passionate, but flawed. Complicated being an understatement. And sure, there are two sides to every story, of course, but in the case of I, Tonya there are multiple sides to her story and in particular to the event that came to define her life and who she was in the public eye. It is in this examination of how Harding is forced and mostly refuses to balance herself between the world she is from and the world she is meant to be a part of that serves as the crux of what director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) and writer Steven Rogers (Hope Floats, Stepmom) are attempting to say while Harding herself and all her story represents just happen to be the perfect, searingly tragic vehicle for such a theme.   

First Trailer for THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS

Inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic tale of mouse kings and magical dolls, Disney's The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is the latest in this line of live-action adaptations to go full-on blockbuster to usher a new generation of fans for older stories as presented through the modern eye of the Mouse House. While this isn't a direct adaptation of one of Disney's popular animated films of yesteryear a la Beauty and the Beast or The Jungle Book, it would seem to be a riff on the Hoffmann classic as screenwriter Ashleigh Powell has crafted a story where our protagonist, Clara (Interstellar's Mackenzie Foy) must travel through a portal to a parallel world filled with all of these magical things and creatures where she meets the regents who preside over three Realms: Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers and Land of Sweets. These regents inform Clara that to find the item she seeks (a one of a kind key left to her by her late mother) that she must brave the ominous Fourth Realm, home to the tyrant Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). If this all feels rather familiar that's because it very much feels and looks like a mish-mash of other movies. There are hints of The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia series, and visually there is very much a similarity between this and the Alice in Wonderland live-action films that kicked off this recent trend, but this all comes with the caveat The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was originally published in 1816 or long before any of these aforementioned properties. And so, we undoubtedly have a case of the original inspiring countless stories similar to it while getting their own kinds of big budget adaptations long before the original a la John Carter and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets-syndrome. Of course, The Nutcracker is a story that has been around so long and had and continues to have such strong runs in the ballet as originated in 1892 (also before any of those aforementioned properties were even published) and so it was inevitable that someone like Disney wouldn't eventually make a big budget theatrical-worthy version out of the material. As directed by Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat) though, this looks to be little more than in line with everything else that is meant to serve as the basis of a franchise these days. I hope I'm wrong and I hope this turns out to turn my expectations on their head, but only time will tell. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms also stars Morgan Freeman, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Misty Copeland, Miranda Hart, Eugenio Derbez, Jack Whitehall, Ellie Bamber, and opens on November 2, 2018.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 19, 2018

First Trailer for OCEAN'S 8 Starring Sandra Bullock

I remember going to my local dollar theater at fourteen in what was probably early 2002 to see Ocean's 11 and more or less being taken with what was this star-studded affair where no one was taking themselves too seriously and having a total blast in this smooth and effortlessly cool remake of the 1960 Rat Pack movie. After two varied, but equally entertaining sequels in 2004 and 2007 it seemed as if the run was done for these crime caper comedies, but Warner Bros. has figured out a way to re-tool that franchise with Pleasantville and Hunger Games director as well as close friend of original trilogy helmer, Steven Soderbergh, Gary Ross to write and direct an all-female version of those movies. While it may feel like this is little more than a studio mining a brand for all it's worth, Ross and Soderbergh actually developed this idea together with Soderbergh serving as a producer on this new film. One even wonders if Soderbergh returned to feature directing this past year with a southern-fried version of an Ocean's movie in Logan Lucky to give Ross a tutorial on his process for making this type of film. Doubtful, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out Ross was on set more than a few times. All of that said, the idea seems to be to jump-start a new franchise with a new cast and this looks to be going swimmingly so far as the cast Ross has assembled is pretty stellar with a good mix of heavy hitters, unknowns, and diamonds in the rough that some know about, but are about to be exposed to a much broader audience. Also, Mindy Kaling seems like she's going to have a great 2018. And while this new movie is only tangentially related to Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy, Ross certainly took aesthetic cues from his friend as the suave and stylish essence of Soderbergh's films is still intact, Sandra Bullock does star as Debbie Ocean, the sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean, who gets a nod in the trailer. In the film, Debbie is fresh out of prison and ready to assemble a team of her own to pull off a unique heist at the Met Gala. Ocean’s 8 also stars Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, the aforementioned Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard Armitage, and opens on June 8, 2018.

DARKEST HOUR Review

That Winston Churchill was a pretty interesting guy. You've heard of him, right? Maybe? The man who was the 61st (and 63rd) Prime Minister of the United Kingdom with fifty plus years of experience in government prior, wrote over fifty books and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1953, painted over five hundred paintings with exhibitions at the Royal Academy, and defied to be defined by societal lines, flip-flopping between political parties twice. Yeah, you know-that one you thought you knew well enough, but are now feeling you barely knew anything about. Don't worry, I felt the same way heading into Darkest Hour thinking I had it all figured out. And while I did to a certain degree with the prominent director recovering from a flop with rather safe material as made prominent by a well-regarded actor going full method and fully into prosthetics to play a historical figure of note in an attempt to, if nothing else, check another challenge off his thespian bucket list, what I hadn't figured out was the unexpected layers to be brought to such a character. Churchill is a man we've seen on so many pages of our history books over the years and who, with his recognizable silhouette and famous markers such as the bowler cap and cigar, is more or less embedded into the consciousness of generations who go through public school leaving us this very surface-level and mild idea of a man who many will desire to leave at that and delve no further into. To undo the myth around the man, but emphasize his influence all the more director Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) make their film more in line with something akin to Lincoln than they do a full cradle to grave biopic which, ultimately, is suitable and more compelling given the plethora of material and other motion pictures that are available around the famous figure (heck, there was another movie just this year about Churchill starring Brian Cox in the title role). As Darkest Hour zeroes in on these crucial days during World War II and the Prime Minister's decision to either negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds the film itself finds a comfortable rhythm that it remains within; offering what is an insightful and often times compelling portrait of this man that is just different and specific enough to feel relevant while crafted with enough care to be commendable if not necessarily wholly impressionable.   

STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII - THE LAST JEDI Review

It doesn't end with a space battle. It does begin with one though. And it does still come down to stopping a big laser from destroying what is positioned as the final stronghold of the resistance. This is The Last Jedi simplified, of course, but the point is, patterns. Stanzas. Everything in Star Wars, since the days of George Lucas, has worked in this recurring metrical unit where the past predicts the future and the future dictates the fate of our favorite characters. There is a great sense of scope and history in these films and with Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and Looper) has utilized this rich history in a way that kind of upends those patterns. Those verses that were seemingly an inherent part of the Star Wars DNA. Typically, this would be something unexpected, but applauded as it would lead one to believe there are bold choices being made and new directions being taken and while this is true to a certain extent, what happens when you don't always like or agree with the choices being made or the direction being taken? With The Force Awakens J.J. Abrams created a revival for a new generation balancing the tasks of paying respects to the previous trilogy, setting-up new parts of the universe to be explored, and establishing a new generation of characters that fans could fall in love with. Key to this was Abrams backdrop of this great mythos and grandeur that only hinted at the darkness that had befallen the characters of the original trilogy since we'd last seen them. The Last Jedi would then seemingly follow through on the promise of this mythical status that had befallen Luke Skywalker and so there was much to be excited for going forward in the series. In fact, The Force Awakens put in place so much to build this aura of mystery and gravity that it was probably impossible for Johnson to deliver on all of them, but with the re-introduction of Mark Hamill's Skywalker here it is clear this is in fact, "not going to go the way we (or at least I) thought," as Johnson immediately dispels this sense of mysticism in favor of a joke. A moment of deadpan humor that put me in a hesitant state of mind from which I don't know that I ever recovered. I've now seen the movie twice and I felt the same way both times. To be clear, I'm more than up for a movie that is self-aware to the point of not taking itself too seriously, but this almost broad comical direction and unwillingness to divulge that rich history or take advantage of it in the way The Force Awakens so gracefully set it up is nothing short of disappointing and may in fact be the most depressing aspect of what The Last Jedi seemingly promised and failed to deliver.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME Review

The adjective you're searching for is "tender." From the first series of title cards through to every instagrammable frame of Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name it is the tenderness that remains pungent to each of the senses. While it may not always feel or seem as if there is a particular tenderness to the love story being told here-the film takes its sweet time introducing this inevitable aspect-there is always a tenderness to each of the characters as they exist in this bubble of eternal warmth brought on by the summer season and their escape to Northern Italy. Tenderness breathes through every ounce of Guadagnino's film whether he is highlighting the see-through indigo waters of the Ligurian Sea or the intimate brush of soft skin between two human beings. This consistently gentle, but still strikingly beautiful aesthetic paired with the large amounts of sympathy we, the viewers, continue to feel as we grow more and more involved in the story paints this overall portrait of seventeen year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his budding relationship with the visiting Oliver (Armie Hammer) in gentle motions of complete tenderness. Suffice to say, Call Me by Your Name is not simply a film about the coming of age of a young, gay male in the early eighties, but it is a complex character analysis of this young man who has been given every academic advantage, but still struggles to figure out who he is among his liberal Jewish family that has refined his cultured and delicate personality. Elio is a personality that is wholly understanding and forthright about the circumstances that have led to his upbringing and how such has shaped the person he presently is, but this level of perspective has also brought about a level of self-awareness that allows Elio to understand how little he understands about the more vital, emotional aspects of being. Though I've yet to see Guadagnino's 2009 breakout hit I Am Love I wasn't all too impressed with last year's A Bigger Splash as it was more a melodrama where the characters had nothing better to do than create their own drama while yearning to be of huge emotional resonance, but ultimately failing to do so because those characters brought so much of their strife upon themselves. With his latest, Guadagnino adapts André Aciman's novel from James Ivory's screenplay and transcends the intellectual bubble of privilege and emotional consumption by submitting itself entirely to the tender love story that is its essence.

First Trailer for Clint Eastwood's THE 15:17 TO PARIS

The first trailer for director Clint Eastwood's latest, The 15:17 to Paris (what an awkward title), has landed online via Warner Bros. and to call this an experiment of sorts in skirting the lines between fiction and non-fiction storytelling feels like something of an understatement. Most of the time, while films "inspired by" or "based on" true stories are considered to be works of non-fiction there is this understanding that the film and what happens in it is "still a painting and not a photograph" as writer/director Aaron Sorkin explains it. You use the parts you need to tell a story and you don't use the parts you don't need. Life doesn't play itself out in a series of scenes that form a perfect narrative and people don't speak in dialogue-these are movie things-Sorkin continues and he's right. There is not way to capture all of the factors that contribute even to a single instance of our existence to where an audience watching it on screen would understand or experience this moment in the same way the actual person who experienced it in real time. That said, Eastwood's latest is based on the story of real heroes Anthony Sadler, Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone, who stopped a terrorist attack on a train on August 21, 2015. Sounds about right you say? Sounds right up Eastwood's alley you think? Especially considering his last movie extended the crashing of a plane on the Hudson river into an hour and a half drama that exposed some of the not so public aspects of Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's heroism. Well, I hope you're right as The 15:17 to Paris will seemingly cover the full life stories of the heroes and the events that led up to the attack. All of that taken into consideration, this initial trailer is certainly intriguing and I'm anxious to see how these non-actors, but real-life heroes adapt to re-enacting this definitive moment in their lives as well as how Eastwood intercuts the flashback moments that have real and experienced actors working in them. Hopefully, the juxtaposition won't be too jarring. The 15:17 to Paris also stars Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, Ray Corasani, PJ Byrne, Tony Hale, Thomas Lennon, and opens on February 9, 2018.

MOLLY'S GAME Review

Molly's Game begins with a prologue of sorts that efficiently and eloquently establishes who this woman is, where she comes from, what type of person her nurturing has led her to be, and how she is unable to approach anything without learning every aspect of it and giving it her full attention. Molly's Game begins as one would expect any Aaron Sorkin-penned script to: with a lot of big words, fast sentences, and overall impressive language that paint a picture of an even more impressive specimen. That's what Molly Bloom, as played by the beautiful Jessica Chastain, is here: a specimen. Bloom is an individual who might serve as the best kind of example of our species as she was raised on the assembly line of a father who manufactures exceptionally smart and athletically trained children; Molly being abruptly spit out into the real world when an injury sets her Olympic career back. That said, she has issues of her own and while most certainly stem from that overbearing and overly critical nurturing she received from her father (Kevin Costner) some can still be attributed to the nature of Bloom and who she grows to be as an individual outside of her father's control. This is all to say that Molly's Game, as it begins and as it continues to show us the layers and intelligence of its complex protagonist throughout, is a fascinating character study and peek behind the curtain into a world many knew existed, but few had any idea the details of or of how it operated. It's only a shame Sorkin's latest on which he makes his directorial debut is lacking in any type of visual flair that might match the wit and research that has clearly gone into the dialogue being spouted. It's not that Molly's Game doesn't look acceptable or even like a big Hollywood production should-it does, but the problem is that it looks so much like a standard Hollywood production it takes away from the exceptionalism of the story being told. This is a story as slick and as insider-y as one could imagine and thus the aesthetic and editing should match in a way that emphasizes as much. Instead, while having no doubt watched countless innovative filmmakers do their thing over the years Sorkin resorts to playing his debut as a series of safe choices that lend no style to a story that is all style. While this doesn't derail the film overall, it certainly doesn't enhance the rich material, character work, and lead performance Chastain has fully lent herself to.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 12, 2017

LAST FLAG FLYING Review

It's 2003 and the memory of 9/11 is still fresh in the minds of most people. It's a time when men of a certain age found the noble thing to do to be to stand up and volunteer to fight for their country, to hunt down the Taliban, and rid the world of this evil that dared to disrupt the previous decade of peace America had experienced with the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. This marked the first opportunity for those that were just old enough to remember hints of the conflict in the Gulf War that presented a cause of their own to fight for. One of those who decided to take it upon themselves to do so was Larry 'Doc' Shepherd's son, Larry Jr., a Marine who we learn at the onset of the latest film from director Richard Linklater (Dazed & Confused, the Before trilogy) has been killed in action. It is in this tragedy and the context of these events that Linklater and co-writer Darryl Ponicsan, who also wrote the book this film is based on (and is something of a spiritual sequel to his 1970 novel, The Last Detail, which was also turned into a movie starring Jack Nicholson), come to examine the toll taken, the treatment versus the empty appreciation, and if the ultimate sacrifice would have been an easier route to take than the price most veterans pay for the rest of their lives. Last Flag Flying was initially published in 2004 and so it is very much a product of this great national tragedy itself where there was this immediate unification and call to action that lasted until many soldiers seemed to realize that such action wasn't all it was cracked up to be. That said, Linklater doesn't seem to be interested in making a political film, but rather one about the particular personalities of his three subjects and the necessary appreciation of their perspectives. It just so happens the military and the military lifestyle play a major role in who each of these men were and still are due to the fact this all-powerful entity is still dictating the way in which their lives and the lives of their loved ones do or do not play out. Like many Linklater films, there is more to Last Flag Flying than initially meets the eye as, on the surface, this largely looks to be a road trip movie that documents the rekindling of friendships with the power to work as a healing process for a single parties recent tragedy, but while the film serves this obvious purpose it also means to be a meditation on identity as well as who and/or how we allow that identity to be defined after we're gone.

First Trailer for SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Sony Pictures Animation isn't necessarily the studio everyone looks to for the next great animated movie, but they do well enough. I watched their latest Smurfs movie with mild enjoyment as my three-year-old found it entertaining and fun and the same can be said for their recent holiday offering, The Star, as it had its moments, but by the looks of this trailer I'm really excited about what the studio has up their sleeve next. While Sony is currently allowing Marvel Studios to "borrow" their live-action Spider-Man rights and in production on their own movie centering on supervillian Venom (which is rounding up quite the cast in Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, and possibly Woody Harrelson) Sony Pictures Animation has taken to furthering the Spider-verse with this animated adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis' run of Spider-Man comics that sees Miles Morales, a young African-American man, take up the mantle of Spider-Man. This will undoubtedly be an attempt to produce a whole new line of Spider-Man films as Sony is naturally looking at every avenue they can with this property, but much to my surprise this latest endeavor looks to be genuinely inventive and a ton of fun. Featuring The Get Down and DOPE's Shameik Moore as the voice of Morales, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will follow the newly minted Spidey as he attempts to juggle his high school life with his status as a superhero in the classic Spider-Man mold. And while the narrative prospects for such a film probably shouldn't be set too high it is the style of the animation and the visual prowess this film seems to encompass that has me really intrigued. Not since something like 300 have I been so immediately enamored with the look of a movie and so willing to see it based on little more than what is hinted at visually. In fact, this is the first time I've ever actively hoped a film will be released in 3D due simply to the fact it seems the cityscape shots and having Spidey swing through such in the style this is rendered would be the perfect use of that tool. In short, I can't wait to see this thing on the biggest screen possible and hope that while Sony is taking advantage of the web-slinger in every way they can, that they keep remembering to put as much innovation into each project as has seemingly been done here. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse also features the voice talents of Academy Award-winner Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Liev Schreiber, and debuts in theaters on December 14, 2018.

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.