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.

WIDOWS Review

There is no more of a movie this year than Widows. Widows is a damn movie in every fiber of its being and I mean that not in the way that it could only exist as a feature-length film, but more in that it utilizes every aspect of the art form to do what the art form was designed to do: entertain and be thought-provoking. Widows is a damn movie. It's a damn good movie too. In fact, it knows it's toeing this line of being a genre film and something more thoughtful, more credible in the eyes of Academy voters, if you will and kind of flaunts it unabashedly. Widows is essentially director Steve McQueen (Shame, 12 Years a Slave) asking why he can't have the best of both worlds and then showing us with what feels like effortless finesse that he can. In a scene that occurs early in the film the current alderman of a south side precinct in Chicago, Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall), is arguing with his son, Jack (Colin Farrell), who is running to replace his father as a sixth generation alderman in the district. The discussion between father and son doesn't begin as an argument, but rather with Jack bragging to his father about how he acquired a piece of art from an up-and-coming painter for the price of a mere $50,000. The thing is, we already know from Jack's opponent in this political race, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), that aldermen in Chicago make around $106,000 a year and so there is this precedent for the lifestyle of an alderman that Jack and his father are clearly surpassing by supplanting what of their tastes cannot be supported by their public facade. Furthermore, as Tom and his son's discussion escalates Tom quickly resorts to insulting Jack's purchase by calling it "wallpaper". What is the difference between art and wallpaper? The film doesn't explicitly ask this question, but it certainly poses it to the audience further suggesting that-if you can't tell the difference-does it matter and if you can what makes one more valuable than the other? They both serve a purpose, but which is more functional? Later in the film we are introduced to Reverend Wheeler (Jon Michael Hill), the man with the biggest congregation in the district where Jack and Jamal are running for alderman. In the sermon we're treated to the pastor posing the question, "when did normal start to pass for excellence?" McQueen is once again reminding the viewer of this difference in either acceptably conforming to a standard or standing poised in such a way there is no doubt of intention. Widows undoubtedly conforms to certain archetypes of the crime genre, but it is also one of the most poised and confident examples of the genre in some time; an aggressively compact narrative with the style of a slick, tailored suit that expertly unpacks all it wants to address through a vibrant and straight-up electric piece that is chic enough to be purely decorative, but just abrasive enough to glimpse the art underneath.   

BOY ERASED Review

As someone who constantly wrestles with their faith if not necessarily the belief in a higher power, one of the lessons I've personally come to learn in life thus far is that, despite many a country songs telling you to "stand for something or you'll fall for anything," the truth of the matter is that to so deeply steep yourself in one set of beliefs is to ultimately guarantee that you'll eventually (in all likelihood) become a hypocrite. Human beings naturally evolve, we continuously experience new things, and gain greater perspectives on any number of situations all of which inform an ever-developing outlook on the world and the people that populate it. To be so stubborn as to try and categorize these present experiences and interpretations of life through the prism of a single piece of literature written over two thousand years ago only seems counter-intuitive to the abilities and intelligence God has blessed us with, not to mention a rather stressful way to frame ones existence; having to make sure what is inherently felt as right or wrong is supported by doctrine whose composers couldn't have imagined the world or society as it presently stands. There is so much clout given to these rules that outline what our behavior should be that people seem to often lose sight of that inherent voice-your conscious, God himself, whatever you want to label it-that really lets you know when something is right and when something is wrong regardless of what anyone or anything else's stance on the subject might be. That is not to say the Bible isn't helpful, of course it can be and is to millions upon billions of people across the globe, and this is not to imply there aren't certain absolutes of decency that can or should be swayed, but what is being suggested is that to commit so strongly to a single set of ideals is to also make one fear change. To fear change is to stop growing. And to stop growing is to willfully succumb to a limited or narrow view of the world. It is this conflict that Russell Crowe's Marshall Eamons, a Southern Baptist preacher living in Arkansas, faces in director Joel Edgerton's second feature, Boy Erased, when his teenage son is forcibly outed as gay.

Full-Length Trailer for Tim Burton's DUMBO

I'm going to be honest, it's been a long time since I've seen the 1941 Disney feature about a young circus elephant who is ridiculed for his big ears only to achieve his full potential through the encouragement of a mouse. That said, is it really any surprise we're getting alive action re-make of any Disney animated classic at this point? Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if we were to get a live-action Black Cauldron though I'd much prefer to see what someone might do with Oliver & Company or The Great Mouse Detective. Alas, as we have Tim Burton's Dumbo early next year along with Guy Ritchie's Aladdin in the summer followed by Jon Favreau's The Lion King a year from now and at least Niki Caro's Mulan in 2020 it seems I'll have to hope these endeavors continue to pan out if we're ever going to get deep enough in the well to see those re-makes come to life. While cautiously optimistic for Ritchie's take on Aladdin and all but busting at the seams to see a sneak peak at anything from Lion King I am most indifferent towards another Burton-esque take on this type of material as we all saw how Alice in Wonderland turned out. While that 2010 blockbuster more or less ignited this recent trend of re-imaginings for the modern age it was also a vastly different take on the material than the original, 1951 animated film. Over the course of nearly a decade these films have morphed into little more than replicates of the achievements in animation that came before them; see 2017's Beauty and the Beast if you need further proof. Still, there is sometimes fun to be had as both The Jungle Book and Cinderella were earnest enough to be enjoyable and though Burton hasn't exactly been on a hot streak as of late given it's been nearly a decade since he's produced an out and out critical success and even longer since he's produced both a critical and commercial hit, there is always that glimmer of hope each time out that we might get peak Burton. Why the auteur wanted to take on Dumbo I'm not sure, I told you I haven't seen it in a while, but if there is anything to be taken from this new trailer it is the fact Burton still has a knack for fantastic imagery as the time period and setting seem to play a large role in the lives of these characters and the overall tone of the film. How the film will update and hopefully improve upon the original remains to be seen, of course, but at least we can count of the film looking magnificent on the big screen. Dumbo stars Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Finley Hobbins, Nico Parker, and opens on March 29th , 2019.

OVERLORD Review

Here’s the thing about Overlord: I saw the trailer so many times I felt like I knew the movie back to front before I even walked in. It was one of those things where I’d notice something different or pick up on something new every time I saw the trailer to the point that when I realized the actual feature was opening this weekend it wasn’t that I didn’t necessarily care to see it, but I definitely felt indifferent about buying a ticket to a movie I didn’t expect to gain anything more from that I hadn’t already been conditioned to expect from the trailer. I tell this aspect of the story to lend a little perspective on why Overlord then ultimately came to be something of a pleasant surprise. In expecting a certain level of craft, care, and creativity I low-balled my expectations and was more than happy to find out I was wrong when the film kicked off and immediately kicked into high gear with a level of energy that was infectious. Stranger even, the opening of the film is the same scene that opens the trailer, but while there is the expectation of this being a full feature rather than a short preview there is also something to the altered pacing, musical accompaniment, and/or character dynamics that immediately plays into the level of investment one is willing to give no matter how much they think they know. This is a long way of getting around to saying that, despite the initial indifference through which it had to battle, Overlord is a movie that does very well at what it's built to do. It’s not an exceptional film that says something new or even anything terribly interesting about life or the psychology each of us project on its meaning, but as a movie that sets out to combine the terror of war with the terror of a zombie apocalypse and roll those into a somewhat hackneyed, but fully aware camp fest-Overlord accomplishes everything it could hope to and then some.

First Trailer for POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU

This is just...too weird. Warner Bros. has apparently figured out how to, after nearly two decades of prominence in the States, concoct a live-action Pokémon movie that actually looks nothing like I would have imagined the first live-action Pokémon movie would look. That said, I don't remember much about the whole Pokémon boom of the late nineties other than the fact that the show was mildly entertaining as were the Game Boy games and I never got that damn holographic Charizard card. I'm not necessarily a big fan of the brand, but I was able to get into it for a little bit when everyone else was given I was in junior high at the time and all anyone was doing was playing the new N64 games Nintendo and The Pokémon Company were pumping out. How the brand is still viable so long after it catapulted into the zeitgeist twenty years ago is beyond me (and no, I didn't play Pokémon Go a couple of years ago), but as these things go it's clear as to why WB and Legendary would partner with The Pokémon Company to bring these monsters to life for the first time: global appeal, global dollars. Still, POKÉMON Detective Pikachu doesn't exactly seem the obvious route to go. The film is apparently based on a spin-off game that came out a few years ago in Japan. The Japanese version had an older, deeper voice actor performing the role of Pikachu, but for this Americanized version we have Deadpool himself, Ryan Reynolds. To hear this very distinctive voice coming out of this well-known character is a bit disorienting to be sure, but it will be interesting to see if Reynolds can condition audiences to look past his voice and believe it really is the character of Pikachu rather than Reynolds in a booth somewhere. The film concerns itself with an ace detective, Harry Goodman, who goes missing thus prompting his son, Tim (Justice Smith), to find out what happened to his father. The trailer tells us Tim is the only one who is able to actually understand Pikachu and thus the two of them partner up as Pikachu assists in Tim's investigation; the two of them piecing together clues through the streets of Ryme City. POKÉMON Detective Pikachu also stars Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe, is directed by Rob Letterman (Goosebumps), and opens on May 10th, 2019.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY Review

It's not what you say, it's how you say it. It is this common expression that the rather simple and safe interpretation of the story of Queen that Bohemian Rhapsody tells might have benefited from remembering. In a nutshell, Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher's biopic covers the early years of Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor's (Ben Hardy) band just before it recruits lead singer Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) and becomes known as Queen up through their 1985 performance at Live Aid that is considered one of the greatest performances in rock history. This is all well and good and makes sense for the arc of the band during its peak time of popularity, but within this arc Anthony McCarten's (The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour) screenplay never digs deep enough for audiences to really catch a glimpse of what actually defined Queen as a group or what made them, as a unit, so willing and trusting in one another to the extent they'd each be willing to bet everything on the titular song being a hit despite the fact a senior A&R exec with more experience than all of the members of Queen combined doesn't believe it to be. Of course, this is where one would retaliate with the, "fortune favors the bold," phrase that is also used in the movie and I'm not saying the members of Queen were wrong or stupid for doing this-obviously they weren't-or that the A&R exec was right-obviously he wasn't-but what I am saying is that Bohemian Rhapsody, the film, never gives the audience reason to trust in the word of Mercury, May, Taylor, and bassist John Deacon (Joe Mazzello) over this more experienced character outside of the fact it presumes the audience knows the story and music of Queen well enough to just go with it. And that's exactly what Bohemian Rhapsody does the majority of the time: it simply asks the audience to "go with it" as it rotates through the band's greatest hits and gives the expected beats of their meteoric rise, the inner tensions and turmoil that come with fame and notoriety, the distance that naturally grows between Mercury and the rest of his band mates, and their eventual reconciliation that leads to a triumphant return. It's all here, but the real disappointment with the story of Queen in particular is that it has so many unique variables and perspectives that this predictable pattern of the music biopic could have been used purely as a template while the actual style and substance of what was being communicated could have been fulfilled in more creative and effective ways. Instead, Bohemian Rhapsody is unapologetically "fine" and will largely be remembered for finding an excuse to play so many great songs on theater quality sound systems.

New Trailer for the Coen Brothers’ THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

While the first trailer for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs debuted back in September prior to the films festival run it has still taken some time to come to terms with the fact that 1) we're getting a new Coen Brothers movie this year, but that 2) their latest endeavor will in large part be seen via Netflix. Given the prestige typically lauded upon Coen Brother films it feels oddly anachronistic in terms of the level of time and care put into the project and the level of time and care through which it will be consumed (for the most part anyway, Netflix is dropping it in a few theaters this Friday so as to be eligible for awards consideration). All of this is to say that while I would most definitely prefer to see a Coen Brothers movie on the big screen as opposed to my TV I also find it highly unlikely the film will play in any theaters around me and it will be unbelievably hard for me to not press play when a new Coen Brothers movie is at the convenience of my remote control. Either way things go it seems the Coens have ensured a hell of a good and rather beautiful time as they've constructed an anthology film comprised of six stories, each dealing with a different aspect of life in the Old West. This anthology of Western stories was originally planned as the Coens' first foray into television, but ultimately morphed into the feature length film at Netflix we have today. While it might have been interesting and easier to swallow had the Coens stuck to this original plan and delivered ten or so hours of content to be digested piece by piece rather than it feeling as if their next feature was being reduced to a television premiere this latest trailer certainly sells the appeal of what always makes the Coens' work so enthralling; this balance of comedy, drama, and violence that is as brutally funny as it is straight-up brutal. The cast is something to write home about as well as Tim Blake Nelson plays the titular Buster Scruggs and is accompanied by the likes of Tyne Daly, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Heck, Grainger Hines, Zoe Kazan, Harry Melling, Liam Neeson, Jonjo O’Neill, Chelcie Ross, Saul Rubinek, Tom Waits, Clancy Brown, Jefferson Mays, Stephen Root, and Willie Watson. The Balled of Buster Scruggs will receive a limited, one-week theatrical run starting November 8th before expanding globally in select US and European cities and premiering on Netflix November 16th, 2018.

THE HATE U GIVE Review

The Hate U Give might come off as a perfectly-timed opportunity given the "Black Lives Matter" movement and the unfortunate, consistent headlines that tell us a young, unarmed black individual was gunned down by a white police officer, but fortunately, director George "Notorious" Tillman's adaptation of the Angie Thomas novel is not an opportunistic publicity stunt aimed at an audience who are already well-aware of the points the film is making. Rather, The Hate U Give is a well-rounded and appropriately angry piece of filmmaking that tells of both these types of crimes and the reasons for the feeling of need for movements such as "Black Lives Matter" in our country at the moment.

Tillman luckily has a strong grasp on the multiple themes and rather epic scope of his film as Audrey Wells' adapted screenplay weaves in a multitude of challenges that face the black community outside of discrimination. Whether it be police brutality or white privilege or more universal issues that have become more associated with being black than is fair such as drug abuse, drug-dealing, and a lack of the traditional familial structure, Tillman is able to take each of these strands and weave them into a coherent narrative that, while maybe tying things up a bit too neatly at the end, is most admirable for admitting it doesn't have all the answers, but instead making plenty of suggestions on how to spark change.

HALLOWEEN Review

As much time has now passed between the original 1978 Halloween and star, original Scream Queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis' return to the role of Laurie Strode (though she did reprise her role in the original 1981 sequel) in 1998's Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later as it now has between H2O and 2018's Halloween. That is a long way of saying it's been forty years since writer/director John Carpenter first introduced us to "The Shape" otherwise known as Michael Myers, but it is also to point out that while Curtis' twenty-year reunion with her most famous character saw Strode as a woman on the run from her past, changing her name, concealing her identity, and attempting to move on while having raised a child in as much of a captive environment as possible director David Gordon Green's (George Washington, Pineapple Express) new film sees Strode as someone who has lived with the trauma of that single night for forty years and who has been waiting for an opportunity to take back what was stolen from her. It's admittedly both a rarity and an oddity to be able to see two different, but fully fleshed out interpretations of a single character and the aftermath of dealing with such a traumatic event, but it is in considering the different ways in which Strode's life might have unraveled as a result of that Halloween night in 1978 that Green and co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley find their "in" in terms of how they can make their iteration of a Halloween sequel both different enough and justified enough for it to exist in the first place. In reality, we're dealing with a viewer's pick of alternate timelines based on preference and 2018's Halloween throws its hat in the ring by offering up the idea that everything that occurred in each of the seven sequels, including 1981's Halloween II that famously disclosed Laurie Strode was Michael Myers' long-lost baby sister, ever happened. No longer is anything canon except for what went down in the only installment Carpenter himself directed. And so, with that, Michael Myers no longer has a familial connection to Strode and thus no reason to make her his mission. This opens up the possibility for 2018's Halloween to simply be about a cold-blooded serial killer who murders at random because he's a monster following his impulses whereas Curtis' Strode is now the one who has built-up this connection between herself and Myers and sees it as her destiny that the two of them might once again come face to face. That Strode is more attached to Myers than he is her is the "in" Green needed to bring a fresh perspective to this endlessly re-made and ret-conned horror franchise, but it is with this twist on the original, principle character that not only do we get fertile new territory to explore, but we get to genuinely and sometimes gruesomely see the process of Laurie Strode truly taking back what was taken from her all those years ago.

First Trailer for THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING Starring Rebecca Ferguson

Writer/director Joe Cornish returns to the big screen next year with his first feature since 2011's Attack the Block (which, if you haven't seen it, see it now) with The Kid Who Would Be King about a band of kids who embark on an epic quest to thwart a medieval menace. The film was originally scheduled to open this September, but obviously that didn't work out. If this first look at the film is any indication though, it seems to have had nothing to do with the quality of the product, but more the timing of it all. What is interesting about this is that studios seem to be beginning to remember there is an entire market out there of kids between the ages of nine and fifteen who don't really care to be relegated to only animated films (as good as the computer generated images may be) and shouldn't be operating on a steady diet of only comic book movies. Or, as Scott Mendelson so wisely phrased it, "over the last 15 years, the PG-13, the four-quadrant global blockbuster has supplanted the adult melodrama and the kid-targeted fantasy as the go-to pick for all demographics." And so, while The Kid Who Would Be King was originally set to open on the same weekend as Eli Roth's The House with a Clock in Its Walls I'm happy to have to wait a few more months so see Cornish's long-awaited follow-up so as to have it potentially reach a bigger audience than see it be buried under a higher-profile film in the same genre fishing for the same audience. The Kid Who Would Be King looks like the kind of movie that thrived in that time we're all nostalgic for now and if Cornish, who wrote and  directed this, is able to create a new adventure film based on the template of King Arthur and the knights of the round table with plenty a creative twists for the current generation to become nostalgic for in another twenty-five years, well then, all the more power to him. Given the current cinematic climate, all this generation will have to be nostalgic for are less than stellar reboots of what the previous generation was nostalgic for anyway. Well, those and Marvel movies. This is all to say the first trailer for the film looks like an ad for a movie filled with wonder and that is sure to be a ton of fun. Here's hoping it was worth the wait, Joe. The Kid Who Would Be King stars Rebecca Ferguson, Patrick Stewart, Tom Taylor, Ashbourne Serkis, Rhianna Dorris, Dean Chaumoo, Denise Gough, Angus Imrie, and opens stateside on March 1st, 2019.

FIRST MAN Review

Are you rushing or are you dragging? This quote from the most famous scene of director Damien Chazelle's second feature, Whiplash, kept coming to the forefront of my mind as I sat and took in his latest project-a project that, on the surface-feels radically different from anything the guy has done before. While Chazelle has carved out his niche by making films as influenced by the music that shape them as they are the pictures that compose them the closest thing First Man has to a musical number is a tease that Neil Armstrong was a fairly good piano player and that he might have written a musical with a friend in college. Are you rushing or are you dragging though? This line of dialogue from music instructor Fletcher via J.K. Simmons reoccurred to me though, due to the fact that this time around, in his fourth feature, Chazelle couldn't quite seem to figure out what tempo he wanted to keep. That is to say, there is this grand juxtaposition in First Man between the sections in which we're fully engulfed in the development of the NASA missions and the defining of the procedures and the role Ryan Gosling's Armstrong played in these decisions and then there is the home life of Armstrong, a visually warmer, but still very cold atmosphere that this man inhabits due largely to the fact he is still grieving and dealing with the death of his young daughter-even years after she has passed away. On their own, both serve as equally compelling narratives about a man in crisis each trying to figure out how to overcome something that has both never been done before and something they've never had to deal with or ever dreamt of having to deal with before. And sometimes, when these two disparate environments if not similar situations in regards to their circumstances come together they do so in effective ways; one crossing over with the other creating a broader picture of the layers that not only played into the daily lives of these men, these engineers, these astronauts, but into the lives of their wives (both Claire Foy and Olivia Hamilton are stand-outs in two different types of supportive roles), and their families. There is a particular instance dealing in how "good" the Armstrong's once were at attending funerals as a result of the line of work Neil was in, but while certain moments feel layered and others pop due largely to the stakes at hand there is an inconsistent tone to the overall piece where many sequences dealing in the moon missions feel as if they're rushing given the sheer amount of information screenwriter Josh Singer (Spotlight) is trying to cover while the more personal, introspective moments at home tend to drag in an honest attempt to truly convey Armstrong's mental and emotional processes. Fortunately, by the end, Chazelle is able to haul his intentions over these hurtles and merge the contrasting tones to create a moment that is both visually and emotionally monumental.

First Trailer for Stephen King's PET SEMATARY

Spoiler alert: I've never seen the 1989 adaptation of Stephen King's 1983 novel of the same name about a cemetery behind a young family's home in Maine that holds a terrible secret concerning the power of life after death. While that all may sound rather vague, what Pet Sematary is actually about-from what I can recall of my brothers discussions concerning the '89 film-is that of a haunted cemetery that brings pets back to life. Outside of that, I don't know much about what goes down in the story, but it's not hard to see why with the success of last fall's IT re-imagining and Hulu's Castle Rock why we're getting more re-makes or re-imaginings of King's most popular works. Does this carry the same cultural significance or nostalgia as IT, no way, but Sematary always felt like something of an appreciated if not exactly well-renowned entry in King's storied career. Given Mary Lambert's original film is now available to stream on Amazon Prime I'll definitely be making time to catch up with it before the end of the month (why not? It's October!) as well as preparing myself for whatever directing duo Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer have in store for us next spring. While Kölsch and Widmyer don't exactly have anything in their filmography that stands out (a bunch of rando horror flicks that look to be on the cheap side with not exactly glowing reviews) they did direct a few episodes of MTV's underrated and underseen Scream: The TV Series that makes me a little more optimistic about what they might do with a King property. Based on the trailer alone, I'm digging the way this thing looks (it was shot by Laurie Rose who's worked on Netflix's Peaky Blinders and also did 2017's 70's-laden Free Fire) as it feels more crisp and precise than some horror flicks that delve headfirst into a more grimy aesthetic. I'm also loving that John Lithgow will be playing the weird old man next door role (originally played by the original Herman Munster, Fred Gwynne, in the '89 version) as the guy is so versatile and, if you've seen Dexter, is a guy you know can play psychotic and/or crazy to haunting effect. While the rest of the casting is more shrug-worthy given Jason Clarke seems to be taking any role these days there is definitely potential here, but I'm sure I'll either have more hope or less optimism after giving the original film a go. 2018's Pet Sematary also stars Amy Seimetz, Naomi Frenette, Jeté Laurence, Obssa Ahmed, Alyssa Brooke Levine, Hugo & Lucas Lavoie, and opens on April 5th, 2019.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: October 9, 2018

VENOM Review

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

A STAR IS BORN Review

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

Official Trailer for VICE Starring Christian Bale

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

NIGHT SCHOOL Review

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

First Trailer for X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX

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

On DVD & Blu-Ray: September 25, 2018

THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS Review

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

On DVD & Blu-Ray: September 18, 2018

First Trailer for Marvel Studios' CAPTAIN MARVEL Starring Brie Larson

Marvel Studios has released the first look at Captain Marvel, the first female-led flick in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There have been about eight different characters known as Captain Marvel over the years, but the movie will follow the Carol Danvers storyline who first appeared in the comics in 1968. In the comics, Danvers was an Air Force pilot and CIA agent recruited by NASA and more specifically, by Dr. Philip Lawson, with whom she struck up a romantic relationship before learning of his true identity of Mahr Vehl from the alien race known as the Kree or the race of blue aliens we first saw in 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy. Mahr Vehl blocks an explosion causing his genetic template to meld with Danvers' DNA turning her into Ms. Marvel. It wouldn't be until July of 2012 though that Danvers would take on the mantle of Captain Marvel after Mahr Vehl dies (spoiler alert!). Described as the most powerful super in the MCU (maybe even more so than Thanos) Captain Marvel has super strength, tons of military training, absorbs energy and returns the blasts from her fists as well as being able to fly six times faster than the speed of sound. This is all without mentioning the fact she apparently has a seventh sense that allows her to subconsciously anticipate the moves of her opponents and to connect with the cosmos. This cavalcade of powers will no doubt come in hand as the character's first film will be set in the nineties and deal with the ongoing galactic war between the Kree and the Skrull-a race of extraterrestrial shapeshifters. In the film, Brie Larson (Room, Kong: Skull Island) plays the titular character while Jude Law will appear as Lawson. Samuel L. Jackson will return as a younger Nicky Fury and Clark Gregg will be back as Agent Coulson. Lee Pace and Djimon Hounsou will also reprise their Guardians of the Galaxy roles as they are Kree warriors. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, It's Kind of a Funny Story, Mississippi Grind) were tapped to write and direct and while the screenplay is credited to both Boden, Fleck, and a host of other writers including Liz Flahive (GLOW), Meg LeFauve (Inside Out), Carly Mensch (Weeds, Nurse Jackie), Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy), and Geneva Robertson-Dworet (2018's Tomb Raider). And while this will largely be our introduction to Danvers if not your typical origin story it still has the responsibility of clearing up where Captain Marvel has been this entire time and how the character will play into Avengers 4. Needless to say, Boden and Fleck have their work cut out for them, but if the MCU train and this trailer are any indication, it doesn't seem the MCU will be getting off track anytime soon. Captain Marvel also stars Gemma Chan, Ben Mendelsohn, McKenna Grace, Annette Bening, Pete Ploszek, and opens on March 8th, 2019.

Official Trailer for MARY POPPINS RETURNS Starring Emily Blunt

Disney has released the full trailer for their sequel to Mary Poppins, a film made in 1964, that Disney has already touched with their current trend of re-makes and re-imaginings with 2013's Saving Mr. Banks which followed P.L. Travers reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney who wanted to adapt her books based around the titular character for the big screen. While Saving Mr. Banks was more in line with this summer's Christopher Robin it seems as if Mary Poppins Returns will be more in line with the live action re-makes of Disney's animated classics, but labeled as a sequel to one of their early, more enduring live-action movies. Of course, as can be glimpsed in this trailer, Mary Poppins Returns looks to essentially be a re-hash of what that original offered, but dammit if this thing doesn't look infinitely charming and all-around wonderful. Emily Blunt takes over the reigns from Julie Andrews (who I have to imagine will show up in some capacity) as the enigmatic nanny returns to Depression-era London where a now-grown Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), along with Michael's three children, are in the midst of dealing with a personal loss. It is through Mary Poppins' unique magical skills, and the aid of her friend Jack (Lin Manuel Miranda), that she once again will help the Banks family rediscover the joy and wonder missing in their lives and no doubt teach them a few lessons along the way. So yeah, this will more or less follow the same structure of that original film, but given Travers had a series of books concerning the character one might hope screenwriter Dave Magee (Life of Pi, Finding Neverland) pulled from such a resource to add in new elements that went unused in the original. And while the trailer certainly paints a delightful experience of a movie that will make all the money this holiday season the one gray area that clouds the project is director Rob Marhall. Marshall, who seems to be something of Disney's go-to-guy as of late broke onto the scene in a big way with 2002's feature film version of Chicago and followed it up with the critically acclaimed Memoirs of a Geisha in 2005 has had a rough run as of late turned in the worst Pirates of the Caribbean movie, what is maybe the worst Daniel Day-Lewis movie, and then the somewhat successful Into the Woods four years ago. I'm hoping His latest is more Chicago, less Woods, but time will tell. Mary Poppins Returns also stars Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury, Julie Walters, David Warner, Dick Van Dyke, and opens on Christmas Day.

THE PREDATOR Review

I was born in 1987 or the same year the original Predator was released. One might think this means something more or that it's led to some long-standing connection I feel with that John McTiernan movie, but it doesn't and hasn't. I say this more to point out I was too far behind to now have any nostalgic or appropriated affection for that movie. In fact, I've only seen Predator once before in preparation for the 2010 re-boot, Predators, and while the Arnold Schwarzenegger flick certainly makes for an enjoyable enough action movie it certainly didn't hit me the same way in 2010 as it likely did those who were in their late-teens to early-twenties in 1987. For me, it was fine, goofy fun and very much a product of the time in which it was made. And while 2018's The Predator will rank miles below that original for those who adore it and place it on this pedestal of action perfection, which I admittedly can't dispute given the credentials of my birth, The Predator is also perfectly okay. There is a lot going on and it wants to do more than its hour and forty-seven minute runtime dares to contain, but at the heart of the issues with the film is the fact the movie itself doesn't seem to know what its heart really wants. Does this mean there is nothing beating within the core of this movie? Does it mean there's no pulse? Not necessarily. There is so much going on that it kind of creates the illusion of this pounding sense of energy and tension, but energy doesn't always equal an understanding or coherence. There are numerous players playing different games, following several different arcs, but none of them thread together to form a satisfying whole despite countless efforts to present a facade that it does in fact do so. The Predator puts on that it knows what it is, but taking in the execution presented it seems the movie only has ideas of what it wants to be. Writer/director Shane Black knows he wants to make a bloody, irreverent, and fun action movie but for one reason or another everything Black throws at the audience feels like both disparate and sometimes desperate attempts to play to what the masses want never landing a single of the many things as well as he's proven he could have.

Teaser Trailer for CAPTIVE STATE Starring John Goodman

Say what you will about Matt Reeves and his two sequels in the latest Planet of the Apes trilogy, but my favorite of the bunch is still Rupert Wyatt's initial film. So much better than it had any right to be, Rise of the Planet of the Apes came on the heels of Wyatt's little seen, but insanely entertaining 2008 film, The Escapist. Hell, I even thought The Gambler was a solid genre exercise even if there wasn't necessarily a need for it to exist and Wyatt came up with nothing in the way of that purpose, but instead simply executed the beats in fine fashion. Next year though, the director is back with his first original effort since that 2008 prison break actioner in Captive State. Written with Project Greenlight alum Erica Beeney the film is set nearly a decade after the occupation of earth by an extraterrestrial force as the narrative will explore the lives of those on both sides of the conflict: the collaborators and dissidents. While this first teaser trailer doesn't give viewers much by way of story details it more offers brief glimpses the tone of the movie will take on in order to acclimate them with this grounded sci-fi setting that is said to attempt to shine light on the modern surveillance state, the threats to civil liberties, and the role of dissent within an authoritarian society. While Captive State is most definitely a sci-fi thriller it seems to have bigger ideas on the brain, but while it remains to be seen how well it will convey such ideas this first splattering of images certainly indicates the "how" in how Wyatt plans to convey such themes while keeping the facade of a pure genre picture. The teaser also only briefly highlights some of the names in the cast as well given we only have single shots of some and only split seconds of others despite the fact Wyatt has recruited the likes of John Goodman and Vera Farmiga to play alongside up-and-comer's such as Moonlight's Ashton Sanders, White Boy Rick's Jonathan Majors, If Beale Street Could Talk's KiKi Layne, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly AKA Colson Baker. Captive State also stars Alan Ruck, James Ransone, Madeline Brewer, D.B. Sweeney, Kevin Dunn, and opens on March 29, 2019.

Movies I Wanna See Most: Fall 2018

The fall/winter movie season is always one of those times of the year where it seems there's so much to do and so little time. I've always attempted to find a balance between big-budget and indie fare rather than dismiss the blockbusters and only adore the smaller, more intimate movies and vice versa. That doesn't mean I'm necessarily more excited for Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 than I am something like Suspiria, but rather that I'm interested in both for very different reasons. While neither of those titles will be on my list I would place each of them just outside my top fifteen along with the likes of the sure-to-be juggernaut of this holiday season, Marry Poppins Returns, and the likely to be overlooked The Hate U Give from director George Tillman Jr. Elsewhere, there is your typical festival fodder like Beautiful Boy, The Favourite, Boy Erased, and Mary Queen of Scots that I'm certainly interested in seeing, but not necessarily overly excited for as I feel as if I kind of know what I'll be getting myself into with each of these (except for maybe the Yorgos Lanthimos experience), but am more than happy to take a chance and spend some time with them as any given movie could come out of nowhere and blow you away; if attempting to watch as many new releases as I do each year has taught me anything it is this.

There are two movies in particular that I had a difficult time grappling with whether they should go on my list and furthermore, where they should go on my list if I were to include them, but ultimately they didn't make it and I'm still not sure if that was the right choice or not. First is Jonah Hill's directorial debut, mid90s, which tells the story of a thirteen-year-old in 90s-era LA who spends his summer navigating between his troubled home life and a group of new friends that he meets at a Motor Avenue skate shop. I think Hill will probably have a rather distinct voice and good handle on conveying his own screenplay given the sheer amount and vast variety of creative people he's worked with, but the subject matter isn't something so near and dear to my heart that I find myself aching to see it. And then there is the first film from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón since Gravity earned him a Best Director Oscar five years ago. Cuarón's two hour and fifteen-minute opus that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s wuill have its festival run, but is set to largely premiere to a wide audience on Netflix in mid-December. This may be the smarter route financially, but the anticipation of such an event and/or return can't help but to feel a little undercut by the knowledge that in my region of the country it's unlikely I'll be able to experience Roma on the big screen. All of that said, you won't find the likes of Bumblebee, The Mortal Engines, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, or that new Robin Hood movie on my list, but like I said, I'm by no means opposed to unabashed blockbusters as is evidenced in my number ten pick...

THE NUN Review

The NUN is the third in a line of spin-offs prompted by the success of  James Wan's 2013 throwback horror flick, The Conjuring, which itself spawned a sequel in 2016. In between and since those films we have also received the likes of Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation neither of which I've had the privilege of viewing, but from what I hear I'm really (not) missing out. Of course, I didn't see Insidious: The Last Key either, so it seems there is something about these spin-offs of Wan initiated franchises that tend to either push me away or leave me feeling so uninterested I could care less whether I consume them or not (which is saying a lot for a guy who feels the needs to see and assess as many new releases as he can each year). While both Conjuring films had their merits and were, at the very least, well-constructed, the spin-offs featuring that demon-laden doll have had a go of one being bashed as outright terrible and the other being hailed as an effective genre exercise. Unfortunately, if the consensus is true, then The NUN as written by Conjuring-verse veteran Gary Dauberman (who, funnily enough, had nothing to do with either of The Conjuring films, but was one of the credited screenwriters on last year's IT, so I'll give him that) falls into the former category joining 2014's Annabelle as more an opportunity for revenue than a true creative endeavor. Dauberman wrote both Annabelle and last year's Annabelle: Creation though and so maybe, as much as we like to believe story is the most important thing, when it comes to the horror genre it is more about the way in which these ghost stories are constructed and conveyed that matters just a little bit more. Annabelle was directed by first time feature director and former cinematographer John R. Leonetti whereas Creation was directed by Lights Out filmmaker David F. Sandberg who was recognized for a short film he made then adapted into a feature. This is all to say that Sandberg likely has an inherent eye and skill for directing whereas Leonetti may have seen countless director's work over the years, but might not be able on his own to build a cohesive product having to manage several departments at once. This brings us to Corin Hardy who shares more in common with Sandberg in terms of experience and perspective, but whose film shares more in common with what Leonetti apparently crafted. Meaning, The NUN is a fine example of throwing shit against a wall for an hour and a half to see what sticks and then moving on leaving a mess in the wake of whoever has to come behind it and clean-up. I feel bad for whoever makes The NUN: Final Vows.   

SEARCHING Review

Be warned: the opening moments of co-writer and director Aneesh Chaganty's Searching is comparable to the opening of Disney and Pixar's UP and if you haven't seen UP you should probably do that, but if you have you'll understand the monumental comparison this is and what it undoubtedly implies in terms of the powerful nature this movie sets itself up to deliver right out of the gate. In this opening montage Chaganty along with co-writer Sev Ohanian as well as their editors, Nick Johnson and Will Merrick, swiftly establish who our characters are and where they've come from so that the viewer is keenly aware of the point each character is at in their lives as well as providing an equal balance of clues and intrigue as to what headspace these characters might be wading through as the film then delves into the current predicament the movie will chronicle. Searching is ultimately about relationships, the toll that grief, sorrow, and shame can take on certain dynamics as well as how different people deal with and react to such emotions. Moreover, Searching filters this exploration of dealing in such emotions through the guise of the ever-evolving technology of our modern world; commenting on the highs and lows of documenting our every move. Naturally, it's nice to be able to capture so much of our everyday lives and share achievements and moments with those we both count as friends and those we'd just kind of like to show-off in front of, but there's also that drawback of constantly having something to post or log in the simple fact that some memories are best forgotten while others we may eventually prefer to not be reminded of. Of course, Facebook hardly lets one forget anything these days and thus is the genius of Chaganty's film as it places the audience firmly within the perspective of John Cho's David Kim not through who he is or the circumstances of his life necessarily, but through how he conducts himself online and how his documentation of life events is likely akin to any given audience members. In the aforementioned opening montage, we see David go through the joys of fatherhood, the love of a genuine marriage, and the heartbreak of a tragic loss all through the (Microsoft) window(s) frame of social media, Skype, and of other means of chronicling our day to day integrate themselves as such painting a more and more fully realized picture by the time we're up to present day. This technique is efficient in establishing a set of characters and circumstances for which we become invested, that we care about, that we're curious about, and ultimately somewhat concerned about even before the main narrative kicks in all due solely to this opening montage that hooks us line and sinker. In short, it's a prime example of expert craftsmanship.

New Trailer for BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE Starring Chris Hemsworth

One of my more anticipated movies of the fall is writer/director Drew Goddard's follow-up to his critically acclaimed Cabin in the Woods, Bad Times at the El Royale. The film re-teams Goddard with (a more famous) Chris Hemsworth, but adds in a plethora of top tier talent around Hemsworth who was only glimpsed in that initial teaser with the God of Thunder's role seeming to be much more prominent given what's presented in this new, full theatrical spot. The film is said to follow seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, who meet at a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of a single night, everyone will have a shot at redemption before everything goes to hell. There is a certain energy to the trailer as it introduces more of the plot elements and makes the mystery aspect that much more prominent. While I wasn't as big a fan of Cabin in the Woods (which Goddard co-wrote with Joss Whedon) as the rave reviews might have suggested everyone should be it's clear Goddard has a knack for writing scenarios in which groups of people present themselves as one thing, but tend to have their true personalities arise sooner than later or have secrets exposed about one another that shift the dynamic dramatically and that looks to be where Bad Times at the El Royale will really succeed. Sure, the mystery/thriller aspects will work and hopefully work really well, but mostly in service of the character interactions and what looks to be some dynamite back and forth between a number of different combinations of the characters. Both trailers so far have also used music effectively not only in suggesting what we, the viewer, should be feeling at any given moment, but more importantly in conveying the mood and tone of the images we're seeing and hopefully this is a cue taken from the completed film. The trailer is pretty stellar and sells this thing the way an original, big studio production should be sold these days meaning it covers the wall with intrigue, style, familiar tunes, and a multitude of familiar faces. Speaking of familiar faces, Bad Times at the El Royale also stars Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Nick Offerman, and opens on October 12th, 2018. 

On DVD & Blu-Ray: August 28, 2018

THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS Review

I liked Sausage Party. I feel like I should say that up front because I don't want to seem like I'm easily offended or that I can't take a dirty joke when I say that The Happytime Murders is a pile of shit. Also, while I haven't seen Peter Jackson's 1989 comedy/musical/parody Meet the Feebles which in and of itself seems to have been exactly what The Happytime Murders purports to be, I have seen Team America: World Police and after now having seen Brian Henson's (son of Jim and a director in his own right having made The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island) twist on what it might be like if the puppets he grew up with grew up with him I feel rather confident in saying that I don't need another example of how funny it can be when bedrocks of childhood suddenly come to possess the most adult of behaviors with the crudest of takes on those behaviors. I say this because 1) Team America accomplished as much in balancing tone, humor, substance, and conveying it all through these objects not typically intended to be taken seriously with the sly genius of it hidden in the fact it actually had something to say and 2) because The Happytime Murders is rarely if ever actually funny. And I mean that not in the way that there are a few chuckles to be had here and there throughout the slim ninety-minute runtime, but rather that I didn't laugh once the entire time. The most pleasure to come out of sitting through this one-note joke of a "movie" is the small, sporadic flourishes of creativity that comes in adapting these puppets who know they're puppets into the real world and the humorous ways in which Henson, his team, and screenwriter Todd Berger integrate them. That said, there are maybe two moments in which the creativity of such integrations are funny enough to garner a smirk, but beyond this The Happytime Murders functions as an uninteresting whodunit that doesn't attempt to add weight to its narrative or not-so-subtle allegory dealing in prejudice and discrimination as it hangs its hat solely on the joke of kid toys being dirty-except it isn't a funny joke.

New Trailer for Luca Guadagnino's SUSPIRIA

I have yet to see Dario Argento's so-called 1977 horror masterpiece, Suspiria, but with all the online adulation writer/director Luca Guadagnino's upcoming version is already receiving I think it may be a necessary watch before this November. That said, I also have no real grasp on what the concept of the film is and what apparently made the original so terrifying. Sure, I'm intrigued to find out what all the fuss is about, but now more than would have been the case if I'd simply stumbled upon Argento's film because of a recommendation from a friend or credible film site I will be watching the original with the intent of measuring it up to the re-make and in turn watching Guadagnino's film soon after and largely looking specifically for what he did to differentiate his version from the original. There's nothing wrong with watching movies with certain perspectives intact prior to beginning the film, but such a context presents an interesting case for expectation and how we not only base as much on the credentials and promotional materials, but on what has come before and more-what the seeming intent of a new take on an old idea might be and how much it might be warranted. Given Guadagnino has been on something of a hot streak with critics and the small indie audiences that see his films alike (his last film was this year's Oscar nominated Call Me By Your Name adaptation) I imagine the online excitement derives as much from this as it does the quality of this new trailer. Yes, this thing does indeed look like it has atmosphere for days while also touting some of the most raw and intriguing talent working today. The story, which deals in an an ambitious young dancer at the center of a world-renowned dance company and a darkness that swirls around it, her, and the troupe's artistic director doesn't really flesh out exactly what's going on, but hints at a certain kind of madness. That's all you can hope to get from a horror teaser and while I may not be familiar with the material consider me on the hook for this. Suspiria stars Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Grace Moretz, Mia Goth, Lutz Ebersdorf, Jessica Harper, and opens on November 2nd, 2018.

CRAZY RICH ASIANS Review

Crazy Rich Asians is, for the most part, your standard run of the mill rom-com, but it bears the distinct responsibility of carrying a fair amount of cultural significance. Crazy Rich Asians is also about twenty minutes too long and a little less focused for it, but those last twenty minutes are so damn good and make so much of the groundwork that has come before them so meaningful it's hard to hold much against this endearing, predictable, yet wholly individual piece of work.

When I say the film is your "standard run of the mill rom-com" that is to say it follows a similar structure and borrows familiar tropes from the genre in which it squarely exists (yes, climactic airport scene and all), but the silver lining is what it does with those clichés to underline a story that is being told to really emphasize the character dynamics and this core conflict of passion versus obligation and how these clash due to a firm belief in tradition over conceit and the cultural differences within a group of people too often lumped together. This was maybe the most interesting aspect of the film given my complete outsider perspective; seeing both how an outside country views the lifestyle of many Americans as well as the judgment and degrees of difference that exist within this culture that is completely different than my own.

THE MEG Review

A rule I typically try to abide by when assigning movies these abject star ratings is how much any given movie accomplishes what it initially sets out to accomplish and how well it accomplishes that objective. With director Jon Turteltaub's (Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping, the National Treasure movies) The Meg it is especially important to remember this rule as I will be assigning The Meg the same star rating as I did this year's Best Picture winner at the Oscars, Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water, but do I think The Meg-a movie about a prehistoric shark emerging from extinction to engage with Jason Statham in a rage-fueled brawl-is as good a movie as the one about the woman who falls in love with the fish creature she discovers at the top secret government facility where she works? Well, kind of-yeah. For very different reasons, of course, but given what The Meg knows it is and sets out to be and what The Shape of Water knows it wants to be and attempts to execute I'd say both films find just about the same amount of success in achieving those original intentions. Per The Meg, the rather exceptional marketing ("opening wide" and "pleased to eat you" are just classic) is something of a misrepresentation, but only slightly as the film is still very much aware it is a silly shark movie even if it ultimately holds itself to a higher standard than that of your typical B-movie fare while certainly taking itself more seriously than the Sharknado movies (of which I haven't seen a single one). Could The Meg have been a little more campy and, in turn, a little more fun with an uptick in the level of self-awareness? Absolutely, but is there enough fun mined from the outrageous premise to leave audiences happy with what they received versus what the marketing led them to expect? It seems this will largely be the deciding factor in how much enjoyment each individual party will take away from the flick, but for this viewer in particular (as well as my wife and countless others in our rather crowded 9:15 pm IMAX showing) The Meg balances itself well between allowing Statham to do his bit while giving the supporting players enough to do so as to endear us to the characters and their plight and playing up the corny elements to the point it's impossible to take anything The Meg does too seriously which only makes Statham's stern turn as Jonas all the more hilarious. The Meg is most certainly dumb and it knows it, but it never shows that full hand and one kind of has to respect the movie for that; the story is ludicrous and it knows you know that, but it kind of hopes you take the action beats seriously and by executing them in such a manner we're both in on the joke of and thrilled at the titular monster whenever they decide to show up. What more does one want from a movie about a prehistoric shark emerging from extinction to engage with Jason Statham in a rage-fueled brawl? Exactly. Nothing.

On Blu-Ray & DVD: August 14, 2018

BLACKKKLANSMAN Review

A history lesson and galvanizing procedural all in one, Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman is one for the ages. An incredibly heavy, effectively powerful film that drenches you in the world in which it operates, pulls absolutely no punches, and delivers a film from a focused filmmaker who is not only presenting a timely conversation that needs to happen, but conveying his side of the conversation with style, eloquence, and immense profundity.

Spike Lee has always been something of an enigma of a filmmaker for me. Having been born in 1987 and only two years-old when Lee broke onto the scene with the film he’s now seemed to be chasing his entire career, Do the Right Thing, I didn’t really come to know who Lee was until realizing he directed Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us” music video. I was too young to see the much heralded 25th Hour when it was released, but Lee’s one-two punch of more accessible films in the mid-2000’s with Inside Man and Miracle at St. Anna allowed me my first, full experiences with the filmmaker while being something of a misdirect as many of his smaller, less mainstream films don’t follow the clean structure and story beats familiar to most audiences. Rather, most of Lee’s films are pointedly about what they’re about, but when Lee actually has a story to work his themes through he is able to create more fulfilling and profound experiences. This is what makes BlacKkKlansman the perfect story for Lee to tell. The true life events the film is based on provide an entertaining template to discuss the politics Lee desires to discuss while that true story is at the same time entrenched in the racially charged dilemmas of the late seventies (and unfortunately, of today as well). In essence, it’s a perfect melding of artist and material.