Toy Story 4 Review

Disney and Pixar Upend Expectations with this Fourth Sequel that Comes to Justify Itself in Moving and Necessary Ways.

Child's Play Review

This Re-Boot/Re-Make of the Original, 1988 Killer Doll Slasher Flick is Made Fun by a Game Cast and some Creatively Endearing Choices.

Aladdin Review

Will Smith and a Charismatic Ensemble Bring Director Guy Ritchie's Live-Action Re-Make of the Classic Animated Tale to Life Just Enough to Justify its Existence.

MIB: International Review

Director F. Gary Gray and a Charismatic Cast Featuring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson aren't Enough to Lift this Reboot to the Height of its Predecessors.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 Review

This Sequel to the High-Concept, but Only Mildly Entertaining 2016 Film Tries for More yet Comes up Feeling Emptier than Before.

TOP 10 OF 2018

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

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

MARY POPPINS RETURNS Review

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

Official Trailer for Jordan Peele's US

Get Out was my favorite film of 2017, so it goes without saying that I'm extremely excited to see what writer/director Jordan Peele has in store for us with his follow-up feature, Us. While I was somewhat hesitant initially upon hearing Peele would once again venture into the horror genre with what would undoubtedly be another layered social commentary piece that fear was immediately rectified with this first, official trailer. Peele has stated that the film will not be about race which, for as much as I found Get Out enlightening and interesting, I'm glad to hear the writer in Peele won't allow him to re-visit the same water hole again, but from a different angle-at least not in his second feature anyway (I could see him doing something that is more a companion piece to Get Out in fifteen to twenty years and it making more sense). With Us, the film will follow Adelaide and Gabe Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o and Black Panther's Winston Duke) as they take their kids to Adelaide’s old childhood beachside home in Northern California for the summer. After a day at the beach, Adelaide-who’s haunted by a lingering trauma from her past-becomes increasingly more paranoid that something bad will happen to her family. When night falls, the Wilsons see four figures silently at the bottom of their driveway with the twist being they look exactly like the Wilsons. While the trailer doesn't give away much more than this, including what themes Peele might even be considering exploring, this doesn't diminish the impact of what the trailer does deliver. Maybe the most striking thing about the trailer though? The use of Luniz's "Got 5 on it," a 1995 track by the West coast hip-hop group is at first utilized to establish a certain amount of coolness, nostalgia, as well as inform us of some character features, but the way in which the trailer ultimately manipulates the music to turn the iconic nineties jam into an anxiety-inducing horror score is pure genius. It's more than effective, it's downright chilling while being unbelievably hip. Hopefully, this is the first and only trailer we receive for the film as it will seem Us is best experienced knowing as little as possible going in with the endless possibilities of what the film might actually hold being the greatest suspense Peele can hold us in until all is revealed. Us also stars Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Evan Alex, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Madison Curry, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon, and opens on March 15th, 2019.

Recent Release Reviews

In the lead-up to the holidays and awards season there is always an onslaught of new releases as studios ready both their awards-contenders and their holiday hopeful blockbusters and 2018 has been no different if not worse in some ways. It may be due to the fact I was unable to make it to any film festivals this year or that there have been less than a handful of convenient press screenings in my market, but there has seemed to have been a wave of smaller releases showing up in theaters over the past two weeks not to mention the full-on deluge of wide releases and expansions this week that included the triple-header of blockbusters that is Aquaman, Bumblebee, and Mary Poppins Returns that have put me far off my admittedly optimistic initial schedule. Blockbusters weren't the only thing opening this past week though, as other releases included the Steve Carell-fronted Welcome to Marwen, the Jennifer Lopez comedy Second Act, as well as the expansion of the Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie period piece, Mary Queen of Scots. And that was just for this past weekend as it doesn't include the fact that tomorrow, Christmas Day, will see the release of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly's Holmes & Watson, Adam McKay's Vice, and the expansion of Barry Jenkins' follow-up to his best picture-winner (Moonlight) If Beale Street Could Talk as well as Nicole Kidman's Oscar-bid, Destroyer. And in this day and age it's impossible to ignore the impact streaming services, namely Netflix, have on the industry as awards contenders like Alfonso Cuarón's Roma and Sandra Bullock's Bird Box have both recently debuted on the subscription service and offer the enticing option of catching a certain standard of film from the comfort of your own home. This is all to say that while I try to see and write about as many films as possible it is nearly impossible with everything else going on at this time of year to devote the time needed to both seeing all of these films and writing about each on an individual basis and so, as these things go, I have truncated my reviews and/or thoughts for some of the smaller films that have been or will be released within the last couple of weeks and included them in this single post. Hit the jump for quick takes on the likes of The Favourite, Vox Lux, The Mule, Destroyer, Mary Queen of Scots, Wildlife, Shoplifters, The Front Runner, Welcome to Marwen and If Beale Street Could Talk.

First Trailer for MIB: INTERNATIONAL Starring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson

In my mind, this was never going to work-the idea that one could carry on what Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith created in the original Men In Black and then botched in unforgivable ways with the sequel, but somewhat redeemed with the ten year-later sequel that used a time travel bit to its advantage and turned out to be a hell of a lot of fun. One could say that I might put that original film in my top ten favorite (key word: favorite) movies of all time given I was ten when I first experienced the film and can clearly remember thinking how flat-out good of a movie it was-from every facet: the story, the comedy, the characters, the look, the score-everything was great in a full-on entertaining fashion that accomplished its job in spades. Needless to say, the idea of re-booting the franchise without either of the original trilogies stars seemed like a bad idea, but leave it to Sony to prove me wrong once again after they destroyed my preconceived notion that the last thing we needed right now was another Spider-Man movie, let alone an animated one. With MIB: International the studio has enlisted young and hip commodities like Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thomspon to re-vitalize and refresh the brand while keeping ties open to the original by having Emma Thompson reprise her role as Agent O from the third film. Smith and Jones get a nod in a mural that graces the halls of MIB headquarters, but this is very clearly not a film intent on re-hashing characters or circumstances from the original outside of silly alien designs and outrageous shiny weapons. As far as the story is concerned though, it seems this new film will deal with a mole in the Men In Black organization. Given the film has been written by the guys who penned the last Transformers movie as well as Iron Man it's anyone's guess as to how good or bad the Men In Black twist on this premise might be, but Straight Outta Compton and Fate of the Furious director, F. Gary Gray, hopefully has enough style up his sleeve to make some if not most of this feel substantial as well. Men In Black: International also stars Rebecca Ferguson, Kumail Najiani, Rafe Spall, Laurent Bourgeois, Larry Bourgeois, Liam Neeson, and opens on June 14th, 2019.

Official Trailer for HELLBOY Starring David Harbour

In the category of things you didn’t know you needed, but are getting anyway (something Hollywood is admittedly good about) Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate have officially (and finally!) released the first trailer for the Hellboy re-boot starring Stranger Things star David Harbour. That feels rather odd to say given Harbour has been such a reliable character actor who’s been working for so long in what, at least in retrospect, feel like strong, adult dramas, but good on the guy for taking his new found fame and banking on it in a lead franchise role. By the time this latest incarnation of Hellboy hits the screen it will have been a decade plus a year since director Guillermo del Toro produced his well-reviewed, but overshadowed sequel: The Golden Army. I can’t say I wasn’t an offender of TGAs as it came out the week prior to The Dark Knight in the summer of 2008 and I was busy going to see Christopher Nolan’s sequel upwards of ten times in theaters, not giving TGA a cinematic outing until it reached my local dollar theater (RIP). The point being, when I did finally get around to seeing TGA I was genuinely surprised by how great it was and how much I found myself immersed in the world and mythology given I could take or leave del Toro’s initial film. And while it seemed for a long time in that decade in between then and now that we’d eventually, somehow end up with a third del Toro/Ron Perlman Hellboy movie, we did not...and here we are. Harbour looks like he’s having a ton of fun with the role if this trailer is any indication and I’m really digging the irreverent tone of the whole thing (director Neil Marshall made the 2006 underground hit The Descent and has directed A LOT of TV you’ll know), but as for what will differentiate this from the previous films story-wise remains to be seen though it should be noted the comic's creator, Mike Mignola, opted for this re-booted R-rated take rather than finishing out the del Toro/Perlman trilogy. A friend who has read a few of the Hellboy comics cited The Wild Hunt-which this film is said to be based on-as one of his favorites as it sees Hellboy getting the opportunity to wield Excalibur...so, good enough for me! Hellboy also stars Ian McShane, Daniel Dae Kim, Milla Jovovich, Sasha Lane, Brian Gleeson, Sophie Okonedo, Penelope Mitchell, Allstair Petrie, and opens on April 12th, 2019.

VICE Review

Doing what is right is boring. Following the rules is boring. Doing what is wrong is entertaining. Bending and breaking the rules is amusing. Movies should not be made about politicians, but given most politicians don't do the right thing rather often and tend to break and bend the rules to fit their own needs and agenda as frequently as they need to it is no surprise there are plenty of television shows and movies based around and on political figures. There is a brief scene in Adam McKay's latest film, Vice, based around the life of Vice President Dick Cheney where he is teaching one of his daughter's how to fish and she asks if the trick of baiting the fish with a live worm is right or wrong-you know, morally. Cheney replies that, "It's not right or wrong, it's just fishing." His daughter admits to not wanting to hurt the worm, but her father summarizes his justification for the sport by stating, "You find out what they want and you use it to catch them. The family gets to eat." It is with this perspective that Cheney seemed to approach his political career as well-it also exemplifies how every single line and aspect of McKay's film is integral to the portrait the writer and filmmaker is painting. "It's not right or wrong, it's just what needs to be done." What McKay is really exploring through Vice though, is this idea of how does a man go on to become who he is? The film describes life as being a series of events that contain certain moments that are so delicate, that they are akin to a stack of teacups with a saucer in between each where-at any moment-one could fall in any direction and change the course of the future forever. Unfortunately, there's no way to know the future and which way things will fall, but while McKay is keen to note that Cheney more or less fell into the roles he would eventually allow to define the purpose of his life largely due to the involvement of his wife, what he seems particularly interested in dissecting is how Cheney came to view the job of serving the country and how he interpreted that responsibility as it becomes very clear that Cheney and his staff were experts at interpreting things strictly in the way they wanted and in what would benefit their cause best. What McKay is truly attempting to do is bring about a case concerning how Cheney had his hands in so many pies, either for reasons of his own agenda or for what he truly thought was best for the country (it's hard to tell from one issue to the next), and that the result of these meddling's effectively changed the course of history. McKay wants the viewer to not only read that tagline that could easily be misconstrued as a piece of hyperbole and understand it, but to grasp it and take to heart; to truly understand the ramifications of this single man's actions in determining the fate of millions upon millions of other people's lives.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 18, 2018

AQUAMAN Review

Look, I get it, Aquaman was never going to be an easy movie to make-especially given the weight of the pressure on the film to make or break Warner Bros.' DC Extended Universe. The losses certainly outweigh the wins at this point, but there was a hope that after the triumph of Wonder Woman and the hurried process of simply getting through Justice League (a movie already in production when Batman v Superman received its backlash and essentially completed when WW turned things around) that James Wan's Aquaman might be able to finally allow this rival to the Marvel Studios cinematic universe to settle on and find its own distinct tone. Aquaman somewhat accomplishes this as the movie certainly settles on its own tone-one that is arguably appropriate for a movie about a man who can talk to fish-but Aquaman also never seems to find its rhythm. Wan, a master of suspense and horror, translated his skills into the bigger, action-oriented realm fairly well with Furious 7, but while Aquaman features some of the best choreographed and executed fight sequences of the year everything around them feels like an exercise in trying to figure out how best to configure an underwater world that the movie still hasn't figured out by the time it reaches its final, climactic battle. So listen, I understand there is only so much one can do with an Aquaman movie, I really do, but while the ambition is there and the movie offers some genuine fun in fits and starts the product as a whole never gels in the fashion that it feels like a complete, satisfactory work. Wan's Aquaman, as penned by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, feels like if the Power Rangers series had decided to grow up with the generation Mighty Morphin premiered with, but never developed mentally past that of an eight-year-old's mindset. Meaning, the only thing growing with the audience was the budget while still retaining the mentality and most importantly, the sense of humor, of that core demographic of fourth and fifth graders. Aquaman is a Saturday morning live-action cartoon on steroids likely meaning a certain, large demographic of the audience will absolutely love and revel in what Wan has put together and to be frank, upon further re-watches I can see how it might become more endearing, but upon first impression Aquaman leaves much to be desired in terms of substance despite indulging its audience in eye candy and overwhelming them with silliness.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE Review

In the sixteen years since Sam Raimi's Spider-Man first debuted we've had seven different Spider-Man films featuring four different incarnations of the webslinger. And while each of those incarnations have their own unique qualities that make each effort commendable (even the less successful ones-I'm a fan of the Marc Webb Amazing films, even), with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse we get something that would seemingly be the nail in the coffin as far as originality in blockbuster cinema goes. I mean, "Seven Spider-Man films in sixteen years? That's a new Spider-Man every four years and didn't we just get a new Peter Parker last summer? Why do we need another Spider-Man let alone another Spider-Man movie?" These are all valid questions and concerns, but somehow-rather than being the tipping point that sends audiences over the edge into full-on superhero saturation directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman have crafted a superhero film that does the complete opposite and reinvigorates the genre over and over again with its brisk two-hour time frame. What Spider-Verse does to separate itself from the past incarnations of the character is not only introduce a new Spider-Man in the form of Miles Morales (DOPE's Shameik Moore), but to also offer a completely new origin story that also offers a new perspective on what it's like to be a superhero. The movie, which comes from producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The LEGO Movie, 21 and 22 Jump Street) with Lord getting a sole screenwriting credit, knows exactly what it is and if you've seen any of Lord and Miller's previous work then you know how aware and how smart they are about recognizing the genre they're operating within, completely lampooning that genre, and then creating an experience of a movie that exists within that genre that is somehow simultaneously one of the best examples of that genre. For instance, if you were to pool this year's list of superhero films (a very strong year to boot) Spider-Verse would still be among the very best of them despite the fact superhero fatigue and references to past missteps in the series are explicit within the film's DNA. By executing the tropes audiences have become accustomed to in such expert fashion and placing this fresh twist on our expectations of the genre, Spider-Verse is able to stake claim in the fact that while viewers have seen plenty of superhero movies before, they've never seen one quite like this.

Official Trailer for GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

While the distance between myself and 2014's Godzilla has not exactly made the heart grow fonder, last year's Kong: Skull Island at least did more with the titular monster character and his friends to be entertaining if not necessarily excellent. Skull Island completely knew what it was and embraced that whole-heartily and it seems Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus filmmaker Michael Dougherty has very much done the same with his follow-up to Gareth Edwards' film. In Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the crypto-zoological agency Monarch-which has been the connective tissue through both of those two, aforementioned Warner Bros. monster movies-faces off against an arsenal of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah. Having no sense of the history of this franchise or real sense of significance with these monsters outside of that one time when a younger cousin got really into the old Toho Godzilla films, there was never any real connection I held with the material. I remember the names Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, but not much else as I was never drawn to the appeal of the movies; I could see why people were drawn to them, but they never felt as if they were for me. This is all to say that while this latest Hollywood version of Godzilla's greatest hits will probably be a lot of fun and looks as if it knows how to be exactly what it wants to be there is a certain sense of coldness between myself and everything I've seen around the film that doesn't necessarily have me excited for what the narrative or even the action might have in store. It is worth noting that the human cast in this thing is pretty incredible as it not only includes the likes of Stranger Things breakout Millie Bobby Brown (I still can't believe that's her full name-it's so great) at the forefront, but also has newcomers Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler joining in on the action as what I can only surmise are Brown's character's guardians in some capacity though what connection her character makes with the title character remains to be seen. Godzilla: King of the Monsters also stars Bradley Whitford, Ken Watanabe, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Thomas Middleditch, and Sally Hawkins, but c'mon...we all know who the real stars are here. Additionally, the film opens on May 31st, 2019.

BUMBLEBEE Review

Bumblebee is produced by Steven Spielberg, but it doesn't feel like a 2018 Steven Spielberg-produced movie, it feels like a 1987 Steven Spielberg-produced movie. That is to say this Travis Knight picture is undoubtedly influenced by the young ensemble adventures of Spielberg's early days and is nothing short of a welcome change of pace for a franchise that, let's be honest, had long since passed its breaking point and was desperate for some change in direction (take note, Wizarding World!). Knight, the son of Phil Knight AKA the co-founder and current Chairman of Nike, Inc., who is himself now the current president and CEO of Laika Animation-a studio he helped re-organize and re-brand over a decade ago-had only directed a single feature (2016's Kubo and the Two Strings) prior to taking on the task of re-energizing a major franchise, but damn it if the guy doesn't have a grasp on exactly what this franchise needed: simplicity. The key is simplicity in everything and Knight as well as sole (emphasis on sole) screenwriter Christina Hodson (Unforgettable) understand that from the perspective of the story all the way down to character design; things are streamlined in order to simultaneously wipe the slate clean and inject some much needed adrenaline into the concept of robots in disguise. Gone are the convoluted plots and multiple McGuffin’s of Michael Bay's films and stripped are the overly detailed and multi-colored Transformer designs as Knight and co. make everything better by making it easier. In doing so, Bumblebee quickly establishes itself not only as a thrilling, adventure origin story of sorts, but as one of the more heartwarming films of the season as well (I know, I'm as surprised as you are). A true coming-of-age story for both the title character and Hailee Steinfeld's Charlie that features a few massive action set pieces rather than the other way around, Bumblebee is somehow able to retain the tone of a Saturday morning cartoon while rising above being little more than a campy homage to those Spielberg-involved films of yesteryear a la The Goonies or E.T. In fact, Bumblebee is more an unabashed update of The Iron Giant that changes the setting from space race era America to the radically free MTV-inspired era of the eighties. With its feet firmly planted in a universe where the kids are always smarter than the adults, where the aliens are as fearful of us as we are of them, and where every scenario we're presented with is one any group of young children could play out in their backyards Bumblebee resuscitates a series that had long been surviving on life support.

First Official Trailer for AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Avengers: Infinity War is currently and is likely to remain my number one film of 2018. What that film accomplished and the amount of expectation it lived up to is as close to immeasurable as I can imagine and so, to say that anticipation for the follow-up and conclusion of what has been a decades worth of films is high is an understatement. Since the credits rolled on Infinity War in late April of this year leaving room for only a minor Captain Marvel tease afterward there has been little discussion about what was to come in the direct sequel to the film despite coming to know how absent players like Ant-Man and the Wasp played into the events of the film. Marvel Studios will of course be rolling out Captain Marvel in March of next year and delivered a second, full trailer for the Brie Larson-fronted film on Monday night as rumors are also swirling that our first look at Spider-Man: Far From Home will be arriving tomorrow via the Sony Panel at the Comic-Con Experience in San Paulo, Brazil. Sony no doubt wanted whatever kind of teaser has been put together for Far From Home to play before the upcoming Into the Spiderverse that opens next weekend and given at the end of Infinity War that character was a pile of dust there would need to be some kind of statement from Marvel or glimpse at the second half of Infinity War so as the more casual viewers might possibly understand how Tom Holland's webslinger was back. Up until this point though, not even a title was know for the fourth Avengers film and now, as we have the title and have seen images from the film confirming it will in fact be ready to go by this summer movie season it's kind of surreal in a way that this was always going to be unavoidable, but somehow it seemed as if it might be so big as to forever elude us. Avengers: Endgame also stars Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Elizabeth Olsen, Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Rudd, Chris Hemsworth, Chadwick Boseman, Anthony Mackie, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Jeremy Renner, Evangeline Lily, Vin Diesel, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Bradley Cooper, Pom Klementieff, Dae Bautista, Josh Brolin, Paul Bettany, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Wong, Don Cheadle, and opens April 26th, 2019.

GREEN BOOK Review

There isn't a person you wouldn't love if you could read their story. I tend to try and not speak in absolutes and there may or may not be some exceptions to this rule, but the point is an obvious one: all the races and people with different sexual orientations or different religious beliefs can get along once we really get to know one another; that we're not really all that different after all. That's all well and good, but it's also a tried and true formula that at least one Hollywood production trots out every awards season to try and make us all feel better about ourselves. One might think, given the current cultural climate, that any movie attempting to bring people together might immediately be dismissed as one party's agenda to corrupt another into actually having a conversation with a person of opposing views, but maybe that's ultimately why Green Book feels so good right now and ironically, so needed. There isn't a damn thing here you haven't heard or seen before and director Peter Farrelly (one half of the brother directing duo who brought us comedy classics like Dumb & Dumber and There's Something About Mary, but also brought us Dumb & Dumber To and The Heartbreak Kid) directs with the eye of about as mainstream a filmmaker as it gets meaning there is nothing glaringly unique or interesting about the way in which he captures these events, but this does mean it will undoubtedly speak to a very large audience. There was some slight hope that Farrelly might utilize his experience in his years of making broad studio comedies to infuse the many predictable formulas this movie utilizes with a more striking tone or presence, but while taking on a project like this might have been a bold thing for the filmmaker to do given his past credits he alas decides to do nothing bold in the execution of this change in pace, but instead plays it right down the middle. Fortunately for Farrelly, the story has such a great inherent hook and given he's hired two more than capable talents to lead his film it hardly matters how he's saying what he wants to say as long as it's competent enough to capture how Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen are saying what they want to say. It's largely through these two performers that Green Book transcends the calculations of a movie such as itself, eclipsing every predictable note it plays that could have so easily rung false to become something genuinely endearing; a true crowd-pleaser in the least cynical and most delightful of ways.

ROMA Review

Roma is what one would call a hard sell. Despite being writer/director Alfonso Cuarón's follow-up to his Oscar-winning Gravity (Cuarón won Best Director for this effort) it couldn't be more different and because of this, more daring. It's daring based simply on the fact it is a two-hour personal opus, shot in black and white, and featuring English subtitles. In going ahead and acknowledging the elephant in the room, it's not difficult to see why the production companies who gave Cuarón $15 million to make the project also decided to go with Netflix as their distributor. And while, based on nothing more than its pristine aesthetic, Cuarón's most personal film to date certainly deserves to be seen on the big screen, given the content of the film and the types of people whose lives Roma explores it also makes perfect sense that the film be released to audiences in the most accessible way possible. It is a fine line to walk and while, as someone who loves going to the cinema, will always believe seeing a movie in the theater is the best way to see a movie it's hard to argue that the majority of mainstream audiences don't see many a films until years after they've been released and on their own televisions or other devices. Is it a shame some viewers will only experience the beauty of Cuarón's cinematography (yes, he serves as his own cinematographer here too) on their smart phones? Of course, but by making a film like Roma available to those who aren't within driving distance of a theater, but have a subscription to Netflix allows for the film to connect with what Cuarón is illustrating as well as connect with a bigger, more diverse audience than it likely would have if limited to a traditional theatrical and home video release. The key word here though, is illustrate. Roma doesn't so much as tell a specific story or drive home a certain narrative as much as it does illustrate a contemplative yet precisely executed observation of a year in the life of this upper-class family in Mexico City in the early seventies and more pointedly, on that of the family maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio, making her acting debut).

WRECK-IT RALPH 2: RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET Review

Walt Disney Animation Studios is now in the stage of their resurgence that began in 2010 with Tangled and was cemented two years later with Wreck-it Ralph where they are hoping to maintain the momentum of this resurgence by beginning to produce sequels to the movies that helped solidify their name as an animation powerhouse once more; that Disney could still be Disney without Pixar. Whereas the former flourished in hand-drawn animation for years and years (obviously) the mouse house hadn't had much luck with their transition to computer animation (Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, and Bolt each largely failed both critically and commercially at the time of release) and in trying to re-capture the magic of their nineties hot streak with the hand-drawn Princess and the Frog in 2009 it only seemed the studio was moving backwards instead of forward. With Tangled though, things began to shift and, in many regards, the first Wreck-it Ralph was a confirmation that the Disney brand was back in full effect. Wreck-it Ralph, unlike the more traditional approach Tangled took, was a cool and hip concept that was both relevant and nostalgic, but most importantly it was an idea that-when you were a kid-would have loved to think could really be true. Like Toy Story, Wreck-It-Ralph was about what happens after the kids are done playing and characters must go on with their lives. This was all well and good and spurned a rather fantastic and inventive film about feeling insecure in the role society has assigned you and securing the confidence to break free of that mold and not only become whatever it is you aspire to be, but to gain confidence in and embracing what others might inherently assume about you. Though this wasn't exactly a stretch for the studio given it was ultimately a variation on the "be yourself" lesson countless pieces of children's entertainment have spouted, it worked well given the format. The catch was, Wreck-it Ralph told such a tight and compact story that it was difficult to imagine how directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston would naturally extend the film into something new that felt organic and wasn't dark as hell considering the inevitability of this arcade eventually closing and all of the games getting unplugged (which they'll have to address in the trilogy-capper, right?). And while the trailers hinted at something scarcely close to The Emoji Movie, Ralph Breaks the Internet is the rare, equally inventive sequel that strives to say something more even if what its saying gets somewhat lost in translation. Even still, the dynamite dynamic between John C. Reilly's Ralph and Sarah Silverman's Vanellope is enough to hold down the fort...or the internet.

CREED II Review

The "sins of the father" idea has been played out time and time again since first making its appearance in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, but never has it been so deliciously executed as it is in Creed II given the poetry or, as one commentator within the film calls it, "Shakespearean" nature of one Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of former heavyweight world champion Apollo Creed, coming face to face with the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) some thirty-three years after he killed his father in what was supposed to be an exhibition match. The weight of these circumstances would certainly be hailed as nothing short of mythic to any innocent bystander filled in on the details just prior to the projector heating up and then rolling the whole of Creed II, but for anyone who has seen or been a fan of the Rocky franchise for any amount of time and has specifically basked in the glory of all that is simultaneously great and terrible about Rocky IV then it's not as difficult to see how easily Creed II could have turned into an unmitigated dumpster fire that was unable to capitalize on the great mythology of these events because it couldn't re-configure the tone. The tone of Rocky IV, while featuring Rocky's most formidable opponent and the death of his former enemy turned best friend, is somehow largely light and alarmingly disengaged from the consequences of any of the actions any of the characters take, but what it has afforded this new generation of Rocky films that take the name Creed is the opportunity to see these events through an era where sequels aren't simply cash grabs, but rather that they are taken seriously and can be exceptionally executed pieces of cinema depending on the creative team and the amount of freedom afforded them. In taking advantage of the studio who wanted to take advantage of credible filmmakers who were interested in continuing the story of Rocky Balboa, the result so far has been two films that not only revel in the training montages set to motivational music or intensely choreographed boxing matches (though they still take full advantage of these staples), but films that are also genuinely interested in chronicling the present generation and how they operate based on the influence (and sins) of those that came before them. Whereas 2015's Creed showed us Jordan's Adonis figuring out who he wanted to be and overcoming the obstacles and shadow of his father to get there, Creed II continues this development by pushing our protagonist past the point in life where his father found himself; forcing the new heavyweight champ to determine how history will define him outside of being the son of Apollo Creed.

Teaser Trailer for Jon Favreau's THE LION KING

The first trailer for director Jon Favreau's "live-action" adaptation of Disney Animation Studios 1994 classic, The Lion King, has arrived and while it gives us more than that Aladdin teaser did a month or so ago, this is still very much a tease. While it's easy to be cynical about what are more or less re-makes of your childhood favorites in favor of modern technologies such as motion capture and some downright astonishing CGI over the classic hand-drawn style of animation that mine and so many generations before me were raised on it is also hard to deny the beauty and scope of what Favreau has seemingly been able to accomplish here. Like Favreau’s The Jungle Book, the filmmaker's take on The Lion King will feature a mix of CGI and live-action techniques as is evident in the shots in this first-look footage; the tangible environments only making the clearly CGI, but nearly convincing animals all the more convincing. The moment that music breaks in though, I dare anyone born between 1985 and 2000 to try and be overly cynical or pessimistic about what this movie might potentially bring to the table as the majesty the song captures and the pure grand spectacle these visuals boast is something that-even if we know the story and know what's coming-will be astonishing to experience on the big screen. Speaking of the music, one has to wonder how many of the original songs will be included and to what degree. Favreau included the notable arrangements from the 1967 animated The Jungle Book in his 2016 version, but while there has been talk of cutting certain songs, The Lion King has such an iconic roster of musical moments it's hard to imagine the finished product with any of them missing. That said, Elton John did in fact return to re-record some of his original music for this updated version collaborating with cast member, Beyonce Knowles Carter, in the process. The Lion King will also feature the voice work of Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Eric Andre, Billy Eichner, Alfre Woodard, James Earl Jones, John Oliver, Keegan-Michael Key, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Kani, and opens on July 19th, 2019.

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD Review

At this point in our cultural landscape the reaction one has to the latest film set in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world is largely dependent upon your history and affiliation with said wizarding world. It’s difficult to even comprehend the amount of lives Rowling’s work has impacted and become a major component of since the Harry Potter franchise became a worldwide phenomenon nearly two decades ago. The plan for the Fantastic Beasts franchise, outside of continuing to make money off the brand, was to hopefully introduce a new, younger generation to this world through new stories while naturally entrancing those who came to the world of muggles and magical folk in real time. Harry Potter has now been a part of my life longer than it hasn’t-twice as long nearly-and so, it is always with great anticipation and interest that I approach anything Rowling does even if the cultural temperature is a bit cooler than it used to be. Though initially pessimistic towards the idea of expanding the Potterverse via New York City in the twenties and based around the guy who wrote one of Harry and his friend’s textbooks, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them turned out to be a rather charming introduction to a new facet of this world we only thought we knew; casting a strong enough spell to leave audiences wanting more adventures in the life of Mr. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). With Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Rowling and franchise director David Yates (the last four HP films as well as the first Fantastic Beasts movie) pick up the story they started two years ago some three months later in a sequel that ultimately serves as a series of revelations for the series’ main players while potentially changing everything we know about one of the Potterverse’s most important characters. The fact the franchise has moved and is moving in the direction of utilizing more primary Potter characters is a double-edged sword given it's hard not to want to see familiar aspects of this familiar world, but there is something of a greater desire to see an aspect completely independent of the events and characters in the Harry Potter stories so as to not potentially spoil what we already love. In other words, while I’m all in for further exploration of the magical world mythology and continuous world-building Rowling is so good at the fact of the matter is The Crimes of Grindelwald might have been more consistently engaging if it’d found a more entertaining story through which to convey these new developments.

Final Trailer for AQUAMAN Starring Jason Momoa

Warner Bros. has dropped the final trailer for director James Wan's Aquaman. The film follows Arthur Curry who learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and to be a hero to the world. It feels rather odd we're finally upon the release of the character's solo outing given a year ago at this time we were just getting our first glimpse of the DC hero in the unequivocal failure that was Justice League. Never mind the fact we were only getting our first glimpse of Aquaman for the first time in what should have been an accumulation of individual films, but more that the result of this botched team-up would produce anything resembling hope seemed all but lost after this same weekend last year. And yet, as Warner Bros. announced with the release of this trailer today that fans, specifically Amazon Prime members, can see the film a week early in theaters which prompts one to think they certainly don't plan on hiding this one the way they did the Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon film. And there seems no reason to as this final trailer looks visually stunning. If this clip should suggest anything it is that Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring, and Furious 7) has delivered an action/adventure film in every sense of the word that looks to be about as fun as a film can be; here's to hoping that the pacing and energy of the trailer are notes that have been taken from the finished film. Aquaman stars Jason Momoa as the titular hero, Amber Heard as Mera, Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Temuera Morrison as Tom Curry, Dolph Lundgren as Nereus, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta, Patrick Wilson as Orm/Ocean Master, and Nicole Kidman as Atlanna. The movie opens December 21, 2018.

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.