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.

MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE Review

As it goes with these adaptations of popular dystopian YA franchises it is best to know from which perspective a particular review is coming and how passionate the (re)viewer is about the source material they have just witnessed adapted for the big screen. Warning: I have not read James Dashner's version of the "chosen one" narrative so, for me, The Maze Runner series sits somewhere comfortably in between the gold standard that is The Hunger Games and the deplorable Divergent series that couldn't even muster enough fandom for Lionsgate to follow all the way through on it (I guess the first one was fine). Maze Runner is nestled comfortably in between these two opposite ends of the spectrum though, because it is more or less a different take on the exact same story Divergent tried to pull, but done so in a much more enthusiastic manner (which is saying something as these Maze sequels have lacked the energy of that initial flick) as well as being much less convoluted with the main detractor being they have failed to create anywhere near the emotional investment on the part of the audience in these characters; sorry, Tommy, Teresa, and Brenda, but you are no Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. That said-there are A LOT of characters in these movies as tends to be the case in each of the examples cited thus far and by virtue of this requirement there is ample opportunity for solid talent to enlist themselves as part of a guaranteed series of jobs and to that point it is nice to see the likes of Barry Pepper, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, and Walton Goggins in supporting roles where they are hamming it up the best each of them can even if at least three of them are playing the same type of ringleader role. To this end and to the end that I'm thankful 20th Century Fox decided against splitting this finale into two movies Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a well-made and well-executed action thriller that is more or less comprised of the same sequence of events again and again until our gang of ragtag heroes reaches the last standing city and faces the bad guys down once and for all. That may be a bit harsh as there are shades of honor on both sides of the line that make things more complicated than one might expect from such a film and there is a clear theme of loyalty that screenwriter T.S. Nowlin and franchise director Wes Ball have never strayed from, but much like WCKD, the evil corporate enemy in these movies, The Death Cure delays the inevitable conclusion we all know is coming due to our genre conditioning just a little too long.

PHANTOM THREAD Review

Phantom Thread, the latest film from auteur Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will be Blood) that once again stars Daniel Day-Lewis (in what may very well be the actor's final on-screen performance, but probably isn't), centers around Day-Lewis's renowned dressmaker, Reynolds Woodcock, and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) who are at the center of British fashion in 1950's post-war London as Woodcock designs for royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants and dames alike. The appearance of Alma (Vicky Krieps) in Woodcock's routine then tends to upend every aspect of his life in slow, methodical, and often times even conniving ways. This is an odd movie, but it wouldn't be a Paul Thomas Anderson movie if it wasn't mostly off-kilter and if it didn't go into the numerous layers of meaning and substance coated in what is a seemingly simple and straightforward narrative. This short summary is more or less what the plot of Phantom Thread entails, but Phantom Thread of course concerns itself with more than just the toppling of the structure that is Woodcock's life made relevant by the appearance of Alma, but more it is about the inner-dynamics of a relationship, the give and take that is necessary if even able to bring one's self to compromise in such a way. This is a question the film and Woodcock ponder endlessly as our protagonist is someone who seemingly knows what he wants and what he expects out of himself in his life and by living according to that standard never lets himself down and fulfills each of his expectations. This lifestyle also allows for his focus to lie solely on what he desires and to not be distracted by the passions or interests of another. In essence, Phantom Thread is about that struggle that naturally takes place in all of us that pulls between what society and tradition tell us we should want out of life that can often times be opposed by our more personal desires and ambitions. That is, of course, unless your sole desire in life is to find a mate and pro-create. It is true that often times our ambitions and desires remain a certain degree of selfish in that to solely give them their due would result in a life of satisfaction and maybe even one of great legacy, but one that lacks a certain meaning while fully giving over to what we're naturally pulled to accomplish in life leaves a greater sense of meaning if not as grand a legacy as one might have imagined for themselves. Either way, the meaning is what the individual makes of it and Phantom Thread is the journey of Woodcock having to learn that balance for the first time in his life as Alma is apparently the first in a long line of muses that challenges the meticulous and powerful mentality that Woodcock has effortlessly exuded over those in his life up to this point.

2018 Oscar Nominations

Here we are once again with the 2018 Oscar nominations and while I attempt to limit any coverage of the awards season hoopla (simply because there are so many to cover and too little to care about) the Academy Awards are obviously the biggest show of the season and so it was with great anticipation I awaited this morning’s announcements. What has been great about this year's award season thus far is the seeming lack of any clear front-runner. There have been so many films vying for the attention of awards season audiences this season, including a few that hardly got noticed at all including The Florida Project and The Disaster Artist, and thus it has resulted in a field of nominees that, while more concentrated than I imagined, still leaves room for an open playing field come the night of the ceremony. Let's start with things I'm happy to see. Obviously, with Get Out being my choice for the best movie of 2017 I am thrilled to see writer/director Jordan Peele and his film not only grab a Best Picture and Original Screenplay nomination, but to also to see Peele get a directing nod as well as Daniel Kaluuya get nominated in the Best Actor category makes me ecstatic for the film's possibilities come the night the winner's are announced. This makes Peele the first African American to ever score Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture for the same film.

In other firsts, I have to imagine a Best Supporting Actress nominee isn't often nominated for writing/performing a Best Original Song nominee as well, as Mary J. Blige garnered both nods for her contributions to Dee Rees's Mudbound which, despite being distributed by Netflix, had a strong showing delivering another first by way of its cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, becoming the first female director of photography to be nominated for the Best Cinematography. Furthermore, Rees is also the first African American woman to be nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Continuing in firsts, Logan is the first comic book movie to ever receive a writing nomination while I would have loved to have seen Hugh Jackman get a nod for his Wolverine swan song over Denzel Washington's replacement nomination for Roman J. Israel, Esq. in what would have been James Franco's spot had the sexual allegations against him not come out. And this is coming from a guy who enjoyed Roman J. Israel, Esq. more than most. Qualms aside, Washington just broke his own record for being the most nominated African-American actor, this year being his eighth nomination.

THE COMMUTER Review

In their fourth film together, director Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson have seemingly set the bar too high with their previous three efforts that include Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night to make this as enjoyable as it probably is. You may also be familiar with Collet-Serra's style via last summer's sleeper hit The Shallows, but while the expert B-movie director and his late-in-life action star may have proved to be a collaborative dream team in the past when it came to crafting guilty pleasures the excitement within the relationship seems to have worn off a bit with their latest, The Commuter. It's funny because everything one could hope for from a Collet-Serra/Neeson collaboration is here in terms of the plotting, tension, and action spectacle, but while it is evident from the opening title sequence that Collet-Serra is going for something a little more nuanced than a movie like The Commuter might actually deserve the film ultimately falters in this ambition as it ends up feeling rather hastily put together via a rookie screenwriting duo (Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi) that was then seemingly revised by Non-Stop screenwriter Ryan Engle. This makes sense given The Commuter is more or less Non-Stop on a train, but no matter how little or how much effort was initially put in by Willinger and Blasi and/or how much of an overhaul Engle ended up doing the biggest problems with The Commuter still boil down to the screenplay and its slight excuse of a story. One can feel Collet-Serra attempting to infuse this thing with style and nuance as well as Neeson giving everything he seemingly has left in his aging body that might inspire him to continue the fight. The veteran actor is frazzled though, and that mentality is kind of present from the get-go. At this point we know the routine and we understand the stakes-The Commuter needed to do something to break the monotony as Run All Night did exceptionally well as compared to this, but instead this latest in the long line of varied actioners that compose Neeson's career resurgence as an action star is a middle of the road effort; something that looks the part and acts the part, but doesn't feel authentic in its portrayal of what it's actually supposed to be.

Movies I Wanna See Most: 2018

With a new year we are brought many a new prospects for our entertainment and in looking forward to 2018 I decided there was more than enough I was looking forward to in order to compile a most anticipated list. Too much, probably. That said, even in counting down twenty-five titles there is still plenty else that I would have loved to include. While I adored writer/director Alex Garland's directorial debut in Ex Machina his follow-up that comes out next month, Annihilation, has seemingly been shifted around in ways that make it feel less of a prospect. While I'm curious I'm not as excited to see the movie as I thought I might be. Others that were close to making the cut were director John Curran's (The Painted Veil) Chappaquiddick about how Ted Kennedy's life and political career became derailed after his involvement in a fatal 1969 car accident that claimed the life of a young campaign strategist. The film received strong reviews out of Toronto last year and I'm anxious to see what all the buzz is about when the film opens in early April. And then, there are of course the obvious big tentpoles that I'll be more than happy to see including The Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Ocean's 8, The Predator, Equalizer 2, Sicario 2: Soldado, and Mary Poppins Returns, but beyond being happy to see these come their opening weekends I'm not exactly looking forward to what they'll bring to the table. There is also supposed to be that live-action Mulan from director Niki Caro (McFarland USA) that is set to open this November, but I didn't include it here as I'm rather skeptical given we've heard little about it besides the casting of the lead and the main players in the creative team being in place. Time will tell and I'm looking forward to the film, but if we'll see it in 2018 I'm not sure. Finally, I would love to have highlighted lesser known upcoming titles such as The Diary of a Teenage Girl director Marielle Heller's new film, Can You Ever Forgive Me? Starring Melissa McCarthy as bestselling celebrity biographer, Lee Israel, or John Krasinski's latest directorial effort, A Quiet Place, that stars himself and wife Emily Blunt along with Wonderstruck breakout Millicent Simmonds in what looks to be a departure for the actor/filmmaker. Jim Henson's son, Brian, also returns to feature filmmaking with The Happytime Murders which sounds like a blast and then there is of course the likes of Red Sparrow, the new Steven Soderbergh flick, Unsane, Richard Linklater's Where'd You Go Bernadette? not to mention new efforts from both Adam McKay and Alfonso Cuaron that don't have set release dates yet, but that we can probably expect at some point this year. There just isn't enough space in the world for everything that sounds promising in 2018 and so, here are twenty-five I definitely can't wait to watch and know I'll see this calendar year. 

On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 9, 2018

PITCH PERFECT 3 Review

In my review for the first Pitch Perfect five years ago I called it pure formula, but damn entertaining formula at that. Though the shine may have worn off a tad bit in the course of two sequels and inevitable growing pains it is clear the Barden Bellas are still more than happy to kick it with one another and turn in a handful of generally great A cappella performances with virtually no rehearsal time whatsoever. Like how self-aware that sentence was? Then you'll once again love the very self-aware and insanely self-deprecating Pitch Perfect 3 as it pretends to struggle to get over the hump of what this threequel should be about given all the girls from the original film are now out of school and pursuing actual careers where singing in their college A cappella group is undoubtedly the last thing they planned to and/or should be doing in their free time. People love them though, myself included, so count myself and every other person who found an affinity for this big screen version of Glee that became more of a cultural milestone than it was ever supposed to among the faithful that are happy to sit through another Bella adventure. This is all to state up front the perspective this reaction to Pitch Perfect 3 will be coming from, but what has always been most appealing about these films is what writer Kay Cannon (New Girl, 30 Rock) was able to capture in a sense of humor that is so of the moment it will, if nothing else, serve as a hallmark for how judgy, temperamental, and downright assured this particular generation was for a short time when it felt like anything was possible and the world was headed in all kinds of positive directions. Pitch Perfect 3 comes at a different time though, a time of less assurance and of more genuine attempts at staying positive both in the lives of the characters and the current national climate surrounding the film's release (as well as all the shade that typically comes along with being the third entry in a franchise many thought never should have been more than a single film) and thus we have what is presumably the final film with what is at least the original incarnation of the Bellas that, while not nearly as sharp or interesting as its predecessors, is very much a movie of its time as well: a safe, somewhat cautious third excursion that doesn't try to re-write the beats of the first two movies as much as it does lampoon them completely. Sometimes Pitch Perfect 3 feels like a Pitch Perfect movie and other times it doesn't, but mostly it's just an enjoyable time at the movies you won't think much about afterwards until you buy it on Blu-ray in three months to complete your collection and remind yourself of just how much carefree fun it really is.

Official Trailer for RED SPARROW Starring Jennifer Lawrence

Like last March when we saw a series of major studio tentpoles open every week as if it were the summer movie season this March will be no different and kicking off major movie March this year is director Francis Lawrence's Red Sparrow. The director, who ushered Jennifer Lawrence through the majority of her Hunger Games stint has taken Justin Haythe's adaptation of the 2013 Jason Matthews novel and granted the actor what could be the beginning of a new franchise, albeit a more grown up one. I generally tend to like Lawrence as a director as I remember the guy fondly from MTV's Making the Video days when he orchestrated some of the more popular music videos of my formative years. Since breaking into feature filmmaking though, the guy has been able to craft generally original albeit big-budget films that range in genre from something like I Am Legend to that of the sorely underrated Water for Elephants. With Red Sparrow, Lawrence seems to have a very specific type of style and visual language as the film looks to be exactly that: one of pure style with the grace of the equation being brought via Jen Lawrence's performance. It should be noted also that this seems to be a very different type of performance than we've seen from Lawrence in the past. Not only is she doing an accent, but she is seemingly playing the victim turned hell fire in a way that is more bleak and more furious than anything she has been allowed to execute in the past. I love the color palette of this thing and the overall feel as well as the rather stellar, but understated supporting cast they have put together for this thing. I haven't red Matthews novel on which the story is based and focuses on Lawrence's Ballerina Dominika Egorova being recruited to a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon, but even if this stylistic excursion ends up being little more than a solid little spy thriller I don't think I'll be too upset as Lawrence tends to do more reliable than he does exceptional and sometimes, reliable is just what you need. Also, it doesn't hurt that we'll get A Wrinkle in Time the week after, or Tomb Raider the week after that, or Pacific Rim: Uprising the week after that, and then Ready Player One the week after that. So yeah, here's to March. Red Sparrow also stars Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker Jeremy Irons, and opens on March 2, 2018.

HOSTILES Review

There are opening scenes and then there is the opening scene to Hostiles. Why do people treat one another the way we have for all of history? This is the question the opening sequence within director Scott Cooper's (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) latest brutally forces us to ponder. The United States, since its inception in 1776, has only not been in conflict with itself or another country for a total of eighteen years. Why are we like this? What is it in our human nature that allows us to always be at odds with others and their inclinations? It's a fascinating and broad mentality to deconstruct, but dammit if Cooper doesn't try his darndest in what is itself a seeming deconstruction of the classic American Western. Maybe it's the fact I haven't seen as many classic Westerns as I should in order to be able to understand where Hostiles goes wrong in its breaking down of the mythos of the old west, but for what it's worth, Cooper's film feels pure in its intent to accurately portray this time period and the dynamics that existed in as honest a fashion as possible-no matter how gruesome and no matter who comes out looking worse. This opening sequence then, which I won't go into detail about here, is an immediate and gut-wrenching reminder of the fact hate is often one in the same no matter where it comes from, but is often not seen as hate from the perspective from which it comes. In Hostiles, Cooper examines all the complexities of war and the purpose of the meanings behind words like honor and courage while stripping them down to not so much the definitions we've come to immediately relate to such words, but more the intent behind them. It's a rather simple suggestion, a simple consensus to come to even, but as history has shown us there is typically a lot of bloodshed and a lot of lives lost in the process of trying to come to such a consensus. And so, Cooper communicates these simple, but resounding themes through a straightforward story that is executed with the scope of that grand American Western. Channeling this idea that somewhere along the lines of history we found war to be the most effective tool of persuasion into a narrative that is able to say much more with the implications of the events it documents rather than serving as an excuse for an adrenaline rush via the shootouts or misplaced pride in whatever side you might genetically fall, but more in being an understanding of the value of life and how much of it has been lost over what comes down to little more than inconsequential details.