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.

READY PLAYER ONE Review

Director Steven Spielberg has a way with not only bringing the viewer into the spectacle, but making them appreciate the aura of the spectacle he has concocted on screen. We're not just in awe of what we're seeing on screen, but we're in awe of how it makes us feel. Spielberg is a master of this kind of spellbinding visual storytelling, but as the filmmaker has grown older his filmography has naturally become more serious. That is to say, it's been a decade since that fourth Indiana Jones movie and while Spielberg has co-directed a motion-capture Tintin movie here and an adaptation of The BFG there the majority of Spielberg's latter filmography consists of more "adult" projects. With his latest, Ready Player One, Spielberg returns to that era he helped define with films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park, and even Hook as Ready Player One mines the kind of wonder each of those films elicited as they were all, in some fashion, told from the point of view of a child who was allowed to run wild with and fully indulge in their imagination. Some may state that this is the very thing wrong with Ready Player One in that it is a little too indulgent in such imagination; reveling in the nostalgia of pop culture rather than relying on its own inventiveness to make it stand apart yet feel familiar. And yet, the way in which Ready Player One utilizes these aspects to tell a brand new story is so creative and so striking in its relatability-especially to an movie-goer-that it feels rooted in a truth that movies were afraid to discuss until now. It may be due to the fact that I came of age in an era where the site of that T-Rex in Jurassic Park was something that couldn't have been realized in such life-like fashion prior or because I grew up re-watching Hook to the point those lost boys became an integral part of my childhood, but the fact of the matter is Ready Player One doesn't just utilize the same tone and a barrage of references to trick audience members who might have an affection for any one of the many cameos this thing trots out in order to make them feel an affinity for this new product, but rather it takes the real world into account, advances it into a hyper, but all too probable reality, and then comments on how it's nice to indulge in our imaginations and appreciate what others have given us with theirs, but that-as with everything-balance is key and it requires real world interactions and relationships and experiences to allow those imaginations to grow. It's not a groundbreaking thesis, but it's executed so well and is such a fun journey to go on the fact its ideas aren't brand-spanking new isn't a deal-breaker. If nothing else, it's a comforting reminder told from the perspective of a filmmaker with fresh (or at least re-invigorated) eyes.

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING Review

A year ago on this weekend a reboot of the nineties hit show Power Rangers was released and embraced a more moody and grounded tone than that of its source material. This year, with Pacific Rim: Uprising what we have is what that movie might have been had it decided to go another route and play up the more cartoonish aspects of that super hero series. This is to say that Uprising is so bombastically cheesy in its reliance on knowing exactly what it is and delivering on exactly what it promises that it's genuinely hard to fault the film for doing what it sells itself to be. Pacific Rim: Uprising is a five year-later sequel that no one in particular was necessarily looking for, but is here given the amount of dough that original ended up making in China ($411 million globally on a $190 million budget, $111 of which came from China-almost $10 million more than the film made domestically). Of course, with this kind of sophomore slump effect weighing on the decision of whether or not to even continue the would-be franchise this second installment has come to us not from "visionary" and now Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro nor does it star Charlie Hunnam or Idris Elba, but instead is co-written and directed by Netflix's Daredevil season one showrunner Steven DeKnight and enlists the fresh talent of Star Wars-breakout John Boyega as the son of Elba's fallen character from the first film. Uprising jumps a decade into the future and intends to reboot Pacific Rim the opposite way that Power Rangers movie did the original series last year. Meaning, while the first Pacific Rim was a little too self-serious given its story and a little more moody than might have been necessary, while more visually detailed to be sure, Uprising plays things a little more straight-forward and is exactly the kind of movie I would have loved when I was seven or eight years-old; it's big, it's colorful, and it has robots fighting robots and robots fighting monsters. That isn't to say this is a better film than its predecessor-I don't think I'd go that far as del Toro still enlisted a fun enough tone and built an entire world from which Uprising benefits-and Uprising maybe complicates things a little too much with its story whereas that initial film was so cut and dry in that aspect it was almost shocking, but the important thing is that Uprising is a fun if not ultimately forgettable slice of entertainment that plays to its B-movie strengths.

TOMB RAIDER Review

The newly re-booted and freshly grounded Tomb Raider from Warner Bros. isn't necessarily bad, but it is pretty bland. There is a constant back and forth as one experiences the final product given there is real promise in what is essentially the entire first act as the viewer gets to know this younger, more inexperienced Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) and the mysteries surrounding her father's disappearance as well as the issues she has been working through as a result of such. It is when the movie goes from slyly intriguing to full-on what the target demographic expects from a Tomb Raider movie that most of the intrigue disappears and what we're left with is a series of action sequences that look like the actual video game that inspired the movie. The more reliable and realistic visual effects become the easier it will be to lean on them and while this seems to have become more and more apparent over the last few years it seems especially glaring when the source material for an effects-laden blockbuster is that of a fully digital world. Once our titular protagonist gives into the life she was always meant to have, despite who she was when trying to make a living on her own accord being more interesting, Croft is quickly swept off to Hong Kong and then to the next level, I mean act, of the movie where we continue to go through stage after stage of Croft getting closer and closer to her end goal, which in this movie, has something to do with an ancient Queen that was said to command the power over life and death. Why someone would want to seek out much less break open the tomb of an ancient spirit that was capable of killing people simply by touching them is beyond me, but that is the quest we're sent on and the tomb we're meant to raid and so that is what unfolds. Naturally, there are layers and bad guys along that way that make this journey a little more interesting or at least a little more dramatic, but it no matter how much Tomb Raider wants to feel like a fun adventure tale it is far too gritty and routine for its own good. Unlike last week's A Wrinkle in Time, which didn't necessarily work as a whole, but was at least trying to do something fresh and innovative with the material it was based on Tomb Raider instead works as a coherent whole in terms of style and tone, but does nothing with these features to accentuate them in any special or meaningful way.

First Trailer for FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD

Yesterday the wizarding world was warned to get their #WandsReady in preparation for today's premiere of our first look at the follow-up to 2016's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and here we are. This sequel, said to be the second film in a planned five film franchise, picks up where the first film concluded by following-up the reveal that Colin Farrell's Percival Graves was actually the powerful Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald as played by Johnny Depp. The titular Grindelwald was captured by the Magical Congress of the United States of America with the help of our hero, Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander, but Grindelwald has since escaped custody and set about gathering followers, most unsuspecting of his true agenda to raise pure-blood wizards to rule over all non-magical beings. With The Crimes of Grindelwald, returning director David Yates (who also helmed the fifth, sixth, and both parts of the seventh Harry Potter films) and sole screenwriter and creator of this wizarding world, J.K. Rowling, we pick-up with a younger Albus Dumbledore than we've ever seen before as portrayed by newcomer to the series Jude Law as he enlists his former student, Scamander, to help in an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s plans completely unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. While this trailer certainly matches the implied epicness of such a synopsis and it is cool to see this world continue to expand as it seems much of the action in The Crimes of Grindelwald takes place in Paris I can only hope that Yates is able to remain in a genuinely creative and innovative headspace rather than becoming complacent with his position in this universe. Still, this first look appears to be all a fan could want from a film inspired by Rowling's world and I'm more than intrigued to see where this film intends to take the series as a whole. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald also stars Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, Carmen Ejogo, Jessica Williams, and opens in theaters on November 16th.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: March 13, 2018

A WRINKLE IN TIME Review

This one is a hard nut to crack. Both for this reviewer and the filmmakers as Madeline L'Engle's 1962 novel that serves as the source material for this latest Disney live-action adaptation has been said to be unfilmmable. A Wrinkle in Time was always going to be different though, in that this wasn't a Disney live-action re-make in the vein of one of their treasured animated films from their golden age or renaissance period, but rather the Mouse House had enlisted Selma and 13th director Ava DuVernay to bring this much beloved material to the screen. On the other end of this review is myself who somehow made it through grade school without finding L'Engle's novel despite being an avid reader and fan of all things science-fiction/fantasy. A Wrinkle in Time is one of those cases where my intent was to in fact read the book prior to seeing the film, but that intent never led to any kind of fruition and so I walked into DuVernay's adaptation of this seemingly complex yet still kid-friendly source material last night with little to no expectation as to where the story might take me. What I did know was that the trailers hinted at some pretty spectacular imagery as well as some intriguing ideas that would be interesting to see worked out through a narrative. First things first though, A Wrinkle in Time misses a huge opportunity to inject a rather epic title card (which, if you've read my reviews before, is kind of a thing for me), but more so by the third or fourth scene it's clear there is a stiffness to the events that have unfolded thus far and that there is a certain flow most movies settle into that A Wrinkle in Time isn't finding. It's a weird kind of phenomenon that either happens or doesn't and most of the time, especially with movies such as this AKA big-budget spectacles produced by Disney, there is such a reliability factor that we as viewers automatically settle into the groove and/or movement of the environment the movie invites us into, but this speaks to what is the biggest weakness of DuVernay's adaptation in that it's never sure enough of itself. Where this apprehensiveness comes from in terms of movie language doesn't necessarily seem to come from DuVernay's filmmaking skills as anyone who saw Selma can attest to her talent, but there is a more deep-seated issue at the heart of this big-budget spectacle and I don't know whether it comes from the seeming compression of the original text or the inability to materialize the countless words L'Engle put on the page, but 2018's A Wrinkle in Time is essentially a concept that possesses these larger than life ideas as reduced to their simplest form.

RED SPARROW Review

Red Sparrow is at once a movie that feels so calculated and well put-together that it should be obvious it knows what it is and yet this thing can't help but to feel all over the place. It knows what it wants to be, but doesn't accomplish as much. It has style for days and the feel of an epic spy saga, but the events that actually occur within these constructs couldn't feel more mediocre or forced. This is terribly disappointing considering the talent and money behind such a large, original production, but something about director Francis Lawrence's (I Am Legend, The Hunger Games franchise) latest never clicks in the way it should. Red Sparrow is one of those films that asks you to settle into it; where the viewer becomes so entrenched in the proceedings it should feel as if the viewer is still in the world of the film when walking out of the theater, but Red Sparrow never hits a stride in such a way that the audience is able to make this transition from spectator to participant. Instead, Red Sparrow quickly shows all of its cards by letting us know this thing is going to be as bleak and brutal as one can possibly imagine and then some. Red Sparrow is a film that takes advantage of its star's status and places Jennifer Lawrence in this role where she is trained to use her sexuality in ways that are to the advantage of the men controlling her (timely, eh?). Lawrence's Dominika as well as the movie itself consistently relay that she's doing what she's doing to regain this feeling of being special that she's recently lost, but this quest holds no weight due to the fact she's the star of the film and we more or less can guess this aspiration is going to be fulfilled even when the odds are stacked against her. All of this is to say that Red Sparrow may as well be known as the movie where J-Law learns to expertly cover up domestic abuse with top-of-the-line make-up rather than the one where she kicks ass and takes names because, as was noted earlier, there is very little that occurs here that lives up to the style and scope on which it is operating. Likely the biggest mark against Red Sparrow though, is the fact this opinion is coming from someone who generally basks in the dark and gritty tone of movies that like to take themselves seriously. Red Sparrow takes itself seriously, no doubt, and it has spurts of tension that compel as well as several locations and shot compositions that are downright breathtaking, but in the end the final product tries so hard to twist social expectations that it ends up feeling like cheap shock rather than frightening truth.

2018 Oscar Predictions

When the Academy Award nominations were announced in January they came with their expected favorites and a few upsets that weren't completely unexpected, but for the first time in some time it seems the Oscars got it more right than wrong which has led to a couple of interesting races-especially in the biggest one of the nigh, Best Picture. In my mind, there are three possible contenders for the top prize with The Shape of Water still leading the pack. I am hesitant to even make that declaration though, as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri could certainly still be the top contender for that award (it is all but guaranteed two acting trophies) whereas, per the trend of more recent years, the Academy might split the Picture/Director winners as The Shape of Water's Guillermo del Toro is the front-runner for Best Director. If del Toro takes this, Three Billboards walks away with two acting trophies, and if Greta Gerwig takes home Best Original Screenplay for Lady Bird my bet is that the Best Picture winner could be Get Out as I don't see the Academy sending Jordan Peele or his film home empty-handed; not right now and not when that film speaks for so many during a time they feel isn't theirs or doesn't represent who they are. Get Out has become something more than a cultural event, but a cultural representative for many state's of mind and I just don't see Academy voters letting that go unstated this weekend. I also don't see them letting Gerwig or her lovely film walk away without a win as well which is why the Writing win would seem to make sense. Still, this could go a completely different way than I'm expecting it to and The Shape of Water could indeed sweep in Picture/Director and a number of technical categories as it's record number of nominations have foretold while Three Billboards gets the acting wins along with Gary Oldman's "lifetime achievement award" and Allison Janney's final box to check on her rather incredible awards season run. This doesn't leave much room for anything interesting to happen which is why the Best Picture race has maybe been made to feel so interesting and the least predictable this year, but maybe most are indeed just overthinking it.