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.

SEARCHING Review

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

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

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

On DVD & Blu-Ray: August 28, 2018

THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS Review

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

New Trailer for Luca Guadagnino's SUSPIRIA

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

CRAZY RICH ASIANS Review

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

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

THE MEG Review

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

On Blu-Ray & DVD: August 14, 2018

BLACKKKLANSMAN Review

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

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

EIGHTH GRADE Review

I watched an interview with Elsie Fisher on Jimmy Kimmel where she said she was reading Letterboxd reviews and now I’m as anxious as Kayla was at that pool party; wondering what I should say and how much I should divulge so as to not stick out, but not be completely invisible either.

Honestly though, what Kayla does at that pool party is braver than any thought I would have even pondered at her age. Kayla, if you’re wondering, is the mostly balanced if not sometimes age-appropriately dramatic teen at the center of comedian and all-around genius Bo Burnham’s directorial debut. Kayla is shy and possesses very little confidence. She lives in a modest home with her single father (played so lovingly by Josh Hamilton) and yearns only to be accepted for the version of herself she is able to project on her YouTube channel.

For all intents and purposes, Eighth Grade doesn’t stick out for any one particular reason as it could easily be described as a millennial’s most accurate coming of age story, but that would be to dismiss all the small, but vital attributes (LeBron James!) that make its heart beat in earnest. For example, did anyone else who’s pretty far removed from the middle school/junior high experience forget how anxiety-inducing it was when you went to a friend’s birthday party and had to wait on them to open presents all the while hoping that your present will be deemed cool not only by the birthday girl or boy, but by everyone else in attendance? Yeah, me too, but Eighth Grade does a beautifully haunting job of capturing such an experience in all its dreaded glory.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN Review

There is a moment within the opening credits of Disney's latest attempt to turn one of their classic animated properties into a live action ATM that hints at the devastating nature of our lives. It is fleeting and it, if only for a moment, says all it needs to say about what this movie aspires to be. As it passes though and as it becomes more and more apparent the film doesn't really know how to accomplish what its initial ambitions intended the film instead becomes all the more broad and all the more safe. This moment is one in which a young Christopher Robin (Orton O'Brien) comes to the Hundred Acre Wood for the last time. He is going off to boarding school, you see, and won't be able to visit his friends as often anymore. His friends being his stuffed toys, which include that silly ol' bear named Pooh (voice of Jim Cummings), the perpetually petrified Piglet (voice of Nick Mohammed), the ever-exuberant Tigger (also Cummings), the steadily gloomy Eeyore (voice of Brad Garrett), as well as Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), her little Roo (Sara Sheen), and of course Owl (Toby Jones). Robin's toys know change is afoot and are throwing Christopher a farewell party of sorts in which treats-ranging from pots of honey to carrots, of course-are served and where even Eeyore is moved to make a speech. It is in light of the depressed donkey's surprisingly apathetic speech that Rabbit reacts to accordingly that we hear Cummings as Winnie the Pooh whisper a soft, "I would've liked for it to go on a bit longer." And just as fleeting as the moment itself is it simultaneously felt as if I'd been knocked over by a half ton barrage of scattered thoughts and emotions that reminded me just how fleeting time itself is. It's the one thing we can't get more of no matter how much wealth we possess or the circumstance of our lives; we all have a finite amount of time and Christopher Robin, in its first five minutes, exists to remind you that your children will grow and change just as you did and even though you feel you're different, that you're special, and that despite knowing it was a fact of life all along you were never really meant to grow old and become like your parents before you. Time truly waits for no man. This affected me to the point I wondered why I was sitting in a theater watching a movie when I should have been at home snuggling my three year-old daughter. In short, that would have been the more entertaining option of the two and certainly the more fulfilling one as it is only in this aforementioned moment that Christopher Robin was able to pull any genuine feeling out of me. And might I remind you, this is a movie wholly designed to pull on the heart and nostalgia strings. One moment.

First Trailer for Barry Jenkins' IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

The first look at writer/director Barry Jenkins' follow-up to his Best Picture winner (and first feature film), Moonlight, has appeared online today in honor of author James Baldwin who would have celebrated his ninety-fourth birthday today. How this is relevant is the fact Baldwin is the author of the source material for Jenkins' latest feature, If Beale Street Could Talk. The 1974 novel, which took its title from the 1916 W.C. Handy blues song "Beale Street Blues", is a love story set in Harlem in the early 1970's and follows Fonny (Stephan James of SELMA and who played Jesse Owens in Race) and Tish (KiKi Layne who will also star in the upcoming Rupert Wyatt thriller, Captive State, alongside John Goodman and Vera Farmiga). Fonny and Tish are in love with this beauty providing some layer of protection from the harsh reality of their family lives as well as the outside world. That is, until Fonny is falsely accused of rape. Of course, one wouldn't really get any of these story elements from this first trailer as Jenkins and Annapurna Pictures have decided to go more the route of a Terrence Malick-like pitch that features the stunning imagery of the film as captured by cinematographer James Laxton. This is largely effective as it is clear Jenkins is going for the emotional gut-punch to reel you in as he has his characters look directly into the camera, the expressions on their faces conveying a multitude of thoughts and feelings while their lips quiver as if on the edge of letting it all come out, but Jenkins cuts to black before they have a chance to do so. We're both mystified and hooked because we long to know what these beautifully rendered images have to say. I missed the 2016 documentary, I am Not Your Negro, which chronicled Baldwin as he told the story of race in modern America with his unfinished novel, "Remember This House". The film is available to stream for free with an Amazon Prime subscription at the moment though, so I'll be sure to catch up with it soon as my anticipation for this new work from Jenkins is obviously through the roof.  It's also notable that this is the first time any Baldwin work has been adapted into an English-language film; something that Jenkins has acknowledged was difficult. Though, judging by this first trailer it certainly seems the filmmaker figured out a way to do it justice. If Beale Street Could Talk also stars Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, Regina King, and opens November 30th, 2018.