On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 10, 2019

I've been trying for over a week now to figure out exactly why Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood, the latest opus from auteur Quentin Tarantino, hit me the way it did. As someone who's never visited California or more specifically, Hollywood, and as someone who wasn't born until nearly two decades after the year in which the film takes place there were no personal nostalgic ties to what is very clearly a very nostalgic movie for its writer and director. I love the movies as in "the movies", sure, both for their fascinating behind the scenes processes as well as certain aspects of the business and I adore the idea of crafting this love letter to a bygone era that, in many ways, is reoccurring at this very moment even if the players are very different in the similarly circumstanced game. Any piece of work that provides insight into any aspect or era of the movie business is typically something I'm game for, granted, but even my affinity for films and television shows produced in the late fifties through to the end of the sixties is low and wouldn't justify the instinctively adoring reaction these impossibly detailed re-creations of such receive and no doubt deserve. There is plenty to like and appreciate within the massive two hour and forty-minute runtime Tarantino has assembled with his latest, but it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly it is that occurs within those (nearly) three hours that not only made me long once more for days consisting of more innocence, but also genuinely made me love what I was watching and want to remain in this world he was enchanting us with. After a week of mulling over the film though, of continuing to go back to certain scenes, countless performance moments and a hundred other facets I hadn't yet considered day after day the bigger picture came to be that it wasn't necessarily any one thing, but more it was the effect each of these elements had on one another; the meticulous re-creation of 1969 informed and enhanced the performances of these fictional characters which were in turn heightened in the context of the film by the real-life events that Tarantino weaved through his narrative so as to create a sense of familiarity while still holding tight to the destination he's driving towards. Ultimately, this stands as one of Tarantino's best, most introspective works as it delivers the feeling one wants to leave the theater with after having experienced a Tarantino flick while the experience in and of itself is something of an unexpected and surprisingly soulful one. Video review here. Full review here. A-

IT Chapter Two is a film with great vision, while also being one that lacks focus. This lack of an anchor, or heart-if you will-is the source of much frustration as it's clear director Andy Muschietti has great ambition for what he not only wants his adaptation to be, but represent; this is to be the modern day equivalent of The Shining, a Marvel-esque sized accomplishment in the horror genre, but while the mission is clear and the intent appreciated it seems Muschietti's bloated sequel to his 2017 introduction to the Losers Club bit off more than it could chew. Rather than purely being the twenty-seven year-later sequel it was assumed to be, IT Chapter Two largely operates in a fashion where the first, more endearing chapter, didn't have to exist. It's nice that it does and of the two is the better film, but this is because that movie-while still sprawling in its scope-didn't have to deal in two separate timelines, didn't have to fully dissect the characters, but more just plant the seeds for them and it didn't have to somehow shoehorn in a story about an ancient ritual that would defeat this cosmic entity that we come to know as Pennywise the dancing clown. In other words, Muschietti's predecessor had the ability to focus on its characters in both its heroes and its antagonist while developing the undesirable, but sometimes symbiotic relationship between the two. In Chapter Two, Muschietti and his editor, Jason Ballantine, never find the necessary groove to make everything the film is trying to accomplish flow with the comprehension necessary to lend the film that needed focus, that necessary anchor that gives the viewer something specific to latch onto so that it connects to-if not everything the film is trying to do-at least one thing that will make it feel more personal and therefore more haunting. IT Chapter Two is such a film of fits and starts that it's almost impossible to find any one thing to latch onto at all, but lucky for us Chapter Two does in fact boast a game cast of adult Losers that make the jumbled narrative bearable while Muschietti's visual prowess remains on impressive display throughout. Furthermore, Bill Skarsgård's performance as Pennywise is still gold, but even in this regard the filmmakers don't take as much advantage of the performance as they should-layering in CGI and not allowing Skarsgård's disturbing portrayal to truly breathe. Like a buffet plate that's loaded with everything that looked good, IT Chapter Two ends up a pile of parts with a single bite out of each-nothing fully digested leaving the consumer full, but not satisfied. Video review here. Full review here. C

"This is a story about control, my control; control of what I say, control of what I do and this time I'm gonna do it my way. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do. Are we ready?" And so begins the title track to Janet Jackson's fourth studio record, 1986's Control. It is of no happy accident that this is also how writer/director Lorene Scafaria's Hustlers opens as we are introduced to Constance Wu's Dorothy AKA Destiny, the "new girl" at a strip club in New York City where the women are fast and the money is loose. There's no real introduction to speak of in terms of who Destiny was up to this point in her life, but more Scafaria's screenplay-taken from Jessica Pressler's 2015 New York Magazine article-tells us this is who she is now and despite whatever it might have been that brought her to this point it is now that she is finally ready to take some...ahem, control...of her life. It is more this mentality we are first and foremost introduced to than it is necessarily the character of Destiny, which is why it makes complete sense that she immediately recognizes in Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) an opportunity. Ramona is the headliner of this strip club if you will-the one all the wall street guys pay to see-and Ramona barely has to remove a piece of clothing in order to cover up what is already bare with the cash that is thrown her way. Scafaria and Lopez (along with many choreographers, camera operators and set designers) craft an introduction to the character that not only elicits every single reason Lopez became and has remained a star, but it also illustrates very clearly why-even in the most vulnerable of situations-Ramona has absolute confidence in herself and in her ability to gain...control...of a situation. Ramona commands the room and everyone else in that room knows she commands it which is why Lopez is perfect for the role, but this quality also serves as the reason Destiny, with almost zero hesitation, walks up to Ramona and asks her to mentor her. It is in Destiny that Ramona also sees opportunity: a new, young, beautiful Asian girl is an asset in anyone's hands, but in Ramona's she can set in motion a string of clients that will garner them both a fair amount of cash flow. It is from this initial meeting that Hustlers dives into examining how these women-who are regarded as little more than insignificant pawns on a chess board-are more in control than that of the Wall Street types who fancy themselves the kings, bishops and knights. That is, until the control becomes more about power and Destiny and Ramona's scheme-much like the film itself- begins to fall apart; the weight of what has been taken on becoming too mangled to maintain in any effective manner. Video review here. Full review here. B-

John Travolta stars in Fred Durst's (yes, that Fred Durst) The Fanatic, a movie about a rabid film fan who stalks his favorite action hero and destroys the star's life.

Alejandro Landes writes and directs Monos, a story of teenage commandos who perform military training exercises by day and indulge in youthful hedonism by night. Through these unconventional circumstances a family of sorts becomes bound together under a shadowy force know only as The Organization. After an ambush drives the squadron into the jungle, both the mission and the intricate bonds between the group begin to disintegrate.

Not the 1932 circus folk film, but rather the first full-length feature written and directed by TV veterans Adam B. Stein and Zach Lipovsky, Freaks stars Emile Hirsch and Bruce Dern in a sci-fi mystery about a girl who discovers a bizarre, threatening, and mysterious new world beyond her front door after she escapes her father's protective and paranoid control.

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice is a documentary about one of the most memorably stunning voices that has ever hit the airwaves and Ronstadt's career after bursting onto the airwaves during the 1960s folk rock music scene in her early twenties.

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