REBECCA Review

Director Ben Wheatley Re-Imagines Daphne du Maurier's Novel with an Update of Hitchcock's Best Picture Winner that isn't as Disturbing as it is Aesthetically Pleasing.

ON THE ROCKS Review

Sofia Coppola's Latest Endeavor Finds Her Echoing One of Her Biggest Hits, but with less of a Focus on Depth and More of an Emphasis on Fun.

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 Review

Aaron Sorkin's Airtight Screenplay and Overwhelmingly Impressive Cast Execute this Vital Material in such a Fashion it Feels Genuinely Valuable.

POSSESSOR Review

Brandon Cronenberg Follows in his Father's Footsteps with this Grisly, Violent, and Ultimately Rather Innovative Piece of Sci-Fi Horror.

TENET Review

Writer/Director Christopher Nolan's Latest Opus Experiences Many of the Same Missteps of His Previous Efforts, but this Time Feel More Intentional.

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 Review

Going into a film so steeped in historical events, facts, and undoubtedly some speculation it’s difficult to not want to feel both completely educated and entertained on and by the subject come the conclusion of the film. With the second directorial effort from A Few Good Men and The Social Network scribe Aaron Sorkin being based on the violent clash between police and antiwar protestors at the 1968 Democratic National Convention it’s even more difficult-given the similar cultural landscape we presently find ourselves in-to not want to first and foremost pay attention to the precision of Sorkin’s pen so as to not be swayed one way or another by the dramatization of it all. That said, it’s also difficult to not want to abandon the real-life aspects altogether and instead simply escape to enjoy the piece for its expertly crafted dialogue exchanges and period-accurate set decorations with hopes that what is depicted on screen respects the institution of integrity enough that we trust what the film is telling us and what it’s trying to convince us of are both genuine and honest. That the film takes the position it does will be an easier pill to swallow for a viewer who stands firmly on one side than the other which raises questions about how those on the wrong side of history now can’t see themselves in those on the wrong side of history then, but while this idea might be an aside of Sorkin’s it would seem his primary objective is to illustrate the strong foundations of our institutions, but also the myriad of ways in which they can be taken advantage of and the vitality of intent if one cannot find a complete, impartial view of the bigger picture; in essence, Sorkin seeks to create something as close to primary material as possible and in large part-especially for the first hour-you want to believe he has. If The Trial of the Chicago 7 hopes to make you feel any certain way though, it’s that type of “hurrah” mentality that no matter how evil the bad guys are the good and the just will eventually overcome it. Unfortunately, this take couldn’t feel more in contrast with today’s world despite the similarities in the challenges our protagonists are up against and the current assault our democracy is facing. Despite the stride towards a more triumphant rather than the more accurately sobering tone in the third act though, Sorkin has pieced together an airtight screenplay with an overwhelmingly impressive cast that executes the material in a substantial fashion giving the project the feel of something genuinely valuable.

THE NEST Review

As a huge fan of writer/director Sean Durkin's 2011 breakout feature, Martha Marcy May Marlene, I was very much looking forward to his follow-up which unfortunately has taken nine years to craft and unfortunately feels like it should have taken less than half that time. It's not difficult to see where folks who enjoy the art form that is the motion picture will derive pleasure and satisfaction from Durkin's The Nest for, despite watching hundreds of films a year, I still consider myself very much a novice when it comes to movies of bygone eras-especially those prior to the turn of the millennium. This could certainly have influenced my perception of The Nest as not only is the film set during, but very much feels like a film born of the late seventies to early eighties. That said, it's not difficult to see what Durkin is going for here with this assessment of preserving one's own identity within a marriage while simultaneously preserving the illusion of a unified union to the world at large as everyday actions threaten to tear it apart, but even that summarization makes the proceedings sound more exciting than they actually are and furthermore, lends me no idea as to how well Durkin is achieving his goal. To this untrained eye at least, the writer/director takes far longer to build the basis on which we will see the cracks that come to divide this family unit than he does on actually exploring those crevices. The Nest is the type of movie most modern moviegoers wouldn't consider a story-or more appropriately, a study-that necessarily needs or deserves to be told on the big screen. Of course, this is also the type of movie that the parents of modern moviegoers watched in droves in the seventies as this feels akin to the kind of work I expect Mike Nichols and the like were doing at the time. These smaller, character-driven pieces analyzing the fractured American dream and how the layers of such a facade easily fall apart when that's all it was to begin with: a deceitful outward appearance meant to conceal a less pleasant reality. Though Durkin's seeming objective of depicting an unpleasant reality is an unequivocal success, whether the film as whole is equally successful is more up for debate as what The Nest achieves is far easier to appreciate than it is to experience.

MULAN Review

As always, context is important and when it comes to Disney's 2020 re-imagining of the story of Mulan it should be noted that I was twelve years-old when the original animated film was released. That film, coming in between the likes of Hercules and Tarzan would signal the end of Disney's animation renaissance of the nineties and in many ways-though there are live-action re-imaginings of The Little Mermaid and Hercules among others in the works-this new Mulan somewhat feels as if it also signals the end of this particular brand exercise. What's most disappointing though, is this very easily could have felt like a turning point instead of a conclusion, but alas director Niki Caro's (Whale Rider, McFarland, USA) re-imagining of the material fails to inspire its own identity despite diverting the most from the original blueprint. Having now seen live-action adaptations of most if not all of those Ashman and Menken collaborations along with the likes of the classic princess tales (surely Disney won't make its own Snow White, Peter Pan, or Pinocchio again after so many iterations already having been produc...*googles furiously*...oh no) it would seem this trend has more or less run its course with more critical failures than successes even if most have knocked it out of the park in terms of box office. How this pertains to Caro's vision of the fictional folk heroine from the Northern and Southern dynasties of Chinese history though has to do with how audiences have come to perceive the film. Once regarded as the opportunity among the other, more formulaic fairy tales to become an authentic historical epic with sweeping visuals, large battles, and a brave female lead the sequence of events that have led Mulan to landing on Disney+ for an added premiere price seems to have reduced the impact of said opportunity. It's impossible to say if first impressions might have been stronger had the initial experience with Caro's film been on the big screen rather than from the comfort of my own home, but given some of the blatantly bad CGI work in a handful of shots it could have certainly come across worse as well, I guess. This is all to say that 2020's live-action version of Mulan funnily enough ends up making many of the same mistakes as its predecessors despite trying the hardest not to. This Mulan removes many of the elements that infused so much life and energy into the original without bothering to substitute them with anything new or substantial even as that seems to be the intent and not to simply strip away your favorite childhood aspects (and save money on a CGI dragon) for the hell of it. Good intentions are always honorable (at least, one would hope), but the danger in adjusting a narrative that already worked so well and leaning more heavily into a certain theme tends to undo the crucial balance that was struck-likely not easily-before. As someone who found not only the music, but the arc of the camaraderie between our heroine and her newfound peers along with the strong tonal balance the animated film exhibited alarmingly well as a child I had hopes that as an adult Caro's version-while clearly leaning into the more historical, less-musical side of things-might find its own balance and sense of self-being as well, but the biggest issue with Caro's film is that it knows it needs to be a massive, epic adventure, but doesn't really have any idea what it wants to be.       

Official Trailer for DUNE Starring Timothée Chalamet

While a big fan of science fiction and all the possibilities it brings, Dune is an elusive property that has always escaped my intrigue. My first introduction to the material was not Frank Herbert's 1965 novel nor was it David Lynch's 1984 adaptation, but rather it was the 2014 documentary Jodorowsky's Dune about how filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky would have adapted Herbert's classic sci-fi novel for the big screen. If I remember it correctly the collapse of Jodorowsky's project led to the development and ultimate release of Lynch's version, but while I may seek out advice as to whether I should see Lynch's version prior to the latest incarnation or leave it alone and just read the novel prior to seeing the new film maybe I'll just decide to go in completely fresh as the reason I am in fact excited to see what Warner Bros. has in store for audiences this winter is largely due to the fact this is the latest film from the one and only Denis Villeneuve. Villeneuve has made his presence felt in the industry over the last five or so years with critical and commercial successes in Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival while 2017's Blade Runner 2049 didn't fare as well at the box office, but still won over the audiences that did see it and if nothing else proved that Villeneuve could handle not only the massive scale of a studio sci-fi project, but the ideas and themes of such heavy material. This no doubt made it a no-brainer for the studio to return to the filmmaker with a project that might offer him just as ambitious a challenge while hoping for a more auspicious result this time around. It's hard to tell how hot or cold Dune will trend at the box office especially in light of how theatrical releases have done so far this year, but after a non-existent summer movie season movie-goers may very well be anxious to get back to traditional holiday routines no matter how good or bad one perceives TENET to have done so far. It's also key to remember that online hype and ecstatic fanboys don't always lead to box office wins, but if anything is certain about Villeneuve's interpretation of the material it's that it will be breathtakingly shot and scored and will likely have some semblance of a soul within it...at least, that's what this trailer tells us thus far as it highlights both the well-rounded cast and the Greig Fraser (Rogue One, Zero Dark Thirty) cinematography. It is also worth noting Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Curios Case of Benjamin Button) and Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) collaborated with Villeneuve on the screenplay. Dune stars Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista and is currently set to open on December 18th 2020. 

TENET Review

“Don’t try to understand it, feel it.” This is a direct quote from Clémence Poésy’s character in writer/director Christopher Nolan’s TENET which derives its name from the Sator Square (or Rotas Square) containing a five-word Latin palindrome. The text on this square may be read top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, left-to-right, or right-to-left; it may also be rotated 180 degrees and is still able to be read in all those ways. In the simplest of terms, this is kind of all you need to know in order to understand what Nolan is going for in his latest if not necessarily grasping how he’s meaning to achieve it. “Broad terms” is a key phrase for an initial viewing of TENET as in: it’s best to try and understand everything in broad terms. If one tries to focus too heavily on the intricacies (or the exposition, as you may have heard) it’s without doubt that one will also become overwhelmed by the complexities Nolan and his screenplay are compacting into a narrative that is not only here to serve a story or an idea, but the filmmaker that is Mr. Nolan himself. Is the film complicated? Undoubtedly, but does it make sense in those broad terms to the extent there is something for audiences to take away from the experience? Certainly. As stated, this is Nolan functioning at his most Nolan-est. John David Washington (star of BlackKklansman, son of Denzel) is our literal protagonist here (seriously, that’s the character name he’s given), but the real star of TENET is Nolan himself. The director has explored time through multiple facets throughout his filmography whether it be backwards in Memento, the extended experiences of our dreams that might amount to only a few minutes of actual sleep in Inception, the relativity and dilation of time when travelling through the stars in Interstellar as well as in the ticking clock of war in Dunkirk. Nolan has always used this element as a point of view though, as a way to better understand what his characters are going through; what the individual experience of whatever story Nolan is telling might have actually felt like. TENET is a different beast. Whereas time has always been more a factor of the plot (maybe even the antagonist, I see you Interstellar) it has never become the purpose, the cog on which the entirety of the point of the story turns. TENET is both a spy film that ultimately culminates in our hero saving the girl and the world from a bad, bad man while also being a film steeped in the fantastical idea that someone has engineered a product that allows human beings to pass both forward and backward in time. Like I said, broad terms. What’s unfortunate is that while Nolan is spinning his impressive wheels at the highest of levels and combining his strong visual and atmospheric prowess with that of truly inventive and innovative ideas (per usual) he is still unable to make us care about the people parading through these locations and ideas. In short, Poésy’s character was onto something when she said, “Feel, don’t think,” as a lack of understanding regarding the world of TENET might more easily be forgiven if there were anything to feel for any of these individuals, but Nolan’s script is so intent on generating questions over care that it’s difficult to consider much reflection once the astonishment wears off.