Denis Villeneuve's Grand and Gorgeous Epic is as Insightful about Sincerity and Strategy as it is Engaging on the Broad Levels of a Big-Budget Studio Blockbuster.


Matthew Vaughn has Officially become a Director of Diminishing Returns with this Overstuffed and Laughably Corny Slog of a Spy Caper.


This Trip back to North Shore High Justifies itself by still being Sharp in its Observations of Vacuousness.


Writer/Director Cord Jefferson’s Feature Debut Splits the Difference Between Searing Satire and Emotional Family Drama Coming out a Winner in Both Respects.


Emma Stone is Daring and Mark Ruffalo is Hilarious in this Surreal Fever Dream of Philosophy and Attempting to Understand our Nature through Unorthodox Methods.

Top 10 of 2020

What a strange year it's been. I began this year on something of a high as I felt I'd firmly established my YouTube channel, Tavern Talk by initial reaction, as a weekly review show based out of the Movie Tavern line of theaters owned by the Marcus corporation and was looking to garner a varied list of guests to join me each and every week to discuss the biggest releases while also branching out in hopes of doing more interviews and special episodes such as Oscar roundtable discussions with local pundits, but alas...a global pandemic. After shooting a final review for the only movie with a more maligned release schedule than The New Mutants, The Hunt, on March 12th I would not return to a movie theater for almost six months. In early September we would shoot a review for Christopher Nolan's TENET and in mid-November I had my final theatrical experience of the year in Christopher Landon's Freaky, though I was lucky enough to see both One Night in Miami... and Nomadland back at the beginning of October via a drive-in film festival which was, needless to say, a huge win for 2020; especially considering one of those films is in my top five favorites of the year and the other would certainly make the top twenty. 

So, with such limited access to movie theaters this year what was there to see? A lot actually. So much in fact, I somehow still managed to allow some of the more talked about titles of the year to escape me prior to making this list. Most notably, I still need to see Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Martin EdenShirley, and I need to finish David Byrne's American Utopia but I've seen well over two hundred 2020 releases and feel confident that my top ten would largely go unchanged despite those I still need to catch-up with. I don't publish anything below beyond a top ten as those rankings would certainly be more likely to change the more I'm able to see over the next few months, but to highlight a few titles that didn't make my top ten that were in high contention would be to mention the beautifully animated Wolfwalkers, Guy Ritchie's return to form in The Gentlemen, Emerald Fennell's searing and sugar-coated Promising Young Woman, Aaron Sorkin's highly-respectable The Trial of the Chicago Seven, as well as genre pictures like Aneesh Chaganty's RUN, Antonio Campos' The Devil All the Time, Brian Duffield's Spontaneous, Judd Apatow's The King of Staten Island, and not to mention the aforementioned TENET and One Night in Miami.... I'm sure there are other fantastic titles I'm missing especially considering the stellar year it's been for documentaries given The Last Dance, On the Record, Time, Zappa, and Collective are all classified as 2020 releases, but there is simply not enough time or space to highlight all of the grand work that has turned up in this otherwise tumultuous and challenging year. I'd also like to give a special mention to Clark Duke's Arkansas given I naturally have a soft spot for it, but let's not waste any more time on what might have been and get down to the films from this year I think will have the longest lasting impression on me.


In the second verse of Alan Jackson’s 1994 hit “Gone Country” the singer talks about a folk singer considering trying his hand at the more financially viable country music scene. The verse is largely crafted to segue into the multi-purpose chorus, but its comments on the lack of any real difference between the intent behind Bob Dylan’s lyrical content and country music’s entire ethos (standing up for the little guy, speaking out against wealth and privilege) is relevant given the South has always pinned pride as a key characteristic and humility as a weakness, but by uttering the line, “Well, they're not as backward as they used to be,” in reference to his hillbilly brethren Jackson essentially admits to past shortcomings with an eye toward the promise of a more harmonious future. While the only obvious parallel between Jackson’s song and News of the World is that director Paul Greengrass has in fact "gone country", intentional or not, the director’s latest collaboration with star Tom Hanks also addresses outright the idea of looking toward that more harmonious future in the wake of reconstruction-era America. Though not as effectively communicated in this film based on the novel by Paulette Jiles as it was in Hanks' "Black Jeopardy" skit on Saturday Night Live or as efficiently as in Jackson's song, News of the World still comes with a competent take on how far we can regress when we allow our differences to divide us rather than sharing in our similarities to connect us. The idea that even if people are willing to change, more often than not the times are not ready to turn with them is a theme that feels as relevant now as it does in News of the World's Texas setting circa 1870. Of course, meaningful change takes time and there's a caveat of understanding to this given the period setting, but there’s still something oddly disconcerting about seeing Texans denounce the articles of a newspaper as read by Hanks' Captain Jefferson Kidd (yes, this totally could have been the middle chapter in a Hanks/Greengrass trilogy called Captain Jefferson, but alas...) that conveys the actions of a president the majority of Southerners disapprove of. It's not a perfect parallel (not yet, anyway), but the fact Jefferson's reading of the news opens with an update on the meningitis epidemic that is, "spreading without prejudice" and had thus far claimed ninety-seven souls in a two month period, allows for said parallels and furthermore, said regressions, to feel all the more timely and - hopefully - eye-opening. A magnified look at our past with direct ties to our realized future, News of the World is a handsomely mounted and sturdily told tale that sports a modern spirit through the guise of one of America's most revered and respected genres.    

WONDER WOMAN 1984 Review

Wonder Woman 1984 is not a good movie. Unfortunately. It's not that it's soul-crushingly bad, but it's just not good and it for one reason or another feels like it's completely mistaken silly for entertaining. Absurdity for ambition. There is a wealth of good intent imbued on the project as writer/director Patty Jenkins returns to continue crafting the titular character into more of a beacon of hope than ever, but come the end of this bloated two and half hour epic it's nearly impossible to see how anyone associated with the project could have mistaken it for quality rather than recognizing the bizarre (and often times extremely cheesy) choices that were made, not to mention the incredibly preposterous nature of it all. It's almost as if the film actively goes out of its way not to necessarily make its message more convoluted, but rather like it's trying to do or say more than what is actually on its mind. In other words, it's trying to make the simple idea at its center feel more complex and therefore more sophisticated when in reality said execution simply feels perplexing. The oddity that is this Wonder Woman sequel is difficult to describe as it's still somewhat mind-blowing that Jenkins along with co-writers Geoff Johns (a former executive at DC Entertainment and a prolific writer and producer) and Dave Callaham (seasoned franchise screenwriter) submitted this screenplay to Warner Brothers with the confidence not only that it would be approved, but that it was good while it's even more confounding that Warner greenlit this $200 million experiment. All of this is difficult to come to terms with as I very much am in the bag for excessively bombastic superhero films that have a distinct point of view and while Wonder Woman 1984 is most certainly excessive and most definitely carves out where it wants to stand in the pantheon of the genre none of what transpires on screen ever feels satisfying despite the virtue of what the film is trying to convey. Its a baffling misfire, an ill-conceived attempt at looking to the past in order to enlighten us about our future, but most of all it's disappointing. With the first Wonder Woman film three years ago Jenkins crafted an equally ambitious, but more balanced film that honed in on the titular character’s optimism and slight naivety while utilizing the tangible and rather terrible world she entered as a way of highlighting those qualities. 2017's Wonder Woman found the right avenues to take in order to balance the many ambitions it hoped to accomplish with its story and characters whereas Wonder Woman 1984 crams in so many disparate ideas and goes so far out of its way in such ludicrous fashion in order to say what it wants to say that hardly any of it resonates.

Official Teaser Trailer for COMING 2 AMERICA Starring Eddie Murphy

Amazon Studios has released the official teaser trailer for Coming 2 America, the upcoming sequel to 1988's Coming to America. Admittedly, I've never seen the original film as my dad was more of a Beverly Hills Cop/48 Hrs. guy and never spent near as much time relaying lines from Trading Places or Coming to America. I feel like I've seen bits and pieces of the film, but I know for a fact I've never sat down to watch the whole thing back to front. Needless to say, one of my earliest New Years Resolutions will be to rectify that and watch Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall's 1988 collaboration in anticipation of the thirty-three year-later sequel that not only reunites Murphy and Hall and Murphy and Hall and Murphy and Hall in a dozen or so roles, but also brings back the likes of Garcelle Beauvais, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Shari Headley, Louis Anderson, and Vanessa Bell Calloway. The sequel was directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) who also directed Murphy in the acclaimed Netflix movie Dolemite Is My Name in 2019. Of course, this isn't all nostalgia as the new film will center on Murphy's Akeem, now the king of the fictional and very prosperous African nation of Zamunda, as he returns to New York City after thirty years in search of the son he never knew he had. Newcomers to the Coming 2 America cast include Wesley Snipes, Jermaine Fowler, Teyana Taylor, KiKi Layne, Tracy Morgan, and Leslie Jones. Though it's difficult to say without having seen the first yet it will be fascinating to note the differences and similarities in watching the only two films in a franchise essentially back to back despite being made over three decades apart. Given the last time Akeem visited the U.S. was when Ronald Reagan was president there should be a fine amount of relevant material to work with in the political and social commentary realm as well, but we shall see; I'm eager to dive into these films and find out what I've been missing and what I have to look forward to. Amazon acquired Coming 2 America from Paramount Pictures and while Amazon typically has a pretty good theatrical set-up in terms of a window prior to release on Prime it seems as if this acquisition will be skipping theaters altogether and will instead be an exclusive streaming release. Initially, that release was set for December of this year before getting pushed to March 5, 2021.


Minari is a film based largely on writer/director Lee Isaac Chung's own experiences of being of Korean descent and moving to middle-of-nowhere Arkansas in the 1980's in order for his family to start anew and his father to start a farm. It is then, obviously, a very personal story and therefore undoubtedly includes what must be several specific details that transport Chung back to what he likely remembers as a very brief, but meaningful time in his life. I say this up front because of how much the red hat the character of the father wears in the film struck me. Nothing is ever said about it, nothing really happens to it or with it, but it's always there; it's as if it is Jacob's (Steven Yeun) safety blanket and a staple of his appearance critical to how his children will always remember and picture him. I have a certain shirt I always associate my own father with and I'm sure this is true for many others as well, but it is the fact Chung's screenplay and eventual film make sure to include this level of detail while never zeroing in on it that really relays why Minari is not only a story of the American experience as seen through the lens of Korean heritage, but simply a story of the American experience; maybe even the most American of experiences. 

As Jacob along with his wife and children emerge from their vehicles after pulling up to their new house - on their new land - it's not hard to sense the contribution that at least Jacob is ready to make even if the rest of his family aren't sold on the idea yet. Much in the way a character later plants the Korean vegetable minari from which the film takes its name, Jacob is ready to put down his own roots, but unlike the minari Jacob is somewhat hesitant to begin to assume the values, behaviors, and beliefs of his new surroundings. It's in this kind of juxtaposition of Jacob wanting to utilize the land to fulfill his own dreams and his own purposes while expecting the land to take nothing from him in return that a sense of the family dynamic can be observed as well. As much as Jacob wants to fulfill the idea of the American dream that he's been chasing since moving from Korea a decade or so prior he is simultaneously driving away what would make achieving said dream worthwhile. Minari is a story of a family assimilating into their new environment, yes, but it's more specifically a story of the adjustment period within their own circle than it is with the one around them. It is due to the specificity in Chung's writing and the gentleness of his direction that the whole of the film is as significant as each individual moment. A masterclass in presenting complex emotions through a simple guise, Minari is an exceptional work.   


It was seventy degrees in Miami Beach, Florida on the night of February 25th, 1964. It had reached temperatures as high as eighty-one earlier in the day, but the night was mostly cloudy and pretty damn humid. Ironically, this rather oppressive climate would be the backdrop for the night Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) would become the heavyweight champion of the world at the unbelievable age of only twenty-two. Clay, in a somewhat shocking upset, defeated the animal that was Sonny Liston-who was ten years Clay’s senior-by technical knockout when Liston refused to answer the bell at the start of the seventh round. Because no one actually expected the young, cocky Clay to take home the title there was no large celebration planned. Instead, Clay and a thirty-eight year-old Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir)-his spiritual mentor-who Clay had flown in for support along with the likes of eventual NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), who'd just turned twenty-eight eight days prior, and the absolute musical legend that is Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) who'd celebrated his thirty-third birthday at the end of January, but who had no idea he'd never see his thirty-fourth as he'd be killed only ten months after the events of the film all retreated back to the black section of town and mostly hung out in the small, unremarkable hotel room that Clay had arranged for his friend Malcolm X. On February 26th, 1964 Clay would announce that we was becoming a Muslim and henceforth become known as Muhammed Ali. 

One Night in Miami…, the feature directorial debut of Oscar winner Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) based on the 2013 stage play by Kemp Powers is about what theoretically happened on this single night when four men who would come to define their era and play immeasurable roles in the larger fight for civil rights explicitly had nothing better to do than celebrate their friend's win with cheap booze and vanilla ice cream. Of course, there is no way to know the actual conversations held between these men that fateful night in Miami, but Powers-who adapted his own stage play for the screen-has surmised what was on the minds of each man given the circumstances of their lives at the time and what each would come to do in the months following that February night. In many ways the film is almost an origin story for the mythical status the four would come to be renowned for, but what is not only insightful about Kemp's screenplay and King's direction, but absolutely critical to the success of conveying the main ideas infused through each of these figures is that even these men who would go on to be regarded as legends, heroes, martyrs, and what have you-even they were vulnerable human beings who doubted themselves and questioned their choices. Obviously, this is something of an over-simplification of what's at the heart of One Night in Miami... and yet it perfectly encapsulates that no matter how deep this thing cuts or what complicated questions it poses the execution of it all feels absolutely effortless.


From the opening second of Emerald Fennell's feature directorial debut that sears itself into your eardrums with Charli XCX's "Boys" it's abundantly clear we're in for a hell of a treat that is as pop-fueled and brightly colored as that introductory music track. Even as the music conjures images of pristine bodies dancing around pool parties that feature the color palette of a highlighter collection, Fennell immediately emasculates and disarms every male viewer that might already be dismissing her film by displaying what hapless, awkward grunts the majority of us look like when trying to appeal to the opposite sex in an alluring fashion. After immediately establishing the style in which she will relay her message Fennell's camera next wades in slow motion through a sea of nine to fivers scavenging for drinks that might hand them enough courage to approach vulnerable girls as the writer/director next establishes the key to Promising Young Woman: tone. Drawn from the anger of double standards and the (large amount of) satire contained in the line of thought that men could ever be more mature than women in any sense Fennell's screenplay - aided by a tour de force (and I don't use that phrase lightly) performance from Carey Mulligan - is as scathing as it is smart and as wild as it can be funny. It's almost contradictory how much there is to smile about while taking in the film given the serious nature of the topics being addressed, but Fennell finds such a satisfying way of conveying the revenge fantasy elements that it's next to impossible to not want to stand up and cheer every time Mulligan's Cassie leaves the room after delivering a gut punch of a one-liner to the creep she just taught a lesson. Fennell has style for days, obviously, along with what were probably notebooks full of stories about encounters she and her friends have had with men who seemed decent enough, but would still try to take advantage if the opportunity presented itself yet it is the way in which she is able to distill the daily indignities women routinely endure that ultimately reconciles the message with the mode. Promising Young Woman may be constructed to feel like an epic revenge fantasy and a sometimes sweet romantic comedy, but the situations depicted are unfortunately not as far-fetched as the calculated aesthetic would lead one to believe. To this extent, Fennell isn't interested in making a genre film as much as she is courting how cunning, meticulous, and self-aware one must be in order to exact revenge in the ways Cassie does here; she isn't trying to wipe the slate clean, she's looking to re-configure the establishment of that slate one piece at a time. In the immortal words of Paris Hilton, "That's hot" has never been more sincerely stated (or accurate) than when applied to Promising Young Woman.


Not to be confused with the latest Miley Cyrus single, George Clooney's seventh feature directorial effort takes place over what is seemingly only eleven or so hours, but takes us not just to the stars, but the possibilities beyond them. The Midnight Sky is the type of film that desires to have layers upon layers of meaning and be cause for deep, existential reflection yet what it brings to the table couldn't feel more hollow. It's admirable, the way Clooney - working from a screenplay by Mark L. Smith and based on the book by Lily Brooks-Dalton - keeps the focus of this large scale story on two entities that mostly exist outside the bubble of where the more urgent, genuinely dramatic situations are happening. It's a bold choice to be sure, but we've seen the other movie before. You know, the one where a person or family is racing against the clock to find a safe haven before something catastrophic happens which, in the case of The Midnight Sky, is the fact Earth is now completely uninhabitable. So, why not remove the chase and zero in on those that have accepted their fate? The answer to this question should seem obvious in that there is then a complete lack of imperativeness to the proceedings, but Clooney's intent seems to have been not to focus so much on the details - what's happening is happening and can't be helped at this point - and instead on making the material more compelling by extracting the human angle of what brought these individuals who were once considered influential in this crisis to now be on the outside looking in.      

Clooney has always seemed to be more comfortable in the director's chair, behind the camera even if his looks and effortless charm have always made him a more effective player in front of it. Unfortunately, at this point - eighteen years into his directing career - his work as a filmmaker has been hit or miss at best. The lone exception I haven't seen in Clooney's directorial arsenal is 2002's Confessions of a Dangerous Mind which I recall receiving generally favorable reviews and while I don't know that I've seen Good Night, and Good Luck since my senior year of high school - 2005, the year it was released - I can recall sitting down for each of Clooney's subsequent features in a theater and being excited not only at the prospect of what Clooney might bring to the table, but also about the actual stories he was telling. From Leatherheads to Ides of March and from The Monuments Men to Suburbicon, Clooney has directed a new feature every three years since 2002 and yet - despite the intriguing premises, often fascinating characters, and irresistible true stories seemingly begging for a movie to be made around them - there is something in Clooney's execution that allows these stories to wind up with that same hollow feeling I felt in the final minutes of The Midnight Sky. Yes, the visual landscape here is maybe the most moving Clooney has achieved and the score from Alexandre Desplat works more to enhance these visuals than it does detract from them, but the narrative missteps and - to an extent - the lack of investment in these character's plights present not necessarily an uglier picture than the one we're seeing on screen, but certainly a less powerful one.


I never saw a single damn episode of Glee yet it's the project that allowed Ryan Murphy to become "Ryan Murphy" in all the ways he's now heralded as the creator of all that is edgy (and a little self-important) which is kind of funny given what I've gleaned of Glee in the few actual clips I've seen of the show (AKA we're talkin' multiple football fields away from edgy). Never mind the fact Murphy has now become a bigger draw than the actual content on any film or television property he decides to slap his name on (did you see that last season of America Horror Story?), but let us not focus on how much the man has turned himself into a brand all his own and spread himself so thi...I mean, how prolific he's become that there's no possible way his latest endeavor doesn't turn out rushed and rather uninspired, right? No, instead let's remind ourselves that the man who has more ongoing projects with Netflix than Kevin Hart has returned to the director's chair for his first feature in a decade and further, has returned to his musical theater roots! Whatever that might mean...I said I haven't seen Glee, so...is this a good or bad thing? Wherever you fall in regards to your respect for and/or expectation of Murphy's work one thing at least seems to be consistent throughout the man's work and that's his ability to construct atmosphere whether it be in a high school hallway, a haunted insane asylum, or middle-of-nowhere Indiana. With The Prom, Murphy has taken a screen adaptation of the Broadway comedy musical (that is full-on musical and mostly-on comedy) as penned by the writers of the original production (Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin) and stacked it to the brim with stars whereas the material is smart enough on its own terms to elicit just the right balance of rebellion and sweetness. It's not difficult to imagine then, why The Prom - a message musical with major bones to pick with intolerance - will go over smoother than butter on a fresh baked roll. Yes, even in what are apparently hostile Midwestern towns. It’s almost magical how inoffensively the writing deals with the offensiveness of some of the characters and further, is able to convey everything the film wants to say while maintaining a tone akin to the feel good movie of the summer, but this is why atmosphere is key: it chooses to radiate positivity even in the face of ugliness when it could just as easily bury itself in the genuine heartbreak of the story. Though a little long-winded with maybe an extra song or two that could have been cut for reasons of both efficiency and effectiveness, there is no denying the charm of The Prom and its pleasing blend of old school Hollywood musicals with modern ideals and meaning.  

SOUL Review

Disney and Pixar have always had a tradition of being innovative if not groundbreaking, but with their latest - Soul - the animation studio pushes itself to what is unquestionably the most existential ground they've ever broken. What might have driven writing/directing duo Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out) and Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami...) to not only address death outright in an animated movie seemingly intended for children, but place it front and center as the biggest hurdle our protagonist has to overcome in the context of the film is a curious strategy. It's bold to say the least, but by the time my wife and I were a mere thirteen minutes in we were already convinced this would be far too much for our six year-old to handle as she already bursts into spontaneous tears at bedtime before bringing up that she doesn't want to lose her mom and dad to what Soul refers to as "The Great Beyond". It's not hard to understand why the ambition to tackle such difficult subject matter is present as movies are more than capable of being counseling and coping tools, but the question I was left to ponder as Jon Batiste's wonderful rendition of  "It's All Right" played over the closing credits was why Docter and Powers along with co-writer Mike Jones felt it necessary to try and steer children through the reality of death by barreling into the topic headfirst rather than finding an avenue through which to better explore the more prevalent themes like the idea of success equaling satisfaction or notoriety equaling credibility. There are glimpses of these ideas early on as we're introduced to Joe Gardner (voice of Jamie Foxx) and witness him wrestling with a conflict that pits his need for gratification against a more enduring legacy, but Soul quickly transitions to feeling as if Docter took the concept of Inside Out (as well as some of the character designs) and applied it to the afterlife as opposed to personifying emotions. It's like if a band started re-configuring their "greatest hits" while only being three full-length studio albums into their career; you want to remind the people why they fell in love with you in the first place, but you don't want your sound to stop growing and evolving. That isn't to say Soul finds fault for a lack of growth or evolution, but given the ethereal feel of this world we've never seen before along with the fact the film kills off its lead in the first half hour in order to answer questions about the meaning of life it would seem that, upon the film's conclusion, that some of the answers to those big questions would be a little more deeply felt, that they might tug at the heart strings a little more, or maybe even touch something deep inside ones...soul.