RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON Review

Disney Animation's Latest Offers a Grand Action/Adventure with Fresh Cultural Influences and Delivers in Spades if not Necessarily Breaking the Mold.

CHERRY Review

The Russo Brothers Follow-up the Biggest Movie of All Time with a Multi-Faceted Adaptation that is Ultimately Unable to Adapt One Art Form to Another.

THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY Review

Director Lee Daniels' Biopic is a Mess of a Missed Opportunity Whose Execution can't Match its Subject's Ambition or it's Stars Central Performance.

I CARE A LOT Review

Writer/Director J Blakeson Delivers a Scathing Indictment of how Twisted the American Dream has Become as Led by a Ruthless Rosamund Pike.

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH Review

Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield Lead this Powerful Story, Highlight an Overlooked Piece of History, and Inspire Real Change in Director Shaka King's Film.

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON Review

The latest Disney princess to enter the chat is a Southeast Asian princess named Raya and she absolutely rules. It's always impressive when storytellers can manipulate your standard archetypes to somehow create what are still compelling characters experiencing fanciful if not familiar situations that they somehow manage to derive a particular meaning or elicit a specific theme from. That all to say, Raya and the Last Dragon isn't necessarily anything audiences haven't seen before, but it's so well thought out and so well executed that it makes the tropes it takes advantage of feel exceedingly fresh; as if one were experiencing them for the first time. It also doesn't hurt the film was inspired by cultures from Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Laos among others which inherently adds a certain vigor and resonance to the piece. It's abundantly clear how much the representation in the film mattered to its makers given Raya is Disney's first feature film inspired by Southeast Asia as the creative team that was put in place - namely screenwriters Adam Lin (Crazy Rich Asians) and Qui Nguyen - brought as much experience as they did research to the table. Having writer's representative of the culture at the heart of the story lends the film certain subtleties, nuances, and truths it would undoubtedly have gone without otherwise. Raya's strongest trait isn't how focused it is on diversifying the Mouse House's princess portfolio, but rather how seamlessly it integrates these cultures into Disney's age old formula while remaining true to the ancestry and traditions that have inspired this variation on the hero's journey. There is a difference in representation and concentration though, and while the representation in Raya certainly matters what makes it even more exceptional is how the film doesn't concentrate solely on the culture by placing it at the center of the narrative, but more by building the context of the story in a land many will consider fictional, but who just as many will recognize as home. Raya treats all princesses equal by giving the titular Asian princess as rousing an adventure as Mulan and as moving a quest as Elsa with nary a prince or romantic subplot in sight. In short, the representation occurs by using the tropes of the action/adventure genre to enlighten non-Asian audiences to a culture that’s isn't their own. By showcasing the importance of trust as its primary theme, delivering beautiful visuals that are meaningful even if all may not fully realize or comprehend why, as well as simply being a positive portrayal of what said trust, optimism, and understanding can do for the world Raya and the Last Dragon is a near-perfect film that takes the best of what movies have to offer and delivers them in spades if not necessarily breaking the mold. 

THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY Review

The first hour of Lee Daniels’ oddly structured The United States vs. Billie Holiday is so plagued by the fits and starts of its three different narrative strands and the resulting meandering nature of as much that, despite the eponymous character being of indisputable interest, it's almost immediately evident this particular piece about her life lacks the focus to make any real sense to the casual viewer and won't be able to generate any lasting impact on even the most ardent of Holiday admirers. It’s not until nearly an hour and fifteen minutes in (or with some forty-five minutes remaining) that the film based on Suzan Lori-Parks’ screenplay from the novel by Johann Hari somewhat finds its footing by taking the character of Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes) who, up until this point has been something of an extraneous detail in Holiday's life, and inserts him into the main arc of Andra Day's version of Holiday; placing their two very different trajectories in life on the same track and forcing those paths to merge into one. The funny thing is, this breakthrough doesn't occur because Fletcher and Holiday have this undeniable chemistry or even because their mostly deranged romance is so captivating, but more it has to do with the fact this feels like the first time the film is actually onto something regarding who Holiday might have actually been as a human being. Sure, this is due in part to the fact that in the sprouting of this romantic relationship the viewer is also given further context surrounding Holiday's childhood and formative experiences (again, not until over an hour into the film), but if anything has been established in Daniels' film thus far it's that Holiday was a woman who liked to live in extremes no matter what she was doing. There's that famous quote of her responding to the question of why so many jazz greats seem to die so early to which she replied, "...we try to live one hundred days in one day." This is all to say that in her relationship with Fletcher - at least in the film - Holiday finds something she doesn't understand and therefore doesn't feel in control of her emotions due to the fact there's only a certain type of love she's become accustomed to. Both ironically and tragically is the fact the kind of love that made Holiday feel safe was also the kind that kept her perpetually unhappy and paranoid. What might have been a study in a life that only felt purposeful when what caused her pleasure caused her just as much pain, The United States vs. Billie Holiday is ultimately a mess of a missed opportunity whose execution can't match its subject's ambition.  

CHERRY Review

In April of 2019, Joe and Anthony Russo had just come off of making the biggest movie of all time, but instead of taking the summer off to relax and enjoy the receipts (as well as the relief of somehow managing to meet and/or exceed all expectations with that MCU season finale) they decided to roll right into making another film. A completely different kind of film. Whether this had to do with needing a change of pace, tone, or a release from that much surveyed environment where every facet was picked apart by fans the one thing that seems abundantly evident is the fact the Russo's felt an urgency to bring the story of Nico Walker to the screen and address the opioid epidemic. While said tone and subject matter are vastly different when it comes to Avengers movies and something like Cherry it seems safe to assume no matter the material that the Russo's have now reached a level at which they operate that will be hard to come back from. That is to say that despite its humbler ambitions and price tag, Cherry still feels like an epic. This is one hundred percent an event film of sorts where, despite there being no Gods or heroes challenging mad titans for the survival of humanity, the characters are still addressed and treated with the same reverence of a Tony Stark; the shots just as elaborate, the scope larger than anticipated, and the score just as sweeping. It's almost as if the directing duo are keen to point out how these people and their problems are part of that humanity that is worth saving as well - or at least remind those that can empathize with Tom Holland's character that they are. In that, the Russo's have concocted a searing, but scattered takedown of the Iraq war through one man’s experience that essentially delivers him from one hell to another as set to Van the Man’s soulful yet oftentimes heartbreaking voice that moves beyond the words of Walker’s book of the same name on which this is based and into the raw emotions of his journey. 

At two hours and twenty minutes the Russo's, working from a screenplay by Jessica Goldberg and Angela Russo-Otstot, throw a lot at the wall much of which tends to work given the drastic tonal shifts of each act, but as a whole leaves the viewer in a state of both surprise and confusion. Surprise largely at how entertaining this mess remains despite those major changes in tone but confused simply by everything Walker’s story encompasses and what the focus of this story is by way of meaning. Not every movie necessarily needs a main idea or central theme and Cherry certainly has a thesis statement in that the memories of war are battles those in the armed forces have to fight long after they’ve left the actual battlefield, but what it says or means to say about these experiences feels as if it gets lost in the shuffle. That said, how it says what it wants to say is a different conversation entirely as the Russo's execution is never not grandiose or energetic. There is an indisputable amount of bold choices if not necessarily innovative ones that lend the project both an impressive sense of style and Holland’s protagonist a sense of self on top of all the work Holland is doing (and trust me, he's putting in some work). Every choice the directors make is seemingly in support of building the character that embodies Walker’s perspective here and not only his point of view but getting inside his head and taking us through his experiences in the most visceral ways possible. As is true of the novel, the sections covering Iraq feel the most honest and brash and are where the Russo's big swings work best. Choices that involve text flashing across the screen in unison with drill sergeants yelling them, brutally honest policy descriptions serving as bank names, or shot selections that literally put us inside Holland’s character show the fire in the Russo's bellies and an admirable determination to make this as raw and powerful a portrait as they can even if the movie itself ends up feeling like it's trying a bit too hard. 

THE FATHER Review

What do you do with the people you love when they no longer know who they are? Writer/director Florian Zeller's film adaptation of his 2012 stage production, The Father, attempts to find solace in the answers to this question. What's so striking about this feature directorial debut though is not how assured it seems (which it absolutely does), but more how well-balanced and complete it is despite the narrative and its origins suggesting a rather small, narrow window through which the material might view the world. The confined setting certainly gives way to the roots of the piece, but there is also something distinctly cinematic to the film as if Zeller was intent to not simply exercise his skills as a first time filmmaker, but justify why this piece of writing was worth being adapted to the screen (one possible reason for this being this is actually the second time Zeller's work has been adapted after the 2015 French film, Florida). This is almost laughable though, as the structure and quality of writing alone make Zeller's work more than worthy of being told time and time again. That said, it's not simply the insight garnered through the elegant prose, but more it's how Zeller is able to both take the viewer inside the mind of an individual experiencing the aggressive progressions of dementia as well as simultaneously lend awareness and understanding to the roles closely associated with this disease and how those who must go through this experience with a loved one are equally impacted by it. 

Needless to say, Zeller is a master storyteller and in his directorial debut (I keep repeating it because I can't believe it) he carefully - and probably meticulously, as re-watches will undoubtedly assure - creates this ever-shifting and insular world in which Anthony Hopkins' Anthony is trapped. The awareness of every facet of his film is what creates this environment for which we, the audience, immediately buy into completely. Zeller has purposefully paired his protagonist with this somewhat stuffy yet still pristine London flat where the green of trees can be seen through the window, children can be heard running along the sidewalks outside, and classical compositions largely dominate the sound waves within the apartment. It's a context that feels familiar and thus the reality of it is without question, but as the severity of Anthony's diagnosis becomes more apparent it's clear Zeller is not simply conducting this film as a shared experience for the characters and the audience, but as a piece of art in which the audience willingly plays an active part; we're participating. As eye-rolling as that may sound, it becomes true the further one follows The Father down its path as the fundamental choices of the film not only invest the viewer in these people, but put us inside their heads and help us understand the fear and the confusion - among other things - constantly enveloping them. 

SEFCA ANNOUNCES 2020 WINNERS


February 22, 2021 – The Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) has named Nomadland as its Best Film of 2020. Chloé Zhao’s intimate, elegiac drama about life in America after the Great Recession also earned the organization’s awards for Best Actress for Frances McDormand, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Zhao, and Best Cinematography for Joshua James Richards.

Nomadland was an overwhelming favorite among our members in this year’s award season,” said SEFCA President Matt Goldberg. “It’s clear that Zhao’s thoughtful, deeply humanistic and heartfelt portrait of life at the fringes of our country connected with our members across the Southeast, and it is our pleasure to name it the Best Film of 2020.”

SEFCA also bestowed its Gene Wyatt Award, which goes to a film that best embodies the spirit of the South, to Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, the story of a Korean immigrant family that moves to Arkansas so the patriarch can realize his dream of becoming a farmer. Like Nomadland, Minari was a clear favorite among our members, and there’s no question that Chung’s film is a moving and authentic portrait of our part of the country.

Official Trailer for CRUELLA Starring Emma Stone


While it will be difficult to separate myself from Glenn Close's turn as the evil Cruella de Vil from the 1996 and 2002 live-action adaptations of the 1961 Disney animated film which in and of itself was based on the 1956 novel by Dodie Smith, but I shall do my best and if there's anyone charming enough to redefine the role it's Emma Stone. While the well seems to be drying up rather quickly for Disney on what exactly they can make into live-action versions next given 101 Dalmatians kind of kicked this whole trend off some twenty-five years ago there is undoubtedly plenty more Disney can mine from its vault as live-action versions of The Little Mermaid and Hercules are on the horizon (not to mention a Barry Jenkins-directed Lion King sequel) with untold new takes on plenty of other properties likely in the works as well. Unlike the Glenn Close films of the late-nineties and early-aughts though, this time around the evil de Vil is getting her origin story that might illuminate audiences on how someone could become the type of person that enjoys murdering a hundred puppies for the sake of their style. Man, when you really stop to think about Cruella's mission in that original story it's kind of crazy most kids walked away unaffected by that movie. This brings up what is to be the most curious question pertaining to this new film in how is Disney going to make a movie about a woman who finds puppy murder as satisfying as she does without making her the sympathetic hero a la Maleficent? How were they going to do this AND keep the movie targeted at the demographic they largely serve? Well, it seems the answer to both parts of that question is a simple, "they won't" as Cruella brings with it a PG-13 rating while this first, official trailer more or less indicates this will be the Mouse House's version of Joker. Directed by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, Lars and the Real Girl) and co-written by Dana Fox (How to Be Single) and Tony McNamara (The Favourite) the film has a broad enough range of influences to at least feel like it could become an oddity among the Disney live-action remakes we've seen thus far. As far as what can be derived about the film from this brief look it would seem Stone is going all-in on being over-the-top, ludicrous British accent and all. As with everything, we'll see. Still, this one feels like it could legitimately go in either direction which I guess is better than landing in the middle as most of its predecessors have. Cruella also stars Emma Thompson, Mark Strong, Paul Walter Hauser, Joel Fry, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and is currently scheduled to open in theaters on May 28, 2021.     

I CARE A LOT Review

I Care A Lot is the type of film that knows exactly what it is and what it means to be from the very first frame. Healthcare workers divvy up monotonous rows of medications into small plastic cups intended to keep their targets as much in check as they do healthy. The first piece of dialogue is a woman's voice seemingly calling the viewer out, "Look at you. Sitting there," she says as she goes on to explain how the idea of "playing fair" is a joke invented by the rich to keep everyone else poor. All of this accompanied by the immediate needle drop of Death in Vegas' 1999 track "Dirge" or what is another word for a "sad song", an elegy. Writer/director J Blakeson (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) pushes all the way down on the syringe releasing every facet of his technique into the bloodstream as quickly as he can. From that first moment the tone is fully engaged and every tool Blakeson has at his disposal is being used to elevate the story being told; the film is firing on all cylinders. The difference between I Care A Lot and most films that begin with such promise though, is that it sustains its nasty yet overwhelmingly engaging tone throughout its nearly two-hour runtime. By the end of that runtime one is bound to be both satisfied as far as viewing experiences go, but also somewhat overwhelmed not simply by the lengths the narrative decides to venture, but the implications of our lead character's, the anti-hero in many respects, course of action. It is this course of action, this central scheme that Rosamund Pike’s Marla Grayson has cooked up, that provides much of the propulsion and confidence the film displays throughout as one would require such attributes to pull the type of legal Olympics off that she does here. While the tone is enjoyable - delectable even - and we, the audience are having a blast watching these people do these terrible things there is no escaping the fact that afterward, once the credits have rolled, we're also somewhat appalled at the fact we did enjoy this level of duplicity so much. 

How real and damaging the effects of what the character of Marla Grayson is doing here are the reasons Blakeson has chosen to employ that all-knowing and judgmental narration, why he uses bold, primary colors in both setting and wardrobe to heighten the world in which his film takes place, and why he utilizes Marc Canham's electronic-heavy score to give Grayson's actions an edge that, while understanding she's an inherently evil person, still makes her seem cool. It's the age old question of why we root for the bad guy, the villain, and often times it's because we can recognize their flaws in our own, but even Marla Grayson would tell you her only flaw is being too ambitious and too driven and that she finds no fault in doing whatever it takes to get to the top. It's not that these qualities aren't relatable or are the reasons we aren't sympathetic to Grayson come the end of the film, but it's how far she's willing to cross the line in order to make her ambitions a reality that separates the human being from the truly despicable.   

MINI-REVIEWS: BARB & STAR, THE WORLD TO COME, FRENCH EXIT & LAND


The following are quick, capsule reviews of Lionsgate's Barb & Star Go to Vsita Del Mar which is now available to rent on all streaming platforms, The World to Come from Bleecker Street which is now playing in theaters and will be available On Demand on March 2nd, Sony Classics' French Exit which is now playing in New York and Los Angeles and will expand nationwide on April 2nd, as well as Robin Wright's Land from Focus Features which is now playing in theaters.  

SAINT MAUD Review

Hedge your bets. That's the approach everyone, myself included, seems to take when waging eternal salvation versus eternal damnation. In writer/director Rose Glass's feature debut, Saint Maud, the titular Maud isn't simply hedging her bet though, she's gone all in. As Jennifer Ehle's Amanda discovers early in the film, Maud's conversion is a recent one leading the audience to naturally wonder not only what it was that brought Maud to this new set of revelations, of faith, or of sheer belief, but also why she jumped head-first into the "God-fearing" pool. What is the long, complicated road Morfydd Clark's Maud traveled to reach this destination? While Glass keeps the details scarce and supplies enough so that only the most attentive of viewers might parse together pieces of backstory, what hits and remains the most haunting aspect of this horror film/psychological drama is Maud's belief that putting her well-being in the hands of God is the best choice - especially given the final destination at which she arrives. It should be a safe bet. Everything she's been told about God would lead her to believe she's walking toward the light, but guilt is a powerful drug and it's one the church and religion wield with mighty influence. 

Belief systems flourish because they facilitate the interest of those involved - a broad example being a large majority of the population wants to believe in something more after death and therefore latches onto the idea of a God or Gods responsible for everyone and everything - but then comes the question of retention. How do these systems keep believers on the line and continuing to practice the beliefs they share - or more immediately, how do they keep their financial support in check? More often than not it isn't enough to simply go forth and live the lessons of a certain faith or denomination and so the fear of that aforementioned eternal damnation is put in place to keep one in a position of fear, of feeling threatened, or most ironically of all: feeling judged. There is this thing so many believe is the absolute truth, but it's difficult to reconcile why such divine truth would be filled with so many threats and riddled with such tactics of guilt. Maud has seemingly felt judged her entire life, but she has turned to an extreme faith in God in hopes of repenting and being "born again" as the evangelicals like to say. To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with finding comfort or solace in a system of beliefs or an unbound deity. The point of Saint Maud is not to discourage, mock, or ridicule such things, but more to target this idea of how guilt and shame are intrinsically linked to repentance and redemption while acknowledging the distortion that can be drawn by a tormented individual; how easily, in other words, what one believes to be a journey towards a truly spiritual life can quickly become a solitary journey into darkness. 

Official Trailer for ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE


I've had little stake in the "Release the Snyder Cut" movement, but as someone who has always appreciated Zack Snyder's dark, almost sinister take on how super heroes might be received and/or implement themselves into modern society his films have always proved daring if not necessarily successful each time out. Man of Steel was one of my favorite films of 2013 and I absolutely adored the myth-building, Ben Affleck's approach to Bruce Wayne, and the sheer scope of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice three years later which was only made better by the ultimate edition released later that year. Of course, all of this momentum - despite being stifled by a fair majority of critics - came to a screeching halt in late 2017 when Joss Whedon's re-configured Justice League hit theaters on November 17th. Snyder was already shooting his planned two-part Justice League when Batman V. Superman was released in March of 2016 and I can recall reading about set visits that June, many of which were attempting to course correct the BvS narrative and assure those that weren't fans of Snyder's vision for the DC Universe thus far that Snyder was listening and taking note. Of course, by May of 2017 Snyder - dealing with a family tragedy - decided to take a break from the project despite having completed principal photography and already screened a cut of the film for friends and fellow filmmakers. The story was Whedon was only being brought in to assist in some additional photography and to assist the remainder of the post-production process. A story in The Hollywood Reporter published in May of 2017 even stated, “The directing is minimal and it has to adhere to the style and tone and the template that Zack set,” said Warner Bros. Pictures president Toby Emmerich. “We’re not introducing any new characters. It’s the same characters in some new scenes. He’s handing the baton to Joss, but the course has really been set by Zack. I still believe that despite this tragedy, we’ll still end up with a great movie.” Needless to say, by the time Whedon's version of the film was released in November it was clear this wasn't the film Snyder intended it to be and large portions of the film had been re-shot and re-configured in order for Warner Bros. to get out from under the weight of Snyder's ambitious vision allowing them to move forward with more single-shot, director-driven films that Wonder Woman had proved could be just as successful earlier that summer. Five years later though, we're finally (somehow) getting a proper Justice League film and sequel to Batman v. Superman that Snyder always intended. As someone who was completely on board for Snyder's vision from the get-go I can't wait to see what this film holds and if/how it will change the course of DC films moving forward. In addition, this official trailer for the project does not disappoint and seems to hint that Snyder has delivered everything he promised his epic to be. Zack Snyder's Justice League premieres on HBO Max March 18th.       

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH Review

As we get older, we become more conscious of our time and the legacy we might leave. The long game no longer feels as long and therefore the implications of our actions become just as important as the ramifications. On the day of January 15th, 1990 William O'Neal was a forty-year-old man who'd been drinking with his uncle into the early-morning hours of Martin Luther King Day before running into westbound traffic on an expressway and jumping in front of a car that killed him. His death was ruled a suicide. Later that night, on PBS, the second part of the fourteen-part documentary series, Eyes on the Prize, would debut. The second part of the series chronicled the time period between the national emergence of Malcolm X in 1964 up through to the 1983 election of Harold Washington as the first African American mayor of Chicago. Included in this span of time is the year 1969 and in 1969 William O'Neal would turn twenty years-old. 1969 is also the year a twenty-one-year-old Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, would be assassinated. Judas and the Black Messiah tells the story of how these two men were connected to one another in a tale as old as scripture as indicated by its biblical title. 

The second part of the Eyes on the Prize documentary contains the only on-camera interview O'Neal ever gave. The interview itself was conducted on April 13, 1989 and in that interview O'Neal discussed his involvement with the Black Panther Party, how he was exploited by the powers that be and a puppet for the FBI who blackmailed him into infiltrating the Panthers and eventually laying out the floor plan of Hampton's apartment that would lead to the raid where law enforcement fired a total of ninety-nine shots, executing Hampton at point-blank range. The Gospel of Matthew 26:15 states that Judas committed his betrayal of Jesus in exchange for thirty pieces of silver, but as there's undoubtedly more to Judas' story and motivation than money the relationship between O'Neal and Hampton seems to have been equally as complicated. In that 1989 interview, O'Neal stated "I didn't feel like I had done anything. I didn't walk in there with guns. I didn't shoot him. FBI didn't do it. I felt somewhat like I was betrayed...I felt like, like perhaps I was on the wrong side. Yeah, yeah, I had my misgivings. I'm not going to sit here now and take the responsibility for the raid, you know, I'm not going to do that. I didn't pull the trigger. I didn't issue the warrant. I didn't put the guns in the apartment. So, I'm not going to take the responsibility for that, but I do feel like I was betrayed." O'Neal was clearly a tortured individual who was also very much in denial. According to Matthew 27:1–10, after learning that Jesus was to be crucified, Judas attempted to return the money he had been paid for his betrayal and committed suicide by hanging. Do we really blame Judas for Jesus' death though? No, of course not, just as O'Neal is only responsible for Hampton's death so far as being a young Black man in the midst of a race war who was targeted by J. Edgar Hoover's "America" as an "informant". 

MALCOLM & MARIE Review

Charisma gets you a long way and it is this inexplicable attribute, this inherent talent and undeniable magnetism that John David Washington possesses that carries writer/director Sam Levinson's latest endeavor so much further than it would have gone without the actor. Though unfamiliar with Levinson's HBO series, Euphoria, which also stars Zendaya it is evident from experiencing his 2018 film Assassination Nation along with this dissection of perspective in relationships and the constant battle for higher ground - principle or enviable - that Levinson is a writer who likes to put it all on the table. His previous feature was a garbage disposal of ideas that only succeeded part of the time, but Malcolm & Marie is very distinctly the opposite of that; at least from the outside looking in. 

Filmed last summer with a limited crew at the admittedly gorgeous Caterpillar House in Carmel, California Levinson's "two people talking in a room" movie was bound to become mercilessly harsh at one point or another and would need to make its way through countless topics in order to sustain a feature running time, but while Levinson has plenty of different things for our titular couple to discuss he doesn't have as many varying avenues through which to drive these conversations. In addition, Levinson has imbued his film with a sense of divine knowing when it comes to how critics - specifically the white guy from Variety, the white guy from IndieWire, and especially the white woman from the LA Times - will respond to and quantify his "art" into a handful of paragraphs that seek to interpret his film and his script for more than what it is. Such disdain is in reference to a film our protagonist has written and directed in the context of the film, but Levinson takes few pains to mask his intent as he takes said stance within the first five minutes only to go further into detail and reinforce his point some forty-two minutes later. For someone seemingly so caught up in the function of a film critic though - someone who seeks to better understand a piece of art - it would seem Levinson should understand he's only doing the same with his own thoughts by writing a script as a critic might do with his film by writing a review. Both are taking something born from the unconscious, spawned from nature and ideas that are completely subjective and attempting to unite them with an objective point of view, with reason, and with the intent to craft them into something conscious; something that can be defined. 

THE LITTLE THINGS Review

In a genre where advancements in technology have alleviated many of the difficulties in getting answers to tough questions in criminal cases such progress has also forced writers to be doubly creative in their efforts to outwit the viewer when it comes to a good mystery and/or crime thriller. This may not wholly be the reason writer/director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks) turned to his twenty-eight year-old script for a film set some thirty years ago when looking for his next project, but as the film unfolds it begins to feel like one of the only reasons to justify re-visiting this story. It’s not that The Little Things is a bad movie. In fact, it’s quite an interesting one in terms of objective, but what it means to do and how successful it is at executing said intent are two entirely different things. There is real promise, real ambition in Hancock’s “too smart for its own good” approach to the screenplay that sees the filmmaker playing with the conventions of the B-movie crime drama and hoping to bring a real insight into the vastness of the world detectives inhabit rather than a single, insulated tale of good cops chasing down promising leads that inevitably lead to a successful capture. It wants to be about the lasting effects these cases have on detectives, the torture being unsuccessful can cause, but the idea becomes overshadowed by a million others as Hancock tries to convey his rather straightforward story of struggle through an overly complex guise; layers are needed sure, but to emphasize the point - not cloak it completely. Furthermore, this introspection as it were is executed in such plodding fashion that by the time interesting aspects concerning the core case do begin to introduce themselves the viewer is hardly invested in what’s happening...much less anticipating who might be the big bad wolf hiding under the covers. The Little Things is a film desperate to dissect obsession, guilt, and the aforementioned torture spurned by as much. It means to tackle these generationally as the symptoms go hand in hand no matter the changing times: when it's your responsibility to prevent people from becoming victims, from becoming less than what their shells present what is it that can heal your soul and your self-esteem should you fail? These are interesting questions albeit ones that have naturally been explored before in plenty of genre flicks from the time in which this is set, but again - despite the good intent - the meaning can't help but get lost in the sluggish translation of the narrative. The Little Things is never not intriguing, this much is true, but given the depths it seeks to explore it shouldn't be nearly as forgettable as it is.  

SUPERNOVA Review

Harry Macqueen's Supernova opens with a demonstration of what the title refers to: a star exploding thus allowing its molecules and all the other fantastical, unknown elements it's made up of to fall from the heavens. Some of this dust is destined to make its way to the earth where one day it will help to make-up the organisms that populate the planet. An exploding star, a burning love...we're lucky if we experience either in our lifetime. The film fades from this demonstration to the serene, static shot of two men in bed together, their hands intertwined and their love apparent. A crossfade to an overcast sky where pillowy white clouds still manage to somehow pop through pans down and lands on an older model RV where the two men we first met a moment ago are now on a road trip together. Despite the quick-wit and sarcasm of one Tusker (Stanley Tucci) and the frustration of the other, Colin Firth's Sam, it's already been established this is not a tale of two aging, grumpy fellows on an adventure to sow their wild oats, but rather it is a tale of two lovers hoping to find some peace and solace in what is likely the last moments of their being together. We are first made aware of the reasons for this holiday when Sam stops at a grocery store on the side of the road only to return to find Tusker has disappeared. While Sam locates his partner shortly thereafter it is clear to both men that Tusker's early onset dementia is getting worse at a pace neither was likely prepared for. How could anyone ever be prepared for as much? No matter the amount of time given to process the pain it would never seem to cease. The film though, is a brisk and very tidy ninety minutes and that is all Macqueen requires to paint his sweeping yet pulverizing love story. It's almost astonishing really, how invested we become in both Tusker and Sam despite the brief running time and further, how many moments are absolutely a punch to the gut whether it be in the way Firth's voice cracks when he gets emotional or through as simple a gesture as one helping the other button his shirt. Anchored by these two effortlessly affectionate and grounded performances from Tucci and Firth (but especially Tucci, my God!), Supernova is a film about coming to terms with reality no matter how inequitable it may seem and the honest conversations that are eventually unearthed around it. A true portrait of companionship, a meditation on legacy, and the impact it all has on the lives of those most important to us.   

PALMER Review

I was raised in the south, in the middle to lower class though much closer to the lower than the middle with strong religious views imbued from my mother’s side and a versatile education environment that schooled me on cultures and classes outside my own. I bring this up not to highlight necessarily the point of view from which this review will be written, but more to say that movies became an outlet by which I experienced parts of the world I thought I'd never visit. Movies helped me meet different types of people I might have never met otherwise and they helped me gain different and varied perspectives that likely would have never crossed my mind without them. Perspective is the key word here as seeing through someone else’s eyes is important, but so is seeing different situations the world may throw at you as handled by someone you recognize. This brings us to Palmer. While the latest feature from actor/director Fisher Stevens may not seem the kind of revelatory product to change someone’s world view it may have very well done just that for me were I to have seen this film some fifteen to twenty years ago. Palmer doesn’t inherently feel like the groundbreaking sort because it does in fact feel rather familiar, but everyone has to get familiar somehow and needless to say, Palmer isn't a bad way to do so. Stevens' film, as written by Cheryl Guerriero, utilizes its familiarity to affectionately illustrate its well-meaning message and when I use that word I use it intentionally as Guerriero's script never makes mention of any key words or phrases (except for maybe "queer", I guess) specific to the issues the movie deals in, but rather it simply shows us - through action and interactions - that love is easier to come by than hate no matter who you are or where you come from. Purposefully set in the north shore of Louisiana (and primarily shot in Tangipahoa Parish), the premise of Palmer as it deals in a child saving an adult as much as that adult ends up actually having to save the child is as well-worn as the time-loop premise at this point, but the humbling details of how said premise comes to fruition are what consistently push the film toward the kind of acceptance our titular character could only hope for regarding his young counterpart. That said, it's not difficult to see where the movie will end up or even how it will get there, but the one-two punch of Justin Timberlake's solid yet restrained performance along with newcomer Ryder Allen's aura of absolute sweetness make Palmer exactly what it was intended to be: a simple reminder of what really matters in a world where such heart is easily lost, which, feels like a reminder we could all use these days. 

Official Trailer for GODZILLA VS. KONG


Originally set for a May 21st, 2021 release after its delay last year Warner Bros. recently announced that the showdown of all showdowns will be coming to theaters and HBO Max on March 26th. Not knowing much about either monsters mythology there is little indication as to who will ultimately be the victor here, if one will really "fall", or if this is even the end of WB and Legendary Picture's "Monsterverse" as it would seem to be. The upcoming installment of the franchise sees “fearsome monsters Godzilla and King Kong square off in an epic battle for the ages, while humanity looks to wipe out both of the creatures and take back the planet once and for all.” Though it seems highly unlikely either of the titular creatures will go down once and for all there is definitely a lot going on story-wise in this two and a half minute trailer and even more to take in from a visual perspective. At the end of 2017’s seventies-set Kong: Skull Island, Kong is on good terms with the team that came to his hometown, but it's inevitable the world would eventually become aware of his existence. At the end of 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters, we're treated to the titular kaiju taking up the mantle indicated in the subtitle with much of the world-building being done via newspaper headlines flashing across the screen over the credits; many of them hinting at Godzilla's control over these ancient titans, but a few notably questioning if the human race is due to be caught in the middle of a prehistoric grudge match. While I've largely enjoyed each of the three previous offerings in this "Monsterverse" it does feel as if there's been something missing from each. While Max Borenstein, who wrote 2014's Godzilla as well as Skull Island, wrote the script for Godzilla vs. Kong script with Black Widow screenwriter Eric Pearson what truly has me intrigued about this latest chapter is the fact it's directed by Adam Wingard who also made two unbelievably fantastic horror/thrillers in 2011's You're Next and 2014's The Guest. If the man can bring as much style and flair to finding out what a King ultimately is to a God as he did to those previous features then we're in for one hell of a ride. The Godzilla vs. Kong cast includes Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Shun Oguri, Demián Bichir, Brian Tyree Henry, Zhang Ziyi, Eiza Gonzalez, Lance Reddick, Jessica Henwick, Julian Dennison, and will be released in theaters nationwide and on HBO Max on March 26. Watch the first trailer below.

OUR FRIEND Review

I'd like to start with Jason Segel. I've always felt a unique affinity for his persona. This is a guy who has been oddly engaging yet completely endearing and - most importantly - both effortlessly funny and likable since his cameo as a high-school stoner who couldn't help Jennifer Love-Hewitt find Ethan Embry in Can't Hardly Wait. In many ways Segel is an unlikely movie star whether it be his awkward charisma, his laid back persona as opposed to the traditionally handsome and self-serious stars who are typically granted the more dramatic leading roles, but while "movie star" may be a stretch for anyone these days Segel has carved out a particular spot for himself among the recognizable faces on posters to which we now attribute the word "star". As one of the many funny guys doing as they please in Hollywood after originally making their bones in Apatow projects, Segel has had an interesting journey. He never had the headlining Apatow treatment necessarily but served enough time in supporting parts to garner an Apatow-production via a script that was obviously very personal to him. It was with Forgetting Sarah Marshall (some thirteen years ago now) that Segel finally came into his own with what fully displayed his personal brand of comedy and it killed. Absolutely destroyed, one might say. Sarah Marshall is one of the best comedies of the last twenty years and much of that has to do not just with Segel's willingness to be vulnerable which felt a lot more fresh and a lot more bold in 2008, but largely it deals in that extreme sense of sincerity the guy generates. One can't help but think Segel is probably a little strange, but that he also has this cool streak that makes you want to hang out with him. He's not an immediately striking presence, but the more you unravel his philosophy the more you want to hug him. The one-two punch of Sarah Marshall and I Love You, Man seemed to set Segel's career trajectory in stone, but after a good mix of ill-performing studio productions (Gulliver's Travels, Bad Teacher) and better, more personal milestones (The Muppets, The Five-Year Engagement) Segel's ride seemed to culminate only some six years after it began with the bomb of a summer comedy that was Sex Drive and the fact his long-running hit sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, ended its run that same year. In 2015, Segel portrayed David Foster Wallace opposite Jesse Eisenberg in The End of the Tour, but while this served as a potential hint as to where the actor would take his career next he has since largely been absent from the public eye (only appearing in two Netflix films in 2017 and 2018). I say all of this to say that as Segel returns in a more substantial role both in film as well as in the public consciousness that it finally seems the space he now occupies personally has synced with the space he occupies onscreen. It's possible there isn't a more perfect part for Segel than that of Dane Faucheux as it utilizes his vulnerabilities, his comedic sense, and his genuine spirit to convey the wholly compassionate titular friend of Gabriela Cowperthwaite's Our Friend ; a man who visits his friends over Thanksgiving break and ends up staying with them for over two years in order to help care for the couple and their two young daughters as they deal with a terminal cancer diagnosis.