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.


Between dramatized series' like Dopesick and Painkiller to last year's unanimously praised documentary All The Beauty And The Bloodshed the whole world of the pharmaceutical scam and opioid crisis in America has been well-documented over the last few years. Director David Yates seemed to be in luck despite this barrage of similarly-themed content though, as I've only seen the Nan Goldin doc meaning this fictionalized telling of Evan Hughes' 2018 investigative feature of the same name was essentially fresh territory for me. That said, it's unfortunate Pain Hustlers or the first feature from Yates that has not been authored by J.K. Rowling since 2014's Tarzan and the first non-IP film he's made since 2005 is something he only seems tangentially connected to. That is to say that Yates, a Brit through and through, might have had a vision for how to tell this story when he read Hughes' piece, but more he likely found this distinctly American story just that therefore implying the type of vision he then defaulted to.

That default is naturally Scorsese-light as Pain Hustlers echoes recent output like The Wolf of Wall Street and similar films that came along in its wake a la The Big Short, War Dogs, and most recently Dumb Money. Each of these films center around unqualified individuals stumbling into incredible (if not always legal) situations that garner them untold amounts of money who then have to balance their greed with their inexperience before getting caught. As a piece of entertainment this moves quickly and offers enough broad insight coupled with reaches for genuine emotion to track as something worthy of your time while being informative either as a whole or about certain aspects of this crisis not yet exposed. As a novice on the subject, I found the idea at its core - the exploitation of helping people for profit rather than the greater good - naturally compelling and the details of it fascinating which made me wonder why, by the close of the film, I had no real reaction to what I'd just experienced.


As vapid as the title might suggest this is, Influencer is actually one of the better (if not the best) horror/thriller I've seen this year. Like so many films these days this isn't necessarily presenting us anything new, but what it's doing it's doing at a really high level. I love a movie that's smarter than it knows you're going to assume it is based on exterior factors and Influencer almost certainly takes advantage of its Shudder distribution, no marquee cast, and derisive title as each contribute to a certain kind of trashy B-movie perception that makes the fact this is actually a smart, twisty take on the role of social media not just in our lives but in the world at large all the better as said commentary is much more astute than it is mocking; never losing itself in its sermon, but instead letting the character choices and tone speak for themselves.

Not only does director Kurtis David Harder (who also co-wrote the movie with Tesh Guttikonda) take advantage of the preconceived notions around his film though, but he then steps it up further to convince us we're watching something made with real intent and awareness of style (as well as some vast knowledge of the genre) by managing to have his film aesthetically look like the staged, phony world presented via Instagram while also coming off as a credible feature film with purpose. Further, (and this is when I really knew we were in good hands) Harder drops the title card for his film thirty minutes into the runtime. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but the placement within the story and the way it combines with the soundtrack to kind of deftly say to the audience, "Okay, let's really get going now..." not only enhances the pacing, but revives interest in where the narrative could possibly go given the end of the first act feels rather finite. The fact the very next scene follows the character I didn't expect us to stick with told me all I needed to know about what might happen over the next hour and that was that I didn't know anything at all.


On the surface it would seem this latest incarnation of a familiar property was made both only for financial gain (or so they thought) and with the old-fashioned mindset that sequels must be bigger in order to be better. What is more frightening than one possessed girl? Two, right? Fortunately, this isn't exactly the line of thought eclectic (to say the least) writer/director David Gordon Green was following when making this decision. Rather, this decision is all about choice as choice is what informs the whole of this first in an intended trilogy of new Exorcist films.

Opening with an earthquake in Haiti that forces Leslie Odom Jr.'s character to choose between the survival of his wife and the life of his daughter, the film is keen to emphasize the role of our moral agency in this life and how seriously we take responsibility for our choices is just as important as the choices themselves. The way Green and co-writers Danny McBride, Scott Teems, and largely Peter Sattler weave this weight of responsibility and the constant questioning Odom's Victor Fielding has regarding the choices he's made and is confronted with making throughout the course of the film lend the otherwise familiar template of the exorcism movie some necessary weight, especially considering the lineage of William Friedkin's original.

While that original film saw both Jason Miller's Father Karras and Ellen Burstyn's Chris MacNeil grappling with their faith in the face of this possession, Green and co. have smartly updated not only the location of the film from Washington, D.C. to Georgia, but also the role of church and faith in what I feel I can safely assume is presently a more secular America than in 1973. In doing so, we have Fielding who is or has become an absolute non-believer in the wake of his wife dying. Fielding's daughter, Angela (Lidya Jewett), who is now thirteen and friends with Katherine (Olivia O'Neill) has a mother and father (Jennifer Nettles and Norbert Leo Butz) who are very much ingrained in a community church and seem genuinely convicted in their beliefs (I lowkey kind of loved Nettles' performance in this as she lends a certain credibility to the southern protestant persona that is often easy to dismiss). When the girls disappear after school one day to secretly attempt to contact Angela's dead mother, they naturally conjure the unwanted spirits/demons that then begin to possess their bodies.