Thursday, December 24, 2020

Promising Young Woman - Review


Every once in a while, a film comes along that feels like a filmmaker announcing their arrival onto the scene in the loudest possible fashion. With Promising Young Woman, director and writer Emerald Fennell delivers a darkly funny, serious and distressing film. Paired with an actress whose comfort in this setting is practically unsettling, and you get one of the year’s best films. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Soul - Review


As an animation studio, Pixar is no stranger to weightier concepts. Each Pixar film has some message of deeper meaning under the colorful animation and delightful characters, and Soul is no different. It still has all the charm and gorgeous animation you come to expect from Pixar, but with a dash of existentialism and a very easy metaphor for the meaning of life. Yeah, Pixar is going for it this time. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Midnight Sky - Review

The late-breaking space film with hopes of awards glory is basically a staple of the yearly release calendar over the last eight years or so. A visual spectacle with an emotional story and a beautifully done score by a well regarded, award winning composer, and you’ve got the formula for a film that’s at least going to get the attention of awards bodies. However, if you don’t back that up with consistent storytelling or any good characterization, you’re left with another awards season slog. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom - Review


When adapting a stage play to the screen, the trap often becomes that of stagnation, an un-dynamic presentation that feels trapped within the confines of a room or two. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is no stranger to this, the bulk of the story is set in just two rooms, however, it knows it has two performances at the forefront that will more than makeup for any minor shortcomings. One of which, might just be a career best and a final performance all in one go.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Prom - Review

 Upon the credits rolling after two hours of singing, dancing, and typical musical set pieces, only one thought persisted: this is going to absolutely clean house at the Golden Globes. Not because its a good film mind you, but because this is exactly the kind of star-powered cheesiness that the HFPA gobbles up. Don’t get it confused, there are parts of The Prom that are actually good, but the overwhelming lack of direction make it just another average musical adaption.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Mank - Review

Hollywood making movies about Hollywood. Same tune, different (strange) year. This time, the subject is Herman J. Mankiewicz, the fabled writer of Citizen Kane. In most films about artist of all varieties, the creation of said art is the story, but Mank handles things a little differently. Rather than focus on the writing of one film, it buries itself in the lore of old Hollywood. The glamour, the prestige, the corruption and the sleaze are all on full display, crafting a window into a time long past, even if its ideas aren’t.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Ammonite - Review

When reviewing some films, it’s very easy to label it as “fine” or “okay” and leave it at that. But unfortunately, reviews tend to be a bit longer than a handful of words. Ammonite is a period romance featuring two of the best actresses working today that’s so clearly desperate for awards attention that its almost painful. It is a film that feels like a lesser version of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a dull, drab film that is lacking in any chemistry whatsoever.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Sound of Metal - Review

Life can be a fragile thing, constantly teetering on the edge of irreversible change. In Sound of Metal, that change comes in the form of a sudden hearing loss that damages the main character’s psyche, sobriety, and career all in one fell swoop. Life-altering events in film often play to such a broad audience, taking the easy route to emotional moments and the ever present attempts to tug on the audience’s heartstrings. However, Sound of Metal is different. It lives in the silence, in the small moments, and doesn’t miss a beat along the way.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Hillbilly Elegy - Review

In 2016, J.D. Vance released his bestselling novel Hillbilly Elegy. The memoir delved into his views on the nature of hillbilly mentality and the cycle of poverty that many find themselves in because of it. It managed to be something that both sides of the political aisle could connect with in some way, and thus, it seemed everyone was reading it. Now the question is: will everyone want to watch it?

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Life Ahead - Review

In 2020, it’s no surprise that Netflix has scooped up so many big awards contenders to stream directly into the homes of its millions of subscribers. And as the year draws to a close, those acquisitions will slowly start to trickle out with each passing week. This weekend, it’s The Life Ahead, an Italian film adapted from the 1975 French novel “The Life Before Us” that stars the legendary Sophia Loren, gracing the screen for the first time in a decade. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Da 5 Bloods - Review

The pain and anger that flows through Da 5 Bloods is palpable, as so many works from director Spike Lee are. It’s not as though he is a subtle or reserved filmmaker in any sense of the word, but something about the anguish of these four men that served a country that did not serve them in return feels all the more powerful in the light of the past few weeks. And while its themes carry obvious tones of injustice and racial inequality, one rings out above the rest: some fights just never end.

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Lovebirds - Review

The premise of The Lovebirds is not some complex, original idea. Take two likable actors, throw them into a life altering, dangerous scenario, and let them bounce off each other for 90 minutes and boom, you get the almost yearly chaotic comedy. The film was forced to Netflix due to the growing global crisis, but it’s arguable that The Lovebirds feels like it was always destined for the streaming world.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Wendy - Review

The story of Peter Pan has been beaten into the collective conscious of general audiences so many times by now that it would be a miracle if you didn’t know the basic set-up for every version. There is always a boy named Peter, a mysterious island or land with some mystical energy, and there is always a rag tag band of lost boys taking on some pirates. Some may include a magical fairy, or some severely racist animation (looking at you, Disney), but the point stands: if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Onward - Review

Pixar has been in an interesting place since about 2011, when the studio released the dreadful Cars 2. Since then, the animation giant has relied on sequels and some half-back original ideas in between their genuinely great films, like Inside Out or Coco. And even still, the prospects of an original film from Pixar is exciting, and thankfully, Onward does much better than other attempts from the last decade.

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Invisible Man - Review

Remember those grand plans of a Dark Universe just a few short years ago? And how quickly they vanished with the failure of its first entry? Though a connected series of films that would’ve seen numerous stars in the monstrous roles may no longer be in the cards, Universal is determined to use the classic monsters in some fashion, and The Invisible Man proves that the smaller, simpler approach may just be the route to go.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Call of the Wild - Review

It’s hard to imagine how the pitch for this version of Jack London’s classic novel went over so well as to get Harrison Ford to co-star opposite a CGI dog. It could’ve been an easy paycheck, a love for the source material, or maybe even some late development switch from a real pup to this version. Any number of reasons may fit, even if the CGI canine doesn’t.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Lodge - Review

By now, with years of upscale, artistic horror films becoming more and more prevalent, the appearance of a new, exciting vision in horror is almost becoming mundane or expected. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to appreciate the flow of great horror, and to see those that rise above the rest. The Lodge just so happens to be one of those films, a nightmarish descent into madness led by an impressive performance from Riley Keough.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Assistant - Review

In an era of hashtags and movements, the subject of sexual harassment has never been handled in such a horrifying light as it is in The Assistant. Taking some inspiration from one of the bigger Hollywood villains of recent years, the film inches closer and closer to the inevitable conclusion that secretive systems enable secretive lives, and those who are inclined to speak up, quickly silenced.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Sonic the Hedgehog - Review

The poster child for potential disasters being directly influenced by the internet and its loudest voices, Sonic the Hedgehog has just about everything working against it. First off, video game movies have a storied history of flopping, either creatively or financially. Second of all, the source material is so devoid of narrative information, taking a blue hedgehog, and building a story from basically nothing is not easy, and the final product certainly proves that.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Downhill - Review

On paper, Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a film together seems to carry at least a little bit of potential. The two actors have excellent comedic timing in their own right, so together their chemistry should elevate any movie they come into contact with, at least to some degree. For Downhill, they do make the film marginally better, but the overall result of this American remake is one breathe away from a full on disaster.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) - Review

After a tumultuous start, it appears that Warner Brothers and DC have righted the ship on their version of a connected universe. With multiple hits, either critically, financially, or both, under their belt, the newest comic adaptation may be the biggest test yet. Birds of Prey, a spin-off of the panned 2016 film Suicide Squad, is tasked with building on that while replacing the dark and drab vibe of that disaster with the bright, colorful, fun that should follow Harley Quinn. Fortunately, it absolutely succeeds in that mission.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Gentlemen - Review

To say that the last few films from Guy Ritchie have been off-brand would be an understatement. The director who made his name on vulgar, gritty, and high-octane crime films is hardly someone you’d think of for Aladdin or King Arthur, and yet studios gave him huge budgets to do both. Now, he makes a return to the genre he knows well, a vulgar, gritty, high octane crime film called The Gentlemen, and we can all be glad he did.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Bad Boys for Life - Review

Belated sequels may be all the rage the last five years, however, this feels like one of the few instances where the actors need it more than the studio. Sure, Will Smith has had some moderate successes in the years since Bad Boys II, but Martin Lawrence definitely has not. For the two men, far from their days as the titular boyish and brash cops, Bad Boys for Life is a chance to return to something familiar, and quite possibly make the best of the three in the process.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Top Ten of 2019

Despite the numerous reasons that have justified my pushing off this end of 2019 list, it can no longer be ignored. After a few weeks of constant shifts, new additions, and cutting films that I really, thoroughly enjoy, my personal list of the best films of 2019 is as ready as it ever will be.

Honorable Mentions

Those pesky films that couldn’t quite crack the top ten, but it was far too difficult to not mention them in some capacity.

-       Avengers: Endgame: A behemoth of a film that appeals to the nerd in all of us, and though it may not actually be this high on a full list of everything I saw in 2019, the fact that the Russo Brothers and Kevin Feige actually pulled off a satisfying conclusion is truly astounding when placed next to finales from other pop culture staples.

-       The Irishman: While I was never quite as high on this film as others were, there is no denying the craftsmanship and care that went into this three hour epic, and Martin Scorsese, legend that he already is, adds another piece to a storied legacy of cinema.

-       The Farewell: Though it may be a film about a specific experience, its themes are universal, and writer-director Lulu Wang knows this, bringing a delicate touch to this moving and poignant look at the dynamics of family.

-       Midsommar: A twisted, unsettling descent into complete and utter madness all elevated by the tremendous and ambitious touch of writer-director Ari Aster, building on his status as a bright, new horror director.

And now, it’s time for the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the gold stars, and other metaphors. Now it’s time for the top ten films of 2019.

 10. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
         Another year, another underappreciated gem from Marielle Heller. The director is making a name for herself with understated, quiet films, containing more depth than most films could ever dream of. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, though advertised as a story about Fred Rogers, star of the long time public access show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, is not really about the man himself, but a portrait of who we can be if we’re all a little kinder and more understanding. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Tom Hanks as the impeccably polite celebrity either. Still, Heller does the impossible, taking a film featuring Fred Rogers, an idea that could be terribly cheesy and ultimately dull, and creates an earnest look at the toxicity of humanity and how we all need to forgive a little more.

9. Booksmart
         While audiences were attending the big blockbusters and mind numbing drivel of the summer, director Olivia Wilde delivered the funniest comedy of 2019 in Booksmart, and it’s been underappreciated every day since. Not only is it one of the sharpest comedies and most rewatchable movies of the year, it also packs a couple of huge emotional gut punches and some tremendous debut filmmaking from Wilde. The friendship at the center, portrayed excellently by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, carries authenticity like few on screen friendships do, which makes their story all the more effective as their last night of high school proceeds. Booksmart remains one of the best films of the year, not by copying other models of high school nights gone wrong, but by doing something new, something unique, something special.

8. Ad Astra
         If anyone saw The Lost City of Z back in 2017, you probably knew that James Gray wasn’t going to deliver a run of the mill space flick with Ad Astra. While it does feature all the treats and visual splendor that people have grown to love about the vast emptiness of space, Gray manages to fill it with familial drama, an Apocalypse Now-esque journey into the unknown. Aiding the efforts is Brad Pitt, who is better than ever, and reminds us all how truly great he is. Pitt may be getting the Oscar for his chiller performance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but a part of me will always pretend it's partially for this role too.

7. Little Women
         I know what you’re thinking. The fourth adaptation of a book everyone knows in 2019 can’t possibly bring anything new to the table. On its surface level evaluation, sure, that argument isn’t completely unfounded. However, when you actually see Greta Gerwig’s version of Little Women, all doubt is quickly forgotten in the warm embrace of this film. Gerwig flexes her skills as a writer, taking something that could be as tired as everyone expects and completely shifting the structure to strengthen the narrative tissue even more. The film doesn’t lack in charm either, its pitch perfect casting almost ensures that, but Gerwig doesn’t ever rest on the built in love for the characters, instead letting the audience see why people fell in love with them in the first place.

6. 1917
         Much has been made about the technical achievements of 1917 and deservedly so, however, its far more than just an experience of the eyes and ears. The film succeeds because of its emotional throughline , a story of young men, thrown into a situation they’re ill-prepared for, and furthermore, expected to basically do the impossible. Director Sam Mendes utilizes brilliant cinematography from Roger Deakins not just as the jaw-dropping shots that they are, but to elevate the story, and place the audience alongside these men in the trenches of World War I. Combine all that with the best score of the year from Thomas Newman, and 1917 is easily one of the best films of 2019, and quite possibly, one of the best war films of all time.

5. Us
The latest film from Jordan Peele has stuck in the best of 2019 sphere the longest. It has done so by maintaining its thematic excellency through repeat viewings and analysis. On one hand, Us is an exceptional horror film, one that ditches modern jump scares for mood and feeling instead. On the other, Us is a rich commentary on America’s obsession with status, the haves and the have-nots, and the dark history of pushing the voiceless to the side. Peele’s visual language and insane ability to execute set-ups and payoffs are firing on all cylinders, and Lupita Nyong’o gives one of the best performances of the year in the dual role of Adelaide / Red. If by some chance you haven’t caught up to this brilliant film, what could you possibly be waiting for?

4. Knives Out
         We, as a society, truly do not deserve Rian Johnson. Fresh off of producing the best Star Wars film since 1980, Johnson returned to the director’s chair with a sharp knife and an even sharper script.  He also just so happened to bring an all-star ensemble along for the ride, as well as one of the better characters introduced all year in Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc and his southern drawl, for a whodunnit that’s so much fun you might be tempted to watch it again right after it ends. Not a single moment is wasted and every last detail pays off in some fashion. Knives Out, with all its craftsmanship and passion, is a murder mystery that would make Agatha Christie proud.

3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
         The newest entry to this top ten, and one that may just jump up more upon another viewing or two, is the exquisitely crafted Portrait of a Lady on Fire. For some, it’s a film that might not be on your radar at all, it’s wider release got pushed back when France opted to submit an inferior film for its Oscar submission after all. If you are unaware, this is your signal to look forward to writer-director CĂ©line Sciamma’s gorgeous film, whenever you get a chance to see it. From afar, it may seem like just another period piece, but once it starts, when it truly gets moving, you see the small glances, the subtle hints of a connection before the raging flames of a romance just about burn the whole thing to the ground.

2. Marriage Story
         As heartbreaking a film as 2019 may provide, Marriage Story numerous scenes, moments, and even lines of dialogue that cut like a knife. Writer-director Noah Baumbach has written one of the best screenplays of the year, pouring deep seeded issues, growing emotional distance, and an air of helplessness into both halves of the titular crumbling marriage. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are at their best here, building up the tension slowly until it all explodes in this fit of rage, sadness, and ultimately, release. It’s not entirely devastating throughout, Baumbach sprinkles in plenty of good comedic moments, but by the end, through some heaving on heart strings with letter reading and Sondheim lyrics, the emotions of it all are bound to get to you.

1. Parasite
In a year defined by division and disagreement, one thing most everyone can agree on is the status of Parasite as one of the best films of the year. Those that have seen it, at least in my experience, have very few negative things to say about it, and those who haven’t seen it are wrong. You’ll be hard pressed to find a film in 2019 more satisfying, better constructed, or more well realized in its themes and messaging than Parasite. For years now, South Korea has been shut out of Hollywood’s biggest night, not even earning a nomination in Foreign Language Film let alone winning, but this year, Parasite might just win the biggest prize of them all. Director Bong Joon-ho, genius that he is, said it best: “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Truer words have never been spoken.