Downton Abbey (2019) was a joyful experience with old friends and familiar places.
The Downton Abbey series (2010 — 2015) will always hold a special place in my heart and their newest feature film is a safe addition to the British canon. It's a series that gave me much delight when watching it and I've experienced that same delight in their recent picture. Here, we got to see our old friends like Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), Charles Carson (Jim Carter), John Bates (Brendan Coyle), Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Joseph Molesley (Kevin Doyle), Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt), Phyllis Baxter (Raquel Cassidy), Andy Parker (Michael C. Fox), Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), Tom Branson (Allen Leech), Elsie Hughes (Phyllis Logan), Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern), Beryl Patmore (Lesley Nicol), Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera), Isobel, Lady Merton (Penelope Wilton), Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton), and Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode).
The actors all excel in their character roles as we travel with them down pass memories and new beginnings. The film follows the continuing story of the Crawley family, wealthy owners of a large estate in the English countryside in the early 20th century, and their royal visit from the King and Queen of England. Like an extended episode — nothing too drastic happens throughout. There are some small plot-lines of scandal, romance, and family drama all nicely resolved by the ending credits. Because this is Downton Abbey and everyone knows that all great things come out from Downton. It's a safe picture to warm our palate with vivid costumes, enchanting set designs, and a soothing score (bells ringing). Downton fans will rejoice that they finally got to see some of their favorite people up on the big screen. What more could you ask for? Cheers to this lavishing period drama of British authenticity and sweet ingredients.
Henry Talbot: "Leave Downton? We're stuck with it, aren't we?"
Lady Mary: "Yes. Yes, I believe we are."
Directed by Michael Engler
Created by Julian Fellowes (Original Series)
Starring Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, Joanne Froggatt, Raquel Cassidy, Michael C. Fox, Robert James-Collier, Allen Leech, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Lesley Nicol, Maggie Smith, Sophie McShera, Penelope Wilton, Harry Hadden-Paton, Matthew Goode, Imelda Staunton, Geraldine James, Simon Jones, Kate Phillips, and Tuppence Middleton.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is a final sway song for Jesse Pinkman.
By now, we know that creator Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) deeply cares for his characters and after 6 years we finally get some closure for Jesse’s fate. A satisfying conclusion and a heartfelt tribute to actor Aaron Paul’s character arc. Paul gives an emotional and electrifying performance — a career-best. A bold and slow-burning epilogue that’s layered with justification. 6 years ago, in the Breaking Bad finale we found out the fate of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), but the fate of Jesse Pinkman was left ambiguous to the audience. I, myself, had no problem with Jesse driving off into the sunrise, crying and cheering for his escape. Gilligan could have left the character's fate up in the air, but something was holding on and Gilligan wanted to lay Jesse's fate at rest.
This was no cash grab, El Camino excels with spectacular performances and homage to the original series. Gilligan goes all out in crafting Jesse's redeeming story and pays tribute to a character we so deeply love. The sequel follows Jesse, who is now on the run, as a massive police manhunt for him is in operation. Along the way, we meet some old faces like Badger (Matt Jones), Skinny Pete (Charles Baker), Old Joe (Larry Hankin), and Ed (the late Robert Forster). There are also flashbacks scattered throughout the movie, showing interactions with past characters like Mike (Jonathan Banks), Todd (Jesse Plemons), and of course Heisenberg. Gilligan's neo-western crime thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat, as the suspense surrounding Jesse's future builds.
The direction is on point, as well as the performances. Paul pours his blood, sweat, and tears into this final performance. Gilligan effectively holds the viewer's attention throughout the film, as Jesse runs into conflict along the way. Plemons also shines in the film, proving how awful and conflicted Todd really was. El Camino is energetic and a worthy tribute to the Breaking Bad universe. Distributed by Netflix, I had the pleasure of seeing this film in theaters on opening weekend. El Camino drew 6.5 million total viewers during the first three days and since then, Netflix announced that over 25 million households had seen the film. This is an astonishing achievement for the entire Breaking Bad team and shows just how deeply we care for these characters. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie might be a final sway song for Jesse Pinkman, but he will live in our hearts forever.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is rated TV-MA (This program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17).
Directed by Vince Gilligan
Starring Aaron Paul, Jesse Plemons, Charles Baker, Matt Jones, Jonathan Banks, Larry Hankin, Krysten Ritter, Bryan Cranston, Scott Shepherd, Scott MacArthur, and the late Robert Forster.
Lucy in the Sky is one of 2019's biggest filmmaking disasters.
Lucy in the Sky is an unholy mess, to say the least. While actor Natalie Portman (Black Swan, Jackie, Annihilation) gives it her all, sadly; she is suffocated by the film's incoherence. Writer-Director Noah Hawley (known for his critically acclaimed TV shows, Fargo and Legion) tries to hypnotize the audience with flashy camerawork but fails to advance the story productively. The film is "loosely based on the real-life story of disgraced former astronaut, Lisa Nowak, who made headlines when she was arrested in 2007 for the attempted kidnapping of her ex-lover's new girlfriend (the ex was also an astronaut)." Here, Hawley had great ambition and some pretty strong material to work with but instead, we get a muddled storyline caught between the cosmos. The editing was choppy and the tacked-on thriller nonsense loses our focus from our main character's (Portman) point-of-view.
Lucy in the Sky wastes its talented actors (Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, and Dan Stevens) and dwells on flashy filmmaking. Hawley could have chosen to look at how female astronauts survive in NASA's male-dominated field, rather than a stereotypical plot point of how women are unable to handle their 'emotions'. Retired astronaut Marsha Ivins criticized the premise of the plot and denied that there is such a thing as a "longstanding idea that says astronauts begin to lose their grip on reality after being in space for an extended period of time". The breaking point is how long will audiences sit until they are unable to comprehend any more of this film's shenanigans. A misbegotten mess that will leave viewers frustrated with its anticlimactic space conclusion. In the end, Hawley's directorial debut should have never taken flight. Here's to hoping Lucy in the Sky becomes lost in space.
Lucy in the Sky is rated R (Restricted). For language and some sexual content.
Directed by Noah Hawley
Wasted talents of great actors: Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, and Dan Stevens.
A Double Feature Review!
Wow, what a movie. This film emotionally wrecked me. At this point, The Farewell is the best movie I’ve seen in 2019. Powerful, raw, and cunning. Based on an actual lie, The Farewell follows an aspiring Chinese-American writer named Billi (an incredible Awkwafina). Billi’s family soon discovers their grandmother (who lives in China) has only a short while left to live and they decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a 'wedding' to gather before she dies. Director Lulu Wang's (her directorial debut) film felt like a breath of fresh air. I was so overwhelmed with emotions throughout the film. Wang gave the picture such a gentle touch and shaped it in a way that could be relatable to anyone. Yet, it was also a film dealing with both culture-specific circumstances.
I was blown away at how she managed to pull that off. Awkwafina shines throughout the entire picture. I knew she was good, but this was an incredible performance — Oscar-worthy some would say. I noticed how her shoulders were slumped throughout the picture. I thought this added depth to her character. We see a young woman stuck in life not knowing who she is or where she fits into. Plus, her neutral clothing added to that central struggle. Recently, this has been a film I've been recommending to everyone I've have talked too. I am excited to see more future films by Lulu Wang. The Farewell takes its time until an overwhelming feeling of emotion overtakes you. Wang exquisitely crafts the picture, exposing life’s simplest moments. This is her very American movie. At the heart of this film is family. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and in the end, you’ll be left with a bittersweet feeling that will bubble up inside of you. It receives five-stars from me. Bravo.
The Farewell is rated PG (Parental Guidance). For thematic material, brief language and some smoking.
Directed by Lulu Wang
Starring Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Shuzhen Zhou, Lu Hong, and Yongbo Jiang.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a great film and should be seen by everyone. Poetic and beautifully shot, it tells the story of a young black man living in a changing city and feeling left behind. One of the best films of this year. Directed and produced by Joe Talbot (his directorial debut), while the film is based on actor Jimmie Fails' own life. Our story follows Jimmie (playing himself), who dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont (an Oscar-worthy Jonathan Majors), Jimmie searches for truth in a changing city growing before his very eyes. Mont is an aspiring play-writer, constantly making notes in his notebook for his next play. His biggest play will test Jimmie and his friendship and the very nature of the Victorian home. Actor Jimmie Fails is a knockout, giving us a powerful performance of a man wanting to be relevant. There's something incredibly organic about this picture, every shot and scene has a purpose. Adding to the depth and structure of this film is the cinematography — finding beauty in the American struggle. Through the slow-motion shots and the emotionally invested characters, we see a wonderful portrait of male friendship that is deeply felt. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a poetic, bold, and worthy of your time. You'll enjoy every minute of it, I guarantee it.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is rated R (Restricted) For language, brief nudity and drug use.
Directed by Joe Talbot
Starring Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, and Danny Glover.
Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood is director Quentin Tarantino's love letter to cinema. If you know anything about the ‘60s or Old Hollywood, I urge you to go see this movie. It's everything you want in a Tarantino movie and more.
Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood is a throwback to Old Hollywood and it’s also Quentin Tarantino’s (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill: Volume 1 & 2, and Inglorious Bastards) love letter to cinema. An intoxicating fable of a struggling actor in a changing city with a spin on the Manson cult. Funny and violent – with a dash of Westerns sprinkled in the film. Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie are perfection. Once Upon A Time... is one of the best films of the year and it showcases Tarantino’s more provocative impulses. His 9th feature film receives a five-star review from me. For this last month, I've been going back over this movie and I just can't get past the amount of detail Tarantino poured into making this film come alive. Vivid and full of intimacy, Once Upon A Time… lets you live and breathe 1969 Los Angeles. Our story follows a faded 1950s television actor, Rick Dalton (a knockout DiCaprio), and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (a scene-stealing Brad Pitt), strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood's Golden Age.
With the occasional flashback, Tarantino focuses on three important dates in 1969: February 8, February 9, and August 8. Yes, the Westerns are fading in LA and moving in are a new age of filmmakers (Roman Polanski and others) and lots of hippies. Once upon a time, there were safe TV Western’s like Bonanza and Gunsmoke, now that’s all changed and in the past. Actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is running out of time as an important figure for television. His beloved ‘50s Western known as Bounty Law was canceled like dust in the wind. Now, Dalton is a high-functioning alcoholic, who spends most of his days drinking away at old memories and loathing the idea of having to star in Spaghetti Western films. Cliff (Pitt) is Dalton’s right-hand man and even drives Dalton around because he’s had one too many DUI’s. Along Cliff’s side is his faithful dog named Brandy. You’ll find out why Brandy makes a name for herself and earns the title as “Man’s Best Friend”. Within the storylines, Tarantino takes his time shaping and forming Once Upon A Time… – through DiCaprio and Pitt’s conversations, to the most precise detail of the changing culture in dusty LA. Once Upon A Time… lives in our veins.
There’s a ton of ‘50s and ‘60s TV/film references Tarantino sprinkled in throughout. To me, it was like we were going down memory lane of Grand Ole Hollywood. I am glad Tarantino assumed it’s the audience’s job to know the Golden Age history before entering. So, for film geeks, this movie is a blast of nostalgic cotton candy. Also, Tarantino's attention to detail for LA in 1969 was gorgeous and slapped a smile on my face from start to finish. In the rear-view mirror, of this film, we get two additional storylines – actress Sharron Tate (played by a never-better Margot Robbie) and the murderous Mason Family. Mrs. Tate and her husband Roman Polanski are Dalton's next door neighbors. This is an important detail that will come around later within the film. I could feel Robbie bring Sharron Tate's character to life just through her mannerisms and emotion. She did this so seamlessly. There’s a scene in particular, which I loved and even got a little teary-eyed.
Sharron Tate is going around the town on a normal day and she sees a movie playing at the Bruin Theatre – featuring herself in a supporting role. The movie is a Dean Martin action comedy named The Wrecking Crew (1968). Tate decides to go watch the movie and enjoy seeing herself on the big screen. Here, we see Robbie sitting in the theater with her bare feet up on the seat in front of her, observing herself with lots of giggles. But, instead of dubbing footage of Robbie in The Wrecking Crew, Tarantino used the real-archived footage of Sharron Tate. It’s an amazing moment watching Robbie watch the real Tate on the big screen. There’s a sense of happiness in the air and then, you’re overrun with bittersweet emotions. You’ll fall in love with Sharon Tate all over again and you’ll get the sense that she did love acting and that she had real potential. Gone too soon. Robbie was bubbly throughout the picture – giving us one of the best nonverbal parts in recent memory. Her physicality was pure gold.
Yes, there has been controversy surrounding the Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) fight scene. Many have pointed fingers at Tarantino for stereotyping Lee’s character and making him super arrogant. I agree that the arrogant characteristic might be frustrating for Lee fans; however, I believe Tarantino’s version of Lee was, well, more human. He strips away the superhero layer and makes him more vulnerable. During The Green Hornet fight scene between Lee and Cliff – actor Moh nails Lee’s voice and mannerisms to a T. Yet, when Lee began to fight Cliff some of the older audience members in my theater began to laugh at Lee’s noises. This made me incredibly frustrated with those who were laughing at him. In return, I believe Tarantino unconsciously brought out some people’s ignorance towards the Chinese culture. Thus, demonstrating the continual divide between the East and the West.
I have talked with a friend of mine about this particular scene and found out that he had a different experience. He explained that no one in his theater laughed at Lee, but the demographic was much younger. That’s something interesting to think about. I believe the younger generation is more accepting and understanding of one's cultural background. So, I will ask this question to those who have seen the movie: Why Are You Laughing at Bruce Lee? Moving on, Leo and Pitt's chemistry was on point throughout the entire film. I still don't know who acted better, they both stole the show in every single scene. Possible Oscar noms? We will see. Without spoiling it, the film ends on a bittersweet note. It was wild, funny, and it got my adrenaline rushing. Yes, this was a very Tarantino ending, to say the least. After it was all said and done, I was a little heartbroken because I remembered the reality of it. After you see, you’ll know exactly what I'm talking about. In the end, Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood is a phenomenal movie and is probably Tarantino's most mature film to date. This will be a film that we’ll be talking about years down the road. So, it's time to sit back and enjoy the ride. Let the Western sway songs begin. Note: fairy tales are not overrated.
Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood is rated R (Restricted). For language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references.
The 9th Film from Quentin Tarantino.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Mike Moh, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, and Al Pacino.
Yesterday is a cute, breezy movie infused with the music of The Beatles.
If you’re looking for summer escapism, then look towards Yesterday. It’s a charming movie filled with nonstop Beatles music that overlaps a familiar rom-com storyline. Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce support of his childhood best friend, Ellie (Lily James). Then, after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed. So, what does Jack do? Well, he starts by singing The Beatles songs as his originals. This leads Jack to become famous, but in the end, Jack realizes what’s important in his life and that’s Ellie. That’s Yesterday in a nutshell. There’s not much depth too it, but that’s okay.
This is a sweet movie with good Beatles vibes playing throughout the picture. Songs like: Yesterday, Let It Be, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Something, Hey Jude, I Saw Her Standing There, Carry That Weight, Here Comes The Sun, The Long And Winding Road, Help!, She Loves You, A Hard Day’s Night, In My Life, Back In The USSR, All You Need Is Love, and Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da. Written by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually) and directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, and 127 Hours), Yesterday is the feel-good movie of the summer. The film had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last May and has since grossed $128 million worldwide, making it a sleeper hit. If you want an easy rom-com filled with Beatles music, then this is the film for you. Mother-in-law's everywhere will fall in love with Yesterday. Trust me, I guarantee it.
Yesterday is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For suggestive content and language.
Directed by Danny Boyle (His safest film to-date)
Starring Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Joel Fry, and Ed Sheeran as himself
This is a biopic done right. Rocketman is a jukebox musical blending both reality and fantasy before your very eyes. Actor Taron Egerton sings his heart out as the beloved Sir Elton John.
Through highs and lows, the film grapples with addiction, depression, and self-acceptance. Never shying away from John’s flamboyant side, Rocketman is a musical fantasy that reaches for the sky. Note: this film is a thousand times better than last year’s mediocre biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. Rocketman came and sung its heart out at the box office this summer. Sir Elton John’s moving biopic is one of the best films of the year. Taron Egerton earns his acting chops in the role of a lifetime. He sings, he dances, and he hits John’s fashion aesthetic to a T. He could easily be nominated for an Oscar come January. This is what a superior film of an artist’s life looks like. Rocketman doesn’t shine away from John’s struggles, it embraces them.
This is what makes this movie so fitting, the fact that director Dexter Fletcher (Eddie The Eagle) was able to dig deep into John’s addictions and make them full flesh on the screen. Accompanied by Fletcher is screenwriter Lee Hall (Billy Elliot and War Horse), whose tough script gives us a portrayal of a legendary man, pianist, and singer – but who also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. Rocketman also marks the first for a Hollywood production to include a gay male sex scene within the film. John pushed for this film to be real and for the studio not to tone it down. Paramount Pictures abided by John’s demand and gave us a deeply moving picture that is both raw and honest. I’ve never seen a movie so seamlessly blend fantasy and reality all into one musical picture. This is what makes Rocketman so brilliant and ambitious.
Through his phenomenal career Sir Elton John has produced some incredible albums. Including: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973), Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975), Honky Château (1972), Madman Across the Water (1971), Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player (1973), Caribou (1974), and Too Low for Zero (1983). John couldn't of made it where he is today if it wasn't for his loyal friend and song writer Bernie Taupin (a wonderful Jamie Bell). Together, their collaboration has produced some of the very best songs that will live on from generation to generation. Including: Tiny Dancer, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Rocket Man, Bennie and the Jets, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, The Bitch Is Back, I Want Love, Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting), Border Song, Rock and Roll Madonna, Your Song, Amoreena, Crocodile Rock, Take Me To The Pilot, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, Honky Cat, Pinball Wizard, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down, Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, and I’m Still Standing. And I am happy to say; Sir Elton John has been sober for 29 years. He is also happily married to David Furnish and they have two children together. Through it all, Rocketman will be a hard biopic film to beat for a long, long time.
Rocketman is rated R (Restricted). For language throughout, some drug use and sexual content.
Directed by Dexter Fletcher
Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard
The Men in Black franchise is running on fumes.
Sadly, the Men in Black franchise has out welcomed its stay and International is the most forgettable film of the series. The original 1997 MIB had charm and flare, but Men in Black II completely squandered that success. Yet in 2012, Men in Black III returned in style and managed to succeed expectations. Unfortunately, that success didn’t last long because International was a crash and burn for the franchise. Actor’s Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson showcase their strong chemistry as they did in Thor: Ragnarok, but the rest of the movie lets them down. The action was lackluster, the plot was forgettable, and the CGI was bloated beyond repair. Director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) fails to deliver and provides no escape route for this summer blockbuster disaster. Hemsworth and Thompson try to carry the film with the best of their abilities, but it’s too late. MIB has hit rock bottom and I can’t even say that this movie was a lazy cash grab since it bombed at the box office. International has only grossed $250 million worldwide since opening on June 14th. The reboot's domestic total is a measly $78 million, well below its $110 million production budget. In the end, one of those memory-erasing flashes (our actors use) would be nice right about now.
Men in Black International is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material.
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Rebecca Ferguson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rafe Spall, Emma Thompson, and Liam Neeson.
The Toy Story franchise continues to amaze me, from the gorgeous animation to the deep storytelling. Toy Story 4 is a fitting finale we didn’t know we needed.
This franchise has expanded and captured our hearts for the past 25 years – the ending result, a heartwarming and beautifully animated masterpiece. Yes, TS4 is well worth your time and it receives a five-star review from me. Disney / Pixar didn't botch the story or even make the film feel like a quick cash grab. The storytelling deepens in-depth and emotion from the 3rd film (2010). I know it's hard to believe how Pixar managed to explore new territory, but they do and it's a knockout. In this adventure, Woody and the gang go on a road trip extravaganza with Bonnie and her family. Woody (voiced by the beloved Tom Hanks) has always been confident about his place in the world and his main priority as a toy has always been to take care of his kid – whether that's Andy or Bonnie.
So, when Bonnie's beloved new craft-project-turned-toy, Forky (voiced by the hilarious Tony Hale), declares himself as "trash" and not a toy, Woody takes it upon himself to show Forky why he should embrace being a “toy”. Leave it to Pixar to take a plastic spork and completely take a hold of our heartstrings. Forky's character teaches us about identity and self-worth. It’s a character that so many people in today's technology driven-age can associate with. Forky provides a useful shorthand for expressing that feeling and filling those shoes. Forky’s character is raw, cunning, and comes off organically. Each of us has dealt with the stress and anxiety of this fast-evolving world, and Forky shed’s light onto those issues. He’s a character we can lean on – a safety net when we don’t feel like we are good enough. I connected with this character and I was amazed at Forky's overall growth from his first to final line. Hale, known for his comedic presence in the TV satire Veep, immerses himself into the googly-eyed spork.
Furthermore, when Bonnie takes the whole gang on her family's road trip excursion, Woody ends up on an unexpected detour that includes a reunion with his long-lost friend Bo Peep (voiced by the enchanting Annie Potts). After years of being on her own, Bo's adventurous spirit shines brightly through her porcelain exterior. Other old friends enjoy the screen time and that includes Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear, Joan Cusack as Jessie, Wallace Shawn as Rex, John Ratzenberger as Hamm, Blake Clark as Slinky Dog, the late Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head (from archival recordings), Estelle Harris as Mrs. Potato Head, Bonnie Hunt as Dolly, Kristen Schaal as Trixie, Timothy Dalton as Mr. Pricklepants, and Jeff Garlin as Buttercup. Plus, we are introduced to new characters as well. Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele voice Ducky & Bunny and they're a hilarious duo scene after scene. Keanu Reeves voices Duke Caboom and like in Always Be My Maybe, Reeves steals every scene he’s in.
Gabby Gabby (voiced by a fierce Christina Hendricks) portrays our stories antagonist. Yet, Gabby Gabby’s character has a certain depth and meaning other villains don’t have. She’s a broken toy who just wants to be loved by a child. Her character comes full circle to that conclusion by the end of the film. It’s a fitting character arc for Gabby Gabby and her broken voice box. TS4 is darker but a beautifully told animated gem. As our character’s travel down uncharted territory, Pixar tells the audience how to move on. Prepare to grab those tissues because you are going to need them. “Tim Allen said that the film's story was ‘so emotional’ that he ‘couldn't even get through the last scene’’. “Similarly, Tom Hanks said that the film's ending scene was a ‘moment in history’". Like a shot through the heart, TS4’s emotional toll will strike you to your core. As Forky grapples with self-worth, Woody grapples with letting go of the past and looking toward the future. In the end, TS4 is a fitting finale to a near-perfect animated saga. For now, so long partner.
Glynis and I saw this movie at the Getty Drive-In, Muskegon MI.
Toy Story 4 is rated G (All Ages)
Directed by Josh Cooley
Starring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Timothy Dalton, Jeff Garlin, Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Christina Hendricks, and Keanu Reeves.
A Double Feature Review!
Always Be My Maybe
Like a modern take of When Harry Met Sally, Always Be My Maybe is a charming film that will put a smile on your face. Actor’s Ali Wong and Randall Park will cast a spell on you with their irresistible chemistry. Always Be My Maybe drives down familiar rom-com tropes but has enough layers to keep the ball rolling. It’s a lovely movie that blends smart social commentary and inhabits experiences of Asian-American culture. Director Nahnatchka Khan (Producer of Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 and Fresh Off the Boat) wonderfully crafts the story through every laugh and groovy beat. Our film follows childhood sweethearts who have had a falling out and don't speak for 15 years.
They reconnect as adults when Sasha (a never better Wong), now a celebrity chef opening a restaurant in San Francisco, runs into Marcus (a funny Park), a happily struggling musician still living at home working for his dad. From there, the film builds upon Sasha and Marcus’ relationship that keeps them together and never losing site. You will laugh all throughout this charming movie, Wong and Park’s comedic chemistry is killer. And just when you thought you’ve seen it all, wait until you see Keanu Reeves! Reeves plays a fictional egotistical version of himself and it’s hilarious. Reeves steals the show with his whimsy and smolder. He’s a knockout for the brief amount of time he’s on the screen. Always Be My Maybe is an infectious movie you don’t want to miss. It’s streaming on Netflix and I guarantee it will put a smile on your face.
Always Be My Maybe is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Advise). For sexual content, drug use/references, and language.
Directed by Nahnatchka Khan
Starring Ali Wong, Randall Park, Keanu Reeves, Michelle Buteau, Vivian Bang, Karan Soni, Daniel Dae Kim, and James Saito.
Funny and timely, Late Night is a comedic journey with a lot of heart. Written by Mindy Kaling (The Office and The Mindy Project), Late Night is a hilarious film that tackles a variety of issues, including sexism in the workplace. The film hits hard on its social satire, commentary, and is brought to life by a terrific cast (Kaling, Emma Thompson, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott, Max Casella, Denis O'Hare, Ike Barinholtz, and Amy Ryan). Thompson, especially, is a complete knockout. Thompson plays Katherine Newbury, a female late-night host whose ratings have declined. She’s also lost the ability to deliver her punchlines. We all know the long-time lack of a female host on late-night television speaks to the story’s relevance, but Kaling’s woke script goes further by showing how Katherine has spent years in the trenches without helping other working women rise in the ranks. Kaling has experienced this real-life struggle as a working woman of color.
Kaling spent year’s building her own sitcom (The Mindy Project) and knows the system needs to be fixed for people of color. In addition, Katherine’s all-white-male writing staff is in need of a revamp, cue Ms. Kaling. Kaling plays Molly Patel, a chemical-plant efficiency expert from suburban Pennsylvania with no writing experience. Katherine’s hires Molly mainly on the basis that she is an Indian woman and she needs to bring diversity to the workplace. From there, our story deepens, and director Nisha Ganatra follows an anything goes lead for Kaling’s script. Thompson and Kaling’s chemistry is dynamite and will have you laughing until your sides hurt. Thompson fires off one-liners and Kaling spares no prisoner with her crisp script. Thompson and Kaling are female warriors and Late Night puts them right in center screen. In the end, Late Night delivers through charisma, heart, and a dash of comic gold.
Late Night is rated R (Restricted). For language throughout and some sexual references.
Directed by Nisha Ganatra
Starring Mindy Kaling, Emma Thompson, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott, Max Casella, Denis O'Hare, Ike Barinholtz, and Amy Ryan
A Double Feature Review!
One of the most satisfying superhero movies you’ll ever see. Avengers: Endgame is everything you want it to be and more. 11-years in the making, Avengers: Endgame has completed it’s 22-film arc for our original six (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Black Widow, and Haweye). As far as superhero movies go, Endgame is emotionally resonant and is full of heart. This is a summer blockbuster you don’t want to miss. I am amazed at how well this franchise has done over the last decade. Through the highs and lows, we have been with each of these characters every step of the way. Endgame is a goodbye sway song for The Avengers gang. Now, we are entering Post-Avengers territory for the MCU. This could lead to another decade of superhero films waiting to be uncovered. I’ll stick with them through thick and thin. What I enjoyed most about Endgame was the passion and raw emotional power our cast put into their characters.
A cast consisting of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Josh Brolin as Thanos. Writer’s Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely give our characters hope and determination to finish the job. While the Russo Brother’s direct and guide our story to an epic conclusion. In the end, Endgame takes its time with the story expanding to a whopping 3 hours and 2 minutes. Nothing ever felt rushed or sluggish, the pacing was evenly placed throughout the film. Yes, we do get that epic battle, but we have to wait for it until the end. I thoroughly enjoyed this because Marvel scaled back the action / CGI fights and focused on the more important aspects – the characters. This monumental superhero film receives five-stars from me. Endgame was everything I dreamt it would be and more. Job well done.
Avengers: Endgame is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) For sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.
Directed by The Russo Bros.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Josh Brolin as Thanos.
“Getting Straight A's. Giving Zero F's.” I haven’t laughed that hard at a movie in a long time. Booksmart is the funniest movie of the year, it’s also one of the best. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is fast-paced and completely original. Actresses Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are knockouts. I highly recommend seeing this coming-of-age movie. Dare I say, it’s a masterpiece? Booksmart is a rare coming-of-age movie that goes beyond the status quo. Ms. Wilde’s directorial debut is a blast from start to finish. This film is a home run in my books and receives a five-star review from me. “What if the two friends realized that they did high school all wrong? What if they realized that everyone they thought just partied and wasted their high-school years were going to Ivy League schools just like them?” Our story follows two academic superstars and best friends (Amy played by Denver and Molly played by Feldstein) who, on the eve of their high school graduation, suddenly realize that they should have worked less and played more.
All of the other students at their school partied until they couldn’t party anymore. These students also got into elite colleges, proving Amy and Molly were wrong on their ‘good student’ academics. So, determined never to fall short of their peers, the girls set out on a mission to cram four years of fun into one night. Trust me, you’ll laugh until your sides hurt and then you’ll laugh some more. Booksmart is full of rapid-fire gags that are crisp, raw, cruel. It’s raunchy fun from the first frame until the last. Not only is the film funny, but it’s also well-written, well-acted, and well-scored. The soundtrack throughout the film is lively and upbeat, keeping our viewer’s attention in-focus. Amy and Molly road trip throughout Los Angeles, while each song underlines their shifting perspective. Sequence after sequence, we see our character’s emotions forming onto the screen. From hopeful to nervousness, each song adds to that changing perspective. This again is perfectly done by Ms. Wilde’s brilliant vision. Booksmart is a summer Indie film I highly recommend. Trust me, it won’t disappoint.
Booksmart is rated R (Restricted) For strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use and drinking - all involving teens.
Directed by Olivia Wilde
Starring Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo, Diana Silvers, Noah Galvin, Jason Sudeikis, and Lisa Kudrow
My take on three movies I saw in theaters last month.
The MCU’s (Marvel Cinematic Universe) first female-driven movie packs a punch. Captain Marvel is nostalgic, fun, and full of wit. It’s also fiercely led by Brie Larson, who helms the title role. First, let’s scale the story back to the 1990s as we follow Carol Danvers (an unstoppable Larson), one of the universe's most powerful heroes. Earth becomes entangled in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races (Kree and Skrulls). I won’t spoil how Danvers receives her powers, I’ll leave that for the viewers to enjoy. I will say that Danvers is an ex-U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and member of an elite Kree military unit called Starforce. Captain Marvel’s action is solid, while the dialogue is crisp. It was also a lot of fun seeing actor Samuel L. Jackson’s character digitally de-aged on the big screen. Retro and slick, MCU’s 21st feature is a must-see solo adventure. Online trolls were no match to Captain Marvel conquering the Box Office ($1.1 billion worldwide) and the world. Goose is also the coolest movie cat you’ll ever see. Captain Marvel is full of strength, values, and Marvel fireworks. Larson is a beacon of light shining throughout the entire picture.
Captain Marvel is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) For sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language.
Directed by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, and Jude Law
Jordan Peele’s Us is ambitious, nerve-wrenching, and completely original. Peele didn’t miss a beat from his follow up to 2017’s smash hit, Get Out. While actress Lupita Nyong’o’s jaw-dropping performance made the film all the more terrifying. It’s a modern horror classic that’s one for the ages and is a real triumph for 2019. This film receives a five-star review from me. Us is a terrifying second chapter by writer-director, Jordan Peele. Us follows the story of a family’s serene beach vacation that turns into turmoil and chaos when their doppelgängers appear and begin to terrorize them. These doubles are called the Tethered. We soon find out that the Tethered share a soul with their counterparts, and that they have come to "untether" themselves. Peele’s psychological horror film is a feast for your eyes picture. Peele’s film also digs deeper than your usual horror feature. Us examines the effects of classism and marginalization. There’s also references to ‘urban legends’ throughout the film, while we examine the harmful effects of xenophobic paranoia about ‘others’ around us. There’s a lot of unpacking from this movie and it deserves multiple viewings. While actress Lupita Nyong’o is a knockout scene after scene. Her groundbreaking performance demands your attention and will capture your soul. I’ll be rooting for her to pick up an Oscar nomination next year. In the end, Us is a home run and fiercely captures some hidden horrors we as a society don’t want to bring up. Us is deeply rooted in our pop culture, while Peele lays out other hard-hitting material for the audience to unpack… if they dare.
Us is rated R (Restricted) For violence/terror, and language.
Directed by Jordan Peele
Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tom Heidecker, Shahadi Wright-Joseph, and Evan Alex
Tim Burton’s reimagining of the classic Disney tale is a feast for your eyes. Wondrous and at times gloomy, Dumbo is a visual spectacle for the whole family. The reimagining from the 1941 classic leaves an enchanting trance on its viewer's hearts and minds. Dumbo is a magical tale full of tears, heart, and family. While the newest version doesn't hit the epic standards of the original, nevertheless; Burton's latest picture is a magical enchantment. The melancholy lies deeply rooted in this tale about a baby elephant (Jumbo Jr.) with oversized ears who learns to fly at a struggling circus. Burton's film also grapples with animal cruelty and anti-corporation. There's some irony to Burton critiquing big business, given the fact that Disney has just engulfed 20th Century Fox. Overall, Dumbo is an adequate family film; full of dark visuals and sweet circus imagery. In the end, it's a spectacle you don't want your kids to miss. Fly Dumbo, fly.
Dumbo is rated PG (Parental Guidance) For peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language.
Directed by Tim Burrton
Starring Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Michael Keaton, Nico Parker, and Finley Hobbins
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part is colorful, funny and full of heart. It might not be as fresh as its predecessor, but that’s okay. Wildly ambitious and chock-full of nonstop musical numbers. Trust me, they’re so catchy you won’t be able to get them out of your head.
Five years after 2014’s The LEGO Movie became a worldwide grand smash, The Second Part has finally arrived. And the sequel is just as hard to resist as the first one was. This time around, everything is not awesome for Emmet (voiced by a wonderful Chris Pratt) and the gang. LEGO DUPLO, invaders from outer space, are wrecking everything faster than they can rebuild. To restore harmony back to Bricksburg and to the LEGO universe, Emmet (Pratt), Lucy (voiced by a fantastic Elizabeth Banks), Batman (voiced by a funny Will Arnett), and the rest of their friends have to travel far away. Here, they explore new worlds, including a strange galaxy where everything is a musical (cue "Catchy Song" by Dillon Francis feat. T-Pain and That Girl Lay Lay).
This mission will test their courage, their creativity and, in the end, reveal just how special they really are. The Second Part isn’t directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The LEGO Movie and 21 Jump Street) this time around, instead, they offer their screenplay pizzazz. The sequel is filled with just as much zany fun, nonstop gags, and pop culture references as its predecessor. The film is also directed by Mike Mitchell (2016’s Trolls). Mitchell keeps the spirit going and focuses on family, acceptance, and the ability to help others in a time of need. It’s a sweet message that every family will enjoy. Actors Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Will Ferrell, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill all reprised their respected voice rolls. While actors Tiffany Haddish and Stephanie Beatriz voiced new characters: Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi and General Mayhem.
Sadly, The Second Part opened below expectations for its opening weekend. The film went on to debut to $34.1 million, marking a 50% decline from the first. I believe this was due to a sense of franchise fatigue from the release of two spin-offs prior (The LEGO Batman Movie and The LEGO Ninjago Movie) to The Lego Movie 2. Warner Bros. bares that blame for their over exhausting the uniqueness of the first film. Nevertheless, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part is a joy to watch and will slap a smile on your face. With all this craziness happening in our country right now, The LEGO Movie 2 was a film I desperately needed to see. It got my spirits back up through humor, lovable characters, and dazzling animation. Just wait until you hear the film’s credits song “Super Cool” by Beck, Robyn, and The Lonely Island. It will have you dancing all the way home.
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part is rated PG (Parental Guidance). For mild action and rude humor.
Vice is a deeply polarizing political biopic that will get under your skin. Tremendously acted and wildly told, Vice is a story you don’t want to miss.
Vice hits all of the right jolts in the duration of 132 minutes. Sadly, the film manages to miss a few targets. Writer-director Adam McKay (The Big Short) finally unveiled his ambitious story, interweaving former Vice-President Dick Cheney's (a top-notch Christian Bale) private and political life onto the big screen. Cheney was known for becoming one of the most powerful men in Washington and McKay tried to make light on how he changed the political game for our country and the world. McKay's stark craft will have you laughing in one scene and in disbelief by the next. The narrative, unfortunately, is a bit scattershot on telling Cheney's life in front and behind the curtain. For me, this kind of structure worked well for The Big Short, but for Vice, it comes off a bit topsy-turvy. Nevertheless, what kept Vice afloat was a bravura of actor performances (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, and Tyler Perry) that filled the screen.
Bale virtually transforms into Cheney, he gained a whopping 45 pounds for the role. Bale also shaved his head, bleached his eyebrows, and even did exercises to thicken his neck to appear more like Cheney. Adams is dynamite with her performance as Lynne Cheney. Fiercely constructed, you wouldn't want to cross Adams in this leading role. Then, there's Rockwell who's an absolute spitfire as former President George W. Bush. Incredibly funny and wildly entertaining, Rockwell is a blast to watch on the screen as 43. Bale, Adams, and Rockwell all received Oscar nominations. Sadly, none of them were recognized for their tour de force performances. Bale did receive a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. During the ceremony, Bale even thanked Satan for inspiration. Ouch. My recommendation is to watch this movie for the grand performances alone. Overall, Vice is a political mind game that will both enrage Liberals and Conservatives for very different reasons. It leaves room for people to further debate after the credits roll off the screen. In the end, Cheney has the final laugh.
Vice is rated R (Restricted). For language and some violent images.
Bohemian Rhapsody is 2018’s biggest clickbait movie full of biopic mediocrity.
The movie's music, of course, pays homage to the band Queen and the legendary singer, Freddie Mercury; but the rest of the film reeks of uneven simplicity and half-baked Wikipedia sources. From the start of its production hell to the firing of director Bryan Singer, to somehow winning over the hearts of many Academy members for musical nostalgia; Bohemian Rhapsody obnoxiously stuck around this award season. This subpar musical biopic has been widely admired by audiences alike, but don’t let that fool you. The film's subject matter on Mercury's sexuality was constructed at a surface level narrative and lacked depth. Sadly, this was one of many problems with the film's on-screen character portrayal. Bohemian Rhapsody also went on to win the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama and four Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Rami Malek). I am dumbfounded on how this hamstrung musical beat out other far superior dramas like If Beale Street Could Talk, BlacKkKlansman, A Star Is Born, and Black Panther. Nevertheless, The Academy ran with its foolish popularity and even nominated it for Best Picture. A huge slap in the face to other worthier films (Eighth Grade and If Beale Street Could Talk) that were ultimately snubbed.
At the end of Sunday night, Bohemian Rhapsody somehow took home the most Academy Awards (4) – Best Actor, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. While the film's editing looked like it was chopped together by a YouTube blogger. Don’t believe me? Watch this video breaking down a god-awful scene. In this scene alone, I counted 60 cuts in 104 seconds. That's 1.8 seconds per shot length. Maybe, Bohemian Rhapsody won Best Editing because they virtually edited out Bryan Singer of their awards narrative and campaign. I will say this, Rami Malek did an exceptional job transforming into the role of Mercury; which is why The Academy awarded him with top honors. Malek was able to wire down Mercury's mannerisms to a T. Malek's engaging performance is the only reason I am giving this ghastly film 1.5 stars out of 5. Furthermore, he put blood, sweat, and tears into the role of a lifetime. Not to mention, Malek had to deal with Singer throwing pieces of electrical equipment at his head. Good gracious. In the end, the film's overall impact left me unsatisfied. This further proves that awarding a movie based on sheer popularity is a horrible idea. Yet, this year's Oscars had a 12% boost in ratings. Are you happy Academy? Bohemian Rhapsody is a movie that I hope fades away into the deep abyss.
Bohemian Rhapsody is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language.
2018 is one of the best year's I've seen for filmmaking. There were bold and authentic stories displayed on the screen; while many women director's rose to the occasion on delivering a tour de force in filmmaking. We had film's that captivated us, shined new light on other cultures, opened our hearts, and may have even left us in tears by the end. There's a reason why we continue to go back to the movies, and 2018 is one of them.
All three of these films receive a five-star review from me.
If Beale Street Could Talk
A beautiful film full of love and sacrifice. If Beale Street Could Talk is another masterstroke perfectly executed by writer-director Barry Jenkins (2017’s Best Picture winner, Moonlight). Uplifted by engrossing performances from actor’s Kiki Layne and Stephan James. While actress Regina King’s performance will bring you to tears. I’ll be rooting for her to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Visually stunning and wonderfully crafted, our narrative follows a couple (Tish and Alonzo) in the early 1970s. Their dreams are shattered when Alonzo is arrested for a crime he did not commit. Beale Street is presented in a non-linear structure, while the score is meticulously blended underneath. Composer Nicholas Britell (12 years a Slave, Moonlight, and Vice) fills the atmosphere with cellos, brass, and horns. "The cellos really became for us this symbol of love, because the movie is about love and injustice." It’s one of the best films from 2018. Beale Street should also win the Oscar this month for Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s a shame The Academy didn’t give this film recognition for Best Picture. Jenkins’ masterwork deserved to be a nominee. If Beale Street Could Talk is a great American novel (written by author James Baldwin) that’s now been turned into a great American film.
If Beale Street Could Talk is rated R (Restricted). For language and some sexual content.
Cold War (Zimna wojna)
Cold War (Zimna wojna) is a beautiful movie full of love, heartbreak, and politics. Writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski’s (2014’s Ida) masterstroke of gorgeous artistry and jaw-dropping landscapes are breathtaking. Flawlessly crafted and wonderfully acted, Cold War follows the love story of one couple’s on-and-off again relationship throughout the 1950s. This dense 88-minute picture draws you in fast and will leave you speechless by the end. Nominated for three Oscars, Cold War is one of the finest films I’ve seen to display the harsh realities of a grim life incorporated in the ‘50s Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia, and Paris. Yet, we are also enriched by the sophisticated theatrical show biz of that era. Blended with a jazzy background, Cold War showcases the haze people lived in after the war. Pawlikowski based the story on his real-life parents, who did break up and get together a couple of times as well as moved from one country to another. One could get lost in Pawlikowski’s gorgeous, yet bleak visuals. It's a master craft only by a true artist with a keen eye for beauty. It’s one of my favorite films from 2018 and one of the very best to come out. Dare I say, a bonafide masterpiece.
Cold War is rated R (Restricted). For some sexual content, nudity and language.
Burning (Beoning) is one of the most haunting and most complex movies I’ve seen in recent memory. I highly recommend experiencing this slow-burning masterpiece. This is a film that sticks with you, long after the credits fade away. I can't get it out of my head. Our film follows the complex love triangle between a girl (Jong-seo Jun), a boy (Ah-in Yoo) and a serial killer (Steven Yeun). Burning is a murder mystery infused into the human condition. This haunting spectacle is perfectly executed by writer-director Chang-dong Lee (2011’s Poetry). Burning is an art-house thriller that takes its time to sneak up behind you. Chang-dong Lee is an international master, who slowly builds his narrative puzzle. The end result will leave you breathless, bar none. Burning is one of the best films from 2018. It’s a shame The Academy snubbed this gem from an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. Do yourself a favor and go watch this gripping nightmare on the big screen. In the end, you won’t know what hit you.
Burning is rated NR (Not Rated).
Green Book is the crowd-pleaser of 2018. A safe film dealing with race relations, bigotry, and acceptance towards other human beings.
Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, Green Book is a heartfelt picture that may move some to tears. Actor’s Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen are outstanding in their title roles, while their chemistry rides smoothly together. As we drift farther South with our characters the film’s subject matter stays light, never too heavy, and keeps you focused. It’s a movie that demonstrates what real social change can do and a message that’s still relevant for our country today. Yesterday, Mortensen and Ali received Oscar nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Mortensen) and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Ali). Both actors are exceptional here and help uplift the film overall. Our film follows the true story of Tony Lip (Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, who is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Ali), a world-class African-American pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South in the 1960s.
During their tour through the Deep South, Tony must rely on "The Green Book" to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Along the way, Tony and Dr. Shirley are confronted with racism and danger. This becomes an eye-opener for Tony, while this is a normal everyday occurrence for Dr. Shirley. Through their journey together, they find each other’s humanity and are uplifted by humor, establishing a lifelong bond. Writer-director Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary) wonderfully crafts this picture, yet he decided to keep the overall subject matter relatively safe. Most people will rejoice at this, but I wished that Green Book could have dug deeper into its tough source of material.
But that’s not stopping people from seeing it. Green Book had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, where it won the People's Choice Award. It won the National Board of Review (NBR) award of best film of 2018 and was also chosen as one of the Top 10 by the American Film Institute (AFI). The film also received numerous award nominations, including winning the Producers Guild of America Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture (PGA) and Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. While audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare average grade of "A+" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it an 85% positive score and an 80% "definite recommend".
There's a scene in the film, that really struck me, where Dr. Shirley exclaims to Tony in the pouring rain: “So if I'm not *black* enough and if I'm not *white* enough, then tell me, Tony, what am I?” This emotional scene stood out from the rest and showed Dr. Shirley’s conflicting struggle with being himself. Raw and compelling, Ali delivers some powerhouse moments throughout this film. Overall, Green Book is a good, clean movie and is worth a viewing. As we ride with Tony and Dr. Shirley, the audience discovers their own vitality of being your most authentic. Green Book dwells with real social change and this is expressed through everyday kindness, at a time when our country and the world in general need it more than ever.
Green Book is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material.
The Favourite is a rich period piece full of captivating leads (Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone), timely subtext, and dark humor. A twisted satire that will be admired more overtime for cinema. It receives a five-star review from me.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ (The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer) rich period piece is a film that will surely get under your skin. With its cunning dialogue and wicked humor, The Favourite is an eccentric picture of madness. Lanthimos’ masterwork is full of wit, profanity, and sexual desires. In addition, the film is chop full of elegant costumes and breathtaking production designs. Along with fish-eyed camera viewpoints, The Favourite messes with your head. Oscar will most likely bow to this Queen. It’s the early 18th century and England is at war with France. A maddening Queen Anne (the wonderful Olivia Colman) sits at the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah (a cunning Rachel Weisz), helps govern the country in her stead. Colman was born to play this role, as she brings out the Queen’s inner humanity – sweet and ugly.
Queen Anne is ill at health but still has a vicious temper. While Lady Sarah’s comfort to power is about to be shaken. When a new servant Abigail (the never better Emma Stone) arrives, her noble charm takes an acquaintance to the Queen's liking. Lady Sarah and Abigail begin their own war and pursuit to see who can stay on top as the Queen’s right-hand woman. They’ll do anything for power, like sleeping with the Queen or feeding her sweets in bed or even taking care of her pet rabbits. Along with this interweaving plot, comes a British statesman played by a brilliant Nicholas Hoult. Robert Harley (Hoult) is also power hungry and is trying to make his way up the Parliament ladder. Harley and Abigail make an alliance to take control and to push out Lady Sarah from the Queen’s inner circle. This film is an artistic triumph for Lanthimos, backed by mesmerizing performances from Colman, Weisz, and Stone. Their dynamic trio will leave you jaw-dropped by the end.
The film received multiple awards and nominations, it won two awards in the Venice International Film Festival the Grand Jury Prize and the Volpi Cup for Best Actress (Colman), 10 British Independent Film Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress (Colman), Best Supporting Actress (Weisz), Best Director, and Best Screenplay. It was nominated for five Golden Globe Awards including Best Picture and was ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of 2018. Fingers crossed it receives a handful of Oscar nominations tomorrow. This strange tale of love, corruption, and desire showcases the ugliness of partisan politics. A drama of gnashing teeth and political insanity is an instant classic and will be more cinematically appreciated over time. The Favourite will leave you laughing in one scene and uncomfortable in the next. It stands tall like a ravishing game of chess. The sadism experienced by these Royals will stick with you from the first frame until the last. “Some wounds do not close; I have many such.” Blimey, I command you to see it.
The Favourite is rated R (Restricted). For strong sexual content, nudity and language.
An action-heist film infused with political undertones and social commentary. Director Steve Rodney McQueen’s Widows is a stellar popcorn movie with a message.
2018’s Widows is smart, sophisticated, and fiercely led by an empowering Viola Davis. Topped with stunning camerawork, an engaging storyline, and a dash of originality; Widows is one of the best films from 2018. Director Steve McQueen continues to show off his impressive film resume (Hunger, Shame, and 12 Years a Slave). Leave it to McQueen to infuse a popcorn thriller with social and political commentary. McQueen continues to showcase his directing chops, proving that he can master any genre. Widows is a smart heist film with a message, as our movie layers in a juicy narrative stuffed with character analysis. This crime drama delivers the goods and packs a punch one scene after another. Topped with an all-star cast, consisting of Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, and Liam Neeson; Widows is one of the best films to hit the theaters in 2018.
Widows is co-written by bestselling author Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl and Sharp Objects), as she explores the storyline involving four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Set in contemporary Chicago, these leading ladies decide to take fate into their own hands, conspiring to forge a better future for themselves. Davis’ strong and venomous acting will knock the wind out of you. While Kaluuya is a complete knockout as the sly Chicago henchman. On top of that, Rodriguez, Debicki, and Erivo are killer in their top-notched supporting roles. There are tons of twists and turns along the way, so I won’t spoil them for you. The film juggles multiple narratives that grapple with each character’s right or wrong decision. Everything from the minor details hidden within the film is carefully constructed. There’s a scene where McQueen deals with police brutality and spread along the back frame are Barack Obama “Hope” posters.
As our scene unfolds with a young African-American man being pulled over on the side of the road, I couldn’t help but notice Obama’s solemn face looking from a distance onto the young man as he is being shot by the two police officers. There’s also another fascinating scene where we see Colin Farrell’s character get into a car and drive off. The camera stays outside the vehicle, letting us observe the neighborhood they are driving through. At the start, the neighborhood is poor and decaying, yet when Farrell’s character reaches his destination a couple of blocks away, the neighborhood is a complete 180°. Farrell’s house is rich, blissful, and privileged. Here, McQueen is representing the different levels of social classes and the hardships and injustices that come attached with them for the minority communities. This is where Widows stands tall compared to other action-heist films. McQueen’s powerhouse film-masquerade is bold storytelling, full of cinematic escapism and originality. Like a sledgehammer, Widows dips into themes of class, religion, gender, race, and injustice. With Widows, you’re in for a wild ride. Buckle up.
Widows is rated R (Restricted). For violence, language throughout, and some sexual content/nudity.
With the 91st Academy Awards right around the corner, let's take a look back at my favorite movies from the year 2012. This was a year of film's centering around intimacy, self-sacrifice, and change for the greater good. – Arnold At The Movies.
Private Life takes a microscope approach in studying one couple’s personal struggles with infertility. This affecting story descends deeper into the lives of Richard (Academy Award-nominee Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn), as we personally connect with their pain and love binding this film together. It's one of the best from 2018.
Private Life is a portrait of reality and the burdens that come with it. Writer-director Tamara Jenkins (Juliet, Naked and The Savages) guides the audience through a rough journey, resulting in a rewardingly raw look at a husband and wife desperate for a family. Giamatti and Hahn wonderfully connect together during this heart-rending experience. With sharp writing executed by Jenkins, Private Life is a profound motion picture that goes beyond the central realms of past dramedies and produces something much more raw and real. Distributed by Netflix, our film follows Richard (a strong Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (a knockout Kathryn Hahn), a middle-aged couple in the throes of infertility as it takes a toll on their marriage.
Both high in literature, Rachel is a playwriter and Richard is a theatre director. They try artificial insemination (AI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF), all which fail. At the same time, they are also attempting to adopt a child after having previously being matched with a pregnant teenager from Arkansas who was in the process of giving up her child, then stopped contacting them. Jenkins unravels an honest and painfully personal portrayal for the viewers. This is Jenkins' first film back in the director’s chair since The Savages (2007). It’s been eleven years, yet her patience in storytelling and keen filmmaking craft never ceases to still amaze me. Jenkins knows how to develop a narrative that can both have you laughing and crying all at once.
Giamatti and Hahn are a revelation on screen together as their chemistry rewardingly morphs together. After the IVF fails, Richard and Rachel decide to go a different route, by asking Richard’s step-niece, Sadie (a wonderful Kayli Carter), to become an egg donor for them. Sadie is a 25-year-old, who has recently decided to drop out of college. She agrees to donate one of her eggs and comes to stay with them in their flat on East 6th Street and Avenue A, in Lower Manhattan, NY. Private Life is a bumpy ride, but Jenkins exquisitely guides us through that trek. At the end of this painful battle, we find empathy and love with Richard and Rachel. Private Life is a bona fide movie that’s not afraid, to tell the truth, warts and all.
Private Life is rated R (Restricted). For strong sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language.
Holmes & Watson involuntarily put its name into the hat as possibly the worst movie of 2018. Yes, it’s that bad.
Holmes & Watson is so painfully unfunny that I am not sure it can even register as a comedy. This star-studded mess consisting of Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Rebecca Hall, Kelly Macdonald, Ralph Fiennes, Hugh Laurie, and Steve Coogan is incoherent and dreadful from the beginning until the end. A sad parody that violates Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous work and most prized possession, Sherlock Holmes. Director Etan Cohen’s (Get Hard) mockery hinted in the trailers that it might potentially be humorous. Yet, the movie comes out almost laugh-free, filled with tasteless gags and over-the-top antics. It’s a new low for Ferrell and Reilly, who in the past have both achieved great comedic chemistry on screen together. These heights were in films like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Step Brothers.
While Reilly was also having an acclaimed year being in top film’s like The Sister Brothers, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Stan & Ollie. Yet, this pile of heap seems to cast a shadow over those big achievements of his. Holmes & Watson is the lowest form of comedy if it could even be called a comedy. 2018 was a grand accomplishment for superb films hitting new heights for the industry. While this sad display of cinema gets squashed by the Hollywood Elites like a fly on the wall. With the exception of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it's been a rough year for Sony Pictures. Distributing movies like Peter Rabbit, Venom, and now this. They'd be better off getting hacked again. Holmes & Watson earns zero stars from me and has my vote for one of the worst movies produced in 2018. For the record, that’s a high honor for this godforsaken tragedy. God save the queen, but not this film.
Holmes & Watson is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For crude sexual material, some violence, language and drug references.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is another ambitious feature perfectly executed by the Coen brothers. This six-part Western anthology film explores the American frontier blended through dark drama and black humor.
The Coen brothers (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit) are at it again, delivering another satisfying picture. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is one of their most ambitious films to date. This Western anthology film dices up six personal stories into the 133-minute running time. Here, we are introduced to a variety of characters and places in the Wild West. The titles of these six stories are as followed: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Near Algodones, Meal Ticket, All Gold Canyon, The Gal Who Got Rattled, and The Mortal Remains. My personal favorite was the All Gold Canyon storyline. The actors who make-up these six stories are Time Blake Nelson, David Krumholtz, Clancy Brown, James Franco, Stephen Root, Jesse Luken, Liam Neeson, Harry Melling, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck, Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson, and Saul Rubinek.
Distributed by Netflix, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs made its way into every household showcasing Friday night vignettes. The film premiered at the 75th Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Golden Osella Award for Best Screenplay. The National Board of Review (NBR) also named it one of the top ten best films of 2018. The stellar writing will captivate you, while displaying lushes’ landscapes filled with mad people. This character-rich picture unveils the talented craft formed by the Coen brothers. As we watch each story unfold, we are also struck by the visual treasure of the, sometimes, muted and dusty landscape of the West. Strikingly photographed, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is one of the most unique movies of 2018. A crazy concept smoothly weaved together by the Coen brothers. Funny, dark, and ghastly rewarding, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs prints its mark in cinema for years to follow.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is rated R (Restricted). For some strong violence.
Roma is an absolute masterpiece and is the best film of 2018, bar none. Cuarón’s masterful work of art receives a five-star review from me.
From the moment I saw the first frame, a shot looking down at floor tiles with water rushing past them as an airplane shines through from above, I knew that this was going to be a special picture. I believe Roma is the movie of the year. This black-and-white gem beautifully tells the story of a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s. Director Alfonso Cuarón’s (Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, and Gravity) passion project is vibrant and visually shines. It’s a powerful portrayal of love, hope, and family. A movie our country needs to see and embrace right now. While it’s distributed by Netflix, I highly recommend experiencing this tour de force on the big screen. A must-see movie, that’s also a humane love letter. Very rarely do I come across a film with this much realism and inner beauty. On screen, Roma is a film that blossoms right before your very eyes. I had the pleasure of seeing this gem at the St. Louis International Film Festival last month, and I am looking forward to seeing it again in theaters.
Our film centers around Cleo (a powerful Yalitza Aparicio), a young domestic worker for a family in the middle-class neighborhood of Roma in Mexico City. The film is inspired by the women who raised this gifted director, Cuarón’s vivid autobiography is a love letter and an emotional portrait of what it means to be family. Roma is a gorgeous look at life on a grand cinematic scale. Aparicio gives Cleo a sense of comfort and wonder as she deals with her own personal struggles on screen. It’s an intoxicating docudrama that will fully engulf its viewers right unto center stage. We zero in on the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, where Cleo is a maid in the household of Sofia (a strong Marina de Tavira), whose household consists of her husband Antonio, their four young children (Toño, Paco, Sofi, and Pepe), Sofia's mother, Teresa, and another maid, Adela (an empathetic Nancy García). Cleo’s life revolves around cleaning, cooking, taking the kids to and from school, serving them meals, putting the kids to bed and waking them up.
In between these scenes, we witness a marriage on the brink of collapse through Sofia and Antonio. Shortly after, Antonio, a doctor, leaves for a conference in Quebec. Sadly, this is the last time his children will ever see him again, as he runs off with his mistress. Later, we see Cleo and Adele going to the movies with their boyfriends, Fermín and Ramón. Cuarón fills each of these scenes with authenticity and rich rewards. This film could go down as his magnum opus, filled with poetic and cinematic bliss. Halfway through the movie, Cleo realizes that she is pregnant and Fermín wants nothing to do with her and their child. His toxic masculinity rages on and unveils his arrogance. While Fermín decides to leave, Cleo is left continuing to take care of Sofia’s family and also preparing for her baby. We begin to closely follow Cleo and her journey for an entire year. Whether it’s traveling with the family to hacienda for New Year's or to the beaches at Tuxpan, we are with Cleo every step of the way.
What is so captivating about Roma is Cuarón’s ability to break through barriers of language, culture, and class. His masterclass soars to refreshing new heights for cinema and the world in general. This is a film that our country needs to embrace right now, as we witness this philosophical humanist love letter blossom frame-by-frame. Everything from the writing, directing, acting, camerawork, and cinematography is executed perfectly. I have already watched it once more since it was released on Netflix last Friday (the 14th), and will continue to watch it on a weekly bases throughout this awards season. The pleasure of this film is that it felt like a brand-new experience watching it the second time around. Spellbound, Roma will be hard to top for 2018 and has my vote to receive the highest honor of Best Picture at the Academy Awards next year.
Roma had its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film, where it won the Golden Lion. Roma was also chosen by Time magazine and the New York Film Critics Circle as the best film of 2018, and by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten best films of 2018. It has received numerous awards thus far, including three Golden Globe nominations. Cuarón said: "There are periods in history that scar societies and moments in life that transform us as individuals. Time and space constrain us, but they also define who we are, creating inexplicable bonds with others that flow with us at the same time and through the same places. Roma is an attempt to capture the memory of events that I experienced almost fifty years ago. It is an exploration of Mexico's social hierarchy, where class and ethnicity have been perversely interwoven to this date and, above all, it's an intimate portrait of the women who raised me in a recognition of love as a mystery that transcends space, memory and time."
Aparicio shared her thoughts on the similarities between herself and Cleo. “My life was similar. We were both poor, and we both wanted to go to Mexico City to improve our family’s lives.” Her own mother worked as a nanny, just as Cleo does in the film. “She is still a domestic worker. When I was younger, I used to help her so she could finish earlier.” Aparicio's mother provided the inspiration for Cleo. “I wanted to be like my mum; as strong as her. She was my role model. The film is like a tribute to women in general – these invisible women are always there in the home, taking care of the children.” Roma is my favorite film of the year and is the best film of 2018, hands down. This beautiful black-and-white portrait of human life will strike you with heartbreak and awe. Roma is a turning point in cinematic history and will continue to shape the way we look and observe film. This is the reason why we go to the movies, to be mesmerized by enriching stories that will bring us closer together as human beings.
Roma is rated R (Restricted). For graphic nudity, some disturbing images, and language.