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 clip. In this scene alone, I counted 53 cuts in 82 seconds. 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. The only reason I would tell you to watch this movie is because of Malek's knockout and engaging performance. 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 strong, yet 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 movie and it is worth your time. 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.
Chaotic, visually stunning, and a worthy tribute to a legendary director. Orson Welles’ long-lost film is a must-see for any cineastes out there.
Behold, almost 50 years in the making, The Other Side of the Wind finally can be seen in its entirety. It’s a film that left me gobsmacked by the end, wishing there could have been more to offer. Sadly, this is the closest we will ever get to the vision of Legendary director Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, and F for Fake). This was an on-and-off again development that sadly did not see completion during Welles’ final breath. Shooting began in 1970 and went through until 1976. Welles continued to work on the project during the 1980s but fell into legal, financial, and political complications. Ultimately, The Other Side of the Wind was stopped, sitting in limbo, and haunting Hollywood ever since. The film starred John Huston, Bob Random, Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, and Oja Kodar.
Huston’s character resembled Welles himself, as a man coming back from isolation and returning to America after two decades to make one last movie. The narrative is utilized as a film-within-a-film and is mashed up with mockumentary pizzazz. Splicing between color and black-and-white footage and a rapid cutting approach, you’re in for a wild ride. This long-lost chapter into Welles’ canon is something cinephiles can drool over. This Hollywood satire focuses on the last days of a legendary film director named Jake Hannaford (played by John Huston), who is struggling to make a comeback in filmmaking. Notably, Hannaford is hard at work on his final masterpiece, The Other Side of The Wind. It paralleled with Welles’ own personal life, while we (the audience) are struck with awe. Messy throughout, we see an artist working overtime to complete his crowning portrait. Blended with graphic nudity and rapid-fire dialog, The Other Side of the Wind’s thorny beauty is a feast for your eyes.
The world premiered was unveiled at the 75th Venice International Film Festival on August 31, 2018, and was released on November 2, 2018, by Netflix. If anything, this masterwork proves that Welles was ahead of his time, as great artist usually are. Editor Bob Murawski (The Hurt Locker) used Welles’ own personal notes to chop and piece together the closing product. While composer Michel Legrand (The Thomas Crown Affair) layered in his upbeat and jazzy score. Legrand stated: "I asked myself constantly, ‘How would Orson have reacted?’ The very subject of the film touched me: the idea of the passage of time, the renewal of inspiration. I am proud to be the link between these two Welles films. I take it as a gift from Orson, through the clouds." The Other Side of the Wind is a piece of history finally laid to rest and can now age gracefully. Somewhere in the universe Welles is looking down from above, smiling at his ultimate masterstroke.
The Other Side of the Wind is rated R (Restricted). For sexual content, graphic nudity and some language.
Beautiful Boy is an authentic and raw film, full of blood, sweat, and tears on the struggles with addiction. Actors Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell give Oscar-worthy performances.
“Anyone who has lived through it, or those who are now living through it, knows that caring about an addict is as complex and fraught and debilitating as addiction itself.” – David Sheff
In St. Louis, very rarely do you get to see a movie and then have a live Q&A with the real-life actors afterward. Well on October 28th, 2018, my wife (Glynis) and I got to meet actor and Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) and author Nic Sheff, who’s memoir (Tweak) is based for the making of Beautiful Boy. What a time we had listening to their work on making this heartbreaking and inspiring movie. Beautiful Boy is an emotionally true story about Nic Sheff’s real-life struggle with drug addiction over the course of many years. Based on the best-selling pair of memoirs from father and son David and Nic Sheff, this film chronicles the gut-wrenching story of survival, relapse, and recovery. It’s a powerful portrayal.
Oscar nominees Carell and Chalamet respectfully portray David and Nic Sheff, the father and son duo. Their chemistry together on screen is vivid and, at times, will send shivers down your spine. The movie's narrative takes a bit to get going, as we bounce around different shots and flashbacks of Nic’s addiction. Yet, director Felix Van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown) is still able to amplify the ugliness of addiction and the toll it takes on a family. The family dynamics are front and center, as we see the drugs consuming Nic’s life and his family adapting to find new ways of help. You’re with Nic every step of the way. Likewise, you’re with David along the way too, watching a father grapple with how to help and comfort his son he so deeply loves.
Carell and Chalamet give Oscar-worthy performances, as we watch each actor give an honest portrayal. Like a punch to the gut, Carell and Chalamet will leave you shaken by the end. Beautifully shot, profoundly truthful, and deeply compelling, Beautiful Boy is a much watch movie for 2018. Yet, the confusing non-linear narrative keeps the film, as a whole, from fully soaring to masterful heights. Nevertheless, these are minor flaws to a worthy film that depicts the grueling experience of walking next to someone unconditionally. The closing titles reveal that Nic has been eight years sober, "and it would not have been possible without the love and support from his family and friends." At the end of the Q&A, my wife was able to shake his hand and tell him how “inspiring and strong he is.” Beautiful Boy resonates on this imperfect, yet beautiful world we live in.
Beautiful Boy is rated R (Restricted). For drug content throughout, language, and brief sexual material.
My experience of Beautiful Boy at the Hi-Pointe Theatre.
A disappointing reboot to the American-produced Millennium film series.
Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s Millennium book series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest) is a dark, provocative, and fully engaging world that has seduced readers alike. Larsson was planning on making a 10-book series but sadly died in late 2004 due to a heart attack, at the age of 50. This sacred trilogy was quickly turned into a Swedish-language film trilogy after Larsson’s death. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish: Män som hatar kvinnor, literally "Men who hate women") was released in February of 2009, followed by Fire (September of 2009) and Hornets’ Nest (November of 2009). The trilogy starred Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace as Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander.
A thrilling drama that focuses on tough social issues, including murder, sex, and morality. As a cinephile, the Swedish-language Millennium film series will always hold a special place in my heart. Of course, Hollywood decided to produce their own version of the classic trilogy. Director David Fincher (Fight Club and Gone Girl) helmed the picture along with actor's Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara as the respected title roles. While this entry was a solid film and faithful to the source of material, Fincher’s version failed to gain the attention at the box office. This failure left the fate of any sequels in limbo, until now. Swedish author and crime journalist David Lagercrantz decided to continue Larsson’s work and characters in writing. In 2015, Lagercrantz published The Girl in the Spider’s Web and in 2017, he published The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye.
So, Hollywood’s next attempt at keeping their American-produced series alive was to do a soft-reboot to Fincher’s work from 2011. That meant a new director and cast for our girl with the dragon tattoo. Instead of going the route of remaking Fire and Hornets’ Nest, Hollywood aimed to produce Spider’s Web first. The narrative to this Bond-style attempt became muddled and less complex than its 2011 predecessor. Actress Claire Foy took over the title role as Lisbeth Salander. Foy’s performance was the only good thing about this reboot. Foy gives her character guts, as she powers through the picture. Tough and vulnerable, Foy is a knockout for this picture. Sadly, the rest of the film doesn’t stand strong and ends up folding to action required elements. Director Fede Alvarez (Don't Breathe) is no match to Fincher’s keen since of craft and style. Thus, making The Girl in the Spider’s Web an incredibly disappointing picture. My advice, stick with the original Swedish trilogy because that series will always be superior to anything that Hollywood decides to produce, remake and or reboot again. As Ms. Salander once said, “that’s the way it is …”
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is rated R (Restricted). For violence, language and some sexual content/nudity.
Wow, what a movie. A Star Is Born is a powerful, moving and an authentic symphonic. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga soar in this sweep-you-off-your-feet story. A modern retelling of a timeless tale. Believe the hype, Gaga’s performance and vocals will blow you away. It stands tall as one of the very best of 2018 and receives a five-star review from me.
Oscars season has finally arrived. A Star Is Born is a crowd-pleaser and the starstruck picture of the year. Fueled by raw musical ecstasy, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga will rock your world. Yes, this is the fourth remake of A Star Is Born (1937, 1954 and 1976), but these classic music notes never grow old. Cooper helms the film as the actor, director, co-writer, and co-producer. This is Cooper’s directorial debut and what a magnificent first feature it was. Gaga also takes the gold as her top-notch vocals and fierce acting will bring you to tears. Our story follows a musician (Cooper) who helps a young singer (Gaga) find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a troubling downward spiral.
As Gaga’s career rises, Cooper’s career begins to fall and lose control. Cooper plays a country music legend named Jackson Maine. Drugs and alcohol keep him on a high, as he softly sings “maybe we should let the old ways die” with his soothing guitar. Gaga plays an ambitious woman named Ally, who’s stuck in a rut with trying to get her voice heard. Ally is a waitress, a songwriter and she also performs at a local drag bar to keep her voice passionate and electrified. One night, Jackson stumbles into the drag bar and witnesses Ally’s captivating performance on the stage. From there, Jack and Ally’s story of artistic soul, love, and heartbreak follows. It’s a sweep-you-off-your-feet movie full of harmony and warmth.
Cooper is a four-time Oscar nominee (American Sniper, American Hustle, and Silver Linings Playbook), and I’m predicting he’ll take home some Oscar gold this awards season. Nominated for one Oscar (2016 Best Original Song, Til It Happens to You), Gaga's time to fully shine has finally come. Not only does she deserve to win an Oscar for Best Original Song, I believe, she also deserves to win an Oscar for Best Lead Actress. Gaga’s performance is a knockout. From the moment the camera shines on her face, to that first note, Gaga hypnotizes your world. Cooper and Gaga’s on-screen chemistry is dynamite. All of the music in the film is also done live, because Gaga convinced Cooper to do so. I believe that made a huge impact on the movie, as it was all the more powerful. It was like watching a live concert right before your very eyes. Engrossing frame by frame with pure aesthetic bliss. Read some of these beautifully written lyrics and soak it all in:
[Verse 1: Bradley Cooper]
Tell me somethin', girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more?
Is there somethin' else you're searchin' for?
[Refrain: Bradley Cooper]
In all the good times
I find myself longing for change
And in the bad times, I fear myself
[Verse 2: Lady Gaga]
Tell me something, boy
Aren't you tired tryin' to fill that void?
Or do you need more?
Ain't it hard keepin' it so hardcore?
[Refrain: Lady Gaga]
In all the good times
I find myself longing for change
And, in the bad times, I fear myself
[Chorus: Lady Gaga]
I'm off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I'll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface where they can't hurt us
We're far from the shallow now
The original score and soundtrack will also blow you away. We get beautiful numbers like Maybe It's Time, Shallow, Music to My Eyes, Always Remember Us This Way, Look What I Found, and I'll Never Love Again. With its fierce musical numbers, deft direction, and a harmonizing love story, A Star Is Born is a remake done right. There are some tales that defy all odds and can be retold again and again. What a wonder this film is and will become in years’ time. With its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival and a current worldwide gross of $342 million, A Star Is Born will continue to blossom throughout this holiday season. A superior film full of flawed individuals, who sing with stardust from above. Audiences everywhere will fall in love with Jack and Ally one note at a time. Goodnight, La Vie en rose.
A Star Is Born is rated R (Restricted). For language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse.
The movie event of the year. First Man is an exhilarating experience, full of wonder as we watch the personal struggle it took on Neil Armstrong to become the first man on the Moon. This film receives a five-star review from me.
Director Damien Chazelle's (La La Land and Whiplash) dizzying spectacle will leave you in awe. Ryan Gosling also helms a quiet, yet raw performance as Neil Armstrong. While Claire Foy is a complete knockout. This is a film you don't want to miss, it was unforgettable. Now, let's first address the so-called American flag controversy. In short, there is none. While we never see Armstrong actually plant the flag, that's because we (as an audience) have seen that image and video a thousand times. The controversy arose on social media and caught on like wildfire from there. Florida Senator Marco Rubio described the omission as "total lunacy," before he had seen the film. Maybe, stop tweeting silly statements Senator Rubio and start doing your job for the sake of the American people?
Chazelle responded to the controversy with a statement, saying: "I show the American flag standing on the lunar surface, but the flag being physically planted into the surface is one of several moments [...] that I chose not to focus upon. To address the question of whether this was a political statement, the answer is no. My goal with this movie was to share with audiences the unseen, unknown aspects of America's mission to the Moon." Plus, Chazelle scatters images and shots of American flags all throughout the film, end of story. Now, back to this incredible movie. Chazelle switches gears from his music-based films and zeroes in on a biographical drama that helped shape the way we look at space. If you believe the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing was all a conspiracy, then I cannot help you here. Kudos to Stanley Kubrick.
Our story follows Astronaut Neil Armstrong (an emotionally strong Gosling) and his years with NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration) from 1961 to 1969. It's a riveting story as we witness NASA's bloodthirsty attempt to land the first person ever on the Moon. We see at first-hand the sacrifice Armstrong had to make in order to take on one of our nation's most dangerous missions. Chazelle doesn't hold back with the technicality and filmmaking pizzazz, he straps you right into center view. The camera moving and guiding all over the place, at times, like a roller coaster. This gives the audience a feel for what these astronauts go through. With Chazelle's near-perfect execution and razor-sharp acting from both Gosling and Foy, First Man is an Oscar-worthy contender.
Foy is a powerhouse, as she taps into Janet Armstrong's mind and what Mrs. Armstrong might have been thinking during her husband's life or death space mission. Actors Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, and Corey Stoll also help fill in the cracks with strong supporting roles. First Man is based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen and had its world premiere at the 75th Venice Film Festival. Chazelle also focuses the story on Armstrong's personal struggle with losing his daughter to cancer at a young age. We see this trauma hit Armstrong head-on, while Gosling makes it poignant on screen. You'll be in awe with this movie. First Man shows us the sheer fear and wonder of space. I project this film to receive some Oscars for its memorizing special effects and it even has a shot at grabbing a Best Picture nomination. The first Moon landing was a pivotal moment in human history. In doing so, First Man guides its audience through a monumental journey. That's what made this movie so memorable.
First Man is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language.
Eighth Grade is a raw and authentic look at middle school warped in the digital age. Funny, heartbreaking and, above all, real. It’s one of the very best films of 2018 and it receives a five-star review from me.
Eighth Grade is a tour de force for Bo Burnham and his directorial debut, plus a breakout performance by actor Elsie Fisher. You’ll fall in love with this movie and everything about it. Eighth Grade is a bona fide look into the daily lives of middle schoolers, nowadays. So much has changed in the means of technology since I was a kid. It's great how Burnham used that as a technique for his filmmaking, showing how teenagers (growing up in 2018) are plugged into the digital world. This little indie film is heartbreaking, yet funny as hell. The relationship between the father-daughter storyline was brilliantly executed. I wish the film could have kept going as the credits rolled by in front of me. Our story follows thirteen-year-old Kayla (breakout star Elsie Fisher), who endures her final week of middle school, capping off a disastrous eighth-grade year.
While Kayla makes her way through life as a contemporary suburban adolescence, we stick by her side every step of the way. Fingers crossed Eighth Grade doesn't get overshadowed this awards season. It stands tall as one of the best films of 2018 and aces the test. It’s an honest portrayal of what it’s like to be a middle schooler post-2016 election. With the expansion of technology increasing year-by-year, we see these teenager’s lives wrapped around their tiny operating machines. At times, Burnham blends the screen with the visual appeal of Kayla thumbing through her phone. Whether that’s YouTube, Instagram or Snapchat, all of them show her reliance on social media. This brings us into Kayla’s world of acceptance, anxiety, and bliss. "I wanted to talk about anxiety and what it feels like to be alive right now, and what it is to be unsure and nervous. That felt more like middle school than high school to me. I think the country and the culture is going through an eighth-grade moment right now,” Burnham said on writing the story.
As we see, the film's themes include heavy use of social media, along with mental health in Generation Z, sexuality and consent. Burnham even watched YouTubers to learn how Gen Z talks. "I was just trying to capture the staccato way they spoke," he says. "You’re watching someone try to articulate themselves and think out loud while their brains are still growing." In addition to the perfect acting, writing and directing, there’s the score. Burnham fueled the score with electronica music and pizzazz, giving us some hilarious results. Like whenever Kayla saw her crush walk by and we were blasted with loud, booming electronica music. I died of laughter every single time. Actor Josh Hamilton’s on screen presence was also a total delight to watch. Hamilton portrayed Kayla’s dad and incarnated what it’s like being a single father while raising a middle schooler in America.
It’s a difficult, but rich role and Hamilton knocked it out of the park. At times, he’s a goofy father trying to be hip and in other scenes, we see him pouring out deep love for his daughter. The bonfire scene will break your heart, as we witness the father-daughter bond finally connect. Mark (Hamilton) puts aside his ‘dad-jokes’ and finally opens up to Kayla. After Mark is done, we see Kayla take it all in and accept her father’s compassion. While Mark and Kayla hug around the bonfire, a raw open wound inside your heart pours out onto the seats in front of you and towards the screen. Burnham master crafts his little indie film into one of the biggest phenomenon’s put-on film this year. This will be an instant classic for my kid’s generation years down the road. In the end, Burnham and Fisher really capture the realism of middle school warts and all.
Eighth Grade is rated R (Restricted). For language and some sexual material.
In the eyes of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), middle schooler's portraying middle schoolers on screen is 'too adult' for real-life middle schoolers to see. Seriously? Oh MPAA, you'll never learn. Ignore their petty rating.
This is a film you don’t want to miss. It needs to be seen. BlacKkKlansman is a phenomenal movie, striking a parallel between our country’s past and current problems with racism. It’s one of the best movies of the year and it receives a five-star review from me.
This new Spike Lee joint (Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X) could go down as one of his greatest achievements ever put on film. It’s a blunt force that will knock you off your feet. Fueled with realism, poetry and anger; Lee’s newest masterpiece is telling America to wake up! In his own way, Lee is trying to ‘Make America Great’ but not by grotesque rhetoric or verbal narcissism that the current administration has chosen to do. Instead, Lee – a film poet in disguise – is using the medium to remind our country that prejudice hasn’t gone away. Fueled by valid anger and historical context, Lee parallels our country’s past and current racial tensions to prove that nothing has really changed. So, let’s dial it back to the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (an incredible John David Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department.
Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Stallworth then decides to recruit a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (a top-notched Adam Driver), to help with the undercover investigation. The pair become a winning team as they tackle the investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to ramp up its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream Colorado lands. One of their slogans is ‘America First,' sound familiar? This is a movie that, at times, will have you laughing and then suddenly crying in despair. It’s a movie that zeros in its message to the mainstream movie audience. BlacKkKlansman did not disappoint. Lee’s dialogue was blunt and crisp throughout the film. He did not hold back and I applaud him for that. This is a bold film and is one that should spark conversation well after the credits roll.
Washington did a fantastic job in his incarnation as Ron Stallworth. I am looking forward to seeing him in future films to come. Also, this was probably Driver's best performance to-date. He was strong, confident and on-point with his character. And how about Topher Grace? His incarnation as the despicable David Duke was a surprise show-stealer. It was incredibly brave of Grace to take on a role like this and he knocked it out of the park with wit and ignorance. Everything throughout the film had an exact purpose, even the tilted camera angles. To me, these camera angles were very jarring and they kept me on edge. Personally, I would love to see Lee be nominated and even win the Oscar for Best Director. He deserves it. Something that also struck a chord with me, was how Lee incorporated the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation into the movie. Clips of that movie were used towards the end to show how the KKK rallied around this particular movie, due to its racist roots. Yes, cinematically, that movie was groundbreaking back in the early 1900s. But, it was also highly controversial because of its racist undertones. In the end, D. W. Griffith’s movie helped revive the KKK back into existence. For film buffs, we need to talk about this and the repercussions. Sadly, there are many who want to brush off those horrid parts of Griffith’s movie. To me, that's not enough.
After seeing the film, I was reading an interview that Time Magazine did with Lee. During the interview, Lee said this regarding The Birth of a Nation: "He recalls being shown 1915’s The Birth of a Nation as a student at New York University’s film school. 'They lectured about D.W. Griffith and his film,' Lee says. 'But the social and political implications of the film were never discussed.' During that period, the KKK was largely inactive. 'The film brought about the rebirth of the Klan,' Lee says. 'And therefore, it was directly responsible for black people being murdered and lynched. Never discussed.'" Now, Lee is using his voice for the good of our country and to remind everyone that we need to wake up for the sake of our current democratic crisis. He’s also saying to the people who think they can just sit back and let the system take its course, you're part of the problem.
By standing up for what you know is right, making your voice heard and calling out bigotry, we can come stronger together as a nation. Under our Lady Liberty, we are a country that represents freedom no matter what your gender, race, ethnicity, religion and or sexual orientation is. But in 2018, all of this seems to be shaken. The film ends with the events of last August’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA. Lee rings in the parallels of the past with today. BlacKkKlansman even opened in the United States on August 10, 2018, which was chosen to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville rally. Lee was doing this for a reason. Those lasting frames of anger and tears will stick with you long into the night. While Trump's tweets continue to viciously drive a wedge more into our country; Lee decided to instead speak from the heart through the power of film. In hope, we can come together united as a nation. Years from now, Trump’s botched speeches, stormy lies and grotesque tweets won’t last, but Lee’s timely masterpiece will. Trust me.
BlacKkKlansman is rated R (Restricted). For language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing/violent material and some sexual references.
Leave No Trace is an absorbing drama, brilliantly acted by Ben Foster and Thomasin Mckenzie from the first frame until the last. It’s one of the best movies of the year and it receives a five-star review from me.
Leave No Trace is a companionate character study through the lens of a father-daughter relationship. Directed by Debra Granik (2010’s Winter’s Bone), who’s one of many women showcasing their directing chops this year in film. This is a must-see movie, as it reflects on many personal and social issues. These issues include homelessness, depression and veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The movie also helps shine light on America’s underclass. The film takes an effectively low-key approach to a sensationalistic story. We follow a father, Will (a humble Foster), and his thirteen-year-old daughter, Tom (a powerful Mckenzie), who are living an ideal existence in a vast urban park in Portland, Oregon. But, when a small mistake accidentally happens it derails their lives forever. Next, Will and Tom are both put into social services. Their lives drastically change, until Will decides to make a run for it, taking his daughter with him. Granik’s film was phenomenal throughout.
A razor-sharp film that takes its time fully engulfing you with the two leading actor's every thought and emotion. I loved seeing actor Ben Foster finally tackle a leading role. Normally, Foster stays more in the supporting role territory. So, for me, it was exciting to see him tackle something more up front. And what a breakthrough performance for actor Thomasin Mckenzie. She shined brightly throughout, giving us a raw and, in the end, heartbreaking performance. The movie promises to make a star of Mckenzie. The cinematography was also beautifully filmed, zeroing in on the father-daughter relationship. This is a real, beautiful and quiet movie. It didn’t need big action set pieces or witty one-liners, all Granik had to do is introduce you to real people struggling with real situations in everyday life. Leave No Trace a phenomenal film. And there isn't a thing that I would change.
Leave No Trace is rated PG (Parental Guidance). For thematic material throughout.
Worth the 14-year wait, Incredibles 2 is a rousing animated sequel that packs a punch.
Bright, vivid and full of fleshed out characters, Incredibles 2 is a worthy sequel to the 2004 animated hit. Director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) returns to the director’s chair and doesn’t miss a beat. Though it’s been 14-years, our heroes haven’t changed or aged. The film takes place right after the ending events of the first feature. Actor’s Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter both return and voice their respected roles as Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl. Actor Sarah Vowell also respires her role and voices Violet Parr. Actor Huck Milner replaces Spencer Fox for the voice of Dash Parr. This time around Helen AKA Elastigirl is in the spotlight, leaving Bob AKA Mr. Incredible at home with Violet and Dash to navigate the day-to-day heroics of "normal" life.
The family is also still unaware of baby Jack-Jack's emerging superpowers. This leads us to some hilarious circumstances and interactions between Jack-Jack and Bob. The plot thickens, when a new villain hatches out a brilliant and dangerous plot. But I won’t spoil, you’ll have watch this superhero treat for yourself. Incredibles 2 hasn’t lost any momentum in the 14-year hiatus, the film is now the highest grossing animated feature ever in the United States. Pixar’s latest flick has now grossed $600 million, domestically. This brings the grand worldwide total to $1.16 billion. Incredibles 2 brings out your inner child. A rousing experience full of big action, witty humor and strong developed characters. It will go down in the books as one of the best animated films to hit the big screen in recent memory. This is a film the whole family will enjoy, I guarantee it.
Incredibles 2 is rated PG (Parental Guidance). For action sequences and some brief mild language.
If there’s a film that our country needs more than ever right now it’s Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the powerful documentary film about Mister Rogers. He was an incredible person who showed the world how love and kindness always prevail.
“Love is at the root of everything - all learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become.” Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is the best documentary of 2018. The doc takes an honest look at Mister Fred Rogers' life and legacy during his time on WQED. Mister Rogers was a Children's television pioneer, a puppeteer, a Presbyterian minister and a registered Republican (with morals). He was a radical, who fought for the arts and for education to be available to children everywhere, no matter the circumstance. He believed a neighborhood was suppose to be a safe haven for children growing up. Through his gentleness, Mister Rogers helped transform our country and the world. His message still resonates today. Mister Rogers was also a creative genius who inspired generations of children through his compassion and limitless imagination on the television. His show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, aired from 1968 – 2001 on WQED in Pittsburgh, PA.
Director Morgan Neville (Best Of Enemies) takes us on a journey from the start of Fred Rogers' career, 1968, until his death in 2003. Neville takes his time with the camera, letting the story unfold beautifully before our very eyes. You’ll be in tears by the end of this doc, I know I was. Neville also takes us behind-the-scenes of Mister Rogers’ daily life and in-between the outtakes of his famous television show. Here, we explore the life, lessons and legacy of a gifted man, who was also a selfless human being. Fred Rogers was soft-spoken, yet he expressed profound ideas. He wasn't afraid to talk about hard subjects with children and even explored different ways to think about them. Something, no other children’s show dared to do at the time. He was a sweet-tempted individual all throughout his life and his career. On set, Mister Rogers was also an idealist day in and day out.
“From the time you were very little, you've had people who have smiled you into smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sung you into singing, loved you into loving. So, on this extra special day, let's take some time to think of those extra special people. Some of them may be right here, some may be far away. Some may even be in heaven. No matter where they are, deep down you know they've always wanted what was best for you. They've always cared about you beyond measure and have encouraged you to be true to the best within you. Let's just take a minute of silence to think about those people now.”
It’s an invitation waiting to be opened. To travel to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe or to talk with Daniel Striped Tiger. Mister Rogers knew the best way to teach children in-person and on-air. He provoked strong ideas and even spoke to the US Senate Subcommittee on Communications to keep funding open for PBS in 1969. He was a man on a mission, that mission was to share love with others and then for them to spread that love they just learned. This documentary receives all five stars from me and is one of my favorite movies of 2018. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? offers us hope for our country, befriending all who choose to watch this intimate documentary of a good-hearted person – sneakers and all.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For some thematic elements and language.
The Rider is a beautiful movie, full of life and inspiration. Oh my, what a ride.
The Rider is a fact-based tale that’s executed perfectly through the hands of writer-director Chloé Zhao (Songs My Brothers Taught Me). Ms. Zhao is one of many women leading in the director’s chair this year. The film stars a South Dakota cowboy and now breakout actor Brady Jandreau as a once rising star of the rodeo circuit warned that his competition days are over after a tragic riding accident. Zhao based the scripted around Jandreau’s real life head injury from a bullriding competition. The story follows Brady’s day-to-day life after the accident along with his father Tim (Tim Jandreau) and younger sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau), who has autism. His family also lives in financial poverty on the back plains of South Dakota.
Brady finds himself wondering what he has to live for when he can no longer do what gives him a sense of purpose: to ride and compete. Brady has to search for his new identity as a means to keep on living. This is a film that deserves to be seen. Through grit and grace, we see Brady’s character evolve throughout the film. A grand character study on the forgotten people in the heartland of America. Ms. Zhao’s committed craft on the film’s narrative blossom’s throughout. She knows how to take risks, just like Brady. As we, the audience, sit there in theaters socially observant, we witness a young man constantly being knocked down and getting right back up. Brady’s sense of struggle is raw and powerful. The Rider is a slice-of-life drama that’s making a name for itself in 2018. The docu-style realism is a sense of wonder, as we watch this majestic beast of a film gallop through the grasslands.
The visuals, along with the vivid scenery are a feast for your eyes. I also had the privilege of watching this masterpiece in Billings, MT. It seemed like a fitting movie, given my location. My hopes are that, someday, The Rider will go down as a classic, modern-day Western. Ms. Zhao’s heartbreaking beauty is one of the best films of the year. The film receives all 5 stars from me. As Brady and his horse pass through the grasslands, we are struck with awe. It's a cinematic experience you don’t want to miss. This heavy-handed cowboy movie is one for the ages. And if you’re ever in Billings, MT. I highly recommend stopping by the Art House Cinema & Pub. It’s a non-profit, independent movie theater located in the heart of downtown Billings. You can enjoy a cold beer and some delicious popcorn at the bar right next to the big screen. You won’t be disappointed. It was a marvelous experience.
The Rider is rated R (Restricted). For language and drug use. – Oh, MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) you'll never learn ...