James Wan's Malignant starts out as a normal horror flick, then transcends into an absolute bonkers third act. You won't know what hit you.
Malignant: "(of a disease) very virulent or infectious."
This wacky approach Wan uses in the third act to eventually let the gates of hell break loose, works incredibly well for the film as a whole. I was already intrigued by the film's creepy and slow-burning approach, then was completely gobsmacked at what transpired next. I will reveal no spoils in this review. Only to tell you that if you love horror, then you should drop everything and watch this movie immediately. Wan is known for making some great horror pictures in the past. Most notably Insidious (2010) and The Conjuring (2013). I had a great experience in the past watching The Conjuring on the big screen. I took my younger sister to see it with me and the theater was sold out. I distinctively remember this group of rowdy jocks walk in and sit directly behind us. They were a bit rambunctious at the beginning and then shut up less than halfway through the horror feature. After the movie was over, all of them got up in a single file line and walked out in complete silence. It was glorious.
That's who Wan is as a skillful horror director — he can make a picture so scary that it numbs your bones. Now, Malignant isn't particularly scary — like The Conjuring — but it was always thrilling. Our film follows Madison (a strong Annabelle Wallis), who has become paralyzed by shocking visions of grisly murders while she sleeps at night. Madison's torment worsens when she discovers that these dreams are, in fact, terrifying realities. This is about as much as I want to reveal in the plot. I'll let you discover the wacky outcomes on your own. I also enjoyed the '80s horror throwback early on in Malignant. My one complaint about this movie would be, that if it wasn't for the insane third act, then Malignant might have just been an average horror feature. But because Wan lets all hell break loose towards the end, the movie reeled me back in with uncontrollable excitement. Malignant is definitely an enjoyable film, delicate in craft and eerie with its environment. Plus, Wan's dazzling camerawork added to the film's overall tension. So, have fun with this horror movie because, in the end, you won't know what hit you.
Malignant is rated R (Restricted) Language | Gruesome Images | Strong Horror Violence.\
Stream it now on HBO Max and see it in theaters.
Directed by James Wan
Starring Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, Jean Louisa Kelly, and Susanna Thompson.
Candyman (2021) runs as a direct sequel to the 1992 Original while expanding the Robitaille lore, writer-director Nia DaCosta's (2018's Little Woods) slasher feature and gory nightmare will seep through your bones.
If you have not seen the original Candyman, I advise you to pause this review and go watch it before you see the newest film. Now, the reason for that is because the newest Candyman runs as a direct sequel to the original, helping provide more knowledge into the story's backbone. DaCosta does change up some past history slightly, to add more depth to her characters. The 1992 horror film is based on Clive Barker's short story "The Forbidden." In the first film, we follow a Chicago graduate student named Helen (Virginia Madsen), who's working on a thesis about urban legends and folklore. During Helen's research, she discovers the legend of the "Candyman" (the great Tony Todd) and his connection to a series of murders in Chicago's Cabrini–Green Homes. As the legend goes, the Candyman (Daniel Robitaille) was murdered in the late 19th century for having an interracial relationship with the daughter of a wealthy white man.
The Candyman was an African American artist and the son of a slave. After word of the affair got out, the Candyman was brutally murdered by a white mob. Now, if you say his name five times in the mirror, he will reappear and kill you. Director DaCosta gives us an entire recap of what happened to Helen's fate in the original, shown through some beautiful sequences of shadow puppetry (designed by Manual Cinema). Running as a "spiritual sequel," DaCosta's latest Candyman explores the intersection of white violence and Black pain. We follow Chicago artist Anthony McCoy (an excellent Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who — like Helen — becomes obsessed with the Candyman legend. Now that Cabrini–Green has been torn down, DaCosta creatively infuses racial themes with bloody horror. Like in the original film, which constructed a plate of social commentary, DaCosta takes her picture even further. Shown through visual splendor, pitch-black humor, and misdirection, DaCosta keeps her viewers guessing what's lurking from around the corner.
Jordan Peele (Get Out and Us) also worked as a co-writer and producer for this bloody horror film, but it's DaCosta's tightly constructed craft that stands out. Though this is not a perfect picture — I felt it needed a longer runtime, and parts seemed a bit messy — 2021's Candyman still delivers its relevant message loud and clear. Other great actors that contributed to this film include Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Kyle Kaminsky, and Vanessa Williams. DaCosta's horror flick also delivers a pretty striking twist halfway through the movie, which I dare not spoil. I will say that this twist compliments itself better if you have already seen the original. For far too long, residents of Chicago's Cabrini-Green neighborhood were terrorized by a word-of-mouth ghost story about a supernatural killer with a hook for a hand. In the end, just say his name. I dare you. I'll start, "Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candy—"
Candyman is rated R (Restricted) Language | Bloody Horror Violence | Some Sexual References.
Directed by Nia DaCosta
Starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Kyle Kaminsky, and Vanessa Williams.
9/11: Inside the President's War Room is an astonishing and harrowing documentary — taking a behind-the-scenes look at one of America's most tragic days.
BBC One's newest documentary gives us an in-depth look and a minute-by-minute breakdown at the Bush administration's response to one of the worst terrorist attacks in American history. Now, BBC One does a great job keeping their documentary sufficiently apolitical and focused. Likewise, I will also do my best to keep this review apolitical as well. I believe this documentary needs to be watched and discussed: no matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on or what your feelings are towards the Bush administration. Narrated by actor Jeff Daniels, we follow then-President George W. Bush and his inner circle for 12 hours on September 11, 2001. Starting from 6 a.m. that morning until that evening, we get to see and listen to then-President Bush's viewpoint.
As the chaos and tragedy of that day unfolded, Bush and his administration had to piece the news and intelligence coming in from New York City and elsewhere. Inside the President's War Room is a gripping documentary that reconstructs the day of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks from the point of view of Bush and his advisors. News broke of the first jetliner crashing into the World Trade Center shortly before 9 a.m., while Bush was attending a Florida Elementary school. At first thinking, it was an accident, then realizing that this was an attack, shortly after the second jetliner crashed into the World Trade Center. We watch Bush and his advisors trying to gather intelligence from inside a Florida classroom — while then-Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were at the White House being informed on the situation. It's easy to forget how surreal and confusing that day was, but Adam Wishart skillfully captures that sad day through archived videos and photos.
Once Bush made it to Air Force One, he insisted that he go back to Washington. His advisors deemed it not safe, especially after the Pentagon was attacked at 9:37 a.m. We watch Air Force One's route from Florida to Louisiana to Nebraska, where the administration could gather more intelligence and briefings. We also learn that Air Force One did not have cable and could only pick up news channels if they were flying over large cities. Ironically, Air Force One became the worst place to gather intelligence, but the secret service deemed this the safest place for the president at the time. Other people we listen to during this documentary include: Cheney, Rice, Colin Powell, Andy Card, Dan Bartlett, Deborah Loewer, Josh Bolten, Ari Fleischer, Karl Rove, Ted Olson, and more. Apple bought the distribution rights for Wishart's doc, releasing it on September 1, 2021: paralleling the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Wishart's doc also captures the horrors and turmoil of that day. He tackles a genuine backseat view at an administration's worst fears coming alive. Through breathtaking editing and photography, we relive America's deadliest terrorist attack and how it has shaped and modeled our country 20 years later. On a final note: Over the weekend, former President Bush gave a speech at the Flight 93 memorial service, where he recounted the heroism of the passengers and crew of Flight 93. But he also talked about the impacts of domestic terrorism and how it has become a growing threat, i.e. the US Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021. "There's little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them."
Now Streaming on Apple TV+
9/11: Inside the President's War Room is not rated (NA)
Directed by Adam Wishart
Starring George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rice, Colin Powell, Andy Card, Dan Bartlett, Deborah Loewer, Josh Bolten, Ari Fleischer, Karl Rove, and Ted Olson.
How does one begin to describe a masterfully c0mplex film like The Green Knight? Well, I have finally been able to put my thoughts into words ...
𝕿𝖍𝖊 𝕮𝖍𝖗𝖎𝖘𝖙𝖒𝖆𝖘 𝕲𝖆𝖒𝖊
The Green Knight is a movie I have seen twice now this month, and I am still pondering on the best way to describe this film. Here we go: The Green Knight is simply one of the best films to come out in 2021. Haunting, mesmerizing, and poetic: writer-director David Lowery’s (Ain't Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story) Arthurian tale is a masterwork. Led by a commanding Dev Patel: The Green Knight's artful vision of thought-provoking themes will be discussed for years to come. Lowery's film of the beloved source of material, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is always honored in the narrative sense, but it is also deconstructed in its on-screen portrayal. An epic medieval fantasy based on the 14th-century poem written by Anonymous. Lowery's film is a dark portrayal of fantasy and fiction, chop-full of symbolism.
When I was seated for my first showing of The Green Knight, I was immediately absorbed into this epic tale. Awe-inspiring and gobsmacking are a few words that come to mind after walking out of the theaters. I had felt like I had just come from the long journey itself that Sir Gawain (a powerful Patel) had taken. Through Andrew Droz Palermo's (A Ghost Story) drop-dead gorgeous cinematography, we could see the lushes green on the trees shine and feel the cool breeze blowing all around us. The dark forest of tall, howling pine trees engulfs your consciousness, sending you to a dream-like state of mind. The is the first picture where I could feel the beauty and presence of the forest Gawain travels through. There is a sense of wonder and awe as Lowery slowly moves the camera around the woods.
There are many scenes I have pondered on after watching this film twice, and the cinematography is one of those pieces that truly shined throughout the picture. So, let's move on to the actual plot of this film: The Green Knight is based on a poem and a timeless Arthurian legend. We embark on the story of Sir Gawain (Patel), King Arthur's reckless and strong-minded nephew. On Christmas morning, the mysterious Green Knight (a mighty Ralph Ineson) barges into King Arthur's court on horseback and challenges the court with what he calls 'The Christmas Game.' The Green Knight is a half-man, half tree-like figure. He proclaims that any knight who can land a blow on him will win his green axe. However, there is a catch, that knight must travel to the Green Chapel one year hence and receive an equal blow in return. As the knights all coward away, Gawain decides to take up the challenge.
But instead of fighting, the Green Knight kneels, places his axe on the ground, and lowers his head. Puzzled, Gawain doesn't know what type of game the Green Knight is playing — wielding King Author's Excalibur — he strikes and decapitates the Green Knight. Gawain seems amused and satisfied with his strike, yet the Green Knight rises and lifts his severed head off the ground. He speaks, "one year hence." The Green Knight jumps back onto his horse and rides away laughing. And thus, Gawain's incredibly short year begins until it is time for him to make his journey to the Green Chapel. Once Gawain embarks on his journey, he will encounter many trials: a Scavenger (an excellent Barry Keoghan), a mysterious woman named Winifred (a wonderful Erin Kellyman), and a Lord and a Lady (a great Joel Edgerton and Alicia Vikander). Vikander actually plays two characters in this film: the Lady and Essel, Gawain's girlfriend. Balancing two very different roles: Vikander excels in both roles and she truly captivates whenever on screen.
Gawain's quest is dangerous, one that I will not spoil for you. Instead, let me talk to you about Patel's award-worthy performance. Patel is a gifted actor, and The Green Knight continues to prove that right. With his breakout performance from 2008's Slumdog Millionaire, Patel has always been able to transform into his character(s). He went on to be in movies like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Lion, Hotel Mumbai, and The Personal History of David Copperfield. These are all great performances, but The Green Knight is his best. Patel's incarnation of Sir Gawain is striking in every scene. He is hot-headed and stubborn but also confident and fearless. Along with his furry friend (a wild fox), he befriends on the journey, there are so many details that I know I am leaving out from this beautiful picture. Lowery is a visual storyteller when it comes to filmmaking. The Green Knight might be one of his most visually told films.
There is very little dialogue throughout this picture, yet Lowery does not need words to tell his story because he lets his camera do all the work. One of the many reasons why I found this movie to be so absorbing. A powerful display of craft and symbolism that invades the viewer's mind. One of the other exciting things about Lowery's newest feature is that I finally got to experience it in the theaters. The Green Knight was originally scheduled for theaters in May of 2020. It was shelved due to COVID-19. A24 finally released the film to theaters last month (July 2021). It was well worth the wait to experience this epic picture on the big screen. Thus far, Lowery's film has grossed almost $18 million worldwide on a $15 million budget, which is pretty good for an independent film like this. Especially since we are still dealing with a pandemic and the rise of the delta variant.
The Green Knight is simply one of the best films to come out this year. It is the very definition of cinema. Bold, dark, and always captivating, this medieval fantasy will have your head spinning by the end. There is also a montage sequence that left me gobsmacked after it was over. I will not reveal where in the film it is. When it does eventually come up you, won't know what hit you. This seductive picture is a feast to the eyes and a wonder to the soul. Cinema at its finest, Lowery and Patel's beauty of a film strikes so many ways that it left my mind thinking about it repeatedly. I also changed my mind on how the film ended the second time watching it. This is what great filmmaking does, allowing the audience to experience something completely new whenever they re-watch it. In the end, The Green Knight will go down as a classic of this modern world.
Want to hear more of my thoughts about this incredible film? I spoke with my good friends, Matt and Ashley, on their podcast, Mashely at the Movies | Listen Here.
The Green Knight is rated R (Restricted) Some Sexuality | Graphic Nudity | Violence.
See it in theaters or watch it now on VOD.
Directed by David Lowery
Starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, and Erin Kellyman.
A Double Feature Review!
The Night House
The Night House is a solid psychological thriller that masterfully takes its time building the suspense. The end results will send chills down your spine. Rebecca Hall’s emotionally gripping performance also helps excel the film. Director David Bruckner's (2017's The Ritual) newest horror flick had its world premiere at 2020's Sundance Film Festival. It would go onto be picked up by Searchlight Pictures and was finally released to theaters 18 months later. Bruckner's atmospheric horror picture engages the audience on an emotional and intellectual level. A type of engagement that slowly builds up the tension and thrills. Our spooky story follows Beth (a powerful Rebecca Hall), who is left alone in a lakeside home after the sudden death of her husband. Beth tries to keep all of the pieces together, but then, the nightmares come. During these nightmares, Beth feels a ghostly allure calling her. She soon begins to dig through her late husband's belongings, searching for answers from these dark visions.
In the end, Beth discovers something both truly strange and disturbing. Mysteries that I will leave for you to uncover yourself. Along with Bruckner's well-crafted suspense and tension is an eerie score by composer Ben Lovett (2019's I Trapped the Devil and 2017's The Ritual). The Night House is a horror flick that unended my expectations, delivering well-crafted scares and a rewarding ending. Hall's strong performance is the core of this picture, carrying it from start to finish. Sadly, I seem to be in the minority with this film. The Night House received a C- score from audiences on its opening weekend and, even from my showing, there was a group of three who walked out halfway through the movie. Personally, I thought this film was masterfully executed — it is a slow-burner, but one with rich rewards. I, of course, still recommend watching this film, especially if you are a fan of horror. In the end, The Night House came and conquered, sending chills down one's spine.
The Night House is rated R (Restricted) Some Violence/Disturbing Image | Some Sexual References | Language.
Directed by David Bruckner
Starring Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis Hall, Evan Jonigkeit, and Stacy Martin.
CODA is a wonder. A beautiful film led by a splendid cast and strong representation. A coming-of-age story that avoids the clichés, capturing what it means to be family. Emilia Jones gives a superb performance that’s combined with an important sense of inclusion. It’s simply one of this year’s best movies. Everything about CODA is perfect. CODA (child of deaf adults) is a beautiful picture, capturing a feel-good story with a big heart. Emotional, tear-jerking, and, at times, a little predictable — CODA is a sweet movie that offers warmth and affection. This crowd-pleaser offers a simple story that slowly packs a gut punch at the end. You won't know what hit you. We follow a blue-collar family living in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Ruby (a magnificent Emilia Jones) is the only hearing member of her family: her parents Frank and Jackie (a strong Troy Kotsur and Oscar winner Marlee Matlin), and older brother Leo (a wonderful Daniel Durant) are all culturally deaf. Kotsur, Matlin, and Durant are also all deaf actors.
Ruby helps assist with the family fishing business while attending high school. She plans on joining the business full-time once she graduates. However, Ruby also has another passion of hers — singing. She decides to audition for the school choir, run by Mr. Bernardo Villalobos (a great Eugenio Derbez). Mr. V. soon realizes Ruby's natural gifts and raw talent. He encourages Ruby to audition for Berklee College of Music and offers her private lessons to prepare. Ruby accepts Mr. V.'s offer but also has to figure out how to continue assisting/interpreting for her family's fishing business. This also leads Ruby to the confrontation of her parents not understanding why singing is so important to her. Writer-director Sian Heder wonderfully executes this picture — gifting us with a funny, heartwarming, and vivid movie. CODA also represents strong inclusion for the deaf community, allowing their stories to be told.
CODA also fully develops its deaf characters on-screen through interpretations of self-sufficiency and sexual activeness. Past on-screen depictions of deaf characters have shied away from this, not allowing their character(s) to be depicted as fully human. This allowed CODA's actors (Kotsur, Matlin, and Durant) to break out and fully be themselves with their personification of their respected character. CODA had its world premiere last January at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and was picked up by Apple for a whopping $25 million. Apple saw something very special with this film. Consider it a front runner come awards season. CODA is a superb film with a big heart and a lot of love. It truly is one of the best films to come out in 2021. There were several moments during this movie where I found myself wiping away tears. So, bring those tissues because you'll need them.
CODA is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Drug Use | Strong Sexual Content | Language.
Now Streaming on Apple TV+
Directed by Sian Heder
Starring Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin, Daniel Durant, Eugenio Derbez, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, and Amy Forsyth.
A Double Feature Review!
Vivo is a bright and color film for the whole family. Beautiful animation (especially the 2D scenes), with irresistible songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton and In the Heights). A love letter to Cuba with great Latinx representation throughout. Plus, ‘The’ Gloria Estefan sings! Music to the ears. Vivo is a welcomed treat from Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda's sweet tale of a singing kinkajou from Cuba was, originally, pitched to Dreamworks Animation back in 2010. However, Miranda's project was officially dropped from Dreamworks in 2015. Sony Pictures Animation decided to pick Vivo up and fast-track the project in 2016. Sony Pictures Animation and Netflix currently have a partnership, which is why Vivo was released on Netflix, along with other 2021 Sony Animated films, including Wish Dragon and The Mitchells vs the Machines.
Our story follows a one-of-kind kinkajou named Vivo (magically voiced by Miranda), who spends his days playing music to the crowds in the plaza with his beloved owner Andrés (perfectly voiced by Juan de Marcos). Vivo and Andrés don't speak the same language, but the music speaks directly to the heart. One day, Andrés receives a letter from the famous Marta Sandoval (voiced by the legendary Gloria Estefan), inviting her old partner to her farewell concert. Marta is an old love of his, but he never told her. Then tragedy strikes, and it's up to Vivo to travel to Miami, giving Marta a love letter/song from Andrés. Vivo gets help from Gabi (voiced by newcomer Ynairaly Simo). Gabi is an energetic teenager who raps and bounces to the beat of her own drum. Vivo is a sweet film for the whole family to watch, featuring 11 new songs from Miranda. Alongside the importance of Latino representation, Vivo will have your heart dancing to the sweet melody of music.
Vivo is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Mild Action | Some Thematic Elements.
Watch now on Netflix.
Starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldana, Juan de Marcos, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael Rooker, Nicole Byer, and Gloria Estefan.
They weren’t lying, Annette is a bizarre rock opera. It's definitely a film that has been growing on me weeks after I have seen it. Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, and Simon Helberg are all wonderful. Leos Carax’s (Holy Motors) dreamy fantasia is ambitious and experimental. Annette won’t be for everyone, but it’s still worth seeing. The audacity of Annette is strong, with batty storytelling and a jukebox musical that will linger on your brain long after the credits roll. With similar tones to musicals like The Phantom of the Opera or Les Misérables — Annette comes out swinging with its opening number ("So May We Start"), sending chills down your spine. The screenplay of Annette was formed by Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks and Carax — crafting an original story, music, and songs by the band. Although the actors of the film are not trained singers — nevertheless — most of them do their own singing throughout. This added a more raw musical layer to the story's already bizarre premise.
The movie follows a couple's walk-in fame and ultimate destruction. Henry (the great Adam Driver) is a stand-up comedian with an intense sense of humor. Think Bo Burnham-like but on steroids. Henry falls in love with Ann (a magnificent Cotillard), a world-renowned opera singer. Under the couple's spotlight, they form a passionate and glamorous physique. Ann is also pregnant and gives birth to their first child, Annette. Carax used the unique and, at times, nightmarish choice to make Annette a wooden marionette puppet. Yes, you heard that correctly. This choice was to symbolize Henry's cynicism towards the world and how he doesn't look at his own child as a real person. Through baby Annette's mystery and gifted talent, she turns their world upside down.
Annette is a lot of things — avant-garde, surreal, weird, melodic, and always beautiful. Annette will not be for everyone, but it's a movie that deserves to be seen. I would even argue the point that it's a movie that deserves multiple viewings. Carax crafts a strange vision of love, passion, and fame. His vision is wrapped behind the musical talent of the Sparks brothers, gifting us with a haunting and beautiful soundtrack. This includes songs like "We Love Each Other So Much," "We’ve Washed Ashore," "Stepping Back in Time," and "Sympathy for the Abyss." One critique about this film I would like to point out was that it's definitely a movie where you could feel its runtime (all 139 minutes). In the end, Carax's film is still a dreamy, musical nightmare that will transport you to another world. So may we start?
Annette is rated R (Restricted) Some Nudity | Sexual Content | Language.
See it in theaters or watch exclusively on Amazon Prime, starting on August 20th.
Directed by Leos Carax
Starring Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell, and Angèle.
The Suicide Squad was a blast from start to finish. James Gunn's superhero flick turned the dial up to 11. Through the chaos and anarchy, our Squad was completely self-aware and laughing all the way. Add a dash of politics to this violent extravaganza, and you are in for a show. See it in theaters or watch exclusively on HBO Max.
"Live Fast, Die Clown."
I wasn't expecting much out of The Suicide Squad — considering the awful 2016 Suicide Squad that came out. Yet, this time around, the viewers were gifted with a better director (James Gunn) to bring this wacky vision of anti-heroes to life. The Suicide Squad is technically not a sequel, nor is it really a reboot from 2016's failed performance. However, it is connected to the DCEU and, in reality, another chance for Warner Bros. to get it right with our anti-heroes on the big screen. 2016's version was a mess as far as direction and script go. The actors gave it their all with the material they were given. Some of those same actors (Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, and Jai Courtney) returned to their respected roles from the first time around. We also added new additions to the film, including Idris Elba, John Cena, Sylvester Stallone, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, and Daniela Melchior.
While Dastmalchian and Melchior both had breakout performances as Polka-Dot Man and Ratcatcher 2. They really became the heart and soul of this film. So, our newest DC Comics movie featuring the team Suicide Squad follows a task force of convicts, who are sent to destroy evidence known as "Project Starfish." Task Force X is deployed to the fictionalized South American island nation of Corto Maltese. Gunn, who is known for his gonzo-stylized filmmaking in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Super, dials the temperature up to 11 in this superhero extravaganza. This latest feature is chop-full of over-the-top action, fast-paced gags, and stylized blood. Similar to 2016's Deadpool, The Suicide Squad takes this type of violent mayhem and runs to the moon and back. There is nothing groundbreaking with Gunn's latest picture, but it is a movie I enjoyed from start to finish.
Robbie also returns as our favorite anti-hero, Harley Quinn. I have enjoyed Robbie's incarnation of Quinn during her time in the DCEU. Just like in 2020's Birds of Prey, Robbie continues to grow in her character, giving another grand performance. Since her character debuted in 2016, Robbie's wardrobe has become less sexualized (male-gazed) and more empowering. Over the years, Robbie has gotten more of a say in how she wants Harley to look and feel, something I appreciate. The Suicide Squad also features one of the coolest action sequences with Robbie, to the tune of "Just A Gigolo / I Ain’t Got Nobody (And Nobody Cares For Me)" [Medley]." Blood will fly, along with an explosion of animated 2D flowers around Harley. Some additional performances I will talk about are Elba's Bloodsport, Cena's Peacemaker, Kinnaman's Rick Flag, Stallone's Nanaue / King Shark, Dastmalchian's Polka-Dot Man, and Melchior's Ratcatcher 2.
Elba's acting chops remain unmatched as he blasts through this movie, one shot at a time. Cena's performance as Peacemaker took me by complete surprise. We had just witnessed a rather wooden performance from Cena in F9. Yet the opposite is to be said about his Peacemaker — an incredibly flawed man who would kill every man, woman, or child to keep the peace. Kinnaman returns as our beloved Rick Flag, elevating his charismatic performance this time around. Stallone provides the voice for Nanaue / King Shark — a man-eating fish-human hybrid. In the end, Nanaue just wants friends and some nom, noms. Dastmalchian's zany performance as the Polka-Dot Man is a standout, while Melchior's performance as Ratcatcher 2 is full of heart. Along with her trustee sidekick, a rat named Sebastian, who is to die for. Together, this group of raggedy anti-heroes will win you over, one explosion at a time.
Want to hear more of my thoughts about this film? I spoke with my good friends, Matt and Ashley, on their podcast, Mashely at the Movies | Listen Here.
The Suicide Squad is rated R (Restricted) Drug Use | Brief Graphic Nudity | Language Throughout | Some Sexual References | Strong Violence and Gore.
See it in theaters or watch it now on HBO Max.
Directed by James Gunn
Starring Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Alice Braga, Pete Davidson, Joaquín Cosio, Juan Diego Botto, Storm Reid, Nathan Fillion, Steve Agee, and Sean Gunn as Weasel.
No Sudden Move is a solid crime thriller, some of Steven Soderbergh’s best work. This film-noir throwback takes you through all the twists and turns, paired with a superb cast: Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Brendan Fraser, Kieran Culkin, Noah Jupe, Julia Fox, Ray Liotta, and Bill Duke. Wow! Stream it now on HBO Max.
Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move is an excellent crime caper — slow-burning and oozing with tension. Since Soderbergh's return from his brief filmmaking retirement (between 2013's Side Effects to 2017's Logan Lucky); he has made some of his best work upon returning to the director's chair. During this return, we have gotten films like Logan Lucky, Unsane, Let Them All Talk, and now No Sudden Move. Soderbergh, a master of tension, keeps the ball rolling in his latest feature that's currently streaming on HBO Max. This time around, we get an old-fashioned film with a sharp ensemble to back it up. The story takes place in a 1954 Detroit — a rapidly changing city, where the mobsters and auto executives are in an all-out war. We start with a trio of sly criminals under the guidance of the mysterious Jones (the wonderful Fraser). Jones is recruiting criminals who need one final job so they can escape the city for good.
Curt Goynes (a grand Cheadle) has just been released from prison and needs a ticket out due to being in the crosshairs of other mobsters, including an interesting gentleman named Watkins (Duke). Jones pairs Curt with a man named Ronald (a magnificent del Toro), who happens to be having an affair with Vanessa (Fox), the wife of mob boss Frank Capelli (Liotta). Next, Curt and Ronald are partnered with a firecracker named Charley (Culkin), who leads them to the home of a 'cowardly lion' named Matt (a fantastic Harbour). The criminal trio takes Matt and his family hostage in their home. While keeping Matt's wife (Seimetz) and children (including Jupe) hostage, they order Matt to retrieve an item from the safe in his boss's office. Of course, Matt is sleeping with his boss's secretary, so he has no choice but to obey their orders.
As you can guess, nothing ever goes according to plan, and this is where I stop with the plot. A body, a betrayal, and potential chaos begin to pile up on Curt and Ronald. Leading our two main culprits to think on the fly. There will be mistakes, hidden motives, and plenty of skeletons coming out of the closest when this picture is finally over. Soderbergh also chose the brilliant camera technique of using a fish-eye lens to shoot multiple scenes. This gave the viewer an uncomfortable feeling of something bad is lingering just around the corner. A grade-A technique of suspense and tension rattling your bones. No Sudden Move is an excellent movie in direction, acting, and story. Soderbergh knows how to perfectly craft a crime thriller, and he has a superb cast backing him up from start to finish. No Sudden Move is a great cat-and-mouse film that will keep you on your toes and guessing what's hiding from within the shadows.
No Sudden Move is rated R (Restricted) Language Throughout | Some Violence | Sexual References.
Watch now on HBO Max.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Brendan Fraser, Kieran Culkin, Noah Jupe, Julia Fox, Ray Liotta, and Bill Duke
Pig was a wonderful surprise — dark, poignant, and powerfully acted by Nicolas Cage. A strange odyssey of love and loss. I had lots of feelings after watching this film. Now on VOD if you missed it in theaters.
Part One: Rustic Mushroom Tart
Pig is not the movie I thought it would be, and that's a good thing. This is a film that took me by complete surprise, bringing out feelings that I am still trying to explain. Pig is a beautiful and, at times, heartbreaking film about life. Pig's emotional core is anchored by the great Nic Cage, who has explored a variety of Indie films (Joe, Mandy, and Color Out of Space) in recent years. Cage has given some of his best work in these Indie films, and Pig continues to prove that right. Michael Sarnoski's directorial debut follows a truffle hunter, who lives alone in the Oregon wilderness with his brown foraging pig. Rob (Cage) is greasy, has long hair, a scraggly beard, and worn down clothes. But, Rob is content with his life and his companion — that brown foraging pig. Rob sells his prized truffles to a local supplier (Alex Wolff), who sells them to Portland's high-end restaurants. Yet, everything changes one night when Rob's cabin is broken into, Rob is beaten unconscious, and his pig is stolen.
Part Two: Mom's French Toast & Deconstructed Scallops
This leads Cage on the move to track down who stole his beloved pig. Amir (Wolff) becomes his ride into Portland and this broken odyssey. Along the way, Rob is beaten and bloodied. But Rob has a mission, making his way up to the top of the underbelly restaurant network. Pig is a slow-burning film, slowly building up emotions inside you that you did not realize you had. This is about as far as I'll go for the plot, keeping the spoilers secret and your viewing experience pure. For being a directorial debut, Sarnoski's craft is impeccable and resonating this Americana fable with a moral compass. Pig is a perfectly crafted picture with vivid cinematography. A tender film of food and the human connection — leaving one with a bittersweet feeling by the end. This cynical world of culinary Portland tries to swallow up Rob and his past regrets. But, Rob keeps his eyes focused and his soul wondering for his brown furry friend.
Part Three: A Bird, a Bottle, & a Baguette
Pig was definitely a film that snuck up on me. By the time the credits rolled, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I had just watched a picture so beautiful and so heartbreaking at the same time. I have collected my thoughts over this experience, trying to put it into words. Sarnoski's craftsmanship of gentle storytelling is a power unlike anything I've seen this year. I didn't have much thought about Pig, going into the film, yet I came away with an experience unlike any other. Cage's performance of a man's traumatized soul, is one of the actor's finest works. To put it mildly, Cage is magnificent. Pig is a portrait of many themes — leaving the viewer with several emotions to deconstruct all at once. Good pig.
Pig is rated R (Restricted) For Language and Some Violence.
See Pig in Select Theaters or Rent on VOD.
Directed by Michael Sarnoski
Starring Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, and Adam Arkin.
Are You Alright? is a 15-minute Short film that tackles America's work-related trauma and the mental health crisis confining many people to a new stressful reality.
Writer-director Alessio Summerfield's Are You Alright? will grapple ahold of your psyche, sending your emotions to claustrophobic territories. The premise of this Short is structured as just "another day in the office," but soon we realize that our main protagonist, Wallace (a strong Jaan Marion), is trapped in a paranoia world trying to balance his work-life. Wallace seems to be stuck in dream-like sequences torturing his soul. These sequences are fueled with suspense and claustrophobia — we see hundreds of old telephone lines and wires begin to strangle Wallace in an open green field, giving off Lynchian vibes. There are surreal and sinister forces that parallel throughout this Short, thanks to Summerfield's vivid direction.
There are many scenes where there is the numbing sound of a telephone ringing constantly in Wallace's head, slowly making waves into the viewer's subconscious. As the memos, agreements, and reports begin to pile up, suffocating Wallace, he starts to have a mental breakdown. Slowly, we see Wallace lose sight of what's real and what's in his head. This is where Summerfield succeeds, tackling the mental health crisis that is currently grappling our country. A crisis that feels all too real since we are still in the middle of a pandemic with no light at the end of the tunnel. During the last year, new fears and anxieties have run rapidly through individuals, myself included. Summerfield originally started to explore this concept of anger and frustration.
Summerfield's concept began to form through the physical and mental toll that the workplace puts on its employees. The cast and crew of Are You Alright? also helped collaborate with their own stories of stressful workplaces. Some of them even sought out therapy for work-related trauma. We see Wallace go through similar therapy sessions during this Short, trying to heal his broken state of mind. This contemporary Short of trauma comes across all too familiar for many Americans currently struggling in today's capitalistic force. Are You Alright? is smart in balancing both reality and paranoia. The toll of the never-ending workday can sometimes feel both mentally draining and suffocating. Are You Alright? hits the nail on the head with its topic and theme. It's worth your time.
Are You Alright? is Not Rated (NR).
Directed by Alessio Summerfield
Starring Jaan Marion, Ashley Santana, Cliff Mirabella, and Richard Ulrich.
Are You Alright? is available to watch on: https://www.alessiosummerfield.com/current-project
A Double Feature Review!
Black Widow is a great Marvel movie — half spy thriller, half superhero flick all packed with action throughout. Our MCU hero finally gets her time to shine in a worthy solo picture. Scarlett Johansson is strong as ever, while Florence Pugh steals every scene. Along with great performances from both David Harbour and Rachel Weisz. An entertaining standalone adventure. Black Widow is the first MCU movie back in theaters since 2019's Spider-Man: Far From Home. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a 2020 drought for Marvel, so it was a little refreshing seeing one of our favorite Avengers back on the big screen. Director Cate Shortland's (Lore and Berlin Syndrome) superhero film travels back in time, taking place after the events of 2016's Captain America: Civil War. During this time the Avengers have broken up, giving Shortland a chance to focus solely on Natasha Romanoff's (Johansson) story. I don't want to go into too much detail as far as the plot goes because I was to keep this review spoiler-free.
I will say, Black Widow had one of the best opening sequences in the MCU franchise, along with a killer opening title sequence (a cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Think Up Anger, featuring Malia J). Pugh also steals the show with every scene she's in, continuing her winning streak for grandeur performances (2019's Midsommar and Little Women). There are some flaws with this film, particularly with the final act. These action sequences seemed a little messier than the rest of the movie, along with trying to wrap up loose ends for the plot. However, these are minor, and they did not hold down the film as a whole. Black Widow also broke several pandemic box office records upon release, including $80 million for its opening weekend theatrical release. In addition, the film made $60 million in Disney+ global revenue in its opening weekend and has grossed over $270 million worldwide, becoming the sixth-highest-grossing film of 2021. All-in-all, it felt great seeing a Marvel flick back on the big screen, along with a worthy solo film for Johansson herself.
Black Widow is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Some Language | Intense Violence/Action | Thematic Material.
See in theaters, or watch on Disney+ via Premium Access.
Directed by Cate Shortland
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone, and O.T. Fagbenle.
In The Heights
I understand the hype now. In The Heights is a joyous celebration of community and culture. This vibrant and dazzling musical will sweep you off your feet. It’s a summer sensation that will have you dancing in the air. In The Heights is a story of family and dreams — Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) put the Latino community front and center. Based on Miranda's groundbreaking 2008 Broadway musical, In The Heights is a musical wonder that will capture your eyes and fill your heart. It's a fact that Latinx representation has been lacking in Hollywood over the years, so to see a big-budgeted Hollywood musical with a Latinx cast was refreshing. My wife, Glynis, is Peruvian-American, while my younger sister, Tatiana, is Colombian-American. Telling these stories is critical and will continue to be an important perspective for the future of filmmaking.
In The Heights takes place in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City — a neighborhood known for a large Dominican population on the upper Manhattan side. Translating a musicals stage production to film is no easy task, but Chu wonderfully executes that task. Our story follows a variety of characters throughout, but at its core, the story centers around Usnavi (a perfect Anthony Ramos). Usnavi is a bodega owner who looks after Abuela Claudia (a powerful Olga Merediz), the neighborhood matriarch and woman who raised him after his parents passed away. Merediz's song "Paciencia y Fe" will send chills down your spine and bring tears to your eyes. Usnavi dreams of winning the lottery someday so he can escape to the shores of the Dominican Republic. We also follow the stories of Vanessa (a strong Melissa Barrera), the girl Usnavi has a crush on working at the neighboring beauty salon; Benny (a captivating Corey Hawkins), a dispatcher; and Nina (a mesmerizing Leslie Grace), who has just returned from Standford after dropping out.
This is a close-knit community, as we see everyone's dreams sung out on the screen before your very eyes. In The Heights is beautifully shot and remarkably orchestrated throughout — capturing the magic of celebration and heritage. It's a shame that this film disappointed at the box office, only grossing $40 million against a $55 million budget. Don't let this discourage you from seeing this movie because it really does dazzle. In The Heights blends Latin culture, from its music to its more authentic touches — it even tackles DACA, Usnavi's cousin, Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), is a "Dreamer." In The Heights deserves your attention, so make sure you watch this film if you have not done so already. Let the music speak to your soul.
In The Heights is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) For Some Language and Suggestive References.
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Starring Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz IV, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco, Noah Catala, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
As promised, F9: The Fast Saga delivers big-dumb popcorn fun. Fueled with over-the-top action sequences, F9 keeps this series moving. I had a good time seeing it on the big screen with my family and, in the end, that’s all that matters.
What is there to say about F9? A cheesy, over-the-top action flick from a (somehow) 20-year-old franchise. My expectations were low for this film, and I came away mostly satisfied. I knew what to expect from this car racing turned spy thriller series — there was going to be nonstop action sequences, corny dialogue, a soap opera plot line, and Vin Diesel saying the word "family" about a hundred times throughout the movie. That's exactly what F9 was, just with a little more brainless action sequences and the word "family" was used on steroids. I personally think that this series should have ended on a high note with 2015's Furious 7, sending the late Paul Walker out on a swan song, but here we are, six years later, still chugging along.
This time around, Dom Toretto (Diesel) is living a quiet life off the grid with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his son, Brian. Cue, the evil bad brother, Jakob (John Cena), who is out terrorizing the world. Dom's past has finally caught up with him, so it's up to him and his team (Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Nathalie Emmanuel) to go out on a new mission and stop Jakob. See, the plot is kind of like a bad soap opera — Dom's long-lost brother Jakob has shown up out of thin air and is doing bad guy things. Yet, I can admit, that I was never bored with this film and the crazy action sequences kept me engaged. Director Justin Lin (who has directed a majority of these movies) uses his signature film trait of stunts and thrills, but this time he has turned the dial up to 11. My younger siblings had a blast seeing it in theaters, and I had a great time seeing it with them too.
So, with all of F9's flaws and eye rolls, I was entertained the entire time. F9 is definitely not the best Fast and Furious movie (looking at you, Fast Five), but it is also not the worst Fast and Furious movie either (looking at you, 2 Fast 2 Furious). For me, this movie comes in about mid-tier for the franchise. Universal says that it's making two more of these movies (10 and 11) and then calling it quits. But I will believe that when I see it. Of course, if Universal does decide to call it quits to the franchise's main storyline, then they are going to go crazy with the spin-offs. In the end, F9 rocks and rolls through the streets, with cars blazing and some even flying off to space. F9 also did give Han's (Sung Kang) character justice and a nice comeback, which I did appreciate. Gravity and logic went out the window for this franchise a long time ago. All in all, F9 delivered just enough brainless fun and action to keep me satisfied.
Want to hear more of my thoughts about F9, check this podcast review with my friends, Matt & Ashley, on their website, mashleymovies.com.
F9 is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Language | Action | Sequences of Violence.
Directed by Justin Lin
Starring "The Family" (Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Charlize Theron, John Cena, Sung Kang, Dame Helen Mirren, Finn Cole, Vinnie Bennett, and Kurt Russell).
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It adds some new scares to the franchise, yet this latest chapter to the horror series feels a bit weary and tiresome from the previous Conjuring films.
The Conjuring franchise has now made three linked Conjuring movies and five spin-off movies (Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, The Nun, The Curse of La Llorona, and Annabelle Comes Home). The Conjuring Trilogy has followed our main paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by a terrific Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. While the spin-off films have followed different aspects of The Conjuring universe, like the creepy Annabelle doll or the "Demon Nun." These spin-off films have felt more like a roller coaster — some stories were good, some stories were pretty bad. The first two Conjuring films (2013 and 2016) remain superior to this expanding horror franchise — giving us old-school scares and engrossing stories of different hauntings and supernatural activity.
Director James Wan (Saw, Furious 7, and Aquaman) crafted the two vastly frightening pictures from The Conjuring's chapters one and two. These two horror features gave off bone-chilling vibes that make you want to sleep with a night light on afterward. So, with chapter three coming in and changing up the formula, we essentially get a weaker horror film. The Devil Made Me Do It decides to go a different route and focus on a legal trial where a defendant (Ruairi O'Connor), who's accused of murder, claims to have been possessed by the devil himself (demonic possession). So, it's time for the Warrens to step in and investigate. The third chapter also adds in a new director, Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona), but keeps Wilson and Farmiga. As usual, Wilson and Farmiga's acting chops are strong as ever, but we are missing the noble craftsmanship from Wan.
Stripped away are the original spooks and scares — instead — Chaves tries to add more crime thrilling elements. The Devil Made Me Do It also borrows heavily from far superior horror movies, like The Exorcist (1973) and The Shining (1980). However, I will give the film's opening scene some major props, giving us an incredibly frightening and terrifying exorcism sequence. Unfortunately, as far as the story goes, the rest of the movie begins to peter off after that. The Conjuring franchise does not look like it's slowing down anytime soon. If Wilson and Farmiga continue to return, then I will, of course, continue to watch. Here's to hoping the next chapter with the Warrens goes back to the franchise's original horror roots and haunting atmosphere.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is rated R (Restricted) Terror | Some Disturbing Images | Violence.
Directed by Michael Chaves
Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O'Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, and John Noble.
Bo Burnham: Inside is a masterwork — funny, claustrophobic, and experimental. This one-man comedy-drama special is an immersive experience full of strong humor, dense commentary, and technical splendor. Inside is the must-watch Netflix special of the pandemic era. Five stars.
"But look, I made you some content
Daddy made you your favorite, open wide
Here comes the content
It's a beautiful day to stay inside"
How does one critique and analyze Inside? It's a special that already self-reflects and critiques itself during its 87-minute runtime. This is something that I have been struggling to put into words, showcasing the raw comedic talent that Bo Burnham confounds into his work. There is so much to unpack with Inside — a variety of art forms including musical numbers, stand-up comedy bits, and meta-commentary over this scary new world of ours. I believe Inside is the first true COVID era work that gets things right about how everyone was feeling during the pandemic and still is. Burnham constructs and dissects his own fears, anxieties, and how this pandemic has escalated it. This was how I truly connected with his special. Last year, I too struggled with certain fears and anxieties that grappled ahold of me. I continue to face those fears. Not only was I dealing with the fears of a virus I cannot see while also confined in my home, but my wife (Glynis) and I also went through two miscarriages. I began to go down a dark road of depression and sometimes used alcohol as a crutch to bear on during this hellscape world. Last Fall, I decided to break free from that crutch, and I have been doing better.
Watching Inside brought out my past and continued anxieties, which is why I was so captivated by this form of art. Written, directed, filmed, edited by, and starring Bo Burnham — Inside is a bold and sometimes scary comedy special of the world we live in. Recorded in his home during the COVID-19 pandemic without a crew or audience, Inside features a variety of songs and sketches about his day-to-day life indoors. Burnham depicts his deteriorating mental health, struggles with depression, and explores the relationship with his audience and technology. There is a raw talent that shines brightly with Burnham, as he forms together a creative tour de force of cabin fever. Inside marks Burnham's first return to stand-up since his 2016 special, Make Happy. During his tour for Make Happy, Burnham began to experience panic attacks, which is why he stepped away. While Burnham was focusing more on his mental health, he directed his first feature film, 2018's Eighth Grade. Eighth Grade is a coming-of-age comedy-drama film that follows a middle school teenager who struggles with anxiety but strives to gain social acceptance from her peers.
As a coping mechanism, Kayla (Elsie Fisher) publishes self-motivational video blogs on YouTube. Burnham also focused on Gen Z's time obsession over social media. Burnham also starred in several movies during his time away from stand-up, including The Big Sick, Rough Night, and 2020's Promising Young Woman. Inside is a presentation of life in the pandemic that incorporates social commentary around social media, capitalism, and systemic racism. Parts of Inside are laugh-out-loud funny, while other parts lack humor, giving off a horror-style vibe. Some parts of Inside feel journalistic in nature, while other areas feel like a well-written piece of theater. Burnham incorporates a variety of songs, like FaceTime with My Mom (Tonight), How the World Works, White Woman's Instagram, Sexting, Welcome to the Internet, 30, and That Funny Feeling. The first half of Inside is a roller coaster of emotions while trying to boost oneself with a medication of the giggles. Burnham's second half of the special takes a more serious turn, as our protagonist starts to lose grip with reality. Burnham's mental health begins to spiral down a rabbit hole. Part 2 is a horror-style nightmare that will run through your bones.
Our world feels on the brink of global collapse. As we make our way through a deadly virus, we are also struggling with climate change, systemic racism, genocide, poverty, and capitalistic tyrants. There is also the symbolism of Burnham resembling a Jesus-like figure. Burnham's hair and beard begin to grow longer, transforming into that figure. As Burnham's Jesus-like figure emerges into the world, he becomes cynical and passive-aggressive towards the art he created. Seeing his art has become nothing more than a product of greed. Inside also contextualizes the discourse of social media, and how it has become a sinister force in our society. Burnham's career began on YouTube, yet YouTube has also led to a rise in right-wing extremism. It's a struggle of realism that is also over-layered with the horrors of the digital world. "Am I going crazy? Would I even know? Am I right back where I started fourteen years ago?" Mental health is an important topic we need to talk about more. While finding ways to cope with one's anxieties is just as important. My continued writing was a way for me to cope with my fears, especially last year. Burnham puts these hard topics front and center for his newest feature. Inside might be one of the most beautiful, scary, and fascinating pieces of work I have watched in a long time. Burnham's newest special deserves all of the Emmys this Fall. Inside is simply a masterpiece.
Bo Burnham: Inside is rated TV-MA (Mature).
Written, directed, filmed, edited by, and starring Bo Burnham.
Now available to stream on Netflix.
A Triple, Disney, Review!
I enjoyed Cruella more than I thought I would. Exquisite costume and makeup designs, strong performances from both Emma’s (Stone and Thompson), and just an overall entertaining film. A great summer popcorn flick, I recommend seeing. Plus, actor Paul Walter Hauser was brilliant. Disney's live-action adaptions and remakes have been hit-or-miss in the past, so I did not know what to expect going in for Cruella. It turns out that Cruella was a wonderful surprise of fun storytelling and great acting leads. Emma Stone and Emma Thompson take the film to another dimension with their superb acting chops. Along with the mesmerizing costume and makeup designs, was the clear direction from director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl and I, Tonya). Cruella even featured lively '70s music with a killer soundtrack blasting throughout. So, this live-action feature follows the rebellious early days of Cruella de Vil — one of cinema's most notoriously fashionable villains.
Set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, we follow a young woman named Estella (Stone), a gifted and creative genius determined to make her designs famous. Estella befriends a pair of young thieves, Jasper and Horace (Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser), who enjoy her appetite for mischief and mayhem. Hauser's supporting career has been fun to watch. He has always given brilliant performances in the supporting role, whether it's films like BlacKkKlansman, Da 5 Bloods, Late Night, or I, Tonya — Hauser can do it all. One day, Baroness von Hellman (Thompson) sees one of Estella's works and is instantly captivated by it. A reign of terror wields over the Baroness and her power. After she takes Estella in, their strained relationship sets in motion a course of events that will cause Estella to embrace her more wicked side, AKA Cruella.
A revenge thriller with a dash of charm — Cruella surprised me in so many ways. Cruella had its opening premiere in Los Angeles on May 18, making it the first major red carpet event since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The film was released in U.S. theaters and available on Disney+ with Premier Access simultaneously on May 28. According to Samba TV, "the film was watched by about 686,000 American households in its debut weekend, resulting in around $20.57 million in revenue for Disney." Theatrically, Cruella has grossed $132 million worldwide since Memorial Day Weekend. In the end, go watch this enjoyable summer flick.
Cruella is now playing in theaters and or is available to purchase (Premium Access) on Disney+.
I got to experience Cruella at the wonderful Skyview Drive-In in Belleville, IL.
Cruella is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Thematic Elements | Some Violence.
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mark Strong, Jamie Demetriou , and John McCrea.
Raya and the Last Dragon
Raya and the Last Dragon is a great family film with gorgeous animation and a story with a big heart. Awkwafina & Kelly Marie Tran are both wonderful as the film’s two leading roles. I highly recommend this one. It’s now free to watch on Disney+. Disney continues their push for more inclusion and representation in its newer works, and Raya reaffirms why that is so important. Raya follows the story of a South-East Asian heroine and her culture, marking a first for Disney to tell a story like this in their 90-year history. Actress Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico from The Last Jedi) also made history by voicing Disney's first South-East Asian Princess with her role as Raya in the film. Having a sister who is Asian-American, it is great to see more people of color represented on the big screen, telling their stories to younger audiences from all over the world. Director's Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada's (Big Hero 6 and 2018's Blindspotting) film takes place in a fictional realm known as Kumandra, a fantasy world that’s home to five tribes. Each of the five tribes has its own distinct culture, inspired by different places in South-East Asia. A region home to 11 countries and 673 million people.
In Kumandra, humans, and dragons once lived together in harmony, until sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land. To save humanity from the Drunns, the dragons sacrificed themselves. Now, some 500 years later, those same sinister monsters have returned, and it's up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the last dragon to wipe out the Druuns for good. Cue Awkwafina as the last dragon in existence named Sisu. As always, Awkwafina (The Farewell, Crazy Rich Asians, and Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens) is a total blast as the voice of Sisu. She's funny and charming as ever, while she'll slap a smile on your face in every scene. Along the way, Raya and Sisu pick up companions — including Boun (voiced by Izaac Wang), a charismatic 10-year-old entrepreneur; a toddler-age con artist named Noi (voiced by Thalia Tran) and her trio of monkey-like friends; and Tong (voiced by Benedict Wong), a difficult but kind-hearted warrior giant. But where there are friends, there are also enemies.
Trying to stop Raya from gathering up all of the dragon gems is her foe Namaari (voiced by Gemma Chan). Raya and the Last Dragon is a great family film that showcases the importance of trust, courage, and representation. Due to the ongoing pandemic, Raya was released to theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access simultaneously. As of June 17, Raya has grossed $54.3 million in the U.S. and Canada, and $79 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $133.3 million. Now free to watch on Disney+, you won't be disappointed. Plus, Us Again might be one of the most heartwarming and lovely short films I have seen in a long time. A beautifully directed and choreographed short that will fill your eyes with wonder and make your heart full. Us Again marks Walt Disney Animation's first theatrical short in five years. A splendid reference to Gene Kelly's Singin' in the Rain, with an interracial couple that shines brightly on the big screen. Director Zach Parrish's (head of animation on Big Hero 6) non-verbal, musical wonderland will sweep you off your feet. A youthful liberation on life and love, Us Again is a must-watch.
Raya and the Last Dragon & Us Again are both free to stream on Disney+.
Raya is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Some Violence | Action | Thematic Elements.
Directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada
Starring Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Jona Xiao, Sandra Oh, Thalia Tran, Lucille Soong, and Alan Tudyk.
Luca is a beautiful film, full of the vivid, imaginative freedoms of being a kid. One of Pixar’s sweetest films to date. Luca’s infectious joy will fill your heart with wonder. Now streaming on Disney+, oh how I wish it could have been released to theaters. “Silenzio, Bruno!” Pixar's Luca is a breath of fresh air — colorful and full of magic, Luca paints a beautiful portrait of friendship and freedom. An animated feature so rich and full of life, you'll have a smile from ear to ear by the end of the movie. Pixar's latest feature is similar in style to the likes of Studio Ghibli, while its storytelling hits a sweet spot on a warm summer day. The film takes place in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, while we follow the fun coming-of-age story about one young sea monster in the water, turned boy on land. Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) will soon experience a summer like no other, filled with gelato, pasta, and endless scooter rides.
Luca gets to shares these grand adventures with his newfound best friend, Alberto (voice of Jack Dylan Grazer). Yet, their fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: they are sea monsters under the water, and when they are on land, they transform into humans. Luca marks as director Enrico Casarosa's (2011's La Luna short film) directorial feature debut. Just as La Luna captured your heart back in 2011, Luca will do the same. Luca and Alberto make their way to the seaside town, where they meet and befriend Giulia (voiced by Emma Berman), an 'underdog' girl who wants to win the town's Portorosso Cup Race. But, she has to continue to face the town's bully, Ercole Visconti (voiced by Saverio Raimondo). Luca and Alberto decide to team up with Giulia, so they can win the Cup Race's prize money, and buy their very own Vespa.
It's off to the races for our 'underdog' team, but will their watery secret reach the surface? I'll let you watch and find out on your own. Casarosa's film design and animation were both inspired by the hand-drawn and stop motion works of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Casarosa described his creation as a way that "pays homage to Federico Fellini and other classic Italian filmmakers, with a dash of Miyazaki in the mix too." Luca teaches lessons on friendship, acceptance, and embracing one's differences. If only Luca could have been experienced on the big screen. But, do not let that stop you from watching this cute picture from the comfort of your home. Like ice cream on a warm summer day, Luca hits the sweet spot.
Luca is now streaming on Disney+.
Luca is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Some Thematic Elements | Brief Violence | Rude Humor | Language.
Directed by Enrico Casarosa
Starring Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Maya Rudolph, Giacomo Gianniotti, Jim Gaffigan, Sandy Martin, Francesca Fanti, Gino D'Acampo, Marco Barricelli, and Saverio Raimondo.
A Quiet Place Part II was well worth the wait. Another high-anxiety, pulse-pounding thriller. Emily Blunt was stellar, while Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe got to showcase their acting chops. Plus, Cillian Murphy’s raw performance stole every scene. Movie theaters are back!
Actor-director John Krasinski's Part II is another terrifying expansion of a soon-to-be sprawling franchise. Back in 2018, Krasinski presented to the world A Quiet Place — proving that he should be taken seriously as a director and not just as an actor. Krasinski also led as the lead role along with his wife-actress Emily Blunt. Actors Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe were cast as their children for the film. The plot revolved around a father (Krasinski) and a mother (Blunt), who were living on a farm and struggling to survive while raising their children (Simmonds and Jupe) in a post-apocalyptic world. This new, scary world was now inhabited by blind monsters, with an acute sense of hearing. Make a sound, and you could be killed. The film ends with Lee (Krasinski) sacrificing himself to save his children and Evelyn (Blunt) discovering that sound frequency amplified with feedback hurts the monsters — exposing their armored heads with flesh. Shooting the distressed monsters now exposed will kill them instantly and scene.
This is where Part I left off and where Part II immediately begins. We are introduced to a flashback sequence for the film's opening. Over a year before the first film's events, the Abbott family attends Marcus' (Jupe) baseball game. We even get a fun return of Lee (Krasinski) in the flashback sequence. Mid-game, bewildered viewers look skyward as a flaming object hurtles towards the Earth — confirming these monsters are extra-terrestrial. As people exit the park and attempt to drive away, the town is beset and attacked by the alien creatures. The opening sequence will have you on the edge-of-your-seat, as someone in my theater literally exhaled a sigh of relief after this opening scene ended. Part II follows Evelyn and her children, who now embark on a dangerous journey outside their farm to find other survivors. Simmonds plays Regan, who is deaf in the movie, and real-life — Simmonds' acting chops in Part II deepens and evolves. Simmonds described her character's evolution after the first film, "she has a lot of pressure to become an adult very quickly."
Part II allowed her to take on a more leading role, and she knocked it out of the park, along with actor Jupe, who also had a more leading role. And according to Syfy Wire, deafness and American Sign Language (ASL) "are inherently linked to the heroism of its heroine." Simmonds worked with an ASL coach to make sure her signing and articulation were both clean for the sequel. She said she felt "a sense of pressure" being in a leading position to represent the deaf and hard of hearing. Yet, Krasinski's tightly constructed direction allowed Regan's character development to fully grow on the screen. Regan, Marcus, Evelyn, and Evelyn's newborn baby are on the run, searching for survivors. They run into an old friend of Lee's, Emmett played by an astounding Cillian Murphy. Like in every supporting role (Dunkirk, Inception, and Red Eye), Murphy steals every scene with his raw, transformative acting chops. Murphy continues to prove that he needs to be cast for bigger, leading roles. He has proven how powerful of an actor he is with films and shows like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, and Peaky Blinders.
Emmett tells Evelyn that "the people that are left, they're not the kind of people worth saving." Just as Part I did, Part II builds the story on tension with a tightly constructed score that will seep into your bones. Part II also unveils more action this time around but does not lose sight of its heart. The one flaw would be that the story does not go as far as some would like it to because it's setting up for a Part III. Nevertheless, I welcomed this type of storytelling because it centered more around the characters and their development from the previous installment. Part II is also the first movie to cross $100 million domestically in our COVID-19 era. The film also set several box office records, including the biggest opening weekend ($57 million) of the COVID-19 pandemic. Movie theaters are back, and I highly recommend seeing this nerve-racking sequel on the big screen, where it's intended to be. You won't be disappointed.
A Quiet Place Part II is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Terror, Bloody/Disturbing Images, & Violence.
Directed by John Krasinski
Starring Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou, and John Krasinski.
A Double Feature Review!
Those Who Wish Me Dead
Those Who Wish Me Dead is a reasonable thriller, upheld by a strong Angelina Jolie. Through adrenaline and action, this survival film gets the job done. Writer-director Taylor Sheridan (writer for Sicario, Hell or High Water and writer-director for Wind River) offers the audience an enjoyable escape route of throwbacks to a '90s-style action thriller. Those Who Wish Me Dead is not Sheridan's best material but it does deliver on everything it promises — strong acting performances (Jolie, Finn Little, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Medina Senghore, and Jon Bernthal), dangerous thrills, and straightforward tension. The film follows a smoke-jumper (Jolie) and a traumatized boy (Little) who fight for their lives as two ruthless assassins (Hoult and Gillen) pursue them through a raging fire in the Montana wilderness. That's as deep as the plot gets — it's pretty direct, with no twists or turns in the script. However, the bond between Jolie and Little is powerful and helps uphold the film's minor plot holes. The action throughout this movie is solid, keeping viewers (at home or in theaters) watching it on edge. In the end, we get an effective and entertaining film that checks all of the boxes. Plus, it showcases the great acting chops of Jolie. What more could you ask for?
Those Who Wish Me Dead is rated R (Restricted) Strong Violence & Language Throughout.
Streaming on HBO Max until June 13 or catch it in Theaters.
Directed by Taylor Sheridan
Starring Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Medina Senghore, Jon Bernthal, and Jake Weber.
Saint Maud is a physiological horror flick digging its teeth into your skin. A gothic nightmare one cannot look away from and all its unholiness. I have been eager to finally see this physiological horror film since I first saw the trailer back in March 2020. Then, the pandemic happened, and everything in the United States shut down. Saint Maud was originally scheduled to be released in the United States on 10 April 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic raging throughout the world, the release was postponed until 17 July 2020 and then was later pulled entirely from the schedule. I knew, eventually, I would see this dark, beautiful film — rather it be from my home or from inside a movie theater. Saint Maud was released as a limited release in the United States on 29 January 2021, followed by video on demand (VOD) and Epix on 12 February 2021. Then, last month Saint Maud was also released to the streaming services of Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. I was able to watch this gothic nightmare on Hulu from the comfort of my home.
I was ecstatic that I finally got to watch writer-director Rose Glass' directorial debut — this unsettling, slow-burning horror movie will sink its teeth into your skin and never let go. Actor Morfydd Clark as Maud gives us a commanding performance fueled by paranoia and faith. Saint Maud jumps deep into the pathos of religion, simulating a stunning picture of arthouse horror. Glass' Saint Maud is a chilling vision of faith; that's convoluted with madness and salvation. Maud (Clark), a newly devout hospice nurse, becomes obsessed with saving her dying patient's soul (Jennifer Ehle), and that's all I will tell you. Will the sinister forces of Maud's past threaten to put an end to her holy calling? I'll let you find out and make the call. Glass also blends reality with fiction of what is going on in the real world and Maud's own head. It's a fascinating way of storytelling that will haunt your soul to the end of times. All-in-all, Glass' Saint Maud is a fierce horror film that will be studied for the years that come. In the end, this unholy matrimony of a film deserves to be seen by the masses.
Saint Maud is rated R (Restricted) Language, Disturbing & Violent Content, and Sexual Content.
Saint Maud is now streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.
The Mitchells vs the Machines is a great film — beautiful animation that’s blended well with witty humor and a feel-good story. A colorful, heartwarming, and energetic ride for the whole family. Plus, Olivia Colman voicing an evil AI is a stroke of genius.
The Mitchells vs the Machines was a wonderful surprise to open and see — colorful, eye-catching, and energetic; this is a movie that grabs your attention and never lets go. Our story follows a dysfunctional family during a global robot apocalypse and their journey to discovering that being weird or eccentric is actually a good thing. Our heroine is Katie Mitchell (voiced by a brilliant Abbi Jacobson), a high school graduate who's ready to start a new adventure at film school with "her people." Katie is forced to embark on one last road trip with her proud parents (voiced by a stellar Danny McBride and Maya Rudolph), younger brother (voiced by Mike Rianda, also the director), and their beloved dog (voiced by social media icon, Doug the Pug) before starting her first year at film school. Each of them has their own quirks and insecurities — Katie is a cinephile, but she's struggling to find "her people." Rick (the dad) loves the outdoors but is longing for a connection with her daughter Katie. Linda (the mom) loves baking weird desserts with her children's faces on them, while she's also longing for the family to be a certain type of 'perfect.'
Aaron (the younger brother) is fascinated by dinosaurs but becomes incredibly anxious when talking to girls. Lastly, Monchi (the dog) is the lovable pug of the family, or is he a pig? Or a loaf of bread? Monchi struggles with his eyes not being able to go in the same direction, but that does not stop him from facing his imperfection with joy. Suddenly, everything changes when the world's electronic devices come to life to stage a global uprising. Along with the help of two friendly robots (voiced by a hilarious Fred Armisen and Beck Bennett), the Mitchells must now come together to save the planet from the new technological revolution. The animation is lively, while the storyline has heart and keeps you laughing throughout. I connected the most with the character of Katie — her eccentric personality and love for movies. Katie and her dad, Rick (McBride), struggle to get along, as their father-daughter relationship has hit a rough patch. A familiar storyline, yet director Mike Rianda's first feature film feels fresh and new. Blended well with humor and heart, The Mitchells vs the Machines is a film the whole family can enjoy.
Sony Animation has done well here, delivering us a delightful animated film on a worthy story, feel-good themes, fast-paced humor, and representation. Similar to a certain aesthetic from Sony's 2018 animated film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Mitchells vs the Machines captures the beauty and florescence that the Spider-Man film captured back in 2018. Rianda's first feature has already become one of my favorite new movies of 2021 — it's one that I can and have watched over and over again. I know that we have just made it through a long-exhausting awards season, but I do hope this animated gem does not get overlooked. Rianda's wonderful little picture deserves all of the award love this year. You are in for a treat with this bright and delightful picture, so sit back and enjoy the ride. The Mitchells vs the Machines is full of laughter and charisma from the beginning until the end. "Behold! The Twilight of Man!"
If you want to listen further on my thoughts about The Mitchells vs the Machines, Click Here. I was able to join my good friends, Matt & Ashley, on their podcast Mashley at the Movies to talk about this wonderful film.
The Mitchells vs the Machines is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Action and Some Language.
Stream it now on Netflix.
Directed by Mike Rianda
Starring Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Mike Rianda, Eric André, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, and Doug the Pug.
A Double Feature Review!
This high-anxiety, get under your skin, dark comedy feature is a brilliant film debut from writer-director Emma Seligman. Shiva Baby is an indie gem, while actor Rachel Sennott is a marvel throughout. Initially, the story structure is set up to be pretty simple — Danielle (Sennott) is a directionless young bisexual Jewish woman who attends a shiva with her family. Danielle is attending college but cannot figure out her degree and also has a sugar daddy (Danny Deferrari) on the side. This is where the story becomes tangled into a paranoia-infused comedy — Danielle's sugar daddy, Max, unexpectedly shows up to the shiva with his wife (a cunning Dianna Agron) and baby daughter. Danielle is shocked to find out that Max is married, while she also encounters her ex-girlfriend, Maya (a strong Molly Gordon) at the wake. The film's tension is claustrophobic, while Danielle's emotions become more and more unraveled throughout a chaotic series of events. Shiva Baby was originally shot as a short film by Seligman and Sennott back in 2017. Now, years later, Seligman's anxiety-inducing feature has come to fruition. Shiva Baby is a 77-minute movie that's both funny and nerve-wracking at the same time. Seligman's film also gives us a fresh perspective on personal experiences and bi representation on the screen. From the repetitive stringed attack of Ariel Marx's musical score to Seligman's tight direction and Sennott's acting chops, Shiva Baby is the whole package that's waiting to be opened. Through personal growth and passive-aggressive vibes, Seligman's Shiva Baby is a stroke of genius.
Shiva Baby is available to rent VOD at Google Play, Vudu, Amazon, Apple TV, and YouTube.
Shiva Baby is Not Rated (NR).
Directed by Emma Seligman
Starring Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Danny Deferrari, Fred Melamed, Dianna Agron, Jackie Hoffman, Sondra James, and Deborah Offner.
Together Together is a sweet film exploring love and parenthood from a platonic lens. After experiencing loss ourselves, this was a healing movie to see. After a year of being unable to go to the theaters, it felt great going to the movies again. Glynis and I were able to see this wonderful little movie at our favorite theater in St. Louis, the Hi-Pointe Theatre. So please, get your vaccine, and we'll see you at the movies. Together Together offers a simple setup that grows deeper and warmer as the movie unfolds. Together Together has a beating heart full of the beauty and the personal struggle of parenthood. Writer-director Nikole Beckwith's indie film was a healing experience for me to see on the big screen. Our story follows Matt (a strong Ed Helms), a single man in his 40s who wants a child. Matt hires a young 26-year-old loner named Anna (a perfect Patti Harrison) as the gestational surrogate for his child. Harrison, a transgender actress cast in a cisgender role, allowed Beckwith to break away from the normal rom-com tropes. This subversion gifted the viewer with a talented Harrison to fully embody Anna on the big screen. She is simply perfect for the role. While her and Helms chemistry throughout the picture shined brightly.
During the pregnancy, Anna and Matt's bond grows, but the two begin to realize this unexpected relationship will quickly challenge their perceptions of love. What part of their connection crosses the boundaries into uncharted territory. It's a platonic lens that Beckwith layers throughout the film allowing the viewer to see a different meaning in the word love, beyond the physical aspect. Can Matt and Anna have weekly dinners together? Can Anna spend the night over at Matt's? Can Matt hold hands with Anna, sitting on a park bench and eating candy? These are all situations that Matt and Anna have to address and work through. The beauty of Together Together is seeing Matt and Anna's bond form and bloom through this platonic angle, capturing what it means to be human. This experience will help Anna afford to go to college, earning a degree she's always wanted, while also gifting Matt with a child he has always wanted. Together Together is a sweet and joyful film that sticks with you long after the credits end.
Together Together is now playing in theaters.
Together Together is rated R (Restricted). Language | Some Sexual References.
Directed by Nikole Beckwith
Starring Ed Helms, Patti Harrison, Tig Notaro, Julio Torres, Anna Konkle, Sufe Bradshaw, Rosalind Chao, and Timm Sharp.
Barb & Star is a blast, chop-full of silly gags and side-turning jokes. Actors Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig's comedic force reign superior. A colorful and cheerful experience.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is a joyous film to watch throughout. I fully enjoyed its light humor and silly sense of narrative structure. I laughed a lot, bringing me a healing dose of fun. From the moment you see Yoyo (a wonderful Reyn Doi) riding down the street on his bike singing Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb's "Guilty," I knew I was in for a treat. Meet Barb (a hilarious Annie Mumolo) and Star (a side-splitting Kristen Wiig), two middle-aged gals who decide to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, leaving their small Midwestern town behind for the first time ever. Their vacation leads them to sunny Vista Del Mar, Florida. Barb is a widow, and Star feels abandoned by her husband's infidelity years ago. Yet, the two are more afraid of losing the "shimmer" that made their lives so joyful.
Meanwhile, we get an eccentric villain named Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also Wiig) and her henchman, Edgar (a lively Jamie Dornan), plotting to destroy Vista Del Mar. Will Sharon succeed with her evil plan? Will Edgar follow through, or will he fall in love with Star and her colorful culottes? You'll have to find out and watch this wonderful movie full of silly jokes and goofy moods from our fluffy-haired heroines. We are even blessed to have two musical numbers, one including Dornan running around the beach, singing to seagulls, and flicking his feet in the sand. "Edgar's Prayer" is incredibly amusing, while the titanic techno-dance sequence had me rolling. Even as the movie becomes more absurd, the jokes keep coming and will fill you up with joy. Barb & Star is a funny film that slapped a smile on my face, and after such a tough year, I needed a good laugh. So, pack your bags and join Barb and Star for a trip of a lifetime. Who knows, you might even meet Trish on the way.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) For crude sexual content | drug use | some strong language.
Directed by Josh Greenbaum
Starring Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Damon Wayans Jr., Fortune Feimster, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Rose Abdoo, Vanessa Bayer, Phyllis Smith, Kwame Patterson, and Reyn Doi as Yoyo.
Godzilla vs. Kong is an ultimately silly but exciting super knockout experience. Not wasting any time and living up to its title, Godzilla vs. Kong packs in the giant monster action we've all been waiting for.
Godzilla vs. Kong marks as the fourth film in Legendary's MonsterVerse — Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters — delivering the hype as a vibrant boxing match between our two most famous monsters in cinematic history. The plot is pretty simple, and that's okay: Legends collide in as these mythic rivals meet in a spectacular battle for the ages, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Kong and his protectors undertake a dangerous journey to find his true home, Hollow Earth, but they unexpectedly find themselves in the path of an enraged Godzilla. Thus, beginning an epic clash between the two Titans. Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) and Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) are Kong's guide back to his original home, along with Andrews' adopted daughter, Jia (an exceptional Kaylee Hottle). Jia is deaf and has formed a special bond with Kong through sign language as their gatekeeper.
Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and her friend Josh (Julian Dennison), along with a Titan conspiracy theorist podcaster named Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), follow Godzilla's path throughout the film. Madison knows that something is up with Godzilla and that his recent attacks do not add up. With the script material they are given, our actors use it to the best of their abilities to present an emotionally resonant film fueled by action and spectacle. The first encounter leads our two rivals to slug it out in the ocean on a U.S. Navy barge. The second and most pivotal encounter leads our two foes to slug it out in the middle of Hong Kong. Through neon glows and popcorn action, you're in for an adventure. Who wins? I won't ruin the surprise for you. But I will say that another past metal foe of Godzilla's comes out from the shadows.
As of April 16, 2021, Godzilla vs. Kong has grossed $80.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $309.7 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $390.2 million. So, it seems that we finally are starting to escape the trenches of this pandemic for the theater. We have a long way to go, but all it took to get us out of the rut was a giant ape punching a giant lizard in the face. Also, Samba TV reported that 3.6 million households watched at least the first five minutes of the film in the U.S., and 225,000 in the U.K. In the end, see it on the IMAX or watch it from the comfort of your home, as the fearsome Godzilla takes on the mighty Kong. Cheers!
Godzilla vs. Kong is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Destruction | Brief Language | Intense Creature Violence.
Avaiable to stream on HBO Max until April 30th.
Directed by Adam Wingard
Starring Godzilla and Kong, with special guest appearances by actors Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Kaylee Hottle, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, and Demián Bichir.
ZSJL has epic written all over it. Filled with mythos and comic book extravaganza, Zack Snyder (Watchmen, Man of Steel, and Batman v Superman) finally got to present his bold vision with a coherent message. While the film still has its flaws, its heart is bigger. A miracle we got here. Snyder can take a bow.
Shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, due to Snyder's love for Kelly Reichardt's 2020 film, First Cow, Zack Snyder's Justice League is a singular-coherent vision the director was finally able to make. During the production of 2017's Justice League, Snyder's daughter tragically passed away, forcing him to step away from the film altogether. Warner Bros. had to make a decision on who could come in and take over for Snyder. In comes director Joss Whedon (Firefly and Marvel's The Avengers). Yet, Whedon took what Snyder had started and smashed it to pieces, leaving us with a mess of a movie for our DC heroes. Not to mention, Whedon's abusive nature on the set has been coming more into the limelight since the release of the 2017 film.
In comes the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement on social media, gathering more than 180,000 signatures for the online petition. Though I was skeptical that this campaign would actually work, The Snyder Cut came through 3-years later. It is nice to see a director make the product he's always had in mind without the studio hammering down on him. What also needs to be addressed with this online campaign is the toxicity around it. Not all of the campaigning online was toxic, but there were portions that were, which I do not support, just like Snyder does not support. Moving on to our heroes, Superman (Henry Cavil) is dead, and Bruce Wayne A.K.A Batman (Ben Affleck) is determined not to let his sacrifice go to vain. Bruce aligns forces with Diana Prince A.K.A. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat.
This proves to be more difficult for Bruce than originally thought. In the end, Bruce is able to unite Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and The Flash (Ezra Miller). Their new united team steps up to stop Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), DeSaad (Peter Guinness), and Darkseid (Ray Porter) from conquering the Earth through the ancient Mother Boxes. With a splash of mythology and a dash of courage, our heroes are ready to save the world. ZSJL has its flaws, but its heart is bigger, beating loudly for all to hear. With a 4-hour runtime, bloody fights, epic action sequences (my favorite being the Themyscira sequence), and a quest for adventure, ZSJL sticks the landing. Zack Snyder, your work is complete; please take a bow.
Zack Snyder's Justice League is rated R (Restricted) Violence | Some Language.
Avaiable to stream on HBO Max.
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Henry Cavill, Ciarán Hinds, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, and Diane Lane.
A Double Feature Review!
I Care A Lot
I Care A Lot is an enthralling thriller that will get under your skin. Golden Globe Winner Rosamund Pike’s cold, cunning performance is gut-punching. While Peter Dinklage is sly & calculated. The film is not perfect (it has flaws), but it gives a damning indictment of corruption. Director J Blakeson's (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) slick, twisted film will make your bones cold. A scathing critique of capitalism and the world it sets on fire. Pike gives us another chilling performance, this time as Marla Grayson — she's a professional, court-appointed guardian for dozens of elderly wards whose assets she seizes and smoothly bilks through questionable but technically legal means. Grayson's means and desires are not something to root for, as her actions make you sick to your stomach. During the film, her girlfriend and partner-in-crime, Fran (Eiza González), decide to pick off their latest "cherry," Jennifer Peterson (two-time Academy Award winner Dianne Wiest). Peterson is a wealthy retiree with no living heirs or family. Or does she? This leads us to Dinklage's character, Roman Lunyov, a volatile Russian gangster. I Care A Lot is a film that knows exactly what it's doing from the first frame to the last frame. Once Grayson and Lunyov's worlds collide, the film shifts gears to a crime thriller. Flaw? Yes. Engaging? Always. I Care A Lot comes, conquers, and has the last laugh — with a final bang and all. In the end, you get what you deserve.
I Care A Lot is rated R (Restricted) Language Throughout | Some Violence.
Streaming on Netflix.
Directed by J Blakeson
Starring Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Dianne Wiest, Chris Messina, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Ammonite is a stunning story of love. Beautifully shot, exquisitely crafted by director Francis Lee (2017's God's Own Country), and wonderfully acted by our two leads — Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. A slow-burning romance that will sneak up on you. Lee's passionate film brings us back to 1800s England, where we meet a washed-up fossil hunter Mary Anning (Academy Award Winner Kate Winslet), who works alone on the rugged Southern coastline. Mary's past days of famed discoveries are lost at sea. Now, she hunts for local fossils to sell to tourists, supporting herself and her ailing mother (Gemma Jones). Along comes Charlotte Murchison (Academy Award Nominee Saoirse Ronan), whose wealthy husband (James McArdle) entrusts her with Mary's care. Mary takes Charlotte in, helping provide her with healing and support during a difficult time. Charlotte is recovering from a previous miscarriage that haunts her day and night. At last, we see a burning romance build from inside them through Lee's tender direction and Winslet and Ronan's superb chemistry together. Lee also successfully avoids the 'male-gaze' throughout this film and lets the story speak for itself. He also let Winslet and Ronan choreograph their own sex scenes together, providing them with the safe space they needed. Throughout the film, both Winslet and Ronan are magnificent — giving us heartfelt performances that deserved to be recognized this awards season. It's a shame that is film somehow fizzled out during the awards. Don't let that stop you from watching this luscious period piece romance. In the end, Ammonite gifts the viewer with a beautiful mystique full of life and love. A moving period piece waiting to be uncovered.
Ammonite is rated R (Restricted) Some Graphic Nudity | Graphic Sexuality | Brief Language.
Now Streaming on Hulu.
Directed by Francis Lee
Starring Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Fiona Shaw, James McArdle, Gemma Jones, and Alec Secareanu.
Judas and the Black Messiah is electrifying, tightly acted by Golden Globe Winner Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, and emotionally intimate.
Writer-Director Shaka King's (2013's Newlyweeds) biopic of Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton is a revolution. We see the events leading up to Hampton's unjust murder at the hands of the FBI. King's newest film is a radical and bold message displayed by a big-time studio (Warner Bros.) — putting its manifesto front and center of racial injustices and a society that oppresses its people. Kaluuya — now a Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor in this film — is revolutionary in the role of Hampton. Kaluuya's poise and striking acting chops are on full display here. Here's hoping that he receives an Oscar nomination come this Monday, the 15th. While Stanfield is a knockout, showing that he has a commanding presence in the leading role, as he did in Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You (2018).
Our story follows an FBI informant William O'Neal (Stanfield), who infiltrates the Illinois Black Panther Party. It's the late '60s, and O'Neal has just been arrested on attempted car hijacking while posing as a federal officer. FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell (a perfect Jesse Plemons) offers O'Neal's charges to be dropped if he works undercover for the bureau. O'Neal agrees (hint Judas Iscariot) and is tasked to keep tabs on the Illinois BPP's leader and Chairman Fred Hampton (Kaluuya). Throughout the film, we see O'Neal yearning for quick cash, but starts growing more paranoid and conflicted as his character gets involved deeper into the bureau's plot. Stanfield's POV provides us with a number of masks, not knowing which one he'll pull out next. A battle wages in O'Neal's soul — what side of history will he be on?
Meanwhile, as Hampton's political prowess grows for the movement, he also falls in love with fellow revolutionary Deborah Johnson (a knockout Dominique Fishback). King's crisp script of racial justice and politics is as bold as it is urgent. My one critique of the film's screenplay was its small pacing problem in the first act. That completely disappears as we transition into act two, keeping us on the edge of our seats. Through an engaging story, powerful direction, meticulous acting, and striking cinematography, Judas and the Black Messiah is one of the best films to come out in 2021. In the end, Hampton's story needs to be heard. Through tragedy, anger, and a call for justice, Judas and the Black Messiah is a powerful political statement dropped on the doorsteps of capitalistic oppressors.
It's not too late! Judas and the Black Messiah is available to Stream on HBO Max until this Sunday, March 14th.
Judas and the Black Messiah is rated R (Restricted) Violence | Pervasive Language.
Directed by Shaka King
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Martin Sheen, Algee Smith, Lil Rel Howery, and Jermaine Fowler.
The Dig is a beautiful film. Perfectly acted by Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, meticulously crafted, and wonderfully shot. Through elegant cinematography, we get an engrossing story filled with wide and exterior camera shots of the English countryside. A treasure waiting to be told.
Director Simon Stone's (2015's The Daughter) little film truly is a hidden gem waiting to be dug up. Our story follows a true-life tale of an excavator, Basil Brown (a meticulous Fiennes), and his team discovering a large wooden ship from the Dark Ages while digging up a burial ground on a woman's (an elegant Mulligan) estate. Coming off a hot awards streak with Promising Young Woman, Mulligan gives another rousing performance completely different from her portrayal in director Emerald Fennell's Me Too revenge thriller. Here, Mulligan is soft-spoken, warm, and incredibly moving with her gentle portrayal as Edith Pretty. Pretty is a mother, who has been struggling with health conditions that affect her heart. Stone's movie reimagines the events of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge, in Suffolk, England — playing loosely to the true-life story, but also allowing the actors (Fiennes and Mulligan) to take the narrative down their own path.
These creative narratives play out well for this 1930's storyline, always pointing our audience in the right direction. During the film, Brown uncovers two early medieval cemeteries that date from the 6th to 7th centuries. One of the cemeteries had an undisturbed ship burial with a wealth of Anglo-Saxon artifacts. Now, most of these objects that Brown and his team dug up are held by the British Museum. I am not sure if this movie will get any Oscar nominations come March 15th, but if it does, I hope The Dig receives nominations for cinematography, production design, and costume design. Through Mike Eley's luscious cinematography, Stone's vivid direction, and Mulligan and Fiennes' moving performances, we get one of the first special treasures to come out in 2021.
The Dig is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Brief Sensuality | Partial Nudity.
Streaming on Netflix
Directed by Simon Stone
Starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin, Ken Stott, Monica Dolan, Arsher Ali, and Joe Hurst.
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