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.
For Your Consideration:
Cup Of Soul Show
In Their Own League
Mashley at the Movies
Mike, Mike, and Oscar
Next Best Picture
The Movie Oracle
Untitled Cinema Gals Project