A Double Feature Review!
Robert Eggers’ (The VVitch and The Lighthouse) The Northman is a fierce and extraordinary piece of cinema. A visual splendor with Eggers’ craft oozing through the screen. The Viking mythology floods our senses. The acting (Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, Björk, and Willem Dafoe) is top-notch, along with that roaring score. What a picture! Eggers doesn’t miss. 5-stars. In his third outing, Eggers continues to prove why he is one of the best modern filmmakers working in the industry today. Eggers has always been a visionary director, and The Northman showcased some of the director's greatest visual strengths. Co-written by Eggers and Sjón, The Northman is based on the legend of Amleth. Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak as young Amleth) is on the verge of becoming a man when his father (Hawke) is brutally murdered by his uncle (Bang), who kidnaps the boy's mother (Kidman). Two decades later, Amleth (Skarsgård as adult Amleth) is now a Viking who is on a mission to save his mother, kill his uncle and avenge his father's death. The Northman is chock full of Viking and Nordic mythology as Eggers throws the audience straight into the film.
Eggers' film moves with a nihilistic tone, yet it feels epic in every frame. Pulse-pounding, that roaring score (Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough) sinks its teeth into your veins. With gorgeous cinematography throughout along with an artistic vision guiding this film front and center, this is a movie that I have not stopped thinking about since I saw it in the theaters. All of the actors in this picture are phenomenal, with a special shout out to Taylor-Joy. Her presence might be small, but she packs a punch with every scene she is in. In addition, her chemistry with Skarsgård flows beautifully. Shot throughout Northern Ireland and Iceland, The Northman is a stunning picture that will eat your heart out. The scope and scale of this movie is massive and had me cheering in multiple scenes throughout. I implore you to go see Eggers' latest picture if you still have not seen it yet. The theater would be the best experience for a film this epic, but it is also available to now rent on VOD if it is not playing in a theater near you. So, sit back, relax, and let a valkyrie carry your cinematic soul through the gates of Valhalla.
The Northman is rated R (Restricted) Strong Bloody Violence | Some Sexual Content | Nudity.
See it in theaters or rent it on VOD.
Directed by Robert Eggers
Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, Björk, and Willem Dafoe.
Downton Abbey: A New Era
Downton Abbey: A New Era is an utterly delightful picture. It’s comfort food for longtime fans of the series. If they continue making these films every few years, then I’ll continue to watch them. A New Era brings the Downton clan back to the big screen. Based on Masterpiece's hit TV show (Downton Abbey, 2010-2015), the British historical drama continues its story of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants in the post-Edwardian era. The TV show's timeline focused on events from 1912 to 1926. In 2019, the Crawley's had their first feature film made, which took place in 1927. Now, A New Era moves the Crawley family ever closer to the 1930s. All of our favorite characters return like Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern), Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), Charles Carson (Jim Carter), Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt), John Bates (Brendan Coyle), Daisy (Sophie McShera), Tom Branson (Allen Leech), Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier), Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), Joseph Molesley (Kevin Doyle), Phyllis Baxter (Raquel Cassidy), Andy (Michael Fox), Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton), and Violet Crawley (the great Maggie Smith).
It's a ton of characters that were well developed over the TV show's 5-year period, so the movies do not need to go into great detail because we have known them all for so long now. A New Era follows two main plots this time around. The first is the Dowager Countess' (Smith) newly inherited villa in the South of France. While the second is a film crew that wishes to use Downton as a filming location for a new silent film called, The Gambler. It's 1928, so the Silent movie industry is starting to become a dying breed because the "talkies" are currently the rising stars in the film industry. A New Era pulls heavily from the Singin' in the Rain (1952) "talkies" subplot throughout. Like a warm delicious scone, A New Era goes down easy and, in the end, will leave one satisfied. While the TV show can stretch out plot points, the movies have to wrap everything up into a nice big bow after two hours. But that is okay because this is such a delightful picture. I had a good time seeing my friends back on the big screen. Give it a few years, and we will be able to catch up with the Crawley family again. And someone please tell Mr. Bonneville to cut back on the bronzer in the next outing.
Downton Abbey: A New Era is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Thematic Elements | Some Suggestive References | Language.
Directed by Simon Curtis
Starring Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, Sophie McShera, Allen Leech, Rob James-Collier, Lesley Nicol, Kevin Doyle, Raquel Cassidy, Michael Fox, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton), and the great Maggie Smith.
Believe the hype. Everything Everywhere All At Once is that good: I am flabbergasted, amazed, thrilled, and over the moon with this picture. The Daniels have delivered an extraordinary work of art. A combination of genres and emotions bursting through the screen. Actors Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu are marvelous throughout. We are thrown into this multiverse of wonder, and I didn’t want to leave. Everything Everywhere is the very definition of a masterpiece. 5-stars.
There's a great evil spreading throughout the many verses. And you, may be our only chance of stopping it.
Where do I even begin with this gift of a movie? Everything Everywhere is a joyous experience of wonder and ecstasy overflowing throughout the theater. The directing duo simply known as the Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) have created a richly rewarding experience that overloads the senses. Known for their quirky 2016 directorial debut (Swiss Army Man), the sophomore film from this duo has grown in all levels of filmmaking. What weird or absurd concepts that started within Swiss Army Man have been dialed up to 11 in Everything Everywhere. This is a movie that I saw last Thursday, and I am still trying to process it. Everything Everywhere is a movie that moves fast and talks fast, throwing our viewers right into the experience. Everything within this movie felt incredibly refreshing and undeniably imaginative. The scope and scale of this picture was enormous.
Yet, this is also a picture that felt strangely intimate and emotionally resonate. Everything Everywhere is a film from an Asian American perspective, putting a Chinese American family front and center. Actress Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies, Sunshine, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is our fierce protagonist, who just desperately wants to pay her taxes. Evelyn Wang (Yeoh) and her husband (a charming Ke Huy Quan) own a laundromat and are currently being audited by the IRS after Evelyn incorrectly filed her taxes. Evelyn and Waymond (Quan) have a daughter named Joy (a knockout Stephanie Hsu), who has been trying to get her mother to accept her girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel). Evelyn's father (the legendary James Hong) also lives with them. I won't go much farther into the plot, but things escalate, and the fate of the universe rests in Evelyn's hands. It was a delight to see Yeoh as our main action protagonist in a Hollywood picture.
So, even though you have broken my heart yet again, I wanted to say, in another life, I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you.
Quan, who is best known for his childhood roles as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Data in The Goonies, has made his comeback return to acting with Everything Everywhere. Quan took a break from acting and spent many years behind the camera for Hong Kong and Hollywood. Seeing Quan back on the big screen again was a real joy. He was the film's heart and soul. I also cannot forget about the additional supporting cast, which consists of Jamie Lee Curtis, Harry Shum Jr., and Jenny Slate. What was also refreshing to see was how the Daniels blended a multilingual story into the script. Everything Everywhere used three different languages (English, Mandarin, and Cantonese) throughout the movie. The blending of these languages came off as authentic and natural. Many people and many families are multilingual. My sister, Tatiana, is bilingual and can easily jump back and forth between Spanish and English. The representation in this movie is also important. Here we have multigenerational stories from the perspective of Millennials, Boomers, and LGBTQ characters. On top of that, the Daniels brilliantly mixed multiple aspect ratios into the different storylines. It was a meditative experience.
The humor was also a sensation throughout this film. The Daniels' zany and quirky humor blossomed, and I laughed multiple times during the 139 minute runtime. The emotional core and the story's heart shine brightly throughout, leaving one a little choked up at the end. The Daniels' directing is a force unmatched. Their keen filmmaking skills and craftsmanship that went into this picture are worthy all on their own. In addition, the camerawork and editing were spectacular scene after scene. I also cannot get over the superb mixing of genres into this film. It was a combination of action, drama, comedy, science fiction, and martial arts. What an electrifying film that's one for the ages. As of right now, this is the best movie I have seen this year. And it will be hard to top this one. Everything Everywhere is a sensational picture that is beautiful, imaginative, and bold. I hope people are talking about this movie until the end of time. In the end, Everything Everywhere All At Once is everything I wanted from a movie and more, googly eyes and all.
Across the multiverse, I've seen thousands of Evelyns. If you imagine it, somewhere out there it exists.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is rated R (Restricted) For Some Violence | Sexual Material | Language.
Experience this masterpiece only in theaters.
Directed by Daniels
Starring Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., James Hong, and Jamie Lee Curtis.
A Double Feature Review!
I found director Charlie McDowell's (2014's The One I Love) minimalist thriller to be pretty effective and intriguing. Actors Jason Segel, Lily Collins, and Jesse Plemons all showcased some strong acting chops throughout. An on location set, a dazzling score, a zany script, and even a little Hitchcock. Windfall is a deep slow-burning film that will get underneath your skin. In the end, Windfall is short, sharp, and mostly satisfying. This might not be everyone's cup of tea, but for those who are intrigued at the beginning, Windfall will reel you in. Our film follows a desperate man (Segel) who breaks into a tech billionaire's (Plemons) empty vacation home to steal money. Unfortunately for the robber, things go sideways when the arrogant tycoon and his wife (Collins) arrive to the home for a last-minute getaway. McDowell delivers a stripped-down thriller between three people stuck together on a property. All of the actors, especially Collins, deliver superb acting chops throughout. Windfall is tense, comical, and engrossing scene after scene. McDowell's picture might not land on every note, but it continues to try. In the end, Windfall showcases three flawed people along with their fears, hopes, and dreams.
Windfall is rated R (Restricted) For Language Throughout | Some Violence.
Stream it now on Netflix.
Directed by Charlie McDowell
Starring Jason Segel, Lily Collins, Jesse Plemons, and Omar Leyva.
The Outfit is a solid crime drama: it’s slow-burning, tightly woven, and old-school. Actors Mark Rylance and Zoey Deutch are both great throughout. Graham Moore's (Oscar winner for 2014's The Imitation Game on Adapted Screenplay) directorial debut is a meticulously crafted film that kept all the cards in its hand. It was a lot of fun and kept me guessing. The Outfit is another stripped-down thriller that will hook you in from the first to the last scene. Moore's film is another one location set that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Our film stays inside the walls of a tailor's shop located in the heart of Chicago. Leonard Burling (a cunning Rylance) is an expert "cutter" who has mastered the craft of clothing. Along with his receptionist, Mable Shaun (a wonderful Deutch), they keep the business rolling.
Yet, their shop is also located in the neighborhood of an Irish mob boss — meaning that there is a certain amount of dirty money trickling in and out of the shop. From there, I won't dare spoil how the plot escalates, but our "cutter" (Rylance) must outwit a dangerous group of mobsters to survive one fateful night. It's a game of cat and mouse, with a dash of Hitchcock sprinkled in. Moore knows how to keep the ball rolling, while leaving viewers anxious for the next scene. Both Rylance and Deutch deliver strong performances that are the very heart and soul of this picture. Yes, there will be blood in this slow-burning crime drama that latches itself onto you, never letting go. The Outfit is an exciting picture that oozes with tense and suspense.
The Outfit is rated R (Restricted) For Language Throughout | Some Bloody Violence.
See it in theaters or rent it on VOD | Click Here.
The Outfit had its world premiere at the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival back in February.
Directed by Graham Moore
Starring Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Johnny Flynn, Dylan O'Brien, Nikki Amuka-Bird, and Simon Russell Beale.
No joke, The Bubble is the worst thing I have watched this year. Judd Apatow's newest comedy is absolutely terrible. I am exhausted after watching it.
Where Will You Be When Disaster Strikes?
I can tell you. I was sitting on my couch watching this movie.
Judd Apatow's (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Funny People) latest comedy feature is a disaster from the beginning until the end. Watching The Bubble was frustrating because it wasted its incredible cast, consisting of Karen Gillan, Fred Armisen, Maria Bakalova, David Duchovny, Keegan-Michael Key, Leslie Mann, Pedro Pascal, and Iris Apatow. For a film that presents itself as a satire and meta-comedy, The Bubble is mostly unfunny throughout. A cringe-worthy script that is overlayered with no real plot or structure as we clumsily move from scene to scene. After the TickTock sequence 20-minutes in, everything took a turn for the worse. We are now three years into this pandemic, so the fact that The Bubble spent so much time with early COVID (when it was still new) that it made it feel incredibly outdated and tiresome. We all felt the pains and anxieties of this virus, the lockdowns, and quarantining for so long. Going back to parody when it all started was not enjoyable due to the film's poor execution.
Our movie throws us into the midst of the pandemic, where a group of actors travel to a closed film set somewhere in England to film the sixth installment of Cliff Beasts. The fictional film of Cliff Beasts has become a wildly successful dinosaur-themed blockbuster franchise during the pandemic era because Hollywood is struggling to create, and people want a distraction from their misery. Yet, the jokes on us because the real misery is not the pandemic, it's watching this film. There was no comedic flow to this picture, and every joke felt forced or outdated with COVID because we are already in 2022. There are some great actors in this movie like Gillan, Bakalova, Mann, and Pascal. But, their talent is squandered throughout, leaving us defeated and drained. There have been few movies or TV shows that were able to successfully capture the anxieties and fears of COVID from an artistic and comedic level. The best example is Bo Burnham: Inside, which I selected as the best movie of 2021.
Inside was funny, claustrophobic, and experimental. Burnham's 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. One brilliance of Inside was that Burnham never mentioned COVID, lockdowns, or quarantine. But, the very nature of those things is present and artistically captured throughout. This is due to Burnham's masterful skills and craftsmanship as a writer, director, and editor. Inside never outstayed its welcome, clocking in at 87 minutes. Inside knew when it was the right time to wrap it up. I have always been a big fan of Apatow's past work, including films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Trainwreck. So, watching his latest film crash and burn so fast was painful for me. That also includes the agonizing runtime of 126 minutes. No comedies should really feel the need to be over 2-hours long and especially not this monstrosity.
In the past, the long runtimes for comedies are something I have criticized Apatow for doing. All of Apatow's films either get close to or go over the 2-hour mark, and they begin to outstay their welcome. Most notably 2009's Funny People, which clocked in at whopping 146 minutes. I am not saying that all comedies cannot be long, but they need to have a good reason for going over the 2-hour mark. Otherwise, things begin to become very repetitive. In The Bubble's case, not only are things repetitive but they are also tormenting. In theory, the premise of The Bubble is not that bad — sadly — the execution in both the writing and directing falls flat. So, if you are craving a comedy that actually captures the fears and anxieties of COVID in a comedic way, then turn your attention to Burnham's Inside, which is also streaming on Netflix. Or, you can watch The Bubble. But, you have been warned. If only a meteor could take out this movie as it did to the dinosaurs millions of years ago.
The Bubble is rated R (Restricted) Some Violence | Drug Use | Sexual Content | Language Throughout.
Stream it on Netflix, if you dare.
Somehow directed by Judd Apatow
Wasted talent consisting of Karen Gillan, Iris Apatow, Fred Armisen, Maria Bakalova, David Duchovny, Keegan-Michael Key, Leslie Mann, Kate McKinnon, Pedro Pascal, Peter Serafinowicz, and Guz Khan.
Deep Water had me hooked until it didn't, an erotic thriller that begins to run out of steam. Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas are good with the material, while Adrian Lyne's direction on this slow burner mostly compels. I took issue with Zach Helm and Sam Levinson's writing. Still worth the watch.
The Love Story is Never the Whole Story
Deep Water seems to be a mixed bag of many things: a slow-burning erotic thriller, an underdeveloped storyline, a murder mystery, and the sexual friction between its two leads (Affleck and de Armas). Deep Water marks a 20-year return to the director's chair for filmmaker Adrian Lyne (Flashdance, Fatal Attraction, and Unfaithful). Shot in 2019 but delayed multiple times due to COVID, Deep Water finally makes a splash onto Hulu. 2022's Deep Water is based on the 1957 novel by mystery writer Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley). Our film takes us inside the conflicted marriage of Vic (Affleck) and Melinda (de Armas) Van Allen. They have a daughter named Trixie (Grace Jenkins) but are bound in a loveless marriage. In order to avoid going through a divorce, Melinda is allowed to take a number of lovers, as long as she doesn't leave the family. Yet, Vic becomes obsessed with her affairs, threatening many of them and even darkly joking that he killed one of Melinda's past lovers, who is currently missing. Not to mention, Vic's strange hobby in breeding snails.
We are stuck between Vic and Melinda's passive-aggressive mind game and sexual tension as director Lyne throws in the hook to catch the bait. Yet, where Deep Water comes up short and ultimately drowns is due to its rather shallow writing by screenwriters Zach Helm (Stranger than Fiction) and Sam Levinson (HBO's Euphoria and Malcolm & Marie). The storyline's mystery should have been tightened up to keep the viewers more on edge. Instead, Deep Water begins falling apart around the middle half, turning into a rather silly affair. The mystery and psychological drama are undercooked, leaving us with an incoherent tone. Yet, Lyne's stylization and dramatization are heightened scene after scene. Affleck and de Armas do their best with the material they are given. What is also fascinating ahead of watching Deep Water is knowing that our two leads briefly dated after filming wrapped up. Moving forward, Affleck and de Armas' psychological warfare produced ripple effects throughout the screen. Deep Water is not a bad movie by any means, nor is it a great one either. In the end, Lyne's movie is still worth your time, even if you don't like it. Through blood, sweat, passion, and tears: Deep Water takes a deep dive into the river of seduction and murder.
Deep Water is rated R (Restricted) Some Violence | Language | Sexual Content | Nudity.
Stream it now on Hulu.
Directed by Adrian Lyne
Starring Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts, Lil Rel Howery, Dash Mihok, Finn Wittrock, Kristen Connolly, Jacob Elordi, and Rachel Blanchard.
Turning Red is utterly adorable. Director Domee Shi’s film is bold, vibrant, and a total delight. Richly layered with gorgeous animation and imagination. Telling a story on the messiness of puberty. Pixar’s first Asian-led film showcases the importance of representation. We need more of this. Stream it now on Disney+. Oh, how I wish this was released to theaters.
Growing Up is a Beast.
This coming-of-age tale is full of heart, giving every viewer a big hug. Turning Red is Pixar's first film from the studio to be solely directed by a woman (Domee Shi). It also is the first feature film from the studio to have a lead Asian protagonist. All of this is good and important. In addition, I hope this is the start for more Animated studios to do the same. A milestone for Pixar, while Shi (Academy Award-winning Short, Bao) let her creative freedom run at large. In the end, Turning Red gifts us with an incredibly personal story. Our story takes place in Toronto, Canada, where we follow Meilin "Mei" Lee (voiced by a wonderful Rosalie Chiang). The year is 2002, and Mei is a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl who is energetic, hard-working and bursting with joy. Mei and her best friends are big fans of the hip boy band 4*Town. Think Backstreet Boys or NSYNC.
Mei's best friends are Miriam, Priya, and Abby — all of whom are voiced by actors Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, and Hyein Park. Mei lives with her parents as they spend their days taking care of their Chinese temple. Mei's mother (voiced by the great Sandra Oh) is strict and expects the best out of Mei with school work and helping out around the house. As Ming Lee (Oh) disapproves of her daughter's personal interest, Mei begins learning to think for herself. She realizes that she is not the person her mother wants her to become, sending Mei's anxiety through the roof, causing tension between Ming and Mei. One night, another revelation happens that transforms Mei into a giant red panda, caused when she is in a state of high emotion. Not giving too much away, I will let the movie explain the red panda phenomenon itself. Mei has to learn to control her excitement and emotions — otherwise — she will turn into that giant red panda. In other words, she needs to control her inner panda.
Not to mention that she and her friends also want to really go to that 4*Town's concert. Shi's story is natural, beautifully written, and metaphorically told. Turning Red captures the fears and anxieties of teenage hormones and all of the messiness that comes with it. It feels incredibly authentic and creatively told. Turning Red's animation style pops and glitters scene after scene. There is gorgeous animation that is blended with Anime styles. Along with the silly humor that will keep you laughing, composer Ludwig Göransson's (Black Panther and Tenet) cheerful score will fill your heart with everlasting joy. While Mei is becoming a teenage rebel, she is also finding herself. And while Ming's parenting might come off as strict or overbearing, it also showcases the insecurities that parents face by letting your child grow up.
This does not take away from the parent's immeasurable love for their child. It only deepens it more on the screen. Lastly, Turning Red is a coming-of-age story that the whole family will enjoy, especially children of color, who can see themselves represented on the television. My younger sister Lingli has already watched this movie and texted me that she loved it. It is important for teenagers, like her, to see themselves represented on the screen. There is an importance in telling these stories, and I am hoping for more to come in the near future. As for now, Pixar's 25th feature film is a total blast from the beginning until the end. It is completely original, charming, funny, colorful, and one of the best films to come out in 2022. So, go wild because Turning Red's inner panda roars.
Turning Red is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Language | Thematic Material | Suggestive Content.
Stream it now on Disney+
Directed by Domee Shi
Starring Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, and James Hong.
A Double Feature Review!
Kimi is another solid outing from director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Side Effects, Logan Lucky, and No Sudden Move). Smart, meticulously crated, and thrilling. Actress Zoë Kravitz gives a tour de force performance in this housebound thriller with a timely commentary on isolation. Soderbergh has always had a special craft when dealing with genres such as psychological, crime, and heist thrillers. In Kimi, Soderbergh heightens the psychological game with anxiety and isolation. We follow Angela Childs (a great blue-haired Kravitz), an agoraphobic tech worker, currently working from home. Kimi grapples with the effects of COVID, while Angela is still extremely paranoid to leave her house. Even with her mask and hand sanitizer, Angela cannot force herself to open the door to the outside world.
KIMI is a smart speaker similar to Amazon's Alexa. KIMI controversially makes use of human monitoring to improve its algorithm search. One day, Angela discovers recorded evidence of a violent crime. Angela is met with resistance from within her company when she tries to report it. Seeking justice for the victim, Angela decides to face her fears and leave her apartment. That is as far as I will go with this 89-minute thrill ride that keeps you on edge from one scene to the next. Kimi is sophisticated, pulsating, and well-written throughout. With Soderbergh's strong direction and Kravitz's commanding performance, this is a film you should not turn down. Soderbergh's famous trademark of yellow tint cinematography bleeds its way through the film, sending chills down your spine. In the end, Kimi's nail-biting features come through in crowd-pleasing form.
Kimi is rated R (Restricted) Brief Sexuality/Nudity | Violence | Language.
Stream it now on HBO Max.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Zoë Kravitz, Betsy Brantley, Rita Wilson, Byron Bowers, India de Beaufort, Emily Kuroda, Jaime Camil, and Devin Ratray.
I Want You Back
I Want You Back is an incredibly sweet and smart rom-com. This wonderful cast excels the film’s story, especially Charlie Day and Jenny Slate’s top-notch chemistry. The balance of romance and comedy is perfectly executed throughout. What a treat this film is. We follow newly dumped thirty-somethings Peter (a hilarious Day) and Emma (a charming Slate) as they team up to sabotage their exes' (Gina Rodriguez and Scott Eastwood) new relationships (Clark Backo and Manny Jacinto) and win them back. I Want You Back sets up a smart premise and executes it pretty well throughout the movie. In addition, director Jason Orley's (2019's Big Time Adolescence) rom-com is layered with brilliant humor and constant laughter. There is a Little Shop of Horrors scene where Emma plays the role of Audrey. Slate kills this role and is a total delight to watch while she sings Suddenly, Seymour. There is so much to enjoy with I Want You Back that it is a hard rom-com to resist. The characters are well-rounded throughout, while the romance and comedy deliver in top form. So, if you have not had a chance to watch this utterly delightful film, I urge you to sit back on the couch, turn on the TV, and enjoy the show.
Want to hear more of my thoughts about I Want You Back? I spoke with my good friends, Matt and Ashley, on their podcast, Mashely at the Movies | Listen Here.
I Want You Back is rated R (Restricted) For Language | Sexual Material | Some Drug Use | Partial Nudity.
Stream it now on Amazon Prime Video.
Directed by Jason Orley
Starring Charlie Day, Jenny Slate, Scott Eastwood, Manny Jacinto, Clark Backo, and Gina Rodriguez.
Kogonada's After Yang is a beautiful and deeply emotional film studying family, identity, and one's purpose. Kogonada's picture is a meditative experience that is both breathtaking and richly rewarding. Actors Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, and Haley Lu Richardson fill the screen with awe. I loved it. 5-stars.
What the caterpillar calls "the end" the rest of the world calls a butterfly.
The video-essay-turned-filmmaker, Kogonada, has returned to the director's chair for his second feature film. Back in 2017, Kogonada's feature film debut, Columbus, made it to the big screen. The Indiana-set romance of Columbus struck a chord with many viewers, including me. Kogonada continues his patient storytelling with After Yang, as we follow an interracial couple, Jake (a terrific Farrell) and Kyra (a strong Turner-Smith), their adoptive daughter Mika (a wonderful Tjandrawidjaja), and their robotic son Yang (a powerful Min). After Yang covers many topics and themes throughout the movie. The ones that stuck with me the most were family, adoption, and finding one's identity. Here, we see a mixed heritage family front and center: Jake is white, Kyra is Black, and Mika is Chinese. I, myself, am a part of a mixed heritage family. Three of my siblings (Sergey, Lingli, and Tatiana) are adopted and are from the countries of Russia, China, and Colombia.
Kogonada's picture of what it means to be family is beautiful, powerful, and fully alive. It's also a low-key science fiction film where most of the technology feels largely invisible. In addition, Kogonada explores discovering one's identity and purpose in life. In this case, Yang and what it means to be Asian American. Because Yang is an android, he is struggling with truly feeling authentic within his own identity and skin. Does he count as Chinese? At one point in the film, Yang asks Kyra this exact question. Kogonada does not answer all of these questions. Instead, he lays down the groundwork for viewers to analyze within themselves. Jake and Kyra have purchased Yang from a company called Brothers & Sisters Incorporated. Their reasoning behind this was so that Mika could have a sibling / companion digitally wired to feed her knowledge about her cultural heritage.
Yet, one evening after the family's virtual dance-off, Yang unexpectedly breaks down. As Mika is left disheartened, Jake decides to find a way to repair and fix Yang. Kogonada adapted this movie from author Alexander Weinstein's 2016 short story Saying Goodbye to Yang. After Yang grapples with heavy topics of love, connection, and loss. Yet, Kogonada gently sprinkles in these weighty themes with such clarity and craftsmanship. There is also a poignant subplot that deals with Yang's secret love interest named Ada (a superb Richardson). But that is as far as I will go with that subplot. After Yang reevaluates what it means to be human and what it means to be alive. The tender near-futuristic setting of After Yang will fill your heart with awe. Grounded in visual splendor through breathtaking cinematography (Benjamin Loeb), Kogonada's film is one you don't want to miss.
Furthermore, After Yang's contemporary production design (Alexandra Schaller) is lively and colorful throughout. In addition to Kogonada writing and directing After Yang, he also edited this picture. There's a sympathetic touch over-layered scene after scene, and there was also a montage sequence of Yang's memories that left me in pieces. There is so much to unpack with After Yang that it already has me ready to proceed with multiple viewings and analyzations. After Yang might look like a small film from a distance, but Kogonada's movie packs a powerful message waiting to be opened. There is still a lot of 2022 left — as for now — After Yang is my favorite film I have watched this year. This gift of a movie is waiting for you to watch. So, let this meditative experience open your mind, body, and soul.
After Yang is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Language | Some Thematic Elements.
After Yang had its world premiere last July at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.
See it in theaters or stream it on Showtime.
Directed by Kogonada
Starring Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Haley Lu Richardson, and Sarita Choudhury.
Pride & Prejudice meets Les Misérables. Cyrano is a romantic musical that is both stirring and beautiful. Peter Dinklage is marvelous, while Haley Bennett and Kelvin Harrison Jr. are superb. Director Joe Wright’s (2005's Pride & Prejudice and 2007's Atonement) ravishing tale will dazzle with gorgeous costumes and a lively production design. See it in the theaters.
My sole purpose on this earth is to love Roxanne.
Cyrano deserved so much more love this awards season. Sadly, MGM botched the film's award campaign and release date. Cyrano had its world premiere last September at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival. From there, MGM decided to do a limited December 25th release, then pushed back to the 31st. Then, Cyrano was moved again to December 17th for a one-week Los Angeles run so it could be a contender for this year's Oscars. Originally, Cyrano was to have a wide release in January, but that was moved to early February and then pushed back to a final wide release on February 25th. When all was said and done: Cyrano got a single Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in Costume Design (Massimo Cantini Parrini and Jacqueline Durran). Rightfully so, Parrini and Durran deserved that Oscar nomination for costumes.
Yet, the rest of the movie went mostly unnoticed this awards season, and it's a travesty. Especially Dinklage, who gave us one of his best performances to date. His performance is both raw, cunning, and heartbreaking. Dinklage is moving and poetic, capturing one's broken soul. Cyrano deserves to be seen, and I hope you can experience this beautiful film in the theaters. Wright's film is based on the 1897 Edmond Rostand play Cyrano de Bergerac. The screenplay is based on Erica Schmidt's 2018 stage musical of the same name, who also wrote the screenplay for this movie. Cyrano re-images the timeless tale of a heartbreaking love triangle. Wordsmith Cyrano de Bergerac (a marvelous Dinklage) is in love with the beautiful Roxanne (a spectacular Bennett). However, Cyrano is convinced that his outward appearance renders him unworthy of love. He finds a young man named Christian (a strong Harrison Jr.) who also loves Roxanne, as she does him, but the two have never talked in person.
Cyrano, a wonderful poet at heart, convinces Christian that he will be his voice by writing love letters for Roxanne. Cyrano is the voice of love, while Christian becomes the look of charms. Christian and Roxanne meet and bond in affection, but Cyrano is the one that hides from afar, knowing his words have made an impact on Roxanne's heart. Here, we get alluring songs and melodies that will melt your heart away. Songs like Someone to Say, Madly, Your Name, I Need More, Overcome, and Close My Eyes. Poetic, tragic, and burning with passion: Cyrano will soothe your soul with gentle love. A marvelous film that is crafted with gorgeous costumes, a lively production design, and superb acting throughout. This is a romantic musical you don't want to miss. So, do yourself a favor and see Cyrano now. Trust me, you won't be disappointed. I know that I was not. In the end, it was a magical experience.
Cyrano is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Suggestive Material | Some Strong Violence | Brief Language | Thematic Material.
Directed by Joe Wright
Starring Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Ben Mendelsohn.
A Double Feature Review! Read More!
The Batman (2022)
Writer-director Matt Reeves’ The Batman (2022) is a force to be reckoned with. Fully alive and pulse-pounding, Reeves’ vision of the Caped Crusader is an astonishing comic book movie. This true detective storyline will rattle your bones. Actors Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, and Colin Farrell are all superb. And that score by composer Michael Giacchino: wow, what a rush! The Batman is one of the darkest and fiercest versions of Gotham's Dark Knight to ever be put up on the big screen. A gripping superhero noir that grabs ahold of you from the first frame, never letting go. Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and War for the Planet of the Apes) masterfully crafts a gritty story that will eat your heart out. Drawing inspiration from 1970s cinema and Batman comics such as Year One (1987), The Long Halloween (1996–97), and Ego (2000), Reeves' vision of ambition and grit let loose.
Pattinson transforms into our vigilante in black, capturing Batman's soul with veracity and strength. Since 2019, when I heard that Pattinson was selected, I knew that Warner Bros. had made the right choice. Pattinson's incarnation is raw, moody, and even a little sexy. What also captured my attention was how the film heavily focused on Batman's detective skills. Drawing heavily from David Fincher films like Se7en (1995) or Zodiac (2007). We have seen Batman's detective side all throughout the comics, but that's not always the case for the movies. Kravitz gives the audience an electric portrayal as Selina Kyle, AKA Catwoman. Kravitz and Pattinson's chemistry will melt your heart away. Her fighting spirit as Selina is just as fierce as Michelle Pfeiffer's spirit was back in 1992 (Batman Returns, my favorite Batman film). While Wright and Farrell helped fill the supporting character slots with poise and duty as Lieutenant Gordon and Penguin. Dano is a wonder as the Riddler, letting his freak flag fly high. This version of the Riddler is incredibly scary and never-racking.
Reeves showcases the Riddler as a full-blown sociopath and serial killer. By doing it this way, The Batman's storyline will keep viewers on the edge of their seats and guessing what's around the corner. Our film is set two years after Batman has established himself as Gotham's crime-fighting vigilante. Batman is now uncovering the corruption in Gotham City while pursuing the Riddler, a new serial killer who is targeting the city's elites. Furthermore, Michael Giacchino's (Star Trek, Up, and War for the Planet of the Apes) enormous score was MVP for me after seeing this film on the big screen. Giacchino's soundtrack is a whirlwind of grandeur and emotion; by crafting the pulse-pounding beats and thrills through musical notes. It's definitely an award worthy score. Cinema at its finest, The Batman clocks in at 176 minutes, but I could have stayed for another hour. From the direction to the score to the dark cinematography, The Batman comes for vengeance and takes it. One of the best outings our Caped Crusader and his bruised soul have ever had on the big screen. What a picture.
Here's my updated Batman ranked list: Click Here.
The Batman is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Some Suggestive Material | Drug Content | Strong Disturbing Content | Strong Language | Strong Violent Content.
Directed by Matt Reeves
Starring Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, and Colin Farrell.
Director Mimi Cave's Fresh is a wild ride from start to finish. Provocative, gripping, and unsettling. Fresh will not be for everyone. Actor Sebastian Stan is a force unleashed, while actress Daisy Edgar-Jones delivers a cunning performance of her own. Bon appétit. Dating can be hard, and in an age where most of the dating is now done through apps like Tinder, it can also be scary. Cave uses these anxieties of dating to the fullest with satire and bloody horror. Fresh follows Noa (Edgar-Jones), who has become increasingly frustrated with dating apps. After she runs into an attractive man (Stan) named Steve in the grocery store, Noa decides to give him her number. Noa and Steve begin a romantic relationship not long after that encounter. Steve then invites Noa to come with him for a long weekend getaway.
Noa accepts but soon finds out that Steve has a taste for something dark and deadly. This is as far as I will go with the plot. Cave's directorial debut is provoking and nightmarish. It could easily leave some people with a bad taste in their mouth and running for the hills by the end. As for me, I ate this film and its story up fairly well. Through chaotic and pulsating thrills, Fresh will grab ahold of you, sending chills down your spine. Stan is fantastic as a man with dark desires, while Edgar-Jones' performance will fuel your bones with tension and anxiety. Grueling and brutal, Fresh comes with an appetite ready to scare. Fresh is a twisted horror-comedy that will get under one's skin from the beginning until the end. Plus, there's a killer dance-punk song (Heads Will Roll) by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs that blends so well with this movie. So dance the night away and let Fresh be your guess ready to serve: if you dare.
Fresh is rated R (Restricted) For Strong and Disturbing Violent Content | Some Bloody Images | Language Throughout | Some Sexual Content and Brief Graphic Nudity.
Stream it now on Hulu.
Directed by Mimi Cave
Starring Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jonica T. Gibbs, Charlotte Le Bon, Dayo Okeniyi, and Andrea Bang.
The Worst Person In The World is a pretty flawless picture. Actress Renate Reinsve is perfect as Julie, as we follow her journey through life. Broken up into 12 chapters, Julie runs in a search for happiness and identity. Writer-director Joachim Trier’s film is personal, witty, warm, and heartbreaking. Nominated for 2 Oscars (International Feature and Original Screenplay), The Worst Person In The World is now playing in theaters. A masterclass that snuck up on me in the end. 5-stars.
Yes, I do love you. But I also don't.
With The Worst Person In The World (Verdens verste menneske), the acclaimed Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier (Oslo, August 31st and Thelma) has completed his unplanned trilogy, known as the "Oslo Trilogy" (2006's Reprise, 2011's Oslo, August 31st, and now The Worst Person In The World). Trier has low-key linked and crossed over these three distinctive stories with their own personalities, but also similar elements. In 2006's Reprise, Trier examined two young writers and best friends (actors Anders Danielsen Lie and Espen Klouman Høiner) potential for greatness. Continuing with 2011’s Oslo, August 31st, Trier evaluated a decisive day of existence with a 34-year-old man (Lie) who believes his time has passed and wants to cut it short. Now, we have moved to his newest picture, The Worst Person In The World, where we follow Julie (an excellent Renate Reinsve), who is having an existential crisis in life.
Here, Trier studies the ticking time bomb that society imposes on young adults — not only to succeed professionally — but also to settle down romantically and reproduce. Julie is a free-spirited 29-year-old woman trying to figure out her life along the way. In the beginning, Julie is a studying medical student, then switches to psychology, then to photography. Julie meets an acclaimed comic artist named Aksel (a strong Lie), who's fifteen years her senior. Julie and Aksel begin dating and eventually move in together. Aksel is ready to settle down and start a family, but Julie does not want children. Eventually, Julie meets Eivind (a great Herbert Nordrum) while crashing a party one night. Here, Julie's "I do love you. And I don't love you" for Aksel comes to light. Julie's life is entangled with both Aksel and Eivind, and this is as far with the plot as I will go.
Trier's picture is a dark romantic comedy-drama that subverts many rom-com tropes. I found this to be incredibly insightful throughout the movie. I laughed, and I even got a little teary-eyed at the end. The Worst Person In The World is a poignant film that balances several different emotions superbly. Trier's picture is a balancing act in storytelling and a visual palette to cleanse our mouthes. The visual style and editing used throughout is crisp and grandeur. Layered with a killer soundtrack (Ride Like the Wind, The Way You Look Tonight, I Will Take You There, and I Said Goodbye to Me) that plays to the beat of Julie's own drum, superb performances (Reinsve, Lie, Nordrum), and powerful storytelling on the messiness of relationships, The Worst Person In The World has proven why everyone has been talking about it.
Powerful, passionate, wickedly funny, and even a little sexy: Trier's film is a roller coaster of emotions bursting through the screen. There's a scene that involves consuming mushrooms that will have you dying of laughter. Having its world premiere that the 2021 Cannes last July and Reinsve winning Best Actress there at the festival, I can now see why she has been the talk of the town ever sense. Reinsve gives us a layered performance full of heart and soul. As her character grows and struggles in life, you can see Reinsve's natural talent running through Julie's veins. The Worst Person In The World is complex, heartfelt, and realistic. As Julie examines her inner self, it allows the viewers to reflect on their own personal lives and struggles. So, is Julie really "the worst person in the world?" I'll let you come to that conclusion yourself. For now, go experience this sophisticated masterclass of love and loss.
The Worst Person In The World is rated R (Restricted) Sexual Content | Graphic Nudity | Drug Use | Some Language.
Experience this beautiful film in theaters: https://worstpersonfilm.com/
Directed by Joachim Trier
Starring Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, and Herbert Nordrum.
Matt Reeves' The Batman comes out this Friday (3/4/22). Here's my personal ranking of the Caped Crusader and his movies (theatrical releases). — Arnold At The Movies
No Exit is a 95-minute adrenaline rush. Full of exciting popcorn thrills and a great performance by actress Havana Rose Liu, viewers should have a lot of fun with this one.
How far would you go for a stranger?
A small popcorn movie has just dropped onto Hulu. 2022's No Exit isn't anything groundbreaking, but it is a film that will rattle your bones for 95-minutes. Newcomer Havana Rose Liu is fantastic throughout this joy ride of tension and suspense. Our story follows a recovering addict named Darby (Liu), who learns that her mother is in the hospital. Darby escapes from the rehab center to go be with her sick mother in Salt Lake City. However, a developing blizzard stops Darby from making it there, and she has to stay overnight at a local visitors center. Here, Darby is stuck with a group of strangers (actors Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl, Dale Dickey, and Dennis Haysbert) during the extreme snow. As Darby goes out looking for a phone signal, she discovers an abducted girl (Mila Harris) in a van in the parking lot. That's as far as I'll go with the plot, setting Darby up for a life-or-death struggle to uncover who among them is the kidnapper. No Exit does a pretty good job at keeping all its cards in the deck hidden, only revealing them when they need to.
Throughout all of the twists and turns, director Damien Power will keep audiences guessing and on their toes. The action sequences were solid throughout. While the tension gets turned up to 11 in the second half of the movie. The story is simple, but No Exit makes up for it with pulsating thrills, eerie cinematography (Simon Raby), bloody violence, and breathless sequences of suspense. Power's film always has a sense of mystery, while the fast-paced narrative kept one from ever relaxing. Liu's great performance is captured in a roller coaster of emotions and scares. While actors Ramirez, Rysdahl, Dickey, Haysbert, and Harris provide a backdrop of strong supporting performances. No Exit might send some viewers into a state of disbelief due to its bloody violence and harrowing scenes of anxiety. Personally, Power's picture gave me the medicine of adrenaline I needed. So, if you are looking for a fun and exciting movie to watch that will most likely give you some good jolts, then turn your attention to Hulu's No Exit.
No Exit is rated R (Restricted) Language | Strong Violence | Some Drug Content.
Stream it on Hulu.
Directed by Damien Power
Starring Havana Rose Liu, Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl, Dale Dickey, Mila Harris, and Dennis Haysbert.
The new Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) is not good. Frustrating and misguided from start to finish. TCM tries to add legacy characters and social commentary. Sadly, the mixture of these themes is incoherent. Actors Elsie Fisher and Sarah Yarkin are the only good; everything else is bad.
I think I might be able to say that Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) will go down as one of the most disappointing sequels to come out this year, and it's only February. TCM squanders any meaningful potential for extreme gore and a rather pointless plot. The 1974 original (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) is known as one of the best horror films ever made, and for good reason. The late writer-director Tobe Hooper's 70s slasher flick was incredibly effective: scary, nerve-racking, and claustrophobic. All of this was done by compelling documentary-style camerawork. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) became one of the most influential slasher films for a generation. Hooper even limited the quantity of onscreen gore. A lot of the kills happened off-screen, making it even scarier because you knew what was happening. This style of horror sent chills down your spine from start to finish.
Now, fast forward through all of the failed sequels, remakes, and reboots to good 'ole Leatherface, which brings us to 2022. 50-years after the original, Netflix decided to take from the 2018 Halloween (written by David Gordon Green and Danny McBride) playbook. 2018's Halloween completely ignored all of the previous sequels. Instead, it was a direct follow-up to the 1978 original. Gordon Green and McBride brought back Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), a legacy character from the original, who has been living with trauma ever since her first encounter with Michael Myers. 2018's Halloween was done right. We had characters that we cared about and bone-chilling scares layered on top. 2022's TCM tries to do this by bringing back the character of Sally Hardesty. Now, actress Marilyn Burns (who played Sally in the original) passed away in 2014. Actress Olwen Fouéré took up the helm of Sally, but her character is more of an afterthought in this movie. Fouéré is not really around until the plot needs her, and then her character is completely wasted.
If you would have taken out Sally's part in this movie, it would not have changed anything major. That's how pointless her character really is in this horror flick. So, I cannot even say that TCM is a legacy sequel because it isn't. TCM might play those cards in the trailers, but it's all a gimmick. Our story follows a group of youthful entrepreneurs heading to a small abandoned Texas town, Harlow. The group plans to auction off the town properties to create a trendy and hip utopia? Except, scriptwriter Chris Thomas Devlin glosses over many of these details. More or less, the setting is just to get a large group of Instagram influencers (I kid you not) to be trapped and slaughtered. Nice. Director David Blue Garcia tries to dabble with modern times, incorporating themes like school shootings, gentrification, and gun control. However, these topics are just sprinkled on top, adding nothing to the plot. They are just there. Moving on, an elderly woman (Alice Krige) and Leatherface (Mark Burnham) are still occupants of the town's orphanage.
One thing leads to another, yada yada yada, the old lady dies, and Leatherface is pissed. Cue Leatherface going on a rampage-killing spree throughout the town. All of the characters in this movie make stupid and bad choices, one after the other. I was frustrated with the writing decisions for these poor characters. They deserved better writing. Actors Elsie Fisher and Sarah Yarkin were the only small glimmers of hope throughout this bloodbath. Fisher and Yarkin provided some solid acting chops with the shoddy material they were given. So, if you are into extreme gore, a pointless plot, and throw-away characters, this might be the movie for you. However, I loathed this experience, all 81-minutes of it. Leatherface deserved better. TCM slaughters any potential this movie could have had, just like how they had Leatherface slaughter those Instagram influencers on the bus. Brutal, gory, and lazy. "Look how they [Netflix] massacred my Leatherface".
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is rated R (Restricted) Gore | Strong Bloody Horror Violence | Language.
Stream it on Netflix, if you dare.
Directed by David Blue Garcia
Starring Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Mark Burnham, Moe Dunford, Nell Hudson, Jessica Allain, Olwen Fouéré, Jacob Latimore, and Alice Krige.
Marry Me is a cute rom-com that will cheer you up this Valentine’s Day. The married at first sight storyline is simple, but J. Lo and Owen Wilson’s sweet chemistry is hard to resist.
Consensus = Cute!
Looking for something sweet and charming to watch this Valentine’s Day, then you should check out Marry Me, a new rom-com featuring actors Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson. There isn't anything groundbreaking with Marry Me, nor should there be. Director Kat Coiro's romantic comedy has enough charisma and adorable vibes to fill your heart with happiness. The bar for rom-coms has never been that high and that's okay. There have been films in the past that have exceeded all rom-com expectations, becoming instant classics on their own. Looking at you Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and When Harry Met Sally... (1989). These films changed up the traditional romantic comedy formula, offering something completely new. Marry Me stays more closely to the formula, but the appeal here falls squarely onto the wonderful chemistry from J. Lo and Wilson. Kat Valdez (J. Lo) and Bastian (Maluma) are music superstars, and they're getting married before a global audience. Charlie Gilbert (Wilson) is a math teacher and has a daughter named Lou (Chloe Coleman). Charlie decides to take his daughter to the concert along with his co-worker Parker (a funny Sarah Silverman).
At the concert, Kat finds out that Bastian has been cheating on her minutes before their vows. In a split-minute decision, Kat picks a total stranger from the crowd (Charlie) and marries him instead. Think Lifetime's Married at First Sight but on steroids and with actual characters we care about (J. Lo and Wilson). From there, we follow Kat and Charlie's newly married relationship as it develops and blossoms. This is J. Lo's first film since 2019's Hustlers (her best performance to date). With Marry Me, J. Lo goes back to her rom-com roots (The Wedding Planner, Maid in Manhattan, Jersey Girl, and Shall We Dance?). Shot in the Fall of 2019 but delayed for theatrical release because of COVID, Marry Me has finally come out and can be a movie that will slap a smile on your face. Actors Silverman, John Bradley, Michelle Buteau, and Khalil Middleton help fill the movie's supporting cast, providing some solid laughs. So, if you and your significant other are looking for something to watch this Valentine’s Day, make it a movie night and go see Marry Me in theaters or stay at home a enjoy this bubbly movie on Peacock. J. Lo and Wilson's wholesome picture is a delight. So, sit back and let J. Lo's irresistible songs fill you up with everlasting joy.
Marry Me is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). Suggestive Material | Some Language.
See it in theaters or stream it on Peacock.
Directed by Kat Coiro
Starring Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Maluma, John Bradley, Chloe Coleman, and Sarah Silverman.
A Double Feature Review!
Oh wow, writer-director Pedro Almodóvar (Live Flesh, Volver, The Skin I Live In, and Pain and Glory) does it again. Parallel Mothers (Madres paralelas) is a moving and beautiful picture. Penélope Cruz and Milena Smit are both phenomenal. Emotional, reflective, and warm. Eye-popping visuals with a story that blossoms and reflects on a country’s past traumas. Five-stars. Nominated for two Oscars, Best Actress (Penélope Cruz) and Best Original Score, Almodóvar's newest picture is incredibly profound and beautifully told scene after scene. It is a tragedy that Spain decided not to select Parallel Mothers for an International Oscar consideration, instead choosing The Good Boss (which stars Cruz’s husband, Javier Bardem). Spain did this in part for political reasons, which is both frustrating and sad. "The half of the country that is conservative, they don’t like the movie. They don’t like that someone like me is remembering that period, that the mass graves are still there, that the families are demanding desperately to identify the victims. They think that period is finished. But I think it’s not finished – not until we find a solution." – Pedro Almodóvar.
Even with this snub submission from Spain, I was thrilled that The Academy still recognized Parallel Mothers in other categories, like Best Original Score (Alberto Iglesias), and Cruz even broke into the Best Actress category. The film is broken down into two parallel storylines. The first part of this story is between expecting mothers Janis (a fantastic Cruz) and Ana (a wonderful Milena Smit). Both women are single and became pregnant by accident. Janis, middle-aged, is rejoicing that she was able to get pregnant, while Ana, an adolescent, is scared and ashamed of her pregnancy. Janis and Ana meet by chance at the hospital, and from there, Janis and Ana's lives are interwoven. There is a bond between Janis, Ana, and their newborn babies (Cecilia and Anita) that weaves in and out. The second part of this story reflects on Spain's past trauma as a country. Like a history lesson, Almodóvar presents Spain's Francoist dictatorship, which sadly controlled Spain from 1939 to 1975, front and center. During General Francisco Franco's reign of terror over the country, there were many atrocities committed. Atrocities that Spain still has not fully dealt with to this day.
Almodóvar's Parallel Mothers deals with some of these atrocities, namely a mass grave in Janis' home village, where her great-grandfather and other men from that village were killed and buried during the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939). There's an excavation that gives these men (who disappeared) an identity and dignity. Parallel Mothers is a powerful picture that grapples with motherhood, loss, death, and healing. To grow and move on, one must first understand the past. Almodóvar's statement in this film is bold and pointed, as it should be. On top of the strong direction and brilliant acting are the eye-popping costume and production designs (reds, greens, and yellows) and a lively score throughout. I knew that there was going to be something special with this picture during the opening credit sequence, in which colors of red, black, white splatter across the screen. Parallel Mothers is a complex but engaging film crafted by the hands of a master (Almodóvar). As Cruz and Smit's chemistry flourishes scene after scene, a captivating portrait will unveil. I have not stopped thinking about Parallel Mothers since I saw it two weeks ago, and I cannot wait to watch it again. In the end, Parallel Mothers is a film that radiates out of the screen and into one's heart.
Parallel Mothers is rated R (Restricted) Some Sexuality.
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Starring Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Rossy de Palma, and Julieta Serrano.
Flee (Flugt) is a powerful and heartbreaking picture. Boundary pushing, as Flee, blends vivid documentary filmmaking and stunning animation. Emotional, personal, and beautiful. If you were not able to see Flee in theaters, it's now streaming on Hulu. A must-watch. Flee has made history by becoming the first film to be nominated for Best International, Best Documentary, and Best Animated Feature. Flee is another movie that I cannot stop thinking about since I watched it last week. A Danish animated docudrama directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen that follows the true story of a man named Amin Nawabi, who shares his hidden past for the first time, of fleeing his country (Afghanistan). Amin is on the verge of marrying his long-time boyfriend and is a successful academic when he decides to share his hidden story with a close friend for the first time. At 36, Amin shares with us his past of how he fled from Afghanistan to Denmark as a refugee 20 years ago. Flee is a bold, personal, and saddening story of how war can tear families, homes, and lives apart. An immigration story that is incredibly humane, as Rasmussen shows the life-threatening dangers that refugees have to go through to escape.
Flee is a powerful movie that will leave a pit inside your stomach, but also finds hope for our society as a whole. We listen and learn Amin's pain as he tells us through the screen of what his family had to do and the experiences that got them to where they are now. Rasmussen's picture blends gorgeous animation with hard-hitting drama and a striking documentary layered underneath. Not only is Flee an immigration story but it's also a LGBTQ story. We learn that Amin knew that he was gay at a very young age but had to keep that part of his life a secret for a long period of time. We travel with Amin and his family as they make their way to Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union (1988–1991). Amin goes into detail about the corruption of the Russian police and the human traffickers. It's raw and tragic, but one that people need to hear. Flee is a unique picture in its ability to weave together vivid animation and documentary filmmaking. I am not sure that Flee could not have been told in this way without the animation. Flee is a narrative of displacement and survival that will move one to tears. Genre-bending at the highest order, Flee deserves to win the Oscar for Best Documentary and Best Animated Feature this March. Powerful from the first frame and until the last. Flee is a movie that invites us to come in, listen, and learn.
Flee is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Strong Language | Disturbing Images | Thematic Content.
Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Stream it now on Hulu.
I was pleasantly surprised with how much heart was in the latest Jackass film. Jackass Forever is really a sweet film of youth to adulthood. Silver fox Johnny Knoxville and crew might be getting older, but the stunts and silly gags are still wacky as ever.
Concussions aren't great, but as long as you have them before you're 50, it's cool, and Knoxville is 49, so we're good.
It has been 11-years since we last saw our rambunctious group of misfits and daredevils on the big screen (2010's Jackass 3D). Jackass Forever marks a return for the gross-out humor and slapstick comedy that will leave you laughing until it hurts. Jackass originally started out as a TV series on MTV that ran for three seasons from October 2000 to February 2002. Johnny Knoxville and friends then made their debut to film with Jackass: The Movie (2002). After that, the gang returned for Jackass Number Two (2006), Jackass 3D (2010), and now Jackass Forever (2022). There have also been a handful of spin-off TV shows, films (Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa), and bonus documentaries (Jackass 2.5 and 3.5). The latest trip of pain and glory features the group of old and new characters. The veteran actors returning were Knoxville, Steve-O, Wee Man, Chris Pontius, Dave England, Ehren McGhehey, and Preston Lacy. While they are all aging, that doesn't stop our veteran actors from still attempting these dangerous stunts.
However, this may be the last time we see these veteran actors returning to Jackass. Those old bones can only take so many hits. Knoxville suffered a serious concussion, a broken wrist, and rib after being hit by a bull in one of the stunts. "I knew heading into this, this was my last hurrah with big stunts." It was a bittersweet moment knowing that this will be their last time in the ring as they pass on the torch to younger members. The new faces include Jasper Dolphin, Zach Holmes, Rachel Wolfson, Eric Manaka, Darkshark, and a guy named Poopies. What I was not expecting with this latest installment was the amount of heart and good spirit that went into it. Jackass Forever might be a kinder and gentler film than the previous, but that doesn't mean our band of rascals has matured. Jeff Tremaine returns to the director's chair. He has been filming these Jackass movies for the past 20-years.
Tremaine knows the game and has gotten even stronger in his filming techniques and slow-mo replays. One thing that Forever does and is not afraid to show off was the amount of male nudity. Where Hollywood still seems too scared with male nudity, Jackass Forever presents it front and center. There is a giant green penis monster that attacks the city. Steve-O has his entire crotch covered in honey and a swarm of bees covers it, in the stunt titled "The Bee Genitals." The group encounters bees, spiders, snakes, scorpions, vultures, and bears. While professional trainers handled the animals, making sure the safety of the animals is always there. Some of the stunts include "The Human Ramp," "Body Surfing," "The Flight of Icarus," "The Triple Wedgie," and "Ehren's Cup Tests." We are going into year three of COVID, and I really needed a good laugh during these hard times. Jackass Forever was the medicine to help lift me up, sending stitches to my sides. Through gross-out humor, slapstick comedy, and schadenfreude, Jackass Forever succeeds with the healing power of laughter. What a beautiful thing.
Jackass Forever is rated R (Restricted) Language Throughout | Graphic Nudity | Dangerous Stunts | Strong Crude Material.
Dedicated to the late Ryan Dunn.
Directed by Jeff Tremaine
Starring Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Wee Man, Chris Pontius, Dave England, Ehren McGhehey, Preston Lacy, Jasper Dolphin, Zach Holmes, Rachel Wolfson, Eric Manaka, Darkshark, and Poopies.
I can confirm that the new Scream is a great movie. With No. 5, the Scream franchise proves time after time that it’s one of our best horror franchises. Bloody, brutal, and smart: Scream (2022) takes a slice at requels this go around. With clever kills and more meta-humor, you will have a blast! Wes Craven would be proud.
What's your favorite scary movie?
The Scream franchise has always been ahead of the curb. Ever since the late Wes Craven's (A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, and Swamp Thing) 1996 original slasher made its debut at the theaters, it completely flipped the horror genre upside down. Scream (1996) was a grade-A horror picture. To this day, the original Scream is still one of the most influential slasher films to come out. Craven's film is wickedly funny, nerve-racking, and completely self-aware. The 1996 original took the horror genre by storm, and Craven captivated on that success and released Scream 2 (1997) one year later. Craven's No. 2 was an absolute stellar follow-up to the original. More gore and more tongue-in-cheek. Craven's sequel continued to be ahead of the curb. Scream 2 took on the deconstructive approach to sequels. Now, I need to mention while Craven's direction was brilliant, the writing belonged to screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who wrote No. 1, 2, and 4.
The power duo of Craven's direction and Williamson's writing is was made these two movies so good. Scream 3 came out in 2000 — unfortunately — No. 3 is the weakest of the Scream franchise. This is due to Williamson not coming back to write. That's not saying that Scream 3 is a bad movie because it's not. While it lacked balance in terror and meta-humor, Craven's direction was still fun as his film tackled trilogies. Both Craven and Williamson returned to the franchise 11 years later with Scream 4 (2011). Craven's Scream 4 returned to its razor-sharp form: clever kills, strong meta-humor, and thrilling scares. This time, Craven poked fun at the sequel/reboot frenzy that was running through Hollywood's veins. Scream 4 also had a killer opening sequence to die for, and it was the best opening since the terrifying original with Drew Barrymore. Sadly, Craven passed away in 2015 from a brain tumor. He was only 76. Ten years have passed since No. 4 came to theaters, and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (2019's Ready or Not) have taken up the mantle to direct the fifth installment for the Ghostface franchise.
Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett take delicate care with this film, making something that would have made Craven proud. Screenwriters James Vanderbilt (2007's Zodiac) and Guy Busick (Ready or Not) penned the script for the latest slasher chapter. Vanderbilt and Busick work harder than ever to keep the franchise's meta edge in focus and succeed. They also wonderfully balanced the thrills and scares throughout, never missing a beat. Vanderbilt and Busick even dip their toes into the internet world of toxic fandom and requels, raising a glass to director Rian Johnson and 2017's The Last Jedi. So, it has been 25-years after the original streak of brutal murders that shocked Woodsboro, Calif., and a new killer(s) has decided to put on the Ghostface mask. With Ghostface back in fighting form, they begin targeting a group of teenagers to help resurrect secrets from Woodsboro's deadly past, prompting our legacy characters (actors Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette) to return. It was great seeing Sidney (Campbell), Gale (Cox), and Dewey (Arquette) back on the big screen.
Scream (2022) also introduces us to a handful of new characters (actors Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Mason Gooding, Mikey Madison, Dylan Minnette, Jack Quaid, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sonia Ben Ammar, and Kyle Gallner) as well. All of these actors did a great job in this film, but the two that really stood out to me were Barrera and Ortega. Barrera was in last year's summer musical, In the Heights, while Ortega is in a handful of upcoming 2022 films (The Fallout, X, and Studio 666) slated for this year. The Fallout just premiered on HBO Max and is on my list of new films to watch. Both Barrera and Ortega bring an emotional core to their characters, showcasing their strong acting chops. They have bright acting futures ahead of them. Scream (2022) is a blast from start to finish. This slasher franchise has always been ahead of the curb, gifting us with frightening and wickedly funny films. There were also some strong emotional scenes that got me a little choked up in this latest installment. Scream (2022) is a smart, brutal, and bloody return for Ghostface. Welcome back to Woodsboro.
Scream (2022) is rated R (Restricted) Some Sexual References | Language Throughout | Strong Bloody Violence.
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Starring Melissa Barrera, Jack Quaid, Jenna Ortega, Dylan Minnette, Mikey Madison, Mason Gooding, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sonia Ben Ammar, Marley Shelton, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, and Neve Campbell.
A Double Feature Review! Read More!
Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza is a film chock-full of dream-like wonder. His most pure and lighthearted work as a director. Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim are born stars. We travel aimlessly through San Fernando Valley, almost like a fantasy of growing up. A joyous and romantic touch to cinema. PTA's Licorice Pizza is simply a wonderful picture. This coming-of-age dramedy will sweep you off your feet. I had a blast with this film from the beginning until the end. PTA is one of our greatest modern-day directors, making hard-hitting films like Boogie Nights (1997), There Will Be Blood (2007), The Master (2012), and Phantom Thread (2017). PTA's filmmaking style has always focused on deeply flawed characters dealing with regret, loneliness, and dysfunction. These types of themes are layered with dark undertones and a bold visual style. While Licorice Pizza still covers a lot of these themes, it's the director's lightest work to date. The aimless plotting might be a bit off-putting to some, but I was engrossed with every minute of it. You will fall in love with Licorice Pizza as we wander through the hills of San Fernando.
We follow the story of Alana Kane (newcomer Alana Haim) and Gary Valentine (newcomer Cooper Hoffman) as they grow up, run around, and navigate first love in 1973. Gary is a 15-year-old high schooler who notices 25-year-old Alana on picture day. Or is she 21 or 28? Alana's age varies on what setting she is currently in. It's a type of fake it until you make it mentality. Alana is currently working as a photographer's assistant but is curious about Gary's breezy lifestyle and inspiring actor chops. The story blossoms from here. Gary is also an entrepreneur and starts up his own waterbed company called Soggy Bottom. Alana helps Gary with his company and also pursues her own career in acting. Both Hoffman and Haim are brilliant in this movie, while their chemistry shines throughout. It was bitter-sweet seeing Hoffman be in a PTA film, knowing that his late father (the great Philip Seymour Hoffman) was in five PTA films. Haim is a born star in the movie. She is a natural actress, and will completely captivate you from the first to the final frame. Licorice Pizza also deals with the 1973 gas crisis that was sweeping the country, and we even meet the hot-headed film producer, Jon Peters (a hilarious Bradley Cooper). On top of PTA's coming-of-age storyline, we also get a killer soundtrack that vibes and gorgeous tracking shots that moves to the beat of a drum. There is a lot to love with Licorice Pizza, one slice at a time.
Licorice Pizza is rated R (Restricted) Some Drug Use | Sexual Material | Language.
Directed by PTA
Starring Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, and Benny Safdie.
The Tragedy of Macbeth
By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes...
“Behold! Cinema.” The Tragedy of Macbeth is so good that it's hard to find the right words to describe this Shakespearean film. Director Joel Coen’s gorgeous black-and-white picture is a work of art. Through the minimalist production design, gorgeous cinematography, striking visuals, and superb performances (Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, and Kathryn Hunter): The Tragedy of Macbeth takes a very theatrical approach to the sourced material. One that you could lose your head for. The Tragedy of Macbeth is the first film where we sadly don't get the Coen brothers duo (Joel and Ethan). But it is exciting to see Joel Coen continue at the director's chair, and his newest picture doesn't disappoint. Based on the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Joel Coen's adaptation to the beloved sourced material is striking and gobsmacking to look at. Shot in beautiful black-and-white; this Shakespearean film is a feast for the eyes. While watching this movie in the theaters, I was completely captivated by the production design (Stefan Dechant). The production design is minimalistic and very theatrical throughout. By doing it this way, Dechant amplified its haunting and unique features.
Not only does the production design deserve some Oscar love, but so does the cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel). Delbonnel was also the DP for Wes Anderson's The French Dispatch (2021). All of the actors (Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, and Brendan Gleeson) bring their A-game to this film. Speaking old English is not an easy task, but if you do it correctly and gracefully, then it makes the viewing experience much purer. This group of actors does exactly that, making the viewing experience incredibly enjoyable. We all know the rise and fall of Macbeth, so I don't need to cover that. I will say that seeing Washington in another Shakespearean film (1993's Much Ado About Nothing) is a godsend. While McDormand layers the film with precision and heart. Lastly, Hunter gives a haunting portrayal as the three witches. Her performance will send chills down your spine. The Tragedy of Macbeth is a black-and-white beauty that needs to be seen. If you love Shakespeare and the theatre, then you will gobble up this film. A masterwork. It receives five-stars from me.
Want to hear more of my thoughts about The Tragedy of Macbeth? I spoke with my good friends, Matt and Ashley, on their podcast, Mashely at the Movies | Listen Here.
The Tragedy of Macbeth is rated R (Restricted) Violence.
The Tragedy of Macbeth is now streaming on Apple TV+
Directed by Joel Coen
Starring Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, and Brendan Gleeson.
A Double Feature Review! There's a lot to love and also a lot to hate with these two films. Read More!
Being the Ricardos
Being The Ricardos tries to shine through its cast. Specifically, actors Javier Bardem and JK Simmons are terrific, while actress Nicole Kidman does a pretty good job as Lucy. Aaron Sorkin’s script is sharp in dialogue, and the production design glitters. However, Sorkin’s direction and the tone of the film are both inconsistent throughout. I felt like it was a film that ultimately wrestled with itself. There is a lot to love and loathe with Sorkin's Being The Ricardos: a biographical drama film that studies the rise and fall relationship between I Love Lucy stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Being The Ricardos marks Sorkin's third time in the director's chair (2017's Molly's Game and 2020's The Trial of the Chicago 7). Over the years, Sorkin has been known for his well-crafted screenplays (Charlie Wilson's War, The Social Network, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs). Through all of these scripts, Sorkin's attention to detail is strong, and the dialogue is always crisp. Yet, I feel like Sorkin is still trying to find his voice in his directing style. Molly's Game was his first time into new waters, while The Trial of the Chicago 7 was just fine; nothing spectacular.
Sorkin's Chicago 7 was pure Oscar bait in style and craft. Likewise, Being the Ricardos is following the same path as Chicago 7. Looking at the acting: both Bardem and Simmons are simply terrific with their incarnations as Desi and William Frawley. To me, they were the best parts of this movie. While I do love Nicole Kidman and did enjoy her performance here as Lucy, I am still trying to understand why she has become the front runner this awards season for Best Actress. Kidman has already won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama and could easily win her second Oscar as well. Kidman pleasantly captured Lucy's charisma and delight on the screen, but I did not find anything that screamed awards here. I guess I am the odd man out on this one. The film's costumes and production designs glittered throughout, flashing some beautiful 1950s vibes on the screen. In the end, there's a lot that works for this picture and a lot that works against it. I guess that award members have chosen to ignore the bad qualities and completely gush over the good.
Being the Ricardos is rated R (Restricted) Language.
Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Starring Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J. K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, and Clark Gregg.
Don't Look Up
Don’t Look Up is bombastic, hilarious, and messy. An all-star cast (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, and Ariana Grande) stuck in a disaster comedy by director Adam McKay. Don’t Look Up is a balancing act of laughter and depression. Not everything works, but it dies trying. In the end, Don't Look Up is a fine comedic film. It is by no means amazing nor is it outright terrible. I would be lying if I told you that I did not laugh because I did. There were some genuinely funny scenes in this scattershot picture. In addition, there were also a lot of misses. McKay's film tackles incredibly serious topics like climate change, political discourse, social unrest, and the social media age. I don't think it will change anybody's mind on these topics, but it could at least lead to some discussion. Probably more arguing. At times, Don't Look Up thinks it's more clever than it really is. Personally, I enjoyed Adam McKay more when he did not take himself so seriously with his comedic films back in the day like Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys.
Those days are long gone. While 2015's The Big Short might be McKay's crowning glory at achieving a nice balance of comedy and drama, his later works like Vice and now Don't Look Up become more hamfisted. Our film follows two low-level astronomers (DiCaprio and Lawrence) who must go on a giant media tour to warn the human population of an approaching comet that will destroy Earth. It was nice to see Jennifer Lawrence back on the screen again. She is wonderful and funny throughout. Final thoughts: I would argue that 10-minutes in C'mon C'mon does a better job at showcasing the grim future of climate change for our youth than the entirety of Don't Look Up. Those kid interview scenes in C'mon C'mon really packed a punch. Also, there is in no way, shape, or form that Don't Look Up should be receiving these award nominations. If Don't Look Up does actually receive a Best Picture nomination, then so should Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. I will take that to my grave. In the end, McKay's newest comedic feature has flown in and sent a ripple effect of mayhem through the social media interface. Mission accomplished?
Want to hear more of my thoughts about Don't Look Up? I spoke with my good friends, Matt and Ashley, on their podcast, Mashely at the Movies | Listen Here.
Don't Look Up is rated R (Restricted) Graphic Nudity | Drug Content | Language Throughout | Some Sexual Content.
Directed by Adam McKay
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, and Ariana Grande.
Lana Wachowski's The Matrix Resurrections is one of the boldest, most ambitious blockbusters I have ever seen. Action-packed, wickedly entertaining, and full of heart. Resurrections celebrates on new ideas, while Lana reclaims her legacy. Through emotion, spectacle, subversion, and metacommentary, Resurrections takes a stand and succeeds. It’s also one of the best love stories of 2021.
Warning: Minor Plot Spoilers
Welcome back to the Matrix. Nearly two decades after Revolutions that concluded the Matrix Trilogy, Neo (a great Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (a strong Carrie-Anne Moss) are back and in fighting spirits. If you have kept up with the Matrix Trilogy, then you know that at the end of Revolutions, Neo and Trinity died sacrificing themselves in order to save humanity. A sacrifice that brings peace between the humans and the machines. Yet, even the machines could not let Neo or Trinity really die. Hint the name of the fourth title: Resurrections. So, our two heroes have been plugged back into the Matrix. Now in recent years, unfortunately, the Matrix franchise has been somewhat compromised by toxic fandom and right-wing groups, who have shallowly interpreted the "red pill" imagery as a metaphor for "waking up" to a society controlled by liberal elites. Lana and Lilly Wachowski have fundamentally denied this interpretation and have long fought against this. The Matrix franchise has always flourished through big ideas and philosophies through its cyberpunk undercoating.
But one of the most important themes throughout this franchise has been its voice of a trans allegory. The original film and the pill analogy (red and blue) have been analyzed in the context of the Wachowskis' own transgender experiences and exploring one's gender identity. In Resurrections, Neo (Reeves) is living out his life as a video game designer named Thomas Anderson, who has created an entire video game world based on the events of the first three Matrix films called Binary. Yet something is missing from Neo's life, and he can feel it. Neo goes to a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris), who prescribes him "blue pills" to take to help Neo suppress these dreams that perceive reality. Secretly, Harris' character is also The Analyst. Yet, Neo is finally tracked down by a new character named Bugs (a fantastic Jessica Henwick) and a program embodying Morpheus (a wonderful Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Bugs and Morpheus reveal to Neo who he really is and extract him from the Matrix. We also get a newly reawakened Agent Smith (a lively Jonathan Groff), who hunts down Neo, Morpheus, and Bugs, and threatens the fragile peace. Resurrections never tries to out due the original 1999 film.
While Reloaded and Revolutions digressed to more heavy-handed action sequences and splendor. Lana knows the ground-breaking achievement that the original film was and still is. But what Lana does do in Resurrections is reclaim her legacy as a director and an artist. Similar to what Wes Craven did to New Nightmare (1994). This is the story that Lana always wanted to tell: one that gives a scathing critique of sequels and reboot franchises. A story that also subverts the audience through its entertainment and spectacle scene after scene. Finally, Resurrections tells one of the most fascinating love stories to come out in recent memory. Neo and Trinity's bond and love will live in our hearts forever. While Trinity's body and mind have been recovered, repaired, and modified, giving her a new version inside the Matrix with a new family. Now, it's up to Neo to break her free. Resurrections not only succeeds as an action-packed blockbuster but also succeeds through its emotional storytelling and heart. Resurrections is Lana's story as a director and an artist that comes full circle in the end. Through the powers of sentiment, empowerment, and freedom, Resurrections is a grand achievement in artistry.
The Matrix Resurrections is rated R (Restricted) For Violence and Some Language.
Directed by Lana Wachowski
Starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Jada Pinkett Smith.
In my opinion, Resurrections had the best trailer of 2021. White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane is chef's kiss.
2021 capped off another fantastic year of film. Yet, cinema is still trying to overcome a pandemic that's still raging. Delayed 2020 movies finally made it to the big screen, and movie theaters are trying to make a comeback. Continuing to go and support movie theaters will keep cinema alive and well. The magic and joy of movies brings an audience together. We cannot let this die. Theaters are a crucial bedrock of movies. Here are my picks of the 30 Best Films from 2021. We'll see you at the theaters. — Arnold At The Movies
Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is a slow-burning noir that builds up the thrills. The payoff is worth it, but the runtime needed to be trimmed. However, the visual style, musical score, costume, and production designs are gorgeous throughout. Plus, Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett are always superb and radiant.
No magic or supernatural elements this time around for del Toro. Instead, del Toro uses the power of dark storytelling to capture your soul. Del Toro's re-imaging of the classic 1946 novel is a marvelous addition to the cinemas. This is the second adaptation based on author William Lindsay Gresham's novel. The first film came out in 1947 and was directed by Edmund Goulding (Grand Hotel, Dark Victory, and The Razor's Edge). Now, del Toro will argue that this version is not a remake of the 1947 noir but is instead a re-adaptation of Gresham's novel. "Well, what it is is that book was given to me in 1992 by Ron Perlman before I saw the Tyrone Power movie, and I loved the book. My adaptation that I’ve done with [co-writer] Kim Morgan is not necessarily—the entire book is impossible, it's a saga. But there are elements that are darker in the book, and it's the first chance I have—in my short films I wanted to do noir. It was horror and noir. And now is the first chance I have to do a real underbelly of society type of movie. [There are] no supernatural elements. Just a straight, really dark story."
2021's Nightmare Alley is del Toro's first noir feature; while he was still able to add in small elements of horror throughout. A psychological thriller and neo-noir picture that has del Toro's masterful craft written all over it. Nightmare Alley might not live up to the same heights as 2006's Pan's Labyrinth or 2017's The Shape of Water, but it does not have to. Nightmare Alley is still a special gift crafted by a master. Our story follows a man named Stanton Carlisle (a strong Bradley Cooper), who's down on his luck at the moment. Yet, Stanton stumbles upon a traveling carnival in the Midwest. The owner of this carny is a man named Clem (a haunting Willem Dafoe), who allows Stanton to join. Soon, Stanton attaches himself to clairvoyant Zeena (a marvelous Toni Collette) and her alcoholic mentalist husband Pete (a great David Strathairn). By studying their craft, Stanton finds his golden ticket to success. By using his newly acquired knowledge, Stanton makes his way into the wealthy elites of 1940s New York society. By his side is Molly (a wonderful Rooney Mara), who leaves the carnival to help pull off these mentalist schemes.
All is well, that is, until Stanton decides to plot a con against a dangerous tycoon (a stern Richard Jenkins) with the help of a mysterious psychiatrist (a radiant Cate Blanchett). Nightmare Alley leans heavily into its actors and their ability to grab ahold of your attention scene after scene. The chemistry between Cooper and Blanchett will burst out of the screen. I was very happy to see Blanchett receive a SAG (Screen Actors Guild Awards) nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role. Blanchett has the ability to capture an audience's attention on the screen and never let go. She's a force of nature in this film: so mysterious, so captivating, so alluring. Alongside these great performances are a haunting musical score (Nathan Johnson), an eerie cinematography (Dan Laustsen), and gorgeous costume and production designs (Luis Sequeira and Tamara Deverell). The runtime definitely could have been trimmed, yet I was engrossed with the story the whole time. A story that, when it comes full circle, might leave you a little cold. Such is life. Del Toro's Nightmare Alley is a feast for the eyes and a master at work.
Nightmare Alley is rated R (Restricted) For Nudity | Language | Some Sexual Content | Strong/Bloody Violence.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, and David Strathairn.
Delightful and colorful: Disney’s Encanto shines brightly. With gorgeous animation and a beautiful message from the heart, Encanto will sweep you off your feet. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songs are vibrant, and its representation is important. In the end, Disney’s Encanto is simply magical.
There's a little magic in all of us ... almost all of us.
Disney Animation Studio's 60th film is enchanting and beautiful from start to finish. Directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard (2016's Zootopia) take our audience to the mountains of Colombia. Here, we follow a multigenerational Latinx family with magical powers, well, except for 15-year-old Mirabel (voiced by a wonderful Stephanie Beatriz). We'll get back to Mirabel's magic-less powers soon. The Madrigals are an extraordinary family hidden deep into the mountainside. Here, they have their own magical candle that attains supernatural qualities and has created a sentient house, the "Casita." The Madrigals live here, along with an enchanted hidden town sheltered by tall surrounding mountains: an “Encanto.” And as Alma Madrigal's (a strong María Cecilia Botero) family keeps growing, they too are gifted with supernatural powers from the magical candle. Yet, Mirabel was never given any unique abilities from the candle like super strength, or talking to animals, or seeing the future. However, Mirabel soon may be the family's last hope when she discovers that the magic surrounding the "Encanto" is now in danger. Encanto has a superb voice cast consisting of all Latinx actors (Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guerrero, and Wilmer Valderrama). Many of the voice actors are of Colombian descent themselves.
While Encanto's animation is gorgeous and its storytelling is rich: the film's songs are also vibrant and full of life. These songs incorporate genres; such as salsa, tango, hip hop, reggaeton, and folk music. Miranda and composer Germaine Franco (2017's Coco) also made use of the traditional music instruments of Colombia when writing and composing these lovely songs. The soundtrack consists of songs like The Family Madrigal, Waiting on a Miracle, We Don't Talk About Bruno, and Dos Oruguitas. While We Don't Talk About Bruno has recently reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Encanto received three Golden Globe nominations, winning Best Animated Feature Film. Bush and Howard's picture has also been nominated for 8 Annie Awards (Excellence in Animation). I also enjoyed that Encanto kept the story grounded inside and around the "Casita." There was no grand adventure — like previous Disney affairs — but there was a rich and deeply emotional story that blossomed within the Madrigal family. More animated films like 2016's Moana, Coco, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Encanto need to be made by Disney. These animated films are deeply rooted in culture and share the voices and stories of people of color with the whole family.
Encanto is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Some Thematic Elements | Mild Peril.
Experience the magic of Encanto, now streaming on Disney+
Directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard
Starring Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guerrero, and Wilmer Valderrama.
From the singing to the dancing, from the cinematography to the production design, director Steven Spielberg's West Side Story shines brightly through the night. Spielberg's WSS reminds us why we fell in love with musical theatre in the first place. One of 2021's best films.
Tonight. It all began tonight. I saw you and the world went away.
Director Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story is a marvelous re-adaptation of the classic 50s stage musical. Spielberg’s West Side Story is a more gritty approach that radiates throughout. Rachel Zegler is a born star. Her voice as Maria will hit you like a shot to the heart. Likewise, Ariana DeBose and Mike Faist are phenomenal as Anita and Riff. DeBose and Faist steal every scene they are in. The musical numbers, cinematography, camerawork, and production values will sweep you off your feet. Spielberg’s first musical is simply wonderful. I hope it’s not his last. In my opinion, West Side Story is also top-tier Spielberg (Jaws, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, and Munich). West Side Story has been a cornerstone for musical theatre for a little over 60 years now. Though, that is not to say that West Side doesn't come with its set of problems. The original 1961 movie adaptation won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, but it also used brownface.
White actors were portrayed as Puerto Ricans, with the exception of actress Rita Moreno (who was the only Latina of Puerto Rican descent). Sadly, brownface was used by white actors to darken their skin for the Puerto Rican roles. Yet, this musical still somehow established greatness in its musical numbers, choreography, and production designs. West Side became a landmark for musical theatre. The 1961 movie, in some respects, felt like a wrestling match between brilliance and offense; by trying to overcome its more problematic themes. To this day, the 60s version is still able to both impress and frustrate at the same time. Yes, something can be both great and deeply flawed. Spielberg's version corrects the wrong by actually casting Latinx actors to play the Sharks (David Avilés, Sebastian Serra, Ricardo A. Zayas, Carlos E. Gonzalez, Ricky Ubeda, Andrei Chagas, Adriel Flete, Jacob Guzman, Kelvin Delgado, Carlos Sánchez Falú, Julius Anthony Rubio, Yurel Echezarreta, and David Guzman). Spielberg was committed to every actor playing a Shark be of Latin descent, and I applaud him for that.
While, Actor David Alvarez (an Afro-Latino of Cuban ancestry) plays the Sharks' leader, Bernardo. Alvarez is marvelous as the hot-headed Sharks' leader. Alvarez showcases Bernardo's pride and pain as a Latino immigrant trying to survive the racial tensions boiling over in New York City. Actress Ariana DeBose (an Afro-Latina of Puerto Rican ancestry) plays Bernardo's girlfriend, Anita. The role of Anita was previously played by "the great" Rita Moreno, who went on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Moreno has passed down the torch to DeBose now. DeBose's interpretation of Anita is both fierce and spellbinding. She captures your soul from the first scene she is in, never letting go. DeBose has a good chance at winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress like Moreno did, and I will be rooting for her the whole way. Moreno was given in a new for for this film, as Doc's widow, Valentina. At 90, Moreno's singing of Somewhere was beautifully done. The Jets leader is played by bad boy Riff (a phenomenal Mike Faist). Faist helps elevate the supporting cast, along with Alvarez and DeBose. Riff is a character who is incredibly unlikable, but Faist's brilliant performance makes him hard to resist. Faist is that good.
Newcomer Rachel Zegler (who is of Colombian descent) plays the role of Maria, and she dazzles in every scene. Zegler learned about the audition through social media and won the part after a difficult process. She has already gone on to get a part for Shazam! Fury of the Gods, and she will also be our new Snow White for Disney's live-action adaption. Zegler is a born star, and her voice is pitch-perfect. Alongside Zegler is actor Ansel Elgort, who plays Tony, Maria's first love in this modern re-imaging of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Now, I won't beat around the bush here with Elgort, who was accused of sexual assault back in the summer of 2020. The principle of photography was already done for West Side when this accusation came out, so we cannot magically wipe Elgort away. But this is something that needs to be discussed going forward. Strictly judging Elgort's acting and singing in this film alone, Elgort actually has a decent voice. He was able to keep in tune with Zegler throughout. Though Elgort's vocals are still no match compared to actors Zegler, Alvarez, DeBose, and Faist. Elgort's acting is decent; sometimes he shines while other times he comes off a tad wooden. West Side really excels through its supporting cast. And when this film decides to wow, it wows.
Screenwriter Tony Kushner (Munich and Lincoln) crafts the script with delicacy and relevance. Kushner also updated some of the song lyrics, song order, and locations from the 50s stage musical and 60s film. The lyrics to this landmark musical were written by the late Stephen Sondheim (Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Into the Woods) — who knew how to wonderfully craft a show. I would also argue that the 2021 version is not a remake, rather a re-adaptation of the source material. Kushner's screenplay follows more closely to the Broadway script of West Side Story than to the 1961 film. While Spielberg’s approach feels more gritty and realistic, that doesn't take away from the film's beating heart and pride. Spielberg also made specific decisions to keep the accents of Bernardo, Anita, and Maria for authenticity. Here, Spielberg wanted to show that Bernardo, Anita, and Maria are newcomers to New York City and are still learning English, explaining the accent. Spielberg also decided not to use subtitles when Spanish was being spoken throughout this picture. I really enjoyed seeing this on the screen: especially when the actors would switch back and forth between Spanish and English. This reminded me of my younger sister, Tatiana, who is Colombian-American and is also bilingual. Tatiana can easily jump back and forth between Spanish and English so beautifully.
So for me, seeing this translated on the screen in this fashion was very pure and genuine. Spielberg said, "out of respect for the inclusivity of our intentions to hire a totally Latinx cast to play the Sharks' boys and girls. ... If I subtitled the Spanish, I’d simply be doubling down on the English and giving English the power over the Spanish. This was not going to happen in this film, I needed to respect the language enough not to subtitle it." West Side also prevails in its cinematography, camerawork, and production design. Janusz Kamiński's (Schindler's List, War of the Worlds, and War Horse) cinematography is a marvel, while the camerawork swings and swooshes through the streets of New York. The production and costume design might be a little more muted than the colorful 60s version — however — that does not mean that it's not great. These designs are still pretty spectacular and deserve to be praised. Along with the tap-dancing choreography are the breathtaking musical numbers: consisting of Balcony Scene (Tonight), America, Maria, I Feel Pretty, and Gee, Officer Krupke. At 75 years old, Spielberg is still a master of cinema, always in control of his craft. I hope he makes another musical in the near future. West Side Story is a wondrous tale of love, pride, and betrayal. It's a film that I saw in theaters twice because I was so captured by its intimate beauty. Radiant and magical, Spielberg's West Side Story is a musical that needs to be experienced on the big screen.
Here is my personal Ranking of Spielberg's filmography.
West Side Story is also Glynis' No. 1 film for 2021.
West Side Story is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Some Strong Violence | Brief Smoking | Strong Language | Suggestive Material | Thematic Content.
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Ansel Elgort, Mike Faist, and "the great" Rita Moreno as Valentina.
For Your Consideration:
Cup Of Soul Show
In Their Own League
Mashley at the Movies
Mike, Mike, and Oscar
The Movie Oracle
Next Best Picture
Reos Positive POV
The SoBros Network
Untitled Cinema Gals Project