Pig was a wonderful surprise — dark, poignant, and powerfully acted by Nicolas Cage. A strange odyssey of love and loss. I had lots of feelings after watching this film. Now on VOD if you missed it in theaters.
Part One: Rustic Mushroom Tart
Pig is not the movie I thought it would be, and that's a good thing. This is a film that took me by complete surprise, bringing out feelings that I am still trying to explain. Pig is a beautiful and, at times, heartbreaking film about life. Pig's emotional core is anchored by the great Nic Cage, who has explored a variety of Indie films (Joe, Mandy, and Color Out of Space) in recent years. Cage has given some of his best work in these Indie films, and Pig continues to prove that right. Michael Sarnoski's directorial debut follows a truffle hunter, who lives alone in the Oregon wilderness with his brown foraging pig. Rob (Cage) is greasy, has long hair, a scraggly beard, and worn down clothes. But, Rob is content with his life and his companion — that brown foraging pig. Rob sells his prized truffles to a local supplier (Alex Wolff), who sells them to Portland's high-end restaurants. Yet, everything changes one night when Rob's cabin is broken into, Rob is beaten unconscious, and his pig is stolen.
Part Two: Mom's French Toast & Deconstructed Scallops
This leads Cage on the move to track down who stole his beloved pig. Amir (Wolff) becomes his ride into Portland and this broken odyssey. Along the way, Rob is beaten and bloodied. But Rob has a mission, making his way up to the top of the underbelly restaurant network. Pig is a slow-burning film, slowly building up emotions inside you that you did not realize you had. This is about as far as I'll go for the plot, keeping the spoilers secret and your viewing experience pure. For being a directorial debut, Sarnoski's craft is impeccable and resonating this Americana fable with a moral compass. Pig is a perfectly crafted picture with vivid cinematography. A tender film of food and the human connection — leaving one with a bittersweet feeling by the end. This cynical world of culinary Portland tries to swallow up Rob and his past regrets. But, Rob keeps his eyes focused and his soul wondering for his brown furry friend.
Part Three: A Bird, a Bottle, & a Baguette
Pig was definitely a film that snuck up on me. By the time the credits rolled, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I had just watched a picture so beautiful and so heartbreaking at the same time. I have collected my thoughts over this experience, trying to put it into words. Sarnoski's craftsmanship of gentle storytelling is a power unlike anything I've seen this year. I didn't have much thought about Pig, going into the film, yet I came away with an experience unlike any other. Cage's performance of a man's traumatized soul, is one of the actor's finest works. To put it mildly, Cage is magnificent. Pig is a portrait of many themes — leaving the viewer with several emotions to deconstruct all at once. Good pig.
Pig is rated R (Restricted) For Language and Some Violence.
See Pig in Select Theaters or Rent on VOD.
Directed by Michael Sarnoski
Starring Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, and Adam Arkin.
Are You Alright? is a 15-minute Short film that tackles America's work-related trauma and the mental health crisis confining many people to a new stressful reality.
Writer-director Alessio Summerfield's Are You Alright? will grapple ahold of your psyche, sending your emotions to claustrophobic territories. The premise of this Short is structured as just "another day in the office," but soon we realize that our main protagonist, Wallace (a strong Jaan Marion), is trapped in a paranoia world trying to balance his work-life. Wallace seems to be stuck in dream-like sequences torturing his soul. These sequences are fueled with suspense and claustrophobia — we see hundreds of old telephone lines and wires begin to strangle Wallace in an open green field, giving off Lynchian vibes. There are surreal and sinister forces that parallel throughout this Short, thanks to Summerfield's vivid direction.
There are many scenes where there is the numbing sound of a telephone ringing constantly in Wallace's head, slowly making waves into the viewer's subconscious. As the memos, agreements, and reports begin to pile up, suffocating Wallace, he starts to have a mental breakdown. Slowly, we see Wallace lose sight of what's real and what's in his head. This is where Summerfield succeeds, tackling the mental health crisis that is currently grappling our country. A crisis that feels all too real since we are still in the middle of a pandemic with no light at the end of the tunnel. During the last year, new fears and anxieties have run rapidly through individuals, myself included. Summerfield originally started to explore this concept of anger and frustration.
Summerfield's concept began to form through the physical and mental toll that the workplace puts on its employees. The cast and crew of Are You Alright? also helped collaborate with their own stories of stressful workplaces. Some of them even sought out therapy for work-related trauma. We see Wallace go through similar therapy sessions during this Short, trying to heal his broken state of mind. This contemporary Short of trauma comes across all too familiar for many Americans currently struggling in today's capitalistic force. Are You Alright? is smart in balancing both reality and paranoia. The toll of the never-ending workday can sometimes feel both mentally draining and suffocating. Are You Alright? hits the nail on the head with its topic and theme. It's worth your time.
Are You Alright? is Not Rated (NR).
Directed by Alessio Summerfield
Starring Jaan Marion, Ashley Santana, Cliff Mirabella, and Richard Ulrich.
Are You Alright? is available to watch on: https://www.alessiosummerfield.com/current-project
A Double Feature Review!
Black Widow is a great Marvel movie — half spy thriller, half superhero flick all packed with action throughout. Our MCU hero finally gets her time to shine in a worthy solo picture. Scarlett Johansson is strong as ever, while Florence Pugh steals every scene. Along with great performances from both David Harbour and Rachel Weisz. An entertaining standalone adventure. Black Widow is the first MCU movie back in theaters since 2019's Spider-Man: Far From Home. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a 2020 drought for Marvel, so it was a little refreshing seeing one of our favorite Avengers back on the big screen. Director Cate Shortland's (Lore and Berlin Syndrome) superhero film travels back in time, taking place after the events of 2016's Captain America: Civil War. During this time the Avengers have broken up, giving Shortland a chance to focus solely on Natasha Romanoff's (Johansson) story. I don't want to go into too much detail as far as the plot goes because I was to keep this review spoiler-free.
I will say, Black Widow had one of the best opening sequences in the MCU franchise, along with a killer opening title sequence (a cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Think Up Anger, featuring Malia J). Pugh also steals the show with every scene she's in, continuing her winning streak for grandeur performances (2019's Midsommar and Little Women). There are some flaws with this film, particularly with the final act. These action sequences seemed a little messier than the rest of the movie, along with trying to wrap up loose ends for the plot. However, these are minor, and they did not hold down the film as a whole. Black Widow also broke several pandemic box office records upon release, including $80 million for its opening weekend theatrical release. In addition, the film made $60 million in Disney+ global revenue in its opening weekend and has grossed over $270 million worldwide, becoming the sixth-highest-grossing film of 2021. All-in-all, it felt great seeing a Marvel flick back on the big screen, along with a worthy solo film for Johansson herself.
Black Widow is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Some Language | Intense Violence/Action | Thematic Material.
See in theaters, or watch on Disney+ via Premium Access.
Directed by Cate Shortland
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone, and O.T. Fagbenle.
In The Heights
I understand the hype now. In The Heights is a joyous celebration of community and culture. This vibrant and dazzling musical will sweep you off your feet. It’s a summer sensation that will have you dancing in the air. In The Heights is a story of family and dreams — Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) put the Latino community front and center. Based on Miranda's groundbreaking 2008 Broadway musical, In The Heights is a musical wonder that will capture your eyes and fill your heart. It's a fact that Latinx representation has been lacking in Hollywood over the years, so to see a big-budgeted Hollywood musical with a Latinx cast was refreshing. My wife, Glynis, is Peruvian-American, while my younger sister, Tatiana, is Colombian-American. Telling these stories is critical and will continue to be an important perspective for the future of filmmaking.
In The Heights takes place in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City — a neighborhood known for a large Dominican population on the upper Manhattan side. Translating a musicals stage production to film is no easy task, but Chu wonderfully executes that task. Our story follows a variety of characters throughout, but at its core, the story centers around Usnavi (a perfect Anthony Ramos). Usnavi is a bodega owner who looks after Abuela Claudia (a powerful Olga Merediz), the neighborhood matriarch and woman who raised him after his parents passed away. Merediz's song "Paciencia y Fe" will send chills down your spine and bring tears to your eyes. Usnavi dreams of winning the lottery someday so he can escape to the shores of the Dominican Republic. We also follow the stories of Vanessa (a strong Melissa Barrera), the girl Usnavi has a crush on working at the neighboring beauty salon; Benny (a captivating Corey Hawkins), a dispatcher; and Nina (a mesmerizing Leslie Grace), who has just returned from Standford after dropping out.
This is a close-knit community, as we see everyone's dreams sung out on the screen before your very eyes. In The Heights is beautifully shot and remarkably orchestrated throughout — capturing the magic of celebration and heritage. It's a shame that this film disappointed at the box office, only grossing $40 million against a $55 million budget. Don't let this discourage you from seeing this movie because it really does dazzle. In The Heights blends Latin culture, from its music to its more authentic touches — it even tackles DACA, Usnavi's cousin, Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), is a "Dreamer." In The Heights deserves your attention, so make sure you watch this film if you have not done so already. Let the music speak to your soul.
In The Heights is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) For Some Language and Suggestive References.
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Starring Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz IV, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco, Noah Catala, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
As promised, F9: The Fast Saga delivers big-dumb popcorn fun. Fueled with over-the-top action sequences, F9 keeps this series moving. I had a good time seeing it on the big screen with my family and, in the end, that’s all that matters.
What is there to say about F9? A cheesy, over-the-top action flick from a (somehow) 20-year-old franchise. My expectations were low for this film, and I came away mostly satisfied. I knew what to expect from this car racing turned spy thriller series — there was going to be nonstop action sequences, corny dialogue, a soap opera plot line, and Vin Diesel saying the word "family" about a hundred times throughout the movie. That's exactly what F9 was, just with a little more brainless action sequences and the word "family" was used on steroids. I personally think that this series should have ended on a high note with 2015's Furious 7, sending the late Paul Walker out on a swan song, but here we are, six years later, still chugging along.
This time around, Dom Toretto (Diesel) is living a quiet life off the grid with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his son, Brian. Cue, the evil bad brother, Jakob (John Cena), who is out terrorizing the world. Dom's past has finally caught up with him, so it's up to him and his team (Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Nathalie Emmanuel) to go out on a new mission and stop Jakob. See, the plot is kind of like a bad soap opera — Dom's long-lost brother Jakob has shown up out of thin air and is doing bad guy things. Yet, I can admit, that I was never bored with this film and the crazy action sequences kept me engaged. Director Justin Lin (who has directed a majority of these movies) uses his signature film trait of stunts and thrills, but this time he has turned the dial up to 11. My younger siblings had a blast seeing it in theaters, and I had a great time seeing it with them too.
So, with all of F9's flaws and eye rolls, I was entertained the entire time. F9 is definitely not the best Fast and Furious movie (looking at you, Fast Five), but it is also not the worst Fast and Furious movie either (looking at you, 2 Fast 2 Furious). For me, this movie comes in about mid-tier for the franchise. Universal says that it's making two more of these movies (10 and 11) and then calling it quits. But I will believe that when I see it. Of course, if Universal does decide to call it quits to the franchise's main storyline, then they are going to go crazy with the spin-offs. In the end, F9 rocks and rolls through the streets, with cars blazing and some even flying off to space. F9 also did give Han's (Sung Kang) character justice and a nice comeback, which I did appreciate. Gravity and logic went out the window for this franchise a long time ago. All in all, F9 delivered just enough brainless fun and action to keep me satisfied.
Want to hear more of my thoughts about F9, check this podcast review with my friends, Matt & Ashley, on their website, mashleymovies.com.
F9 is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Language | Action | Sequences of Violence.
Directed by Justin Lin
Starring "The Family" (Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Charlize Theron, John Cena, Sung Kang, Dame Helen Mirren, Finn Cole, Vinnie Bennett, and Kurt Russell).
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It adds some new scares to the franchise, yet this latest chapter to the horror series feels a bit weary and tiresome from the previous Conjuring films.
The Conjuring franchise has now made three linked Conjuring movies and five spin-off movies (Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, The Nun, The Curse of La Llorona, and Annabelle Comes Home). The Conjuring Trilogy has followed our main paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by a terrific Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. While the spin-off films have followed different aspects of The Conjuring universe, like the creepy Annabelle doll or the "Demon Nun." These spin-off films have felt more like a roller coaster — some stories were good, some stories were pretty bad. The first two Conjuring films (2013 and 2016) remain superior to this expanding horror franchise — giving us old-school scares and engrossing stories of different hauntings and supernatural activity.
Director James Wan (Saw, Furious 7, and Aquaman) crafted the two vastly frightening pictures from The Conjuring's chapters one and two. These two horror features gave off bone-chilling vibes that make you want to sleep with a night light on afterward. So, with chapter three coming in and changing up the formula, we essentially get a weaker horror film. The Devil Made Me Do It decides to go a different route and focus on a legal trial where a defendant (Ruairi O'Connor), who's accused of murder, claims to have been possessed by the devil himself (demonic possession). So, it's time for the Warrens to step in and investigate. The third chapter also adds in a new director, Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona), but keeps Wilson and Farmiga. As usual, Wilson and Farmiga's acting chops are strong as ever, but we are missing the noble craftsmanship from Wan.
Stripped away are the original spooks and scares — instead — Chaves tries to add more crime thrilling elements. The Devil Made Me Do It also borrows heavily from far superior horror movies, like The Exorcist (1973) and The Shining (1980). However, I will give the film's opening scene some major props, giving us an incredibly frightening and terrifying exorcism sequence. Unfortunately, as far as the story goes, the rest of the movie begins to peter off after that. The Conjuring franchise does not look like it's slowing down anytime soon. If Wilson and Farmiga continue to return, then I will, of course, continue to watch. Here's to hoping the next chapter with the Warrens goes back to the franchise's original horror roots and haunting atmosphere.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is rated R (Restricted) Terror | Some Disturbing Images | Violence.
Directed by Michael Chaves
Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O'Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, and John Noble.
Bo Burnham: Inside is a masterwork — funny, claustrophobic, and experimental. This one-man comedy-drama special is an immersive experience full of strong humor, dense commentary, and technical splendor. Inside is the must-watch Netflix special of the pandemic era. Five stars.
"But look, I made you some content
Daddy made you your favorite, open wide
Here comes the content
It's a beautiful day to stay inside"
How does one critique and analyze Inside? It's a special that already self-reflects and critiques itself during its 87-minute runtime. This is something that I have been struggling to put into words, showcasing the raw comedic talent that Bo Burnham confounds into his work. There is so much to unpack with Inside — a variety of art forms including musical numbers, stand-up comedy bits, and meta-commentary over this scary new world of ours. I believe Inside is the first true COVID era work that gets things right about how everyone was feeling during the pandemic and still is. Burnham constructs and dissects his own fears, anxieties, and how this pandemic has escalated it. This was how I truly connected with his special. Last year, I too struggled with certain fears and anxieties that grappled ahold of me. I continue to face those fears. Not only was I dealing with the fears of a virus I cannot see while also confined in my home, but my wife (Glynis) and I also went through two miscarriages. I began to go down a dark road of depression and sometimes used alcohol as a crutch to bear on during this hellscape world. Last Fall, I decided to break free from that crutch, and I have been doing better.
Watching Inside brought out my past and continued anxieties, which is why I was so captivated by this form of art. Written, directed, filmed, edited by, and starring Bo Burnham — Inside is a bold and sometimes scary comedy special of the world we live in. Recorded in his home during the COVID-19 pandemic without a crew or audience, Inside features a variety of songs and sketches about his day-to-day life indoors. Burnham depicts his deteriorating mental health, struggles with depression, and explores the relationship with his audience and technology. There is a raw talent that shines brightly with Burnham, as he forms together a creative tour de force of cabin fever. Inside marks Burnham's first return to stand-up since his 2016 special, Make Happy. During his tour for Make Happy, Burnham began to experience panic attacks, which is why he stepped away. While Burnham was focusing more on his mental health, he directed his first feature film, 2018's Eighth Grade. Eighth Grade is a coming-of-age comedy-drama film that follows a middle school teenager who struggles with anxiety but strives to gain social acceptance from her peers.
As a coping mechanism, Kayla (Elsie Fisher) publishes self-motivational video blogs on YouTube. Burnham also focused on Gen Z's time obsession over social media. Burnham also starred in several movies during his time away from stand-up, including The Big Sick, Rough Night, and 2020's Promising Young Woman. Inside is a presentation of life in the pandemic that incorporates social commentary around social media, capitalism, and systemic racism. Parts of Inside are laugh-out-loud funny, while other parts lack humor, giving off a horror-style vibe. Some parts of Inside feel journalistic in nature, while other areas feel like a well-written piece of theater. Burnham incorporates a variety of songs, like FaceTime with My Mom (Tonight), How the World Works, White Woman's Instagram, Sexting, Welcome to the Internet, 30, and That Funny Feeling. The first half of Inside is a roller coaster of emotions while trying to boost oneself with a medication of the giggles. Burnham's second half of the special takes a more serious turn, as our protagonist starts to lose grip with reality. Burnham's mental health begins to spiral down a rabbit hole. Part 2 is a horror-style nightmare that will run through your bones.
Our world feels on the brink of global collapse. As we make our way through a deadly virus, we are also struggling with climate change, systemic racism, genocide, poverty, and capitalistic tyrants. There is also the symbolism of Burnham resembling a Jesus-like figure. Burnham's hair and beard begin to grow longer, transforming into that figure. As Burnham's Jesus-like figure emerges into the world, he becomes cynical and passive-aggressive towards the art he created. Seeing his art has become nothing more than a product of greed. Inside also contextualizes the discourse of social media, and how it has become a sinister force in our society. Burnham's career began on YouTube, yet YouTube has also led to a rise in right-wing extremism. It's a struggle of realism that is also over-layered with the horrors of the digital world. "Am I going crazy? Would I even know? Am I right back where I started fourteen years ago?" Mental health is an important topic we need to talk about more. While finding ways to cope with one's anxieties is just as important. My continued writing was a way for me to cope with my fears, especially last year. Burnham puts these hard topics front and center for his newest feature. Inside might be one of the most beautiful, scary, and fascinating pieces of work I have watched in a long time. Burnham's newest special deserves all of the Emmys this Fall. Inside is simply a masterpiece.
Bo Burnham: Inside is rated TV-MA (Mature).
Written, directed, filmed, edited by, and starring Bo Burnham.
Now available to stream on Netflix.
A Triple, Disney, Review!
I enjoyed Cruella more than I thought I would. Exquisite costume and makeup designs, strong performances from both Emma’s (Stone and Thompson), and just an overall entertaining film. A great summer popcorn flick, I recommend seeing. Plus, actor Paul Walter Hauser was brilliant. Disney's live-action adaptions and remakes have been hit-or-miss in the past, so I did not know what to expect going in for Cruella. It turns out that Cruella was a wonderful surprise of fun storytelling and great acting leads. Emma Stone and Emma Thompson take the film to another dimension with their superb acting chops. Along with the mesmerizing costume and makeup designs, was the clear direction from director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl and I, Tonya). Cruella even featured lively '70s music with a killer soundtrack blasting throughout. So, this live-action feature follows the rebellious early days of Cruella de Vil — one of cinema's most notoriously fashionable villains.
Set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, we follow a young woman named Estella (Stone), a gifted and creative genius determined to make her designs famous. Estella befriends a pair of young thieves, Jasper and Horace (Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser), who enjoy her appetite for mischief and mayhem. Hauser's supporting career has been fun to watch. He has always given brilliant performances in the supporting role, whether it's films like BlacKkKlansman, Da 5 Bloods, Late Night, or I, Tonya — Hauser can do it all. One day, Baroness von Hellman (Thompson) sees one of Estella's works and is instantly captivated by it. A reign of terror wields over the Baroness and her power. After she takes Estella in, their strained relationship sets in motion a course of events that will cause Estella to embrace her more wicked side, AKA Cruella.
A revenge thriller with a dash of charm — Cruella surprised me in so many ways. Cruella had its opening premiere in Los Angeles on May 18, making it the first major red carpet event since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The film was released in U.S. theaters and available on Disney+ with Premier Access simultaneously on May 28. According to Samba TV, "the film was watched by about 686,000 American households in its debut weekend, resulting in around $20.57 million in revenue for Disney." Theatrically, Cruella has grossed $132 million worldwide since Memorial Day Weekend. In the end, go watch this enjoyable summer flick.
Cruella is now playing in theaters and or is available to purchase (Premium Access) on Disney+.
I got to experience Cruella at the wonderful Skyview Drive-In in Belleville, IL.
Cruella is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Thematic Elements | Some Violence.
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mark Strong, Jamie Demetriou , and John McCrea.
Raya and the Last Dragon
Raya and the Last Dragon is a great family film with gorgeous animation and a story with a big heart. Awkwafina & Kelly Marie Tran are both wonderful as the film’s two leading roles. I highly recommend this one. It’s now free to watch on Disney+. Disney continues their push for more inclusion and representation in its newer works, and Raya reaffirms why that is so important. Raya follows the story of a South-East Asian heroine and her culture, marking a first for Disney to tell a story like this in their 90-year history. Actress Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico from The Last Jedi) also made history by voicing Disney's first South-East Asian Princess with her role as Raya in the film. Having a sister who is Asian-American, it is great to see more people of color represented on the big screen, telling their stories to younger audiences from all over the world. Director's Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada's (Big Hero 6 and 2018's Blindspotting) film takes place in a fictional realm known as Kumandra, a fantasy world that’s home to five tribes. Each of the five tribes has its own distinct culture, inspired by different places in South-East Asia. A region home to 11 countries and 673 million people.
In Kumandra, humans, and dragons once lived together in harmony, until sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land. To save humanity from the Drunns, the dragons sacrificed themselves. Now, some 500 years later, those same sinister monsters have returned, and it's up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the last dragon to wipe out the Druuns for good. Cue Awkwafina as the last dragon in existence named Sisu. As always, Awkwafina (The Farewell, Crazy Rich Asians, and Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens) is a total blast as the voice of Sisu. She's funny and charming as ever, while she'll slap a smile on your face in every scene. Along the way, Raya and Sisu pick up companions — including Boun (voiced by Izaac Wang), a charismatic 10-year-old entrepreneur; a toddler-age con artist named Noi (voiced by Thalia Tran) and her trio of monkey-like friends; and Tong (voiced by Benedict Wong), a difficult but kind-hearted warrior giant. But where there are friends, there are also enemies.
Trying to stop Raya from gathering up all of the dragon gems is her foe Namaari (voiced by Gemma Chan). Raya and the Last Dragon is a great family film that showcases the importance of trust, courage, and representation. Due to the ongoing pandemic, Raya was released to theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access simultaneously. As of June 17, Raya has grossed $54.3 million in the U.S. and Canada, and $79 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $133.3 million. Now free to watch on Disney+, you won't be disappointed. Plus, Us Again might be one of the most heartwarming and lovely short films I have seen in a long time. A beautifully directed and choreographed short that will fill your eyes with wonder and make your heart full. Us Again marks Walt Disney Animation's first theatrical short in five years. A splendid reference to Gene Kelly's Singin' in the Rain, with an interracial couple that shines brightly on the big screen. Director Zach Parrish's (head of animation on Big Hero 6) non-verbal, musical wonderland will sweep you off your feet. A youthful liberation on life and love, Us Again is a must-watch.
Raya and the Last Dragon & Us Again are both free to stream on Disney+.
Raya is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Some Violence | Action | Thematic Elements.
Directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada
Starring Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Jona Xiao, Sandra Oh, Thalia Tran, Lucille Soong, and Alan Tudyk.
Luca is a beautiful film, full of the vivid, imaginative freedoms of being a kid. One of Pixar’s sweetest films to date. Luca’s infectious joy will fill your heart with wonder. Now streaming on Disney+, oh how I wish it could have been released to theaters. “Silenzio, Bruno!” Pixar's Luca is a breath of fresh air — colorful and full of magic, Luca paints a beautiful portrait of friendship and freedom. An animated feature so rich and full of life, you'll have a smile from ear to ear by the end of the movie. Pixar's latest feature is similar in style to the likes of Studio Ghibli, while its storytelling hits a sweet spot on a warm summer day. The film takes place in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, while we follow the fun coming-of-age story about one young sea monster in the water, turned boy on land. Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) will soon experience a summer like no other, filled with gelato, pasta, and endless scooter rides.
Luca gets to shares these grand adventures with his newfound best friend, Alberto (voice of Jack Dylan Grazer). Yet, their fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: they are sea monsters under the water, and when they are on land, they transform into humans. Luca marks as director Enrico Casarosa's (2011's La Luna short film) directorial feature debut. Just as La Luna captured your heart back in 2011, Luca will do the same. Luca and Alberto make their way to the seaside town, where they meet and befriend Giulia (voiced by Emma Berman), an 'underdog' girl who wants to win the town's Portorosso Cup Race. But, she has to continue to face the town's bully, Ercole Visconti (voiced by Saverio Raimondo). Luca and Alberto decide to team up with Giulia, so they can win the Cup Race's prize money, and buy their very own Vespa.
It's off to the races for our 'underdog' team, but will their watery secret reach the surface? I'll let you watch and find out on your own. Casarosa's film design and animation were both inspired by the hand-drawn and stop motion works of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Casarosa described his creation as a way that "pays homage to Federico Fellini and other classic Italian filmmakers, with a dash of Miyazaki in the mix too." Luca teaches lessons on friendship, acceptance, and embracing one's differences. If only Luca could have been experienced on the big screen. But, do not let that stop you from watching this cute picture from the comfort of your home. Like ice cream on a warm summer day, Luca hits the sweet spot.
Luca is now streaming on Disney+.
Luca is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Some Thematic Elements | Brief Violence | Rude Humor | Language.
Directed by Enrico Casarosa
Starring Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Maya Rudolph, Giacomo Gianniotti, Jim Gaffigan, Sandy Martin, Francesca Fanti, Gino D'Acampo, Marco Barricelli, and Saverio Raimondo.
A Quiet Place Part II was well worth the wait. Another high-anxiety, pulse-pounding thriller. Emily Blunt was stellar, while Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe got to showcase their acting chops. Plus, Cillian Murphy’s raw performance stole every scene. Movie theaters are back!
Actor-director John Krasinski's Part II is another terrifying expansion of a soon-to-be sprawling franchise. Back in 2018, Krasinski presented to the world A Quiet Place — proving that he should be taken seriously as a director and not just as an actor. Krasinski also led as the lead role along with his wife-actress Emily Blunt. Actors Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe were cast as their children for the film. The plot revolved around a father (Krasinski) and a mother (Blunt), who were living on a farm and struggling to survive while raising their children (Simmonds and Jupe) in a post-apocalyptic world. This new, scary world was now inhabited by blind monsters, with an acute sense of hearing. Make a sound, and you could be killed. The film ends with Lee (Krasinski) sacrificing himself to save his children and Evelyn (Blunt) discovering that sound frequency amplified with feedback hurts the monsters — exposing their armored heads with flesh. Shooting the distressed monsters now exposed will kill them instantly and scene.
This is where Part I left off and where Part II immediately begins. We are introduced to a flashback sequence for the film's opening. Over a year before the first film's events, the Abbott family attends Marcus' (Jupe) baseball game. We even get a fun return of Lee (Krasinski) in the flashback sequence. Mid-game, bewildered viewers look skyward as a flaming object hurtles towards the Earth — confirming these monsters are extra-terrestrial. As people exit the park and attempt to drive away, the town is beset and attacked by the alien creatures. The opening sequence will have you on the edge-of-your-seat, as someone in my theater literally exhaled a sigh of relief after this opening scene ended. Part II follows Evelyn and her children, who now embark on a dangerous journey outside their farm to find other survivors. Simmonds plays Regan, who is deaf in the movie, and real-life — Simmonds' acting chops in Part II deepens and evolves. Simmonds described her character's evolution after the first film, "she has a lot of pressure to become an adult very quickly."
Part II allowed her to take on a more leading role, and she knocked it out of the park, along with actor Jupe, who also had a more leading role. And according to Syfy Wire, deafness and American Sign Language (ASL) "are inherently linked to the heroism of its heroine." Simmonds worked with an ASL coach to make sure her signing and articulation were both clean for the sequel. She said she felt "a sense of pressure" being in a leading position to represent the deaf and hard of hearing. Yet, Krasinski's tightly constructed direction allowed Regan's character development to fully grow on the screen. Regan, Marcus, Evelyn, and Evelyn's newborn baby are on the run, searching for survivors. They run into an old friend of Lee's, Emmett played by an astounding Cillian Murphy. Like in every supporting role (Dunkirk, Inception, and Red Eye), Murphy steals every scene with his raw, transformative acting chops. Murphy continues to prove that he needs to be cast for bigger, leading roles. He has proven how powerful of an actor he is with films and shows like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, and Peaky Blinders.
Emmett tells Evelyn that "the people that are left, they're not the kind of people worth saving." Just as Part I did, Part II builds the story on tension with a tightly constructed score that will seep into your bones. Part II also unveils more action this time around but does not lose sight of its heart. The one flaw would be that the story does not go as far as some would like it to because it's setting up for a Part III. Nevertheless, I welcomed this type of storytelling because it centered more around the characters and their development from the previous installment. Part II is also the first movie to cross $100 million domestically in our COVID-19 era. The film also set several box office records, including the biggest opening weekend ($57 million) of the COVID-19 pandemic. Movie theaters are back, and I highly recommend seeing this nerve-racking sequel on the big screen, where it's intended to be. You won't be disappointed.
A Quiet Place Part II is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Terror, Bloody/Disturbing Images, & Violence.
Directed by John Krasinski
Starring Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou, and John Krasinski.
A Double Feature Review!
Those Who Wish Me Dead
Those Who Wish Me Dead is a reasonable thriller, upheld by a strong Angelina Jolie. Through adrenaline and action, this survival film gets the job done. Writer-director Taylor Sheridan (writer for Sicario, Hell or High Water and writer-director for Wind River) offers the audience an enjoyable escape route of throwbacks to a '90s-style action thriller. Those Who Wish Me Dead is not Sheridan's best material but it does deliver on everything it promises — strong acting performances (Jolie, Finn Little, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Medina Senghore, and Jon Bernthal), dangerous thrills, and straightforward tension. The film follows a smoke-jumper (Jolie) and a traumatized boy (Little) who fight for their lives as two ruthless assassins (Hoult and Gillen) pursue them through a raging fire in the Montana wilderness. That's as deep as the plot gets — it's pretty direct, with no twists or turns in the script. However, the bond between Jolie and Little is powerful and helps uphold the film's minor plot holes. The action throughout this movie is solid, keeping viewers (at home or in theaters) watching it on edge. In the end, we get an effective and entertaining film that checks all of the boxes. Plus, it showcases the great acting chops of Jolie. What more could you ask for?
Those Who Wish Me Dead is rated R (Restricted) Strong Violence & Language Throughout.
Streaming on HBO Max until June 13 or catch it in Theaters.
Directed by Taylor Sheridan
Starring Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Medina Senghore, Jon Bernthal, and Jake Weber.
Saint Maud is a physiological horror flick digging its teeth into your skin. A gothic nightmare one cannot look away from and all its unholiness. I have been eager to finally see this physiological horror film since I first saw the trailer back in March 2020. Then, the pandemic happened, and everything in the United States shut down. Saint Maud was originally scheduled to be released in the United States on 10 April 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic raging throughout the world, the release was postponed until 17 July 2020 and then was later pulled entirely from the schedule. I knew, eventually, I would see this dark, beautiful film — rather it be from my home or from inside a movie theater. Saint Maud was released as a limited release in the United States on 29 January 2021, followed by video on demand (VOD) and Epix on 12 February 2021. Then, last month Saint Maud was also released to the streaming services of Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. I was able to watch this gothic nightmare on Hulu from the comfort of my home.
I was ecstatic that I finally got to watch writer-director Rose Glass' directorial debut — this unsettling, slow-burning horror movie will sink its teeth into your skin and never let go. Actor Morfydd Clark as Maud gives us a commanding performance fueled by paranoia and faith. Saint Maud jumps deep into the pathos of religion, simulating a stunning picture of arthouse horror. Glass' Saint Maud is a chilling vision of faith; that's convoluted with madness and salvation. Maud (Clark), a newly devout hospice nurse, becomes obsessed with saving her dying patient's soul (Jennifer Ehle), and that's all I will tell you. Will the sinister forces of Maud's past threaten to put an end to her holy calling? I'll let you find out and make the call. Glass also blends reality with fiction of what is going on in the real world and Maud's own head. It's a fascinating way of storytelling that will haunt your soul to the end of times. All-in-all, Glass' Saint Maud is a fierce horror film that will be studied for the years that come. In the end, this unholy matrimony of a film deserves to be seen by the masses.
Saint Maud is rated R (Restricted) Language, Disturbing & Violent Content, and Sexual Content.
Saint Maud is now streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.
The Mitchells vs the Machines is a great film — beautiful animation that’s blended well with witty humor and a feel-good story. A colorful, heartwarming, and energetic ride for the whole family. Plus, Olivia Colman voicing an evil AI is a stroke of genius.
The Mitchells vs the Machines was a wonderful surprise to open and see — colorful, eye-catching, and energetic; this is a movie that grabs your attention and never lets go. Our story follows a dysfunctional family during a global robot apocalypse and their journey to discovering that being weird or eccentric is actually a good thing. Our heroine is Katie Mitchell (voiced by a brilliant Abbi Jacobson), a high school graduate who's ready to start a new adventure at film school with "her people." Katie is forced to embark on one last road trip with her proud parents (voiced by a stellar Danny McBride and Maya Rudolph), younger brother (voiced by Mike Rianda, also the director), and their beloved dog (voiced by social media icon, Doug the Pug) before starting her first year at film school. Each of them has their own quirks and insecurities — Katie is a cinephile, but she's struggling to find "her people." Rick (the dad) loves the outdoors but is longing for a connection with her daughter Katie. Linda (the mom) loves baking weird desserts with her children's faces on them, while she's also longing for the family to be a certain type of 'perfect.'
Aaron (the younger brother) is fascinated by dinosaurs but becomes incredibly anxious when talking to girls. Lastly, Monchi (the dog) is the lovable pug of the family, or is he a pig? Or a loaf of bread? Monchi struggles with his eyes not being able to go in the same direction, but that does not stop him from facing his imperfection with joy. Suddenly, everything changes when the world's electronic devices come to life to stage a global uprising. Along with the help of two friendly robots (voiced by a hilarious Fred Armisen and Beck Bennett), the Mitchells must now come together to save the planet from the new technological revolution. The animation is lively, while the storyline has heart and keeps you laughing throughout. I connected the most with the character of Katie — her eccentric personality and love for movies. Katie and her dad, Rick (McBride), struggle to get along, as their father-daughter relationship has hit a rough patch. A familiar storyline, yet director Mike Rianda's first feature film feels fresh and new. Blended well with humor and heart, The Mitchells vs the Machines is a film the whole family can enjoy.
Sony Animation has done well here, delivering us a delightful animated film on a worthy story, feel-good themes, fast-paced humor, and representation. Similar to a certain aesthetic from Sony's 2018 animated film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Mitchells vs the Machines captures the beauty and florescence that the Spider-Man film captured back in 2018. Rianda's first feature has already become one of my favorite new movies of 2021 — it's one that I can and have watched over and over again. I know that we have just made it through a long-exhausting awards season, but I do hope this animated gem does not get overlooked. Rianda's wonderful little picture deserves all of the award love this year. You are in for a treat with this bright and delightful picture, so sit back and enjoy the ride. The Mitchells vs the Machines is full of laughter and charisma from the beginning until the end. "Behold! The Twilight of Man!"
If you want to listen further on my thoughts about The Mitchells vs the Machines, Click Here. I was able to join my good friends, Matt & Ashley, on their podcast Mashley at the Movies to talk about this wonderful film.
The Mitchells vs the Machines is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Action and Some Language.
Stream it now on Netflix.
Directed by Mike Rianda
Starring Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Mike Rianda, Eric André, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, and Doug the Pug.
A Double Feature Review!
This high-anxiety, get under your skin, dark comedy feature is a brilliant film debut from writer-director Emma Seligman. Shiva Baby is an indie gem, while actor Rachel Sennott is a marvel throughout. Initially, the story structure is set up to be pretty simple — Danielle (Sennott) is a directionless young bisexual Jewish woman who attends a shiva with her family. Danielle is attending college but cannot figure out her degree and also has a sugar daddy (Danny Deferrari) on the side. This is where the story becomes tangled into a paranoia-infused comedy — Danielle's sugar daddy, Max, unexpectedly shows up to the shiva with his wife (a cunning Dianna Agron) and baby daughter. Danielle is shocked to find out that Max is married, while she also encounters her ex-girlfriend, Maya (a strong Molly Gordon) at the wake. The film's tension is claustrophobic, while Danielle's emotions become more and more unraveled throughout a chaotic series of events. Shiva Baby was originally shot as a short film by Seligman and Sennott back in 2017. Now, years later, Seligman's anxiety-inducing feature has come to fruition. Shiva Baby is a 77-minute movie that's both funny and nerve-wracking at the same time. Seligman's film also gives us a fresh perspective on personal experiences and bi representation on the screen. From the repetitive stringed attack of Ariel Marx's musical score to Seligman's tight direction and Sennott's acting chops, Shiva Baby is the whole package that's waiting to be opened. Through personal growth and passive-aggressive vibes, Seligman's Shiva Baby is a stroke of genius.
Shiva Baby is available to rent VOD at Google Play, Vudu, Amazon, Apple TV, and YouTube.
Shiva Baby is Not Rated (NR).
Directed by Emma Seligman
Starring Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Danny Deferrari, Fred Melamed, Dianna Agron, Jackie Hoffman, Sondra James, and Deborah Offner.
Together Together is a sweet film exploring love and parenthood from a platonic lens. After experiencing loss ourselves, this was a healing movie to see. After a year of being unable to go to the theaters, it felt great going to the movies again. Glynis and I were able to see this wonderful little movie at our favorite theater in St. Louis, the Hi-Pointe Theatre. So please, get your vaccine, and we'll see you at the movies. Together Together offers a simple setup that grows deeper and warmer as the movie unfolds. Together Together has a beating heart full of the beauty and the personal struggle of parenthood. Writer-director Nikole Beckwith's indie film was a healing experience for me to see on the big screen. Our story follows Matt (a strong Ed Helms), a single man in his 40s who wants a child. Matt hires a young 26-year-old loner named Anna (a perfect Patti Harrison) as the gestational surrogate for his child. Harrison, a transgender actress cast in a cisgender role, allowed Beckwith to break away from the normal rom-com tropes. This subversion gifted the viewer with a talented Harrison to fully embody Anna on the big screen. She is simply perfect for the role. While her and Helms chemistry throughout the picture shined brightly.
During the pregnancy, Anna and Matt's bond grows, but the two begin to realize this unexpected relationship will quickly challenge their perceptions of love. What part of their connection crosses the boundaries into uncharted territory. It's a platonic lens that Beckwith layers throughout the film allowing the viewer to see a different meaning in the word love, beyond the physical aspect. Can Matt and Anna have weekly dinners together? Can Anna spend the night over at Matt's? Can Matt hold hands with Anna, sitting on a park bench and eating candy? These are all situations that Matt and Anna have to address and work through. The beauty of Together Together is seeing Matt and Anna's bond form and bloom through this platonic angle, capturing what it means to be human. This experience will help Anna afford to go to college, earning a degree she's always wanted, while also gifting Matt with a child he has always wanted. Together Together is a sweet and joyful film that sticks with you long after the credits end.
Together Together is now playing in theaters.
Together Together is rated R (Restricted). Language | Some Sexual References.
Directed by Nikole Beckwith
Starring Ed Helms, Patti Harrison, Tig Notaro, Julio Torres, Anna Konkle, Sufe Bradshaw, Rosalind Chao, and Timm Sharp.
Barb & Star is a blast, chop-full of silly gags and side-turning jokes. Actors Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig's comedic force reign superior. A colorful and cheerful experience.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is a joyous film to watch throughout. I fully enjoyed its light humor and silly sense of narrative structure. I laughed a lot, bringing me a healing dose of fun. From the moment you see Yoyo (a wonderful Reyn Doi) riding down the street on his bike singing Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb's "Guilty," I knew I was in for a treat. Meet Barb (a hilarious Annie Mumolo) and Star (a side-splitting Kristen Wiig), two middle-aged gals who decide to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, leaving their small Midwestern town behind for the first time ever. Their vacation leads them to sunny Vista Del Mar, Florida. Barb is a widow, and Star feels abandoned by her husband's infidelity years ago. Yet, the two are more afraid of losing the "shimmer" that made their lives so joyful.
Meanwhile, we get an eccentric villain named Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also Wiig) and her henchman, Edgar (a lively Jamie Dornan), plotting to destroy Vista Del Mar. Will Sharon succeed with her evil plan? Will Edgar follow through, or will he fall in love with Star and her colorful culottes? You'll have to find out and watch this wonderful movie full of silly jokes and goofy moods from our fluffy-haired heroines. We are even blessed to have two musical numbers, one including Dornan running around the beach, singing to seagulls, and flicking his feet in the sand. "Edgar's Prayer" is incredibly amusing, while the titanic techno-dance sequence had me rolling. Even as the movie becomes more absurd, the jokes keep coming and will fill you up with joy. Barb & Star is a funny film that slapped a smile on my face, and after such a tough year, I needed a good laugh. So, pack your bags and join Barb and Star for a trip of a lifetime. Who knows, you might even meet Trish on the way.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) For crude sexual content | drug use | some strong language.
Directed by Josh Greenbaum
Starring Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Damon Wayans Jr., Fortune Feimster, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Rose Abdoo, Vanessa Bayer, Phyllis Smith, Kwame Patterson, and Reyn Doi as Yoyo.
Godzilla vs. Kong is an ultimately silly but exciting super knockout experience. Not wasting any time and living up to its title, Godzilla vs. Kong packs in the giant monster action we've all been waiting for.
Godzilla vs. Kong marks as the fourth film in Legendary's MonsterVerse — Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters — delivering the hype as a vibrant boxing match between our two most famous monsters in cinematic history. The plot is pretty simple, and that's okay: Legends collide in as these mythic rivals meet in a spectacular battle for the ages, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Kong and his protectors undertake a dangerous journey to find his true home, Hollow Earth, but they unexpectedly find themselves in the path of an enraged Godzilla. Thus, beginning an epic clash between the two Titans. Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) and Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) are Kong's guide back to his original home, along with Andrews' adopted daughter, Jia (an exceptional Kaylee Hottle). Jia is deaf and has formed a special bond with Kong through sign language as their gatekeeper.
Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and her friend Josh (Julian Dennison), along with a Titan conspiracy theorist podcaster named Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), follow Godzilla's path throughout the film. Madison knows that something is up with Godzilla and that his recent attacks do not add up. With the script material they are given, our actors use it to the best of their abilities to present an emotionally resonant film fueled by action and spectacle. The first encounter leads our two rivals to slug it out in the ocean on a U.S. Navy barge. The second and most pivotal encounter leads our two foes to slug it out in the middle of Hong Kong. Through neon glows and popcorn action, you're in for an adventure. Who wins? I won't ruin the surprise for you. But I will say that another past metal foe of Godzilla's comes out from the shadows.
As of April 16, 2021, Godzilla vs. Kong has grossed $80.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $309.7 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $390.2 million. So, it seems that we finally are starting to escape the trenches of this pandemic for the theater. We have a long way to go, but all it took to get us out of the rut was a giant ape punching a giant lizard in the face. Also, Samba TV reported that 3.6 million households watched at least the first five minutes of the film in the U.S., and 225,000 in the U.K. In the end, see it on the IMAX or watch it from the comfort of your home, as the fearsome Godzilla takes on the mighty Kong. Cheers!
Godzilla vs. Kong is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Destruction | Brief Language | Intense Creature Violence.
Avaiable to stream on HBO Max until April 30th.
Directed by Adam Wingard
Starring Godzilla and Kong, with special guest appearances by actors Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Kaylee Hottle, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, and Demián Bichir.
ZSJL has epic written all over it. Filled with mythos and comic book extravaganza, Zack Snyder (Watchmen, Man of Steel, and Batman v Superman) finally got to present his bold vision with a coherent message. While the film still has its flaws, its heart is bigger. A miracle we got here. Snyder can take a bow.
Shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, due to Snyder's love for Kelly Reichardt's 2020 film, First Cow, Zack Snyder's Justice League is a singular-coherent vision the director was finally able to make. During the production of 2017's Justice League, Snyder's daughter tragically passed away, forcing him to step away from the film altogether. Warner Bros. had to make a decision on who could come in and take over for Snyder. In comes director Joss Whedon (Firefly and Marvel's The Avengers). Yet, Whedon took what Snyder had started and smashed it to pieces, leaving us with a mess of a movie for our DC heroes. Not to mention, Whedon's abusive nature on the set has been coming more into the limelight since the release of the 2017 film.
In comes the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement on social media, gathering more than 180,000 signatures for the online petition. Though I was skeptical that this campaign would actually work, The Snyder Cut came through 3-years later. It is nice to see a director make the product he's always had in mind without the studio hammering down on him. What also needs to be addressed with this online campaign is the toxicity around it. Not all of the campaigning online was toxic, but there were portions that were, which I do not support, just like Snyder does not support. Moving on to our heroes, Superman (Henry Cavil) is dead, and Bruce Wayne A.K.A Batman (Ben Affleck) is determined not to let his sacrifice go to vain. Bruce aligns forces with Diana Prince A.K.A. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat.
This proves to be more difficult for Bruce than originally thought. In the end, Bruce is able to unite Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and The Flash (Ezra Miller). Their new united team steps up to stop Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), DeSaad (Peter Guinness), and Darkseid (Ray Porter) from conquering the Earth through the ancient Mother Boxes. With a splash of mythology and a dash of courage, our heroes are ready to save the world. ZSJL has its flaws, but its heart is bigger, beating loudly for all to hear. With a 4-hour runtime, bloody fights, epic action sequences (my favorite being the Themyscira sequence), and a quest for adventure, ZSJL sticks the landing. Zack Snyder, your work is complete; please take a bow.
Zack Snyder's Justice League is rated R (Restricted) Violence | Some Language.
Avaiable to stream on HBO Max.
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Henry Cavill, Ciarán Hinds, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, and Diane Lane.
A Double Feature Review!
I Care A Lot
I Care A Lot is an enthralling thriller that will get under your skin. Golden Globe Winner Rosamund Pike’s cold, cunning performance is gut-punching. While Peter Dinklage is sly & calculated. The film is not perfect (it has flaws), but it gives a damning indictment of corruption. Director J Blakeson's (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) slick, twisted film will make your bones cold. A scathing critique of capitalism and the world it sets on fire. Pike gives us another chilling performance, this time as Marla Grayson — she's a professional, court-appointed guardian for dozens of elderly wards whose assets she seizes and smoothly bilks through questionable but technically legal means. Grayson's means and desires are not something to root for, as her actions make you sick to your stomach. During the film, her girlfriend and partner-in-crime, Fran (Eiza González), decide to pick off their latest "cherry," Jennifer Peterson (two-time Academy Award winner Dianne Wiest). Peterson is a wealthy retiree with no living heirs or family. Or does she? This leads us to Dinklage's character, Roman Lunyov, a volatile Russian gangster. I Care A Lot is a film that knows exactly what it's doing from the first frame to the last frame. Once Grayson and Lunyov's worlds collide, the film shifts gears to a crime thriller. Flaw? Yes. Engaging? Always. I Care A Lot comes, conquers, and has the last laugh — with a final bang and all. In the end, you get what you deserve.
I Care A Lot is rated R (Restricted) Language Throughout | Some Violence.
Streaming on Netflix.
Directed by J Blakeson
Starring Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Dianne Wiest, Chris Messina, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Ammonite is a stunning story of love. Beautifully shot, exquisitely crafted by director Francis Lee (2017's God's Own Country), and wonderfully acted by our two leads — Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. A slow-burning romance that will sneak up on you. Lee's passionate film brings us back to 1800s England, where we meet a washed-up fossil hunter Mary Anning (Academy Award Winner Kate Winslet), who works alone on the rugged Southern coastline. Mary's past days of famed discoveries are lost at sea. Now, she hunts for local fossils to sell to tourists, supporting herself and her ailing mother (Gemma Jones). Along comes Charlotte Murchison (Academy Award Nominee Saoirse Ronan), whose wealthy husband (James McArdle) entrusts her with Mary's care. Mary takes Charlotte in, helping provide her with healing and support during a difficult time. Charlotte is recovering from a previous miscarriage that haunts her day and night. At last, we see a burning romance build from inside them through Lee's tender direction and Winslet and Ronan's superb chemistry together. Lee also successfully avoids the 'male-gaze' throughout this film and lets the story speak for itself. He also let Winslet and Ronan choreograph their own sex scenes together, providing them with the safe space they needed. Throughout the film, both Winslet and Ronan are magnificent — giving us heartfelt performances that deserved to be recognized this awards season. It's a shame that is film somehow fizzled out during the awards. Don't let that stop you from watching this luscious period piece romance. In the end, Ammonite gifts the viewer with a beautiful mystique full of life and love. A moving period piece waiting to be uncovered.
Ammonite is rated R (Restricted) Some Graphic Nudity | Graphic Sexuality | Brief Language.
Now Streaming on Hulu.
Directed by Francis Lee
Starring Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Fiona Shaw, James McArdle, Gemma Jones, and Alec Secareanu.
Judas and the Black Messiah is electrifying, tightly acted by Golden Globe Winner Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, and emotionally intimate.
Writer-Director Shaka King's (2013's Newlyweeds) biopic of Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton is a revolution. We see the events leading up to Hampton's unjust murder at the hands of the FBI. King's newest film is a radical and bold message displayed by a big-time studio (Warner Bros.) — putting its manifesto front and center of racial injustices and a society that oppresses its people. Kaluuya — now a Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor in this film — is revolutionary in the role of Hampton. Kaluuya's poise and striking acting chops are on full display here. Here's hoping that he receives an Oscar nomination come this Monday, the 15th. While Stanfield is a knockout, showing that he has a commanding presence in the leading role, as he did in Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You (2018).
Our story follows an FBI informant William O'Neal (Stanfield), who infiltrates the Illinois Black Panther Party. It's the late '60s, and O'Neal has just been arrested on attempted car hijacking while posing as a federal officer. FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell (a perfect Jesse Plemons) offers O'Neal's charges to be dropped if he works undercover for the bureau. O'Neal agrees (hint Judas Iscariot) and is tasked to keep tabs on the Illinois BPP's leader and Chairman Fred Hampton (Kaluuya). Throughout the film, we see O'Neal yearning for quick cash, but starts growing more paranoid and conflicted as his character gets involved deeper into the bureau's plot. Stanfield's POV provides us with a number of masks, not knowing which one he'll pull out next. A battle wages in O'Neal's soul — what side of history will he be on?
Meanwhile, as Hampton's political prowess grows for the movement, he also falls in love with fellow revolutionary Deborah Johnson (a knockout Dominique Fishback). King's crisp script of racial justice and politics is as bold as it is urgent. My one critique of the film's screenplay was its small pacing problem in the first act. That completely disappears as we transition into act two, keeping us on the edge of our seats. Through an engaging story, powerful direction, meticulous acting, and striking cinematography, Judas and the Black Messiah is one of the best films to come out in 2021. In the end, Hampton's story needs to be heard. Through tragedy, anger, and a call for justice, Judas and the Black Messiah is a powerful political statement dropped on the doorsteps of capitalistic oppressors.
It's not too late! Judas and the Black Messiah is available to Stream on HBO Max until this Sunday, March 14th.
Judas and the Black Messiah is rated R (Restricted) Violence | Pervasive Language.
Directed by Shaka King
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Martin Sheen, Algee Smith, Lil Rel Howery, and Jermaine Fowler.
The Dig is a beautiful film. Perfectly acted by Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, meticulously crafted, and wonderfully shot. Through elegant cinematography, we get an engrossing story filled with wide and exterior camera shots of the English countryside. A treasure waiting to be told.
Director Simon Stone's (2015's The Daughter) little film truly is a hidden gem waiting to be dug up. Our story follows a true-life tale of an excavator, Basil Brown (a meticulous Fiennes), and his team discovering a large wooden ship from the Dark Ages while digging up a burial ground on a woman's (an elegant Mulligan) estate. Coming off a hot awards streak with Promising Young Woman, Mulligan gives another rousing performance completely different from her portrayal in director Emerald Fennell's Me Too revenge thriller. Here, Mulligan is soft-spoken, warm, and incredibly moving with her gentle portrayal as Edith Pretty. Pretty is a mother, who has been struggling with health conditions that affect her heart. Stone's movie reimagines the events of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge, in Suffolk, England — playing loosely to the true-life story, but also allowing the actors (Fiennes and Mulligan) to take the narrative down their own path.
These creative narratives play out well for this 1930's storyline, always pointing our audience in the right direction. During the film, Brown uncovers two early medieval cemeteries that date from the 6th to 7th centuries. One of the cemeteries had an undisturbed ship burial with a wealth of Anglo-Saxon artifacts. Now, most of these objects that Brown and his team dug up are held by the British Museum. I am not sure if this movie will get any Oscar nominations come March 15th, but if it does, I hope The Dig receives nominations for cinematography, production design, and costume design. Through Mike Eley's luscious cinematography, Stone's vivid direction, and Mulligan and Fiennes' moving performances, we get one of the first special treasures to come out in 2021.
The Dig is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Brief Sensuality | Partial Nudity.
Streaming on Netflix
Directed by Simon Stone
Starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin, Ken Stott, Monica Dolan, Arsher Ali, and Joe Hurst.
A Double Feature Review!
Beanpole (Дылда) is a haunting and bleak picture of the tragedy of war. Russian director Kantemir Balagov studies the heartbreaking realities of lives shattered by war and the toll it takes on oneself. Through daunting greens, yellows, and reds, we see broken lives trying to survive each day and slowly picking up the pieces they have left behind. One of 2020's best films. With heartache and heavy-handedness, Beanpole will strike you to your core. It's emotional ravenous cutting one from the inside out. Balagov's historical drama follows two women fighting to survive and longing for hope. The film follows the conclusion of World War II in Leningrad, however, wreckage remains in the besieged city, and lives are broken. Iya (a strong Viktoria Miroshnichenko) is a tall blonde nurse who struggles with PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) after being recently discharged from the military. Her nickname throughout the film is beanpole — due to her thin frame and tall stature. During Iya's episodes of paralysis, her body stiffens and is trapped in a state of being frozen in time. Iya also takes care of her son, Pashka (Timofey Glazkov), while living in a communal apartment.
Then suddenly, tragedy strikes and turns Iya's world upside down. After Masha (a captivating Vasilisa Perelygina) returns from the front, she reveals to Iya (her close friend) that she wants to have children but cannot because she is barren. This emotional dynamic between Iya and Masha coils back-and-forth through jealously, guilt, and confusion. Shown as somewhat symbolically, we see the wallpaper in every room slowly peeling away, representing the broken fragments of life. Beanpole is a hard film to look away from — captivating through sadness and shattering realism. We watch our two main leads (Iya and Masha) push through the unbearing weight holding them down. This engrossing film will linger on your soul, eating away at your last hope for humanity. Yet, Beanpole provides us with a message of perseverance and solace at the end. As the wallpaper continues to peel, Iya and Masha manage to pick up their fragments of healing and slowly put them back together. Hope finds a way.
At 28-years-old, Balagov's film premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Balagov received the Cannes Best Director Award and FIPRESCI Prize. Beanpole was also selected as the Russian entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards, making the 2019 December shortlist.
Beanpole is rated NR (Not Rated).
Directed by Kantemir Balagov
Starring Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Timofey Glazkov, Olga Dragunova, Andrey Bykov, Ksenia Kutepova, Igor Shirokov, and Konstantin Balakirev.
Song Without a Name
A beautiful and heartbreaking black-and-white Peruvian film; that depicts an Indigenous story. Song Without a Name (Canción sin nombre) is a hidden gem from writer-director Melina León; that will bury itself inside your psyche and will never let go. Song Without a Name is a haunting and tragic story of loss. It's incredibly impressive that this was León’s directorial debut, and it is also one of the best films of 2020. León's masterful film receives a five-star review from me. Song Without a Name is a desperately sad but ultimately important story. Striking a chord through dreamlike black-and-white shots, we see an emotional narrative being pulled at our heartstrings. Set in the 80s, we follow Georgina (a captivating Pamela Mendoza), an Indigenous Peruvian woman who is heavily pregnant and is expecting to go into labor any day now. Georgina has heard of a supposed "charity clinic" offering free maternity services through a radio ad. Being that Georgina and her husband Leo (Lucio Rojas) are poor, this route would be the best financially suitable for them.
Georgina is grateful to have found a place offering free maternity services, and after she has her baby there, she is told to go home. Confused, Georgina demands to see her newborn daughter. The doctors say that she has gone to the hospital for checkups, and they force Georgina out of the building, locking the door. Georgina pounds the door, kicking and screaming to see her newborn daughter. It's an agonizing scene because you know something is not right deep down, just like Georgina. She and Leo return the next day, pounding and kicking at the locked door. Yet, Georgina notices that the clinic is now an empty shell, cleaned out. Being that Georgina is of Indigenous status — unfortunately — makes her less than human in the eyes of authority figures. Once Georgina finds out that her baby has been sold for adoption to wealthy buyers from abroad through fake papers, she decides to go to the journalists for help. She contacts Pedro (a versatile Tommy Párraga), a journalist; who is put on this human interest story by his editor. Pedro is also a gay man in secret and could be killed for it if word got out. León's narrative was inspired by her father, who was a reporter and investigated a similar child trafficking case.
As Pedro digs for answers to find Georgina's baby, he discovers a devastating revelation of corruption and deception. Shot through the eyes of minority figures, we see their struggle against racism and oppression. Just like director Alfonso Cuarón showed us in his 2018 masterpiece, Roma. In Cuarón's Roma, we follow the story of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), an Indigenous Mexican woman, who's a domestic worker. León, like Cuarón, are telling stories of minority groups too often left in the shadows. Aparicio more recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, where she talked about how "a role in Alfonso Cuarón’s film showed me how art can provide a voice for the disenfranchised." I think why Song Without a Name also struck an emotional chord with me was because my wife Glynis is Peruvian, and we recently experienced two miscarriages. I am also heartbroken when León's masterful film did not make it onto the 93rd Oscars shortlist for Best International Feature Film. This black-and-white gem needs to be seen, and I'll help try to be a voice for it. Your psyche and soul will be aching for Georgina and her journey to make peace with tragedy. A waterfall of tears will succumb you by the end of this film.
Song Without a Name is rated NR (Not Rated)
Directed by Melina León
Starring Pamela Mendoza, Tommy Párraga, Lucio Rojas, Ruth Arma, and Maykol Hernández.
A Double Feature Review!
Babyteeth is a powerful little film about life and death. A messy, yet rewarding, coming-of-age film strongly acted by Eliza Scanlen and Toby Wallace. Wonderfully written and creatively directed, Babyteeth knows how to sink its teeth into the essence of humanity. Babyteeth is an Australian coming-of-age dramedy that packs in an emotional punch on the audience — examining areas of death and mortality. Director Shannon Murphy's debut feature film is an incredibly poignant picture, inviting one to enjoy the little moments while they last. Our story follows Milla (a strong Scanlen), a 16-year-old girl who falls in love with a 23-year-old drug dealer named Moses (a cunning Wallace), right before finding our her cancer has come back.
Milla comes from a wealthy family, and her parents (Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn) don't approve of Moses or his background. Murphy both examines Milla's relationship with her parents, Moses' relationship with his estranged mother, and how they cross over with each other. Family is messy, and Murphy excels at showing us these chaotic relationships throughout the film. Babyteeth dodges all of the clichés that weigh down coming-of-age pictures, instead focusing on our two shining leads, Scanlen and Wallace. Their chemistry blends well together as we feel the emotional weight of the ending result slowly sneak up on us. Through high energy, powerful acting, and heavy material, Babyteeth is a beautiful picture that blossoms before our very eyes.
Babyteeth was winner of 9 AACTA Awards, including Best Film, Best Direction, Best Lead Actor (Wallace), and Best Lead Actress (Scanlen).
Babyteeth is rated MA-17 | Now Streaming on Hulu
Directed by Shannon Murphy
Starring Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Essie Davis, Ben Mendelsohn, and Emily Barclay.
Promising Young Woman - My 400th Review!
Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman is a thrilling pitch of black humor, with a dash of revenge. Powerfully acted by Carey Mulligan, who gives a tour de force to the role of Cassie. Fennell's directorial debut will have you hooked from the first frame, shattering your psyche by the end. Through its killer soundtrack, unapologetic storytelling, and timely themes, this is a movie every man should watch. Promising Young Woman takes the term 'nice guys' and kicks it to the curb. Promising Young Woman is a film that has been on my brain ever since the final frame dropped. It's a movie that sticks with you, haunting you to your core. Fennell's debut feature film is a knockout, fueled with a strong cast, eye-candy production design, and a chilling score. From the moment your ears hear composer Anthony Willis' string quartet eerily playing the song "Toxic", you'll have chills down your spine.
Dripping with tension, Willis' score keeps our audience focused and on edge. Mulligan is a force to be reckoned with in this picture, as we follow her story all the way until the end. I really don't want to give too much away, so I'll only share this: the film follows Cassie, a young woman who was traumatized by a tragic event in her past, lives a double life where she seeks out vengeance on those who have crossed her path. Promising Young Woman is a movie that tackles rape culture during this 'Me Too' era, examined with deep perspective and thought-provoking themes. Accompanying Mulligan are actors Bo Burnham and Laverne Cox — plus we get appearances by actors Adam Brody, Sam Richardson, Alison Brie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Connie Britton, Max Greenfield, and Chris Lowell. A fresh and totally wild film, Fennell's thrilling picture will have you gobsmacked by the end. Plus, Mulligan and Burnham delivered one of the funniest, most cheerful scenes of all 2020 — from the inside of a pharmacy. Promising Young Woman is an undeniable thriller and a film that I hope continues to succeed during this awards season. Don't miss out on Fennell's fascinating film because, in the end, you won't know what hit you.
Promising Young Woman has 3 Film Independent Spirit Award noms, 4 Golden Globe noms, 9 Hollywood Critics Association (HCA) noms, 6 Critic Choice Award noms, and was included in the National Board of Review's (NBR) Top 10 Films of 2020, winning Best Actress (Mulligan).
Promising Young Woman is rated R (Restricted) For strong violence including sexual assault | language throughout | some sexual material and drug use.
Directed by Emerald Fennell
Starring Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox, Adam Brody, Sam Richardson, Alison Brie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Connie Britton, Max Greenfield, and Chris Lowell.
Actor-director Sujata Day's Definition Please is a breath of fresh air — a warm, funny, and personal directorial debut from Sujata Day, herself.
When it comes to Hollywood, things tend to move incredibly slow. The fact is, that we have been pushing for Hollywood to make more movies with representation for years now. We need more stories with/about women and men of color and more stories around the LGBTQ community — representing what America truly is. Being in an interracial marriage myself (my wife Glynis who is Peruvian), I have become more aware of listening and learning from other people's stories. Understanding these stories is a way of moving our society closer towards equality for all. In Day's film, Definition Please, we follow the story of a South Asian-American family living in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and their struggle to move on from their father’s death, one year later. Through this dramedy, we meet Monica Chowdry (a fantastic Day) — who is a former National Spelling Bee champion grappling to get her life together. But Monica is also tackling life blissfully, she smokes weed, has casual sex, and tutors a handful of kids throughout each day. However, Monica is also embarrassed that she is not a successful doctor or lawyer her parents had encouraged her to be.
Monica's parents immigrated from India over to the U.S. to begin a new life, and their American-born children have taken different paths for their lives. Monica also has a strained relationship with her older brother (a strong Ritesh Rajan), who has just returned home for their father's one-year memorial. Sonny (Rajan) also struggles with Bipolar disorder, and the toll it puts on his family. Rajan captures the gravity of this mental illness one scene at a time. Monica's widowed mother, Jaya (a perfect Anna Khaja) is also recovering from an illness. Or, is it an elaborate plan to force her children to bond together? Mother knows best. Day's film is a breath of fresh air as we see an Indian-American actress front and center in a leading role for a picture. We see a woman of color telling the narrative her way, free and also deeply connected with her cultural heritage. In addition, Day wrote, produced, directed, and even starred in her own film. Day has an incredible gift at hand, and she needs to be given more in the Hollywood spotlight.
While the traditional Hollywood gatekeepers tried to push Day aside, she went around them and found her path forward, telling the stories that she wants to tell. Her story of a South Asian-American family is one that many Brown people in America can reflect on — continuing to show why representation matters. Day began her career by appearing as CeeCee in Issa Rae’s breakthrough web series The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl. She has continued to work with Rae in HBO's Insecure, as Sarah. Through it all, Day has shown us that she has a bright future ahead of her, and I am excited to see more of her work. Through this blend of comedy, romance, and drama, we get an honest portrayal of family. We will keep speaking up until Hollywood starts making movies that fully reflects everyone. In the end, Definition Please is Day's very American movie.
Definition Please is Not Rated (NA)
Directed by Sujata Day
Starring Sujata Day, Ritesh Rajan, Anna Khaja, Jake Choi, Lalaine, Kunal Dudheker, Sunfish Bala, Esha Chundru, Meera Simhan, Sonal Shah, Tim Chiou, and Parvesh Cheena.
I’m Your Woman is a slow-burning ‘70s crime drama that will keep you on edge from the first to the final frame. Masterfully acted by Rachel Brosnahan and meticulously crafted by director Julia Hart (2018's Fast Color). It’s a film that sneaks up on you.
I'm Your Woman is one of the best movies to come out in 2020, do not miss this one. Sophisticated and smart, Hart's film takes its time building up gradual tension, precise dialogue, and never-wrecking thrills. On top of all of this, we get pitch-perfect performances by Rachel Brosnahan, Arinze Kene, and Marsha Stephanie Blake. You will be captivated by the film's 1970s vibe and esthetic — through low and warm lighting, this slow-burning film will get under your skin. During Hart's crime drama, we meet a woman (a knockout Brosnahan) named Jean, who is forced to go on the run after her husband, Eddie (Bill Heck), betrays his partners, sending Jean and her baby on a dangerous journey. I'm Your Woman is utterly enthralling to watch, as we travel with Jean every step of the way.
Jean teams up with Cal (a strong Kene) — who acts as a guide to help get her to safety and away from a dangerous crime mob. Through all of the hoops, turns, and unpredictable scenarios, I'm Your Woman throws us into the heart of violence — there's a safe-house triple murder, a nightclub massacre, and a lethal car chase that will seep into your bones. The camerawork done during the nightclub massacre will have you on the edge of your seat, anxiously holding one's breath that Jean makes it to safety. This noir thriller rebukes the male fantasy of what they think a crime film should look like. Instead, Hart's film looks at the perspective of a woman and a mother struggling to survive — leaving us with a compelling and nuanced experience.
Illuminating a sense of paranoia and suspense, I'm Your Woman sets the tone for future crime films to follow. It's simple, I'm Your Woman is one of the best films of 2020, and we need to be talking more about it. This film should not be ignored and deserves to be nominated — for Brosnahan's powerful performance, Hart's subtle craft in direction, lively costume designs, and captivating camerawork. I will end this review by saying do not sleep on this film. Watch it now. Let this slow-burning crime drama send chills down your spine as your studying Brosnahan's next move. A refreshing 70s throwback on a crime story from a human perspective — leaving one clinching the edge of their seat by the final never-wrecking scene. Patience is a virtue, allowing the suspense to over take you and spill out riveting outcomes.
I'm Your Woman is rated R (Restricted) For violence and language.
Directed by Julia Hart
Starring Rachel Brosnahan, Arinze Kene, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Frankie Faison Marceline Hugot, and Bill Heck.
Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
2020 has been an unprecedented year, challenging us to our core. From health and well being to politics, these are harrowing times. Film is a way to escape these realities, however, most of our theaters have been closed since last March. Yet, the movies find a way to still reach an audience — through streaming or virtual cinema, we have found a way to connect with the movies and help heal our souls. Here are my picks for the 35 Best Films of 2020. — Arnold At The Movies
Soul is a beautiful film inside and out. Disney-Pixar has made another compelling movie sprinkled with a heartfelt message and gorgeous animation for the whole family.
Pixar delivers another complex and exquisite animated film to add to their canon. With Soul, we see a stunning and thought-provoking display of the meaning of life and what truly makes us human. Meet Joe Gardner (brilliantly voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle school music teacher who feels stuck in life and unfulfilled at his job. Joe dreams of having a career in jazz, playing seamlessly throughout the nights to a live audience in the clubs. Joe's seamstress mother, Libba (voiced by a warm Phylicia Rashad), objects to his big ambition and would rather him hold a steady job. Yet, Joe's big break is about to start as he impresses a jazz legend named Dorothea Williams (voiced by a strong Angela Bassett), who gives him a shot to play with her band. Joe is ecstatic, running through the streets of New York City like a feather in the wind.
Then suddenly, Joe falls down a manhole. Pitch black is all we see at first, then Joe (or something that resembles Joe) lands on a white moving staircase. Joe looks up and sees himself heading towards the Great Beyond, but he is not ready to die. A small, bluish-green form that resembles Joe's soul is what we see now, as he escapes the staircase falling into the Great Before, where souls start before they go into their human bodies. Here, Joe poses as an instructor for souls and is assigned with 22 (voiced by a hilarious Tina Fey). 22 is a cynical being who refuses to leave the Great Before. Throughout this film, we will see a stubborn 22 open up Joe's eyes to the importance of the little things in life that make us human, igniting a spark inside us. Through Joe's growth in selflessness and 22's growth in courage, we see two souls who begin to embrace the joys of living. Director Pete Docter (Monsters Inc., Up, and Inside Out) knows how to challenge an audience, even when it's promoted more towards children.
Through thought-provoking themes and emotional resonance, Docter's films will pull on your heartstrings. On top of this, Soul's animation is stunning and downright wondrous. The animator's attention to detail throughout the city of New York is a marvel, unveiling the richness of city life. In addition, Soul also promotes an animated story of Black lives, at a time when our country is grappling with social and racial equality. These stories need to continue to be made and heard, amplifying Black voices. This is important because it continues to share the message of why representation matters. Disney's two upcoming movies this year are about people of color. These films are Raya and the Last Dragon and Encanto. In Raya and the Last Dragon, Kelly Marie Tran will make history as the first actress of Southeast Asian descent to lead a Walt Disney Animation Studios film. While Encanto will focus it's story on a Latina girl and her family in Colombia. Soul is a perfect little film about learning to live, pondering life's gentle moments. In the end, Pixar's Soul shines brightly, letting its voice speak one beat at a time.
Soul is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Some Language | Thematic Elements.
Directed by Pete Docter
Starring Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Phylicia Rashad, Ahmir-Khalib Thompson, Angela Bassett, Daveed Diggs, and Graham Norton.
A Double Feature Review!
Minari is a wonder. Such a beautiful and gentle movie about family. With splendid storytelling, this is a film that will sneak up on you in the end. An honest portrait of the immigration experience, recognizing the hardships along the way. Director Lee Isaac Chung's (2007's Munyurangabo) gentle little picture roars with beauty and heart; Minari is simply one of the best films of 2020. Minari tells the story of a Korean-American family moving from California in search of a better life. The Yi family moves to a small farm in Arkansas in hopes of finding the American dream. Jacob (a brilliant Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica (a strong Yeri Han) emigrated from Korea together in the early '70s, trying to assimilate into a new country. Jacob and Monica have spent nearly a decade as chicken sexers in California, but Jacob wants more. They move to a little town in Arkansas, where Jacob has bought a trailer home for his family. Jacob and Monica have two children, Anne (a splendid Noel Cho) and David (newcomer and adorable Alan S. Kim), who enjoy exploring the farm.
David has a heart condition that keeps him from being too active, like running. Jacob hopes he can get his farm going, bringing happiness to him and his family. With Jacob working on the farm and Monica making ends meet as a chicken sexer, she suggests that her mom comes from Korea to watch the kids while they are away. Reluctant at first, Jacob finally agrees. The order of everyday life begins to turn upside down when grandma (a fierce Yuh-Jung Youn) comes to stay. Grandma is a playful and vulgar old soul who means well but has a wicked sense of humor. Youn is extraordinary in this role, while Yeun's performance as Jacob is raw and cunning. At first, David is disgusted with his grandma because she is not the Americanized version he imaged her to be. She does not bake or cook, and she "smells Korean." Yet, like a river flowing through a garden, we see a family grow and blossom before our very eyes. Minari is an intimate portrait of life, love, and family. This perfect little picture receives a 5-star review from me and deserves to be seen. Chung's film will ignite a spark inside you. In the end, Minari is the most American movie of 2020.
Minari is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Rude Gesture, Some Thematic Elements.
Directed by Lee Isaac Chung
Starring Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Noel Cho, Alan S. Kim, and Yuh-Jung Youn.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is now streaming on Netflix. It will also be marked as actor Chadwick Boseman’s final film. Boseman was a powerhouse in this picture, giving us a raw and personal performance. It’s sad because it showed how much more Boseman had left to give. Actors Viola Davis and Colman Domingo also gave masterful performances as we explore the 1920s and the Blues. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is an ode to Black culture, and it is also one of the best films of 2020. Ma Rainey's is full of trailblazing performances as our actors talk and play fast to the beat of jazz. The film is based on the 1982 play by August Wilson and was produced by Denzel Washington. A majority of the film takes place inside a studio recording building in Chicago.
Here, we meet Levee (a masterful Boseman), Toledo (a strong Glynn Turman), Cutler (an exuberant Domingo), Slow Drag (a smooth-talking Michael Potts), and Ma Rainey (a knockout Davis). Levee plays the trumpet, Toledo plays the piano, Cutler plays the trombone, and Slow Drag plays the bass for Ma Rainey's lively band. Inside the studio’s claustrophobic rehearsal room, we see a band whose fears, ambitions, and hopes begin to spill out on the screen. An eruption of stories and truths are revealed, further developing our characters and bringing their stories full circle. As Wilson's superb dialogue crackles throughout, we see what lies beneath the surface of these characters. During filming, Boseman was receiving treatment for his battle with cancer, unbeknownst to his fellow cast members — further showcasing his impeccable acting chops. Ma Rainey's is an ode to Black culture and will be a lasting tribute to Boseman's legacy. "Dedicated To Chadwick Boseman In Celebration Of His Artistry And Heart". When the music plays, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom will sweep you off your feet.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is rated R (Restricted) Some Sexual Content, Language, Brief Violence.
Directed by George C. Wolfe
Starring Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts, Taylour Paige, and Dusan Brown.
Avaiable to stream on Netflix.
A Double Feature Review!
Gorgeous animation with a marvelous tale, everyone should watch Wolfwalkers as soon as possible because it's one of the best films of 2020. Now available to stream on Apple TV+. Wolfwalkers breathes life into the Irish folktales through its astonishing animation, beautiful storytelling, and full-of-life characters. Wolfwalkers tells the medieval story of a time in Ireland where people are superstitious about anything magic. We meet a young apprentice hunter named Robyn Goodfellowe (voiced by a splendid Honor Kneafsey), who journeys with her father (voiced by a grand Sean Bean) to wipe out the last wolf pack in Ireland. Outside the city walls, Robyn befriends a free-spirited girl named Mebh (voiced by a wonderful Eva Whittaker), who can transform into a wolf at night. Mebh is known as a 'wolfwalker' and roams the forbidden land with her mother (voiced by strong Maria Doyle Kennedy).
Mebh's mother has gone missing, so Robyn decides to help Mebh search for her. During their search for Moll, Robyn uncovers a secret that draws her closer to the enchanted world but risks betraying her father. Wolfwalkers marks a completion for director Tomm Moore's "Irish Folklore Trilogy"; following his two previous films The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014). It's an enchanting film that will sweep you off of your feet to a magical world. Wolfwalkers' animation used a unique 2D style rotation between a woodblock aesthetic and loose expressive line work, igniting beauty before our very eyes. This marvelous tale of bravery, courage, and family is one of the very best to come out in 2020 and receives a 5-star review from me. Wolfwalkers is a gorgeous combination of magic and wonder, one frame at a time.
Wolfwalkers is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Scary Images, Peril, Brief Language, Sequences of Violence, Some Thematic Elements.
Directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart
Starring Sean Bean, Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon McBurney, and Tommy Tiernan.
Available to stream on Apple TV+.
The Prom is sparkly musical bliss that may be enough to sweep audiences away. There is nothing groundbreaking about Ryan Murphy's The Prom, a deeply flawed musical extravaganza that keeps the ball rolling through star-studded showstoppers. The Prom is based on the 2018 Broadway musical, which received seven Tony nominations. The musical is loosely based on a real-life incident where celebrities rallied around a high school senior whose school banned her from attending the prom for wanting to bring her girlfriend. The film follows a similar path, as we meet two washed-up Broadway stars (James Corden and Meryl Streep) who decide to shake up a small Indiana town as they rally behind a teen named Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman). Actors Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells decide to tag along with Corden and Streep as well. Keegan-Michael Key plays the school principal, who supports Emma, and Kerry Washington plays Mrs. Greene, the bigoted head of Edgewater's PTA.
Mrs. Greene's daughter Alyssa (Ariana Debose), is the one who's in a relationship with Emma but has not come out to her mom or the world yet. All of these actors (Corden, Streep, Pellman, Kidman, Rannells, Key, Washington, and Debose) are wonderful and fabulous throughout. They sing their hearts out and dance the night away, keeping audiences everywhere entertained. Although there is a deep sense of irony to The Prom because the original actors from Broadway auditioned for their respected roles, however; Murphy decided to go with a star-filled cast. The stage version was designed to give leads to actors who had spent their entire career in the supporting roles, leading me to think that maybe Murphy missed a crucial point of the stage version's original message. Nevertheless, where The Prom is lacking in direction, it delivers in acting, glitter, and showstopping numbers. Through all of its flaws — The Prom's message of inclusion still resonates, and that's what is most important. Watching The Prom also made me deeply miss the theatre, it's where I go to escape.
The Prom is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Thematic Elements, Suggestive / Sexual References, Language.
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Starring James Corden, Meryl Streep, Jo Ellen Pellman, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, Keegan-Michael Key, Kerry Washington, and Ariana Debose.
Available to stream on Netflix.
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Next Best Picture
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