A Double Feature Review!
Bergman Island is a fascinating and patient movie. While using the legendary director (Ingmar Bergman) as a backdrop for the film’s premise, we see a charming and creative story transform. One that is well-acted (Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth) and gentle, it's also one of the best films of the year. Bergman Island is a movie cinephiles will gobble up — one that shows us the back-end of a creative process and also explores the history of a legendary filmmaker (Bergman). Ingmar Bergman was a famous Swedish director who made some of the best pictures out there, including The Seventh Seal (1957), Persona (1966), Cries and Whispers (1972), Fanny and Alexander (1982), Wild Strawberries (1957), and Scenes from a Marriage (1973). All of which study the human condition, Bergman's most famous trait. Bergman Island is also a movie that one does not need any knowledge of the director beforehand. Writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve's (Things to Come and The Father of my Children) film stands all on its own, only using Bergman as a backdrop in its storytelling.
Hansen-Løve's film follows a filmmaking couple, Chris (a great Vicky Krieps) and Tony (a strong Tim Roth), who retreat to the Fårö island for the summer. This island is also the same island where Bergman lived and shot most of his famous pictures. Hint why the title and island are called Bergman Island. Tony is a director, while Chris is a screenwriter who has been suffering from writer's block. The cinematography and landscapes in this movie are breathtaking, while a gentle story unfolds. There is also a second part to this film, where Chris talks to Tony about a screenplay idea she has. We then see this fictitious screenplay blossom right on the screen as Chris describes it. Actors Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie play Amy and Joseph in Chris' story. It's about an on-and-off-again romance that also takes place on the Island. A tender picture blending both fiction and reality that will warm you up like a hot cup of coffee. Bergman Island is a movie that takes its time and, just like the legendary director himself, it's an engaging feature that will soothe your soul.
Bergman Island is rated R (Restricted) Nudity | Language | Some Sexual Content.
Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
Starring Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, Mia Wasikowska, and Anders Danielsen Lie.
Muppets Haunted Mansion
The Muppets are back! And just in time for the Halloween season. Muppets Haunted Mansion is a spooky surprise the whole family can enjoy. It's a quick 52-minute feature that will slap a smile on your face. The newest entry to this family-friendly franchise specifically follows The Great Gonzo (voiced by puppeteer Dave Goelz) and Pepe (voiced by puppeteer Bill Barretta), who are on their way to a fear challenge event; instead of attending the Muppets' annual Halloween party. The fear challenge takes place in the same haunted mansion where Gonzo's favorite magician, The Great MacGuffin, disappeared one hundred years ago. If anyone has ridden The Haunted Mansion ride at either Disneyland or Walt Disney World — then — you will notice that the film's storyline follows aspects of that ride while Gonzo and Pepe are inside. As usual Muppets films and shows go, this feature has a ton of celebrity appearances and cameos, like Will Arnett, Yvette Nicole Brown, Darren Criss, Taraji P. Henson, John Stamos, the late Ed Asner, Jeannie Mai, Chrissy Metz, Alfonso Ribeiro, Danny Trejo, and Sasheer Zamata. It's also chopped full of catchy songs (Rest In Peace, Life Hereafter, Tie The Knot Tango, Dancing in the Moonlight, and Grim Grinning Ghosts) and Muppets humor that the whole family will enjoy. So, if you are looking for something that is both spooky and family-friendly, then I advise turning on Disney+ and turning on the newest Muppets feature. You won't be disappointed. I guarantee it.
Muppets Haunted Mansion is not rated (NR)
Stream it on Disney+
Directed by Kirk Thatcher
Starring The Whole Muppets Gang and Will Arnett, Yvette Nicole Brown, Darren Criss, Taraji P. Henson, John Stamos, the late Ed Asner, Jeannie Mai, Chrissy Metz, Alfonso Ribeiro, Danny Trejo, Sasheer Zamata.
A Double Feature Review!
As someone who loved the 2018 picture, Halloween Kills was definitely a frustrating horror movie. Messy and chaotic in both its writing and directing. Not terrible, but also not great. There is a good story buried somewhere deep inside this film. You'll hear the phrase "evil dies tonight" over a dozen times in Halloween Kills until it drives you freakin' crazy. Coming off the success of 2018's Halloween, writer-director David Gordon Green's (Pineapple Express, Joe, and Stronger) follow-up sequel comes off as a bit of a disappointment. Halloween Kills is an incredibly safe horror picture that dives headfirst into the mythology of Michael Myers, AKA The Shape (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle). While there are now 12 Halloween movies to this 40-year slasher franchise, 2018's Halloween wiped the slate clean and retconned all previous Halloween sequels. Instead, the 2018 picture is a direct sequel to the original 1978 classic (also named Halloween). This was a bit of a gamble that Green and writer-actor Danny McBride were doing, but it paid off in the end. 2018's Halloween was a brilliant slasher feature.
They went back to the basics of low-key slasher ingredients to build up the tension and terror. This was also something that John Carpenter and Debra Hill's 1978 masterpiece did. The original Halloween had almost no gore and was incredibly effective in its ability to scare you. Jump to Halloween Kills, and Green and McBride decide (for some reason) to throw everything that previously worked out the window. They rack up the body count this time around, while also taking a deep dive into The Shape's possible supernatural abilities. So, we are minutes after the previous entry, where Laurie Strode (a strong Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter Karen (a wonderful Judy Greer), and granddaughter Allyson (a great Andi Matichak) thought they had left Michael Myers caged and burning inside Laurie's basement. Once again, he escapes and slaughters about a dozen firemen. Laurie is rushed to the hospital with life-threatening injuries; after being slashed in the stomach from the previous film. Sadly, this keeps Curtis' role pretty limited, while she goes on long random rants and monologues throughout the movie.
As Michael's bloodbath and rampage continue on Halloween night, the town decides to ban together and take down the monster. Green brings back some nostalgic characters from the original film: like Tommy Doyle (now played by Anthony Michael Hall), Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards reprised her role), Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers reprised his role), and Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens reprised her role). The sequel focuses heavily on Tommy's perspective and examines the role of mob mentality in the era of Trumpism. I felt like this aspect was a decent idea on script, but it needed to be better developed through the final product. Overall, the mob topic was poorly executed, heavy-handed, and came off a bit flimsy. The movie also heavily relies on recreating flashback scenes and adding new ones from the original 1978 film. While adding some substantial nostalgic nods to the franchise and fan service (Season of the Witch masks), Halloween Kills' story actually goes nowhere.
It's a frustrating horror picture to watch and examine as it wrestles with what it is actually trying to say and accomplish. The overall outcome is a tad half-baked and tedious. This is definitely a middle chapter movie of Green's Halloween reboot trilogy. But, I will give all of the actors a thumbs up, as their acting chops kept me engaged throughout. Also, the incredible score by Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies will also seep into your mind. Plus, the practical effects and makeup in the film's flashback sequences deserve high praise all on their own. Halloween Kills is not the worst Halloween movie out there (looking at you Resurrection and Rob Zombie), but it is sadly both chaotic and weak in its storytelling. Halloween Kills is an angry movie that goes full Rambo in both its kills and gore. We will have to see how this new trilogy concludes with Halloween Ends (2022) next October. For now, evil doesn't die, and it slashes at anything and everything in its way. One final note, long live Big John and Little John (Scott MacArthur and Michael McDonald).
Halloween Kills is rated R (Restricted) Language | Grisly Images | Some Drug Use | Strong Bloody Violence.
I ranked all 12 Halloween movies. Click Here!
Stream it on Peacock Premium or watch it in theaters.
Directed by David Gordon Green
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Thomas Mann, and Anthony Michael Hall.
Censor is bloody good — a slow-burning character study shown through artistic beauty and thought-provoking themes. One will fall down the rabbit hole to an eerie work of art and British horror. Censor is a balancing act of gory horror, media consumption, and mental health. Welsh filmmaker Prano Bailey-Bond's directorial debut will send chills down your spine and break your psyche. This psychological horror feature is a grand spooky picture to watch this Halloween season. Censor turns the clocks back to the 1980s, where we follow Enid (a fierce Niamh Algar), a film censor who works at the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) during the height of the Video Nasty controversy. Video Nasty was a time in the United Kingdom where low-budget horror and exploitation films found a loophole in their distribution of video cassettes (VHS). These films were able to bypass the BBFC's reviewing process, causing a public uproar due to their extremely violent, graphic, and lude content.
This is where Enid's character comes into play — she watches these films and approves what should be cut or banned for their approval rating. Hint at the film's title Censor. Yet, Enid is also dealing with past trauma of her own. Her sister, Nina, went missing when they were both children. Enid's parents believe that Nina is dead, but Enid is not convinced. Because Enid spends all of her time watching these extremely gory and uncomfortable movies, her mental health begins to spiral. Bailey-Bond then paints a brilliant portrait of Enid's mind as she begins to blend fiction with reality, losing sight of what is real and what is not. After Enid view's an old film from a veteran horror director named Frederick North (Adrian Schiller), she watches a scene that parallels a distant memory of her and her sister.
This discovery convinces Enid that the movie actress, Alice Lee (played by Sophia La Porta), is her real missing sister, Nina. That is as far as I will go into this juicy plot. Bailey-Bond weaves two stories (the missing sister and media consumption) together until they combine into a force to be reckoned with. As Enid's mental health begins to suffer, we see someone who is engulfed with fear and paranoia. While the story comes off as a bit uneven at times, the third act effectively mixes them, unleashing a fever dream of brilliant terror. Through the versatile lighting of neon reds and greens, distorted aspect ratios, and a bloody surprise, we are left with one of the finest horror pictures to come out in 2021. Bold, meticulous, and hazy, Censor will get under your skin. In the end, it's a film permanently ingrained to your mind.
Censor is not rated (NR)
Stream it now on Hulu for their Huluween.
Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond
Starring Niamh Algar, Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin, Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller, and Michael Smiley.
A Double Feature Review!
Come From Away
Glynis and I got to see Come From Away live a few years back, and the newest live recording is just as powerful as I remember — fluid staging, incredible acting, inspiring, and heart-tugging. One of the most beautiful musicals you will ever watch. You Are Here. Come From Away is an astounding Canadian musical that finds hope amid tragedy. With a folksy and bluegrass sway, this is a musical that will sweep you off your feet. You may even shed a tear. The music and lyrics were composed by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, while it made its Broadway debut back in 2017. The production went on to be nominated for seven Tonys, winning Best Direction (Christopher Ashley). The stage's setup is minimal, using a variety of lighting and raw human emotion to draw you in. The production's cast is made up of only 12 actors — all of whom perform multiple roles throughout this musical. Come From Away is based on a true story set in the week following the September 11 attacks. As part of Operation Yellow Ribbon, 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in the small town of Gander in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.
All of the characters in this musical are based on real Gander residents, along with some 7,000 stranded travelers they housed and fed. Because of Broadway's 2020 shutdown, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a live stage recording was directed and made by Ashley. The film was released on Apple TV+ on September 10th, a day before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This live recording allowed Broadway to be brought to the doorsteps and living rooms of everyone at home. The original Broadway cast (Petrina Bromley, Jenn Colella, De'Lon Grant, Joel Hatch, Tony LePage, Caesar Samayoa, Q. Smith, Astrid Van Wieren, Emily Walton, Jim Walton, Sharon Wheatley, and Paul Whitty) also reprised their respected roles, gifting us with a splendid and emotionally resonate musical recording. Come From Away is a powerful musical that transcends through the healing power of human connection. If you were not able to see this musical on the stage, then I highly recommend watching its beauty from the comfort of your home.
Come From Away is rated TV-14 (This program may be unsuitable for children under 14 years of age)
Stream it now on Apple TV+
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Starring Petrina Bromley, Jenn Colella, De'Lon Grant, Joel Hatch, Tony LePage, Caesar Samayoa, Q. Smith, Astrid Van Wieren, Emily Walton, Jim Walton, Sharon Wheatley, and Paul Whitty.
The Many Saints of Newark
The Many Saints of Newark is a welcomed return of beloved Soprano characters fans grew up watching, yet the film does run into cinematic confinement in its storytelling. The Many Saints of Newark is writer-director-creator David Chase's prequel movie to his critically-acclaimed HBO crime drama series, The Sopranos (1999-2007). As a fan of Chase's TV show, I enjoyed going back in time and watching the younger versions of the Soprano characters. Unfortunately, The Many Saints of Newark finds pitfalls in its inability to fully develop its story through the medium of film. While The Sopranos' success came with its ability to nicely develop these dramatic stories and characters over a period of time (episodes) through the medium of television. Nevertheless, I was still drawn in by the great acting chops of this incredible cast (Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Michael Gandolfini, Billy Magnussen, Michela De Rossi, John Magaro, Ray Liotta, and Vera Farmiga). Newcomers beware: if you have never watched an episode of HBO's The Sopranos, then you will be confused.
The Many Saints of Newark is a movie that establishes that you already know the history of the fictional DiMeo crime family, later turned Soprano crime family. Our story follows Richard "Dickie" Moltisanti (a strong Nivola) and his rise and fall to power during the late 1960s and mid-1970s. We also see younger versions of the original series characters like Junior Soprano (Corey Stoll), Livia Soprano (Vera Farmiga), Paulie Walnuts (Billy Magnussen), Silvio Dante (John Magaro), "Pussy" Bonpensiero (Samson Moeakiola), and Carmela De Angelis (Lauren DiMario). Uncle Dickie was always a ghost character during the original run of The Sopranos. By the time the show had started, his fictional character was already dead, but we never knew who killed him. Saints of Newark answers those burning questions of how Dickie was really killed. Though this revelation could divide hardcore Soprano fans.
Dickie was also the father of Christopher (Michael Imperioli), the nephew and protégé of Tony Soprano (played by the great-late James Gandolfini in the original series and by Michael Gandolfini for this prequel movie). Saints of Newark's story is also sandwiched during the 1967's Newark race riots. One aspect that I admired was Michael Gandolfini's performance as a young Tony Soprano, the role his late father (James Gandolfini) played over a decade ago. Michael was a natural and a spitting image of his father. If anyone could pick up the mantle of Tony Soprano, it was Michael. The Many Saints of Newark never lives up to the great heights of the original series — nevertheless — it's still a worthy origin story and history lesson on the fictional Soprano crime family. One that is also dark, witty, and ultra-violent. Lastly, that ending shot with Michael's character (Tony) sent chills down my spine. Cue "Woke Up This Morning" by Alabama 3.
The Many Saints of Newark is rated R (Restricted) Sexual Content | Pervasive Language | Some Nudity | Strong Violence.
Stream it now on HBO Max until October 31st. Or see it in theaters.
Directed by Alan Taylor
Starring Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Michael Gandolfini, Billy Magnussen, Michela De Rossi, John Magaro, Ray Liotta, and Vera Farmiga.
Michael Myers has been terrorizing the town of Haddonfield, Illinois, for over 40 years. There have been great, fun, bad, and ugly movies produced from this slasher franchise. With Halloween Kills now out, I ranked all 12 Halloween films. "It 'was' the boogeyman." "As a matter of fact...it was."
Julia Ducournau’s Titane hits you hard. Provocative, thrilling, chaotic, and completely original. I was blown away.
Warning: Minor Plot Spoilers in this Review
How does one explain a movie like Titane? Writer-director Julia Ducournau’s (2016's Raw) newest French picture transcends you to another dimension. Titane is a film that one has to see to believe. It's wild, organic, and riveting, from the first to the final frame. Ducournau’s transgressive horror will seep into your bones; you won't know what hit you. Our film starts out with 7-year-old Alexia (Adèle Guigue), who gets in a car accident with her father and cracks open her head. Alexia goes into surgery, and the doctors have to surgically implant a large titanium plate into her skull. A metal brace is now placed around Alexia's head like an unholy halo. Ducournau's film sets the tone from there, gifting us with a violent, gender-bending, and orgasmic experience through blood and oil. Jump to adult Alexia (played by an intoxicating Agathe Rousselle), who works as a showgirl at a motor show.
Yet, there's a dark secret that lingers around Alexia. She's also a serial killer. Whether it's a female lover or a male harasser, Alexia will eventually penetrate them in their ear with her razor-sharp hair stick, killing them instantly. Without giving too much away, Titane is a film that's fluid in both its sexuality and gender, turning these subject matters upside down on their heads. You might have already heard, yes, Alexia's character has sex with a vintage Cadillac and gets pregnant. That's as far as I'll go with that topic. You'll have to watch and experience this for yourself. There's also actor Vincent Lindon who plays somewhat of an adoptive father in the film. One who is tormented by his aging body. Furthermore, there's a firefighter's dancing scene that I cannot get out of my head. Full of purple tones and cinematic bliss, it's wondrous. Rousselle's character is mostly nonverbal throughout the picture, but her demons run free.
As we see Alexia's pregnancy progress, she also begins to drip motor oil from multiple places on her body. Ducournau’s sadistic feature is one that cannot be shaken off long after the credits end. Titane had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival back in July, where Ducournau became only the second female director to win the Palme d'Or (the festival's top award). She also became the first female director to win the top award solo (director Jane Campion won in 1993, jointly). Titane was also selected as the French entry for the Best International Feature Film for next year's 94th Academy Awards. This should be an exciting awards season. Titane comes, starts its engine, and races to the finish line. A provocative odyssey that takes one down roads never seen before. You will gasp, laugh, and be hypnotized by Ducournau's dangerously vivid direction. Titane is a liberating experience. Go watch it NOW.
Titane is rated R (Restricted) Language | Graphic Nudity | Disturbing Material | Sexual Content | Strong Violence.
Directed by Julia Ducournau
Starring Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Lais Salameh, Bertrand Bonello, and Dominique Frot.
James Bond is one of the longest-running franchises to date. Nearly 60-years of 007. Our British spy has done everything for Queen and country. Bond will always be my favorite running franchise, from the spectacular action sequences to his martinis (shaken, not stirred). With No Time To Die now out, I ranked all 25 Bond films (Eon Productions).
No Time To Die: An action-packed, ambitious, and satisfying swan song for Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007. Craig is arguably our greatest Bond ever. An epic (overstuffed) spy adventure with heart. Craig’s conclusion gives us an emotional goodbye. Mr. Craig, I bid you farewell. Thank you.
Warning: Minor Plot Spoilers in this Review.
After being delayed three times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, No Time To Die coming to theaters has finally become a reality. I never thought I'd see the day. It was worth the 18-month wait, and I was excited that I got to finally sit in the theaters and watch it. At 53, Daniel Craig's 15-year tenure as 007 has come to a close. Mr. Craig parts ways from the tuxedos and martinis with a stylish, bombastic, and emotional farewell. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (2015's Beasts of No Nation) strongly wraps up Mr. Craig's Bond arc with suave, action, and heart. The Craig-era took the 007 franchise into new directions. Not everything worked for these five films, but they all dared to say something. Craig's incarnation brought Bond into the 21st century, along with a more bruised and broken 007. The series also evolved Bond's past womanizing schemes and showcased what his reckless actions and misogyny could lead to. We saw this in 2006's Casino Royale, where Bond seduces a criminal's wife, Solange (played by Caterina Murino), for information.
Bond does not regard Solange's personal safety, only using her sex for intelligence, and she winds up dead in the next scene. Later in Casino, Vesper Lynd (played by the great Eva Green) exclaims to Bond: "You think of women as disposable pleasures rather than meaningful pursuits." Not only was the franchise tackling a more vulnerable Bond, but they were also confronting his treatment towards women head-on. Something past Bond films did not do. In addition, throughout these five films, we got an enormous amount of strong supporting female actors (Eva Green, Olga Kurylenko, Naomie Harris, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, and Ana de Armas). Craig's Bond-era was also the first of the franchise to complete a saga. In the past, each Bond flick has been their own story, never continuing over into the next movie. That all change when Craig took over, giving us a fully fleshed-out arc for our bruised and beaten 007. No Time To Die doesn't hit the heights of Skyfall (2012) or Casino Royale, but I would put it at No. 3 for the Craig series.
Spectre (2015) and Quantum of Solace (2008) would round out No. 4 and 5. Both Skyfall (my favorite) and Casino re-energized the nearly 60-year-old franchise with fresh missions and innovative stories. While Spectre and Quantum were both bogged down with their own shortcomings. Spectre had some extraordinary action set pieces, but it seemed to wrestle with familiar past-Bond formula and mythology. Spectre also literally tried to connect the previous three films. While Quantum was a chaotic movie in both its writing and editing. However, there were some great ideas hidden underneath Quantum, but they just never came to the surface. Nevertheless, Craig kept us intrigued and invested. No Time works as both a direct sequel to Spectre and also ties up every loose end from this five-film saga. So, in the beginning, No Time is sort of dominated by Spectre's mythical writing, but I applaud Fukunaga for embracing this started path and not departing from it. Looking at you The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
No Time was written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Fukunaga, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) came in to polish the script and add a little more well-rounded humor. So, coming off the heels of 2015's Spectre, Bond, and his new love interest, Madeleine Swann (a wonderful Seydoux) are en route to Italy. Bond, still tormented by the death of Vesper (2006's Casino), has to say a final goodbye to her grave. Bond needs closure to his pain and broken love, but the past doesn't die. Madeleine's dark past has also caught up to her, leading to a breathtaking car chase scene through the streets of Matera. This confrontation leads Bond to break it off with Madeleine and move on with his life and retirement from MI6. No Time then jumps to five years later, where Bond is living peacefully in Jamaica. Yet the world's problems do not stop, and (as usual) the world needs 007 for one final mission. Felix (a grand Jeffrey Wright) confronts Bond about a dangerous bio-weapon called "Project Heracles." This bio-weapon contains nanobots that infect someone like a virus upon touch but are coded to an individual's specific DNA.
The person behind these evil plans is a man named Safin (a creepy Rami Malek), who wants revenge on the entire SPECTRE organization for killing his family. No Time also gives us a brilliant and sinister cold opening with Safin's character confronting Madeleine's childhood home. This sequence in the icy snow sent chills down my spine. Now, Safin's character eventually molds into a generic villain who wants to take down the whole world — however — the introduction to his character was very intriguing. We also get Lashana Lynch, who plays the new 00, and Ana de Armas, who plays a CIA agent. Both Lynch and de Armas knock it out of the park with every scene they're in. I would have loved to of seen more de Armas throughout the film, but she was brilliant with her small on-screen performance. While Lynch's acting chops reign supreme throughout the picture. Her character adds new depths and layers to this old franchise. We also get some familiar friends back like Q (a brilliant Ben Whishaw), M (a stern Ralph Fiennes), Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and Tanner (Rory Kinnear).
Clocking in at 163 minutes, this is the longest Bond outing for the franchise. Overall, the film kept chugging away, but I do think it could have been trimmed down just a touch. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren (La La Land and First Man) gives us one of the most beautifully shot Bond films in the franchise (right underneath Skyfall). As well as Hans Zimmer's roaring score. You could feel every 00 beat in your bones. Fukunaga also gives us some incredible action sequences like the car chase scene in the Norway forest or an exhilarating single-take staircase fight sequence with Bond. This sequence blew me away with its tension, adrenaline, and no cuts. Craig, as usual, gives us another rousing performance as 007. One that is also incredibly emotional and heartfelt. Fukunaga also made a bold stance and took No Time in a direction that no previous Bond movie ever has. For that, I applaud him. No Time To Die is not a perfect picture, but it is satisfying, powerful, and a worthy conclusion to the Craig-era. I am excited to see where this 60-year-old franchise goes next. For now, Mr. Craig, I bid you farewell. Thank you for these last 15-years. Mission accomplished.
No Time To Die is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Sequences of Violence & Action | Brief Strong Language | Some Disturbing Images | Some Suggestive Material.
No Time to Die had its world premiere at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 28 September 2021.
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Rory Kinnear, David Dencik, Ana de Armas, and Billy Magnussen.
Yeah, this has Paul Schrader written all over it. The Card Counter is a slow-burning character study that’s always engaging, always captivating. Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish are fantastic, and their chemistry together is strong. Plus, I would love to see Haddish in more future dramas.
Like in all Paul Schrader films (director of First Reformed, writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull), The Card Counter has his signature feature of a protagonist on a self-destructive path. Through sin and sometimes salvation, our protagonist tries to transcend on a redemptive arc. Schrader likes to throw his audience into the broken mind of his protagonist that he displays on the screen. Often, it allows the audience to see all of the demons laying out to dry right before your very eyes. In The Card Counter, we follow a gambler (a phenomenal Oscar Isaac) who taught himself how to count cards during his eight-year stint in military prison. William Tell (Isaac) is a troubled man whose dark past grows more frightening the more we know about him. We learn that Tell was an ex-military interrogator at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. As many know, during the early stages of the Iraq War, the Abu Ghraib prison became a place of torture where the United States Army and the CIA committed a series of major human rights violations and war crimes against the detainees.
The Abu Ghraib tortures and prisoner abuses were horrendous and will never be justified. In the film, Tell gets caught in a series of photographs, where he is convicted and has to do time. During these flashback scenes at Abu Ghraib, Schrader uses a fisheye lens to capture the horrors of the prison, giving off a paralyzing effect. These flashbacks are one small aspect of The Card Counter. Another crucial part of the plot involves a retired Major (a powerful Willem Dafoe) who got away clean from the Abu Ghraib tortures; a son (Tye Sheridan) who wants revenge for his father's death; and an investor (a fantastic Haddish) who backs gamblers for a portion of their winnings. All of these subplots intermingle throughout the picture until they all become tangled in a knot too hard to undo. Isaac's character likes living a life in the shadows. He enjoys staying under the radar, making small bets, and winning decent earnings from the casinos.
Haddish's character notices something special in him and wants him to join her 'stable' — where she can sponsor him for the big casino gambling competitions. Teller eventually agrees to take on La Linda's (Haddish) intriguing offer. Although Haddish is playing in a dramatic role, her character also offers moments of welcomed humor. From there, we travel down a foggy road full of twists and turns as more and more skeletons come falling out of the closest. This slow-burning picture is stamped with the seal of Schrader's cinematic trademark. The Card Counter will not be everyone's cup of tea. I know that Glynis and I were pretty split on this film. I found it much more engrossing than she did. So, fanatics of Schrader's filmography will gobble this movie up, while I think others will, at least, appreciate what he's doing here. The Card Counter might start out as a laid-back card movie, then it slowly begins to unravel into a psychological game of control. The Card Counter displays Isaac's gripping performance that is backed with a weighty storyline of morality.
The Card Counter is rated R (Restricted) Graphic Nudity |Brief Sexuality | Language | Some Disturbing Violence.
The Card Counter had its world premiere at the 78th Venice International Film Festival on September 2, 2021.
Directed by Paul Schrader
Starring Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, and Willem Dafoe.
Overall, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a pretty good film. It does cater to biopic tropes, but Jessica Chastain’s performance is a revelation. Andrew Garfield’s acting chops are strong as well. Plus, the costume and makeup designs are phenomenal. It’s worth your time.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye's substance might come off a bit surface level, but it's Chastain’s incredible performance that excels the film. So, our movie takes an intimate look at the rise and fall of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. A good portion of the movie is set during the time of the 1970s and '80s. We follow this religious power couple, as they climb to the top through fraud and false hope. The Bakker's created the world's largest religious broadcasting network (The PTL Club) and even a 'Christian' theme park. The Bakker's prevailed on a message of love and prosperity, except it was all a sham. Like all televangelists, the Bakker's profited on the vulnerable, racking in huge swarms of money. "Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless."
Now, director Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris and The Big Sick) also gives Tammy Faye's character a bit of a redemptive arc. In Showalter's picture, Tammy Faye was oblivious to her husband's dubious schemes. If that was reality, I am not sure. But Chastain's compelling performance makes it so believable. The film also briefly touches on Jim Bakker's extra-marital affairs, sexual misconduct and rape allegations. Although, it keeps these discoveries pretty surface level and instead focuses heavily on his financial schemes. I took this as a possibility of looking through Tammy Faye's point of view and how she probably didn't know every detail of what her sinister husband was up to. Maybe? Tammy Faye was also known for her heavy makeup, wild eyelashes, eccentric singing, and enthusiasm to embrace people from all walks of life.
Tammy Faye's acceptance towards others transcended during the AIDS crisis. During that time, Faye began to reach out to the LGBTQ+ community. The movie also introduces us to other slimy televangelists like Jerry Falwell (played by Vincent D'Onofrio) and Pat Robertson (played by Gabriel Olds). As the story progresses later in the years, slowly Chastain transforms more and more into her role. She hits a point where she looks and sounds exactly like the real Tammy Faye. She's indistinguishable, in a good way. This is the power of great acting. Overall, through all of the story's faults, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is still a fun movie to watch. I was entertained the whole time. Chastain gives us one of her best performances, one that is also Oscar-worthy. I hope she stays in the conversation this awards season. In the end, through the glitter, glamour, fraud, and a bit of Jesus, this is Tammy Faye's story.
Want to hear more of my thoughts about Tammy Faye? I spoke with my good friends, Matt and Ashley, on their podcast, Mashely at the Movies | Listen Here.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on September 12, 2021 and is currently playing in theaters.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Sexual Content and Drug Abuse.
Directed by Michael Showalter
Starring Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, Fredric Lehne, Louis Cancelmi, Gabriel Olds, and Vincent D'Onofrio.
Yes, it's true, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is top-tier Marvel. An excellent cast (Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng'er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung), well-developed characters, amazing choreography throughout, a worthy story with heart, and strong representation of Asian culture.
While the third act of Shang-Chi does walk back to more familiar Marvel-CGI territory — overall — it's a solid superhero origin story expanding the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). This is a superhero flick that I highly recommend. Shang-Chi helps thicken MCU's growing story with a fresh perspective and superhero flare. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12 and The Glass Castle), Shang-Chi is one of the brightest entries in the Marvel franchise. Shang-Chi also became the first Marvel Studios film with an Asian-American director and a predominantly Asian cast — showcasing the importance of representation. The MCU extravaganza is chop full of dazzling choreography and splendid action sequences throughout. We also get a phenomenal cast; that helps propel the movie to extraordinary new heights. Our story follows Xu Wenwu (the great Tony Leung), who discovers the mystical ten rings, granting him immortality and godlike powers.
For thousands of years, Wenwu's reign grows stronger as he topples governments and vanquishes kingdoms; with his Ten Rings organization. Until one day, when he meets a village guardian Ying Li (the wonderful Fala Chen) and falls in love. Together, they start a family, which includes Xu Shang-Chi (a strong Simu Liu). I won't spoil what happens with Wenwu and Shang-Chi, but I will say there is a fallout between father and son. Let's quickly talk about our protagonist and antagonist (Liu and Leung). The dynamic between the father and son storyline excels thanks to the tremendous acting chops of both Liu and Leung. I remember first seeing Liu in an episode of Awkwafina's Is Nora from Queens (season 1, episode 8, "Grandma & Chill"). Liu played the hunky 'Garbage Boy' in that episode and was hilarious. Liu as also played as a series regular (Jung) in the hit-TV-show Kim's Convenience (2016-2021), which I have gone on to watch. Looking over at Leung — a veteran actor who has been in the acting business for almost 40 years now. However, this was Leung's first crossover into a Hollywood blockbuster.
The Hong Kong actor is one of Asia's most successful and internationally recognized actors. He's been in masterful films like Chungking Express (1994), 2046 (2004), Lust, Caution (2007), The Grandmaster (2013), and In the Mood for Love (2000) — which was the first film I saw him in and it's also one of my personal favorites. Leung's character is complex and complicated. He blurs the lines between good and bad, giving us one of Marvel's most well-rounded villains. Leung steals every scene he's in. Jumping to the present day, we follow Shang-Chi, who now goes by 'Shaun.' Shaun lives in San Francisco and works as a valet with his best friend Katy (a fantastic Awkwafina). It was also nice to see Awkwafina in a well-developed role throughout the movie. Yes, she is there for comedic appeal, but her character was so much more than that. Something I appreciated, and I am excited to see her in future MCU films. Shaun keeps his life on the down-low until one day, his past demons catch up with him. From there, Shaun and Katy are on a mission to hunt down and stop his father. Along the way, we also meet Shaun's sister Xu Xialing (an excellent Meng'er Zhang), who runs her own underground fight club. I would love to see a spin-off TV series with Zhang on Disney+ in the near future. Yes, she's that great.
Shang-Chi transcends to great heights with top-notch martial arts sequences, dazzling action, a compelling story, and characters that we care about. Cretton's movie also completely crushed its box office expectations for its opening weekend. Marvel's newest superhero feature set a Labor Day Weekend record with $94.4 million for the 4-day holiday weekend. Shang-Chi had the second highest-grossing weekend box office (behind Black Widow) of the year thus far. This is great news for movies because we are still battling a pandemic and are trying to get out on the other side. PSA, get vaccinated. In addition, it's exciting to see a film with a predominantly Asian-led cast do so well. So, if you feel safe going to the theaters (like I do), I highly recommend seeing this movie on the big screen. I was able to experience this superhero sensation on the IMAX. Since it opened, Shang-Chi has grossed $363 million worldwide and has reigned as No. 1 for four straight weekends. Wow! After its fourth weekend superiority, Deadline Hollywood has projected that the film's final domestic gross would be around $250 million. In the end, Shang-Chi is top-tier Marvel. "A Marvel legend will rise" and risen it has.
Want to hear more of my thoughts about this fantastic Marvel film? I spoke with my good friends, Matt and Ashley, on their podcast, Mashely at the Movies | Listen Here.
Shang-Chi is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Sequences of Violence & Action | Language.
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng'er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung.
James Wan's Malignant starts out as a normal horror flick, then transcends into an absolute bonkers third act. You won't know what hit you.
Malignant: "(of a disease) very virulent or infectious."
This wacky approach Wan uses in the third act to eventually let the gates of hell break loose, works incredibly well for the film as a whole. I was already intrigued by the film's creepy and slow-burning approach, then was completely gobsmacked at what transpired next. I will reveal no spoils in this review. Only to tell you that if you love horror, then you should drop everything and watch this movie immediately. Wan is known for making some great horror pictures in the past. Most notably Insidious (2010) and The Conjuring (2013). I had a great experience in the past watching The Conjuring on the big screen. I took my younger sister to see it with me and the theater was sold out. I distinctively remember this group of rowdy jocks walk in and sit directly behind us. They were a bit rambunctious at the beginning and then shut up less than halfway through the horror feature. After the movie was over, all of them got up in a single file line and walked out in complete silence. It was glorious.
That's who Wan is as a skillful horror director — he can make a picture so scary that it numbs your bones. Now, Malignant isn't particularly scary — like The Conjuring — but it was always thrilling. Our film follows Madison (a strong Annabelle Wallis), who has become paralyzed by shocking visions of grisly murders while she sleeps at night. Madison's torment worsens when she discovers that these dreams are, in fact, terrifying realities. This is about as much as I want to reveal in the plot. I'll let you discover the wacky outcomes on your own. I also enjoyed the '80s horror throwback early on in Malignant. My one complaint about this movie would be, that if it wasn't for the insane third act, then Malignant might have just been an average horror feature. But because Wan lets all hell break loose towards the end, the movie reeled me back in with uncontrollable excitement. Malignant is definitely an enjoyable film, delicate in craft and eerie with its environment. Plus, Wan's dazzling camerawork added to the film's overall tension. So, have fun with this horror movie because, in the end, you won't know what hit you.
Malignant is rated R (Restricted) Language | Gruesome Images | Strong Horror Violence.\
Stream it now on HBO Max and see it in theaters.
Directed by James Wan
Starring Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, Jean Louisa Kelly, and Susanna Thompson.
Candyman (2021) runs as a direct sequel to the 1992 Original while expanding the Robitaille lore, writer-director Nia DaCosta's (2018's Little Woods) slasher feature and gory nightmare will seep through your bones.
If you have not seen the original Candyman, I advise you to pause this review and go watch it before you see the newest film. Now, the reason for that is because the newest Candyman runs as a direct sequel to the original, helping provide more knowledge into the story's backbone. DaCosta does change up some past history slightly, to add more depth to her characters. The 1992 horror film is based on Clive Barker's short story "The Forbidden." In the first film, we follow a Chicago graduate student named Helen (Virginia Madsen), who's working on a thesis about urban legends and folklore. During Helen's research, she discovers the legend of the "Candyman" (the great Tony Todd) and his connection to a series of murders in Chicago's Cabrini–Green Homes. As the legend goes, the Candyman (Daniel Robitaille) was murdered in the late 19th century for having an interracial relationship with the daughter of a wealthy white man.
The Candyman was an African American artist and the son of a slave. After word of the affair got out, the Candyman was brutally murdered by a white mob. Now, if you say his name five times in the mirror, he will reappear and kill you. Director DaCosta gives us an entire recap of what happened to Helen's fate in the original, shown through some beautiful sequences of shadow puppetry (designed by Manual Cinema). Running as a "spiritual sequel," DaCosta's latest Candyman explores the intersection of white violence and Black pain. We follow Chicago artist Anthony McCoy (an excellent Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who — like Helen — becomes obsessed with the Candyman legend. Now that Cabrini–Green has been torn down, DaCosta creatively infuses racial themes with bloody horror. Like in the original film, which constructed a plate of social commentary, DaCosta takes her picture even further. Shown through visual splendor, pitch-black humor, and misdirection, DaCosta keeps her viewers guessing what's lurking from around the corner.
Jordan Peele (Get Out and Us) also worked as a co-writer and producer for this bloody horror film, but it's DaCosta's tightly constructed craft that stands out. Though this is not a perfect picture — I felt it needed a longer runtime, and parts seemed a bit messy — 2021's Candyman still delivers its relevant message loud and clear. Other great actors that contributed to this film include Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Kyle Kaminsky, and Vanessa Williams. DaCosta's horror flick also delivers a pretty striking twist halfway through the movie, which I dare not spoil. I will say that this twist compliments itself better if you have already seen the original. For far too long, residents of Chicago's Cabrini-Green neighborhood were terrorized by a word-of-mouth ghost story about a supernatural killer with a hook for a hand. In the end, just say his name. I dare you. I'll start, "Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candy—"
Candyman is rated R (Restricted) Language | Bloody Horror Violence | Some Sexual References.
Directed by Nia DaCosta
Starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Kyle Kaminsky, and Vanessa Williams.
9/11: Inside the President's War Room is an astonishing and harrowing documentary — taking a behind-the-scenes look at one of America's most tragic days.
BBC One's newest documentary gives us an in-depth look and a minute-by-minute breakdown at the Bush administration's response to one of the worst terrorist attacks in American history. Now, BBC One does a great job keeping their documentary sufficiently apolitical and focused. Likewise, I will also do my best to keep this review apolitical as well. I believe this documentary needs to be watched and discussed: no matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on or what your feelings are towards the Bush administration. Narrated by actor Jeff Daniels, we follow then-President George W. Bush and his inner circle for 12 hours on September 11, 2001. Starting from 6 a.m. that morning until that evening, we get to see and listen to then-President Bush's viewpoint.
As the chaos and tragedy of that day unfolded, Bush and his administration had to piece the news and intelligence coming in from New York City and elsewhere. Inside the President's War Room is a gripping documentary that reconstructs the day of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks from the point of view of Bush and his advisors. News broke of the first jetliner crashing into the World Trade Center shortly before 9 a.m., while Bush was attending a Florida Elementary school. At first thinking, it was an accident, then realizing that this was an attack, shortly after the second jetliner crashed into the World Trade Center. We watch Bush and his advisors trying to gather intelligence from inside a Florida classroom — while then-Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were at the White House being informed on the situation. It's easy to forget how surreal and confusing that day was, but Adam Wishart skillfully captures that sad day through archived videos and photos.
Once Bush made it to Air Force One, he insisted that he go back to Washington. His advisors deemed it not safe, especially after the Pentagon was attacked at 9:37 a.m. We watch Air Force One's route from Florida to Louisiana to Nebraska, where the administration could gather more intelligence and briefings. We also learn that Air Force One did not have cable and could only pick up news channels if they were flying over large cities. Ironically, Air Force One became the worst place to gather intelligence, but the secret service deemed this the safest place for the president at the time. Other people we listen to during this documentary include: Cheney, Rice, Colin Powell, Andy Card, Dan Bartlett, Deborah Loewer, Josh Bolten, Ari Fleischer, Karl Rove, Ted Olson, and more. Apple bought the distribution rights for Wishart's doc, releasing it on September 1, 2021: paralleling the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Wishart's doc also captures the horrors and turmoil of that day. He tackles a genuine backseat view at an administration's worst fears coming alive. Through breathtaking editing and photography, we relive America's deadliest terrorist attack and how it has shaped and modeled our country 20 years later. On a final note: Over the weekend, former President Bush gave a speech at the Flight 93 memorial service, where he recounted the heroism of the passengers and crew of Flight 93. But he also talked about the impacts of domestic terrorism and how it has become a growing threat, i.e. the US Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021. "There's little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them."
Now Streaming on Apple TV+
9/11: Inside the President's War Room is not rated (NA)
Directed by Adam Wishart
Starring George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rice, Colin Powell, Andy Card, Dan Bartlett, Deborah Loewer, Josh Bolten, Ari Fleischer, Karl Rove, and Ted Olson.
How does one begin to describe a masterfully c0mplex film like The Green Knight? Well, I have finally been able to put my thoughts into words ...
𝕿𝖍𝖊 𝕮𝖍𝖗𝖎𝖘𝖙𝖒𝖆𝖘 𝕲𝖆𝖒𝖊
The Green Knight is a movie I have seen twice now this month, and I am still pondering on the best way to describe this film. Here we go: The Green Knight is simply one of the best films to come out in 2021. Haunting, mesmerizing, and poetic: writer-director David Lowery’s (Ain't Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story) Arthurian tale is a masterwork. Led by a commanding Dev Patel: The Green Knight's artful vision of thought-provoking themes will be discussed for years to come. Lowery's film of the beloved source of material, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is always honored in the narrative sense, but it is also deconstructed in its on-screen portrayal. An epic medieval fantasy based on the 14th-century poem written by Anonymous. Lowery's film is a dark portrayal of fantasy and fiction, chop-full of symbolism.
When I was seated for my first showing of The Green Knight, I was immediately absorbed into this epic tale. Awe-inspiring and gobsmacking are a few words that come to mind after walking out of the theaters. I had felt like I had just come from the long journey itself that Sir Gawain (a powerful Patel) had taken. Through Andrew Droz Palermo's (A Ghost Story) drop-dead gorgeous cinematography, we could see the lushes green on the trees shine and feel the cool breeze blowing all around us. The dark forest of tall, howling pine trees engulfs your consciousness, sending you to a dream-like state of mind. The is the first picture where I could feel the beauty and presence of the forest Gawain travels through. There is a sense of wonder and awe as Lowery slowly moves the camera around the woods.
There are many scenes I have pondered on after watching this film twice, and the cinematography is one of those pieces that truly shined throughout the picture. So, let's move on to the actual plot of this film: The Green Knight is based on a poem and a timeless Arthurian legend. We embark on the story of Sir Gawain (Patel), King Arthur's reckless and strong-minded nephew. On Christmas morning, the mysterious Green Knight (a mighty Ralph Ineson) barges into King Arthur's court on horseback and challenges the court with what he calls 'The Christmas Game.' The Green Knight is a half-man, half tree-like figure. He proclaims that any knight who can land a blow on him will win his green axe. However, there is a catch, that knight must travel to the Green Chapel one year hence and receive an equal blow in return. As the knights all coward away, Gawain decides to take up the challenge.
But instead of fighting, the Green Knight kneels, places his axe on the ground, and lowers his head. Puzzled, Gawain doesn't know what type of game the Green Knight is playing — wielding King Author's Excalibur — he strikes and decapitates the Green Knight. Gawain seems amused and satisfied with his strike, yet the Green Knight rises and lifts his severed head off the ground. He speaks, "one year hence." The Green Knight jumps back onto his horse and rides away laughing. And thus, Gawain's incredibly short year begins until it is time for him to make his journey to the Green Chapel. Once Gawain embarks on his journey, he will encounter many trials: a Scavenger (an excellent Barry Keoghan), a mysterious woman named Winifred (a wonderful Erin Kellyman), and a Lord and a Lady (a great Joel Edgerton and Alicia Vikander). Vikander actually plays two characters in this film: the Lady and Essel, Gawain's girlfriend. Balancing two very different roles: Vikander excels in both roles and she truly captivates whenever on screen.
Gawain's quest is dangerous, one that I will not spoil for you. Instead, let me talk to you about Patel's award-worthy performance. Patel is a gifted actor, and The Green Knight continues to prove that right. With his breakout performance from 2008's Slumdog Millionaire, Patel has always been able to transform into his character(s). He went on to be in movies like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Lion, Hotel Mumbai, and The Personal History of David Copperfield. These are all great performances, but The Green Knight is his best. Patel's incarnation of Sir Gawain is striking in every scene. He is hot-headed and stubborn but also confident and fearless. Along with his furry friend (a wild fox), he befriends on the journey, there are so many details that I know I am leaving out from this beautiful picture. Lowery is a visual storyteller when it comes to filmmaking. The Green Knight might be one of his most visually told films.
There is very little dialogue throughout this picture, yet Lowery does not need words to tell his story because he lets his camera do all the work. One of the many reasons why I found this movie to be so absorbing. A powerful display of craft and symbolism that invades the viewer's mind. One of the other exciting things about Lowery's newest feature is that I finally got to experience it in the theaters. The Green Knight was originally scheduled for theaters in May of 2020. It was shelved due to COVID-19. A24 finally released the film to theaters last month (July 2021). It was well worth the wait to experience this epic picture on the big screen. Thus far, Lowery's film has grossed almost $18 million worldwide on a $15 million budget, which is pretty good for an independent film like this. Especially since we are still dealing with a pandemic and the rise of the delta variant.
The Green Knight is simply one of the best films to come out this year. It is the very definition of cinema. Bold, dark, and always captivating, this medieval fantasy will have your head spinning by the end. There is also a montage sequence that left me gobsmacked after it was over. I will not reveal where in the film it is. When it does eventually come up you, won't know what hit you. This seductive picture is a feast to the eyes and a wonder to the soul. Cinema at its finest, Lowery and Patel's beauty of a film strikes so many ways that it left my mind thinking about it repeatedly. I also changed my mind on how the film ended the second time watching it. This is what great filmmaking does, allowing the audience to experience something completely new whenever they re-watch it. In the end, The Green Knight will go down as a classic of this modern world.
Want to hear more of my thoughts about this incredible film? I spoke with my good friends, Matt and Ashley, on their podcast, Mashely at the Movies | Listen Here.
The Green Knight is rated R (Restricted) Some Sexuality | Graphic Nudity | Violence.
See it in theaters or watch it now on VOD.
Directed by David Lowery
Starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, and Erin Kellyman.
A Double Feature Review!
The Night House
The Night House is a solid psychological thriller that masterfully takes its time building the suspense. The end results will send chills down your spine. Rebecca Hall’s emotionally gripping performance also helps excel the film. Director David Bruckner's (2017's The Ritual) newest horror flick had its world premiere at 2020's Sundance Film Festival. It would go onto be picked up by Searchlight Pictures and was finally released to theaters 18 months later. Bruckner's atmospheric horror picture engages the audience on an emotional and intellectual level. A type of engagement that slowly builds up the tension and thrills. Our spooky story follows Beth (a powerful Rebecca Hall), who is left alone in a lakeside home after the sudden death of her husband. Beth tries to keep all of the pieces together, but then, the nightmares come. During these nightmares, Beth feels a ghostly allure calling her. She soon begins to dig through her late husband's belongings, searching for answers from these dark visions.
In the end, Beth discovers something both truly strange and disturbing. Mysteries that I will leave for you to uncover yourself. Along with Bruckner's well-crafted suspense and tension is an eerie score by composer Ben Lovett (2019's I Trapped the Devil and 2017's The Ritual). The Night House is a horror flick that unended my expectations, delivering well-crafted scares and a rewarding ending. Hall's strong performance is the core of this picture, carrying it from start to finish. Sadly, I seem to be in the minority with this film. The Night House received a C- score from audiences on its opening weekend and, even from my showing, there was a group of three who walked out halfway through the movie. Personally, I thought this film was masterfully executed — it is a slow-burner, but one with rich rewards. I, of course, still recommend watching this film, especially if you are a fan of horror. In the end, The Night House came and conquered, sending chills down one's spine.
The Night House is rated R (Restricted) Some Violence/Disturbing Image | Some Sexual References | Language.
Directed by David Bruckner
Starring Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis Hall, Evan Jonigkeit, and Stacy Martin.
CODA is a wonder. A beautiful film led by a splendid cast and strong representation. A coming-of-age story that avoids the clichés, capturing what it means to be family. Emilia Jones gives a superb performance that’s combined with an important sense of inclusion. It’s simply one of this year’s best movies. Everything about CODA is perfect. CODA (child of deaf adults) is a beautiful picture, capturing a feel-good story with a big heart. Emotional, tear-jerking, and, at times, a little predictable — CODA is a sweet movie that offers warmth and affection. This crowd-pleaser offers a simple story that slowly packs a gut punch at the end. You won't know what hit you. We follow a blue-collar family living in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Ruby (a magnificent Emilia Jones) is the only hearing member of her family: her parents Frank and Jackie (a strong Troy Kotsur and Oscar winner Marlee Matlin), and older brother Leo (a wonderful Daniel Durant) are all culturally deaf. Kotsur, Matlin, and Durant are also all deaf actors.
Ruby helps assist with the family fishing business while attending high school. She plans on joining the business full-time once she graduates. However, Ruby also has another passion of hers — singing. She decides to audition for the school choir, run by Mr. Bernardo Villalobos (a great Eugenio Derbez). Mr. V. soon realizes Ruby's natural gifts and raw talent. He encourages Ruby to audition for Berklee College of Music and offers her private lessons to prepare. Ruby accepts Mr. V.'s offer but also has to figure out how to continue assisting/interpreting for her family's fishing business. This also leads Ruby to the confrontation of her parents not understanding why singing is so important to her. Writer-director Sian Heder wonderfully executes this picture — gifting us with a funny, heartwarming, and vivid movie. CODA also represents strong inclusion for the deaf community, allowing their stories to be told.
CODA also fully develops its deaf characters on-screen through interpretations of self-sufficiency and sexual activeness. Past on-screen depictions of deaf characters have shied away from this, not allowing their character(s) to be depicted as fully human. This allowed CODA's actors (Kotsur, Matlin, and Durant) to break out and fully be themselves with their personification of their respected character. CODA had its world premiere last January at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and was picked up by Apple for a whopping $25 million. Apple saw something very special with this film. Consider it a front runner come awards season. CODA is a superb film with a big heart and a lot of love. It truly is one of the best films to come out in 2021. There were several moments during this movie where I found myself wiping away tears. So, bring those tissues because you'll need them.
CODA is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Drug Use | Strong Sexual Content | Language.
Now Streaming on Apple TV+
Directed by Sian Heder
Starring Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin, Daniel Durant, Eugenio Derbez, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, and Amy Forsyth.
A Double Feature Review!
Vivo is a bright and color film for the whole family. Beautiful animation (especially the 2D scenes), with irresistible songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton and In the Heights). A love letter to Cuba with great Latinx representation throughout. Plus, ‘The’ Gloria Estefan sings! Music to the ears. Vivo is a welcomed treat from Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda's sweet tale of a singing kinkajou from Cuba was, originally, pitched to Dreamworks Animation back in 2010. However, Miranda's project was officially dropped from Dreamworks in 2015. Sony Pictures Animation decided to pick Vivo up and fast-track the project in 2016. Sony Pictures Animation and Netflix currently have a partnership, which is why Vivo was released on Netflix, along with other 2021 Sony Animated films, including Wish Dragon and The Mitchells vs the Machines.
Our story follows a one-of-kind kinkajou named Vivo (magically voiced by Miranda), who spends his days playing music to the crowds in the plaza with his beloved owner Andrés (perfectly voiced by Juan de Marcos). Vivo and Andrés don't speak the same language, but the music speaks directly to the heart. One day, Andrés receives a letter from the famous Marta Sandoval (voiced by the legendary Gloria Estefan), inviting her old partner to her farewell concert. Marta is an old love of his, but he never told her. Then tragedy strikes, and it's up to Vivo to travel to Miami, giving Marta a love letter/song from Andrés. Vivo gets help from Gabi (voiced by newcomer Ynairaly Simo). Gabi is an energetic teenager who raps and bounces to the beat of her own drum. Vivo is a sweet film for the whole family to watch, featuring 11 new songs from Miranda. Alongside the importance of Latino representation, Vivo will have your heart dancing to the sweet melody of music.
Vivo is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Mild Action | Some Thematic Elements.
Watch now on Netflix.
Starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldana, Juan de Marcos, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael Rooker, Nicole Byer, and Gloria Estefan.
They weren’t lying, Annette is a bizarre rock opera. It's definitely a film that has been growing on me weeks after I have seen it. Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, and Simon Helberg are all wonderful. Leos Carax’s (Holy Motors) dreamy fantasia is ambitious and experimental. Annette won’t be for everyone, but it’s still worth seeing. The audacity of Annette is strong, with batty storytelling and a jukebox musical that will linger on your brain long after the credits roll. With similar tones to musicals like The Phantom of the Opera or Les Misérables — Annette comes out swinging with its opening number ("So May We Start"), sending chills down your spine. The screenplay of Annette was formed by Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks and Carax — crafting an original story, music, and songs by the band. Although the actors of the film are not trained singers — nevertheless — most of them do their own singing throughout. This added a more raw musical layer to the story's already bizarre premise.
The movie follows a couple's walk-in fame and ultimate destruction. Henry (the great Adam Driver) is a stand-up comedian with an intense sense of humor. Think Bo Burnham-like but on steroids. Henry falls in love with Ann (a magnificent Cotillard), a world-renowned opera singer. Under the couple's spotlight, they form a passionate and glamorous physique. Ann is also pregnant and gives birth to their first child, Annette. Carax used the unique and, at times, nightmarish choice to make Annette a wooden marionette puppet. Yes, you heard that correctly. This choice was to symbolize Henry's cynicism towards the world and how he doesn't look at his own child as a real person. Through baby Annette's mystery and gifted talent, she turns their world upside down.
Annette is a lot of things — avant-garde, surreal, weird, melodic, and always beautiful. Annette will not be for everyone, but it's a movie that deserves to be seen. I would even argue the point that it's a movie that deserves multiple viewings. Carax crafts a strange vision of love, passion, and fame. His vision is wrapped behind the musical talent of the Sparks brothers, gifting us with a haunting and beautiful soundtrack. This includes songs like "We Love Each Other So Much," "We’ve Washed Ashore," "Stepping Back in Time," and "Sympathy for the Abyss." One critique about this film I would like to point out was that it's definitely a movie where you could feel its runtime (all 139 minutes). In the end, Carax's film is still a dreamy, musical nightmare that will transport you to another world. So may we start?
Annette is rated R (Restricted) Some Nudity | Sexual Content | Language.
See it in theaters or watch exclusively on Amazon Prime, starting on August 20th.
Directed by Leos Carax
Starring Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell, and Angèle.
The Suicide Squad was a blast from start to finish. James Gunn's superhero flick turned the dial up to 11. Through the chaos and anarchy, our Squad was completely self-aware and laughing all the way. Add a dash of politics to this violent extravaganza, and you are in for a show. See it in theaters or watch exclusively on HBO Max.
"Live Fast, Die Clown."
I wasn't expecting much out of The Suicide Squad — considering the awful 2016 Suicide Squad that came out. Yet, this time around, the viewers were gifted with a better director (James Gunn) to bring this wacky vision of anti-heroes to life. The Suicide Squad is technically not a sequel, nor is it really a reboot from 2016's failed performance. However, it is connected to the DCEU and, in reality, another chance for Warner Bros. to get it right with our anti-heroes on the big screen. 2016's version was a mess as far as direction and script go. The actors gave it their all with the material they were given. Some of those same actors (Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, and Jai Courtney) returned to their respected roles from the first time around. We also added new additions to the film, including Idris Elba, John Cena, Sylvester Stallone, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, and Daniela Melchior.
While Dastmalchian and Melchior both had breakout performances as Polka-Dot Man and Ratcatcher 2. They really became the heart and soul of this film. So, our newest DC Comics movie featuring the team Suicide Squad follows a task force of convicts, who are sent to destroy evidence known as "Project Starfish." Task Force X is deployed to the fictionalized South American island nation of Corto Maltese. Gunn, who is known for his gonzo-stylized filmmaking in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Super, dials the temperature up to 11 in this superhero extravaganza. This latest feature is chop-full of over-the-top action, fast-paced gags, and stylized blood. Similar to 2016's Deadpool, The Suicide Squad takes this type of violent mayhem and runs to the moon and back. There is nothing groundbreaking with Gunn's latest picture, but it is a movie I enjoyed from start to finish.
Robbie also returns as our favorite anti-hero, Harley Quinn. I have enjoyed Robbie's incarnation of Quinn during her time in the DCEU. Just like in 2020's Birds of Prey, Robbie continues to grow in her character, giving another grand performance. Since her character debuted in 2016, Robbie's wardrobe has become less sexualized (male-gazed) and more empowering. Over the years, Robbie has gotten more of a say in how she wants Harley to look and feel, something I appreciate. The Suicide Squad also features one of the coolest action sequences with Robbie, to the tune of "Just A Gigolo / I Ain’t Got Nobody (And Nobody Cares For Me)" [Medley]." Blood will fly, along with an explosion of animated 2D flowers around Harley. Some additional performances I will talk about are Elba's Bloodsport, Cena's Peacemaker, Kinnaman's Rick Flag, Stallone's Nanaue / King Shark, Dastmalchian's Polka-Dot Man, and Melchior's Ratcatcher 2.
Elba's acting chops remain unmatched as he blasts through this movie, one shot at a time. Cena's performance as Peacemaker took me by complete surprise. We had just witnessed a rather wooden performance from Cena in F9. Yet the opposite is to be said about his Peacemaker — an incredibly flawed man who would kill every man, woman, or child to keep the peace. Kinnaman returns as our beloved Rick Flag, elevating his charismatic performance this time around. Stallone provides the voice for Nanaue / King Shark — a man-eating fish-human hybrid. In the end, Nanaue just wants friends and some nom, noms. Dastmalchian's zany performance as the Polka-Dot Man is a standout, while Melchior's performance as Ratcatcher 2 is full of heart. Along with her trustee sidekick, a rat named Sebastian, who is to die for. Together, this group of raggedy anti-heroes will win you over, one explosion at a time.
Want to hear more of my thoughts about this film? I spoke with my good friends, Matt and Ashley, on their podcast, Mashely at the Movies | Listen Here.
The Suicide Squad is rated R (Restricted) Drug Use | Brief Graphic Nudity | Language Throughout | Some Sexual References | Strong Violence and Gore.
See it in theaters or watch it now on HBO Max.
Directed by James Gunn
Starring Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Alice Braga, Pete Davidson, Joaquín Cosio, Juan Diego Botto, Storm Reid, Nathan Fillion, Steve Agee, and Sean Gunn as Weasel.
No Sudden Move is a solid crime thriller, some of Steven Soderbergh’s best work. This film-noir throwback takes you through all the twists and turns, paired with a superb cast: Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Brendan Fraser, Kieran Culkin, Noah Jupe, Julia Fox, Ray Liotta, and Bill Duke. Wow! Stream it now on HBO Max.
Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move is an excellent crime caper — slow-burning and oozing with tension. Since Soderbergh's return from his brief filmmaking retirement (between 2013's Side Effects to 2017's Logan Lucky); he has made some of his best work upon returning to the director's chair. During this return, we have gotten films like Logan Lucky, Unsane, Let Them All Talk, and now No Sudden Move. Soderbergh, a master of tension, keeps the ball rolling in his latest feature that's currently streaming on HBO Max. This time around, we get an old-fashioned film with a sharp ensemble to back it up. The story takes place in a 1954 Detroit — a rapidly changing city, where the mobsters and auto executives are in an all-out war. We start with a trio of sly criminals under the guidance of the mysterious Jones (the wonderful Fraser). Jones is recruiting criminals who need one final job so they can escape the city for good.
Curt Goynes (a grand Cheadle) has just been released from prison and needs a ticket out due to being in the crosshairs of other mobsters, including an interesting gentleman named Watkins (Duke). Jones pairs Curt with a man named Ronald (a magnificent del Toro), who happens to be having an affair with Vanessa (Fox), the wife of mob boss Frank Capelli (Liotta). Next, Curt and Ronald are partnered with a firecracker named Charley (Culkin), who leads them to the home of a 'cowardly lion' named Matt (a fantastic Harbour). The criminal trio takes Matt and his family hostage in their home. While keeping Matt's wife (Seimetz) and children (including Jupe) hostage, they order Matt to retrieve an item from the safe in his boss's office. Of course, Matt is sleeping with his boss's secretary, so he has no choice but to obey their orders.
As you can guess, nothing ever goes according to plan, and this is where I stop with the plot. A body, a betrayal, and potential chaos begin to pile up on Curt and Ronald. Leading our two main culprits to think on the fly. There will be mistakes, hidden motives, and plenty of skeletons coming out of the closest when this picture is finally over. Soderbergh also chose the brilliant camera technique of using a fish-eye lens to shoot multiple scenes. This gave the viewer an uncomfortable feeling of something bad is lingering just around the corner. A grade-A technique of suspense and tension rattling your bones. No Sudden Move is an excellent movie in direction, acting, and story. Soderbergh knows how to perfectly craft a crime thriller, and he has a superb cast backing him up from start to finish. No Sudden Move is a great cat-and-mouse film that will keep you on your toes and guessing what's hiding from within the shadows.
No Sudden Move is rated R (Restricted) Language Throughout | Some Violence | Sexual References.
Watch now on HBO Max.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Brendan Fraser, Kieran Culkin, Noah Jupe, Julia Fox, Ray Liotta, and Bill Duke
Pig was a wonderful surprise — dark, poignant, and powerfully acted by Nicolas Cage. A strange odyssey of love and loss. I had lots of feelings after watching this film. Now on VOD if you missed it in theaters.
Part One: Rustic Mushroom Tart
Pig is not the movie I thought it would be, and that's a good thing. This is a film that took me by complete surprise, bringing out feelings that I am still trying to explain. Pig is a beautiful and, at times, heartbreaking film about life. Pig's emotional core is anchored by the great Nic Cage, who has explored a variety of Indie films (Joe, Mandy, and Color Out of Space) in recent years. Cage has given some of his best work in these Indie films, and Pig continues to prove that right. Michael Sarnoski's directorial debut follows a truffle hunter, who lives alone in the Oregon wilderness with his brown foraging pig. Rob (Cage) is greasy, has long hair, a scraggly beard, and worn down clothes. But, Rob is content with his life and his companion — that brown foraging pig. Rob sells his prized truffles to a local supplier (Alex Wolff), who sells them to Portland's high-end restaurants. Yet, everything changes one night when Rob's cabin is broken into, Rob is beaten unconscious, and his pig is stolen.
Part Two: Mom's French Toast & Deconstructed Scallops
This leads Cage on the move to track down who stole his beloved pig. Amir (Wolff) becomes his ride into Portland and this broken odyssey. Along the way, Rob is beaten and bloodied. But Rob has a mission, making his way up to the top of the underbelly restaurant network. Pig is a slow-burning film, slowly building up emotions inside you that you did not realize you had. This is about as far as I'll go for the plot, keeping the spoilers secret and your viewing experience pure. For being a directorial debut, Sarnoski's craft is impeccable and resonating this Americana fable with a moral compass. Pig is a perfectly crafted picture with vivid cinematography. A tender film of food and the human connection — leaving one with a bittersweet feeling by the end. This cynical world of culinary Portland tries to swallow up Rob and his past regrets. But, Rob keeps his eyes focused and his soul wondering for his brown furry friend.
Part Three: A Bird, a Bottle, & a Baguette
Pig was definitely a film that snuck up on me. By the time the credits rolled, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I had just watched a picture so beautiful and so heartbreaking at the same time. I have collected my thoughts over this experience, trying to put it into words. Sarnoski's craftsmanship of gentle storytelling is a power unlike anything I've seen this year. I didn't have much thought about Pig, going into the film, yet I came away with an experience unlike any other. Cage's performance of a man's traumatized soul, is one of the actor's finest works. To put it mildly, Cage is magnificent. Pig is a portrait of many themes — leaving the viewer with several emotions to deconstruct all at once. Good pig.
Pig is rated R (Restricted) For Language and Some Violence.
See Pig in Select Theaters or Rent on VOD.
Directed by Michael Sarnoski
Starring Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, and Adam Arkin.
Are You Alright? is a 15-minute Short film that tackles America's work-related trauma and the mental health crisis confining many people to a new stressful reality.
Writer-director Alessio Summerfield's Are You Alright? will grapple ahold of your psyche, sending your emotions to claustrophobic territories. The premise of this Short is structured as just "another day in the office," but soon we realize that our main protagonist, Wallace (a strong Jaan Marion), is trapped in a paranoia world trying to balance his work-life. Wallace seems to be stuck in dream-like sequences torturing his soul. These sequences are fueled with suspense and claustrophobia — we see hundreds of old telephone lines and wires begin to strangle Wallace in an open green field, giving off Lynchian vibes. There are surreal and sinister forces that parallel throughout this Short, thanks to Summerfield's vivid direction.
There are many scenes where there is the numbing sound of a telephone ringing constantly in Wallace's head, slowly making waves into the viewer's subconscious. As the memos, agreements, and reports begin to pile up, suffocating Wallace, he starts to have a mental breakdown. Slowly, we see Wallace lose sight of what's real and what's in his head. This is where Summerfield succeeds, tackling the mental health crisis that is currently grappling our country. A crisis that feels all too real since we are still in the middle of a pandemic with no light at the end of the tunnel. During the last year, new fears and anxieties have run rapidly through individuals, myself included. Summerfield originally started to explore this concept of anger and frustration.
Summerfield's concept began to form through the physical and mental toll that the workplace puts on its employees. The cast and crew of Are You Alright? also helped collaborate with their own stories of stressful workplaces. Some of them even sought out therapy for work-related trauma. We see Wallace go through similar therapy sessions during this Short, trying to heal his broken state of mind. This contemporary Short of trauma comes across all too familiar for many Americans currently struggling in today's capitalistic force. Are You Alright? is smart in balancing both reality and paranoia. The toll of the never-ending workday can sometimes feel both mentally draining and suffocating. Are You Alright? hits the nail on the head with its topic and theme. It's worth your time.
Are You Alright? is Not Rated (NR).
Directed by Alessio Summerfield
Starring Jaan Marion, Ashley Santana, Cliff Mirabella, and Richard Ulrich.
Are You Alright? is available to watch on: https://www.alessiosummerfield.com/current-project
A Double Feature Review!
Black Widow is a great Marvel movie — half spy thriller, half superhero flick all packed with action throughout. Our MCU hero finally gets her time to shine in a worthy solo picture. Scarlett Johansson is strong as ever, while Florence Pugh steals every scene. Along with great performances from both David Harbour and Rachel Weisz. An entertaining standalone adventure. Black Widow is the first MCU movie back in theaters since 2019's Spider-Man: Far From Home. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a 2020 drought for Marvel, so it was a little refreshing seeing one of our favorite Avengers back on the big screen. Director Cate Shortland's (Lore and Berlin Syndrome) superhero film travels back in time, taking place after the events of 2016's Captain America: Civil War. During this time the Avengers have broken up, giving Shortland a chance to focus solely on Natasha Romanoff's (Johansson) story. I don't want to go into too much detail as far as the plot goes because I was to keep this review spoiler-free.
I will say, Black Widow had one of the best opening sequences in the MCU franchise, along with a killer opening title sequence (a cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Think Up Anger, featuring Malia J). Pugh also steals the show with every scene she's in, continuing her winning streak for grandeur performances (2019's Midsommar and Little Women). There are some flaws with this film, particularly with the final act. These action sequences seemed a little messier than the rest of the movie, along with trying to wrap up loose ends for the plot. However, these are minor, and they did not hold down the film as a whole. Black Widow also broke several pandemic box office records upon release, including $80 million for its opening weekend theatrical release. In addition, the film made $60 million in Disney+ global revenue in its opening weekend and has grossed over $270 million worldwide, becoming the sixth-highest-grossing film of 2021. All-in-all, it felt great seeing a Marvel flick back on the big screen, along with a worthy solo film for Johansson herself.
Black Widow is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Some Language | Intense Violence/Action | Thematic Material.
See in theaters, or watch on Disney+ via Premium Access.
Directed by Cate Shortland
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone, and O.T. Fagbenle.
In The Heights
I understand the hype now. In The Heights is a joyous celebration of community and culture. This vibrant and dazzling musical will sweep you off your feet. It’s a summer sensation that will have you dancing in the air. In The Heights is a story of family and dreams — Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) put the Latino community front and center. Based on Miranda's groundbreaking 2008 Broadway musical, In The Heights is a musical wonder that will capture your eyes and fill your heart. It's a fact that Latinx representation has been lacking in Hollywood over the years, so to see a big-budgeted Hollywood musical with a Latinx cast was refreshing. My wife, Glynis, is Peruvian-American, while my younger sister, Tatiana, is Colombian-American. Telling these stories is critical and will continue to be an important perspective for the future of filmmaking.
In The Heights takes place in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City — a neighborhood known for a large Dominican population on the upper Manhattan side. Translating a musicals stage production to film is no easy task, but Chu wonderfully executes that task. Our story follows a variety of characters throughout, but at its core, the story centers around Usnavi (a perfect Anthony Ramos). Usnavi is a bodega owner who looks after Abuela Claudia (a powerful Olga Merediz), the neighborhood matriarch and woman who raised him after his parents passed away. Merediz's song "Paciencia y Fe" will send chills down your spine and bring tears to your eyes. Usnavi dreams of winning the lottery someday so he can escape to the shores of the Dominican Republic. We also follow the stories of Vanessa (a strong Melissa Barrera), the girl Usnavi has a crush on working at the neighboring beauty salon; Benny (a captivating Corey Hawkins), a dispatcher; and Nina (a mesmerizing Leslie Grace), who has just returned from Standford after dropping out.
This is a close-knit community, as we see everyone's dreams sung out on the screen before your very eyes. In The Heights is beautifully shot and remarkably orchestrated throughout — capturing the magic of celebration and heritage. It's a shame that this film disappointed at the box office, only grossing $40 million against a $55 million budget. Don't let this discourage you from seeing this movie because it really does dazzle. In The Heights blends Latin culture, from its music to its more authentic touches — it even tackles DACA, Usnavi's cousin, Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), is a "Dreamer." In The Heights deserves your attention, so make sure you watch this film if you have not done so already. Let the music speak to your soul.
In The Heights is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) For Some Language and Suggestive References.
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Starring Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz IV, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco, Noah Catala, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
As promised, F9: The Fast Saga delivers big-dumb popcorn fun. Fueled with over-the-top action sequences, F9 keeps this series moving. I had a good time seeing it on the big screen with my family and, in the end, that’s all that matters.
What is there to say about F9? A cheesy, over-the-top action flick from a (somehow) 20-year-old franchise. My expectations were low for this film, and I came away mostly satisfied. I knew what to expect from this car racing turned spy thriller series — there was going to be nonstop action sequences, corny dialogue, a soap opera plot line, and Vin Diesel saying the word "family" about a hundred times throughout the movie. That's exactly what F9 was, just with a little more brainless action sequences and the word "family" was used on steroids. I personally think that this series should have ended on a high note with 2015's Furious 7, sending the late Paul Walker out on a swan song, but here we are, six years later, still chugging along.
This time around, Dom Toretto (Diesel) is living a quiet life off the grid with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his son, Brian. Cue, the evil bad brother, Jakob (John Cena), who is out terrorizing the world. Dom's past has finally caught up with him, so it's up to him and his team (Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Nathalie Emmanuel) to go out on a new mission and stop Jakob. See, the plot is kind of like a bad soap opera — Dom's long-lost brother Jakob has shown up out of thin air and is doing bad guy things. Yet, I can admit, that I was never bored with this film and the crazy action sequences kept me engaged. Director Justin Lin (who has directed a majority of these movies) uses his signature film trait of stunts and thrills, but this time he has turned the dial up to 11. My younger siblings had a blast seeing it in theaters, and I had a great time seeing it with them too.
So, with all of F9's flaws and eye rolls, I was entertained the entire time. F9 is definitely not the best Fast and Furious movie (looking at you, Fast Five), but it is also not the worst Fast and Furious movie either (looking at you, 2 Fast 2 Furious). For me, this movie comes in about mid-tier for the franchise. Universal says that it's making two more of these movies (10 and 11) and then calling it quits. But I will believe that when I see it. Of course, if Universal does decide to call it quits to the franchise's main storyline, then they are going to go crazy with the spin-offs. In the end, F9 rocks and rolls through the streets, with cars blazing and some even flying off to space. F9 also did give Han's (Sung Kang) character justice and a nice comeback, which I did appreciate. Gravity and logic went out the window for this franchise a long time ago. All in all, F9 delivered just enough brainless fun and action to keep me satisfied.
Want to hear more of my thoughts about F9, check this podcast review with my friends, Matt & Ashley, on their website, mashleymovies.com.
F9 is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Language | Action | Sequences of Violence.
Directed by Justin Lin
Starring "The Family" (Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Charlize Theron, John Cena, Sung Kang, Dame Helen Mirren, Finn Cole, Vinnie Bennett, and Kurt Russell).
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It adds some new scares to the franchise, yet this latest chapter to the horror series feels a bit weary and tiresome from the previous Conjuring films.
The Conjuring franchise has now made three linked Conjuring movies and five spin-off movies (Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, The Nun, The Curse of La Llorona, and Annabelle Comes Home). The Conjuring Trilogy has followed our main paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by a terrific Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. While the spin-off films have followed different aspects of The Conjuring universe, like the creepy Annabelle doll or the "Demon Nun." These spin-off films have felt more like a roller coaster — some stories were good, some stories were pretty bad. The first two Conjuring films (2013 and 2016) remain superior to this expanding horror franchise — giving us old-school scares and engrossing stories of different hauntings and supernatural activity.
Director James Wan (Saw, Furious 7, and Aquaman) crafted the two vastly frightening pictures from The Conjuring's chapters one and two. These two horror features gave off bone-chilling vibes that make you want to sleep with a night light on afterward. So, with chapter three coming in and changing up the formula, we essentially get a weaker horror film. The Devil Made Me Do It decides to go a different route and focus on a legal trial where a defendant (Ruairi O'Connor), who's accused of murder, claims to have been possessed by the devil himself (demonic possession). So, it's time for the Warrens to step in and investigate. The third chapter also adds in a new director, Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona), but keeps Wilson and Farmiga. As usual, Wilson and Farmiga's acting chops are strong as ever, but we are missing the noble craftsmanship from Wan.
Stripped away are the original spooks and scares — instead — Chaves tries to add more crime thrilling elements. The Devil Made Me Do It also borrows heavily from far superior horror movies, like The Exorcist (1973) and The Shining (1980). However, I will give the film's opening scene some major props, giving us an incredibly frightening and terrifying exorcism sequence. Unfortunately, as far as the story goes, the rest of the movie begins to peter off after that. The Conjuring franchise does not look like it's slowing down anytime soon. If Wilson and Farmiga continue to return, then I will, of course, continue to watch. Here's to hoping the next chapter with the Warrens goes back to the franchise's original horror roots and haunting atmosphere.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is rated R (Restricted) Terror | Some Disturbing Images | Violence.
Directed by Michael Chaves
Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O'Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, and John Noble.
Bo Burnham: Inside is a masterwork — funny, claustrophobic, and experimental. This one-man comedy-drama special is an immersive experience full of strong humor, dense commentary, and technical splendor. Inside is the must-watch Netflix special of the pandemic era. Five stars.
"But look, I made you some content
Daddy made you your favorite, open wide
Here comes the content
It's a beautiful day to stay inside"
How does one critique and analyze Inside? It's a special that already self-reflects and critiques itself during its 87-minute runtime. This is something that I have been struggling to put into words, showcasing the raw comedic talent that Bo Burnham confounds into his work. There is so much to unpack with Inside — a variety of art forms including musical numbers, stand-up comedy bits, and meta-commentary over this scary new world of ours. I believe Inside is the first true COVID era work that gets things right about how everyone was feeling during the pandemic and still is. Burnham constructs and dissects his own fears, anxieties, and how this pandemic has escalated it. This was how I truly connected with his special. Last year, I too struggled with certain fears and anxieties that grappled ahold of me. I continue to face those fears. Not only was I dealing with the fears of a virus I cannot see while also confined in my home, but my wife (Glynis) and I also went through two miscarriages. I began to go down a dark road of depression and sometimes used alcohol as a crutch to bear on during this hellscape world. Last Fall, I decided to break free from that crutch, and I have been doing better.
Watching Inside brought out my past and continued anxieties, which is why I was so captivated by this form of art. Written, directed, filmed, edited by, and starring Bo Burnham — Inside is a bold and sometimes scary comedy special of the world we live in. Recorded in his home during the COVID-19 pandemic without a crew or audience, Inside features a variety of songs and sketches about his day-to-day life indoors. Burnham depicts his deteriorating mental health, struggles with depression, and explores the relationship with his audience and technology. There is a raw talent that shines brightly with Burnham, as he forms together a creative tour de force of cabin fever. Inside marks Burnham's first return to stand-up since his 2016 special, Make Happy. During his tour for Make Happy, Burnham began to experience panic attacks, which is why he stepped away. While Burnham was focusing more on his mental health, he directed his first feature film, 2018's Eighth Grade. Eighth Grade is a coming-of-age comedy-drama film that follows a middle school teenager who struggles with anxiety but strives to gain social acceptance from her peers.
As a coping mechanism, Kayla (Elsie Fisher) publishes self-motivational video blogs on YouTube. Burnham also focused on Gen Z's time obsession over social media. Burnham also starred in several movies during his time away from stand-up, including The Big Sick, Rough Night, and 2020's Promising Young Woman. Inside is a presentation of life in the pandemic that incorporates social commentary around social media, capitalism, and systemic racism. Parts of Inside are laugh-out-loud funny, while other parts lack humor, giving off a horror-style vibe. Some parts of Inside feel journalistic in nature, while other areas feel like a well-written piece of theater. Burnham incorporates a variety of songs, like FaceTime with My Mom (Tonight), How the World Works, White Woman's Instagram, Sexting, Welcome to the Internet, 30, and That Funny Feeling. The first half of Inside is a roller coaster of emotions while trying to boost oneself with a medication of the giggles. Burnham's second half of the special takes a more serious turn, as our protagonist starts to lose grip with reality. Burnham's mental health begins to spiral down a rabbit hole. Part 2 is a horror-style nightmare that will run through your bones.
Our world feels on the brink of global collapse. As we make our way through a deadly virus, we are also struggling with climate change, systemic racism, genocide, poverty, and capitalistic tyrants. There is also the symbolism of Burnham resembling a Jesus-like figure. Burnham's hair and beard begin to grow longer, transforming into that figure. As Burnham's Jesus-like figure emerges into the world, he becomes cynical and passive-aggressive towards the art he created. Seeing his art has become nothing more than a product of greed. Inside also contextualizes the discourse of social media, and how it has become a sinister force in our society. Burnham's career began on YouTube, yet YouTube has also led to a rise in right-wing extremism. It's a struggle of realism that is also over-layered with the horrors of the digital world. "Am I going crazy? Would I even know? Am I right back where I started fourteen years ago?" Mental health is an important topic we need to talk about more. While finding ways to cope with one's anxieties is just as important. My continued writing was a way for me to cope with my fears, especially last year. Burnham puts these hard topics front and center for his newest feature. Inside might be one of the most beautiful, scary, and fascinating pieces of work I have watched in a long time. Burnham's newest special deserves all of the Emmys this Fall. Inside is simply a masterpiece.
Bo Burnham: Inside is rated TV-MA (Mature).
Written, directed, filmed, edited by, and starring Bo Burnham.
Now available to stream on Netflix.
A Triple, Disney, Review!
I enjoyed Cruella more than I thought I would. Exquisite costume and makeup designs, strong performances from both Emma’s (Stone and Thompson), and just an overall entertaining film. A great summer popcorn flick, I recommend seeing. Plus, actor Paul Walter Hauser was brilliant. Disney's live-action adaptions and remakes have been hit-or-miss in the past, so I did not know what to expect going in for Cruella. It turns out that Cruella was a wonderful surprise of fun storytelling and great acting leads. Emma Stone and Emma Thompson take the film to another dimension with their superb acting chops. Along with the mesmerizing costume and makeup designs, was the clear direction from director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl and I, Tonya). Cruella even featured lively '70s music with a killer soundtrack blasting throughout. So, this live-action feature follows the rebellious early days of Cruella de Vil — one of cinema's most notoriously fashionable villains.
Set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, we follow a young woman named Estella (Stone), a gifted and creative genius determined to make her designs famous. Estella befriends a pair of young thieves, Jasper and Horace (Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser), who enjoy her appetite for mischief and mayhem. Hauser's supporting career has been fun to watch. He has always given brilliant performances in the supporting role, whether it's films like BlacKkKlansman, Da 5 Bloods, Late Night, or I, Tonya — Hauser can do it all. One day, Baroness von Hellman (Thompson) sees one of Estella's works and is instantly captivated by it. A reign of terror wields over the Baroness and her power. After she takes Estella in, their strained relationship sets in motion a course of events that will cause Estella to embrace her more wicked side, AKA Cruella.
A revenge thriller with a dash of charm — Cruella surprised me in so many ways. Cruella had its opening premiere in Los Angeles on May 18, making it the first major red carpet event since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The film was released in U.S. theaters and available on Disney+ with Premier Access simultaneously on May 28. According to Samba TV, "the film was watched by about 686,000 American households in its debut weekend, resulting in around $20.57 million in revenue for Disney." Theatrically, Cruella has grossed $132 million worldwide since Memorial Day Weekend. In the end, go watch this enjoyable summer flick.
Cruella is now playing in theaters and or is available to purchase (Premium Access) on Disney+.
I got to experience Cruella at the wonderful Skyview Drive-In in Belleville, IL.
Cruella is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Thematic Elements | Some Violence.
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mark Strong, Jamie Demetriou , and John McCrea.
Raya and the Last Dragon
Raya and the Last Dragon is a great family film with gorgeous animation and a story with a big heart. Awkwafina & Kelly Marie Tran are both wonderful as the film’s two leading roles. I highly recommend this one. It’s now free to watch on Disney+. Disney continues their push for more inclusion and representation in its newer works, and Raya reaffirms why that is so important. Raya follows the story of a South-East Asian heroine and her culture, marking a first for Disney to tell a story like this in their 90-year history. Actress Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico from The Last Jedi) also made history by voicing Disney's first South-East Asian Princess with her role as Raya in the film. Having a sister who is Asian-American, it is great to see more people of color represented on the big screen, telling their stories to younger audiences from all over the world. Director's Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada's (Big Hero 6 and 2018's Blindspotting) film takes place in a fictional realm known as Kumandra, a fantasy world that’s home to five tribes. Each of the five tribes has its own distinct culture, inspired by different places in South-East Asia. A region home to 11 countries and 673 million people.
In Kumandra, humans, and dragons once lived together in harmony, until sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land. To save humanity from the Drunns, the dragons sacrificed themselves. Now, some 500 years later, those same sinister monsters have returned, and it's up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the last dragon to wipe out the Druuns for good. Cue Awkwafina as the last dragon in existence named Sisu. As always, Awkwafina (The Farewell, Crazy Rich Asians, and Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens) is a total blast as the voice of Sisu. She's funny and charming as ever, while she'll slap a smile on your face in every scene. Along the way, Raya and Sisu pick up companions — including Boun (voiced by Izaac Wang), a charismatic 10-year-old entrepreneur; a toddler-age con artist named Noi (voiced by Thalia Tran) and her trio of monkey-like friends; and Tong (voiced by Benedict Wong), a difficult but kind-hearted warrior giant. But where there are friends, there are also enemies.
Trying to stop Raya from gathering up all of the dragon gems is her foe Namaari (voiced by Gemma Chan). Raya and the Last Dragon is a great family film that showcases the importance of trust, courage, and representation. Due to the ongoing pandemic, Raya was released to theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access simultaneously. As of June 17, Raya has grossed $54.3 million in the U.S. and Canada, and $79 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $133.3 million. Now free to watch on Disney+, you won't be disappointed. Plus, Us Again might be one of the most heartwarming and lovely short films I have seen in a long time. A beautifully directed and choreographed short that will fill your eyes with wonder and make your heart full. Us Again marks Walt Disney Animation's first theatrical short in five years. A splendid reference to Gene Kelly's Singin' in the Rain, with an interracial couple that shines brightly on the big screen. Director Zach Parrish's (head of animation on Big Hero 6) non-verbal, musical wonderland will sweep you off your feet. A youthful liberation on life and love, Us Again is a must-watch.
Raya and the Last Dragon & Us Again are both free to stream on Disney+.
Raya is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Some Violence | Action | Thematic Elements.
Directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada
Starring Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Jona Xiao, Sandra Oh, Thalia Tran, Lucille Soong, and Alan Tudyk.
Luca is a beautiful film, full of the vivid, imaginative freedoms of being a kid. One of Pixar’s sweetest films to date. Luca’s infectious joy will fill your heart with wonder. Now streaming on Disney+, oh how I wish it could have been released to theaters. “Silenzio, Bruno!” Pixar's Luca is a breath of fresh air — colorful and full of magic, Luca paints a beautiful portrait of friendship and freedom. An animated feature so rich and full of life, you'll have a smile from ear to ear by the end of the movie. Pixar's latest feature is similar in style to the likes of Studio Ghibli, while its storytelling hits a sweet spot on a warm summer day. The film takes place in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, while we follow the fun coming-of-age story about one young sea monster in the water, turned boy on land. Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) will soon experience a summer like no other, filled with gelato, pasta, and endless scooter rides.
Luca gets to shares these grand adventures with his newfound best friend, Alberto (voice of Jack Dylan Grazer). Yet, their fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: they are sea monsters under the water, and when they are on land, they transform into humans. Luca marks as director Enrico Casarosa's (2011's La Luna short film) directorial feature debut. Just as La Luna captured your heart back in 2011, Luca will do the same. Luca and Alberto make their way to the seaside town, where they meet and befriend Giulia (voiced by Emma Berman), an 'underdog' girl who wants to win the town's Portorosso Cup Race. But, she has to continue to face the town's bully, Ercole Visconti (voiced by Saverio Raimondo). Luca and Alberto decide to team up with Giulia, so they can win the Cup Race's prize money, and buy their very own Vespa.
It's off to the races for our 'underdog' team, but will their watery secret reach the surface? I'll let you watch and find out on your own. Casarosa's film design and animation were both inspired by the hand-drawn and stop motion works of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Casarosa described his creation as a way that "pays homage to Federico Fellini and other classic Italian filmmakers, with a dash of Miyazaki in the mix too." Luca teaches lessons on friendship, acceptance, and embracing one's differences. If only Luca could have been experienced on the big screen. But, do not let that stop you from watching this cute picture from the comfort of your home. Like ice cream on a warm summer day, Luca hits the sweet spot.
Luca is now streaming on Disney+.
Luca is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Some Thematic Elements | Brief Violence | Rude Humor | Language.
Directed by Enrico Casarosa
Starring Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Maya Rudolph, Giacomo Gianniotti, Jim Gaffigan, Sandy Martin, Francesca Fanti, Gino D'Acampo, Marco Barricelli, and Saverio Raimondo.
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