A Double Feature SLIFF Review!
Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman is a beautiful portrait of childhood. She crafts an exquisite movie full of love, loss, and hope. Petite Maman is a deep meditation on grief that is both richly rewarding and emotionally resonant. Clocking in at only 72-minutes: Sciamma’s film is a perfect picture. 5-stars. French director Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Girlhood, and Tomboy) has crafted together another beautiful work of art. With Petite Maman, Sciamma infuses delicacy and care into her newest picture. Back in November of 2019, I was able to see Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire at the St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF). Now, two years later, I am back at SLIFF seeing another Sciamma movie. It was marvelous. Our story follows eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), who has gone back to her mother's childhood home. Nelly's grandmother has just passed away, and her parents are there to go through and clean out the house.
While Nelly's parents are busy, she decides to explore the surrounding woods. Here, she encounters Marion (Gabrielle Sanz), a girl exactly Nelly's age and bears a striking resemblance. Nelly and Marion become fast friends, sharing lunches, constructing a forest hut together, and talking about life-changing events. Marion is only days away from going to the hospital for an operation. Petite Maman is an exquisite coming-of-age story full of love, discovery, and heartache. Sciamma's movie is a hidden gem that will slowly sneak up on you until it hits you like a shot to the heart. You will be overwhelmed with emotions while the screen overflows with intimacy and warmth. Petite Maman may be a short movie, but its power in storytelling is one of the strongest features to be released this year. Enchanting and deeply personal: Petite Maman is this year's top jewel. A masterclass.
Petite Maman is not rated (NR).
Directed by Céline Sciamma
Starring Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Stéphane Varupenne, Nina Meurisse, and Margo Abascal.
Petite Maman had its world premiere at the 71st Berlin International Film Festival on 3 March 2021.
Memoria challenges the common features of traditional storytelling: boundary-pushing and slow-burning. Memoria is a hypnotic experience that sinks its teeth into your brain. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film is wildly unique. See it if it comes to your city because you won’t get another chance. Memoria is an experimental picture, leaving your head in a daze. There is some lyrical and deeply cinematic about Weerasethakul's newest feature. One that you cannot shake, sticking with you long after the end of the credits. Weerasethakul's (Cemetery of Splendor and Syndromes and a Century) films have always been in their own category of high art, as the director constructs and deconstructs the way we watch and experience movies. With Memoria, Weerasethakul takes that experience to another level. Neon has chosen an interesting route of a never-ending release in the United States. Meaning, rather than a traditional platform release to multiple theaters simultaneously: the film will be rolled out with a “deliberate and methodical approach,” Neon says. “Moving from city to city, theater to theater, week by week, playing in front of only one solitary audience at any given time.”
This is a wild idea, one that I was not so sure of going into the movie at the 2021 St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF). But after the experience, I completely understand Neon's method. The sound quality and mixing in a theater for Memoria is what truly makes the film so captivating. One would completely lose out on that encounter if watched at home. It would not and could not be the same. Think Memoria as being a kind of never-ending, moving-image art exhibit. The film will only play in theaters, never becoming available on DVD, VOD, or streaming. Memoria begins with Jessica (a fantastic Tilda Swinton) waking up to a loud sonic boom. With this boom and noise, Jessica cannot get out of her head. Jessica travels all over Bogotá to get answers and then begins to travel deep into the Colombian jungle. Memoria is a film full of deep meditation and re-awaking. It is an experience like no other.
Memoria is not rated (NR).
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Starring Tilda Swinton, Elkin Díaz, Jeanne Balibar, Juan Pablo Urrego, and Daniel Giménez Cacho.
Memoria had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on 15 July 2021.
A Double Feature Review, B&W Edition!
Passing is a beautiful directorial debut from Rebecca Hall. The black-and-white images are striking, while the story and themes are delicately wrapped. There's an elegance to Hall's picture. Plus, actors Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga are both magnificent throughout. Actor, writer, and now director Rebecca Hall showcases a strong directorial debut with Passing. Hall's debut feature is based on author Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same name. Hall moves the location of the story from Chicago to New York but keeps every other element of Larsen’s extraordinary story. Both Thompson and Negga's acting in this film are rich, drawing the viewer in slowly. The title, Passing, refers to Black or mixed-race people "passing" as white as a way to survive in this country. The United States is a country deeply rooted in racism and white supremacy and, sadly, still is to this day. Hall superbly tackles these thorny themes with delicacy and awareness.
By shooting her picture literally in black-and-white allowed the story to blossom through detailed imagery and poignant symbolism. Our story follows Irene (Thompson), a light-skinned Black woman living in Harlem, who meets a childhood friend, Clare (Negga), by chance at a New York City hotel. The Ethiopian-Irish actress (Negga) is just as radiant as she was in her 2016 performance of Loving. Here, Irene identifies as African-American and is married to a Black doctor (André Holland), but Clare "passes" as white and has married a wealthy white man (Alexander Skarsgård) from Chicago. This discovery turns Irene's world upside down. Negga and Thompson are both stellar scene after scene. I hope they get a lot of recognition this awards season and maybe even Oscar noms. Hall's engrossing film highlights how the United States is still a country deeply control by whiteness, even to this very day. It's a picture that is captures of horrors of real-life experiences and has a lot to say. In the end, Passing is a movie that cuts you deep.
Passing is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Thematic Material | Some Racial Slurs | Smoking.
Stream it now on Netflix
Directed by Rebecca Hall
Starring Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Bill Camp, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, and Alexander Skarsgård.
Belfast is simply marvelous. I was completely captivated from beginning to end. Director Kenneth Branagh's (Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Thor, and 2015's Cinderella) black-and-white crowd-pleaser will tug away at your heartstrings. A movie that screams Oscars, and if this wins Best Picture next year, I would be okay with that. What a wonder. Belfast is a superb movie about childhood, family, and community. Branagh's film is well-crafted and delicately wrapped with love and care. Branagh's picture works as a semi-autobiographical story of a working-class family trying to survive during The Troubles in Belfast, Northern Ireland, from August 1969 to early 1970. Mostly, we are shown the perspective of Buddy (newcomer Jude Hill), the family's youngest son. Belfast is a love letter to the city and the people of Belfast, Northern Ireland. This is a picture that will make you both laugh and cry multiple times throughout the movie. Branagh's feature tells a complex story deeply rooted in political and social turmoil. Belfast is also a feature that is rich in texture, layering the story's impact like a gut punch. Belfast is a beauty scene after scene. Actors Caitríona Balfe and Jamie Dornan as Buddy's Ma and Pa are both terrific throughout.
Balfe gives a powerful performance; while Dornan continues to work his acting chops. Dornan's scene where he sings Everlasting Love by Love Affair will fill your heart with eternal joy. After last Spring's Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar and, now Belfast, Dornan has won me over. He is magnificent. Actors Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds warm the screen as Buddy's grandparents. There were a few scenes that left me in awe. These scenes were when Buddy attended a local stage play or saw a movie at the theater. Here, Branagh used color in only what was playing on the stage play or on the movie screen. Everything else, like Buddy and his family, was still in black-and-white. There was something spectacular about these sequences, as Branagh blended both color and black-and-white. You will be in awe; while humming to the tune of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) — the movie Buddy and his family are watching. Belfast will most likely be a favorite this awards season. Right now, I am okay with that because this is a wonderful little movie. You will laugh, cheer, and be inspired. Belfast is a reason why cinema is so captivating. In the end, the theater is where I go to escape.
Belfast is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Strong Language | Some Violence.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring, Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, and Jude Hill.
A Double Feature Review!
Eternals is an enormous film: ambitious, emotionally resonant, and visually stunning. Oscar-winner Chloé Zhao (The Rider and Nomadland) has put her stamp into the superhero realm. Full of mythos and a diverse cast, Zhao’s film reaches for the stars. It’s not without some flaws in the writing, pacing, and it’s too long. But damn those imperfections, Eternals is marvelous. Coming in at No. 26 for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Zhao's Eternals is one of the boldest visions of this long-running superhero franchise. After just winning Best Director and Best Picture for her film Nomadland last April, Zhao is one of the most requested directors in Hollywood right now. Zhao brings everything that she has done with her previous three pictures (Songs My Brothers Taught Me, The Rider, and Nomadland) — vividly beautiful scenes, on-location shooting, and a humane story at its core. Eternals heavily focuses on the characters, their love, pain, and hope. This is something Zhao loves to focus in on, asking the question of what does it mean to be human?
Though all of the characters in this picture are gods, Zhao still took the deconstructive approach to superheroes. Here, she forced them to question their own purpose in the world, through reflective and melancholy beats, narratively speaking. By doing it this way, Zhao subverted critics' and audiences' expectations of what they have come to expect in an MCU movie and superhero movies in general. I believe this was one of the reasons why Zhao's picture has been looked upon more harshly and divisively by critics. Yes, Eternals often tries so desperately to reach for the stars and, at times, stumbles, but at least it tries. Eternals also showcases the MCU's most diverse cast consisting of Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie. Zhao's Eternals features an interesting new team of superheroes, an immortal race of superpowered beings who have been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years. Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, an unexpected tragedy forces them out of the shadows to reunite against mankind's most ancient enemy, the Deviants. Zhao's movie juggles multiple storylines and periods, jumping back and forth between present and past. Chan plays Sersi, who has a romance with Ikaris (played by Madden). But their love has fallen apart over the many years.
Sersi is incredibly empathic, while she can transform matter through physical contact. Ikaris is the Eternal who can fly and his character is heavily inspired by Zack Snyder's Superman portrayal in 2013's Man of Steel. Zhao also took the MCU to a more mature level by giving Sersi and Ikaris an actual sex scene. Nanjiani plays Kingo, who has become one of Bollywood's most famous actors, while McHugh plays Sprite, who is dissatisfied with humanity. Tyree Henry plays Phastos, who is the team's most powerful inventor. Phastos has started a family with his husband, and they have a son in Chicago. Eternals is also the first MCU movie to portray an LGBTQ+ family, continuing to show why representation matters. Ridloff plays Makkari, an Eternal with super speed. Makkari's character is also deaf, and Ridloff is a real deaf actress. Ridloff's acting chops are stellar throughout, showcasing one of the movie's best performances. Makkari has a bit of a fling with Druig (played by Keoghan). Lee plays Gilgamesh, the strongest Eternal, who has been watching over an unwell Thena (played by Jolie). Lastly, Hayek plays Ajak, the leader of the group. It's a ton of characters and ground to cover, which is why Eternals does become stretched throughout the movie. But I was always awed and inspired by Zhao's interpretation of these superpowered gods. She has left her mark on the superhero realm. In the end, this is her story to tell. It was marvelous.
Eternals is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Fantasy Violence and Action | Brief Sexuality | Some Language.
Directed by Chloé Zhao
Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie.
Finch doesn't break new ground in the post-apocalyptic story, but it's a movie that is both emotionally resonant and strongly acted by Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks + doggy + 2 robots = a sci-fi road trip with a big heart. Finch is a wonderful little movie with a lot to say. Director Miguel Sapochnik's (director of several Game of Thrones and Masters of Sex episodes) robot road trip through the apocalyptic wasteland will tug away at your heartstrings. With Finch, Hanks gives the audience another powerful performance that we have come to know over the years. Our story follows a robotics engineer named Finch (Hanks), who lives alone with his dog Goodyear and a helper-robot Dewey (think WALL·E) in an underground St. Louis laboratory. Ten years have passed since a solar flare destroyed the ozone layer, turning the Earth into a largely uninhabitable wasteland ravaged by extreme weather. Finch has just created an advanced humanoid robot companion, who goes by the name of Jeff (voiced by Caleb Landry Jones). Because the weather is becoming too extreme, Finch decides to pack up and take his companions across the country to San Francisco in his heavily modified motorhome. During the journey into a desolate American West, we also learn about Finch's undisclosed terminal illness he is also dealing with. Hanks gives us another superb performance. One that is both raw and cunning, while Jones' voice acting for Jeff cuts deep. Finch is a movie I did not realize that I needed. Who knew that so much heart could go into a little picture about a man, his dog, and robots. Finch might not add anything new to this worn-out apocalyptic genre, but it's one that speaks directly to the soul.
Finch is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
Stream it now on Apple TV+
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik
Starring Tom Hanks, a dog, and two robots.
Last Night in Soho was not at all what I expected, and this was not a bad thing. Soho is thrilling, visually engaging, and strongly acted (Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy).
Writer-director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Baby Driver) flashes ambition and style scene after scene. Plus, the movie had a killer soundtrack. I did have issues with the film's third act, where the writing got topsy-turvy and, at times, started to fall apart. There were too many directions that the movie wanted to go, along with too many twists. Overall, Soho is still a bloody good time. When it dazzles, it dazzles. When it drags, it drags. McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy's stellar performances kept me engaged scene after scene. Along with the picture's outstanding 60's soundtrack and production-costume design, Soho is another worthy entry to Wright's filmography. Soho marks Wright's seventh film and his second feature released this year, in addition to his 2021 documentary on the Sparks brothers, titled The Sparks Brothers. Our movie follows Eloise (McKenzie), an aspiring fashion designer; who occasionally sees her mother's ghost in mirrors. Eloise (Ellie for short) has something like the "shine." She has also just moved to London to study fashion. After becoming unhappy in the residence's hall because of her terrible roommate, Ellie decides to move out. She moves into a bedsit owned by an elderly woman (the late Diana Rigg).
Here, Ellie is mysteriously able to enter the 1960's when she falls asleep in her bed. Cue the glittery streets and neon glowing signs of a 1960's London that's a feast before your eyes. Ellie encounters a dazzling wannabe singer named Sandie (Taylor-Joy) and a sly man named Jack (Matt Smith). The special effects during these dancing sequences as our focus shifts back and forth between Ellie and Sandie will wow you. It's pretty impressive, to say the least. Yet, this 60's glamour is more than a dream of the past. Soon, Ellie's reality begins to crack beneath her feet, unveiling something much darker. I'll stop there at the plot — otherwise — I will give too much away. Soho starts out as a drama, then switches gears to a psychological thriller, and then proceeds to jump into full-on horror. Wright's picture juggles a lot of genres, which does boggle down the movie's momentum at times. That's not to say that Soho is a bad movie by any means, it's not. My biggest criticism comes with parts of the movie's writing. But Wright's latest picture is a good and entertaining flick. One that I had a lot of fun watching from beginning to end. Soho's production and costume designs are to die for, on top of that, we get some hefty acting chops showcased by both McKenzie and Taylor-Joy. So, sit back and let the sweet sounds of the 60's take ahold of you, sending your mind into a trance-like state.
Last Night in Soho is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Brief Drug Material | Bloody Violence | Brief Graphic Nudity | Language | Sexual Content.
Sadly, Soho is not playing in many theaters right now because it did not do well at the Box Office. However, it is now available to rent on VOD!
Want to hear more of my thoughts about Soho? I spoke with my good friends, Matt and Ashley, on their podcast, Mashely at the Movies | Listen Here.
Directed by Edgar Wright
Starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Michael Ajao, Terence Stamp, and the late Diana Rigg.
Spencer plays like a Greek tragedy. Writer-director Pablo Larraín’s film is meticulously crafted from beginning to end. Actress Kristen Stewart is a marvel as Diana. She wows in every frame. With beautiful cinematography and a somber score, it’s a film full of symbolism. A masterclass. Five-stars.
A fable from a true tragedy.
Spencer is not your average movie-going experience, as Larraín (2012's No, 2016's Jackie, and 2021's Ema) throws the viewers into the mind of Diana, Princess of Wales (a phenomenal Stewart). Spencer is a fable based on real-life people, allowing Larraín the freedom to craft the picture the way he wanted to. During this biographical-psychological drama, we follow Diana's every move. She experiences three days of hell during the Christmas festivities at the Queen's Sandringham Estate. Larraín studies everything we know that the Princess went through and struggled with — loneliness, anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder. Larraín showcases the humanistic side of Diana, evaluating the importance of mental health. While actress Kristen Stewart has never been better. She nailed Diana's mannerisms down to a T, even exquisitely capturing her voice. Stewart gives off one of the very best performances of the year. A performance so good that it has Oscars written all over it. I know that The Academy will nominate her. But I also hope she wins Best Actress next year. We will see.
Alongside Stewart's cunning performance; is a jazzy score (composer Jonny Greenwood), luscious cinematography (Claire Mathon, who did 2019's Portrait of a Lady on Fire), and breathtaking production and costume designs (Guy Hendrix Dyas and Jacqueline Durran). With all of these elements blending together, Larraín has crafted a beautiful work of art; that is also both raw and deep. The film starts with the marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles in shambles. A divorce is around the corner through betrayal and rumors of affairs. Peace needs to be maintained during the Christmas festivities of eating, drinking, shooting, and hunting. Diana knows the drill, but will she abide by it this year? In Spencer, Larraín imagines what might have happened during those three fateful days (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day). Actor Jack Farthing plays Charles, Prince of Wales. He's cold and cruel, just like the Prince himself. We also have some incredible supporting actors like Timothy Spall, Sean Harris, and Sally Hawkins filling the screen. Spall plays Equerry Major Alistair Gregory, a former military officer overseeing the weekend’s activities. Gregory also watches out for Diana. Spall's fictitious character was based on David Walker. Harris plays Darren McGrady, the Royal Head Chef, while Hawkins plays Maggie, Diana's Royal Dresser.
You can feel everyone in the background rooting for Diana to succeed that it pulls at your heartstrings. There's a scene where Diana plays a game with her two boys, William and Harry (Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry), that beautifully captures their bond. It's sweet, funny, and warm. We can see Diana's joy of being a mother break through her brokenness. It was my favorite scene from the whole film. Through this nightmarish tale, Spencer offers a glimpse into what Diana might have gone through, while it's also chock-full of metaphors. Larraín's drama gives off The Shining-esque vibes scene after scene, clawing its way underneath your skin. Spencer is a masterful film, creating tension and drama all on the backbone of Stewart's marvelous acting chops. She's the moment right now, and she shines from beginning to end. I was gobsmacked by this psychological feature. A picture that is humanizing but also incredibly humble to its main protagonist. Spencer never loses sight of her, always keeping her focused to the story's core. Spencer is one of the best movies of the year and one that has also stuck with me long after the credits ended. Go see it in theaters. Simply, a masterclass.
Spencer is rated R (Restricted) Some Language.
Directed by Pablo Larraín
Starring Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing, Sean Harris, and Sally Hawkins.
The Harder They Fall is a total blast: bloody, stylistic, and energetic.
We ain’t no nincompoop. — Regina King
Writer-director Jeymes Samuel’s dazzling Western is also backed by a phenomenal cast (Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, and Edi Gathegi). Samuel's Revisionist Western is a shoot-them-up picture from start to finish. You will have a lot of fun! The Harder They Fall is a great directorial debut from Samuel, offering an exciting Western extravaganza with an all-Black cast. In this new Western adventure, we meet real-life cowboys (Nat Love, Rufus Buck, Stagecoach Mary, Bass Reeves, Cherokee Bill, James Beckwourth, and Bill Pickett), but the story in this film is fictionalized. Without having to worry about historical inaccuracies, Samuel was able to craft the picture the way he wanted to. Our movie follows Nat Love (an excellent Majors), an outlaw who discovers his enemy, Rufus Buck (a strong Elba), has escaped from prison. Wanting to avenge the death of his parents, who died at the hands of Buck, Love decides to reunite his old gang.
Majors has been on my radar ever since I saw his captivating performance in The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019). Whether it's Atticus Freeman (Lovecraft Country, 2020) or He Who Remains (Loki, 2021), Majors always brings his A-game — showing off those acting chops. It was also great to see Majors as a leading actor for this movie. With Love's gang, we have Stagecoach Mary (a fantastic Beetz), Bass Reeves (a never better Lindo), James Beckwourth (a hot-handed Cyler), Bill Pickett (a smooth Gathegi), and Cuffee (a wonderful Deadwyler). On the flipside, with Buck's gang, we have Trudy Smith (a fierce King) and Cherokee Bill (a sly Stanfield). On top of there being strong acting, Samuel also layers this Western with stylized violence and an energetic score (original music by Jay-Z). The action set pieces are wild, exploding with fun and mayhem throughout. The Hard They Fall is one of this year's most exciting pictures and, in the end, will also go down as a great Western too. Go watch it.
The Harder They Fall is rated R (Restricted) Strong Violence | Language.
Stream it now on Netflix.
Directed by Jeymes Samuel
Starring Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, Deon Cole, and Damon Wayans Jr.
We finally saw The French Dispatch: a film we have been waiting to see for the last 15 months and it was a marvelous experience. The French Dispatch is Wes Anderson’s most Wes Anderson film to date, and we loved it.
Warning: Minor Plot Spoilers in this Review.
Glynis and I agreed that it doesn’t hit the same heights as 2014's The Grand Budapest Hotel or 2012's Moonrise Kingdom, but it’s still a wonderful film. There are three engrossing stories with marvelous production and costume designs. Plus, that zany and witty Anderson touch. An ode to journalism. Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox and Rushmore) takes his eccentric aesthetic and cranks it up to an eleven in The French Dispatch. In Anderson's latest adventure, we follow three unique anthology stories: The Concrete Masterpiece, Revisions to a Manifesto, and The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner. Each of these stories stand on their own, with only Arthur Howitzer Jr. (a fantastic Bill Murray), the editor of the newspaper The French Dispatch, who is connected to them all. The film starts with Howitzer Jr. dying suddenly of a heart attack. According to his will, publications of The French Dispatch are to be suspended following one final farewell issue, in which three articles from past editions of the newspaper are to be republished, along with an obituary. Anderson then immediately goes through these three stories and the journalists who wrote them.
Writer J.K.L. Berensen (a wonderful Tilda Swinton) tells the story of The Concrete Masterpiece. This was my favorite story from the movie. Moses Rosenthaler (a strong Benicio del Toro) is a mentally disturbed artist serving time-in prison for murder. While Rosenthaler is in prison, he paints an abstract nude portrait of Simone (a captivating Léa Seydoux), a prison officer, and Rosenthaler's muse. Julien Cadazio (a chaotic Adrien Brody) is an art dealer serving a sentence for tax evasion, who is completely wowed by the painting after seeing it in the prisoner art exhibition and immediately buys it. Upon Cadazio's release from prison, he displays Rosenthaler's painting through art exhibitors. Rosenthaler and his name soon become a sensation in the art world, making his paintings in high demand. But privately, Rosenthaler is struggling with inspiration and decides to only devote himself to one long-term project.
This bond between del Toro and Seydoux will capture your soul as Anderson jumps back and forth between color and black-and-white scenes (he also does this in story No. 2 and 3). The Concrete Masterpiece is a marvelous experience through beauty, pain, and desire. In Revisions to a Manifesto, we follow Lucinda Krementz (a strong Frances McDormand), who reports on a student protest in the streets of Ennui (a fictional town). This protest will soon boil over into what will be known as the "Chessboard Revolution." Zeffirelli (a witty Timothée Chalamet) is the self-styled leader of the student revolt and is currently writing his manifesto. Krementz tries to maintain "journalistic integrity" but begins to have a brief romance with Zeffirelli. There's also Juliette (newcomer Lyna Khoudri), a fellow revolutionary who is unimpressed with Zeffirelli's manifesto. Throughout the "Chessboard Revolution" and even long after it is over, Zeffirelli and his image become a symbol of that very movement.
Lastly, our third and final story is known as The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner. We follow a food journalist, Roebuck Wright (a magnificent Jeffrey Wright), who recounts the story of him attending a private dinner with The Commissaire (a stern Mathieu Amalric), prepared by the legendary police officer and chef Lt. Nescaffier (a splendid Stephen Park). However, during the dinner, the Commissaire's son Gigi (Winston Ait Hellal) is kidnapped and held for ransom by criminals. This leads to a cat-and-mouse game of trying to save Gigi and eliminate the kidnappers. Yet the criminals may have one weakness in that delicious food Lt. Nescaffier prepares. Anderson's zany humor runs wild in this last tale — fast tracking shots, a glowing production design, and even some animation. The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner was Glynis' favorite story from this picture. The French Dispatch is a wild charade of Anderson's wacky world that will fully consume you. It was an absolute delight to finally see this movie in the theaters. The French Dispatch is colorful, artistic, and layered with the craftsmanship of Anderson himself. This production allowed the director to let loose, spilling his bizarre aesthetic throughout the screen.
"It began as a holiday. Eager to escape a great future on the Great Plains, Arthur Howitzer Jr., transformed a series of travelogue columns into the French Dispatch. A factual report on the subjects of world politics, the arts, high and low, and diverse stories of human interest."
Here's my personal ranking of Wes Anderson's filmography: Click Here.
The French Dispatch is rated R (Restricted) Language | Graphic Nudity | Some Sexual References.
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Elisabeth Moss, Jason Schwartzman, Tony Revolori, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, Liev Schreiber, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Owen Wilson, and Bill Murray.
Dune is a lot to take in. The sheer scope and size of this film are epic. Denis Villeneuve's cinematic sandcastle is a meticulous and astonishing work of art. From the acting to the visuals; to that roaring score by Hans Zimmer, Dune will sweep you off your feet. Bring on Part Two!
Dreams are messages from the deep.
If you watch Dune, I would advise you to try and see it on the biggest screen possible. I first watched Dune from the comfort of my home when it was released to HBO Max and theaters. After I finished watching it, I decided that this was a film that needed to be experienced in the theater. So, the next weekend I headed to the movie theater and watched Dune on the big screen. Writer-director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and Sicario) showcases his cinematic physique through the lens of a camera. The ending result leaves us with a film so grand in scale it's, at times, hard to comprehend. Because Dune is so robust and ambitious, it does pitfall the movie in some but not all areas. These pitfalls are relatively small, as I was engrossed with an epic sand odyssey reaching for the stars. All of the actors are phenomenal in the picture: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Chang Chen, David Dastmalchian, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, and Zendaya.
The actor that stood out the most and stole every scene was Ferguson. Her acting chops as Paul's (Chalamet) Bene Gesserit mother sent ripple waves through the picture. Like many Villeneuve films, Dune is a movie that takes its time in storytelling. Villeneuve builds his universe through patient storytelling, leaving us with strongly developed characters and a juicy plot of religion and politics. Dune: Part One is the first of a planned two-part adaptation of the 1965 novel by Frank Herbert, essentially covering the first half of Herbert's work. Set in the far future (year 10191), Paul Atreides (a strong Chalamet) is a gifted young man who has been born into a great destiny. Assigned by the Empire, the House Atreides must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe, Arrakis, to be their fief rulers. The planet of Arrakis is known for its harsh deserts and is the only source of spice. Spice is a valuable substance that extends human vitality and is critical for interstellar travel. Watch out for those pesky and ginormous sandworms. Because Paul is gifted, he has dreams and visions of future events to come. One of these constant visions is of a young Fremen woman named Chani (Zendaya, who only has 7 minutes of screen time). It has been confirmed that Zendaya's role will be significantly greater in Dune: Part Two. For now, we get close-up shots of Zendaya roaming the desert, staring deep into your soul, like a perfume commercial.
The Fremen are a native population to the spice planet — known for their striking blue eyes and skillful fighting. Paul is the ducal heir of House Atreides, while his father (an attractive Oscar Isaac) is the current Duke of House Atreides. Isaac crafts a strong father figure throughout the picture, from his grayish beard to his solemn stance. The Duke is prepping Paul to be the next leader of the House Atreides, even if he doesn't want it. Brolin plays Gurney, the weapons master of House Atreides and one of Paul's mentors. Smile more Gurney! Momoa plays Duncan, the swordmaster of House Atreides and one of Paul's other mentors. Skarsgård plays Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, House Harkonnen, the enemy to House Atreides. Skarsgård Baron is an enormous slug-like creature who, apparently, doesn't know what clothes are. Bautista plays Glossu Rabban, Baron's hot-headed nephew. Henderson plays Thufir Hawat, the Mentat of House Atreides. I really enjoyed seeing Henderson in this role, parasols and all.
Dastmalchian plays Piter De Vries, the Mentat of House Harkonnen. Chen plays Dr. Wellington Yueh, a Suk doctor of House Atreides. Keep a close eye on this doctor. Duncan-Brewster plays Dr. Liet-Kynes, the Imperial ecologist on the planet Arrakis. Lastly, Bardem plays Stilgar, the leader of the Fremen tribe at Sietch Tabr. That's a lot of characters, but Villeneuve, along with co-writers Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth, know how to work the material. Slap a monstrous score by Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Gladiator, Inception, and The Dark Knight), along with breathtaking visuals by Cinematographer Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, Foxcatcher, and Lion), and you're in for a show. As of now, Dune has grossed $300 million worldwide and has been greenlit for a sequel. Villeneuve's Dune: Part Two will be coming exclusively to theaters in October 2023. For now, we have been given one of the best films and best science fiction epics of the year. Through Dune's visuals, scope, and sheer ambition, Villeneuve's creation can take a bow.
Dune is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Some Disturbing Images | Sequences of Strong Violence | Suggestive Material.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Chang Chen, David Dastmalchian, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling, and Zendaya.
A Double Feature Review! Two Terrible Features.
Amazon's Cinderella (2021) is a terrible re-imaging of the classic fairy tale. I understand adding a modern take to this old story, but the direction, writing, and acting all come off as cringe-worthy. The dialogue is clunky, while the songs are just downright annoying. The soundtrack was like listening to a Kidz Bop mixtape. We got songs like Queens' Somebody to Love or Madonna's Material Girl. They even sang songs like Ed Sheeran's Perfect and Jennifer Lopez's Let's Get Loud. Adding an updated soundtrack to this movie just did not work. Maybe on paper, it sounded good, but the execution was disastrous. Writer-director Kay Cannon (director of 2018's Blockers and writer of the Pitch Perfect trilogy) seemed like a good choice to revamp the Cinderella story. Sadly, her direction throughout this family feature falters. Not even the star power of Camila Cabello, Idina Menzel, Minnie Driver, Billy Porter, and Pierce Brosnan could save this movie. By the end of this jukebox musical, I had a headache. Did I mention that James Corden voices a mouse? Terrifying! To say this in the nicest way possible, Cabello has a great voice, but her acting is just awful. I know that Glynis was also incredibly excited to see a Latina be portrayed as Cinderella, but the film's ending results and execution ultimately let her down. Here's to hoping that Rachel Zegler's portrayal as Snow White in Disney's upcoming live-action remake will be a success. If you want to watch a Cinderella movie, then I recommend watching the 1950's animated classic, the 1997 Rodgers & Hammerstein's one starring Brandy, or the 2015 live-action version starring Lily James. In the end, this is a shallow and catastrophic re-imaging from the Bezos vault that is not worth your time.
Cinderella is rated PG (Parental Guidance) Language | Suggestive Material.
Stream it on Amazon Prime Video ... if you dare.
Directed by Kay Cannon
Starring Camila Cabello, Idina Menzel, Minnie Driver, Billy Porter, Pierce Brosnan, and mousey James Corden.
Diana: The Musical
I always enjoy watching a live recording of a Broadway musical, but Diana: The Musical is not it. Terrible cannot even begin to describe this live production. It's two hours of nonsense crippled with the exploitation of Princess Diana and her image. Diana: The Musical is a production that's incredibly cookie cutter and surface level in its storytelling. Shrill and desperate, this is a musical fueled with cold, hard cynicism. This production of Princess Diana adds nothing to her legacy as a mother, wife, royal, or celebrity. Instead, we get the greatest hits of Diana's life, with no emotional core. Biopic musicals can be hard to accomplish, but as long as there's an emotional core grabbing ahold of your audience in-between the catchy musical numbers — normally — you are pretty good to go. The musical follows Diana Spencer (Jeanna de Waal) from her first meeting with Charles (Roe Hartrampf) through her divorce and tragic death. While the acting is subpar, the musical numbers are even more forgettable. This all fades away to the sparkly production designs that make you wonder: "why am I even watching this?" Netflix is trying to take advantage of its royal content after coming off the heels of its current critically acclaimed television series The Crown (which I like), but don't let them fool you with this dumpster fire. Due to COVID-19, this live performance was recorded last year with no audience. But, I am beginning to wonder if COVID did not even want to attend. Diana: The Musical will open on Broadway starting next month (November), and we'll see how that goes. Maybe I am being a little too harsh on this production, but I really love the theatre. It's where I go to escape. With Diana: The Musical — escape — I did not.
Diana: The Musical is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Strong Language | Suggestive/Thematic Material.
Stream it on Netflix ... if you dare.
Directed by Christopher Ashley (Shocking!)
Starring Jeanna de Waal, Erin Davie, Roe Hartrampf, and Judy Kaye.
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.
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