The Witches (2020) is a terrible movie; there is no sugar-coating this one. Director Robert Zemeckis' (Forest Gump, Cast Away, and The Polar Express) hamfisted remake is one of the worst films of 2020. It's an adaption without a clear direction or purpose, bloated with annoying special effects and a lack of magic.
The Witches is a 1983 dark fantasy children's book written by the beloved author, Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and Fantastic Mr. Fox). Dahl's book was later turned into a 1990 feature film starring Anjelica Huston. The 1990 film gained a cult following — receiving praise for Huston's wicked performance, Jim Henson's masterful puppetry, and capturing the spirit of Dahl's literary style. However, the same cannot be said, about Robert Zemeckis' stab at this witchy tale. Zemeckis has made some undesirable pictures in the last 20 years, but this film with a bald Anne Hathaway takes the cake. I would not say that The Witches (2020) is a "so bad it's good" film, but it was pretty amusing to watch at how bad it turned out to be. Our films starts in 1968, when a young boy (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) goes to live with his loving grandma (Octavia Spencer) in the rural Alabama town of Demopolis, following the death of his parents. Since his arrival, the boy begins to encounter diabolical witches. So, his grandma decides to take him away to a seaside resort, out of the witch's path. However, this same resort becomes the destination for the world's Grand High Witch gathering. Anne Hathaway plays the Grand High Witch, the leader of all of the witches in the world. She is also the most evil and the most powerful witch of them all.
The grandmother reveals to the boy that witches never leave once they find a child. We also learn that real witches have claws instead of fingernails (they hide by wearing gloves), are bald (they hide by wearing wigs), have square feet with no toes (they hide by wearing sensible shoes), and have a powerful sense of smell which they use to sniff out children. Unfortunately, Hathaway's cronies and their powerful sense find the boy along with his friends — turning them into mice. What does not work with this version of Dahl's memorable novel is the overabundance of special effects, not to mention Zemeckis' poorly constructed screenplay throughout. The frustrating CGI engulfs Hathaway's performance from being anything more than a laughing stock. Hathaway gives it her all, but the film cannot make up its mind on if it's trying to be scary or a comedy — leading the film to be unapologetically foolish. Yes, The Witches (2020) aims to be a children's movie, yet, I cannot imagine seeing any children enjoying this catastrophe. Zemeckis' grotesque VFX is a nightmare for families everywhere, while it also lacks the author's original pitch. The second half of the movie turns into a Ratatouille adventure with some major eye-rolling shenanigans. The Witches (2020) lacks the magic and soul of the original novel; while also lacking the whimsy and imagination of the 1990's feature. Zemeckis' craft comes up short in this remake and forgets to make a plea for its own existence. In the end, Zemeckis brews up a bad batch of hoopla and leaves out Dahl's greatest attribute, eccentricity.
The Witches (2020) is rated PG (Parental Guidance). Thematic Elements, Scary Images/Moments, and Language.
This disaster is directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci, Kristin Chenoweth, Chris Rock, and Jahzir Kadeem Bruno.
Available to watch on HBO Max, if you dare.
Heartbreaking and enraging; 2020 has been a nightmarish year not only for America's politics but also for America's health and well-being. Director Alex Gibney (Citizen K and Zero Days) refocuses our attention to effectively detail how our country got to this destructive point, with 230,000 (and counting) American lives lost.
In Totally Under Control, Filmmaker Alex Gibney scrutinizes the U.S. response to the pandemic compared with South Korea. Both countries discovered their first case of Covid-19 on January 20th, 2020. Since then, the novel coronavirus has claimed over 200,000 Americans lives, while only claiming a little over 400 lives in South Korea. South Korea has a population of 51 million people. So, why did the US do such a terrible job on their handling of COVID? Gibney talks with numerous doctors, health experts, and scientists throughout the documentary explaining why we failed, starting at the top and with our leader of the free world. One of those doctors we talk with is Dr. Rick Bright — an American immunologist, vaccine researcher, and former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) from 2016 to 2020. In May 2020, Dr. Bright filed a whistleblower complaint, alleging that the Trump administration ignored his early warnings about the COVID-19 pandemic. After doing so, he was ousted from his position in retaliation from the Trump administration.
As President Truman once said, "The buck stops here." Yet, that line does not apply to the Trump administration. We all know that COVID was not Trump's fault, but it's his lack of leadership that has failed this country and left the American people in the dark — scared for their well-being and livelihood. While other countries (South Korea and New Zealand) have strategically and effectively led their people through this pandemic transparently, the U.S. has squandered at every turn. Even countries like Canada and Germany have done a pretty good job overall. Still, they are starting to see more recent COVID spikes, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chancellor Angela Merkel both have been open with their people, letting the doctors and scientists lead. Gibney along, with co-directors Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger, avoid taking cheap shots or personal ambushes throughout the documentary. Instead, they let the timeline speak for itself, with the doctors and the scientists guiding us through it.
Totally Under Control takes an in-depth look at how the United States government handled the response to the COVID-19 outbreak during the early months of the pandemic — we have 4% of the world's population and 20% of the worldwide COVID deaths. It did not have to be this way. The Trump Administration's disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic has led from anywhere between 130,000 to 210,000 deaths that could have been prevented, according to a report released on October 21st by a team of disaster preparedness experts. It's a sad and infuriating report, demonstrating the cost of having a narcissistic former reality TV star in charge, who has been ignoring basic science and health advice for a slight uptick in the stock market. Right now, universal mask-wearing in public could significantly reduce the number of Americans who die from COVID by February 2021; a study published in the journal Nature Medicine projects — suggesting we could save 130,000 American lives. During the documentary, we see South Korea's response on controlling the virus was rapid and efficient. Their government mandated universal mask-wearing, nationwide testing, contact-tracing, and mitigation all throughout February. While the US was slow to respond, letting the virus spread rapidly throughout our country without a strategic nationwide testing policy in place.
Trump downplayed the seriousness of this virus and continues to do so to this day. Making statements like, "It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control" (01/22), "A lot of people think that [the coronavirus] goes away in April with the heat ... Typically, that will go away in April" (02/10), "It's going to disappear. One day — it's like a miracle — it will disappear" (02/27), "the vast majority of Americans, the risk is very, very low" (03/11), "You can do it. You don't have to do it. I'm choosing not to do it, but some people may want to do it, and that's OK. It may be good. Probably will. They're making a recommendation. It's only a recommendation" (on mask-wearing, 04/03), "When we have a lot of cases, I don't look at that as a bad thing" ... "So, I view it as a badge of honor. Really, it's a badge of honor" (05/19, days later, the U.S. recorded 100,000 known deaths from COVID), "Many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day" (07/19), and "Take your hat off to the young because they have a hell of an immune system. It affects virtually nobody" (09/21, twelve days later Trump would test positive for COVID). Along with Trump's falsehoods, Gibney studies, and analyses the CDC's initial botch to implementing testing in February, the administration's slowness in declaring the Defense Production Act (to direct industries to produce medical equipment) not until mid-March, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar's complacency, and Senior Advisor Jared Kushner's botched attempt at setting up a "shadow task force" with dozens of young volunteers from the private sector; searching for medical supplies and protective equipment.
On top of that, you see the falsehoods pushed towards Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, a 2018 budget cut eliminating the pandemic task force, the U.S.'s stockpile in Medical supply depleted, and our governor's left to fend for themselves in an all-out bidding war for Medical supplies — FEMA was even in on the bids. When Trump faced criticism for not doing enough to help out the states as the Federal government should, he quickly turned the tables back on them. By doing so, he made this a red state, blue state scenario — leaving our governors hung out to dry, and the more they criticized the less they would receive in help. This was a smart way for Trump to point the finger in the other direction without having to take responsibility. The tragedy of COVID in the U.S. is not only the countless American lives lost but also the retaliation from the Trump administration towards our health and scientific communities. This discourse and disinformation towards them are completely uncalled for. We need to trust our doctors and scientists, listen to the facts, and follow the science. Please continue to listen to people like Dr. Bright and Dr. Anthony Fauci — Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, since 1984. Dr. Fauci has worked 5 decades for Presidents of both parties (Republican and Democrat). Now, Trump has even decided to attack our nation's Top Infectious Diseases expert (Dr. Fauci). This Tuesday cannot come soon enough. Hopefully, our nation will rally together and vote this former reality TV star out.
Totally Under Control is Not Rated (NR).
Watch this documentary only on Hulu
Directed by Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, and Suzanne Hillinger
Well-acted and thoroughly poignant — The Boys in the Band revives the classic stage play back onto the small screen, showcasing modern relevance on the LGBTQ community.
The Boys in the Band is based on the 1968 off-Broadway play by playwright Mart Crowley. The play then ended up being turned into a 1970 movie with the same cast as the original production. What was so groundbreaking with Crowley's play, was his ability to evoke a deeply personal journey in the lives of gay men. In 2018, director Joe Mantello revived the play on Broadway, comprising a versatile cast of exclusively openly-gay actors. This cast included Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver, Robin de Jesús, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington, and Tuc Watkins. All of the actors decided to reprise their roles, giving us a feast to behold of grade 'A' acting. Just like the 1968 original, Mantello constructed his crew from stage to film, giving us a deeply moving picture of what it means to be gay in America during the '60s. Mantello smoothly constructs his craft as we watch this spectacular cast of men bursting at the seams with anxiety, self-loathing, melancholy, and pride. Each character is deeply layered, guarding themselves against pitfalls of vulnerabilities that could lead to pain.
The plot follows a group of friends reuniting on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, who are throwing one of the members of their group, Harold (a condescending Zachary Quinto), a birthday party. Harold loathes each day as he grows farther away from his youth. In his character's own words, Harold is an "ugly, pock-marked Jew fairy." Michael (a cunning Jim Parsons), a recovering alcoholic and Roman Catholic, is the member of 'the band' who has opened up his apartment for the birthday. Michael is well-groomed, polite when he needs to be, and then will attack you like a snake if he disagrees with you. As the host and the frenemy, Michael will always have the last word, no matter the stakes. Michael and Harold often lash at each other, with cutting dialogue and patronizing remarks. The more Michael drinks, the more the night intensifies. Matt Bomer plays Donald, Michael's conflicted boyfriend who is gliding along with his own baggage.
Actors Andrew Rannells and Tuc Watkins portray Larry and Hank — a couple who have been fighting about what it means to be in a monogamous relationship. Larry is the free-spirited thinker of the relationship, often having multiple sex partners at a time. Larry's lack of commitment to the relationship; is why Hank is upset with him. Hank is a recently outed gay, who's in the middle of getting a divorce from his wife and is currently living with Larry. Robin de Jesús plays Emory, the most flamboyant and most prideful of the group. Emory is there to have a good time and to party with his fellow Queens on the rooftop of a hot summer night. No matter the pain, Emory can keep a smile from eye-to-eye, along with his good friend, Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington). Not only is Bernard gay, but he's also Black — dealing with both racism and homophobia in the '60s. Bernard is also grappling with the regret of a lost love that comes up during a shift in tone during the night when Michael introduces "the game." A series of calls made by each character to call up their long-lost love by telephone.
Charlie Carver plays the Cowboy, Harold's birthday hustler for the evening. Carver's character is often described as "too pretty" and "not too bright." Lastly, we are left with Alan (Brian Hutchison), Michael's friend from college, who makes an uninvited appearance at the party, stirring up conflict. Alan does not know that Michael is gay, but there's suspicion that Alan (who is married) has a dark secret of his past relationships. Alan's sexual orientation is never fully disclosed, leaving the audience to interpret the events of the night and to decide on their own. The Boys in the Band is one of the most bruising movies of the year, leaving our viewers to feel like they have been dragged through the mud. There's plenty of heavy material unveiled throughout the film's runtime — opening wounds and soothing tears. This perfect ensemble reaches for the stars as we grapple with heartache and the affliction of love waiting to come. We've come along way in America for inclusion to the LGBTQ community, yet we have a long way to go — making progress one step at a time. The Boys in the Band is an emotional whirlwind and literary dance waiting to be heard.
The Boys in the Band is rated R (Restricted). Sexual Content, Drug Use, Language, and Graphic Nudity.
Directed by Joe Mantello
Starring Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver, Robin de Jesús, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington, and Tuc Watkins.
Enola Holmes is a charming little movie that brings a refreshing perspective to Baker Street. Actor Millie Bobby Brown also helps elevate the film with a more progressive message and image.
Enola Holmes is a breath of fresh air one can enjoy from the comfort of their home on a Saturday afternoon. This new film narrows down its focus from the expanding Holmes family and universe — giving us the point-of-view from the youngest sibling in the Holmes family, Enola (a wonderful Millie Bobby Brown). 'Alone' — spell this word backwards, and you get Enola. Yet, her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) has taught her not to be defined by that meaning, teaching her everything from chess to jujitsu. Brown gives us a lively, spirited, and intelligent performance as the youngest of the Holmes. While she constantly breaks the fourth wall throughout the picture, we see a coming-of-age story of a young woman searching to find her place in the world. Brown's committed performance continues to prove that she has a bright future ahead of her. Enola Holmes is based on a series of Young Adult novels by Nancy Springer and was originally set to make a theatrical release by Warner Bros. Pictures but was, instead, sold to Netflix due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our story follows Enola as she awakens on her 16th birthday to discover that her mother is missing.
Eudoria Holmes (Carter) is an eccentric but brilliant intellect and suffragist; who has left a series of clues for Enola to follow. Enola follows this sequence of clues involving anagrams and ciphers as she sets off to London to find her. During this journey, Enola is also attempting to escape her older brothers Mycroft (a stern Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (a brawn Henry Cavill) from carting her off to a finishing school. A finishing school is "a school for young women that focuses on teaching social graces and upper-class cultural rites as a preparation for entry into society" — hindering her independence, Enola wants nothing to do with that life style and I don't blame her. Along the way, Enola runs into a boy named Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), who engulfs his own family badge onto her. Enola Holmes was a pleasure to watch and an easy film to pass the time on — there were some luscious shots, extravagant costumes, and a lighthearted story at the center of this film. Enola Holmes is an enjoyable feature digging deep into familial bonds and shows us the opportunities waiting a changing world that's determined to stay the same. It's a fun and warm movie anyone could cozy up to, bubbling over for a franchise eager to be told.
Enola Holmes is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). Some Violence.
Directed by Harry Bradbeer
Starring Millie Bobby Brown, Sam Claflin, Helena Bonham Carter, Fiona Shaw, Adeel Akhtar, and Frances de la Tour.
Watching director Chloé Zhao's (2018's The Rider) Nomadland was a poetic experience. Nomadland is a gem full of beauty and hardship, perfectly captured by Zhao's natural craft and actor Frances McDormand's raw talent. It's a richly textured portrait of life drifting through the American Midwest. One of 2020's best films.
Though my traveling days have been put on hold, right now, due to this global pandemic — I felt like I was able to virtually travel through the comfort of my home; while watching Chloé Zhao's beautiful work of art. Seeing Frances McDormand's character consistently on the road throughout the American Midwest was a gift to my soul and may have even brought a tear to my eye. Zhao masterfully captures the natural beauty of America through its vivid landscapes, roaming plains, and majestic horizons. Furthermore, Zhao does not forget to match this lively-shot film with a gut-punching storyline. After losing everything in the Great Recession, our film follows Fern (a powerful McDormand), a woman in her sixties who embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad. Nomadland is a haunting portrayal of the hardships that life throws at us and an aching heart to heal that pain through travel. McDormand's character is a widow from a small mining town in Nevada that recently closed due to the Great Recession.
Fern is resistant to settling down, as we drift with her fighting spirit for the open-air and the longing for connection. McDormand authentically blended into the nomadic community so well that one of the local Targets offered her an application for a job during filming. McDormand's experience of living in a van took four months and covered seven states during production. She was also able to adopt a nomadic lifestyle of being constantly on the move to make the movie seem and feel more genuine. Nomadland plays out to be like a mini-documentary — showcasing other real-life nomads throughout the picture as fictionalized versions of themselves. This powerful character study will seep into your brain, leaving an enteral footprint on your mind. Zhao's newest craft was inspired by a recent 2017 nonfiction book (Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century) by the journalist Jessica Bruder. Zhao's third feature (2015's Songs My Brothers Taught Me, and The Rider) also won the 2020 Golden Lion Award at this year's Venice Film Festival, making it an early front-runner for the 2021 Oscars.
If Zhao gets nominated for Best Director (I think she should), then that would make her the first Asian woman director to be nominated in that category. Cinematographer Joshua James Richards' (2017's God Own Country, and The Rider) expansive outdoor scenery molds the wondrous and lonely structure of the American West. Nomadland jungles complexity, as we see a vast-open America and the forgotten people wondering around the dusty plains. The heavy-handedness of Zhao's film will sneak up on you until you are overwhelmed with emotions. Zhao masterfully weaves together this delicate balance of tone and story, while McDormand delivers another Oscar-worthy performance for the books. Nomadland embodies a vision of hope through progression, as Fern yearns for a day where she won't languish in the pain by this capitalistic country that's weighing down on her. Through emotional readiness drifting throughout the wide-open spaces, Nomadland embarks on a journey waiting to be told. I had the privilege of watching this perfect picture virtually in the comfort of my home during the 58th New York Film Festival. Nomadland receives a five-star review from me, as Zhao's latest feature symbolizes the 2020 message everyone is longing for ... hope. Until then, “See you down the road.”
Nomadland is rated R (Restricted). Some Full Nudity.
This masterpiece is directed by Chloé Zhao
Starring Frances McDormand and David Strathairn.
Understanding the small form of bias of a news organization documenting its own journalist — On the Trail: Inside the 2020 Primaries is still an intimate viewpoint of journalist behind-the-scenes; that is also well polished and thoroughly told.
On the Trail captures the flashiness, grit, and hectic nature of journalism following political campaigns during an election year. This HBO Max and CNN Film documentary follows a group of female CNN political reporters as they cover the 2020 Democratic primaries on the campaign trail, back when there was one. This documentary came out in August, and the Democratic primaries were back in March — nevertheless — this primary season feels like ancient history, due to COVID. At times, On the Trail might feel like a small infomercial for HBO Max and CNN — however — I enjoyed watching the behind-the-scenes nature of longtime and up-and-coming female journalists. We see and hear from journalists like Dana Bash, Kyung Lah, and Kaitlan Collins as they report from the campaign trails. These reporters travel from one state to the next (often on short notice), fighting to stay on top of the relentless 24/7 news cycle. "There is nothing like the rush of covering a presidential campaign," chief political correspondent Dana Bash says in the documentary. "We get a front-row seat to history." We also get to see an in-depth look at the lives of 'embeds' — Daniella Diaz and Jasmine Wright. It's important and encouraging to see so many women and women of color in the field of journalism, continuing to demonstrate why representation matters.
Embedded journalists are assigned to different candidates during the primary season, like Democratic candidates Joe Biden (now the Democratic nominee), Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg. Some also covered the Trump campaign rallies that happened as these primaries were taking place. We see the chaotic and always on the move lifestyles these embeds are going through on a daily basis. Here, they travel from state-to-state, covering a candidate's every move and the 24/7 news cycle that can change on a dime. Example: Joe Biden's comeback win at the South Carolina primary that propelled him back into the spotlight, ultimately carving a path for victory to seal the 2020 Democratic nomination. Even with its minor flaws, On the Trail, is an important documentary for anyone interested in journalism should watch. For far too long, we have been seeing a White House whose priority has been to discredit the very bedrock of journalism — shouting 'Fake News' out of their megaphones. We have a president who is trying to erode the very pillar of journalism, dismaying daily misinformation to the public. This is a dangerous precedent set before our country, as the future of democracy is on the ballot come this November.
The journalist's job is to hold public figures accountable and to keep the public informed on the truth. No public figure or politician should ever shy away from hard-hitting questions. Questions are only perceived to be hard-hitting if it makes a public figure and or politician feel uncomfortable. We, the people, have a right to know. So, in this way, journalists become our voice by proxy and help us uncover the truth. That is why we need them to keep asking the hard questions. It's a very ethical approach to the structure of journalism, and it is something that we do not want to see be taken away. I'll leave you with this quote by my favorite modern politician, the late John McCain: “If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started.” Right now, you have the opportunity to be on the right side of history and to vote for a candidate who believes in the fundamentals of preserving our democracy, upholding the oath of the office, and will help unite our polarized country as one. Or, you can choose an incumbent who has spent the last 4-years eroding the very pillars of our government, has attacked our democratic norms, has weakened our alliances across the world, and has further wedged a divide between our already hurting country for his personal gain. I know which direction I want our country to head towards, do you?
Every vote counts! Go to iwillvote.com
On the Trail is Note Rated NR
Unthinkable is a low-budget Indie thriller that showcases first-time directors George Loomis and Elias Talbot's creative craft.
Though I could not experience Loomis and Talbot's film on a big screen or at a film festival this year, it was still a privilege to watch Unthinkable on a small screen. Unthinkable is wonderfully crafted by first-time directors Loomis and Talbot — while the film is also meticulously polished and cut throughout every scene. First pinned as Caretakers, Unthinkable follows the story of a young medical student (Loomis) who finds himself infringed in an international conspiracy after being sent to care for a hospitalized former U.S. Ambassador to Syria (Christopher Cousins). Unthinkable's scenes are crisp and sharply cut by editors Andrew Kadikian and Mike Lowther — making for a suspenseful treat. Actor Vivica A. Fox plays Dr. Sherry Cooper, and actor Angell Conwell plays Dr. Leigh Waters, who both give off some questionable vibes about the hospital's motives. Leading one to ask who should really be trusted? Unthinkable builds tension throughout each scene and then pivots to an unannounced twist at the end. One critique I would have about Loomis and Talbot's film was, at times, the dialogue came off a bit stiff and or wooden, making some of the scenes not feel as believable.
Nevertheless, Loomis and Talbot's creative vision in this low-budget Indie thriller shines a bright spotlight on both of their talents as directors. I am looking forward to seeing more of their work in the near future. Unthinkable was also awarded Best Film at the 2019 Santa Fe Film Festival. If Loomis and Talbot were able to direct a film this gripping, imagine what they could make on a full-scale budget. I will continue to say this, Independent films are vital to the natures of cinema and need our help and support on getting them out to the masses. Another aspect of Unthinkable was its impressive opening title sequence and its wonderfully dramatic score. The score was by composer Bobby Villarreal, who did a remarkable job at creating drama and tension scene after scene. Unthinkable is a promising first feature for Loomis and Talbot, who have produced a rousing film that leaves you wanting to know what will happen next — leading our main character (Loomis) down a rabbit hole. Unthinkable will be available worldwide on 10/9/20. You can rent Unthinkable through Video On Demand on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, FandagoNow, Redbox TVOD, Movie Spree, and it's also accessible via Comcast and Charter cable companies.
Unthinkable is rated not rated NR.
Directed by George Loomis and Elias Talbot
Starring George Loomis, Christopher Cousins, Vivica A. Fox, Angell Conwell, Natalija Nogulich, Nick Airus, Katalina Viteri, and Missi Pyle.
Christopher Nolan's Tenet is the first major blockbuster to hit the theaters during our COVID times — Nolanite's may be eager to experience it in the theaters, whereas; I felt more comfortable watching Tenet from the safety of my car at my local Drive-In.
I am thrilled that there is still a local Drive-In Theater less than 40 minutes from my house, which provided me the opportunity to experience Christopher Nolan's (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, and Dunkirk) Tenet on the big screen but from the safety and comfort of my car. After weeks-months of delays, Tenet is the first major Hollywood blockbuster to make a crack at helping filmgoers return to the theaters during this global pandemic. While other countries have excelled at slowing the spread of this virus through a variety of safety measures, testing, masks, and actually listening to our health experts — the United States has failed at every corner. This failure has made it harder for the US to return to a 'new normal.' Where other countries that have succeeded in containment; are now allowed to re-open their theaters at a less health risk than we are. Re-opening theaters in the US has been incredibly risky on a health level and a financial level. The numbers don't lie: Tenet only managed to open with $9.6 million domestically, which makes sense given the circumstances and that people are still not comfortable on returning to the theaters, myself included.
Only 65% of the American and Canadian theaters are operating at 25–40% capacity. During the film's first eleven days, Tenet acquired $20.2 million from 2,810 theaters — while all of the New York, LA, and San Francisco theaters are still closed. Tenet has fared much better overseas — $242 million in other territories. Since we have witnessed Tenet's shaky box office performance, more studios have decided to push their big-budget blockbusters into 2021, giving the US more time to, hopefully, get a hold of this virus. I believe this was a smart move. Studios need theaters, and theaters need studios, but the studios are willing to wait until it's safe, or at least until they can make good money. If you do have a local theater in your neighborhood, I encourage you to buy a gift card to help support them during these troubling times. Finally, let's talk about Tenet: Nolan's latest feature is undoubtedly his weakest film yet — however, that doesn't stop Tenet from still being entertaining, puzzling, and at times, cathartic. Even though Tenet's plot was a bit convoluted, I still might be a little bias when it comes to Nolan movies because I've always welcomed their presence, and maybe it was also the fact that I had not seen a movie on the big screen in seven months. I feel like most of my excitement was returning to see a Hollywood blockbuster on the big screen.
Nevertheless, Tenet displayed some pulp-worthy action spectacles upheld by strong performances from John David Washington and Robert Pattinson. Plus, we cannot forget composer Ludwig Göransson's (Creed and Black Panther) intoxicating score that will chill your bones. Göransson was unable to complete his score in-person due to the US lockdown last February, resulting in him putting together individual recordings of the musicians in their homes to finish the soundtrack. Impressive doesn't even begin to describe what Göransson accomplished with this task, providing us with a mesmerizing score that will send shivers down your spine from the first to the final note. Tenet follows the storyline of an unnamed CIA agent, The Protagonist (a strong Washington), as he embarks on a dangerous mission to prevent the start of World War III. During this mission, The Protagonist discovers a time-bending method allowing the antagonists to move backward through time, achieving their mischievous goal.
Doctor Who explains time better than I do: "People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff." Along the way, The Protagonist meets Neil (a wonderful Pattinson), who becomes his handler. They also get caught up with a man named Sator (Kenneth Branagh) — who I won't spoil — and his estranged wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). Though Tenet fails to meet the same standard as previous Nolan treats, Tenet still had enough smart action and trippy mind games to keep the ball rolling. I was happy that I got experience Tenet on the big screen in a safe environment. In the end, it's a twilight world out there. I got to experience this movie from the safety of my car at the Skyview Drive-In. If you live in Greater St. Louis area and are itching to see a movie on the big screen but still feel uncomfortable, then I highly recommend attending the Skyview Drive-In. You won't be disappointed.
Tenet is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Brief Strong Language, Action, Intense Sequences of Violence, Some Suggestive References.
This time-y wimey movie is directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Dimple Kapadia, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
The Magic Bomb is a minute-in-by-minute thriller filmed with a mostly Latinx cast and done on a zero dollar budget. It was some impressive work by filmmaker Randy Gordon-Gatica.
The Magic Bomb is an independent thriller, produced, written, and directed by Randy Gordon-Gatica. What was most striking was Gordon-Gatica's ability to produce a full feature film on a zero dollar budget. This Latinx thriller follows the story of a young Mexican-American man named Conrad Lopez (Jonathan Iglesias), who gets entangled in a plot to nuke Manhattan. On the day that Conrad is married, a mysterious packaged is placed on his doorstep. After Conrad finds the package, he receives a call from a stranger (actor Marcial Urena) demanding he delivers the package to Central Park in sixty minutes, or his wife, Clara (Nicole Palermo), will be murdered. The stranger reveals to him that the package is a bomb designed to wipe out New York City. After this confrontation, Gordon-Gatica then decides to take the storyline back to events leading up to the package. During this time, we see Conrad's former love, Lisa (Maria Jung), and their falling out together.
Lisa and Conrad are both "Dreamers" struggling to get by in life during Trump's America. Although The Magic Bomb was filmed two years ago, immigration and DACA are still very much a part of the conversation today. These are critical topics, especially DACA — an American policy that needs protection. These immigrants are Americans, and this is their home. There was a line in the film when Conrad talks about how New York has been all that he's ever known — a very natural commentary on real-life DACA recipients whose home has always been here, in America. Conrad also gets caught up with a sinister man named Gus (Kenny Nowell). Gus is a known racist and conspiracy theorist, babbling on about deep state plots and racial slurs. During this time, Conrad and his new girlfriend, Clara (Palermo), decide to trick Gus into stealing $250,000 from him. They come up with a plan to sell Gus on the premise that they possess a very powerful nuke called "The Magic Bomb." Due to Gus' anti-immigration views and twisted ideology, he accepts their offer of $250,000 in exchange for "The Magic Bomb." Actor Benjamin John Burbidge also plays a secretive man, whose identity I won't spoil — during the film, we see shots of him scattered throughout the city.
Another important aspect of The Magic Bomb was Gordon-Gatica's ability to have Latinx actors in leading roles. Doing so presents a spotlight on Latinx actors and the importance of why representation matters. At a time when it feels like there are multiple Latinx stories being either sidelined or canceled in both TV and film — having both Conrad and Lisa's narrative, front and center was a statement on its own. We see the firsthand struggles of what it's like being Latino in America and trying to get ahead in life. While all of this is being done, Gordon-Gatica takes crime and suspenseful genres and sandwiches them in-between this potent social commentary. Gordon-Gatica has a story that needs to be heard and seen. If Gordon-Gatica was able to produce a film this powerful, imagine what he could make on a full-scale budget. Independent films are vital to the natures of cinema and need our help and support on getting them out to the masses. The Magic Bomb has been submitted to multiple film festivals, including Queens World Film Festival and Las Cruces International Film Festival. Here, Gordon-Gatica's Latinx thriller won Best First Feature (Queens, 2018) and Audience Choice Award (Las Cruces, 2018). Will Conrad be able to stop the bomb from destroying New York City, while also saving the two most important women (Lisa and Clara) in his life? I'll let you find out for yourself. The Magic Bomb is available to rent on Vimeo on Demand. The Magic Bomb has tons of twists and turns, upheld by a talented cast and a cathartic musical score. I am incredibly excited to see more of Gordon-Gatica and his craft in the near future.
The Magic Bomb is not rated NR.
Directed by Randy Gordon-Gatica
Starring Jonathan Iglesias, Maria Jung, Nicole Palermo, Marcial Urena, Kenny Nowell, and Benjamin John Burbidge.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things: I loved it and I am excited to watch it again. 2020 has been an unprecedented year, and somehow Charlie Kaufman’s strange-beautiful film on life, time, death, and the human condition brought me fulfilled joy.
I was finally challenged, with a film from this year that presented an unclassifiable craft and uncompromising darkness. Charlie Kaufman's newest masterpiece is a film I will be studying for the years to come. My head was spinning as we gazed into a glass window with actors Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons drifting to another dimension. This was by far the most Kaufman-esque movie one could hope for. It was a mysterious puzzle of the meaning of life and the loneliness that tries to conspire. I think I am safe to say that I’m Thinking of Ending Things is my new favorite film of 2020. First off, for viewers who have never seen a Kaufman film before, I would recommend you do your homework and watch some of his earlier films before viewing I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
This will help give you a better understanding of Kaufman's existentialism and overall craft. Kaufman first pulled me in back in the day with his exquisite writing in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). It was a psychological drama that studied memory, romantic love, and heartbreak. Kaufman’s nonlinear structure blossomed beautifully on the screen along with spectacular performances by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. As a first time viewer to Kaufman material, I would recommend first watch films that he has written, like Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002), and or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Then, I would move up to films that he has both written and directed, like Synecdoche, New York (2008), and or Anomalisa (2015). In Anomalisa, Kaufman somehow managed to make a claymation movie feel more human than most human films.
This will allow viewers to see Kaufman’s craft evolve throughout his writing and directing. Kaufman’s style is very unique, and he matured more over time with his material, while the themes continue to get heavier and heavier. If one would start with I’m Thinking of Ending Things, it may be too much material for the viewer to jump into headfirst. Kaufman has always grappled with morality, loneliness, and our place in the universe, but these topics seemed to be dramatically more poignant in I’m Thinking of Ending Things. I believe this is because Kaufman has been able to build off his previous films. Looking at this movie, I loved how Kaufman remained vague throughout most of the beginning and middle of this film — only planting small seeds for the viewers. Here, we explored tough themes on morality, identity, and loneliness. This painted a beautiful and complex portrait of the meaning of life. The scene where Plemons sings Lonely Room from Oklahoma! was both heartbreaking and astonishing at the same time. Kaufman will always be a master for presenting surrealist views through the medium. What is fascinating about Kaufman movies is that he embodies the sadness and meditates on the existential — leaving us, as the viewer, too reexamine ourselves.
Without giving too much away, I’m Thinking of Ending Things follows a young woman (a potent Jessie Buckley) who is questioning her relationship with her boyfriend Jake (a top-notch Jesse Plemons). The couple set off on a road trip to visit Jake’s family farm (a never better Toni Collette and David Thewlis). A snowstorm is prevailing around them as they make their way to the farm. On the farm, the young woman begins to question the nature of everything she knew or understood about her boyfriend, herself, and the world. This evaluation allows us, as the viewer, to question how we study the structure of the film itself and reevaluate our own messy lives. I’m Thinking of Ending Things touches on some heavy topics on regret, yearning, and the fragility of the human condition. There are good portions of this film that sit back and let Buckley and Plemons take control the conversation about philosophy and purpose to oneself. These scenes take place mostly in the car, often with little to no edit cuts and very scarce music. These conversations are raw and uncut, like how real-life can be. They are not polished, nor are they smooth. They are rigid, yet they find purpose through words and emotions — ever flowing throughout the screen.
Finally, I’m Thinking of Ending Things unveils an identity factor throughout the film. Most notably during Plemons’ striking Lonely Room scene. Here, Plemons displayed past regret and remorse, but also unveiled his identity has a human being. Plemons beautifully captured this thanks to his skillful acting and emotional power. In addition, Buckley shined throughout the film, with her heavy-handed acting chops and a keen sense of dialogue. Watching from Buckley's perspective will gut you to your core. In the end, the beauty of a Kaufman film is that we could dissect all of his movies in ten different ways and still probably come up with new meanings and ideas every time. He is one of our greatest filmmakers in Hollywood right now. Kaufman's latest picture receives a 5-star review from me. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is currently my favorite film of 2020, and it's also one of the best.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things is rated R (Restricted) For language including some sexual references.
This masterpiece is directed by Charlie Kaufman
Starring Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, and Guy Boyd.
Available to stream on Netflix.
An American Pickle is a delightful low-key comedy, helmed by Seth Rogen's dual performance. One can relish on Rogen's newest dish.
An American Pickle is not a perfect picture, but this breezy movie might hit a sweet spot inside you. Seth Rogen's dueling performance as Herschel and Ben Greenbaum is a treat to watch on the small screen. Herschel Greenbaum (a bearded Rogen) and his spouse, Sarah (Sarah Snook), are struggling Jewish laborers who decide to immigrate to America in 1919 with dreams of building a better life. One day, after the announcement that the factory will be closing, Herschel accidentally falls into a vat of pickles and is brined for 100 years. Miraculously, the brine has preserved Herschel perfectly, emerging in present-day Brooklyn. Silly yes, but we'll let this slide. Herschel decides to seek out his family, but he is disheartened to learn his only surviving relative is his great-grandson, Ben Greenbaum (also played by Rogen, but clean-cut and shaved). Ben is a computer coder, which exceeds Herschel's prehistoric ability to comprehend.
So, Herschel decides to do what he does best, sell pickles all throughout New York City. Rogen's chemistry with himself was humorous to watch. Rogen was able to capture two very different characters with a variety of mannerisms. With Herschel, Rogen grappled with unfiltered determination and a fighting spirit for the American dream. With Ben, Rogen grappled with loneliness and the distress of failure. In the end, Herschel and Ben demonstrated a unique bond through the love of their ancestors and a passion for achievement. An American Pickle isn't thought-provoking, nor is it a masterpiece. Instead, we get a comedic and semi-sweet movie that unveiled a bigger heart than it could hold. Rogen alongside himself was the most important ingredient the movie could offer. It's an entertaining fable bound together by a silly plot (script-writer Simon Rich) and a wonderful performance by a dual Rogen. An American Pickle demonstrates the power of togetherness, while also honoring the importance of tradition. Captured through great Yiddish humor, An American Pickle is a film one could take a juicy bite out of.
An American Pickle is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For some language and rude humor.
Directed by Brandon Trost
Starring Seth Rogen and Seth Rogen.
Available to stream on HBO Max.
Birds Of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is blissfully messy throughout, yet, its upheld by color action sequences, glittery bullets, and a prideful performance by Margot Robbie. It's an explosive comic flick chop-full of grit and confetti.
I, unfortunately, missed seeing Birds of Prey in the theaters and then COVID hit, and the rest is history. Luckily, HBO Max finally dropped Cathy Yan's (2018's Dead Pigs) newest additional to the DCEU. Birds of Prey is messy, narratively speaking, yet the film is upheld by several stellar performances — Margot Robbie, Ella Jay Basco, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Ewan McGregor. Yan gives this glittery-potluck of a film a beating heart and keeps its manic momentum going. The only critique I had with the movie was writer Christina Hodson's (2018's Bumblebee) jumbled structure in storytelling. The beginning and middle of this film jumps all over the place until it finally finds its footing. But this is Margot's baby, and she's no longer tied to Mr. J, so she gets to call the shots. Birds of Prey gives Gotham a new makeover, similar to the neon glow and structure of Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever (1995).
Yan's film also avoids objectifying our female hero's attire — something 2016's Suicide Squad failed to do. Robbie's Harley Quinn feels more like a three-dimensional person and not a prop that fanboys can fantasize over. We get a Harley with a more appealing, bright, and fierce look — a long yellow jumpsuit or a plastic raincoat (top) with an outburst of streamers and fringe. The solution to this exquisite clothing was, in particular, thanks to costume designer Erin Benach (Neon Demon, Drive, Loving, and 2018's A Star is Born). This choice of a female director (Yan), a female writer (Hodson), a female costume designer (Benach), and a female co-producer (Robbie) are the reasons I believe Birds of Prey succeeded in telling a comic-book story from a woman's perspective. Our film follows Harley (a knockout Robbie) and her mischief around the city — unfortunately, with Harley no longer being Mr. J's number two, the entire city of thieves are after her head.
This leads us to the plot of Cassandra "Cass" Cain (Basco): a young girl who has pick-pocketed her way into stealing a valuable diamond from Roman Sionis (a wild McGregor) a.k.a. Black Mask. Sionis puts a bounty on Cass's head, leading to a mass man-hunt of Gotham's most notorious criminals searching for her. Harley and Cass eventually cross paths leading Harley to become Cass's guardian throughout the film. There are several other subplots throughout the movie — Winstead's The Huntress backstory, Smollett-Bell's Black Canary transformation, and Perez's rogue detective, Renee Montoya. All roads lead our heroines to eventually square off with each other, and make alliances fighting together against Sionis. With all of its small missteps, Birds of Prey was a colorful firework display of strong female leads, glorious action sequences, and a mouthwatering egg sandwich scene. We also meet Harley's unusual pet, a spotted hyena named Bruce. In addition, Birds of Prey marked Yan as the first female Asian director to direct a superhero film. This was a fun cotton-candy superhero flick that I hope gets a sequel. Robbie and Yan's neon comic strip is chop-full of grit, confetti, and well worth your time.
Birds of Prey is rated R (Restricted) For strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material.
Directed by Cathy Yan
Starring Margot Robbie, Ella Jay Basco, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Messina, Ali Wong, Dana Lee and Ewan McGregor.
From April 27 to May 6, 2020, I watched 25 Narrative and Documentary Shorts. Sadly, SXSW 2020 did not get to happen in-person this year in Austin, Texas, due to COVID. However, I am incredibly happy that Amazon picked up 39 films from the festival and was able to stream them for free to the general public. I proudly present Part Two of my exclusive SXSW packaged reviews. Below are the 9 Documentary Shorts I watched back in May. Enjoy!
Shirley is a spellbinding experience, full of continuous camera techniques, an impressive cast, and a story that will fester under people's skin.
Shirley is not a movie for everyone, but it's an intriguing film and one that you cannot shake afterward. Upheld by the talented cast (Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, and Logan Lerman), Shirley's boundary bending mechanisms will rattle your bones. This approach was uncanny, yet all the more mesmerizing. Understandably, this approach may not be for every viewer — leaving one in a hypnotic state of mind. Shirley feels dreamlike frame after frame, as we unravel the mind of the great horror writer, Shirley Jackson. Directed by Josephine Decker (Madeline's Madeline), we feel the chills of this film's inner self shiver through our soul. Shirley follows a young, newlywed couple (a powerful Young and a persuasive Lerman) who are invited to stay with the Jackson's — in hopes of starting a new life and to be mentored by them. Shirley Jackson (a masterclass Moss) is a renowned horror author, who's at the start of writing a new novel. Jackson was known for her short story extravaganza — including powerful pieces like "Charles," Mademoiselle, July 1948, or "The Lottery," The New Yorker, June 26, 1948.
Where to begin with Mrs. Jackson, a kingpin for horror, mystery, and Gothic writing — she was also an inspiration to many future writers, like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Sarah Waters, Nigel Kneale, Claire Fuller, Joanne Harris, and Richard Matheson. Mrs. Jackson was married to an American literary critic named Stanley Edgar Hyman (a never better Stuhlbarg). Hyman taught at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, and did not believe in a monogamous relationship. During their marriage, Hyman was adulterous, notably with his students, and Jackson reluctantly agreed to his proposition of maintaining an open relationship. I cannot imagine the emotional toll this must have caused Mrs. Jackson — Decker perfectly executes this tension between Jackson and Hyman in the film. We see Hyman make advances to Rose (Young), as she deflects and retreats to Jackson for sanctuary. Jackson's physical and emotional health spirals in and out throughout the movie, as she desperately tries to finish her new novel. Hyman's verbal cues don't help either, as he's critiquing her on everything thing she does — written and non-written.
Like Shirley's mind, the film's camerawork is a continuous motion, zigzagging throughout every scene. To me, this was a representation of Shirley's emotional health. There's one still shot at the very end of the film where Shirley has finally completed her novel. The stillness in this shot represented Shirley finally being at peace with herself. The cinematography is shot like a dreamlike sequence — exemplified through bright outside colors and hazy inside colors. Shirley is a biopic that forgoes normal film structures, keeping the audience on edge. I would not say I loved Shirley, but I deeply admire this kind of filmmaking. On top of all this, we are granted with another superb performance by Elisabeth Moss — through rage, fearlessness, and acute attention to detail, Moss delivers another Oscar-worthy performance. She's at the top of her game and nothing will stop her. While Stuhlbarg delivers another flawless supporting role. Known for films like Call Me by Your Name, The Shape of Water, Arrival, and Hugo, Stuhlbarg continues his impressive film resume. Shirley is a wild film about a legendary writer, who composed six novels, two memoirs, and more than 200 short stories over a period of two decades. Shirley is a movie that will creep inside your bones and stay there until the end of time.
Shirley is rated R (Restricted). For sexual content, nudity, language and brief disturbing images.
Directed by Josephine Decker
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, and Logan Lerman.
Available to watch on Hulu.
Tigertail is a beautiful love letter to America's immigration experience. This slow-burning family saga flourishes frame after frame — leaving our viewer's with a gracious cinematic wonder.
Tigertail is a wonderful-little film, shedding light on the Asian-American journey and one family's pursuit of immigrating to America. Directed by Alan Yang (Co-creator, Master of None), Tigertail is a deeply personal film that will resonate with your soul. This film marks as Yang's directorial debut — upheld by a thoughtful script, three-dimensional characters, and a love story that will break you. Tigertail is 'loosely' based on Yang's dad's own immigration journey from the shores of Taiwan to the skyscrapers of the United States. A poignant film that's superbly acted and glowing with green and yellow tints. Yang's script is a compassionate story that blossoms throughout the film — uplifted by talented actors and gorgeous cinematography. Cinematographer Nigel Bluck adds layers and depth with a skill vision of warm color palettes. A moving picture that sticks with you long after the credits are done.
In this potent multi-generational drama, Pin-Jui (Hong-Chi Lee) is a young Taiwanese factory worker, who makes the difficult decision to leave his homeland, seeking a better opportunity in America. But, this comes with a difficult price, Pin-Jui must leave the woman he loves behind, Yuan (Yo-Hsing Fang). Pin-Jui is allowed to make it to America through an arranged marriage with Zhenzhen (Kunjue Li). After Pin-Jui and Zhenzhen get into a car for the airport, he sees a woman who looks like Yuan in a crowded market as they drive by. She glances back at him and in the blink of an eye, she's gone. Pin-Jui and Zhenzhen make it to New York City — the couple move into a small rundown apartment. Pin-Jui gets a job at a local grocery store, where a works tirelessly to provide for his new family. Zhenzhen meets another Taiwanese woman at the local laundromat and they become friends. Overtime, Pin-Jui and Zhenzhen begin growing apart as a couple, only staying together because of their children. Jump to the present: we see an older Pin-Jui (Tzi Ma) arriving back home from his mother's funeral in Taiwan.
Pin-Jui is greeted by his daughter Angela (Christine Ko). Pin-Jui and Zhenzhen have been divorced for a while now and his relationship with his daughter is fragmented. Yang constructively jumps back and forth between the past and present in Pin-Jui's life. Pin-Jui must reconnect with his daughter and move towards finally building the life he once dreamed of having. Tigertail is a beautiful story of family, loss, and reconnection. It's also a powerful bond for the Asian-American experience and multi-generational love. There's a scene towards the end where Pin-Jui takes his daughter to visit Taiwan with him. It's a gentle moment between the film's father-daughter relationship. Tigertail is a little movie that resonates deep inside your heart, flourishing frame after frame.
Tigertail is rated PG (Parental Guidance). For some thematic elements, language, smoking and brief sensuality.
Directed by Alan Yang
Starring Hong-Chi Lee, Tzi Ma, Yo-Hsing Fang, Kunjue Li, Christine Ko, Fiona Fu, and Joan Chen.
Michelle Obama's Becoming is a fairly intimate journey with the former First Lady, as we travel with her through public life. Uplifting, Becoming embodies the best in Mrs. Obama and her mission to help our youth.
Netflix's Becoming is a delightful documentary that unveils how far our country has come during the Obama years and how far our country still needs to go. The doc offers an up-close look at Mrs. Obama's life, taking viewers behind the scenes, as she embarks on a 34-city tour promoting her memoir, Becoming. Director Nadia Hallgren highlights the power of our nation's community to help bridge our partisan divide. Through the lens, we see the spirit of relationships that open up when we honestly share our stories. Published in 2018: Mrs. Obama's memoir describes a deeply personal experience that led her to become our country's first Black First Lady. Becoming talks about Mrs. Obama's Southside roots, how she found her voice, as well as her time in the White House. Here, Mrs. Obama had to balance both her role as the First Lady — like her public health campaign (Let's Move!) — and her role as a mother to her daughters Malia and Sasha. One million copies of Becoming were also donated to First Book, an American nonprofit organization, which provides books to children.
Through grace and multi-city conversations, Mrs. Obama gently shines her presence into leadership for our youth. Becoming also recalls moments of profound change and progress during the Obama years — the historic 2009 presidential inauguration and 2015's legalization of same-sex marriage (LGBT rights) by the Supreme Court. Yet, Mrs. Obama doesn't hold back on talking about the racial inequalities, police brutality, and gun violence that still ravage through our country. We talk about Black and Brown communities that are still disproportioned. We talk about the mass shootings that still persist in our country with no gun control laws insight — specifically the 2015 Charleston church massacre. And we talk about the Black men and women who continue to be killed by police brutality — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice — honing in on the importance of Black Lives Matter. We also see how Mrs. Obama interacts with our youth, encouraging them to vote — this is how change starts. Productive activism and voting are how we, as a country, will move forward towards a brighter future.
Mrs. Obama doesn't hold back on her criticism towards the Democratic voters who didn't turn out in 2016 — "The day I left the White House, I write about how painful it was to sit on that stage — a lot of our folks didn't vote, so it was almost like, a slap in the face." Sadly, there's a lot of progress that's been overturned from the Obama years, which is why this November is highly critical that we get out and vote. As of now, our country is heading in a terrible direction, making the 2020 election more dire than 2016. This election will affect generations to come — so please make sure you get out and vote, vote, vote. In the end, Becoming is flawed in certain areas, yet Mrs. Obama's compassion and grace help guide this documentary in the right direction. “For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.” — former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Becoming is rated PG (Parental Guidance). For some thematic elements and brief language.
Directed by Nadia Hallgren
Starring Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Gayle King, Craig Robinson, Marian Shields Robinson, Phoebe Robinson, and Oprah Winfrey.
Available to watch on Netflix.
There's a lot to unpack in Netflix's Athlete A — a harrowing documentary that unveils the horrors of sexual abuse and a culture that allowed it to persist for years.
Athlete A is a challenging documentary by its nature, but it is necessary to hear from these brave women — their stories are vital. USA Gymnastics' toxic culture needs to change — in light of the reporting, the trials, and this documentary, we see an organization whose main priority was to protect the brand and not the girls. Filmmakers, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power), grapple with the corrupt system inside USAG and the culture of predatory behavior that allowed Dr. Larry Nassar to prey on young girls and to continue doing so unprosecuted. Athlete A also shows us the power of journalism, its importance for holding others accountable, and the virtue of knowing the truth. The name, "Athlete A," refers to a then-anonymous gymnast whose complaint led to the first public disclosure of decades of abuse by Nassar. We would later find out "Athlete A" is gymnast Maggie Nichols, whose complaint was buried for more than a year, until 2016. By then, a team of reporters (Steve Berta, Marisa Kwiatkowski, Mark Alesia, and Tim Evans) from The Indianapolis Star were already investigating other abuse claims from the nation's most well-known Olympic organization.
The IndyStar had also spoken to other survivors, like former gymnasts Rachael Denhollander and Jamie Dantzscher. The abuse and change in this organization date back to the dynamic shift of the sport during the 1976 Olympics, when Nadia Comăneci ushered in a new era of gymnasts. After 1976, the competitors got younger and smaller — guiding a path for body and mind manipulation, and a system of fear and intimidation from adults. Within this new structure, coaches Béla and Márta Károlyi carved out a method of systemic verbal and physical abuse as the only model for achieving gold medals. During the '90s, Nassar had propelled himself deep into the organization, while he was commonly known as "the only nice adult" to these female gymnasts. It was here, where Nassar would gain trust — often passing out candy and making jokes to the children. When he was left alone in one-on-one interactions with them, this is where the abuse started. Nassar even strategically abused some of the girls when their parents were in the same room. He would position his body in ways to block what he was actually doing, leaving these girls traumatized for the years that followed.
The investigation by The IndyStar expanded over a period of nine months and found that the abuses were widespread because "predatory coaches were allowed to move from gym to gym, undetected by a lax system of oversight, or dangerously passed on by USA Gymnastics-certified gyms." These discoveries were downplayed and covered up by USAG's former CEO, Steve Penny. In October of 2018, Penny was arrested on the charge of evidence tampering in the Nassar case and was also accused of removing documents linked to the Nassar sexual abuse case from the Karolyi Ranch, the gymnastics training facility in Texas. Also in 2018, Lou Anna Simon (former Michigan State University president) and Kathie Klages (former MSU gymnastics coach) were both arrested with felonies and misdemeanor counts for lying to police about knowledge of sexual abuse allegations against Nassar and a disregard to the Title IX complaint against him from 2014. After explosive revelations came out in 2015 about Nassar — two years later, he would be sentenced to 60 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. Additionally, in January 2018, Nassar was sentenced to 175 years in a Michigan state prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual assault of minors. Finally, in February 2018, he was sentenced to an additional 40 to 125 years in prison after pleading guilty to an additional three counts of sexual assault — assuring that he will die behind bars. Over two decades, more than 368 persons alleged that they were sexually assaulted "by gym owners, coaches, and staff working for gymnastics programs across the country."
Since The IndyStar first reported the scandal in September 2016, more than 265 women, including former USAG national team members Dantzscher, Nichols, Morgan White, Jeanette Antolin, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles, Jordyn Wieber, Sabrina Vega, Ashton Locklear, Kyla Ross, Madison Kocian, Amanda Jetter, Tasha Schwikert, Mattie Larson, Bailie Key, Kennedy Baker, and Alyssa Baumann, have accused Nassar of sexually assaulting them — making this one of the largest sexual abuse scandals in sports history. There's a powerful scene in Athlete A, where Angela Povilaitis (former assistant AG of Michigan) had 100 women come forward to give testimony in front of Nassar. These brave women looked Nassar directly in the face, as he glances down, and begin speaking of what Nassar had taken from them — physically and emotionally. That scene is a sense of awe as we see these courageous women openly speak up. Athlete A is a devastating and inspiring documentary about survivors speaking out and a culture of cruelty thriving within the institutions of elite-gymnastics. Athlete A reveals a sense of triumph for these brave athletes of refused to be silenced by an institution that rejected their humanity and only sought for the gold.
Athlete A is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For mature thematic content including detailed descriptions of sexual abuse of minors.
Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk
Available to watch on Netflix.
A modern reinvention and provocation of Groundhog Day, Palm Springs is refreshing, funny, and brilliantly carried by its two leads (Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti). It's also one of 2020's best romances.
You'll fall in love with Palm Springs, 2020's time-loop phenomenon that's dazzling, wild, and irresistible frame after frame. It's a romcom that smartly blends science fiction, comedy, and drama all packed into one refreshing concept of immorality. In his directorial debut, Max Barbakow digs deep into reworking the Groundhog Day formula, while also relying heavily on Leaving Las Vegas. Similar scripts have worked with this formula and expanded upon it, think Netflix's Russian Doll. Palm Springs also succeeds in expanding upon this initial approach, blossoming into a potluck of genres and messages. Writer Andy Siara cleverly started the film with Nyles (a boozin' Andy Samberg) already stuck within the time-loop, making Palm Springs feel more like "a sequel to a movie that doesn't exist." Siara then adds Sarah (a wonderful Cristin Milioti) as a second character within the loop, serving as a navigator for the audience. Our film follows a wedding in Palm Springs, CA, where Nyles meets Sarah, the maid of honor, and the family black sheep.
After Nyles rescues Sarah from a disastrous toast, Sarah becomes attracted to Nyles and his nihilistic way of life. Yet, this all becomes complicated when Nyles is hunted down by a man named Roy (a hardy JK Simmons), shooting bow-in-arrows into his leg and shoulder. Sarah screams from the shock and horror of this encounter and begins following Nyles as he crawls into a mysterious cave. Nyles mumbles back at Sarah to turn around, but curiosity killed the cat. Sarah suddenly awakes the next morning — thinking it's the day after the wedding, however, Sarah soon finds herself reliving the wedding day (November 9th) again. Nyles reveals to Sarah that he's been stuck in the time-loop for God knows how long — if he dies or falls asleep he begins the same day over again. Nyles also reveals the man, Roy (Simmons), who occasionally hunts him was anciently brought into the loop with him leaving bad blood. This surreal interruption leads Sarah to trustfully join Nyles in embracing the idea that nothing in life really matters. Our two leads begin wreaking spirited havoc on her sister's (Camila Mendes) wedding celebration and around the town of Palm Springs — day after day.
Palm Springs is a near-perfect film that studies the effects of going through the motions of life while blending multiple genres into this wild film. Samberg has proven that he can both handle emotional drama and be a romantic lead — a new side I'm excited to see him in. While Milioti was able to shed both her emotional splendor and comedic charm. Milioti and Samberg's irresistible chemistry shines frame after frame as we follow their journey through the desert of vast eternity. Through many booze and even some special mushrooms, our characters hit the repeat on living like there's no tomorrow. This provocative romcom will make you laugh until your sides hurt and simultaneously punch you in the gut with its emotional toll. Our characters grapple with the real-life struggles of depression, pessimism, and abnegation in their repeating world — something many people are experiencing now for the first time in this COVID world of ours. Yet, this doesn't stop Nyles and Sarah from finding the best in themselves and finding comfort in the presence of each other. Palm Springs is a movie one could literally watch over and over again — through dark humor and a modern message on self-reflection, Palm Springs is one of the best films to come out in 2020. You'll find solace in this rejuvenating romance, I guarantee it.
Palm Springs is rated R (Restricted). For sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some violence.
Directed by Max Barbakow
Starring Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin, Chris Pang, Jacqueline Obradors, June Squibb, Tongayi Chirisa, and Dale Dickey.
Available to watch on Hulu
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is messy, narratively speaking, yet Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams' charm and chemistry keep this catchy tune full of visual fireworks and laugh-out-loud moments.
Through glamour, silliness, and high-in production numbers — Eurovision turned out to be a delightful comedy. This affectionate lampoon, directed by David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers and Fred Claus), delivers a goofy story chop full of pop songs and over-the-top production numbers. Ferrell and McAdams shine in the roles as Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdottir, aspiring musicians who are given the opportunity to represent their country (Iceland) at the world's biggest song competition, Eurovision Song Contest. Eurovision's plot is preposterous, yet we are sucked in with its infectious charm and addictive songs. Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (McAdams) are best friends, born and raised in Iceland, who make music together for their band Fire Saga. Lars and Sigrit apply and are selected to take part in Söngvakeppnin, the Icelandic pre-selection for the Eurovision Song Contest. Lars' dream is to win the Eurovision Song Contest and prove to his father (a bearded Pierce Brosnan), that he is a true artist. Lars and Sigrit's performance at the Söngvakeppnin is a disaster, leading them to leave the competition early. Looking out from a distance at the boat party taking place, Lars and Sigrit are sadden by their terrible performance. Suddenly ... the boat explodes killing everyone on board — even Iceland's beloved singer Katiana Lindsdóttir (Demi Lovato).
With Fire Saga being the only two surviving contestants, they automatically become Iceland's entry. A bizarre turn of events for a bizarre film — written by Ferrell and Andrew Steele. Lars and Sigrit make their way to Scotland, where the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest is being held. Here we meet a variety of different singers, including Russian singer Alexander Lemtov (a hilarious Dan Stevens). Lemtov's number includes fire, lion pattern costumes, and a burning passion for seduction. Lars and Sigrit decide to perform their catchy song, "Double Trouble." Other lavishing songs include "Volcano Man," "Jaja Ding Dong," "In the Mirror," and "Husavik." These songs will get stuck in your head until the end of time: "Woke up at night/I heard floating chords/They guided me ... "Volcano Man/He's got my melting heart/Volcanic Protector Man." Several former contestants of the Eurovision Song Contest also made cameos in the film, including Swedish pop singer, Molly Sandén (2006 Junior contestant), whose voice was harmonized with McAdams' voice creating the singing voice of Sigrit. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a bit long, but it's upheld by amusing numbers and funny moments by our two leads (Ferrell and McAdams). Sigrit even believes in the old Icelandic tradition of elves, yes this is still very much a thing. Through all of the glittery costumes, infectious song numbers, and a pair of talented leads, we are given an entertaining show to waste time on. COVID may have you down right now, but Eurovision can help uplift your spirits — Viking accents and all.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For crude sexual material including full nude sculptures, some comic violent images, and language.
Directed by David Dobkin
Starring Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens, Natasia Demetriou, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Jamie Demetriou, and Demi Lovato.
Rejoice! Hamilton has finally arrived to Disney+, and it's better than ever. It's superior Theatre entertainment at its finest; that beautifully shines beyond Broadway's stage. This marvelous time-capsule is full of high energy and exemplifies the rap opera about our "ten-dollar Founding Father." Five-stars.
The streaming event of the year has arrived to Disney+, and it's a bonafide stage recording of musical fireworks. Lin-Manuel Miranda's 2015 phenomenon has captured America's heart and will continue to surprise you even to this day. The acclaimed show musical tells the story of an American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton — blending hip hop, R&B, pop, soul, and traditional-style show tunes. Hamilton also casts non-white actors (Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American) as the Founding Fathers and other historical figures. Miranda has described the musical as "America then, as told by America now." It's a glorious melody of our country's beginning shown through the eyes of diversity. Hamilton also went on to receive a record-setting 16 Tony nominations, winning 11 awards, including Best Musical. The pop-culture phenomenon also went on to win a Grammy (Best Musical Theater Album) and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Shot over three days in June of 2016 at the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York, we are blessed to see the original cast in their respected roles.
Referred to as Hamilfilm, the recorded stage version is a feast for our eyes. My hope for the future is that we will see more live recordings of Broadway musicals. It will be a great way to introduce people to the wonders of Broadway beyond the stage. Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography inspired Miranda's Broadway musical — "How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten/spot in the Caribbean by Providence impoverished in squalor/grow up to be a hero and a scholar?" Miranda is a first-generation Puerto Rican who puts on the blue coat as Mr. Hamilton while helping to support the revolution. Miranda's energetic presence will have you on your feet cheering him on. Hamilton proclaims, "I’m young, scrappy and hungry/And I’m not throwing away my shot!" Miranda is powerful, yet he knows the show is more than just him — full of other grandeur artists that prevail Hamilton to another dimension. At the start of the revolution, Hamilton befriends Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs), Hercules Mulligan (Okieriete Onaodowan), and John Laurens (Anthony Ramos). Respectfully, Diggs, Onaodowan, and Ramos all play dual roles in the musical. In the first act, Diggs articulates his French accent as the loyal companion, Lafayette, while he fiercely captures our third President, Thomas Jefferson, in the second act.
At the start of the second act, Jefferson proudly returns from France and sings to the catchy song, “What’d I Miss?” Hamilton and Jefferson begin to engage in rap battles on the direction they believe the country should be heading. Diggs' enthusiasm in both Lafayette and Jefferson is performed brilliantly. While Diggs' transformation from one character to the next is superbly executed on the stage. Diggs trades in his French accent and blue coat for a cocky attitude and a slick maroon coat. Onaodowan's dual role is both Mulligan (first act) and James Madison (second act). Onaodowan nails the energetic and gruff performance of Mulligan, who was a spy for the Continental Army. Onaodowan then slows things down as he transforms into the calm and quiet Madison. Ramos' dual role is both Laurens (first act) and Philip Hamilton (second act). Ramos' embodies the heroicness of Laurens — an avid critique of slavery, who fought for their freedom and died trying. In the second act, Ramos entails a more cocky attitude of a young Phillip Hamilton, who was killed in a duel at the age of 19. This tragedy haunted Hamilton and his wife, Eliza (played by Phillipa Soo). Back in the first act, Hamilton is introduced to the Schuyler sisters: Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Eliza (Soo), and Peggy (Jasmine Cephas Jones). "Work!" Goldsberry beautifully engulfs the nobility of Angelica Schuyler. She chooses to past on Hamilton, introducing him to her sister Eliza (Soo) instead.
This doesn't stop Angelica from majestically performing an illuminating song, "Satisfied", at Hamilton and Eliza's wedding. We see the lights glimmer and the rotating stage reverse in direction, illustrating a break in-time. Slow-moving, our characters rappel with backward motions to embody Angelica's thoughts as she recalls how she feels about Hamilton inside her head. "But Alexander I'll never forget the first time I saw your face/I have never been the same/Intelligent eyes in a hunger pain fame/And when you said hi I forgot my dang name/You set my heart aflame, every part aflame, this is not a game." It's a captivating scene that will send goosebumps down your arms. While Soo breathlessly captures Eliza's shining presence — we hear her voice roar as she sings to the heartbreaking melody, "Burn." In the second act, Hamilton becomes entangled in an affair with Maria Reynolds (also played by Jones). Eliza burns all of the letters Hamilton wrote her and rightfully so. "I'm burning the memories/Burning the letters that might have redeemed you/You forfeit all rights to my heart/You forfeit the place in our bed/You'll sleep in your office instead/With only memories of when you were mine/I hope that you burn." Soo's pain on the stage is raw and powerful a burning passion transforms from inside her voice and blasts through the screen. Actor Christopher Jackson is the another commanding presence on the stage with a massive build and a strong voice. Jackson plays our first President, George Washington. Hamilton is Washington's "Right Hand Man" and becomes our country's first Secretary of the Treasury. One of the most profound moments during the musical is during Jackson's song "One Last Time."
Here, we see a President who wants to step down and let the country move on. Washington knows his time in office should be limited and that democracy should prevail. Jackson's roaring words are a beating heart that will ease your conscience. “Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree/And no one shall make them afraid/They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made/I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree/A moment alone in the shade/At home in this nation we’ve made/One last time." Let us not forget, Jonathan Groff's dazzling performance as King George III — you'll laugh until your sides hurt from Groff's buffoonish incarnation as the tyrant king. "Oceans rise, empire fall/We have seen each other through it all/And when push comes to shove/I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love." Finally, Aaron Burr played by the marvelous Leslie Odom Jr. will burn your soul with his profound words. "And me, I'm the damn fool that shot him" or "Love doesn't discriminate/Between the sinners/And the saints/It takes and it takes and it takes." Odom Jr. won a Tony for his moving performance, giving us a tender and stirring feat full of range.
Burr and Hamilton started out as friends in the early days and then began growing farther apart. Once, Hamilton endorsed his known foe, Thomas Jefferson, instead of Burr for the 1800 presidential election, Burr's anger grew darker. "Jefferson has my vote/I have never agreed with Jefferson once/We have fought on like seventy-five diff’rent fronts/But when all is said and all is done/Jefferson has beliefs. Burr has none." This endorsement wedges a divide between Burr and Hamilton — leading them to settle their differences by duel, where Burr's political trigger is the striking blow to Hamilton's life. In addition to these splendid characters are a lively stage, dynamic lighting, a moving score, and a spirited Ensemble. Everything is meticulously calculated on the set — from the transcendent colors that brighten and darken, to the rotating sphere in the middle that keeps our actors always moving. Hamilton will continue to be a phenomenon, while also being a beacon of hope in this dark world of ours. "Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?" Hamilton will spark a light inside of you, as we get to watch it over and over again from the best seat in the house.
Hamilton is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For language and some suggestive material.
This masterpiece is directed by Thomas Kail
Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Chris Jackson, Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Jonathan Groff.
Da 5 Bloods continues to prove that director Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Bamboozled, Inside Man, Chi-Raq, and BlacKkKlansman) is ahead of the game with a masterfully crafted, politically aligned, and fiercely vocal film about the injustice of Black lives in America. As of now, Da 5 Bloods is the best film to come out in 2020. Five-stars.
Da 5 Bloods was everything I wanted in a Spike Lee Joint and more. The writing was solid works of art with compelling drama, stark violence, witty humor, and fierce ambition. I got whiplash from how abruptly the tone of the storyline would change, but this was Lee’s point. Da 5 Bloods revolves around four U.S. Veteran's prior trauma on a war we should not have fought in — while also focusing on what it means to be Black in America. Da 5 Bloods is also the first Hollywood film on the Vietnam War reflected through the eyes of Black Americans. All of the actors (Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.) were superb, each bringing their past wounds and conflicts to their fleshed-out characters. Lee also chose not to use CGI for the flashback war scenes on the older actors. This was a brilliant move by Lee, showing how his craft has continued to mature. The CGI-less actors demonstrated how our characters are still haunted by their time in Vietnam, making it feel like everything is happening in real-time.
There's an emotional richness to Da 5 Bloods — as with every Spike Lee Joint, we are grappled with Hollywood's blind spots on minority communities. Lee continues to critique and reexamine the way we look through the frame of movies. Lee has always had a beating heart for American films, yet that doesn't stop him from quarreling with the status quo — proving that many parts of our American history have been distorted. In 1989's Do the Right Thing, Lee examines the horrors of police brutality and with the recent death of George Floyd, sadly; not much has changed. Lee's 1991 Jungle Fever, explores the beginning and end of an interracial relationship in New York City — studying the effects of racism that attacks both race and romance. While Bamboozled was a satirical comedy-drama of modern televised minstrel shows and Chi-Raq played as a modern Greek comedy with parallels on the gun violence debate. In BlacKkKlansman, Lee showed that racism in America from the '70s to the present has not changed and in some instances, we, as a country, are going backward in the age of Trump. Lee has always been ahead of the curb on topics dealing with race relations, the role of the media, crime and poverty, and political matters.
Da 5 Bloods continues Lee's passionate engagement with the Black Lives Matters movement. Our film tells the story of four African-American Vets — Paul (Lindo), Otis (Peters), Eddie (Lewis), and Melvin (Whitlock Jr.) — who return to Vietnam to find the remains of their fallen Squad Leader (Chadwick Boseman). The group, known as the Bloods, are also on a journey of promised buried gold and are joined by Paul's concerned son, David (Majors). Here, our characters confront their fears, hopes, and internal conflicts in a place they have fought before. Lindo plays Paul — a MAGA-loving Vet who's been beaten and broken down by a system that suppresses him. Paul's stance on politics and Trump leaves his other Bloods disgusted with him, but that doesn't stop Paul from running his mouth. Paul exclaims that our country needs that 'wall' and the 'foreigners' are taking all of our jobs! Paul has narrowed his views of discrimination and solely focuses on his struggle — leaving us with a flawed man who only wants himself to benefit at the price of others. Lindo is a revelation in the role of Paul. His acting chops are beautifully constructed and fiercely persuasive. Lindo captivates scene after scene, giving us one of his best performances to-date. He deserves an Oscar nomination in a Leading Role for this profound accomplishment. Raw and honest, Lindo will keep you glued to your seat. One of his best scenes comes when Paul breaks the fourth wall and begins reciting monologues while he rages throughout the jungle. This scene meticulously captures the mind of a Vet who suffers from PTSD.
Next, there's Otis (Peters), who's considered the new leader of the group since Norman, (Boseman) the fallen Squad Leader, has died. While in Vietnam, Otis visits a past love of his, Tiên (Lê Y Lan), who reveals that he is the father of her grown child. Otis is introduced to his daughter, Michon (Sandy Huong Pham). Michon's subplot is a small but important role to the film's core. Within this subplot, is a heartfelt father-daughter reunion that reveals the relationship to the Black-Amerasian identity. According to Amerasians Without Borders, “it was estimated that there were about 25,000 to 30,000 Amerasians born within a 10 years period during the Vietnam War.” Lee shows the conflict that Amerasians struggle with and embraces their identity — it's a small but moving treasure the film unveils. Peter shines as Otis through compassion and zeal, while reflecting on his strengths and weaknesses. Peter is a passionate man who's looking for hope. Lewis plays Eddie, while Whitlock Jr. plays Melvin — Eddie is struggling financially but hides it through pride and Melvin helps brighten the group with his warm comic relief. Melvin is the Blood happily boozing his way through Ho Chi Minh City. Da 5 Bloods is a combination of past films, like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Apocalypse Now, and a dash of Rambo. Lee is a master in control, showing off violent urges that's underlined with statements of activism. Through it all, we follow these Bloods on their dangerous mission through the wilderness to find their fallen leader and root for them to bring home the gold — land mines and all.
Lastly, this leads us to the role of David played by Majors. David is a concerned son who follows his dad, Paul, to Ho Chi Minh City and joins them on their journey. Majors grapples with a son longing for his dad's love, while also struggling with his mom's death. David blames himself for her death because she died in childbirth when having him. Here, we see a son who only wants to be acknowledged by his dad and given a voice to speak with. Just as he was in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Major's gives us another heartfelt performance. Through blood, sweat, and tears, we feel David's pain aching from the bottom of his heart. One of the most intense scenes in the movie is when David steps on a land mine and cannot move a muscle or the mine will explode. This sequence between David and his father coaching him through will have you on the edge of your couch. Lee's intense scene is a combination of emotions and adrenaline rushing through your veins. It's one of the most heart-pounding scenes I've ever experienced on screen, even at the comfort of my home I was on edge. In the end, Da 5 Bloods is a combination of drama, trauma, grit, and activism, all piled into one hell of a movie. Like a head rush, Lee's newest Joint will seep through your bones. Da 5 Bloods is one of Lee's greatest achievements and I am excited for more to come. Through Lee's imagery, we see that Black Lives Mattered in Vietnam, too.
Da 5 Bloods is rated R (Restricted). For strong violence, grisly images, and pervasive language.
This Joint is Directed by Spike Lee
Starring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Lê Y Lan, Nguyen Ngọc Lâm, Sandy Huong Pham, Jean Reno, and Van Veronica Ngo.
Experience this triumph only on Netflix.
From April 27 to May 6, 2020, I watched 25 Narrative and Documentary Shorts. Sadly, SXSW 2020 did not get to happen in-person this year in Austin, Texas, due to COVID. However, I am incredibly happy that Amazon picked up 39 films from the festival and was able to stream them for free to the general public. I proudly present part one of two packaged reviews. Up first, the 16 Narrative Shorts I watched.
Kimmy vs. the Reverend is a wonderfully joyous surprise for fans of the original show. Funny and fast-paced, this TV-movie special will brighten your day. Plus, the interactive mode is used to its best capacity -- giggles and all.
Fans of Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are in for another fabulous streaming treat. With cheerful coda and our whimsical heroin (Kimmy, played by Ellie Kemper), our viewers are allowed to call all of the silly shots. There three different timelines that the viewers can take throughout the hour and a half special — all leading you to the same conclusion. If you make a bad choice that leads to a bad consequence Mikey, played by Mike Carlsen ) or actor Fred Armisen will come onto the screen, give you a pep talk and have you redo the last sequence. Depending on which road the viewers want to take, their paths can be wild and unpredictable or safe and smart — all are still an enjoyable experience. Trust me, I tried every option for every sequence multiple times. Yet, even with selecting the most ridiculous choices, the show always steers you back into the right direction.
Along with the witty interactive options is the return of a spectacular cast — Kemper as Kimmy, Tituss Burgess as Tituss, Jane Krakowski as Jaqueline, Jon Hamm as The Reverend, Carol Kane as Lillian, Lauren Adams as Gretchen and Sara Chase as Cyndee. In this newest adventure with Kimmy, she's planning her wedding day with her rich-British fiance, Prince Frederick (Daniel Radcliffe). Everything seems perfect until Kimmy realizes that there's another bunker The Reverend has hidden away. Will Kimmy be able to find the location of the bunker to rescue the girls? Will The Reverend foil Kimmy's plan to marry? Will Titus get his big break as a movie star? Will, you accidentally destroy the 'Me Too' movement or start a war with robots? The choice is in the palm of your hands and the comfort of your own house. Kimmy vs. the Reverend is full of non-stop gags from a very funny show — I hope we'll be seeing more of Kimmy and her friends sometime in the future. "Females are strong as hell." "Unbreakable!"
Kimmy vs. The Reverend is rated TV-14
Directed by Claire Scanlon
Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock
Starring Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Jane Krakowski, Jon Hamm, Carol Kane, Lauren Adams, Sara Chase and Daniel Radcliffe.
Love her or hate her, there's no denying that Hillary Rodham Clinton has made her footprint in our country's politics and helped push our country forward in a vision of Progressivism.
Party affiliations aside, Hulu's four-hour documentary is razor-sharp — thoroughly examining her political life from her youthful days at Yale Law School to First Lady of the United States, from Senator of New York to Secretary of State, from her 2016 Presidential campaign to where she's at now. Hillary premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, was picked up by Hulu and premiered for streaming back in mid-March. This four-part bio-doc willfully explores Mrs. Clinton's life in and out of the public eye. Director Nanette Burstein (The Kid Stays in the Picture) not only shows Mrs. Clinton's progressive accomplishments but also exposes Mrs. Clinton's fight against sexism and right-wing critics. Yet, Mrs. Clinton is not perfect and she has her flaws — as do all politicians. Burstein moderately studies those flaws and how they have affected her throughout her career. Burstein conducted 30 hours of interviews with Mrs. Clinton and used 2,000 hours of 2016's campaign footage.
The opening title sequence for Hillary rapidly flashes photos of Mrs. Clinton aging throughout her years, yet her eyes are always fixed and focused in the same spot. Her photos and age may be changing and evolving but Mrs. Clinton's eyes never do — a nod to her vision for women everywhere to keep pushing forward. This fierce title sequence is backed by The Interrupters' 2014 rockin' “Take Back the Power." Hillary spends a great deal of time talking about her bruising Presidential loss to Donald J. Trump back in 2016. A loss that many found shocking, as did I. In the doc, Mrs. Clinton refused to mention Mr. Trump by name — referring to him as "my opponent" or "he". This keeps the documentary focused on Mrs. Clinton and not her "opponent" who tends to suck out all of the air in the room. Between the conversations about Mrs. Clinton's 2016 Presidential campaign, the viewers are given chronological flashbacks of her career. Parts of Hillary may seem rather simplistic for her robust career and four-hours is not enough to cover everything she's done.
Yet, it's the little moments in Hillary that shine brightest — i.e. in 1995 when First Lady Clinton delivered her "human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights" speech in Beijing, China. Mrs. Clinton's moving speech became a key moment in the empowerment of women from around the world. Hillary has a lot of groundwork to cover, Burstein examines everything from her advocation of healthcare reform as First Lady to the Lewinsky scandal, from her being the first female Senator elected in New York to her draining Democratic Presidential primary race against Bernie Sanders. Facing excruciating rage from toxic hardcore Bernie fans, Mrs. Clinton lets loose on her feelings about the senator. “He was in Congress for years. He had one senator support him. Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it." In the words of Rhett Butler, "frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn", Mrs. Clinton lays everything out on the table and has nothing left to loose. Mrs. Clinton has normally held back from this type of talk but after 2016, her attitude has changed.
Looking back at the past, Mrs. Clinton was born into a Moderate Republican family in Chicago, Illinois. She grew up with Conservative-Methodist parents and family members and was affiliated with the Republican Party throughout her teen years and early adult life. Mrs. Clinton later volunteered to campaign for Republican candidate Barry Goldwater in the U.S. Presidential election of 1964. In 1965, Mrs. Clinton enrolled at Wellesley College, where she majored in political science. During her first year, Mrs. Clinton was president of the Wellesley Young Republicans. This Conservative group at Wellesley College was known as "Rockefeller Republican", which supported the elections of moderate Republicans. Back then, Mrs. Clinton would describe herself as "a mind conservative and a heart liberal". However, it was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the Civil Rights movement, and the Vietnam War that helped evolve Mrs. Clinton's political affiliation from a Republican to a Democrat. In 1969, Mrs. Clinton entered Yale Law School, where she would study to get her Juris Doctor (JD) degree and meet her husband, Bill Clinton. In 1977, Mr. Clinton was elected Arkansas Attorney General and Mrs. Clinton moved down to Little Rock, where she joined the Rose Law Firm.
During her time in Arkansas, Mrs. Clinton started encountering many instances of sexism — most notably because, at the time, she chose to keep her maiden name (Rodham). This upset many traditional Arkansasians. Mr. Clinton announced her presidential bid and won in November of 1992, defeating incumbent Republican opponent George H. W. Bush. During her time as First Lady (1993 — 2001), Mrs. Clinton was often regarded as the most openly empowered presidential wife in American history, right after Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Clinton also became the first First Lady to have her own office in the West Wing. First Ladies normally have an office in the East Wing. Because of this, Mrs. Clinton was part of the innermost circle vetting appointments to the new administration. Her choices filled eleven top-level positions and dozens of lower-level ones. Mrs. Clinton's biggest focus during her time as First Lady was healthcare reform. Sadly, Mrs. Clinton's bill for healthcare reform was killed after the 1994 'Republican Revolution' led by Newt Gingrich. The GOP took back the House after being in the minority for 40 years. Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton played a leading role in the creation of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the Adoption and Safe Families Act, and the Foster Care Independence Act.
Mrs. Clinton also traveled to 79 countries during this time, breaking the record for most-traveled First Lady previously held by Pat Nixon. Yet, with all that being said, Mrs. Clinton's image was damaged due to the Whitewater controversy and the Lewinsky scandal. Even though the Lewinsky scandal was Mr. Clinton's fault and his fault alone, Mrs. Clinton still took some criticism due to her choice to stay with him and reaffirm her commitment to their marriage. In 2000, Mrs. Clinton decided to run for Senator of New York — winning and becoming the first female Senator elected for New York. During her tenure, Mrs. Clinton was a noble advocate for medical benefits for first responders whose health was damaged in the September 11 attacks. “Everything changed on September 11th,” Mrs. Clinton said. “It looked like hell. I mean, any depiction — Dante’s Inferno — paled in comparison. It was the most terrible sight I’ve ever personally seen. I think about it all the time.” Yet, Mrs. Clinton reaffirmed her thankfulness of President George W. Bush and his leadership after the events of 9/11. “For all of my disagreements with President Bush, I will forever be grateful to him for guaranteeing we got the money we needed to rebuild New York.” During the Obama administration, Mrs. Clinton was Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013.
The doc explores the Benghazi and 'emails" exploitation some Republicans used against Mrs. Clinton at her time as Secretary of State and during the 2016 Presidential election. We all know that the 2012 Benghazi attack was a failure in the State Department, yet some GOP members and Fox News used Mrs. Clinton as a punching bag. There were 10 Benghazi investigations — six by Republican-controlled congressional committees — none of which found any faults from high-ranking Obama administration officials. And yes, Mrs. Clinton made mistakes with the email controversy, however; this controversy was vastly exploited by right-wing pundits, who used it as an opportunity to label her as 'untrustworthy'. Which brings us to the present, Hillary is a razor-sharp documentary that shows us how Mrs. Clinton's robust career was unable to, at times, keep control of her own narrative.
Mrs. Clinton has gone from being viewed as an empowering symbol for all women to two-faced or secretive, from passing progressive bills to being too submissive to her husband, from being a torchbearer for equality to being too corporate-focused. All of this led our nation to one of the most polarizing elections we've ever seen in modern history. Our country is and has been ready for a woman president, yet the misogynistic views ingrained into some voter's minds have held our country back. History will look back at Mrs. Clinton's definitive legacy and the impact she had on our society. Love her or hate her, there's no denying that Mrs. Clinton's political footprint has been established. Finally, I will leave you with some of the lyrics exclaimed by The Interrupters, let these words sink in both as a virtue for inside and outside of politics: "What's your plan for tomorrow. Are you a leader or will you follow. Are you a fighter or will you cower. It's our time to take back the power."
Onward is a sweet and colorful adventure for the whole family, adding another worthy entry to the Pixar canon.
This movie was watched from the comfort of my home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please stay inside, stay healthy, and watch some movies. Sadly, Onward's box office failure was attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in theaters around the globe being closed. However, do not let this stop you from watching the movie at home. Onward is available to rent or buy on VOD (including iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime, and FandangoNow) and is streaming everywhere on Disney+.
Onward is a whimsical and superbly sewn together piece of gorgeous animation. Padded with funny and heartwarming charisma by its two leads (Tom Holland and Chris Pratt), Pixar's newest mythical journey is here to stay. Our film follows a world inhabited by mythical creatures, where magic was commonplace many millennia ago. Yet, after the technology advanced over the centuries, magic became obsolete and was largely discarded among the creatures. Now, two teenage elven brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot (voices of Tom Holland and Chris Pratt), get an unexpected chance to spend one more day with their late father, embarking them on a quest to bring him back for a moment in time. Holland is the voice of Ian Lightfoot, a shy and curious teenage elf who wants to make new friends and looks up to his late father, Wilden Lightfoot (voiced by Kyle Bornheimer). Holland gives Ian a tender heart with his lighthearted mannerisms and his bashfulness.
Pratt is the voice of Barley Lightfoot, a loud and proud teenage elf who's obsessed with mythical stories and the past times of society's old magic. Pratt's brash and comical mouth gives Barley a sense of adventure — pushing his younger brother to vast opportunities. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the voice of Laurel Lightfoot, a strong single mother trying to raise her two teenage elves. On Ian's 16th birthday, Laurel gives the brothers a gift from their father: a magical staff, a rare gem, and a letter describing a "visitation spell" that can resurrect their father for a single day. After reading the letter, Ian accidentally succeeds in casting the spell, but only the lower half of their father's body is reformed before the gem explodes. This discovery becomes an impromptu for the boys to embark on a quest to find another gem completing the transformation of their father. Onward may never rise to the same levels as other superior Pixar entries, nevertheless; the film is still able to stand on its own merits with witty humor, beautiful animation, and heartwarming storytelling.
Pixar also added the first openly LGBTQ character (voiced by Lena Waithe) to their magical movie. Waithe voices Officer Specter who represents a significant moment for Pixar, as she's the first animated character who, through dialogue, identifies as LGBTQ. It's a small but important part of the film. Director Dan Scanlon (2013's Monster's University) said, "It's a modern fantasy world and we want to represent the modern world." After embarking on the extraordinary quest aboard Barley's epic van Guinevere, their journey is filled with magic spells, cryptic maps, difficult obstacles, and incredible discoveries. Yet, subsequently the boys' mom (Louis-Dreyfus) realizes her sons are missing, so she teams up with The Manticore (voiced by Octavia Spencer) and heads off to find them. Spencer's Manticore is a part-lion, part-bat, part-scorpion, and a former warrior of the mythical world. Adventure is out there and that includes a magical staff and even a motorcycle gang of pixies. This one spellbinding day could mean more than Ian and Barley ever dreamt of, hugs and all. Onward will magically spark the joy inside you during these troubling times. You'll laugh and cry, cheering on our elven brothers.
Onward is rated PG (Parental Guidance) For action/peril and some mild thematic elements.
Directed by Dan Scanlon
Starring Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mel Rodriguez, Lena Waithe, Ali Wong, and John Ratzenberger.
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