How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Dreamworks closes out an impressively consistent trilogy with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, another stunningly animated adventure that serves as a fitting conclusion for fans of the series. While the story is a bit more conventional than those of the previous two films, this entry still has all of the elements that made its predecessors successful and adds notes of finality that distinguish it from the rest. Dean DeBlois has returned as the sole writer and director and his commitment to spearheading these projects has resulted in a trio of films that has bypassed the dips in quality that accompany even the most well regarded trilogies.

We return to the Viking village of Berk as the efforts of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his pet dragon Toothless to rescue captured dragons has resulted in their town becoming increasingly overpopulated. As Berk’s head chief, Hiccup makes it his mission to seek out the fabled “Hidden World,” a far away land that could serve as a safe haven for their fire-breathing compatriots. During his journey, Hiccup encounters the treacherous and cunning dragon hunter Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham) as well as a brightly colored dragon nicknamed “Light Fury,” with whom Toothless becomes hopelessly infatuated.

The How To Train Your Dragon series has stood apart from its animated peers mainly due to the quality of its visual sensibility and The Hidden World is no exception to this. The film’s opening, in which Hiccup and his friends ambush a dragon raider’s cove, gets things off to a dazzling start as fire and fog battle in the background while swords clash in the foreground. The growing number of dragons on-screen also allows for creature design that grows richer the more time we spend in this world. But the high point is undoubtedly our first glances of the Hidden World, a bright and vivid landscape that calls back to the groundbreaking CG work of Avatar in the best ways possible.

As stunning as the animation is, the storytelling this time around is not quite up to the standard set by the previous two entries. Despite some deliciously devious voice work from Abraham, it’s difficult to disguise the fact that the villain and his motivations are hardly dissimilar from those of the previous film’s antagonist. Still, the introduction of romantic subplots for both Hiccup and Toothless create opportunities to take the story in both humorous and heartfelt directions. Toothless’ efforts to impress Light Fury with a mating dance result in the film’s biggest laughs while their synchronized movements across the night sky recall the affectionate space dance from Pixar’s WALL-E.

Returning to contribute music to the film, composer John Powell brings back some of the series’ most memorable musical motifs while adding new themes that augment the emotion underneath each of their accompanying scenes. The film also has sonic delights in its accomplished sound design as well, which brings to life the flapping of dozens of dragons’ wings as they maneuver through the air. As a satisfying ending to a family-friendly entertainment that has always had its sights set higher, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World passes with flying colors.

Score – 3.5/5

Also coming to theaters this weekend:
Fighting with My Family, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Florence Pugh, tells the real life story of professional wrestler Paige as she rises up the ranks of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Run The Race, starring Mykelti Williamson and Frances Fisher, is a faith-based feature co-produced by Tim Tebow about two brothers who overcome hardship both on and off the football field.
Opening at Cinema Center is Academy Award nominee Cold War, a historical period drama from Poland about a musical director who discovers and subsequently falls in love with a young singer.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Palace

Screening this weekend only at Cinema Center, the new drama Palace is the remarkable feature debut from Taylor University graduate Andrew Paul Davis about the strength of communal bonds among turbulent times. Shot entirely in Indiana (Grant County, specifically) with a $10,000 budget, the film has a clean and professional look that maintains a grounded aesthetic while also finding the unexpected beauty in its surroundings. With a tapestry of richly realized characters, Davis creates an authentic and vivid portrait of Hoosier life that is rarely seen clearly in either independent or mainstream cinema.

The narrative circulates around numerous locals with whom we spend varying amounts of time but the story predominantly centers around three central figures. We first meet Chris (Todd Bruno), an aimless auto mechanic trying to overcome the hang-ups of everyday life by creating a political movement within his community. Then we spend time with Chuck (Joe Martyn Ricke), a lonely retiree who drowns the sorrow of insurmountable medical bills with nightly beer pitchers at his local bar. We’re also introduced to Alexa (Emily Sweet), a music education major at a local college who has trouble finding an audience for her up-and-coming hip-hop trio.

What I appreciated most about Palace is the way that Davis uses his ensemble cast to place characters in settings where we may only see them once but the possibility of seeing them again is always in play. For instance, we first meet a character who is rude to Chris at his job but when that same character is the only person to attend Chris’ political meeting, their relationship is completely recontextualized. Much like the work of Terrence Malick, Davis lets the trajectory of the story ebb and flow with the feelings and mood of the characters, which can take things into territory that is darker at times and more light-hearted in others.

The screenplay, also written by Davis, investigates the ways that all of these characters with differing backgrounds and circumstances are trying, often desperately, to form connections with one another. Whether it’s Chris posting videos online trying to convey his political affiliations or Chuck sitting down with a table of strangers in a bar to start conversation, there is an inescapable loneliness that permeates most of the film. Amid this heartbreak, however, there are notes of humor that balance the tone, as can be found in the back-and-forth banter between Chris and his co-worker as they shoot a game of HORSE during sunset.

The use of music, both diegetic and non-diegetic, is varied in terms of the genres that it invokes but this mixture allows for different insights into whichever character is in focus at the moment. Though their musical performance styles couldn’t be more different, both Chuck and Alexa have found comfort in expressing themselves through their music and their passion gives the film an extra layer of soulfulness. With plenty of heart and compassion at its core, Palace is a bittersweet love letter to rural Indiana from a promising young filmmaker who will no doubt have a prolific career ahead of him.

Score – 4/5

Also coming to theaters this weekend:
Alita: Battle Angel, starring Rosa Salazar and Christoph Waltz, is the latest special effects spectacle from Spy Kids director Robert Rodriguez about a scientist who brings a human cyborg hybrid to life.
Isn’t It Romantic, starring Rebel Wilson and Liam Hemsworth, follows a young woman who is hit in the head and wakes up in a world that mimics the tropes of a PG-13 rated romantic comedy.
Happy Death Day 2U, starring Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard, revisits the Groundhog Day-esque slasher in which a young girl keeps reliving the same day repeatedly after being killed by a masked assailant.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

When The Lego Movie was released in 2014, it was an overwhelming success with both audiences and critics which used the popular toy line as a jumping off point to tell an amusing and visually inventive story. 5 years and 2 spin-offs later, a direct sequel is now upon us but unfortunately, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part does not recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle success of its predecessor. Despite investigating childlike concepts of creativity and playtime, the first film felt relatively mature in its ideas and execution. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the sequel’s attempt to cater more to younger audiences, it’s a creative decision that undoubtedly weakens the film’s comedic thrust.

Set 5 years after our hero Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) saves Bricksburg from the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell), the Duplo invaders have since turned their idyllic city into a post-apocalyptic wasteland renamed Apocalypseburg. A new alien threat emerges as General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) kidnaps Emmet’s girlfriend Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) along with other citizens of their town and takes them far away to the Systar System. After Emmet crosses paths with intergalactic hero Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Pratt) and his crew of talking velociraptors, they launch a rescue mission to recover their friends from the shape-shifting Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish).

The Lego Movie‘s directing duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have returned to write this follow-up but in the director’s chair this time around is Mike Mitchell, who helmed the Dreamworks hit Trolls a few years back. This change might seem inconsequential but the impact is evident, as the overbearingly bright color palette and more juvenile tone of that film seems to be on full display for The Lego Movie 2. The story is generally one-dimensional until the third act, during which its message about altruism amid trying circumstances is laid on so thick that I felt like I was getting sprayed with a pathos fire hose.

With their work on the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Jump Street films, Lord and Miller have established their own brand of meta humor that pokes fun at the tropes of their respective franchises. They use the same approach with the screenplay this time around, as when Rex Dangervest unveils his heroic tools like the CPD (Convenient Plot Device) and the Implausitron. While they do occasionally land some nice one-liners in the process, the jokes on a whole just don’t seem as fresh as in Lord and Miller’s previous work. Perhaps I’ve grown a bit weary of self-aware humor as of late but it’s also possible that the writing duo just didn’t put quite as much effort in this time around.

The film also relies more heavily on pop music and musical numbers to keep the energy high but nothing quite matches the infectious exuberance of The Lego Movie‘s “Everything Is Awesome.” There is an attempt to recreate the first film’s earworm in the appropriately titled “Catchy Song” but its claim that “this song is gonna get stuck inside your head” feels like more a threat than an invitation. Beck and the comedy trio The Lonely Island fare better on an end credits song that may be the film’s peak in terms of comedic innovation. Sadly, it’s a reminder of the lost opportunities that precede it which make The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part a mild disappointment.

Score – 2.5/5

Also coming to theaters this weekend:
Cold Pursuit, starring Liam Neeson and Laura Dern, tells the tale of a vengeful snowplow driver up against a drug cartel after his son is murdered in their Rocky Mountains hometown.
The Prodigy, starring Taylor Schilling and Jackson Robert Scott, centers around a mother who begins to suspect that her brilliant young son may be possessed by supernatural forces.
What Men Want, starring Taraji P. Henson and Tracy Morgan, is a gender-swapped remake of the Mel Gibson film What Women Want that follows a woman who is able to hear men’s inner thoughts.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Serenity

Academy Award winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway team up once again after 2014’s Interstellar to bring us Serenity, a spectacularly miscalculated neo-noir that has “so bad it’s good” written all over it. Director Steven Knight’s previous film Locke was a stripped down feature that was essentially a one-man show for a confined Tom Hardy. Knight’s latest effort seems to take the complete opposite approach, merging story elements that have no business being anywhere near one another. “There’s some weird stuff going on right now,” McConaughey growls at one point while fixing his eyes on a bird above and the truth is, he doesn’t even know the half of it.

McConaughey stars as Baker Dill, a gruff fisherman who has made it his sole purpose in life to catch an oversized tuna that he’s nicknamed “Justice,” much to the chagrin of his first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou). He passes the time consorting with townspeople of Plymouth Island like the well-off Constance (Diane Lane) until his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) comes back into the picture with a provocative proposal. She offers Dill $10 million in cash to take her abusive husband Frank (Jason Clarke) out to sea so that he can get him drunk and throw him overboard to spare her and Dill’s son from his violence.

At the outset, the premise seems to be a halfway decent hybrid of classic film noirs like Double Indemnity or To Have And Have Not and man vs. nature tales like Jaws or The Old Man and the Sea. That Serenity can’t find a harmonious balance between these two discordant genres is actually the least of its worries, as the truly outlandish third act reveals belong to an entirely different category of film altogether. Knight’s clunky attempts to foreshadow the most surprising revelations of the film’s conclusion are just as inelegant as the explanations themselves. It’s proof that the kind of twist endings that made M. Night Shyamalan famous may not be as easy to pull off as one might think.

Even before the preposterous turns that kick in around the hour mark of the film’s runtime, the needlessly profane script is loaded with dialogue so hollow that it would float in the water if it was tossed overboard. Knight’s direction is equally incompetent as he chooses to fixate on unusual imagery that never fully justifies its existence, as when we see a mysterious man played by Jeremy Strong in a full suit wading through water. To the film’s credit, it’s rarely unpleasant to look at due to Jess Hall’s exotic cinematography, although it is sometimes undercut by bizarre editing choices that seem far too stylized for the story that’s being told.

Just because the performances are not quite as bad as everything else that’s at play here doesn’t mean the actors should entirely be let off the hook. McConaughey is channeling the same one-note brooding demeanor that he uses for his Lincoln car commercials, while Hathaway adds little dimension to the same kind of femme fatale character we’ve seen played better in countless other films. Clarke and Strong both overact so wildly in their scenes that it became increasingly difficult for me to stifle my laughter anytime either of them was on-screen. Watching Serenity is like watching a catastrophic shipwreck occur in slow motion.

Score – 1/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Miss Bala, starring Gina Rodriguez and Anthony Mackie, is an action thriller that follows a makeup artist who trains to take down a drug cartel after they kidnap her best friend.
Playing at Regal Coldwater for one day only on Friday, Febuary 1st is They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary from Peter Jackson comprised of World War I footage that has been colorized and modernized.
Another limited engagement screening happening at Cinema Center on Thursday, February 7 is Joni 75, a concert film celebrating the life and prolific career of singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Notes on the 2019 Oscars

Best Picture

Sadly, this year’s batch of nominees is somewhat underwhelming. The Academy is still waffling between how many nominees should be in the category; there were 9 the past 2 years but now we only have 8. What’s wrong with just having 10 and calling it done, especially when First Man and If Beale Street Could Talk would’ve rounded things out nicely? The good news is that Roma is the current expected winner and while it’s not my personal favo(u)rite of the bunch, it’s an exceptionally well-made film that represents the category nicely.

My Prediction: Roma
My Vote: The Favourite
Overlooked: Widows

Best Director

  • Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman
  • Pawel Pawlikowski – Cold War
  • Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite
  • Alfonso Cuarón – Roma
  • Adam McKay – Vice

An interesting bunch here, especially with the inclusion of Pawlikowski and the exclusion of Bradley Cooper for A Star Is Born. Somehow, this is the first time that Spike Lee has been nominated for Best Director (Do the Right Thing lost Best Original Screenplay in 1990). It is truly stunning that McKay received a nomination in lieu of plenty of other more worthy directors like Barry Jenkins and Damien Chazelle. The chances are miniscule that Alfonso Cuarón, who won Best Director in 2015 for Gravity, will lose here.

My Prediction: Alfonso Cuarón
My Vote: Yorgos Lanthimos
Overlooked: Debra Granik – Leave No Trace

Best Actor

  • Christian Bale – Vice
  • Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born
  • Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate
  • Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Viggo Mortensen – Green Book

I haven’t caught up with At Eternity’s Gate (I’ll give Dafoe the benefit of the doubt) but I just can’t get excited about this field. Two of the nominees rely heavily on hair and makeup to augment their performances and I’d consider them both to be the frontrunners at this point. Elsewhere, Mortensen does what he can with a heavily stereotyped role and while Cooper is probably my favorite of this group, it’s not terribly high praise. Ethan Hawke is a glaring snub but Ryan Gosling, Joaquin Phoenix and Brady Jandreau (since the Academy seems friendly to newcomers this year) would have been much better picks too.

My Prediction: Christian Bale
My Vote: Bradley Cooper
Overlooked: Ethan Hawke – First Reformed

Best Actress

  • Yalitza Aparicio – Roma
  • Glenn Close – The Wife
  • Olivia Colman – The Favourite
  • Lady Gaga – A Star Is Born
  • Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

I haven’t caught up with The Wife yet (I may do so before the ceremonies) but I can say that I feel much better about this category in comparison to Best Actor. Great to see a first-time actress like Aparicio get a chance here but I also would have loved recognition for Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade) and Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace) as well. It’s bizarre for me to see McCarthy here, since the wounds of The Happytime Murders still feel fresh. Close, nominated six times previously without a win, will likely take home the “Overdue Oscar” although Lady Gaga makes for an intriguing upset pick.

My Prediction: Glenn Close
My Vote: Olivia Colman
Overlooked: Toni Collette – Hereditary

Best Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali – Green Book
  • Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman
  • Sam Elliott – A Star Is Born
  • Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  • Sam Rockwell – Vice

My Prediction: Mahershala Ali
My Vote: Richard E Grant
Overlooked: Simon Russell Beale – The Death of Stalin

Best Supporting Actress

  • Amy Adams – Vice
  • Marina de Tavira – Roma
  • Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk
  • Emma Stone – The Favourite
  • Rachel Weisz – The Favourite

My Prediction: Regina King
My Vote: Rachel Weisz
Overlooked: Claire Foy – First Man

The supporting categories this year call to mind how desperately the Academy needs to implement a Best Ensemble category. Regina King was wonderful in If Beale Street Could Talk but that film had at least 4 or 5 other supporting performances (some which only occur during one scene) that are at least as good if not better. Stone and Weisz will likely cancel each other out, a shame since their performances tower over the other three picks. I’m no fan of Vice but Steve Carell would have been a better pick than Sam Rockwell, who already won Supporting Actor last year anyway and had a much easier role in the film.

Best Original Screenplay

  • The Favourite – Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara
  • First Reformed – Paul Schrader
  • Green Book – Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie & Peter Farrelly
  • Roma – Alfonso Cuarón
  • Vice – Adam McKay

My Prediction: The Favourite
My Vote: The Favourite
Overlooked: Eighth Grade

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Joel & Ethan Coen
  • BlacKkKlansman – Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Nicole Holofcener & Jeff Whitty
  • If Beale Street Could Talk – Barry Jenkins
  • A Star Is Born – Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters

My Prediction: BlacKkKlansman
My Vote: If Beale Street Could Talk
Overlooked: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Animated Feature Film

My Prediction: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
My Vote: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Overlooked: The Grinch

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Capernaum
  • Cold War
  • Never Look Away
  • Roma
  • Shoplifters

My Prediction: Roma
My Vote: Roma
Overlooked: Burning

Best Documentary – Feature

  • Free Solo
  • Hale County This Morning, This Evening
  • Minding the Gap
  • Of Fathers and Sons
  • RBG

My Prediction: RBG
My Vote: Minding the Gap
Overlooked: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Best Documentary – Short Subject

  • Black Sheep
  • End Game
  • Lifeboat
  • A Night at the Garden
  • Period. End of Sentence.

My Prediction: Black Sheep
My Vote:
Overlooked:

Best Live Action Short Film

  • Detainment
  • Fauve
  • Marguerite
  • Mother
  • Skin

My Prediction: Marguerite
My Vote:
Overlooked:

Best Animated Short Film

  • Animal Behaviour
  • Bao
  • Late Afternoon
  • One Small Step
  • Weekends

My Prediction: Bao
My Vote:
Overlooked:

Best Original Score

  • BlacKkKlansman – Terence Blanchard
  • Black Panther – Ludwig Goransson
  • If Beale Street Could Talk – Nicholas Britell
  • Isle of Dogs – Alexandre Desplat
  • Mary Poppins Returns – Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman

My Prediction: If Beale Street Could Talk
My Vote: If Beale Street Could Talk
Overlooked: Mandy – Jóhann Jóhannsson

Best Original Song

  • “All The Stars” from Black Panther
  • “I’ll Fight” from RBG
  • “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns
  • “Shallow” from A Star Is Born
  • “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

My Prediction: “Shallow”
My Vote: “Shallow”
Overlooked: “Suspirium” from Suspiria

Best Sound Editing

My Prediction: First Man
My Vote: First Man
Overlooked: Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Best Sound Mixing

  • Black Panther
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • First Man
  • Roma
  • A Star Is Born

My Prediction: A Star Is Born
My Vote: First Man
Overlooked: Annihilation

Best Production Design

  • Black Panther
  • First Man
  • The Favourite
  • Mary Poppins Returns
  • Roma

My Prediction: The Favourite
My Vote: The Favourite
Overlooked: Isle of Dogs

Best Cinematography

  • Cold War – Lukasz Zal
  • The Favourite – Robbie Ryan
  • Never Look Away – Caleb Deschanel
  • Roma – Alfonso Cuarón
  • A Star Is Born – Matthew Libatique

My Prediction: Roma
My Vote: The Favourite
Overlooked: If Beale Street Could Talk – James Laxton

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Border
  • Mary Queen of Scots
  • Vice

My Prediction: Vice
My Vote: Vice
Overlooked: Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Costume Design

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  • Black Panther
  • The Favourite
  • Mary Poppins Returns
  • Mary Queen of Scots

My Prediction: The Favourite
My Vote: The Favourite
Overlooked: A Simple Favor

Best Film Editing

  • BlacKkKlansman
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Green Book
  • The Favourite
  • Vice

My Prediction: Vice
My Vote: The Favourite
Overlooked: First Man

Best Visual Effects

My Prediction: Avengers: Infinity War
My Vote: Avengers: Infinity War
Overlooked: Searching

Enjoy the show!

Glass

M. Night Shyamalan fully embraces the superhero genre with Glass, a sequel to 2000’s Unbreakable and 2017’s Split that gleefully brings the comic book lore of its predecessors to the forefront. Indeed, nuance and subtext are not among this film’s strongest qualities but as an earnest, all-out depiction of what superpowers might look like in the real world, it succeeds more often than it doesn’t. Working with a relatively modest $20 million budget (a tenth of what Marvel typically spends on such fare), Shyamalan wisely keeps the action and settings small-scale to thoroughly investigate what makes these superhuman characters tick.

Bruce Willis reprises his Unbreakable role as David Dunn, a security guard who has since become a vigilante hero named The Overseer since discovering his superpowers. He inevitably crosses paths with Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), the kidnapper from Split with multiple personalities who is able to conjure a powerful alter named The Beast. After the two are caught post-showdown, they are brought to a mental hospital where Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) is determined to convince them, as well as Dunn’s previous foe Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), that they are just ordinary people who have delusions of grandeur.

In a world where blockbuster comic book movies seem to come out every month, Glass serves as a nice counterpoint to the largely homogeneous product that tends to populate the market these days. Despite falling victim to uneven pacing and distractingly on-the-nose dialogue, the film has a heart and personal vision behind it that feels absent from even the best of Hollywood’s superhero offerings. Like last month’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it also has a reverence for comic book culture that has seemingly been lost during the film industry’s commoditization of the superhero genre.

Shyamalan’s script sometimes strains too hard when making connections to the other two films in the Eastrail Trilogy but in more ways than one, Glass often feels like a worthy conclusion to the grand narrative. It’s difficult to imagine Shyamalan had this film in mind when he was making Unbreakable 20 years ago and even though the two are still tonally incongruous, their connective tissue now feels undeniable. Shyamalan’s smartest storytelling decision here is his inclusion of secondary human characters from previous films, whose ties to their respective superhuman characters make for naturally high stakes that keep us invested in the story.

The performances from the ensemble cast, which also includes Split‘s Anya Taylor-Joy and Unbreakable‘s Spencer Treat Clark, make this mini-universe of heroes and villains that much more believable. Jackson and Willis do a terrific job of resurrecting characters that have laid dormant for quite some time while McAvoy brings an extra level of dedication to an already challenging role by seamlessly switching between disparate personalities at the drop of a hat. Glass may have mixed results with the cult following that has surrounded Unbreakable but those looking for a change-up to the typical comic book formula could be pleasantly surprised.

Score – 3/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
The Kid Who Would be King, starring Ashbourne Serkis and Patrick Stewart, follows a young boy who sets out on a medieval quest after he discovers King Arthur’s famous Excalibur sword.
Serenity, starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, is a neo-noir thriller in which a fishing captain is approached by his ex-wife to murder her new husband.
Stan & Ollie, starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, depicts the later years of the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy as they commit to an expansive theatre tour in Britain as an attempt to revive their film careers.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk

Moonlight director Barry Jenkins brings magic to the screen once again with If Beale Street Could Talk, a spellbinding and sensuous portrait of young love flourishing amid tragic circumstances. With disarming close-ups and a warm, autumnal color palette, Jenkins creates a world that’s both inviting and illuminating while fully acknowledging and exploring the darker corners that reside within it. Every sensation experienced by the characters — from longing to sorrow to jubilation — is poetically rendered by Jenkins to tell an entrancing story that feels deeply human and lastingly resonant.

Based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, Beale Street is primarily a love story centered around 19-year-old Tish (Kiki Layne) and her older boyfriend Fonny (Stephan James), who started as childhood friends but became closer as time progressed. We soon discover that the young and un-wed Tish is pregnant with Fonny’s child, much to the delight of her mother Sharon (Regina King) and father Joseph (Colman Domingo) but to the chagrin of Fonny’s mother (Aunjanue Ellis). As the narrative continues, we learn that Fonny has been wrongfully incarcerated and we track Tish’s journey to prove his innocence before their child is brought into the world.

Jenkins utilizes his world cinema influences to weave a tale of injustice and intimacy with a loose chronological perspective; he tends to linger around what he finds alluring within a certain time and place. Striking sequences, like one in which Tish outlines the way different customers approach sampling a new perfume scent, give an evocative sense of context and setting without strictly adhering to the main storyline. There are certain characters, such as the ones played by Brian Tyree Henry and Dave Franco, whose time on-screen is short but their emotional impact lingers throughout the film.

Faithfully adapting both prose and tone from Baldwin’s book, Jenkins fills his script with moments in which characters quietly assert their dignity during the peak of their own personal struggles. During an early scene in which a trepidatious Tish is breaking the pregnancy news to her family, her sister Ernestine comes to her support by saying “unbow your head, sister” and every opportunity for empowerment is beautifully realized. The inverse of this are the lines that remind us of the heartbreaking strife at the core of the story, as Tish narrates “I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass.”

Collaborating again with Jenkins for the film’s music is Oscar-nominated composer Nicholas Britell, whose achingly beautiful score is so potent that just hearing the first thirty seconds of it had me on the verge of tears. Also returning with Jenkins from Moonlight is Oscar-nominated cinematographer James Laxton, who often uses close-ups of actors looking directly in the lens to engage with the audience and draw us further into the story. The sum of these artistic contributions makes If Beale Street Could Talk an utterly engrossing mood piece that sways to its own rhythm and invites us to join along with it.

Score – 4/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Glass, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis, is the latest from M. Night Shyamalan that brings together characters from Unbreakable and Split to tell a new kind of superhero story.
Destroyer, starring Nicole Kidman and Sebastian Stan, follow an LAPD detective who revisits an undercover case from years ago to solve a gang-related murder in the present.
Also playing at Cinema Center is Roma, the acclaimed film by Alfonso Cuarón that has already won multiple awards this month (including 2 Golden Globes) and will likely be up for several Oscar nominations next month.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Ep. #24 – Top 10 of 2018

I’m joined by my wife Aubree as we discuss the year 2018 in film and run down each of our 10 favorites from last year. Find us on FacebookTwitter and Letterboxd.

  • Aubree’s Top 10:
  1. Hereditary
  2. Marrowbone
  3. A Quiet Place
  4. Eighth Grade
  5. Searching
  6. A Star Is Born
  7. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  8. Unsane
  9. The Polka King
  10. A Simple Favor
  • Brent’s Top 10:
  1. The Favourite
  2. Widows
  3. The Death of Stalin
  4. First Man
  5. Eighth Grade
  6. Leave No Trace
  7. Support the Girls
  8. First Reformed
  9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  10. Hereditary

My thoughts on the movies