Category Archives: Review

Review

Firestarter

Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness

Memory

The Northman

The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent

Ambulance

Morbius

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood

Master

Deep Water

The Batman

Studio 666

Uncharted

Kimi

The Sky Is Everywhere

Parallel Mothers

Cyrano

A Hero

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Licorice Pizza

West Side Story

Being The Ricardos

House Of Gucci

Belfast

Red Notice

Finch

Last Night In Soho

Dune

Halloween Kills

No Time To Die

The Guilty

Dear Evan Hansen

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Malignant

Kate

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

The Night House

Annette

CODA

The Green Knight

Old

Space Jam: A New Legacy

Pig

Black Widow

Werewolves Within

False Positive

Luca

Undine

A Quiet Place Part II

Cruella

Those Who Wish Me Dead

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Without Remorse

Mortal Kombat

Stowaway

Voyagers

Godzilla vs. Kong

Nobody

The Father

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Cherry

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run

Minari

Nomadland

Little Fish

Malcolm & Marie

Palmer

The White Tiger

One Night In Miami

Wonder Woman 1984

Soul

Wolfwalkers

Mank

Run

The Nest

A Rainy Day in New York

Possessor

Bad Hair

On The Rocks

The Trial Of The Chicago 7

Dick Johnson Is Dead

The Devil All The Time

Antebellum

Mulan

Tenet

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things

Unhinged

Project Power

Boys State

An American Pickle

The Rental

First Cow

Greyhound

Palm Springs

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Irresistible

Da 5 Bloods

The King of Staten Island

Shirley

The Way Back

The Invisible Man

The Hunt

Emma

Onward

The Call of the Wild

The Lodge

Birds of Prey

Gretel & Hansel

The Turning

Dolittle

Just Mercy

1917

Little Women

Uncut Gems

Richard Jewell

Frozen II

Knives Out

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

The Lighthouse

Doctor Sleep

Countdown

Zombieland: Double Tap

Gemini Man

Joker

Hustlers

Ad Astra

The Peanut Butter Falcon

It Chapter Two

Luce

Ready Or Not

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

The Farewell

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood

The Lion King

Midsommar

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Yesterday

Toy Story 4

The Souvenir

Dark Phoenix

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Aladdin

Booksmart

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

High Life

Avengers: Endgame

Missing Link

Pet Sematary

Gloria Bell

Shazam!

Us

Apollo 11

Captain Marvel

Greta

At Eternity’s Gate

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Palace

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Serenity

Glass

If Beale Street Could Talk

Vice

The Favourite

Mary Poppins Returns

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

A Star Is Born

Creed II

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Widows

The Grinch

Bohemian Rhapsody

The Sisters Brothers

Halloween

First Man

Venom

Night School

A Simple Favor

The Predator

The Nun

Searching

The Happytime Murders

BlacKkKlansman

Eighth Grade

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Blade Runner 2049 ****|****

Battle of the Sexes **½|****

Columbus ***|****

Mother! ***½|****

It ***|****

Good Time ***|****

Death Note **|****

Logan Lucky ****|****

The Glass Castle *½|****

Detroit ***|****

A Ghost Story **|****

Dunkirk **½|****

The Big Sick ****|****

Spider-Man: Homecoming ***½|****

Baby Driver ***|****

Menashe ***½|****

The Mummy *|****

It Comes At Night ***|****

Wonder Woman **½|****

War Machine *½|****

Alien: Covenant **|****

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ***½|****

Their Finest ***½|****

The Circle **|****

Free Fire ***½|****

Personal Shopper **½|****

Win It All ***|****

The Discovery **½|****

Life **|****

Beauty and the Beast *½|****

Kong: Skull Island **½|****

Logan ***|****

Get Out ****|****

John Wick: Chapter 2 ***|****

The Lego Batman Movie ***½|****

The Handmaiden ***½|****

Silence **½|****

Elle **|****

La La Land ****|****

Fences ***|****

Manchester by the Sea ***½|****

Rogue One ***|****

Nocturnal Animals **½|****

Moana ***½|****

Moonlight ****|****

Arrival ***½|****

Doctor Strange **|****

Ouija: Origin of Evil **½|****

The Accountant ***|****

The Girl on the Train **|****

The Magnificent Seven ***|****

Sing Street ***½|****

Green Room **½|****

Everybody Wants Some!! ***|****

Eye in the Sky ***|****

Midnight Special ****|****

Knight of Cups **|****

Snowden **|****

Sully ***|****

Hell or High Water ****|****

Don’t Breathe **½|****

Kubo and the Two Strings ***½|****

Sausage Party ***|****

Suicide Squad ***|****

Jason Bourne **|****

Star Trek Beyond **½|****

Ghostbusters **|****

De Palma **½|****

The Secret Life of Pets ***|****

Weiner ****|****

Finding Dory **½|****

Hunt for the Wilderpeople ***½|****

Love & Friendship ***½|****

The Lobster ****|****

X-Men: Apocalypse **|****

High-Rise *½|****

The Nice Guys ***|****

Born To Be Blue ***|****

Captain America: Civil War ***½|****

Keanu **½|****

Krisha ****|****

The Jungle Book **½|****

Only Yesterday ***½|****

Samurai Cop ****|****

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice *½|****

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot ***|****

10 Cloverfield Lane **|****

Zootopia ***|****

Gods of Egypt *|****

The Witch ***|****

Deadpool ***½|****

Hail, Caesar! **½|****

Anomalisa ****|****

Brooklyn **½|****

The Revenant ***½|****

The Hateful Eight **|****

Spotlight ***|****

The Big Short **|****

Star Wars: The Force Awakens ***½|****

Room ****|****

Creed ***|****

Spectre **|****

Goodnight Mommy ****|****

Sicario ***½|****

The Martian ***½|****

The Walk ***|****

The End of the Tour ***|****

The Tribe **|****

The Gift **½|****

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation ****|****

Amy ***½|****

Ant-Man/Trainwreck

Minions **|****

Terminator Genisys *½|****

Love & Mercy ***½|****

Inside Out ****|****

Jurassic World ***|****

Entourage/Spy/Insidious: Chapter 3

Tomorrowland ***|****

Mad Max: Fury Road **½|****

Ex Machina ***|****

Avengers: Age of Ultron ***|****

While We’re Young ****|****

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter **½|****

It Follows ***½|****

A Most Violent Year ***½|****

Fifty Shades of Grey *½|****

Inherent Vice ***|****

Foxcatcher ***|****

Selma ****|****

American Sniper ***|****

Force Majeure ***½|****

The Imitation Game **½|****

The Theory of Everything **½|****

The Interview ***|****

Whiplash ****|****

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies *½|****

Top Five ***|****

The Overnighters ***½|****

The Babadook ***½|****

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 **½|****

Dear White People ***|****

Birdman ***|****

Dumb and Dumber To **|****

Before I Go To Sleep **½|****

Interstellar ***|****

Nightcrawler ***½|****

The Guest ***|****

The Skeleton Twins ***½|****

Gone Girl ****|****

 

The Batman

While DC’s Extended Universe will continue to move forward with or without Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader, another version of the Dark Knight now emerges from the shadows. Like Joker in 2019, The Batman aims to free the iconic comic book character from the tangle of shared universes and push the genre in new directions. This is less of a superhero movie and more of a hard-boiled detective story that happens to center around a vigilante dressed up like a bat. Behind the cowl this time around is Robert Pattinson, who has built up a distinctive resume in the 10 years since the Twilight franchise came to a close. His casting allows director and co-writer Matt Reeves to depict a younger version of both Bruce Wayne and Batman, one who’s more hot-blooded and eager to prove himself to a crime-addled Gotham.

When the city’s mayor is murdered in his home on Halloween night, Batman and lieutenant Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) head up the crime scene as bizarre clues begin to emerge. A card addressed to The Batman contains a cryptic message inside and suggests that a new serial killer, soon dubbed The Riddler, is likely on the rise. More evidence at the scene draws Batman to a notorious nightclub in town run by Oz Cobblepot (Colin Farrell) and frequented by crime lord Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). While infiltrating the club, Batman crosses paths with waitress Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), whose search for her missing girlfriend finds her plunging deep into Gotham’s criminal depths. As Riddler’s connected murder count rises, Batman works with his allies to take down the new supervillain.

Just as Joker leaned on specific entries from Martin Scorsese’s filmography, The Batman draws its influences from the psychological thrillers that David Fincher mastered in the 1990s. The partnership of Batman and Gordon often resembles the pairing of detectives Mills and Somerset in Seven, accentuated by the torrents of rain that permeate both films. The labyrinthine design of The Riddler’s plan echoes the paranoid plotting of The Game, while unexpected visual allusions to Fight Club pop up like pretty punches to the face. In comic book lore, Batman is referred to as the World’s Greatest Detective and while he doesn’t exactly live up to that title in this latest cinematic entry, this film attempts to evoke that side of his character more successfully than any other previous Batman movie.

While he doesn’t bring much to Bruce Wayne besides mascara and moodiness, Pattinson packs a formidable presence and menace to a type of Batman of which we’ve only seen glimpses in movies like The Dark Knight Rises and Batman v Superman. He and Kravitz also ooze a sensual “Bat and Cat” chemistry that gives this entry a tangible romantic spark missing from the franchise since Batman Forever. On the villain side of things, Colin Farrell is truly unrecognizable in a deliciously over-the-top take on Penguin that rivals what Danny DeVito did with the role in Batman Returns. Andy Serkis also brings a more rough-and-tumble and adversarial demeanor to an Alfred the butler character who is traditionally depicted as more kindly and obsequious.

Where issues like overstuffed plotting and sluggish editing threaten to put The Batman on ice, the stellar technical aspects underscore the project’s level of aptitude and ambition. Composer Michael Giacchino contributes another instantly memorable musical score, driven by a new theme that is overpowering and operatic, especially in IMAX. DP Greig Fraser, who brought Denis Villeneuve’s vision of Dune to the screen last year, shoots the fight scenes with clear precision but cleverly uses shallow depth of field in moments that could otherwise compromise the precious PG-13 rating. Matt Reeves’ The Batman takes a character that we’ve seen on-screen in myriad contexts and somehow adds a new perspective that feels raw and essential.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Premiering on Disney+ is Turning Red, the latest Pixar offering starring Rosalie Chiang and Sandra Oh about the hormonal struggles of a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl who turns into a giant red panda whenever she gets too excited.
Playing on Netflix is The Adam Project, a sci-fi adventure starring Ryan Reynolds and Mark Ruffalo that follows a time-traveling pilot as he teams up with his younger self and his late father to come to terms with his past while saving the future.
Streaming on Showtime and continuing in select theaters is After Yang, a sci-fi drama starring Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith that takes place in a world where robotic children are purchased as live-in babysitters and depicts one father’s journey to repair their family robot.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Studio 666

In addition to selling millions of records and packing stadiums around the world during their 25+ year career as a band, Foo Fighters has also demonstrated a propensity towards silly music videos. The visual companion pieces to songs like “Everlong”, “Learn To Fly” and “Long Road To Ruin” are spearheaded by the goofy charisma of frontman Dave Grohl, who has no compunction about sporting a wig or fake mustache for yuks. Conjured forth from those comedic impulses comes Studio 666, a horror comedy that could have worked as a 5-minute music video but absolutely flounders as a 105-minute feature. Shot partially during lockdown in the same mansion where the band recorded their tenth album Medicine at Midnight, it’s a lazy and pointless vanity project that inexplicably crept onto 2000 screens nationwide this past weekend.

The story features fictionalized versions of the Foos, pressured by their manager Jeremy Shill (Jeff Garlin) at the outset to complete new music for their record company. Looking for inspiration, they take Shill’s advice and move into an Encino house where fictional band Dream Widow almost finished an album of their own before the project ended abruptly by grisly means. After regurgitating riffs from tunes that he’d already written before, Grohl accepts that he’s going through a bout of songwriter’s block before happening upon the reels from Dream Widow’s partial recordings in the basement. Listening to the tracks possesses Grohl, not only figuratively in terms of musical inspiration but also literally, as the music unlocks unholy spirits that turn the frontman demonic.

Lifting visually from horror classics like The Exorcist and The Omen and narratively from scores of others, Studio 666 simply doesn’t have enough of its own ideas to justify its existence. Grohl is credited with coming up with the story, obviously conceived during his time recording the real-life album, but the screenplay by Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes is paper-thin and painfully puerile. When the band members aren’t exchanging naughty four-letter words with one another, they’re stuck with witless dialogue about subpar grilling technique or aversions to meditation. Comedians like Whitney Cummings and Will Forte, the latter as a delivery guy who professes Foo Fighters are his “2nd favorite band after Coldplay”, pop up to punch things up but their effort is sadly in vain.

In the aforementioned music videos and numerous TV appearances throughout the years, Grohl has exhibited an endearing charm that has served him even outside the context of Foo Fighters fans. However, the rest of the band clearly doesn’t share his affinity for a life in front of the camera. Of course the other five members are great musicians but their unnatural and unconvincing acting feels like the product of Grohl pushing these guys past their natural abilities. Drummer Taylor Hawkins, who reportedly didn’t bother to learn any of the lines from the script, ironically gives the funniest performance of the lot simply by replaying the same note of weirded-outness at the occult occurrences. The other four Fighters are relegated to reaction shots that don’t produce any laughs nor add to the impact of the would-be scares.

The one aspect that the production team seemed to put any effort behind is in the gory practical effects during the inevitable kill scenes, which are admirable in their craft if not completely novel in their execution. Director B.J. McDonnell, who headed up the third entry in the Hatchet slasher series, leans into his skill set and delivers a few sequences that pay off with over-the-top slayings that make fine use of unique props and settings. An icon of the horror genre also shows up in an all-too-brief cameo as a sound engineer, while a legend of soul music says “hello” in another scene without adding much of an impact. Studio 666 obviously doesn’t diminish the Foo Fighters’ music legacy but it should put a swift demise to any future cinematic aspirations for the group.

Score – 1.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is The Batman, the latest reincarnation of the Caped Crusader starring Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz about Batman’s second year of fighting crime as he teams up with Catwoman to take on The Riddler and The Penguin.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Lucy and Desi, a documentary from director Amy Poehler covering the rise of comedian icon Lucille Ball, her relationship with Desi Arnaz, and how their groundbreaking sitcom I Love Lucy forever changed Hollywood.
Premiering on Hulu is Fresh, a comedy thriller starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan about a young woman who navigates the hurdles of modern dating and discovers that her new boyfriend may have sinister proclivities for sustenance.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Uncharted

Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg seek box office treasure with Uncharted, an adaptation of the popular Playstation video game series in another synergistic bit of cross-platforming from the folks at Sony. Originally slated for a 2020 release, production was halted early and often due to covid for this potential franchise starter and that’s after the years of revolving directors and shuffled-around cast. Decisions like settling on Zombieland‘s Ruben Fleischer as the director and casting Wahlberg in the mentor role instead of as the main hero feel more perfunctory than purposeful. With these problems at the forefront, it’s admirable that the result of these struggles is formally sound and occasionally thrilling, if unremarkable on the whole.

After being separated from his adventure-loving brother as a teenager, young hotshot Nathan Drake (Holland) harbors an obsession for long-lost treasure while tending bar in New York. As fate should have it, treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Wahlberg) engages Drake at his workplace and tells tale of a Magellan-era fortune lost to time that’s just waiting to be rediscovered. The pair jet set to an art auction in Barcelona, where they plan to steal a cross-shaped key to kick off their journey but are met by fellow gold seeker Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and his ruthless accomplice Jo (Tati Gabrielle). Another key turns up in the hands of Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), a fellow adventurer who reluctantly joins Drake and Sully in their conquest to find Magellan’s fortune before Moncada and his deadly crew get the chance.

To cut to the chase, Uncharted is two terrific action setpieces in search of a complete movie. The first such sequence is the lynchpin of the film’s advertising, which features Drake bouncing from one supply crate to another as they plummet through the sky. Add some henchmen, a tumbling Mercedes and some ripped-from-the-video-game physics and you have a fun, gravity-defying crescendo so nice, they play it twice. The second takes place in the third act and without giving too much away, it involves a pair of helicopters making some impressive aerial maneuvers while lifting precious cargo below. Apropos of the action-adventure genus, there are plenty of secret passages and mechanical doors that lead up to (“get in the way of” may be more apt) these airborne acrobatics.

As with genre classics like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean, whose protagonists are name-dropped during scenes that borrow heavily from the respective films, characters remain key for staying power. Sadly, Uncharted‘s trio of screenwriters don’t provide enough on the page for the actors to create memorable ones. Most of Drake and Sully’s repartee revolves around disparities in their age (Sully leaves too many apps open on his phone!) or in their masculinity (Drake orders girly drinks!) but the characterization remains thin. Gabrielle and Ali are able to add a bit more nuance to their roles, by virtue of not being saddled with clunky comedic dialogue, but their performances don’t exactly lift the material much either.

Fresh off the blockbuster that recently overtook Avatar‘s #3 spot on the list of all-time domestic earners, Holland does what he can to distance himself from the version of Peter Parker with which he’s most commonly associated. As someone who’s never played the game upon which this movie is based, I can’t say how his Drake compares to the digital counterpart but Holland brings a grifter’s charm that won me over. He’s certainly better off here than he is than in disasters like Chaos Walking and Cherry. Wahlberg may have been a better fit for Drake when he was originally tapped for the role 10 years ago but recasting him as the sidekick is about as awkward in execution as one may expect. Uncharted doesn’t go as off the map as it could’ve but it doesn’t chart enough of an original course to make it worth the journey.

Score – 2.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Studio 666, a horror comedy starring Foo Fighters members Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins which finds the frontman tangling with supernatural forces while the band records their tenth studio album in a mansion.
Premiering on Hulu is No Exit, a snowbound thriller starring Havana Rose Liu and Dennis Haysbert about a college student stranded at an isolated highway rest stop who discovers a kidnapped child hidden in a car belonging to one of the people inside.
Streaming on Netflix is A Madea Homecoming, a family comedy starring Tyler Perry and Cassi Davis-Patton that reconvenes the feisty matriarch with her family for a celebratory dinner for her great-grandson’s graduation.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Kimi

With virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri politely invading our pockets and homes at an alarming rate, a movie that taps into their ubiquity for paranoia was about as inevitable as the fact that one of their corresponding devices is probably listening in on you right now. Enter Steven Soderbergh’s Kimi: a smart and enthralling thrill ride that takes its title from the chirpy AI built into smart speakers that pop up everywhere in this film’s version of pandemic-era Seattle. Like last year’s The Mitchells vs. the Machines, it branches off from a knee-jerk “technology bad” tack and creates a conversation between analog and digital that sees the merits of both. The fact that Kimi is optimized from the input of human programmers who fix bugs stemming from user-device miscommunication is just one example of this film’s vision of how man and machine can co-exist.

One such data analyst is Angela (Zoë Kravitz), an agoraphobic voice stream interpreter who listens to recorded interactions between people and their Kimi-equipped devices and codes corrections from the “comfort” of her apartment. She becomes alarmed listening to an audio clip plagued by loud industrial music, not because the song itself is jarring but due to the screams of a woman that she faintly hears over it. Naturally, there’s protocol for this but given that Amygdala (the corporation behind Kimi) is days away from an IPO, Angela gets the runaround from her boss (Andy Daly) and boss’ boss (Rita Wilson) in trying to do the right thing. Circumstances dictate that she face her biggest fear of leaving her loft to get to the bottom of that chilling recording that she overhears.

As tech-focused as it is, the basis of Kimi‘s tense conceit stems from 1970s thrillers like The Conversation and Three Days of the Condor; Soderbergh even sneaks in an homage to Marathon Man for good measure. Computers may have taken up the space of entire rooms back then but the notion that “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you” is just as relevant here as it was in those movies. Kravitz does an excellent job absorbing this anxiety along with her fears of the outside world and creates a protagonist that is easy to root for even in her most unpredictable moments. Most of this movie’s first half, she’s interacting with actors through Skype and FaceTime because of her character’s condition but bridges the gap with a palpable physicality around her conspicuously large apartment.

In trying to get to the truth, it’s all about having the right tool for the job. When Angela first hears the suspicious stream, she extracts the audio file and puts it through noise reduction software. It helps but doesn’t get it all the way there. That’s when she runs to the closet to find an analog chassis of equalizers that notch out the necessary frequencies and reveal the disturbing detail of the recording. This push-pull of analog and digital working in tandem is at the heart of what makes Kimi such a fun ride but also a subtle commentary on how much power technology can give and take. The system that allows a potential violent assault to be uncovered is the same system that prohibits a keycard from opening the right door at the right time during a foot chase.

As cerebral as all of this may sound, the biggest joys of Kimi are ephemeral, courtesy of a top-notch director who knows how to pack a lot into 90 minutes. With over 30 feature films to his name, Soderbergh is simply one of the most impressive filmmakers around, also handling editing and cinematography here under pseudonyms as he’s done in past projects. He knows just how much information to give us in the moment so that we can recall prior details just in time for a rich payoff. Not all of his movies are home runs but when Soderbergh connects, there’s nothing sweeter than the sound of that bat cracking. Kimi is a first-rate thriller that people everywhere should be shouting at their devices to play right away.

Score – 4/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing exclusively in theaters is Uncharted, an video game-adapted action-adventure starring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg about a pair of rebellious treasure hunters out to recover a lost fortune amassed by Ferdinand Magellan.
Also playing only in theaters is Dog, a road trip comedy starring Channing Tatum and Jane Adams about a U.S. Army Ranger tasked with bringing a military working dog to attend her handler’s funeral.
Streaming on Netflix is Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a reboot of the iconic 1974 horror film starring Sarah Yarkin and Elsie Fisher which finds Leatherface returning to terrorize a group of idealistic young friends who accidentally disrupt his carefully shielded world in a remote Texas town.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Sky Is Everywhere

6 months after premiering the outstanding coming-of-age tale CODA, Apple TV+ adds another title to the genre with The Sky Is Everywhere, adapted from Jandy Nelson’s 2010 young adult novel. Like CODA, this latest offering shares that film’s passion for music and also features a breakthrough performance from a young actress but doesn’t have nearly the same level of impact as a whole. This is a film that telegraphs its ending quite clearly about 15 minutes into its runtime, which isn’t unremarkable for movies about young romance but disappointing given that the director is Josephine Decker. Her 2018 breakout Madeline’s Madeline was anything but predictable, while 2020’s Shirley found new notes to play within the crowded biopic genre. Some flights of fancy aside, Decker seems content to tell a conventional story through relatively conventional means.

An opening voiceover from bright high schooler Lennie Walker (Grace Kaufman) details an inseparable relationship with her sister Bailey (Havana Rose Liu), who meets a very untimely end due to an undiagnosed heart arrhythmia. Lennie’s support system is hindered by the absence of her mother and father but bolstered instead by her grandmother Gram (Cherry Jones) and uncle Big (Jason Segel), with both of whom she lives. The presence of Bailey’s boyfriend Toby (Pico Alexander) around the house complicates things, as Lennie has guiltily held affections for him even when Bailey was still alive. At school, charismatic new kid Joe (Jacques Colimon) strikes up a music-centric relationship with Lennie and unknowingly enters a love triangle with Toby.

Most of watching The Sky Is Everywhere is in waiting for it to differentiate itself from the pack of recent John Green-inspired YA adaptations and the film does thankfully have some inspired scenes where Decker’s influence shines through. Almost all of these moments involve music in one way or another, as when Joe is introduced with papier-mâché music notes emanating from the bell of his trumpet and filling the halls with swooning girls. While listening to Bach’s “Air In G” over shared earbuds, Lennie and Joe lay next to each other in the grass as rose-covered interpretive dancers envelop them to symbolize the symbiosis of nature and music. These bits of heightened reality aren’t quite as intentionally diverting as those found in Madeline’s Madeline but rather enhance the narrative in ways that are thematically relevant and stylistically playful.

But all of these flourishes — even the bad ones, like the recurrence of cartoony “boing” sound cue during lines accompanied by sexual innuendo — feel like a cover-up for a paper-thin script, also penned by Nelson. It’s a screenplay that contrives obstacles for Lennie to traverse before arriving at a conclusion that will be easy for anyone who has seen a movie before to foresee. The love triangle between the leads is obviously the movie’s focus but the limited screen time given to Segel and Jones doesn’t yield the emotional punctuations you’d want from actors of that caliber. The platitudes about coping with grief ring especially hollow given how many films these days are about teenagers overcoming trauma. The Fallout, a high school drama that debuted on HBO Max just a couple weeks ago, tackles similar themes but with dialogue that feels much more authentic to the way that teens actually speak.

While Grace Kaufman’s performance here isn’t quite the revelation that Emilia Jones’ was in CODA, she nevertheless announces herself as a bright young talent to watch in the coming years. Jacques Colimon is another newcomer who shines in a role defined by a modest musical magnetism; if “humble swagger” is a thing, this character has it. The two of them give Lennie and Joe such palpable chemistry that Toby largely comes across as a squeaky third wheel with whom Lennie inexplicably keeps torturing herself instead of just letting go. Despite its continuation of Decker’s arts-and-crafts store aesthetic, The Sky Is Everywhere is a floral-framed painting that we’ve seen a hundred times before.

Score – 2.5/5

More movies coming this weekend:
Playing in theaters and streaming on Peacock is Marry Me, a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson about a pop superstar who marries a stranger in the crowd of one of her shows after discovering her partner has been unfaithful.
Coming only to theaters is Death on the Nile, a whodunnit starring Kenneth Branagh and Gal Gadot continuing the adventures of detective Hercule Poirot as he investigates the murder of a young heiress on a steamboat with dozens of suspects aboard.
Screening at Cinema Center on February 11th and 12th is The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, a documentary scrutinizing the mysterious 1992 death of the titular black gay rights activist and Stonewall veteran through interviews with Johnson’s family, friends and fellow activists.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Parallel Mothers

The 22nd film from prolific Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodóvar, Parallel Mothers doesn’t quite hit the highs of 2019’s terrific Pain and Glory but is another solid soap opera from a reliable storyteller. Penélope Cruz stars as Janis, a photographer whose shoot with archaeologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde) one day leads to an affair and subsequent pregnancy. While waiting to give birth, Janis shares a hospital room with young mother-to-be Ana (Milena Smit), with whom she strikes up a friendship and exchanges her phone number after the pair of babies are born. When Arturo meets Janis’ newborn, he becomes immediately convinced at first glance that the baby is not his daughter, leading Janis to conduct a maternity test with surprising results.

Almodóvar is known for casting the same actors in numerous films throughout his career and Parallel Mothers is no exception. This is frequent collaborator Penélope Cruz’s seventh time working with the acclaimed filmmaker and along with her transcendent work in 2006’s Volver, this performance stands among the very best that she’s given in one of his movies. Her transition from a freewheeling fortysomething in the midst of a tryst to an anxious mother with mounting uncertainty about her situation is heart-wrenching and utterly convincing. Even when completing un-cinematic tasks like staring at a baby monitor or scouring a PDF on a computer screen for answers, she sells the character flawlessly even with the darting of her eyes.

But Cruz’s face isn’t the only one that Almodóvar’s camera loves in Parallel Mothers, especially in close-up. In her second feature ever, co-star Milena Smit more than holds her own in a role that gets more knotty and complicated as the story progresses. The circumstances that led to Ana’s pregnancy are even more unfortunate than Janis’ and Smit’s fragile but resilient delivery gives her character instant pathos. Both Cruz and Smit are crucial in portraying the unusual but deep connection that fate seemed to concoct when the duo met in the hospital. While overcooked writing serves up curveballs in the third act that cause these characters to act in ways that don’t seem especially consistent, the acting remains first-rate to the film’s final scene.

The main element that holds Parallel Mothers back from greatness is the screenplay, which introduces a conceit that’s already a bit of a stretch to begin with and then expands on it with subplots that don’t always pay off. There’s also a layer of sociopolitical commentary that’s clumsily lumped into this sensitive story about maternity that felt relatively unnecessary. The movie begins and ends with heavy-handed allusions to the Spanish Civil War and ends with a political quote from Eduardo Galeano, a didactic turn that left me more confused than inspired. The dialogue isn’t quite as melodramatic as the tone of the film overall but it does often spell out the main themes of the piece rather than allow the audience to glean insight into the characters’ feelings on their own.

The musical score by Alberto Iglesias also lacks any real subtlety, although this could be intentional and in keeping with the soap opera feel that Almodóvar seems to be evoking. The opening credits are grabby but Iglesias’ urgent strings and slinking piano recall Bernard Herrmann’s work on any number of Hitchcock’s films. Based on the tone established, you may think you’re being set up to watch a psychological thriller like Psycho but the tension in Parallel Mothers is, of course, much more subdued by comparison. José Luis Alcaine, another frequent collaborator of Almodóvar, lends a keen eye to the cinematography, juxtaposing lush greens with bright reds to suggest a start/stop motion in keeping with the chief theme of disrupted motherhood. There’s enough in Parallel Mothers to recommend it but too much holding it back to count it among Almodóvar’s best.

Score – 3/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Moonfall, a science-fiction disaster movie starring Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson about a pair of astronauts tasked with resetting the Moon after it’s knocked from its orbit by an unknown force and put onto a collision course with Earth.
Also playing only in theaters is Jackass Forever, a comedy sequel starring Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O which finds the crew of the infamous MTV reality series reuniting one last time after an 11 year hiatus for more pranks and stunts.
Screening at Cinema Center on February 4th and 5th is The Burial of Kojo, a Ghanaian drama starring Joseph Otsiman and Cynthia Dankwa about a man who is trapped in a mine shaft by his vengeful brother while his daughter embarks on a magical journey to rescue him.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Cyrano

Though the 19th century play Cyrano de Bergerac has been adapted countless times for the screen and stage since its premiere, the new prestige drama Cyrano is based most specifically on a 2018 stage musical of the same name. Conceived by theater director Erica Schmidt, presumably with her real-life husband Peter Dinklage in mind, the musical differs from the source material most notably by trading Cyrano’s trademark facial disfigurement with dwarfism as the protagonist’s primary obstacle. Despite this, the new adaptation remains true to the setting, story and spirit to the original work but mangles so many aspects of the execution that it hardly seems to matter. It’s not as much of an unmitigated disaster as Dear Evan Hansen but it’s not as far off as one may imagine.

Dinklage stars in the title role as a member of the French army in the mid-17th century who’s equal halves sharp-tongued wordsmith and sharp-tipped swordsmith. We meet Cyrano as he verbally spars with a gussied-up actor mid-performance and then physically spars with an upset audience member on-stage. Looking on from the balcony is Roxanne (Haley Bennett), a longtime friend of Cyrano for whom he has secretly carried a torch as long as they’ve been acquainted. She confides in him a love at first sight with Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a newcomer to the military in Cyrano’s regiment and when Cyrano brings Roxanne up to Christian, he confesses a requisite affection. Sadly, Christian’s good looks don’t translate to sharp wits, leading Cyrano to offer his verbosity as he pens love letters to Roxanne under Christian’s name.

The biggest tragedy of Cyrano is that the music and lyrics come courtesy of members from the excellent rock band The National, who have made some of my favorite albums of the past 15 years. Guitarist brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner composed the music while lead singer Matt Berninger penned the lyrics along with his wife Carin Besser. The Dessners are known for their technically intricate and sonically sophisticated guitar work with The National but their range in these songs is frustratingly limited. Too many of these numbers sound nearly identical to one another, while the words don’t reveal the characters’ motivations as much as they simply underline plot points that are already obvious. Dinklage mournfully belts out Roxanne’s name so often, I half-expected Sting to come in beckoning her not to “put on the red light.”

It could be that musical range is intentionally myopic to cover for the undeveloped vocal talents of Dinklage and Bennett, who reprise their roles from the stage musical. Neither are necessarily poor singers but they do rely on the kind of digital processing that has become alarmingly common in movie musicals over the past 10 years. In this recontextualized role, Dinklage does a fine job channeling Cyrano’s social shortcomings into poignant pathos but Bennett falls totally flat in trying to make Roxanne an empathetic character. After her first meeting face-to-face with Christian, she would understandably be confused in trying to reconcile his simple disposition with his poetic prose. Instead of singing a song about that, she simply bellows “I want more” repeatedly in regards to a potential suitor, making her seem more of an entitled brat than an unaware member of a bizarre love triangle.

Making Cyrano’s short stature a stumbling block for a potential partnership with Roxanne is a wise refresh of the original tale, given Dinklage’s affinity for the role, but there is one change that wasn’t quite as well thought-through. While I appreciate the colorblind casting of Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Christian, it’s not an especially great look for him to be cast as a slow-witted black man who seeks the aid of a white savior for guidance in his love letters. The staging of one major scene, in particular, robs Christian of his agency in ways that would seem hoary and tacky even when race isn’t factored in but even more cringe-inducing when it is. Cyrano may have worked better in the more intimate setting of musical theater but as a film, it comes up short of the mark.

Score – 1.5/5

More new movies to watch this weekend:
Streaming on Disney+ is The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild, an animated spin-off starring Simon Pegg and Vincent Tong about a pair of possum brothers who team up with a weasel to save the Lost World from dinosaur domination.
Premiering on HBO Max is The Fallout, a teen drama starring Jenna Ortega and Maddie Ziegler about a high schooler who navigates the emotional fallout she experiences with friends and family in the wake of a school tragedy.
Screening at Cinema Center January 28th and 29th is Into The Storm, a documentary filmed over 5 years that follows the unlikely dream of a young indigenous surfer from one of the toughest barrios in Latin America as he struggles to escape the struggles of his background and become a professional surfer.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

A Hero

Iran’s selection for Best International Feature Film at the Oscars later this year, A Hero is the latest drama from acclaimed storyteller Asghar Farhadi, whose films A Separation and The Salesman have taken home the trophy in years past. Farhadi’s work is defined by an investigation of messy morality, specifically as it applies to men attempting to make the right choices under trying circumstances. His protagonists and antagonists aren’t strictly defined heroes and villains, as much as flawed people who fall under categories that society might deem as either “right” or “wrong”. The stories he weaves together tend to start with an ethical conundrum that may seem relatively easy to solve at the outset but as more layers of complexity are added on when choices are made, more parties tend to become involved and the dramatic stakes ratchet up too.

The narrative largely takes place during a two-day leave that Rahim (Amir Jadidi) has from his prison sentence for failing to repay a debt owed to his creditor Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh). During the furlough, Rahim scrambles to figure out how to best remedy the financial misstep when his girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), as luck would have it, happens upon a bag filled with gold coins. He doesn’t immediately jump to the morally upstanding conclusion of returning the bag to its rightful owner but when he finds that its contents don’t quite cover what he owes, he takes to the local news and advertises the purse as missing. His very public lost-and-found plea sparks goodwill in the community, as the media touts him as a local hero, but those who look closer at the situation begin to doubt Rahim’s heroism.

The terms of A Hero‘s conceit may be a culture shock for American viewers — specifically, that being in debt is a criminal offense and that someone can serve a lengthy prison sentence for not being able to repay what is essentially a business loan. More specifically, it seems the lender has quite a bit of power when it comes to how the debt is repaid and even how much jail time is doled out. While I can’t say that I’m familiar with the particulars of financial law in modern-day Iran, I felt comfortable with the details that Farhadi lent out and chose to omit for the purposes of this gripping story. As it turns out, the way that the media rushes to deify a local figure — and is even more eager to tear the newly-crowned hero from the edifice that they built — will be all too familiar for American audiences.

Farhadi’s films hinge on nuance and while the screenplay is loaded with it, much of the detail comes forth from the acting as well. As the meek and hard-luck Rahim, Jadidi commands the screen with a soft-spoken humility that conceals the rage of an honest man who feels he never got a fair shake in life. At times, this rage boils over and threatens to undo everything, but Jadidi also asserts Rahim’s quiet desperation in ways that are equally compelling. Consider a scene where Rahim receives a merit certificate for his good deed. As he’s being handed the plaque, his son stands under him and starts to grab it from the corners. When the cameras start flashing, Rahim quickly jerks it up to reposition it better for the cameras and flashes his best smile. This could be seen as a duplicitous move, trying to play to the media’s newfound affection for him, but Rahim treats the certificate like a shield meant to protect both himself and his family. “The only thing that matters is my honor,” Rahim tells a council intelligence officer, and we want to believe it too.

Similarly, Tanabandeh portrays Bahram not as some sneering scold whose intent is to kick a poor man when he’s down but rather, someone who was trying to do the good deed of lending out money and was punished for it. We come to learn more about Rahim’s past and Bahram does have good reason to believe Rahim is more unscrupulous than he’s been portrayed on the local news. In the digital age, much of print and online journalism has been robbed of the context and clarifying details that the reader needs to make informed decisions. With A Hero, Farhadi attempts to bridge that gap with an allegorical tale about how the truth means looking past the hasty categorizations that we’re fed everyday.

Score – 3.5/5

More new movies to watch this weekend:
Streaming on Netflix is Munich – The Edge of War, a period thriller starring George MacKay and Jeremy Irons about a British diplomat who travels to Munich in the run-up to World War II, where he meets a former classmate who is secretly working for the German government.
Playing only in theaters is Redeeming Love, a romantic Western starring Abigail Cowen and Tom Lewis about a young couple’s budding relationship as it develops during the harsh realities of the California Gold Rush.
Screening at Cinema Center January 21st and 22nd is Last and First Men, the directorial debut of the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson that depicts a vision two billion years in the future set to voiceover by Tilda Swinton and music written by Jóhannsson.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Few names in modern cinema are more revered than the Coen Brothers. Over the course of 18 films, including Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men and, most recently, Netflix’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the brotherly duo have conjured up one transcendent masterstroke after another for almost 35 years now. The Tragedy of Macbeth, a linguistically faithful but stylistically ambitious retelling of Shakespeare’s perennial play, finds Joel Coen writing and directing independently from brother Ethan Coen for the first time in their careers. Fortunately, Joel demonstrates that he has plenty to offer on his own in this dire and nightmarish interpretation on The Scottish Play, stripping the story down to its barest elements while adding layers of visual grandeur at the same time.

In early 1600s Scotland, brothers in arms Macbeth (Denzel Washington) and Banquo (Bertie Carvel) return from battle when they are met by a trio of witches (all three portrayed by Kathryn Hunter) with a prophecy. They proclaim the former will soon be king while the latter will raise a son who will come to be king sometime in the future, an ominous prediction that sets the men on divergent paths. When Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) hears tell of the witches’ omen, she talks her husband into killing the fair King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson) in his sleep. Assuming the throne after the king’s murder, Macbeth seems to have the world at his fingertips but his obsession with the prediction about Banquo’s offspring begins to consume himself and his wife.

A coven of whispering witches open The Tragedy of Macbeth in eerie voiceover, setting an otherworldly and ominous pall over this adaptation that recalls the hushed unease of 2016’s The Witch. The rugged 17th century setting, period-accurate dialogue, and presence of that film’s star Ralph Ineson in the next scene further cements the connection between the two movies, though the stories obviously diverge from there. Coen adapts directly from Shakespeare’s original prose; those intimately familiar with the play’s text should have fun mouthing the words of their favorite passages along with the actors. Though the occasional line reading can come across as awkward, the cast is uniformly prepared and deeply entrenched in their respective performances.

Stylistically, Coen and his production designer Stefan Dechant draw most notably from the German Expressionism movement and more specifically, the works of Fritz Lang like Metropolis and M. The stark black-and-white cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel makes the contrast between light and shadow greater than that of a color counterpart. In some scenes, this makes separation more evident and in others, the visual lines are blurrier. Fog and sand spill over into one another during the early prophecy scene but by the time Macbeth is crowned king, the angular castle with its high archways and narrow passages make for more sharply defined settings. It’s a clever visual metaphor to articulate how Macbeth’s world becomes more governed by absolutes, no matter how unfounded they are, as the narrative progresses.

Washington has always excelled at playing characters with a chip on their shoulder and he pitches Macbeth’s haughtiness perfectly while also generating sympathy at just the right moments. McDormand is a fine counterpoint, wielding quiet ambition for a greater purpose but tragically succumbing to madness along the way. These two leads, along with fine supporting players like Corey Hawkins and Harry Melling, have turned in plenty of outstanding work on-screen through the years but the real find here is Kathryn Hunter. Playing the part of all three of The Witches, she contorts and confounds in a role that is captivating in its physicality and unforgettable in its solemnity. The Tragedy of Macbeth takes the Bard’s play into more haunting territory than it’s been before, in ways that only great filmmakers can manifest.

Score – 4/5

More new movies to watch this weekend:
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, an animated family comedy starring Andy Samberg and Selena Gomez about a Van Helsing invention that turns monsters into humans and turns humans into monsters.
Coming to theaters is Scream, a slasher sequel starring Melissa Barrera and Mason Gooding which picks up 25 years after the landmark horror entry and follows a new masked killer that terrorizes the quiet town of Woodsboro once again.
Also playing only in theaters is Belle, a sci-fi anime starring Kaho Nakamura and Ryō Narita about a shy high school student who loses herself in the persona of a globally-beloved singer that she adapts within a massive virtual world.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Licorice Pizza

Let’s get this out of the way right at the top: Licorice Pizza is not about a pernicious pizzeria that tops their pies with the twisty black or red confection. Instead, the title of Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest masterwork refers to a defunct chain of record shops that circulated around southern California in the early 1970s. Though the film’s original title, Soggy Bottom, is referenced more explicitly in the film, Licorice Pizza is the kind of west coast callback that falls in line with the “if you know, you know” vibe that Anderson evokes through this expertly-made hangout movie. Sprinkled with facsimiles of Hollywood titans from William Holden to Lucille Ball, this is a trip through San Fernando Valley that feels too real to be entirely fictitious but magical enough to convince us that something ineffable really existed in that time and place.

Based loosely on the teenage exploits of film producer Gary Goetzman, Licorice Pizza stars Cooper Hoffman as Gary Valentine, a 15-year-old actor who always has his eyes on the next project before the current one is completed. He meets Alana (Alana Haim) while waiting in line to have his school picture taken and feels an immediate connection. It isn’t exactly love at first sight for Alana, who’s older and seemingly wiser than the cherubic but indefatigable Gary, but the two remain friends as they see what life has in store for them. Set across rolling hills of endless opportunity, Gary and Alana navigate entrepreneurship and emotional insecurity while well-known figures like the imprudent producer Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper) and up-and-coming politician Joel Wachs (Benny Safdie) pop in along the way.

Recalling both the off-kilter romanticism of Punch-Drunk Love and madcap episodic nature of the inscrutable but atmospheric Inherent Vice, Anderson once again casts a spell of winsome unpredictability more successfully than any other director working today. Refining the cinematography chops he established brilliantly in his previous Phantom Thread, he works this time with Michael Bauman to establish a lovely but lived-in look that mirrors the dust one might brush off their favorite LP before taking it for a spin. The camera often chases breathlessly after these young hopefuls as they search for their place in the Valley and in the world, like pinballs bouncing gleefully off the colorful bumpers that manifest before them.

Though the cast is filled out by veterans and familiar faces, the lead duo enters Licorice Pizza with no prior feature acting credits to their names. Hoffman, son of the late Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman, gives Valentine a devious charm that works on nearly everyone but seems to stop short when Alana is at her most prickly. Haim, supported in the film by her real-life sisters and parents, presents the cynicism of a twentysomething unsatisfied with how her dreams fell short but still determined to seek out her watershed moment. Together, the two are absolutely electric, sporting a playful energy and seesaw repartee that makes the most of Anderson’s already lively screenplay. We don’t know how or when they’ll end up together but we know we’ll want to be there the moment it happens.

As it turns out, there are quite a number of vignettes that play out before that moment and I was completely taken with nearly all of them. Most of the asides and non-sequiturs follow Anderson’s idiosyncratic and indelible sense of humor. For instance, Gary and Alana meet with a casting director who interrupts Alana’s wayward interview by picking up a ringing phone and proceeds with a minute-long conversation in which she merely utters “no” three times with varying inflections before hanging up the receiver. There’s a hushed sequence with an out-of-gas moving truck floating down the Hollywood Hills that was more exhilarating than any car chase I’ve seen this year. Exuberant and eccentric, Licorice Pizza is a slice of life tale of two young souls who spin their wheels in every direction until they finally move in sync.

Score – 4.5/5

More movies to watch this weekend:
Streaming on Netflix is The Lost Daughter, a psychological drama starring Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson about A woman who finds herself becoming obsessed with another woman and her daughter while on a summer holiday.
Continuing its run in theaters is A Journal for Jordan, a Denzel Washington-directed drama starring Michael B. Jordan and Chanté Adams about a fallen US Army Sergeant and the journal he left behind for his wife and son as a way of moving on without him.
Also still playing in theaters is American Underdog, a sports biopic starring Zachary Levi and Anna Paquin about the life and career of Super Bowl MVP and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup