Tuesday, December 31, 2019

10 Things I Love About the 2010s: The Best Movies of the Decade

Another decade, another round of truly great movies. It was HARD narrowing down this list. But I did it anyway. Ask me next year and this list could probably change, but these are my favorite movies of the decade as of December 31st, 2019. See you in 2020. 

1 Mad Max Fury Road (2015)

What I Said Then: “..it is one ludicrous and thrilling ride filled with jaw-dropping camerawork, effects, and production value that completely blows the original films out of the water.”
And Now: “Fury Road” still holds up as an amazing piece of action filmmaking. Part big budget spectacle part weirdo art house flick, this film is essentially one long, exciting car chase set to an awesome Junkie XL score that hardly ever lets up for a second. And the fact that it actually has something to say about society – the roles of men and women, about the environment, etc – goes to show how truly special this fourth Mad Max entry truly is. There’s nothing quite like it and I’ll be damned if there ever will be again.

2 Bridesmaids (2011)

What I Said Then: “a flat out funny and heartfelt romp that will have you laughing hysterically one moment and then practically tearing up the next.”
And Now: “Bridesmaids” continues to be one of my all-time favorite comedies. Kristin Wiig is so freaking hilarious and it’s amazing how big Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy became after turning in steal-stealing performances here. The film was so much more than just a female version of “The Hangover.” Does anyone even remember or quote “The Hangover” anymore? I pretty much quote “Bridesmaids” on a daily basis, now if you’ll excuse me it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m ready to paaaaaarrrrrr-tttttyyyyyyyy!

3 Avengers: Endgame (2019)

What I Said Then: “It’s no easy task weaving elements and characters from a series of 21 feature films that connect, overlap, and converge into a three hour mega-finale that is everything you want it to be and more. It’s – dare I say it – a perfect closing saga.”
And Now: Yeah this movie came out 8 months ago and yes it’s one of the best movies of the decade. I freaking love this movie so much. I’ve watched it over and over again since it’s release and I never get sick of it. In fact, I even watched in a plane ride when there was literally hundreds of other options. “Avengers Endgame” is the perfect three act movie and each part is expertly crafted for maximum emotion and entertainment. I still cry every. Single. Time. I think it’s officially time to admit that it’s my favorite Marvel movie, sorry “Winter Soldier;” move down the bench!

4 Hereditary (2018)

What I Said Then: “The film is a searing tragedy about the horrors of loss and grief and morphs into horror of a different nature. It’s destined to be a modern genre classic.”
And Now: I honestly never thought I could ever watch “Hereditary” a second time because it disturbed me so much. But I’ve gotten over that and watch it regularly. It’s so freaking good; it’s the best horror film of the decade. Toni Collette’s performance is so exquisite; she just punches you in the gut. The imagery is so memorable and shocking; then there’s the music, the atmosphere, the naked old people, Ann Dowd, etc. Ari Aster is a genius.

5 The Conjuring (2013)

What I Said Then: “It’s a film that can arguably hold up against such classics as The Exorcist, The Omen, and Poltergeist. It has everything you could ask for in a great horror film.”
And Now: If Hereditary is the best horror movie of the decade “The Conjuring” is certainly a close second. “The Conjuring” is pretty much a perfect movie with a delectable 70s vibe and proof that the studio horror film isn’t dead. The film is proof that you can have a decent budget ($20 million) and not waste a single dollar. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are great as the real life “ghost hunters” The Warrens. Everyone in Connecticut knows about them (I’ve seen their lectures many times) and they finally got to go mainstream. I still can’t believe that James Wan who went so over-the-top with his debut “Saw” that he restrained himself enough to make such an emotionally satisfying family drama that also just happens to be scary as hell. Anyone wanna play Hide and Clap??

6 Gravity (2013)

What I Said Then: “There aren’t enough adjectives in the galaxy to describe how wonderful ‘Gravity’ is.”
And Now: “Gravity” still remains one of my all-time favorite movie theater going experiences. I saw this movie four times in IMAX 3D and it was simply breathtaking each time. Sure it loses a bit of that wonder at home, but it no less emotionally gratifying. Essentially a disaster movie in space, I’m still not quite sure how Alfonso Cuarón pulled it all off. Sandra Bullock is fantastic, the music score from Steven Price is so exciting and some cues literally bring me to tears. I’m always a big ol’ mess when this movie ends; you feel like you’ve been on this scary journey with Sandra and I haven’t been the same since.

7 Whiplash (2014)

What I Said Then: “It’s almost Hitchcockian in its approach to enthrall you with this fascinating cat and mouse game between a borderline sadistic college music professor and an in-it-to-win-it student.”
And Now: What a gift to cinema Damien Chazelle is. He has hit home run after home run and it all started with “Whiplash” (though, fun fact: “Whiplash” was not his first feature, that would be “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench”). A steering drama about a music student and his masochistic professor functions like a thriller and offers moments of true suspense and a completely rewarding final act. You could almost forgive Chazelle for only telling stories about white dudes.

8 Prometheus (2012)

What I Said Then: “‘Prometheus’ might just be a modern sci-fi horror classic.”
And Now: I called it a classic then and I’d call it a classic now. The sometimes unfairly maligned “Prometheus” stands as a great piece of thrilling sci-fi filmmaking and anyone who hates on it is only mad because it’s not the movie they thought it would be. It turns out it’s not really a direct prequel to “Alien” and the less you think of it that way the more enjoyable it really is. So what if it gets a bit bogged down in muddled mythology Ridley Scott has still concocted some truly memorable moments, some of which are simply terrifying. I’m looking at you med pod abortion scene! I find the film simply entertaining and daring in its decision to ask more questions (who are we, why are we here dammit??) than it answers. God forbid you’re forced to actually think for a minute while digesting horrifying moments of sci-fi terror.

9 Get Out (2017)

What I Said Then: “The best horror films are a reflection of their time and ‘Get Out’ is no exception.”
And Now: Was there any film more relevant in the 2010s than “Get Out?” The biggest real-life twist of the decade is that we are in fact, NOT living in a post-racial America. In fact, the country is just as racist as its ever been. And “Get Out” is a perfect reflection of that. It’s a disturbing film from comedy guy Jordan Peele about a Black guy who goes home with his wife girlfriend for the weekend to meet her parents. But don’t worry, her dad would vote for Obama a third time if he could. It only gets worse from there for our hapless hero. This modern “Twilight Zone” take on “The Stepford Wives” is a witty delight from beginning to end and brought a new modern horror master in Peele who also hit big with his equally good second feature “Us.”

10 Love, Simon (2018)

What I Said Then: “The equally sweet and cheesy “Love, Simon” is not only influenced by 80s and 90s teen films but it’s actually three great films in one.”
And Now: “Love, Simon” is a very important movie for me. It actually shaped what I see as the second chapter of my life and I’m eternally grateful for it. The film really is a fun ode to those 90s teen films except it offers the type of point-of-view those movies never got around to showing. Simon is a closeted teen who falls for an anonymous classmate who is also closeted and his life gets turned upside down when another student threatens to out him. Greg Berlanti’s modern take on teen romance is funny and witty and is sheer bliss from beginning to end. And let’s not forget the film pivotal scene in which Simon and has a heart to heart with his mom. Jennifer Garner has never been better. I’m not cyring, YOU’RE CRYING!

You didn't think I'd actually stop at ten did you??

11 Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Well this used to be my favorite Marvel movie! A perfect example of a sequel completely blowing the original out of the water. The 3 Days of the Condor vibe is palatable.

12 Us (2019)
There is so sophomore slump when it comes to Jordan Peele. Lupita is amazing. The score is fan-freaking-tastic. This is one of my favorite movies to discuss. Don’t @ me.

13 La La Land (2016)
I’ll never understand why people dislike this movie so much. The music, the colors, the score. I love the scrappy quality. I don’t care that Emma and Ryan aren’t great singers but they’re likable and charming as hell. Who the hell did you want in this? Christina Aguilera and Justin Beiber??

14 Inception (2010)
BRAWWWWWNNNNN. This movie is mindbogglingly good once you figure out exactly what’s happening. I always appreciate what Christopher Nolan is doing. Keep doing it.

15 It (2017)
Make Clowns Scary Again. Accomplished. Another example of studio horror done right. The kids and Bill Skarsgard are fantastic.

16 Hidden Figures (2016)
The Help in space! No but really, I love this more and more every time I watch it. Taraji’s bathroom monologue is so moving; it’s this close to curing racism. (One can dream)

17 Baby Driver (2017)
Sure it has Kevin Spacey but it has cool car chases, cooler editing, and is the definition of fun.

18 Insidious (2010)
This is when I realized that James Wan actually knows what he’s doing. Rose Byrne might be my favorite find of the decade.

19 Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
It’s retro cool and just the shot in the arm the Marvel movies needed.

20 This Is the End (2013)
I was obsessed with this hilarious meta disaster comedy when it came out. I still think it’s fun and rather clever.

21 Mission Impossible – Fallout (2018)
How does these movies keep getting better as they go on. This ending alone is the definition of a nailbiter. The whole thing is impeccably filmed and wholly entertaining and thankfully the least confusing

22 Prisoners (2013)
Still ashamed I missed this intense sleeper drama in the theater. Melissa Leo (not to mention her soda bottles) has never been more terrifying.

23 The Help (2011)
I rolled my eyes while watching this movie with about a dozen housweives in the theater, but I’ve warmed up to it. Jessica Chastain is gloriously over-the-top. The third National Treasure should be about Octavia Spencer because she is one.

24 Marriage Story (2019)
I’ve watched this twice already and loved it even more on a second viewing. The divorce paper serving scene is a stand out scene of the entire year. And this movie made me fall in love with the song “Being Alive.” Thank you Adam Driver, thank you.

25 You’re Next (2011)
This clever twist on the home invasion thriller is actually a dark family comedy in disguise. Adam Wingard could do no wrong (unless you count Blair Witch, ugh).

26 Happy Death Day (2017)
What a sheer delight from beginning to end. Sure it’s not actually scary but I wanna be best friends with Jessica Roth’s character and I’d like to think she’d wanna be best friends with me. (And for the record I loved the wackado sequel)

27 Black Panther (2018)
Representation can go a long way when it comes to a fun, action spectacle. This film is like weird superhero conglomeration of Star Wars and James Bond while somehow being better than those.

28 Inside Out (2015)
One of the most flat out clever and fun Pixar movies which is saying something in a roster of films that are nothing but clever and fun. Pixar has suffered from sequelitis this decade but it’s nice to know they still know how to knock it out of the park.

29 Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Oh god this movie wrecked me. I don’t know how I can watch it over and over again but I do. Grief porn at its best. But still surprisingly humane and funny.

30 127 Hours (2010)
Another one that wrecked me. I never thought watching James Franco stuck under a rock could be so entertaining, suspenseful, and moving. This one still brings me to tears at the end. I blame Sigur Ros.

31 Coco (2017)
Another colorful and fun Pixar outing. Another bittersweet ending. I cry a lot at movies don’t I?

32 Midsommar (2019)
Ari Aster is back again with something completely different from “Hereditary” but no less disturbing. The opening sequence is brilliant and jaw-dropping. The daylight has never been scarier.

33 Deadpool (2016)
What a great decade for super hero movies. Ryan Reynolds was born to play this character. Irreverent, and violent; two of my favorite ingredients. And Bea Arthur references. You can’t ask for more.

34 Easy A (2010)
Here’s the sitch MELODY BOSTIC….For a second I thought the teen movie was dead. But hello Emma Stone and her winning personality and beautiful big eyes. I knew she was destinite for bigger and better things ever since she got head butted by drunk Jonah Hill in Superbad.

35 Room (2015)
What could have easily been a Lifetime movie-of-the-week was turned into a moving, cinematic tour-de-force. Jacob Tremblay gives one of the best kid performances of all time.

36 Moonlight (2016)
Such a moving cinematic piece of art. The three act structure was an interesting take on a life rarely seen in mainstreen films. I could feel this movie.

37 Halloween (2018)
God bless American icon Jamie Lee Curtis. I’m pretty sure she’s my favorite actress of all time. I know she hates horror movies so much, but bless her for going back to the Laurie Strode well yet again. Somehow this all worked and was completely satisfying. I can’t wait for Halloween H60.

38 Neighbors (2014)
Jesus Christ how many times do I mention Rose Byrne on here? She’s amazing. This movie is way better than it has any right to be and proves that Zac Efron is more than hot abs, a cute face, a nice butt, muscular arms, a sexy voice, perfect hair, perfectly straight teeth, a nice thick neck, broad shoulders, gorgeous eyes, etc...

39 Ready Player One (2018)
The decade was not kind to Steven Spielberg fans in my opinion. If anyone tells you that War Horse, Lincoln, or The Adventures of Tintin is their favorite Spielberg movie then run away. This nostalgia porn is super fun and I dug every minute. The Shining sequence is worth the price of admission alone.

40 Arrival (2016)
I’m still bitter that Amy Adams got snubbed at the Oscars.

41 The Big Sick (2017)
I’m still bitter that Holly Hunter got snubbed at the Oscars.

42 Skyfall (2012)
The movie that made me actually like James Bond movies.

43 Tickled (2016)
What a freaking bizarre story in this fascinating investigative documentary.

44 Nightcrawler (2014)
I’m still bitter that Jake Gyllenhaal got snubbed at the Oscars.

45 The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
This movie gave us Leonardo DiCaprio blowing cocaine in a hooker’s ass AND Margot Robbie. Thank god.

46 Call Me by Your Name (2017)
I’ve really warmed up to this 80s gay romance. I found it hard to relate to wealthy, literate Americans living la dolce vita in Northern Italy. The soundtrack really is great.. And then there’s the whole peach thing...

47 Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
A movie that could give you a seizure during the opening credits, this wacky take on the Spider-Man character is filled with gorgeous animation and a truly fun and original storyline.

48 Argo (2012)
Ben Affleck was born to direct. The Town is probably number 51 on here for the record. I love the 70s style here. Pure cinematic bliss.

49 Unstoppable (2010)
The only true Speed sequel as far as I’m concerned.

50 mother! (2017)
I was super excited to see it. I didn’t get it. And then once I did get it I freaking loved it. I get why people hate it but they’re wrong. Bonus points for Kristin Wiig’s bizarro cameo.

Other movies that came so close but I feel like I can’t not mention them…. 50/50, The Town, Birdman, Boyhood, The Dark Knight Rises, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Fighter, Piranha 3D, Guardians of the Galaxy, It Follows, Interstellar, Gone Girl, A Quiet Place, A Star is Born, Under the Skin, The Shallows, Drive, The Kids Are Alright, Shame

Monday, December 30, 2019

Uncut Gems

"Uncut Gems" is probably the most stress-inducing movie about a person I didn't care for that I've probably ever seen. Adam Sandler is a New York city jeweler who has makes bad decision after bad decision but it's a testament to his performance and the stark direction from Benny and Josh Safdie that is all works somehow. Sandler gets his hands on an extremely valuable, rare rock and instead of paying off the scary loan sharks that want to murder him he makes head-scratching bets on basketball games. He's has driven away his estranged wife (Adele Dazeem herself) and children. He almost drives away his girlfriend/employee who gets roped into his scheming which is all set to a trippy, electronic score and gritty 70s-style camerawork. This is a grim and grimy movie - and odd choice for a wide Christmas release for certain - but you quickly fall under its spell (and feel like you need a shower and blood pressure check afterwards). I admire having to follow around people that were hard to root for and the film truly is a nail-biter all the way to its shocking and inevitably tragic conclusion. Sandler is good here; I'm curious if this film will remain just a critics' pic or will eventually win over Oscar voters.  GRADE: B+

Tuesday, December 24, 2019


"Cats" isn't exactly the cat-astrophe I was expecting. But don't worry it's still pretty terrible. The film isn't exactly "so bad it's good" but I imagine it will gain a cult following in the years to come the way film musical oddities "Tommy" and "The Rocky Horror Picture" have. People will look back on "Cats" and wonder what exactly was everyone involved thinking?? The film fails on multiple levels but the real sad thing is that the movie wastes its talented cast. The film consists of a troupe of well known actors (Judi Dench! Idris Elba! Jennifer Hudson! Ian McKellan! Rebel Wilson!) who have no business being here and lesser known performers who were hired for their amazing dancing skills. But when covered in grotesque CGI fur something gets lost in translation and the magic of watching talented dancers is heavily muted. Your mind knows you're watching computer imagery so you feel like the dancing is artificially created as well. And that's a shame.

As a non-fan of the disturbingly popular Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical, (I prefer "Phantom of the Opera") most of the film was completely lost on me. There's a catchy tune here and there and I found myself tapping my foot to the beat but the music mostly feels outdated, corny, and unmemorable. Again, the actors are trying but moments that are supposed to be moving and dramatic come across as garish and silly. Jennifer Hudson's rendition of Memory is fine, but I just couldn't take her cat face seriously. And then there's Judi Dench and her distracting whisker mustache. I couldn't look away. And for God's sake why are these characters wearing fur coats??

Having sat through Tom Hooper's bizarre, ill-conceived film I have way more questions than answers. If the cats are supposed to actually be the size of cats in world where regular sized humans exist then why are there places like the Catsino and The Meow Bar? And I still don't even know what a Jellicle cat is nor do I really care to find out what happens to Jennifer Hudson after she sets off onto her hot air balloon. Ugh what a truly wacko film. There's certainly nothing else quite like it that's for damn sure.  GRADE: D

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

It's all over. The end of an era. And you know what? It was all pretty damn great. As the rare movie fan who was never obsessed with Star Wars I'm very much pleased with the final film in the Skywalker saga. The Force Awakens was nostalgic fun and a great reinvention of familiarity. The Last Jedi took a fun detour by subverting our expectations. And The Rise of Skywalker is delicious comfort food that rights the ship for those who thought the previous entry went too far off course but is still satisfying for those who liked the risks that were taken. 

Episode IX is an absolute blast and it's mostly because I've truly fallen in love with the characters we've gotten to know since Episode VII. Seeing Rey, Poe, and Finn flying spaceships, and swinging light sabers, and getting chased by storm troopers is an absolute blast. Again we get to witness the Resistance continue to attempt to defeat the New Order with Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) being as conflicted as ever and Rey (Daisy Ridley) near completing her Jedi training with General Leia (Carrie Fisher). The film's plot allows for most of the main heroes to be all together for once instead of everyone off on their own mission which is fun. Further revelations about the characters are fine, though not completely shocking, but I think at this point we're a far cry from "I am your father" plot twists. Thoroughly entertaining, fun, and emotionally satisfying, JJ Abrams and company cap off this third trilogy on a high note even if it doesn't offer the same twists, subversiveness, and style of its predecessor.  GRADE: A-

Friday, December 20, 2019


From the director of the Austin Powers trilogy comes the true life story of a sexual harassment scandal at Fox News. Sure that seems to make no sense until you realize how good director Jay Roach is at depicting true life stories in the HBO docudrams "Recount" and "Game Change." This time a recent scandal gets a big, splashy star-studded theatrical release that involves conservative Fox News anchors Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) taking down disgusting serial sexual harasser and Fox News CEO Roger Ailes (a Fat Bastardized John Lithgow). 

At first Charlize's deepened voice - it felt like she was doing an impression - and her uncanny makeup were a distraction (until you watch footage of Kelly and realize she's actually spot on) but more than impersonation "Bombshell" remains a witty, glossy look behind a real life scandal that had big consequences in the entertainment news world. Writer Charles Randolph who also wrote "The Big Short" (a film I found unnecessarily confusing and cold) takes a similar approach here but turns the Fox News studio into a liberal farce with wacky cameo and wacky makeup jobs. And I kinda dug it. I dunno if some of the more silly elements totally jive with the more serious real life consequences of what these women experienced at the hands of the their gross boss but it make for sensationalist, almost campy entertainment. The performances from the three leads are tremendous and the fact that Roach and company has made people of a certain political spectrum sympathetic shows how harassment in the work place is not ok no matter what your political beliefs.  GRADE: B+

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Black Christmas

It seems like only yesterday there was a remake of "Black Christmas." My how thirteen years fly by! Now we have a third iteration of the classic early 70s holiday slasher film. A early slasher film that I'm not afraid to admit is not one of my all-time favorites. Sure the film predated "Halloween" by four years but "Halloween" still remains the Godfather of the slasher films. One can't help but compare this new version from director Sophia Takal to the previous versions and as controversial as it may sound the 2019 version is the one I prefer; granted I'm not overwhelmingly crazy about any of them. This film takes an obvious feminist bent. Ok, so it's not a bent exactly, it's a very heavy-handed message and it's being shoved down your throat, but you know what, good for them! This is not an easy pill to swallow.  It's about time someone made a horror film with such a powerful message about toxic masculinity and a disgusting rape culture that many college campuses have been breeding for years. 

Woke sorority sister Riley (Imogeen Poots) has been noticing that her sisters have been notably absent in the days leading up to Christmas break which causes her alarm. But she isn't crazy because someone - or some people - are out to get the sorority girls on campus. But these cloaked monsters have picked the wrong woman to mess with. Takal's film (Who she co-wrote with April Wolfe) bears little resemblance to either the 1974 film (or the 2006 version) and that's probably for the best. Sure it goes a bit off the rails and plot developments in the third act threaten to practically derail the entire endeavor but I actually sort of dug it. Anyone who dismisses the film because of the PG-13 rating is just making excuses - the R-rated 1974 film is practically bloodless and most of the kills happen off-screen as well. At least this movie has something important to say.  GRADE: B

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Ford v Ferrari

No one could give two craps about car racing more than me. And yet I quickly won over by "Ford v Ferrari" as it quickly raced into my heart as one of the best movies of the year. Set in the 1960s, the corporate ties at the Ford Motor Company, including Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) wants to enter the auto racing industry and intend on giving Ferrari a run for its money. Enter auto designer and former racer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and British racer and struggling mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale) who are tasted with designing, building, and testing a car that could beat Ferrari at the Le Mans race in France. 

On paper this sounds like such a snooze to anyone who is not remotely a gear-head, but somehow it makes for a thoroughly fun and entertaining drama. Damon and Bale have an amazing love-hate onscreen presence and give great performances, especially Bale who is especially exquisite here. James Mangold directs the racing scenes as if they're action spectacles and they are intense with perfect editing and a pulse-pounding score from his usual collaborator Marco Beltrami (and Buck Sanders). I'm simply amazed at how emotionally invested I became in this film, which could have easily been a 2.5 hour commercial for Ford Motor Co but instead is about fascinating personalities and triumphs of the human spirit. Sure, it sort of follows the formula of the many inspirational sports films that have come before it but there's a reason the formula works so well.  GRADE: A

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

As I sat to watch "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" I realized that the two women sitting a few seats down were not interested in being silent throughout the movie. It made me mad. It made me grumpy. Much like the main character in the film, Lloyd (The Americans' Matthew Rhys). Lloyd is a cynical journalist who writes for Esquire and is tasked with writing a short piece on Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks). As in the children's show guy. It turns out getting to know the perennially positive Fred Rogers was all the disgruntled Lloyd needed. You see Lloyd has some serious issues with his estranged father Jerry (Chris Cooper) and by the film's end Lloyd, much like the young viewers of Fred's show, will learn a very important lesson. And by the film's end I also was swept up by the positively set forth by director Marielle Heller's clever film. The film's script wisely avoids the trappings of a traditional biopic - of which this is not -  and Hanks turns what initially seems like an impersonation into something much greater. The film won me over and I was almost able to forgive my talky seatmates. Almost.  GRADE: B+

Monday, December 02, 2019

Knives Out

So folks, are we finally allowed to like Rian Johnson again? Now that he's back to doing what he does best: wildly original scripts that are a sheer joy to watch unfold onscreen. This time he enters the ensemble murder mystery genre and does his best Agatha Christie. He has gathered one of the juiciest casts in quite some time (including Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Michael Shannon, etc and even the voice of Miss Piggy herself Frank Oz). This eccentric, lousy white family is dealing with the death of the wealthy patriarch (Christopher Plummer) and Craig is a private detective who suspects foul play. There's comedy, there's suspense, and they're a super fun mystery that is slowly revealed and just when you think you have it figured out, you don't. And best of all Johnson slyly slips in some sharp commentary about the issues of today that makes this whole endeavor one of the most fun, charming, and original films of the year.  GRADE: A

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Terminator Dark Fate

Yet another "Terminator" film that we don't really need and yet it actually works pretty well because it's a direct sequel to "Terminator 2 Judgment Day" and ignores all the other sequels that came before it. Set directly after the events of the second Terminator film - and featuring jaw-dropping special effects no less, at least in this sequence - the film follows Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) as she teams up with an enhanced human from the future named "Grace" (Mackenzie Davis) to help protect a young woman named Dani (Natalia Reyes) from another shape-shifting time traveling terminator (a REV-9 to be exact) played by Gabriel Luna. This R-rated action thriller from Tim Miller (who directed "Deadpool") marks the return of James Cameron (and Arnold natch) as a producer and while the film is entertaining and sets up a good-enough story for a third entry, the film mostly feels superfluous. However, the film is progressive as hell considering it stars three women and presents the savior of the human race as an illegal immigrant from Mexico. I can dig it. GRADE: B+

Jojo Rabbit

It's never a good time to be a Nazi. As sad as it may be, "Jojo Rabbit" a fascinating satire set during World War II that is actually a biting critique of our modern world. Set in Germany during WWII, a young boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), enlists in a Hitler youth camp and dreams of growing up to be a Nazi. He has an imaginary friend named Adolf (Taika Waititi) who is a cartoony, buffoonish version of Hitler. Things go awry when he finds out his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in their house. This highly stylized film goes from funny to drama in seconds and is successful at both. The incredible cast is filled with the likes of Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, and a scene-stealing performance from little Archie Yates who plays Jojo's accident-prone best friend. Taika Waititi's fantastic film is as blistering funny as it is emotionally wrenching and I simply enjoyed every moment of this gorgeous production. GRADE: A

Sunday, October 13, 2019

No Clowning Around: “Joker” is a Disturbing Psychological Thriller

Joaquin Phoenix gives one of the most impressive performances of his career as a deeply troubled man in Todd Phillips’ controversial hit film “Joker.” Even if this is the fourth iteration of the popular comic book villain we’ve seen on film, Phoenix breaths fresh new live into a character fraught with psychological damage. Arthur Fleck is struggling. He’s a struggling party clown. He’s a struggling stand-up comedian. And he’s a struggling member of society. He lives in an impoverished version of 1980s Gotham City – many, many years before Batman would ever be a thing – and life is taking its toll on the troubled man. When Arthur is attacked on the subway by three men, he kills one of them which sets off a chain of events that plunges Arthur down a dark spiral of despair and mayhem where his alter ego Joker is eventually born.

Todd Phillips, mostly known for directing frat-boy comedies like “Old School” and “The Hangover” films, has turned to the likes of 1970s Scorsese to depict his dark portrait of depression and madness. Joaquin Phoenix is stellar here as are the many supporting players including Robert De Niro as a talk show host who Arthur looks up to, Zazie Beetz as a sympathetic neighbor, and Frances Conroy as Arthur’s equally disturbed mother. Phillips film is stylish and gorgeous with a perfectly rendered late 70s vibe that is a welcome change of scenery for the generally mixed bag of DC films. While this movie has nothing to do with what Warner Brothers has previously given us, it wisely chooses to be its own thing and what that is a gorgeous, disturbing, piece of artsy pop entertainment that crackles with suspense, pathos, and thrills.  GRADE: A-

Sunday, September 08, 2019

The Fears of a Clown: The Epic “It Chapter Two” is a Worthy Conclusion

Let met get this out of the way first: yes “It Chapter Two” isn’t as “good” as the first movie; but that’s if you’re really just inspecting both films under a microscope. Having said that, it’s still a great movie. Even if this second chapter is a bit long, the film is never boring and functions as a fantastic conclusion to what we were given in the first movie. Both films are terrific companions to each other and combined are five hours of one of the best horror stories modern cinema has seen in quite some time.

The main reason why “It Chapter Two” even works is because the casting of the adult actors is completely spot on. You truly believe that they’re portraying adult versions of the young characters we got to know so well in the first film. And I’m proud to say that I called – like many others I’m sure – the casting of Jessica Chastain as adult Bev before the first movie even ended. James McAvoy is the adult Bill now a novelist who struggles with his books endings. The death of his brother Georgie still haunts him. The hypochondriac Eddie (played by James Ransone) is now a risk assessor married to a woman who resembles his mother. The foul-mouthed, bespectacled Richie (Bill Hader) is now a stand up comedian who is apparently holding a dirty little secret. The once-chubby now-hot Ben (Jay Ryan) works as an architect. Isaiah Mutafa is the adult Mike who is the one of the gang who has stayed in Derry, Maine. As an adult, Stanley (Andy Bean) is married but after Mike calls the gang and urges them to return to Derry he takes his own life. Apparently the adult members of the “Losers Club” who battled the terrifying creature IT 27 years ago have forgotten about him but must return like they promised when the monster returns in modern day. And only Mike has the learned the definitive way to kill him once and for all.

The first film drew on 80s nostalgia and the camaraderie of pre-teen childhood in such a successful way that no continuation was every going to be quite as satisfying but “It Chapter Two” does a pretty outstanding job. The film is scary in its own way but it never is quite as terrifying because watching adults being attacked and scared is never as scary as children being attacked and scared. The film is more successful in really digging deep into the minds of the now-adult characters and how the events of their childhood has affected their lives. In fact, really the whole point of this saga is a commentary about fear and how childhood trauma affects adults and the general horrors of society. It’s not a coincidence that this second chapter opens up with a horrifying gay bashing topped off with the return of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) the evil clown that the monster usually takes the form of. Evil and hatred are a never ending cycle in our society and that’s juxtaposed with the return of It every 27 years.

Returning director Andy Muschietti’s film is just as well directed as his first entry with a creepy atmosphere and deliberate pace that is never boring. Gary Dauberman’s script may rely a little too heavily on jump scares to be truly effective but the its the adult actor’s performances that really sell the material. I truly believed that these adults were extensions of their youthful counterparts. And we still get to see parts of the preteen actors in flashbacks with all the young actors from the first film along with some digital trickery.

“It Chapter Two” is certainly the more ambitious entry but it also feels more epic and works as a worthy conclusion to this story. The first film works wonderfully on its own, but the second film opens it up and is able to give us something more. It’s fascinating seeing the how the events of the first film have affected the characters as adults and seeing them go back to their hometown to deal with the demons of their past. The final act may go on a bit too long but it’s emotionally engaging enough to make it worth the long the journey. And I’d be lying if a tear or two wasn’t shed by the end.  GRADE: B+

Sunday, July 28, 2019

La La Land: Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood” is an Exquisite Ode to Tinseltown

At one point in the classic 70s comedy “Annie Hall” the eternally neurotic Woody Allen character Alvy Singer notes that one of the reasons he hates Los Angeles is because of “ritual religious-cult murders.” Fifty years after the Manson “family” committed several horrific, notorious murders and other crimes, the country is still obsessed with those terrible crimes. And in a way, so is Quentin Tarantino. But he wasn't interested in making a traditional movie about the Manson murders. Tarantino has made a fairy tale set in 1969 Hollywood that’s an ode to changing times in America that fuses real life characters and events with fictional characters in a tribute to Hollywood that is truly the pinnacle of his decades-long career. “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” is a fascinating mix of drama, comedy, crime, and nostalgia that is completely compelling and brims with tension for its thoroughly well-paced runtime. The film is truly a masterpiece which is saying something considering there aren't many duds in his filmography.

It seems that every time Quentin Tarantino releases a film it’s his new classic. “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is his new classic. There I said it. Tarantino is the ultimate film nerd. He could wipe the floor with anyone would try to challenge him. And he really proves it in his latest film which is a gorgeous ode to Hollywood and movies. It truly feels as if all the roads he’s traveled down has been leading up to this brilliant piece of work. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as an actor named Rick Dalton, who is famous for staring in a TV western but his stardom is quickly fading. His former stunt man and friend Cliff (Brad Pitt) works as his personal driver. The two are great friends and are actually very reliant on each other, more so than they truly realize. Rick lives next door to filmmaker Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate and he dreams of meeting them one day in the hopes of reigniting his career. 

The film follows Rick as he tries to jump-start his career by taking bit parts in shows while refusing to an offer to star in some Spaghetti Westerns in Italy from his agent Marvin Schwartz (Al Pacino). Meanwhile, we get to see Cliff’s rather mundane life as he drives around alone and spends time in his trailer with his well-trained pitbull Brandy. He picks up a hippie girl who’s hitchhiking and ends up at a deserted movie ranch where the Manson family lives. And as the film progresses we get to see what rising movie star Sharon Tate is up to. She spends an afternoon at a movie theater watching her own film completely compelled by the magic of watching herself onscreen.

The film not only functions as a character piece about the trials and tribulations of a fading TV actor and his best friend, but also as a document of the end of the 1960s and and the introduction of the harsh reality of the 1970s. At someone who wasn’t yet alive, the film feels pretty authentic; everything from the costumes, to the set design, to the cinematography (by longtime Tarantino collaborator Robert Richardson) everything here just looks right. And you can really see how much Tarantino has grown as a screenwriter, director and as a storyteller. Even if the narrative isn’t always “normal” it’s arguably his most sophisticated film. There’s no need for chapter titles or any of that gimmicky stuff, but all the other trademark Tarantinoisms are there. Lots of dialogue-driven scenes, fun twists in the narrative, mentions of obscure movies you’ve never heard of, a soundtrack filled with equally obscure and familiar tunes, humor in places you’re not expecting, and of course spouts of graphic violence that are…. well the less spoiled about that the better.

“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is a movie for people who love and appreciate movies. But it’s also so much more. Tarantino isn’t new to revising historical events in his films (ie Inglorious Basterds) so it may not take a genius to figure out that things don’t necessarily play out very historically accurate here and that’s all for the better. The film is a wild ride and a glorious genre-bending piece of celluloid that will be remembered for years to come; it features fantastic performances from its very famous and charming leads (not to mention a laundry list of celebrity bit parts and cameos) and one of the most memorable and whacked out final acts I’ve seen in quite some time. As the title suggests it’s really a Tarantino fairy tale and it just may be the most Tarantinoy film that ever Tarantinoed. GRADE: A

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Aristocats: “The Lion King” is Fine But It Whimpers When It Should Roar

About 2 minutes into the “live-action” version of “The Lion King” I muttered, “I feel like I’m watching the Psycho remake.” Ahh, the Psycho remake, Gus Van Sant’s $60 million ill-advised experiment that continues to fascinate me to this day. That movie was the result of “What if we shot Psycho in practically the exact same way but in color instead of black and white?” And twenty years later we got the same question, “What if we took the global phenomenon ‘The Lion King’ but instead of having lush, colorful animation we made it with photo-realistic CGI animal characters whose faces can’t fully emote because they’re supposed to be ‘realistic’ so it just looks like they’ve all had botched face-lifts?” And here we have “The Lion King,” a ‘live-action’ remake of a traditionally animated film that feels inferior in almost every possible way (with the possible exception of the depiction of Timon and Pumbaa). Here’s the deal: if you liked “The Lion King” you’ll probably like the new version because it’s essentially the same thing. But there are alterations that make you wonder why they even bothered in the first place. Like the “Psycho” remake, we’re left with what is essentially an expensive experiment that’s actually an inferior version of a film that didn’t need updating in the first place.

Generally speaking, remakes don’t really bother me the way they do some people. Making a photo-realistic version of “The Lion King” was something I saw coming years ago. “The Jungle Book” and its Oscar-winning effects made that pretty obvious. I don’t hold “The Lion King” up to some pinnacle of animation standards by any means, but there is something special about it. That something special feels a little harder to find in Jon Favreau’s CGI extravaganza. The opening sequence – with various animals traveling the African landscape to the tune of “Circle of Life” – is pretty much a shot-for-shot redo of the animated version. It’s impressive what the computer animation wizards have been able to accomplish here. And then the story follows the young lion cub Simba (voiced by JD McCrary) as he learns about the circle of life from his father King Mufasa (voiced yet again by James Earl Jones). Meanwhile, Mufasa’s jealous and evil brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) plots his death and plans on ruling the African Pride Lands himself.

You know the story. It’s simple but effective and there’s a reason why it worked so well so many years ago and still does. Loosely based on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the film has a dramatic heft that a lot of other animated films have attempted to replicate. Watching “The Lion King” made today, it feels more of an allegory for the rise of the evil Trump Administration more than anything. Scar is a classic Disney villain and like all the good ones was perfectly evil and flamboyant. This newly rendered Scar is purely evil and sorely lacking in the not-so-subtle queerness that permeated the original character. Here, he doesn’t even really get a fully realized heinous villain musical number. Things improve greatly once Simba is exiled and meets up with the meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) and warthog Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) who can easily be read as an outcast gay couple banished from the conservatism of Pride Rock. IT’S FREAKING CALLED PRIDE ROCK THOUGH. But I digress. The less said about the “photo-realistic” animals’ lack of genitalia the better. But back to Timon and Pumbaa. They are hilarious! Timon’s updated dialogue is fantastic and has that perfect Billy Eichner touch. I laughed out loud several times while the jokes mostly went over the rest of the audience’s heads. I’ll credit Jeff Nathanson’s script for that good stuff.

Odds are you know if you’re going to like “The Lion King” or not. Generally speaking. I enjoyed it actually; the songs are still good and the story still entertains decades on. Does this movie need to exist? Of course not. The CGI is pretty impressive but the character’s facial expressions are never quite as expressive as in the original film. The new iteration is almost practically devoid of bright colors which is why scenes like “Can’t Just Wait to Be King” sort of fall flat here. Overall this is actually one of the more successful remakes of the Disney animated classics. Bonus points for having actual people of color voice African characters and the fact that Pumbaa actually gets to say the word “farted.” This new “Lion King” is PG after all. GRADE: B-