December 24, 2022

“Get Back” is a Hard Day’s Night of Music and Friendship (Review)

Note: This review was originally published on SiftPop in December 2021.

After some experience with restoring old footage and reconstructing history in 2018’s They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson has graced our screens (this time on Disney+) with the biggest treat any Beatles fan could ask for.

The Beatles: Get Back 
is a comprehensive documentary about the making of their album Let It Be (done in under a month, all leading up to their iconic rooftop concert) from 60 hours of video footage, over 150 hours of audio, and four years of hard work on Jackson’s part. What I love most about it is that Get Back is far from a traditional documentary — it’s not burdened by a narrator or a specific direction; it just allows their creative process to flourish, while also giving us some insight as to the causes of the band’s inevitable breakup. Even though it may seem dull at points, I find it to be enormous fun just to watch The Beatles be The Beatles.

December 19, 2022

“Avatar: The Way of Water” Returns to Pandora in Spectacular, But Still Underwhelming Fashion (Review)

13 years ago, James Cameron revolutionized visual effects and 3D imaging technology with the release of Avatar, which quickly became the highest-grossing film in history. A sequel was inevitable, but few could have predicted that it would take a Disney acquisition and almost $500 million to make that dream a reality.

Even longer in runtime than its predecessor (and twice as filled with character and supplementary storylines),
Avatar: The Way of the Water picks up after a real-time jump on the alien planet Pandora, where former human Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has fully adopted the ways of the alien Na’vi after helping them defend their land from imperialistic human invaders. He’s started a family with Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), and their life seems as idyllic as can be. But unfortunately, the depiction of domestic life on an extraterrestrial world is not sustainable for three and a half hours of action sci-fi.

December 12, 2022

Disaster Unfolds and Seyfried Shines in “The Dropout” (Review)

Note: This review was originally published on SiftPop in April 2022.

The story of Elizabeth Holmes and her fraudulent company Theranos has been discussed in the news for years, and with Holmes’ trial having just completed and her sentencing still to come, this is the perfect time for a biopic series to be made.

Image courtesy of Hulu

This is Hulu’s The Dropout, which is based on a podcast of the same name. The Hulu series stars Amanda Seyfried, who is giving the best performance of her career so far as Holmes, a Stanford dropout who founded Theranos, a company which strives to make revolutionary health technology that will supposedly be able to test for a multitude of diseases and conditions simply from a drop of blood. Those who have followed this story know that that technology didn’t exist at the time, and still doesn’t, which makes Theranos’ recruitment of powerful men (mostly former politicians) to its board even more impressive.

December 6, 2022

“His Dark Materials” Concludes with an Ambitiously Impactful Coda (Review)

How could His Dark Materials be adapted as anything but a television series? The epic scale of the novels may suggest that it should be made for the biggest screen possible, but the sprawling narrative lends itself more towards long-form storytelling, which fits in perfectly with the seemingly unlimited medium of television. Perhaps that’s why the televised co-production between the BBC and HBO has proven to be so successful over the last three years while the 2007 film adaptation of The Golden Compass (the series’ first book) bombed at the box office and never got a continuation.

That long-form storytelling has now paid off in the semblance of the television series’ third and final season, which adapts Phillip Pullman’s third novel
The Amber Spyglass. It’s the culmination of dramatic season-long build-up which only began to make itself fully clear near the middle of Season Two, but which incorporates the series’ longer-running plotlines and characters thought to be long-forgotten. In this way, the final season does what any climax should, bringing together everything that has come before in an effort to tie it up in a satisfying manner.

November 27, 2022

“Pinocchio” is a Dark Children’s Tale from Maestro del Toro (Review)

There’s no way a team-up between award-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and the Jim Henson Company on the supposedly limitless dime of streaming giant Netflix results in anything but a truly magical experience. My optimism is helped by the fact that del Toro is my favorite director, responsible for some of my all-time top films (Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water among them), and my excitement was immediate when I discovered he was spearheading a darker adaptation of the classic Pinocchio story, while maintaining the tale’s all-ages appeal. In every conceivable way, it sounds like a recipe for success.

Image courtesy of Netflix

I realize it sounds like I’m about to say I was severely let down by
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio — but in fact, the opposite is even more true. His Pinocchio was first announced in 2008, but didn’t end up moving forward with production until ten years later, and its longtime spot in development hell was finally at an end. Now, after an extensive festival run and massive critical acclaim, its Netflix release is on the horizon.

November 21, 2022

“The Banshees of Inisherin” is a Heartbreaking Tale of Friendship and the Lack Thereof (Review)

Note: This review was originally published in The Cape Cod Chronicle in November 2022.

When you hear the title The Banshees of Inisherin, your first guess may be that it’s a horror movie. After all, it has the name of a supernatural creature in it, followed directly by a proper noun made up entirely for the film. This is a story that could really be about anything, which makes it even more fascinating and thought-provoking.

For the first time since 2008’s
In Bruges, writer/director Martin McDonagh (who also made Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) has reunited with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson for a story that showcases their stupendous performance talent and allows them to act off of each other in marvelously fun ways. The titular Inisherin is a fictional Irish island, home of a group of townspeople in the early 1920s who are all intimately familiar with each other and everyone else’s business.

November 15, 2022

Chilling Thriller “1899” Presents a Compelling, Layered Mystery (Review)

I’ve only seen a few episodes of Lost, but its massive pop culture presence that has resounded for almost two decades tells me almost everything I need to know. The very act of continuing a mystery-based TV series on a season-by-season basis, constantly introducing new factors while under pressure to both solve smaller quandaries and hinting towards a satisfying resolution to the overarching questions is not as sustainable as one might think. The conclusion of Lost (as much as I've heard) does not do six seasons of buildup the justice it deserved, and I feel like it taught valuable lessons to the television writing community on how to structure a story like this.

Image courtesy of Netflix

1899, an ambitious new series from Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar (the creators of Dark) that comes to us as part of their overall deal with Netflix. It establishes a compelling mystery right off the bat, as the migrant passengers of a steamship headed towards New York City encounter the ship’s abandoned sister vessel, thought to be lost at sea.

November 14, 2022

Excellent Modern Sitcom “The Sex Lives of College Girls” Returns in Full Force (Review)

One of the most surprising television premieres of last fall was The Sex Lives of College Girls on HBO Max — funnily enough, it’s also the show you’re most embarrassed to say you’ve watched or are interested in, especially in public. One might think that the title is specifically engineered to provoke awkwardness, but I see it as a move to normalize sex in pop culture and rid us of taboos that have been prevalent in media and society for centuries.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

The second season of
The Sex Lives of College Girls picks up very quickly after Season One, when our central Essex College freshmen exposed a cheating scandal spearheaded by one of the school’s fraternities. After Thanksgiving break, they find themselves living with the consequences, including (but not limited to) an informal ban from all campus parties.

November 13, 2022

Get Back Into Christmas Movie Mode with New Holiday Favorite “Spirited” (Review)

These days, I’ve been starting my reviews off with questions. I’ll ask “Why do we keep seeing these types of movies?” or “is this really a story that needed to be told in this particular way?” Usually, the purpose of those questions is to transition into my own answer, which is the perfect segue into the larger review.

I feel like there’s no need for a question today, because if you simply read what Spirited is about, it’ll pop into your head automatically. We follow the Ghost of Christmas Present (played here by Will Ferrell) who takes on the challenge of haunting an “unredeemable” human soul, a manipulative businessman played by Ryan Reynolds who is “dogmatically committed to the idea that people never change.”

Image courtesy of Apple TV+

Say it with me: do we really need another retelling of A Christmas Carol? It’s a classic story that everyone knows the major beats to, even (sometimes especially) if they’ve never read the source material. But Spirited practices what it preaches and presents a promisingly original take on Dickens’ novella, utilizing the proven comedic talents of its leads and (wait for it) transforming the tale into a vibrant musical.

November 11, 2022

“Wakanda Forever” is a Fitting Tribute to our Black Panther (Review)

Reviewing Marvel movies has always been an exercise in vagueness, but the marketing for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has been so frustratingly obscure that to discuss any story in-depth would be considered delving into the realm of spoilers. And since we know how much people on the internet hate even the slightest bit of unwelcome information about a movie of this scale, I’m going to have to dance around a lot of specifics. For that, I apologize, but if you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re at least slightly interested in seeing this movie. My recommendation is to pull the trigger. What’s the worst that can happen?

Image courtesy of Marvel

It’s an undisputed fact that the untimely death of Chadwick Boseman, the Black Panther himself, irreversibly changed both this movie and more likely than not the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. It stands to reason that
Wakanda Forever would be a tribute to Boseman, honoring his legacy while contextualizing the loss and what it means for the characters we’ve come to know and love.

While the film does serve as a fitting testimonial to Boseman’s impact, the loss feels more like a bookend than it does an anchor for a story that could have been a thoughtful meditation on losing a loved one, and what comes next. But Wakanda Forever glides over that and introduces some compelling factors that end up being nothing more than that, just tools that surface thematically without a satisfying payoff. It feels like Marvel Studios-sponsored therapy, if your therapist put on an action movie in the middle of your three-hour session.

November 10, 2022

“Falling for Christmas” Brings Lindsay Lohan Back into the Fold (Review)

Why do we continue to watch terrible Christmas movies? Are they a guilty pleasure, set to be indulged whenever we see fit, or are they a vice that we endure, despite the ever-present knowledge of how terrible they truly are? If so, why do we subject ourselves to them?

Image courtesy of Netflix

I know why I do it. I’m hoping that if I watch enough, I’ll come across one so spectacularly bad that the sheer fun of it will be worth the bearable torture I put myself through to get to that point. Unfortunately, you have to sift through more slog than not to get to that point, and thus I have discovered that Netflix’s
Falling for Christmas is not one of those movies. But it definitely has something that almost none of these television Christmas films do.

November 9, 2022

Cartoon Saloon Presents an Uneven Coming-of-Age Tale with “My Father’s Dragon” (Review)

It’s much easier for animation studios to establish themselves with a motif or style of film than it is for live-action production companies; for example, you can expect certain things from a Pixar film, and movies produced by Illumination are virtually guaranteed to have a certain vibe to them.

One of the world's most notable animation studios (which has kept its stellar releases few and far between) is Cartoon Saloon, known for underground children’s hits The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner and Wolfwalkers. They’re now continuing their evolving partnership with the world’s top streamers with a co-production with Netflix Animation, My Father’s Dragon.

Based on the 1948 children’s book that was read to me innumerably as a child,
My Father’s Dragon is a quaint tale about displacement of a varying sort and an unconventional (but inevitable) friendship born out of mutual desire and necessity. Our protagonist is the peculiarly-named Elmer Elevator, voiced by Room’s breakout star Jacob Tremblay, who moves with his mother to the strange and scary metropolis that Nevergreen City. It proves to be an overwhelming new reality, and Elmer runs away, eventually coming upon Soda the talking whale (voiced by Arrested Development’s Judy Greer). Soda takes Elmer to Wild Island, where he meets a young, personified dragon named Boris (Stranger Things’ Gaten Matarazzo) who is under tremendous pressure to rescue Wild Island and its diverse inhabitants from an oceanic demise.

November 4, 2022

“Causeway” Paints an Intimate Picture of Trauma and Friendship (Review)

It’s been a long time since Jennifer Lawrence played a real human being. In the past seven years, she’s played a shapeshifting superhero, a Russian spy, a hyperbolic but hysteric truth-teller, and a religious allegory, but there’s been a distinct lack of grounded drama in her filmography ever since 2015’s Joy. This isn’t a bad thing (I tend to prefer genre films myself), but it’s been a noticeable mark on the career of a fantastic actress who had her big break with one such drama.

Image courtesy of Apple TV+

Now she’s back to the world of solemn stories that could very well be true with
Causeway, a co-production of the ever-reliable Apple TV+ and A24 that begins slowly and subtly. We begin to understand that Lawrence plays Lynsey, a US soldier who suffered a brain injury while on the ground in Afghanistan, forced to return home and struggling to settle back into a mundane routine of daily life.

November 3, 2022

“Titans” Assemble...Again (Review)

At around the three-season mark, a television series begins to settle into a certain groove. Though it had a rocky start, Titans (which began on the now-defunct service DC Universe, before moving over to HBO Max) found its footing very soon afterward, and has continued in a consistently engaging vein ever since.

In superhero stories, it’s convenient how a new, major threat only makes itself apparent once after the conclusion of another, so the titular superhero (or team) only has one major villain on which to focus their attention at a time. Soon after the wrap-up of the Red Hood/Scarecrow debacle of the previous season, the Titans are able to relax, finally getting a chance to be a real family. Unfortunately, nothing good lasts forever, and it’s not long before they’re pulled into a brand-new conspiracy involving a very Rasputin-looking Lex Luthor (played by Titus Welliver of
Lost and Bosch), who seeks to connect with his cloned pseudo-son Superboy (Joshua Orpin). The Titans leave for Metropolis, unwittingly heading towards a life-threatening menace that could tear the team apart.

November 1, 2022

“The White Lotus” Returns with an Awkward Vengeance (Review)

“Italy’s just so romantic…you’re gonna die. They’ll have to drag you out of here,” says an outgoing guest at the very start of the second season of The White Lotus, which proved a hit for HBO when it premiered last year. From the instant those words left her mouth, I had the sense that they would be true, in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

The White Lotus
is a special kind of anthology series. Evidently set in the same universe as its first season, Season Two brings us to a brand new White Lotus resort, this time in Sicily. Almost every main character is entirely different — some more so than others — with very few returning characters. It’s those returning characters that ground the series as interconnected, beyond themes and the general sense of luxury.

October 28, 2022

Coming-of-Age Family Drama “Armageddon Time” Thrives on its Beautiful Simplicity (Review)

This seems like the perfect time to revive my point about living in a golden age of creativity in film. We’re getting original horror hits like Barbarian and Smile, seasoned directors like Martin McDonagh are producing incredible stories like The Banshees of Inisherin, and I’m genuinely excited about most upcoming Marvel movies than I have been for a while. It would seem that it’s also an era for directorial reflection, as several accomplished filmmakers are dead set on revisiting their childhoods through a fictional lens. Spielberg is doing it with The Fabelmans (out next month) and now James Gray is doing it with Armageddon Time.

Set in the early 1980s,
Armageddon Time is about young Jewish-American Paul Graff (a stand-in for Gray), whose life is changing faster than he would prefer. After he and his African-American friend Johnny are caught smoking pot, Paul is sent to his brother’s private school, where he’s confronted with the brutal realities of everyday prejudice. Young actors Banks Repeta and Jaylin Webb, who play Paul and Johnny respectively, are nothing short of incredible. Gray writes the central adolescent characters with care, compassion and an unexpected maturity, staying true to the precocious nature that one would expect from a likable young protagonist while keeping everything very realistic. Yes, this is how children talk, and it’s about time someone finally gets it.

October 24, 2022

The Chaotic DC Universe is Epitomized in “Black Adam” (Review)

Eight years ago, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, former wrester and prospective Hollywood star, was officially cast as comic book antihero Black Adam. A host of production difficulties and failed comic book universes later, and his dream has finally been realized: the Rock now has another larger-than-life persona to dominate the big screen.

With the future of the so-called “DC Extended Universe” still unclear, it seems that we’re settling into a trend of relatively self-contained solo films. Black Adam is the latest of these, but its place in a hazy universe doesn’t stop it from introducing a near-indescribable amount of lore.

October 15, 2022

“Halloween Ends” the Franchise, One Way or Another (Review)

By all rights, it shouldn’t be difficult making more movies about a masked serial killer murdering debaucherous individuals in progressively intense ways, but at a certain point, why stick with the formula? At this point, it’s tired and worn out, and could do with an upgrade.

Slasher films in general aren’t necessarily known for their creativity, which is why
Halloween Ends is one of the most interesting horror movies that has come out this year. I don’t use that descriptor because of what the movie contains, but primarily the ideas it presents, and the methods it uses to subvert all the tropes it possibly can. I also use “interesting” because it’s a word that can go either way, positively or negatively. My feelings are complicated on this one.

October 12, 2022

Todd Field Returns with Spectacular Drama “TÁR” (Review)

2022 is the year of triumphant returns for your favorite directors. Guillermo del Toro, Steven Spielberg, Martin McDonagh, Sarah Polley, Noah Baumbach, James Cameron, Damien Chazelle and more have new features debuting within the next two and a half months, with many of them releasing their first movies in years.

Image courtesy of Focus Features

None of them have writer/director Todd Field beat. This past weekend, he unleashed ferocious psychological drama
TÁR, his first film in sixteen years (since 2006’s Little Children) upon the world — and what a return to the filmmaking landscape this is.

October 8, 2022

Stellar Spacecom “Avenue 5” Returns in Spectacular Fashion (Review)

At the very start of the pandemic, many of us turned to television and film for both the entertainment value and a reprieve from potential boredom. Luckily, Hollywood is always in constant operation, and there was a whole mess of content filmed before the shutdown that was just waiting to be released. But what about the films and series released at the very start of COVID-19’s rampage upon the world? Does anyone remember Bad Boys for Life, Dolittle or Birds of Prey, regardless of quality?

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

Television was even worse off. The season finale of
Avenue 5, a space-set comedy series created by master of satire Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It, The Death of Stalin), aired on March 15, 2020, just three days after worldwide cancellations and closures led to an unprecedented global lockdown. “Fell under the radar” doesn’t even begin to cover it, especially when everyone’s minds were everywhere else (remember, this was about a week before everyone became absolutely obsessed with Tiger King).

This is all to say that, after several delays, the second season of Avenue 5 is upon us and (just like in 2020) nobody is talking about it. It picks up almost directly after its predecessor, which followed the crew and passengers of the titular interplanetary cruise ship that gets knocked slightly off-course by an artificial gravity mishap — the only problem is, that minuscule shift added three years to the travel back to home planet Earth. Season Two covers the aftermath, in which five extra years of travel time were accidentally added by an impulsive waste jettison.

October 5, 2022

Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise” is a Disoriented Meditation on Existential Dread (Review)

I love it when novels are considered “unfilmable.” That term alone carries a certain challenge, daring filmmakers to accept the creative provocation and to put their own interpretation out into the world. The unadapted Vonneguts and Tolkiens are still begging to be brought to the screen, but there’s an endless amount of prose out there, and only a comparatively small percentage of dedicated filmmakers who are willing to put in the work to bring an infamous novel to the silver screen.

Image courtesy of Netflix

In an anomaly for his typical family-focused fare, writer/director Noah Baumbach (
Frances Ha, Marriage Story) has taken up the torch in adapting Don DeLillo’s existential novel White Noise, first published in 1985, which has since made its way onto many a high school reading list and confounded generations of grade school students. It’s a daring undertaking, but one that Baumbach and his 27-year career are fully capable of.

October 3, 2022

Soulless King Adaptation “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” is Not a Call Worth Taking (Review)

There are things we learn to expect from certain genres of film. Science-fiction will put a futuristic twist on modern technology; fantasy will transport us to faraway worlds; and comedies will be funny (or at the very least, absurd). Not to mention that the one constant for horror movies is that they should be scary.

Image courtesy of Netflix

But what does being “scary” mean? Does it mean slow-paced scene after scene, featuring increasingly bizarre imagery and occurrences that are mean to jar and unsettle the audience, before being punctuated by a loud noise and the appearance of a brand-new factor that is supposed to scare the living daylights out of you?

No, wait, sorry, that’s the baseline for modern horror. Most modern horror, that is — we’ll make exceptions for the Get Outs and Midsommars of the bunch that endeavor to try new things — but there will always be the outliers that choose to stick to the status quo. And then, just slightly below that, are the films which take no risks whatsoever, to the extent that the “scare factor” has been all but eliminated.

October 2, 2022

“Chucky” Breathes New Life into Horror Television (Season 1 Review)

Note: This review was originally published on SiftPop in December 2021. Also, read my review of the Chucky series premiere here.

Add Child’s Play to the list of franchises that still manage to be fresh, original and fun over thirty years after their inception. And while we’re at it, add Brad Dourif to the list of voice actors I will never get tired of; as much as I like Mark Hamill, Chucky should be played by no one else but Dourif.

Directly following the events of 2017’s Cult of Chucky, the new eight-episode series picks up in Hackensack, New Jersey, an unassuming town known in this world as the birthplace of Charles Lee Ray…also known as Chucky, everyone’s favorite killer doll. The first half of the season features an all-new cast, which is a refreshing change of pace for the series, which has mostly had Chucky as its lead character in recent entries.

October 1, 2022

Class Satire Reaches New Heights with “Triangle of Sadness” (Review)

The lives of the rich and famous is a concept that we can’t help but fantasize about. The alluring nature of a lifestyle we have never (nor likely will never) experience is a subject we love exploring and glamorizing in entertainment, which often romanticizes the status of some truly unhappy people. If you want quasi-realism and some truly brutal takedowns, watch Succession.

But for every fantasy, there must be a grounded reality. There must be a cynical look into the lifestyle that many idolize and strive for, and these days it seems like there’s a new one every year. There’s a certain irony to a movie or show about how terrible the über rich can be, that is usually made by (and/or starring) certain members of the said one percent. This year’s ironic presentation is
Triangle of Sadness, already heavily lauded before it even made its way to the United States.

September 28, 2022

Gentlemen Do Not Prefer “Blonde” (Review)

I was not necessarily excited to see Blonde, but I was certainly intrigued. I’d be hesitant to label this fictionalized take on the life of Marilyn Monroe, starring the sensational Ana de Armas, adapted from a controversial but well-regarded novel by Joyce Carol Oates as a recipe for success, but it got me into a theater seat, and thats enough for me.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Needless to say, Blonde has very quickly proven to be one of the most divisive films of the year. It’s highly experimental, constantly changing aspect ratios and color presentation, in addition to moving fluidly through time in an effort to show us as much of Marilyn Monroe’s tragically short life as they possibly can. And, perhaps for the first time in my budding film criticism career, I’m not using the vaguely-defined term “experimental” as a compliment. I can recognize and appreciate the artistic vision, but what’s actually on the screen never manifests in anything meaningful in terms of the actual story, which lacks the critical element of care. We’re supposed to care about Marilyn Monroe (oftentimes referred to in Blonde by her birth name, Norma Jeane) simply because of who she is as an iconic cultural figure — and if that isn’t enough, we’ll throw some explicit sexual trauma in there to make you feel even worse about it.

September 26, 2022

Murder Mystery Comedy “See How They Run” Innovates and Excites (Review)

Who can say why audiences find murder mysteries to be especially enticing? Perhaps it’s the thrill of being able to solve a conundrum along with the characters, or maybe it’s the unparalleled tension, where quite literally anything could happen — anyone can die, and anyone could be the killer.

Image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The more comedically-skewed
See How They Run presses every single one of those buttons. I’ve never been good at figuring out a mystery before it’s revealed, so I typically just sit back and allow the riddles and puzzles to unfold before my eyes, knowing full well the answers I crave for will come. Luckily, See How They Run falls into the Knives Out pile of hybrid murder mystery/comedies that knows its audience so well, it feels comfortable enough to trust them with the subtlety and nuance that has been missing from a fair number of films in the last few decades. Everything is intentional, and everything has a payoff, no matter how pointless it may seem at the time.

September 22, 2022

Retro Aesthetic Reigns Supreme in Fascinating Thriller “Don’t Worry Darling” (Review)

After a month of controversy surrounding a variety of (admittedly interesting) factors, both internal and external, Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, the follow-up to her 2019 comedy hit Booksmart, is finally here…but the buzz really has nothing to do with the movie. Did Olivia Wilde and Florence Pugh not get along on set? Did Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine at the Venice Film Festival? The real answer is: who cares?

A film should never be defined by what happened behind the scenes, but it seems that fate is the destiny of Don’t Worry Darling. Who knows if the bad press is due entirely to these rumors, but I will admit I was very excited for this film based on the trailers and marketing alone. A mysterious thriller reminiscent of Pleasantville and the more recent WandaVision, starring a host of wonderful performers and the world’s hottest pop star? Sign me up!

September 17, 2022

Pre-Halloween Horror “Barbarian” is a Delightful Surprise (Review)

At a certain point, every film has been (and will be) derivative of others. Whether or not you subscribe to Georges Polti’s Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations or another adjoining theory, much of what we see in theaters and on streaming feels like something we’ve been before.

September 14, 2022

“Pearl” Struggles as a Prequel, but Thrives on its Own (Review)

Comparatively, few horror properties get a chance at a franchise, but in recent years, the name of the game seems to be ordering a trilogy right off the bat. The Fear Street series found success with this plan in the streaming realm, and it was recently confirmed that remake and sequel trilogies of The Strangers and The Exorcist, respectively, are on the way to theaters. These are all based on pre-existing multimedia franchises, so it only makes sense that an original horror film would, at some point, get a similar treatment.

After the credits rolled on writer/director Ti West’s taboo-shattering flick
X (released just six months ago), audiences were treated to the surprise reveal of a prequel, set sixty years earlier, centered around the early life of X’s primary antagonist: the embittered, elderly and lonely Pearl, who kills a group of pornography-producing youngsters on her farm in the 1970s with her husband Howard.

August 25, 2022

Paranoid Thriller “Watcher” is a Strong Directorial Debut (Review)

Being a stranger in a strange land is far from an ideal situation. Not having the personal connections you rely on at home, combined with an irreversible sense of loneliness, is more terrifying than what you’ll find in several horror movies.

Watcher, the debut feature from director Chloe Okuno, takes that feeling and dials it up to eleven. Maika Monroe plays Julia, an American, who moves to Bucharest after her husband Francis (Devs’ Karl Glusman) accepts a job there. Due to his upbringing, Francis is fluent in Romanian, but Julia is not, further isolating her in her new home, which she’s already uncomfortable in. To make matters worse, a man who lives across the street seems to be watching her, and Julia begins to theorize that he is the serial killer, called “the Spider” by the local media, who has been decapitating Romanian women.

August 23, 2022

Top Ten TV Series of 2022 (so far)

If you havent yet, check out my Top Ten Movies of 2022 (so far)!

This is another list that I intended to do at the mid-year point, but again, due to shifting schedules and the general chaos of life, it’s now an August event. There are some series that are either currently airing or have just completed (looking at you, Only Murders in the Building) that will almost certainly appear on my list by the year’s end, but for now, I’ll focus on series that have completed on or before the week of August 15. And with that, enjoy my top ten television series of the year thus far!

Image courtesy of Netflix

August 19, 2022

My Top Ten Movies of 2022 (so far)

I intended to do this at the mid-year point, but due to shifting schedules and the general chaos of life, it’s now an August event. Because of this, there are definitely some films on here that are more recent than the mid-year, but my hope is that it will be diverse enough from my end-of-year list that they will be able to function as separate lists. From the Space Age to the ’60s, Nic Cage to the Dark Knight, slasher homages to viking epics, and the emotionally heartfelt to the gripping drama of real life, this list has it all.

August 15, 2022

“Secret Headquarters” is a Fun, Familiar Superhero Film for the Whole Family (Review)

I’ve always thought that children’s entertainment should not be thought of as inferior, with a comparable level of criticism to adult-oriented productions — with a pointed acknowledgement of its intentions and target audience. On the flip side, there are films and television made for all ages, which Disney and Pixar (up until very recently) seemed to have a monopoly on.

Now, the “hot new thing” is superheroes. Everything superhero-related is getting greenlit — except if it’s even tangentially related to Warner Bros. — because it’s arguably the most recognizable sub-genre by the last two generations of kids, especially with Marvel having dominated the box office for the past 14 years.

But that doesn’t mean it all has to be good. Oftentimes, in the age of influx, more attention is paid to high volume output instead of quality control, and because of that, we get more Marvel projects than we know what to do with. We get a rushed DC cinematic universe. We get movies like Secret Headquarters.

August 9, 2022

I’m Going Off the Rails on a “Bullet Train” (Review)

There are a lot of things that Bullet Train could have been — a straightforward adaptation of Kōtarō Isaka’s 2010 novel, a wildly divergent interpretation, or somewhere in the middle — and I believe it made the right choice and settled with the best of both worlds.

I finished reading Isaka’s novel the morning before seeing the film, and my expectations were admittedly higher than the average moviegoer. After seeing the trailers for months on end during nearly every trip to the theater, I was sufficiently excited, even more so to see the characters I had gotten to know brought to life on the big screen by some of my favorite actors.

August 7, 2022

The “Predator” Franchise Isn’t Messing Around with its “Prey” (Review)

There were several hurdles facing Prey even before its release. First (and perhaps most glaringly) was that the Predator franchise had infamously tired itself out, with Shane Black’s 2018 entry seemingly ending the series after a poor box office performance. The once-epic and macho-driven franchise seemed to be running out of ideas, despite lots of unresolved promise in recent installments.

So what did Prey do? It does what any effective prequel does and brings everything back to the basics. In fact, it’s so dedicated to being a prequel that it’s set over 250 years before the original Predator, and it works as a decoupled prologue to the series without interfering with any canon or lore — this is in comparison with Shane Black’s film, which tried far to hard to establish the opposite.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios

Set in 1719,
Prey (the best title this film could have chosen) follows a young Comanche woman, Naru (a perfectly-cast Amber Midthunder), who was trained as a healer but longs to become a hunter like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). Naru is already a capable warrior, but in order to prove her skill to her tribe, she pursues the arrival of a mysterious figure — and we all know where this is going. What Naru believes to be a mystical Thunderbird is actually a spaceship dropping off a Yautja warrior, known colloquially as a Predator of a Hunter. Still, she takes this as a sign, and it ends up being very beneficial for her; she soon finds herself going head-to-head with one of the fiercest beings in the known universe.

August 4, 2022

“Luck” Overcomes the Standard Animation Formula (Review)

In light of recent events concerning Warner Bros. Discovery’s decisions re: HBO Max, I have learned not to take any streaming-only film for granted. If any “exclusive” can be removed at any time, they should be treated as the marvels they are; in truth, it’s a miracle any movie gets made, not to mention fully completed, and respect should be paid regardless of streaming status. This is part of a larger discussion, but just because a movie goes straight to a streaming service doesn’t mean it deserves to be discounted as inferior to theatrical films in any way — in fact, Luck proves that the opposite is true.

Image courtesy of Apple TV+

The first feature film from Skydance Animation, Luck begins on a dour note: extremely unlucky teenager Sam Greenfield (voiced by stage actress Eva Noblezada) is aging out of her foster home, but she doesn’t want to leave before helping Hazel, another girl in the home, find her “forever family.” The only problem is, Sam can’t seem to catch a break, and any help she offers falls flat by default.

July 31, 2022

The 1st Lenient Critic Awards: Winners Announcement

There is a massive amount of content released every year, and 2022 is shaping up to be one of the biggest ever for film and television. The Lenient Critic Awards was created to recognize the best of the year on a biannual basis, because even the Oscars, the Emmys and the Golden Globes are unable to award everything that deserves it. With the Lenient Critic Awards, those films and television series have a fighting chance at the lasting acknowledgement they deserve, even those that don’t end up winning.

Image courtesy of A24

And now...the winners!

July 26, 2022

B.J. Novak Makes a Fitting Directorial Debut with “Vengeance” (Review)

Vengeance: a strong word, with potentially stronger significance. A promise to right the wrongs of the past, coupled with a rare sense of justice, no matter how poetic or cruel. It would feel more at home as the title of an action thriller starring Liam Neeson, so why is it instead the name of B.J. Novak’s feature directorial debut?

Somewhat unsurprisingly, instead of being a breakneck adventure, Vengeance fits in with Novak’s repertoire as a steadfast comedy/drama, without endeavoring to subvert genre or break the story mold that Novak has worked his way into.

Image courtesy of Focus Features

Last fall Novak, former writer and star of
The Office, debuted the first season of his anthology television series called The Premise, where each episode tells a single character-driven story about a current world issue. Vengeance feels like an extended episode of that bizarre series, exploring big concepts and the complexities of human nature in a story that defines itself on those merits, and not much more.

July 24, 2022

“Westworld” Hits Pause After a Showstopping Twist (Season 4 Episode 5 Review)

After the sucker punch of timeline-oriented reveals in the previous episode, Westworld is back in full force with “Zhuangzi,” the fifth episode of the marvelously inventive fourth season. You’d think that with momentum that strong, the season would keep on trucking to deliver whammy after whammy of big news — but bafflingly, “Zhuangzi” grinds to a halt for just about half an hour.

Image courtesy of HBO

July 19, 2022

“Where the Crawdads Sing” is an Unfortunate Misfire (Review)

There’s a reason that certain details and elements are changed when a novel is made into a film. It’s called an adaptation after all, and both should act independently as separate, perhaps even mutually beneficial experiences. I haven’t read Where the Crawdads Sing, which placed on the The New York Times Bestseller list for 135 consecutive weeks, and yet I still get the feeling that it falls into the opposite category.

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Let’s discount anything floating around online about Delia Owens, author of the original novel — as I’ve mentioned, I’m a huge proponent of separating the art from the artist — and it shouldn’t impact anything related to the film, anyway. Where the Crawdads Sing is structured like a novel, filled with expositional narration from beginning to end, signaling that “show, don't tell” was not a thought oft had during production.