June 29, 2022

“Elvis” is a Biopic Fit for a King (Review)

How can you tell the story of an iconic industry titan in a way that does justice to their influence and legacy — while also telling a story appealable to the masses? The answer to that near-impossible question is: you don’t. Not in a conventional way at least.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

Baz Luhrmann, not necessarily known for his faith in source materials (or to history, in this case), has taken the reins of an Elvis Presley biopic. The King of Rock and Roll, a towering historical figure (despite not being confident in his own impact) was only 42 when he passed away, but managed to create an indelible impression in very little time. Luhrmann’s
Elvis is simultaneously a tribute to his musical brilliance, a reflection on the lasting trends he pioneered, and a portrait of United States history across three decades.

June 26, 2022

“The Black Phone” is a Call Worth Taking (Review)

Seeing The Black Phone got me thinking about prevalent pop culture elements like the Hunger Games, which is centered around child murder, and how people would feel about them depending on your status as a parent. I’m not a parent, but I do plan to be one day, and I’m interested to see if my outlook on these types of stories will change, and if I will develop an aversion to them.

Objectively, the acts depicted in these types of films and novels are terrible things to witness and comprehend, but it’s only proof that the death and abuse of children have been harnessed and overused by pop culture as a method of enhancing shock factor and drawing in an audience — which, of course, is ironic, given the amounts of people (namely parents) that this type of story immediately repulses.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

But you didn’t come here for a societal discussion, you came for a review of The Black Phone, the latest low-budget gem from horror giant Blumhouse. It re-teams writer/director duo Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill with accomplished performer Ethan Hawke, in a rather disturbing tale in which Hawke plays a child abductor known only as the Grabber. One of his victims is Finney Shaw (Mason Thames), who awakens in the Grabber’s lair to find an unplugged black phone. Soon, the phone begins to ring, revealing the departed voices of all those who’ve come before him.

June 24, 2022

Revisit the Violent Delights of “Westworld” with a Mind-Bending Return to Form (Review)

At this point, it’s inevitable that the basic functions of humanity will be replaced by the technology we’ve created. Thus, “Adapt or Die” is the decree that the fourth season of HBO’s trippy Westworld has for us. Building on previous seasons’ themes of consciousness and control, the long-awaited entry into the series’ sprawling and oft-confusing canon takes the best elements of its predecessors and unites them in a satisfying amalgamation that advances the story, while also bringing it back to its roots.

Image courtesy of HBO

Seven years after the events of Season Three, when former Westworld “Host” Maeve Millay (Thandiwe Newton) and human Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul) stopped an AI from “preventively” ending mass amounts of human lives, we’re thrown headfirst into the new lives of our main characters. Many of them are in drastically different roles than before, including cast member Evan Rachel Wood, whose traditionally-villainous character Dolores seemingly died permanently at the end of Season Three. Now, she plays Christina, a digital story designer who can’t help but wonder if there’s more to life than fabricating the tales of others. It’s not entirely clear why she looks exactly like an android Host from the now-defunct Westworld, but it makes enough sense for now.

June 20, 2022

Pixar’s “Lightyear” Fails to Launch (Review)

If you need proof of the over-saturation of content in modern media, look no further than Lightyear. The latest offering from Pixar, Lightyear is a movie that exists within the Toy Story universe as the film that inspired the Buzz Lightyear toy. While the argument about which movies are “necessary” could be had all day long, I think it’s safe to say that not many people were begging for Lightyear to be made — especially when a series held in high regard by many (Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, which aired from 2000-2001) accomplishes the same goal. Maybe it’s about time for an upgrade.

Image courtesy of Disney

But as far as redundant features go, Lightyear is far from the worst. I think its biggest flaw is that it’s technically related to the Toy Story movies, because that automatically measures it up against some of the best animated movies ever made. On the other hand, without the Toy Story connections, Lightyear is just another formulaic space-bound action movie that covers little unexplored ground. There’s just no way to win.

June 17, 2022

Phil Tippett’s “Mad God” Exceeds the Limits of Imagination (Review)

Despite the prevalence of CGI in the modern film landscape, there’s a certain magic about stop-motion animation that is impossible to beat. Its organic nature and seamless feeling — when done right — is the perfect symbol of pure imagination brought practically to life. And while there aren’t many films released these days that are entirely stop-motion animated, Mad God, a film by legendary visual effects master Phil Tippett, has joined their ranks.

Tippett’s is a name you may not have heard, but you’ve seen his work. From Star Wars to Jurassic Park, his fingerprints are present on many iconic (and forgotten) franchises and science-fiction projects dating all the way back to the 1970s. But since the late 20th century, he’s been working on a film that I’m sure will come to define his career.

June 14, 2022

Self-Exploration and Modern Jewish Culture Take Center Stage in “Cha Cha Real Smooth” (Review)

I’ve attended many a school dance. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve heard the “Cupid Shuffle” played over the speakers, which is almost always followed by nearly everybody being dragged out onto the dance floor. The words “Cha cha real smooth” became synonymous with rolling your fists around each other and turning in a perfect circle. Now, Cha Cha Real Smooth is synonymous with a film that I sorely hope gets the attention it deserves.

Image courtesy of Apple TV+

A standout from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Cha Cha Real Smooth comes at us courtesy of writer/director Cooper Raiff, who also stars as Andrew, a twenty-something young man who is noticeably unsure about his own future. Raiff is previously best known for his directorial debut Shithouse, in which he also played an awkward college student without the big hopes and dreams that many young people have.

June 9, 2022

“Jurassic World: Dominion” Could Kill the Franchise for Good (Review)

The Jurassic Park series has been more of a rollercoaster than most franchises. From one of the greatest films of all time came two lackluster follow-ups, a soft reboot with a critically-panned but financially successful sequel, and finally, Jurassic World: Dominion, which intends to wrap up the second trilogy while providing closure to arcs dating all the way back to the 1993 original.

It’s an admirable goal. Dominion attempts to provide a satisfying answer to the question posed by its predecessor, Fallen Kingdom, about what would happen if dinosaurs were living among us on planet Earth. That could have been a fascinating premise, but frustratingly, Dominion chooses to go in a completely different direction, spitting in the face of what the first two Jurassic World films set up.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Nearly every lead actor from previous Jurassic films makes a reappearance, including Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, BD Wong and Isabella Sermon from Jurassic World, and the original three: Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum are back as Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler and Ian Malcolm respectively. Their return is inarguably the sequel’s biggest draw (the trailers confirmed as such), so why is the reunion the opposite of spectacular when it actually happens?

June 6, 2022

“Downton Abbey” Ushers in a New Era in an Emotionally Effective Sequel (Review)

In the first Downton Abbey film, the Crawleys’ former butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) says that “a hundred years from now, Downton will still be standing, and the Crawleys will still be here.” That promise all but ensures a limitless future for Downton itself, and the possibilities of new stories for years to come. Even after its natural ending on television, its characters and storylines have found new lives on the big screen, which is no easy feat to accomplish.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

After a pandemic-related delay, a sequel to the 2019 film (itself a follow-up to the successful ITV series) is finally here. Downton Abbey: A New Era picks up one year after the royal visit from the previous film, and not much has changed. True to Carson’s dogma, Downton is still standing and the Crawleys are still there — but that doesn’t stop a variety of factors from threatening to tear the family apart.

June 1, 2022

“The Boys” is a Bloody Good Time (Seasons 1 & 2 Review)

Note: This review was originally published in The Cape Cod Chronicle in November 2020.

For those suffering from superhero fatigue, I get it. There are at least five a year, and not all of them can be winners. Sometimes, you might want to step away from the big screen, and get comfortable on your own couch for some exciting, binge-able television. One thing that the pandemic has brought us is more time to invest searching our streaming queues for new shows to devote ourselves to, and The Boys is one such series that brought me happiness in the last few months.