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.