Recently by Matthew St.Clair

Happiest Season Movie Review: A Vital Holiday Rom-Com

A suitable comedy for this particular holiday season that's both humorous and incredibly emotive.
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One way to describe co-writer/director Clea DuVall's Happiest Season is that it serves as a heartfelt holiday gem as satisfying as a Christmas cookie served with bitter gingerbread coffee that has dabs of cream and sugar. Although audiences sadly won’t get the experience of watching it in a crowded theater, it’s still the kind of solid piece of escapism this holiday season needs with enough poignancy to strike a chord with viewers. Queer viewers, in particular, will be moved by it due to its handling of the “coming out” experience and how even life after coming out of the closet

Jungleland Movie Review: Packs a Nearly Rigorous Punch

As Jungleland gets hit with convention, the three leading performers still serve as its strong emotional center.
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The newest fighting drama Jungleland feels like a cross between The Fighter and Of Mice and Men. Like the former film, it emphasizes on the tempestuous nature of siblinghood to the point where there’s little high-octane fighting sequences. As for how Jungleland compares to the latter, it follows two men going across the country in pursuit of the American Dream, dealing with the complications of going on such a venture. Stanley Kaminski (Charlie Hunnam) serves as the “George Milton” of the brotherly duo as he’s quick-witted and uses his brother Lion (Jack O’Connell) as an opportunity to build a better

Dating Amber Movie Review: Well-Acted and Painfully Frank

A queer coming-of-age story as jarring as it is nonchalant.
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Dating Amber is easily the first coming-of-age queer story I’ve seen to give me such severe PTSD. Seeing the two central characters, Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and Amber (Lola Petticrew), be subjected to such ridicule to the point where they pretend to be a couple despite being a gay and a lesbian, respectively, brought back painful memories of similar ridicule when I was in eighth grade. During a time where I was unsure of my own sexuality, I had to deal with classmates always badgering me about who I had a crush on and because I tried keeping mum about that

Kindred Movie Review: A Nearly Surface-Level Chiller

Tamara Lawrance carries this viable paranoid thriller with ease and articulacy.
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This year, we have a clear trend of eerily similar horror films about women dealing with gaslighting and fighting for their autonomy against their more affluent partners. Earlier this year, Swallow and the remake of The Invisible Man depicted women in such peril and now, we have the British psychological thriller Kindred. However, instead of depicting Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) being antagonized by her partner, she’s instead at odds with her partner’s relatives. Those whom one always hopes not to fear because once they enter a relationship with someone, they inevitably enter that person’s family life. Both Charlotte and her lover

The Forty-Year-Old Version Movie Review: A Winningly Profound Directorial Debut

A manifold crowd-pleaser from multi-hyphenate talent Radha Blank.
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The benefit of artistic expression is that it allows artists to vent their frustrations. Whether it’s through a script, a poem, or in the case of our main character, music, art serves as a way for people to make their voice heard and bare out their emotions they keep bottled up. Much like how multi-hyphenate talent Radha Blank commands our attention as she announces her arrival, the central protagonist of The Forty-Year-Old Version is one that’ll surely make her voice heard. Radha, played by Blank herself, is a struggling playwright living in NYC who makes ends meet by teaching an

TIFF 2020 Review: 'Get the Hell Out' Is an Incredibly Bonkers Zombie Comedy

An overly stylized yet incredibly energetic feature debut from I-Fan Wang.
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To put it bluntly, Get the Hell Out is a lot. A lot of storyline and thematic material rolled into one adrenaline-fueled package. It’s an admirably abrasive attempt at diverging away from the rinse-and-repeat zombie movie formula since it acts as a blood-soaked political dark comedy with a romantic twist that occasionally feels like it's ripped from a fighting video game. While a zombie virus does hit and forces a group of survivors to fight for their lives while avoiding turning into a zombie themselves, Get the Hell Out is more insightful and bold than the familiar plot may suggest.

TIFF 2020 Review: 'Violation' Mixes Heavy-Handed Symbolism with Harrowing Trauma

One of this year's TIFF Midnight Madness selections offers a searing look at sexual violence and trauma.
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When Violation first opens, it shows a wolf observing its dying prey. Accompanied by an ominous score, the opening sequence provides a heavy indication of the horrors that will follow while acting as an example of the picture’s ham-fisted symbolism. Even the title acts as another key reminder that the audience is not in for an easy sit. The story follows Miriam, played by star/co-director/co-writer/producer Madeleine Sims-Fewer, as she and her boyfriend Caleb (Obi Abili) take part in a weekend reunion with her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and Greta's husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) at a secluded cabin. As the getaway

The Devil All the Time Movie Review: Actors Elevate Excessively Grim Crime Drama

Sebastian Stan and Riley Keough stand out in this distended indictment of toxic masculinity and religious hypocrisy.
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As William Shakespeare famously wrote in his play The Tempest, “Hell is empty. And all the devils are here.” Words that the aptly titled The Devil All the Time greatly stresses as it portrays people either tapping into their worst instincts or embracing their inner demons. Even if the picture delves into the grim nature of humanity to the point where it becomes detrimental, The Devil All the Time still isn’t a piece of cinematic Hell. Based on the novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, The Devil All the Time follows the life of Arvin Russell (Tom

Entwined Movie Review: An Ingenious yet Underdeveloped Horror Pic

An atmosphere creepy woods picture with masterful ideas that often become tangled up.
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When our main protagonist Panos (Prometheus Aleiferopoulos) enters the ominous town of Alyti, he’s informed that he’s the only and first ever doctor to reside there. Right off the bat, it’s clear that Entwined aims to weave us into its eerie trap. A “creepy town” horror film that transcends into “creepy woods” subgenre territory, Entwined often spins an intriguing web even if at times it gets caught up in it. As Panos spends his time in Alyti, he collides with the townspeople who don’t rely on the familial medical procedures that Panos practices and instead prefer more spiritual healing processes.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things Movie Review: Charlie Kaufman's Eccentric Foray into Horror

A slow-burn melancholic horror romance only someone like Charlie Kaufman can pull off.
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I’m Thinking of Ending Things has a seemingly straightforward plot. Woman goes on a road trip with her partner to meet his parents. Seems pretty simple. However, because it is in the hands of the wonderfully bizarre Charlie Kaufman, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is anything but straightforward. Kaufman is a master at the weird and the melancholic and this film proves to be no different. When the film begins, a nameless woman (Jessie Buckley), known simply as the Young Woman, and Jake (Jesse Plemons) begin their journey to meet Jake’s parents. At that point is when the picture

The Lawyer (2020) Movie Review: Builds a Solid Case

A masterful exercise in mixing tenuous political commentary with queer love.
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Given how The Lawyer is about two men who form an instant connection as they take part in online dating, it offers a dash of timeliness as we live in a period where people are forced to engage in social distancing. A practice that may seem daunting due to the uncertainty over who the real person behind their social media persona may be can in fact lead to being with a compatible person that shapes one’s life. People like Marius (Eimutis Kvosciauskas) are the kind who seem to yearn for such a connection. As he goes through his typical

Summerland Movie Review: A Satisfactory Lesbian Drama

Like a bittersweet beach day. Rain clouds sometimes loom, but the Sun finds ways to shine.
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After starring as Vita Sackville-West in Vita & Virginia, Gemma Arterton continues her small niche of starring in lesbian period dramas with Summerland, a similar acting showcase for Arterton that thrives on more than just on her performance unlike the former picture. While Summerland possesses some period piece cliches, it still overcomes them with its storytelling verve and of course, its commendable performances. In Summerland, Arterton plays Alice, a reclusive writer ostracized by those within her seaside community. While living in the midst of WWII, Alice is forced to temporarily house a young evacuee named Frank (Lucas Bond). Initially, Alice

The Old Guard Movie Review: An Insightful Thrill Ride

Gina Prince-Bythewood breathes all sorts of new life into the realm of comic book cinema.
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Unlike usual film adaptations of comic books, it’s hard to necessarily label The Old Guard as a superhero film. It does feature a group of superpowered beings trying to save the day, but they’re still a group of immortal mercenaries whose occasional missions vary from villainous to heroic. While it possesses the action spectacle one would expect in a picture like this, and even opens with a bombastic fight sequence, director Gina Prince-Bythewood and co. emphasize on making The Old Guard a somber character drama present within a blockbuster canvas. The eldest leader of the group called Andromache of

Relic (2020) Movie Review: Gritty Familial Horror with Supernatural Elements

Natalie Erika James' directorial debut offers a blend of lingering frights and melancholia.
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Relic is a rare example of an atmospheric horror film that opts for sadness rather than scares. While it does present usual haunted house conventions, Relic mainly thrives due to its emphasis on putting the past away and how we make our loved ones indeed feel like artifacts of the past. One could even say it’s an exaggerated telling as to why a nursing home might not be a good place for our grandparents. Once the illness-stricken Edna (Robyn Nevin) returns home after being missing, both her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) decide to take care

The Truth Movie Review: Truthfully Middle-Ground

Both an adequately understated family drama and a missed opportunity.
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In a way, The Truth feels like a spiritual sequel to Clouds of Sils Maria. Another film distributed by IFC Films dealing with a French actress diva grappling with aging in the film industry as she works on a new project. Only this time, Juliette Binoche plays the daughter of said actress instead of the actress herself and gets to have Catherine Deneuve, a fellow screen icon, playing her mother. A pairing like this is enough to get any film buff giddy with excitement and “truthfully,” it’s the most saleable thing the picture has going for it. Watching Binoche and

House of Hummingbird Movie Review: A Coming-of-Age Story with Peculiar Wings

Kim Bora's directorial debut soars to terrific heights.
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The aptly titled House of Hummingbird follows 14-year-old Eun-hee (Park Ji-hoo) as she tries to fly her way through life without a care in the world. Even if she undergoes a seismic life journey as she deals with neglect from her parents along with an illness potentially paralyzing her face, it still feels very composed as it captures the insouciant period known as adolescence. A time where one is largely unsure how the real world works and only gets premature glimpses of its hardships. As Eun-hee feels indifference over being devoted to school, her neglectful parents struggle to stress how

Disclosure Movie Review: Emotionally Informative

A requisite doc about on-screen trans representation told in a stirring, matter-of-fact manner.
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Disclosure is a look at the way the trans community is represented in the media told through the voices of artists such as Laverne Cox, M.J. Rodriguez, Chaz Bono, Alexandra Billings, and Jamie Clayton. As the doc has them express the trials they’ve faced in their careers in the entertainment industry, it also forces cis artists to take a hard look in the mirror and rethink the way they portray the trans experience. It explores the history of trans representation from the days of silent cinema to the present where a series like Pose has become a TV sensation. Even

The Short History of the Long Road Movie Review: A Subversive Portrayal of Adolescence

A brisk road movie that offers a refreshing take on the coming-of-age narrative.
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The Short History of the Long Road is a simple, slice-of-life road movie that takes some jarring U-turns. What starts off as a profound father-daughter story becomes a navigation through both literal and mental deserted terrain. After Nola (Sabrina Carpenter) is left on her own on a cross-country trip after her father Clint (Steven Ogg) suddenly passes, she still carries on, finding out her own place in the world. One could say the picture is a different type of coming-of-age story. It’s not about a teenager trying to find love, fit in with the popular crowd, or even have one

I Will Make You Mine Movie Review: A Love Quadrangle Also About Music

Dramatic realism and genius character work make this brisk indie romance feel insightful.
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Contrary to what the title may suggest, I Will Make You Mine is not some kind of twisted stalker thriller. While it is a story about love, it’s a meditative and subversive romance about dealing with the past, the present, and the future. The protagonist Goh (Goh Nakamura) in particular is one who grapples with this dilemma as he navigates his relationships with three women in his life. Rachel (Lynn Chen) is Goh’s old friend who tries reconnecting with him as she faces her husband’s infidelity. Meanwhile, Goh’s estranged wife Erika (Ayako Fujitani) copes with a family loss along with

Body Cam Movie Review: Almost as Horrific as Real Life

An intricate character study with a slight horror backdrop.
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Grief itself is a ghost. A relic from the past that finds ways to haunt us wherever we go. It also proves to be the biggest villain in Body Cam, a supernatural thriller that attempts to provide scares as well as insightful commentary about the nature of police brutality. However, the movie’s undercooked commentary becomes overshadowed by its desire to become a simultaneous ghost story and intricate character study. Body Cam follows the story of veteran LAPD officer Renee Lomito-Smith (Mary J. Blige) who returns to active duty after dealing with a personal tragedy and taking a leave of absence

CRSHD Movie Review: A Vigorous and Earnest Directorial Debut

CRSHD overcomes familiar story beats with its zestful directorial structure and profound central performances.
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CRSHD follows a similar pattern to other “one wild night” comedies involving a group of friends looking to engage in a night of raunchy fun before the end of the school year. Yet, it manages to stick out from other films within that vein as it has a college setting as opposed to a high school one like in Superbad or Booksmart and possesses a video game structure. The storyline involves Izzy Alden (Isabelle Barbier) and her desire to lose her virginity before the end of her freshman year. As Izzy aims to get into an event called a “Crush

Bull Movie Review: Rob Morgan Takes the Lead

Rob Morgan and newcomer Amber Havard salvage greatness out of this undercooked friendship drama.
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Within a span of a few years, Rob Morgan has quickly become one of our finest character actors. He’s gone from being the unsung hero of Mudbound to giving the weighty courtroom drama Just Mercy its heart and soul and creating a fully-realized character within his few scenes in The Photograph, becoming the film’s saving grace in the process. Much like the latter film, he’s the saving grace of Bull which quite frankly deserved to be strictly told from his perspective. Bull primarily follows Kris (Amber Havard), a rebellious preteen who lives with her grandmother and younger sister while her

15 Years Movie Review: A Plaintive Gay Relationship Drama

A poignant love story that's as culturally specific as it is universal.
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15 Years is a gay romance that is as universal as it is culturally specific. As it dives into the domestication that same-sex couples feel pressured by, it still illustrates the test that couples of any sexual orientation go through where they question their long-term prospects. One can live happily with their significant other, but there could be an event or a decision, like wanting to have a child, that puts that person between a rock and a hard place. The “having a child” dilemma is what tests the relationship between Yoav (Oded Leopold) and Dan (Udi Persi), his partner

Circus of Books Movie Review: Mom and Dad Run a Porn Shop

A sincere and simplistically topical look at an adult store that became a landmark.
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When Karen and Barry Mason opened up Circus of Books, an LA gay-porn shop, at first, it was a simple business venture for them. A way for them to get by. However, their willingness to open up a place where gay men were free to explore their pleasures became a form of allyship. After 35-plus years, they still saw Circus of Books as a successful venture, yet the documentary named after said shop shows how it became a place of community. Directed by Karen and Barry’s daughter Rachel, who makes her documentary debut, Circus of Books features interviews of the

The Other Lamb Movie Review: A Surface-Level Lucid Nightmare

A flawed yet nostalgic homage to '70s horror lore and simultaneous grim allegory for the trials of adolescence.
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The Other Lamb follows the journey of Selah (Raffey Cassidy), a girl who was born into an all-female cult called The Flock led by a man known only as Shepherd (Michael Huisman). But once the police visit their commune in the woods far from civilization, Selah suddenly starts questioning both her place within the cult and Shepherd’s ulterior motives. Selah’s journey of self-discovery ends up becoming an amalgam of classic '70s religious horror films. With its storyline involving an insidious cult, The Other Lamb is almost like The Wicker Man but strictly from the cult’s point of view and without

Inside the Rain Movie Review: A Pretty Heartfelt Mental Illness Dramedy

A simple, empathetic ode to mental health patients that thrives on its sensibility and fine acting.
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Rosie Perez has been having a slight career resurgence, having recently stole the show in Birds of Prey and being a highlight in the misguided The Last Thing He Wanted. As part of her scene-stealing continuation, she does that as a flustered psychologist in the indie dramedy Inside the Rain, becoming one of its biggest selling points in the process. Inside the Rain is about a mentally ill college student named Ben Glass (Aaron Fisher) who has it all: ADHD, OCD, BPD, and Bipolar disorder. Similar to how Ben is juggling a lot, the story seems to be doing just

Swallow Movie Review: Haley Bennett Carries Slow Burn Psychological Thriller

Despite some sluggish pacing and undercooked thematic material, Swallow doesn't bite off more than it can chew.
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Hunter (Haley Bennett) seems to have it all. An idyllic home life with a wealthy and seemingly supportive husband, Richie (Austin Stowell). The first few minutes of Swallow which illustrate Hunter’s daily routine make her life seem literally and figurative squeaky clean. As it turns out, her perfect life is only perfect on the surface since she develops an unusual eating habit once she becomes pregnant. At that point, Swallow becomes a domestic psychological thriller in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby, but without the occult elements. Once Hunter’s husband and in-laws discover her eating habit, they keep a close eye

Saint Frances Movie Review: A Topical Gem of Less Biblical Proportions

A well-acted, thorough dramedy that avoids condescension over its subject matter.
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It seems that even in today’s society, the idea of a woman not wanting to be a parent is viewed as somewhat unholy. In Saint Frances, 34-year old Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) is stuck with the pressure of being one once she has an unexpected pregnancy. Although she wants to have an abortion, Bridget tries navigating the ups and downs of motherhood with her job as a nanny to six-year old Frances (Ramona Edith-Williams) aiding her on her self-discovery. Initially, Bridget’s job is just a job to her. A way for her to get by as she deals with what her

Sundance Film Festival 2020 Review: Biggest Festival Highlights Handle Themes of Home and Immigration

Both "I Carry You with Me" and "Minari" are insightful looks at immigration, family, and the feeling of home.
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The Sundance Film Festival is typically a strong hub for breakout indies that are U.S.-based and in the English language. However, the two best films from this year’s festival are not only foreign language titles, but interestingly, pictures about people trying to build a better life for themselves in America. One thrives thanks to its filmmaking flare while the other succeeds with its simple balance of humor and drama. The former film is I Carry You with Me, a harmonious portrait of queer love that also shows how love can transcend distance. As aspiring chef Ivan (Armando Espitia) falls for

Birds of Prey Movie Review: A Chaotic Breath of Fresh Air in the DCEU

With its swing-for-the-fences filmmaking and dynamite acting, Birds of Prey flies pretty sky high.
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Given how Margot Robbie was one of the few saving graces of Suicide Squad, it should come as no surprise she was given a Harley Quinn spinoff. Despite the film being called Birds of Prey, it’s chiefly about the story of Harley Quinn and her journey towards independence and avoiding being defined by the men she’s served. It’s a journey done with such kinetic flare by director Cathy Yan and slight political undertones with its depiction of a group of diverse women combatting white male chauvinism. Birds of Prey follows Harley Quinn as she slowly joins forces with vigilante Huntress

Sundance Film Festival 2020 Review: 'Promising Young Woman' Is a Promising Directorial Debut

Writer/director Emerald Fennell presents an electrifying yet melancholic revenge tale with a masterful Carey Mulligan performance.
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When Promising Young Woman begins, a cover of the song “It’s Raining Men” plays in the background as Cassie (Carey Mulligan) walks in broad daylight covered in blood. That song perfectly illustrates how it’s practically hunting season for Cassie who’s ready to combat the male species and will emasculate any strange man that she crosses paths with. After a terrible incident happened in her college years, forcing her to drop out, Cassie has been on a downward spiral with the film following her pursuit of justice over what happened. It also follows Cassie finding peace within herself, resulting in the

Sundance Film Festival 2020 Review: 'The Nest' Is a Colossal Bore

It's like Seinfeld. A movie about nothing.
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Sean Durkin's awaited follow-up to Martha Marcy May Marlene has the makings of a strong retro thriller, yet succumbs to being like a feature-length film adaptation of the SNL skit The Needlers only with a more dour atmosphere. It’s almost two hours of a couple who clearly should be getting a divorce, yet choose to remain together because they’re evident masochists. Here’s a quick overview as to who these masochists are. Rory (Jude Law) is a British businessman who moves his family back to London because he’s unsatisfied with the house and job he has in America. This upsets his

The Garden Left Behind Movie Review: A Simplistic Political Experience

The Garden Left Behind blossoms thanks to its central performance and effective storytelling.
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When artists like Alicia Vikander and Jared Leto win prestigious awards for movies handling the trans experience, dedicating their awards to the transgendered community, it begs the question of whether trans artists themselves will be able to tell their own stories. Well, thanks to the FX series Pose, along with movies like A Fantastic Woman and the latest film The Garden Left Behind, they are able to be more front and center. Additionally, The Garden Left Behind digs into not only the experience of being trans in America, but a trans woman of color. How people are threatened just by

Sundance Film Festival 2020 Review: Ben Whishaw is the Driving Force of 'Surge'

Ben Whishaw carries a bold directorial feat that's like Uncut Gems on Valium.
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Ben Whishaw has a knack for playing characters down on their luck with Joseph from Surge being the latest entry in his niche. Fed up with his soul-sucking day job as an airport security worker, Joseph decides to seek reckless adrenaline to get out of his sedate existence. His pursuit of thrills leads him down a path of criminal activity and self-destruction. As far as storytelling goes, that’s all Surge is. An employee in the service industry getting out of his boredom just for a day. Yet, writer/director Aneil Karia still makes it a vivid filmmaking experiment. Once the film

Sundance Film Festival 2020 Review: 'Herself' and 'Miss Juneteenth' are Actress Vehicles About Hopefulness

Two successful star vehicles about working-class mothers looking to find a new lease on life.
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When one hits a speed bump in life, it’s never too late to try and start over. Two films that premiered at Sundance not only exemplify that message, but do so by depicting working-class mothers who feel like they may have hit the end of the line. In addition, both Herself and Miss Juneteenth manage to walk a pretty successful line between hopefulness and pragmatism. Herself follows the story of Sandra Kelly (Clare Dunne), a Dublin mother who flees from her abusive husband and lives with her children inside a hotel room. Looking to build a better life for herself

Sundance Film Festival 2020 Review: 'Falling' Definitely Falls Flat

Viggo Mortensen's directorial debut lands with a thud.
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Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut Falling attempts to dive into the uncomfortable topic of families divided over politics, yet succumbs to its need to beat the audience in the head over how incredibly awkward discussing political beliefs can be. It’s a picture that has its heart in the right place and aims to be a thoughtful family drama but it feels like one is watching a “movie family” rather than a real family. When Willis (Lance Henriksen) stays with his gay son John (Viggo Mortensen) and his partner Eric (Terry Chen), the film follows the immense friction between them which includes

Zombi Child Movie Review: A Slow Exploration of Voodoo and Adolescence

A meditative zombie flick that revitalizes the genre while simultaneously exploring its origins.
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With Zombi Child, director Bertrand Bonello pulls off both a reinvigoration of the zombie genre and a reclaiming of its origins. Over the years, people have associated zombies with their hunger for human flesh and loss of morality and consciousness once they become zombified. But Bonello aims to make a meditative horror drama about colonialism and adolescence. Zombi Child follows two different storylines. One set in Haiti 1962 involving Clairvius Narcisse (Mackenson Bijou), the most famous victim of the practice called zombieism who was drugged and sold into slavery while in a susceptible mind set. The other storyline is set

1917 Movie Review: A Visually Bold Look at the Heart of War

1917 is a terrific war epic with masterful technical aesthetics.
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After reinvigorating the Bond franchise with Skyfall and ending his run on a whimper with Spectre, director Sam Mendes makes a leap into the war genre with 1917, a technically bold look at an often undiscussed period within history. Although it hardly goes beyond being technically bold, it still is quite admirable in its ambition. The whole film is structured as if it’s a continuous take and takes place over a couple days. Two soldiers, Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean Charles-Chapman), are assigned to deliver a message to the second battalion of the Devonshire Regiment to prevent

Like A Boss Movie Review: A Middling Investment

Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish are the strong center of this amusing yet manufactured comedy.
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The new comedy Like A Boss is like a cone of vanilla ice cream with sprinkles. It does its job at being satisfactory the way one would expect but with some added touches. It’s firmly aware that it isn’t meant to change the face of comedy even if it doesn’t offer “laugh a minute”-type humor. Yet, it admirably adds some slight heft with its handling of lifelong friendships. Mia Carter (Tiffany Haddish) and Mel Paige (Rose Byrne) have been together through thick and thin. Despite them having different personalities, they still have remained close friends who live together and run

Atlantics Movie Review: A Frighteningly Romantic Mood Piece

Mati Diop's directorial debut is a blissfully romantic ghost story that captivates the senses.
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Atlantics, the Senegalese submission for the Best International Feature Oscar, walks a thin tightrope as it balances two genres rather seamlessly. It serves as a romantic ghost story that provides commentary on class division, resulting in a poetic package crafted by writer/director Mati Diop. Set in a suburb of Dakar, Atlantics feels as if it takes place in a ghost town. The decrepit buildings shown illustrate its disconnect from the tall, luxurious tower being owned by capitalists who haven’t paid the construction workers that are building it. One of them named Souleiman (Ibrahima Traore) tries starting a relationship with Ada

Little Women (2019) Movie Review: A Heartwarming Story Reinvigoration

Greta Gerwig miraculously makes this classic story feel new and exciting.
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After making the masterpiece that was Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig followed that up with an adaptation of Little Women and initially, its announcement was a little befuddling. Not because it wouldn’t be good but it was uncertain as to how Gerwig would make her version different from the previous adaptations of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel. As it turns out, I knew well to trust in Gerwig since she indeed offers a fresh spin by infusing her humanistic directorial voice while remaining loyal to the timeless story. The film is told in a nonlinear fashion with the main storyline

Bombshell (2019) Movie Review: A Well-Acted Yet Slightly Empty Procedural Drama

Bombshell tries being fair but isn't quite balanced.
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Given how Bombshell has a seriocomic tone, depicts conservative media figures, and is written by Oscar-winner Charles Randolph who collaborated with Adam McKay, comparisons to Vice or even McKay’s previous work feel inevitable. However, Bombshell mainly works best when it isn’t trying to be a McKay clone. Its nonchalant, procedural direction successfully negates the need to have characters breaking the fourth wall. Additionally, the comical elements make Bombshell even more uncomfortable than it already is since it delves into sexual misconduct taking place within a very right-wing television network complicit in getting a sexual predator elected as President. One particular

Knives and Skin Movie Review: A Wonderfully Hazy Suburban Nightmare

Writer/director Jennifer Reeder makes a trippy psychological chiller about grief, recovery, and coming of age.
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When looking at just the title for Knives and Skin, one might understandably expect a fair amount of violence to be involved. Its title proves to be a genius form of deception as it turns out to be a hazy, labyrinthian look at the troubled nature of suburban life. There is mystery and slight violence but it’s mostly about what happens when a community comes to grips with a disappearance of one of their own. Despite the enigmatic storyline, it is unclear what kind of tone the picture is aiming for. With its kaleidoscopic cinematography by Christopher Rejano, is it

Queen & Slim Movie Review: A Poetic Form of Protest Art

A vital, politically charged story that celebrates black love.
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Among the various music videos that director Melina Matsoukas has made, the one for “Formation” by Beyonce is easily one of her most prolific. It serves as an ode to black pride in the face of racial oppression and police brutality and is shot with colorful vibrancy. As Matsoukas makes her feature film debut with Queen & Slim, she demonstrates the exact same singular vision. Even when the picture becomes hard to watch, it’s still impossible to look away. The film opens with the titular protagonists going on a first date after interacting on Tinder. Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) is a

Charlie's Angels (2019) Movie Review: A Heavenly Sequel Stuck in Purgatory

The three lead actresses successfully elevate an adequate continuation of the famed franchise.
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The latest sequel in the Charlie’s Angels franchise acts as both a continuation of the original story and an attempt at world building since it emphasizes on a new trio this time around. It may lose the camp value that made the first two films so appealing. Also, the absence of Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu is certainly felt. Yet in a way, Charlie’s Angels still captures the fun spirit the previous pictures possess. The newest trio, or technically duo, consists of Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) and former MI6 agent Jane Kano (Ella Balinska) who team up with

Radioflash Movie Review: A Mere Concept-Driven Post-Apocalyptic Story

An admirable yet quite shallow commentary on our tech-dependent society.
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In today’s techno-driven environment, Radioflash feels rather timely. In fact, it opens with our main character Reese (Brighton Sharbino) playing a virtual-reality game. But the film begs the question of what happened if we were suddenly stripped of our technology. How would we survive if we couldn’t update our Twitter feed or watch television on our Fire Stick? We’d like end up in the dire place like the post-apocalyptic world shown in Radioflash. After a nuclear strike causes an electromagnetic pulse, known as a “radio flash,” that cuts off all power on Earth, both Reese and her father Chris (Dominic

Ford v Ferrari Movie Review: Bale and Damon Rev Up This Engine

Both Matt Damon and Christian Bale elevate a racing drama put in neutral gear.
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If Ford v Ferrari had come out in the 1990’s or 2000’s, it would’ve been a guaranteed box-office success. In today’s tentpole climate where superheroes have more drawing power, a film like this thriving financially is slightly up for debate. However, with its old-fashioned crowd-pleasing nature and central performances from its two central actors, Ford v Ferrari should hopefully perform well. While the film may seem like another racing movie, it still provides thematic poignancy by depicting a real-life story involving a combat against egotistical wealth and putting one’s differences aside to achieve a common goal. Both race car driver

Queen of Hearts (2019) Movie Review: Trine Dyrholm Guides This Effective Melodrama

A precisely mundane allegory for "Alice in Wonderland."
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Queen of Hearts, Denmark’s Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film, is indeed a slight parable to Alice in Wonderland. However, Anne (Trine Dyrholm) initially acts as the “Alice” of the storyline, falling down a rabbit hole of conflicting desire before slowly becoming the titular Queen and acting as her own worst enemy. While her incestuous affair with her teenage stepson Gustav (Gustav Lindh) gives her bliss, their forbidden love leads to a web of lies and betrayal. Before both Anne and Gustav consummate their feelings, the film presents Anne’s sedate daily routine as a way of indicating her motivations

Harriet Movie Review: Cynthia Erivo Carries Slightly Formulaic Biopic

Mainly due to Erivo's committed performance, Harriet only achieves slight greatness.
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Ever since she won rapturous acclaim for her Tony-winning performance as Celie in the musical The Color Purple, Cynthia Erivo’s film career has been on the rise. Just last year, she was a scene stealer in both Bad Times at the El Royale and Widows, capturing the steely, persistent nature of both characters even with just a glance. Given her camera-friendly presence, it’s no wonder she was given an immediate starring vehicle. But while Harriet proves she can carry a film with little trouble, it still doesn’t entirely come together. Based on the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Harriet follows

By the Grace of God Movie Review: An Effectively Procedural Account of Sexual Abuse

Incredibly timely and harrowing. Just don't call it a French "Spotlight."
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Given how Spotlight came out four years ago and also covers the topic of pedophilia in the Catholic Church, it’s hard not to think of the Best Picture winner when watching By the Grace of God. Because both films are based on true stories, it only furthers their comparisons. However, By the Grace of God works as a successful companion piece because it focuses on the vantage point of sexual abuse victims as opposed to Spotlight which was about a group of journalists interviewing victims in order to expose the Church and their complicity. Additionally, By the Grace of God

Dolemite Is My Name Movie Review: Eddie Murphy is Back

A dynamic and glorious return to form for star Murphy.
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When '70s stand-up comic Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) decided to enter the movie business, it was a rough road since the industry didn’t believe audiences would be ready for his crass, idiosyncratic artistry. After getting hit with the word “No” despite giving all he could as an artist by proving his ability as an actor, a comedian, and a singer, he decided to make a blaxploitation film, named after his alter ego called “Dolemite,” and forge his own path to stardom. In addition to expertly telling Moore’s story, the biopic Dolemite is My Name serves as an ode to

Joker Movie Review: Self-Important, Nihilist Drivel

Even a committed Joaquin Phoenix can't save this grim Scorsese clone.
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Going into Joker, which serves as an origin story for Batman’s archnemesis, one shouldn’t expect it to be any laughing matter. It’s meant to be a bleak look at how the Clown Prince of Crime began his reign of terror. As it turns out, bleak is all the movie is. It lacks depth even as it tries to make it seem like it possesses insightful commentary. Particularly about incel culture, mental illness, and how our inhumane world shuns mental illness victims. Yet, it never goes beneath the surface of the conversations it wants to engage in. Also, with its portrait

Judy Movie Review: Renee Zellweger Elevates Glorified Wikipedia Entry

Incredibly by the numbers with an emotive and committed Renee Zellweger performance.
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With Judy, Renee Zellweger has found a perfect fusion of actor and character. The story of Judy Garland trying to get back in the spotlight after Hollywood started turning her away isn’t too far from Zellweger’s own. As Zellweger moved past her prime, she took a six-year acting hiatus before making a slow comeback by starring in films like Bridget Jones’ Baby and now this. Even if Judy is quite muddled in terms of its execution, hopefully, it’ll give Zellweger the career boost she deserves. Based on the play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, Judy follows the life

Ad Astra Movie Review: A Wonderfully Philosophical Sci-Fi Opus

A career-best Brad Pitt carries this simplistic gem about the wonders and perils of space.
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After starring in The Tree of Life, Brad Pitt stars in Ad Astra which feels like Terrence Malick in space. While not a complete replication of Malick’s style, it still retains his philosophical notions as it deals with a man questioning his life purpose while on a journey across a crumbling solar system. It’s a seamless mood piece about loneliness, colonization, and fatherhood and ranks highly among the current onslaught of space movies. Once astronaut Ray McBride (Brad Pitt) goes in search of his father (Tommy Lee Jones) who went missing during a space expedition years ago, his emotional journey

TIFF 2019 Capsule Reviews: 'Pain and Glory' and 'Bad Education'

Two terrific yet polar opposite depictions of the middle-aged gay perspective.
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Both Pain and Glory and Bad Education are completely different films, yet they’re connected by their depictions of middle-aged gay protagonists. Even if one has slightly more quality than the other, both pictures still showcase gay men in their complicated glory. Speaking of the word “glory,” Pain and Glory certainly lives up to the latter half of its title. Pedro Almodovar’s latest picture is a gem about the power of art being used as a form of catharsis. Acting as a stand-in for Almodovar, Antonio Banderas plays Salvador Mallo, an aging filmmaker facing a career decline. As he questions where

TIFF 2019 Movie Review: Dev Patel Dazzles in 'The Personal History of David Copperfield'

A work of uplifting, majestic art.
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One way to describe The Personal History of David Copperfield is that it's a change of pace. It's a stretch for director Armando Ianucci who is best known for his razor sharp satire. Also, it features color-blind casting that should set a new template for period dramas going forward. It’s an old-fashioned story about a man whose ordinary life became an extraordinary tale. Yet, it proves to be effective while properly utilizing the star power of lead actor Dev Patel. Based on the acclaimed novel by Charles Dickens, The Personal History of David Copperfield follows the titular protagonist from his

TIFF 2019 Movie Review: Riz Ahmed is a Powerhouse in 'Sound of Metal'

Incredibly rhythmic with an awards-worthy turn from Riz Ahmed.
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Sound of Metal is definitely my tempo. One key reason is that it’s a starring vehicle for Riz Ahmed. He’s been a consummate supporting player in films such as Nightcrawler and Rogue One. Now, he gets an opportunity to show he’s leading man material and effortlessly seizes it. As Ruben, a drummer that loses his ability to hear, Ahmed is a complete powerhouse. Because drumming is all Ruben knows, it feels like his world is starting to crumble. His struggle is an encapsulation of what happens when an artist is deprived of their canvas. How is the artist able to

TIFF 2019 Capsule Reviews: 'Jojo Rabbit' and 'Knives Out' Allow Change in Directorial Pace

Two solid examples of auteur directors using franchise cache to make bold, original material.
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One major plus of being in a franchise is using your clout to make bold, original material. Whether you’re an actor or a director, getting involved in a tentpole property gives you enough cache to make a smaller passion project, allowing the “one for them, one for me” model to continuously formulate. Interestingly, two of the last three films I saw at Toronto involved directors doing just that. Thankfully, both pictures had pretty spectacular results. First off is the WWII satire Jojo Rabbit directed by Taika Waititi. Helming the comical Thor: Ragnarok allowed Waititi to make a satire that walks

TIFF 2019 Movie Review: 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' Is Incredibly Wondrous

A meticulously crafted tribute to the kindness of a beloved icon.
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Just last year, the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? offered a heart wrenching look at the life of the iconic Mister Rogers. Because it covered quite a bit of his legacy, it begs the question of how the new biopic, A Beautiful Day on the Neighborhood, could offer any newer insight into Mister Rogers’s life. As it turns out, Beautiful Day isn’t much of a Mister Rogers biopic. Instead, it’s more about the power of his uncanny kindness and the ability to see the good in the most troubled souls. Souls like journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) who begrudgingly

TIFF 2019 Capsule Reviews: Two Cannes Favorites Make a Big Splash

Parasite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire prove to be TIFF highlights.
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At this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, we’ve gotten two Cannes premieres from foreign directors exercising films that are simultaneous departures from their usual style and an example of their respective singular visions. Furthermore, they’re both handled by NEON and potential Oscar hopefuls for Best International Feature Film (formerly titled Best Foreign Language Film). Those masterpieces are Parasite by Bong Joon-ho and Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Celine Sciamma. Parasite isn’t a work of science fiction like Okja or Snowpiercer. Yet, it still retains themes involving class division and capitalism present in those two films from Bong Joon-ho.

TIFF 2019 Movie Review: 'Waves' Is Emotionally Shattering and Immersive

A poetically visceral indie gem.
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Given how Waves is a coming-of-age story about an African-American male growing up in south Florida made by A24 Films, comparisons between this and Moonlight feel inevitable. However, the comparisons end right there. Instead, Waves is a poetically visceral gem about masculinity, forgiveness, and family. Even when it gets hard to watch, it still becomes hard to look away. Partially because of the kaleidoscopic cinematography by Drew Daniels, this look at the life of Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), a teenager dealing with his turbulent house life along with particular girlfriend troubles, becomes a marvel to glance at even as it’s

TIFF 2019 Movie Review: Jennifer Lopez Is Oscar Worthy in 'Hustlers'

A solid crime dramedy that acts as a tremendous showcase for Jennifer Lopez.
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While Jennifer Lopez has proven herself to be a successful movie star, it feels like it’s been a while since she’s starred in a film as good as her. She’s always been terrific yet hasn’t always tackled challenging roles that solidify how great of an actress she can be. Her latest film Hustlers has relievingly changed that. It’s easily her best performance since her breakout turn in Selena and if we lived in a just world, she’d be an Oscar frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress. In Hustlers, Lopez plays Ramona, a veteran stripper who takes newcomer Destiny (Constance Wu) under

TIFF 2019 Movie Review: Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx are the Strong Force of 'Just Mercy'

An old-fashioned courtroom drama with strong political urgency and exemplary performances.
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When Destin Daniel Cretton arrived with Short Term 12, he announced himself as a humanistic voice in the indie world. While his voice didn’t quite shine through in his follow-up feature, The Glass Castle, it certainly shines in Just Mercy, his latest film. Just Mercy has the makings of a typical studio courtroom drama, but it still thrives thanks to its political urgency and central performances. Based on a true story, Just Mercy follows the life story of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a former Harvard Law School graduate looking to represent people poorly oppressed by the legal system. His

Ready or Not Movie Review: A Brilliantly Scathing Horror Satire

A killer game of hide-and-seek with more going on underneath.
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Getting married can be absolutely terrifying. It’s not just scary because of the nuptials or the uncertainty of what lies ahead after the ceremony. It’s dealing with in-laws that can be frightening. Especially in-laws that force you to take part in a fight for survival. Thankfully, not many people can say they’ve had those types of run-ins after they’ve gotten married. However, Ready or Not still serves as an absurd yet thrilling allegory for how discomforting in-laws can be. When Grace (Samara Weaving) marries Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), she thinks she’s found a great catch. Someone who’s a decent

Vita & Virginia Movie Review: Disappointingly Dry with Committed Lead Performances

Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki wonderfully elevate a biopic hampered by contrivances.
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When Vita and Virginia first opens, Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) explains the gender roles expected within her time period. Despite being a novelist, women like her are supposed to be viewed as subordinate and cherish their titles as "wife" and "mother." However, Vita has a rebellious spirit that is reflective of the film itself. Vita and Virginia attempts to break free from biopic standards even as it nearly becomes handicapped by them. The story follows Vita and her forbidden romance with famed author Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki). During their blissful period, Vita became the eventual inspiration for Orlando, Woolf’s most

Tigers Are Not Afraid Movie Review: A Phantasmagoric Fairy Tale

An expedient look at crime-ridden Mexico with harrowing fantasy.
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Guillermo del Toro’s singular vision remains so significant that it feels present in films produced by him or in this case, influenced by him. Tigers Are Not Afraid is not a del Toro production yet writer/director Issa Lopez demonstrates the mix of fantasy and pragmatism present in his work while offering her own creative vision. As opposed to the typical historical settings in a del Toro film, Tigers Are Not Afraid takes place in modern-day Mexico. It follows a group of orphaned children caught in the middle of a drug war. One of them, Estrella (Paola Lara), is given three

The Heiresses Movie Review: Three Central Performances Carry This Distant Drama

Flawlessly acted while still being too reserved in terms of its storytelling.
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The Heiresses is a small indie that breaks slight new ground for lesbian cinema. In a queer subgenre filled with pictures about couples with age gaps and young couples within the same age range, this film creates a space for a lesbian couple over 40. In addition, it acknowledges their queerness without it becoming politicized or essential to the plot. Even if The Heiresses succumbs to having too much filmmaking restraint, writer/director Marcelo Martinessi shows a fair amount of promise with his feature-film debut. Martinessi relies heavily on the camera and the lead actress’ face to guide the story rather

Blinded by the Light Movie Review: An Immensely Triumphant Coming-of-Age Tale

A bonafide crowd pleaser that bursts with emotion.
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Bruce Springsteen’s music may be culturally specific with songs like “Born in the U.S.A.” describing the American experience. However, Blinded by the Light shows the universal power of his artistry. It shows that anyone, even a working class Pakistani teenager from 1980's Britain, can find something in his songs to identify with. Once Javed (Viveik Kalra) listens to a few Springsteen cassettes given to him by his friend Roops (Aaron Phagura), he immediately becomes transfixed by the urgency in his voice. Also, the lyrics in his songs illustrate Javed’s state of mind during the exact moments where he listens to

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Movie Review: Terrifyingly Serviceable

Hardly any scary stories to tell.
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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark may be a Guillermo del Toro production, yet his singular directorial vision still feels present. Along with director Andre Ovredal, he incorporates his traditional mix of historical context and supernatural horror found in films such as The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. In this feature, the 1968 Presidential election and the Vietnam War attempt to act as an analog for the titular haunted tales. While the significance of the historical analog remains unclear, Scary Stories still works as a straightforward ghost story. In addition, it has the traditional machinations of a slasher film,

Wild Rose Movie Review: A Star is Born in Jessie Buckley

Jessie Buckley electrifies in this heartfelt musical drama about the road to fame.
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Anyone who’s had a dream might often be told they can achieve it if they set their mind to it. The musical drama Wild Rose expertly demonstrates that message and reminds dreamers that it doesn’t matter where they try to accomplish it. It’s more important that they just try to make it happen. At the same time, it illustrates both the sacrifices and sense of home that comes with pursuing a dream. When Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) gets freed from prison, she’s ready to fulfill her aspirations of moving to Nashville to be a famous country singer. However, she’s financially strapped

Once Upon A Hollywood Movie Review: Middle-Ground Tarantino

A well-acted yet frivolous tribute to old Tinseltown.
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Quentin Tarantino’s previous feature The Hateful Eight was a demonstration of both his strongest and weakest qualities as a filmmaker. His follow-up, the highly anticipated Once Upon A Hollywood is mainly a showcase for one of his strongest qualities: His love for classic cinema. While there is something to be said about how controversial his filmography is along with his personality, his passion for classic genres always shines through in his work and here, it’s no different. That being said, the nostalgic '60s setting is the only thing that makes this film an ode to old cinema. Because the

The Lion King (2019) Movie Review: Purrs Rather Than Roars

It's the 1994 animated classic but with CGI and Beyonce.
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Given the iconic status of the 1994 animated classic The Lion King, there may be some panic over whether the new CGI remake will pale in comparison. Well, to that, I say “Hakuna Matata” because it’s not badly underwhelming. However, that’s only because it’s the exact same movie. It’s a complete replication of the original, beat for beat and shot for shot, but with photorealistic animals. While the remake does result in being an admirable visual-effects experiment, it still plays things too safe in terms of story structure. Anyone who’s seen the original knows the story. A lion named Simba

Outfest 2019: 'Sell By' is Directly Accessible and Rather Progressive

Sell By thrives thanks to its acting ensemble and graduated depiction of queer love.
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Sell By may be queer themed since it centers around a homosexual couple coming to grips with their turbulent relationship. Yet, it attempts to tap into the universal romantic experience by also focusing on the couple’s straight friends and their love troubles. On the one hand, the film ends up being an exceptional ensemble piece, but on the other, the multiple narrative becomes rather disjointed. The chief storyline involving the relationship between Adam (Scott Evans) and Marklin (Augustus Prew) still is quite focused. Both men try to analyze the ongoing distance between them while dealing with the concept of marriage

A Faithful Man Movie Review: Rom-Com Written with Impressive Finesse

At just 75 minutes, A Faithful Man packs plenty of mystery, romance, and profundity.
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Louis Garrel’s sophomore directorial effort A Faithful Man is certainly loyal to particular romantic-comedy traditions. It’s both traditional and a slight deconstruction of the nature of love triangles. Initially, it seems like we’re in for a standard love story about a man and a woman attempting to reconcile their feelings for one another. That is until it starts to toy with “stalker film” machinations. A Faithful Man may have a short running time of 75 minutes, yet it successfully does more with less. When Marianne (Laetitia Casta) leaves her boyfriend Abel (Louis Garrel), she reveals that she’s pregnant with the

Midsommar Movie Review: A Luminous Hellscape

Beautifully nightmarish and insidious with a tremendous Florence Pugh performance.
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When Ari Aster made his feature film debut with Hereditary, it was a demented portrait of grief and anxiety covered in near darkness. His follow-up film, Midsommar, is an equally demented demonstration of mental illness that is drenched in sunlight instead of darkness. As a result of its sunny disposition, it ends up being more unsettling than Hereditary and is proof that Aster is a potential horror master. The film’s opening sequence is one of the few points where our main characters are in the shadows. Dani (Florence Pugh), the main protagonist, is having a meltdown over her bipolar sister

The Chambermaid (2019) Movie Review: A Wonderfully Facile Character Study

Lila Aviles's directorial debut is incredibly thematic without being overtly so.
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On the surface, it doesn’t seem like The Chambermaid is about much. It’s about a maid named Eve (Gabriela Cartol) who works at a high-end hotel and follows her day-to-day routine. In addition, the entire film takes place in the hotel. That being said, it is rather simplistic as it seems to make a statement without explicitly saying anything at all. By presenting Eve’s mundane routine, The Chambermaid appears to say something about class and the nature of working with the public. As Eve is going from room to room on her assigned floor, she’s flustered with the way the

BAMcinemaFest 2019: 'De Lo Mio' is a Sincere Directorial Debut

An impressive directorial debut from Diana Peralta done with such profundity.
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There’s always that old saying about home being where the heart is. The family drama De Lo Mio revolves around that traditional motto while offering a storyline about letting go of the past and facing the demons of your past home in order to build a better future. While it may be too short with a runtime of 74 minutes, it still remains effective thanks to its earnest story and exemplary performances. Rita (Sasha Merci) and Carolina (Darlene Demorizi) are two sisters from New York who visit their estranged brother Dante (Hector Anibal) in the Dominican Republic. Dante plans on

Men in Black: International Movie Review: A Neuralyzing Experience

Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. That is all.
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To quote Emma Thompson’s character, Men in Black: International feels like a case of deja vu dismissed just as quickly. It features the traditional premise of suited agents in shades taking down evil extraterrestrials. However, it still acts as a neuralyzer because it’s sadly quite forgetful. It should provide the same entertainment value as the other Men in Black films but doesn’t have the same spark and not necessarily because of the absence of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Instead, this sequel/spinoff focuses on Molly (Tessa Thompson), a woman whose parents whose memories were erased with a neuralyzer by

Late Night Movie Review: Emma Thompson is Incredibly Pitch Perfect

Emma Thompson easily carries this smartly written workplace satire.
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While Late Night is full of high points, one of its best ones is how it points out the fallacies of any recent film that has underused Emma Thompson’s talents. Thompson is one of the best actresses working today and it is so relieving to see her once again play such a well-rounded lead character. The film may be a talk-show version of The Devil Wears Prada with Thompson in the Miranda Priestly role but she is still a sharp delight, relishing in her character’s complicated glory. Thompson plays Katherine Newbury, a British late-night talk-show host whose show has been

Dark Phoenix Movie Review: A Frustratingly Regressive Conclusion

When even James McAvoy can't save this, you know it's underwhelming.
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The last time the “Dark Phoenix” saga from the X-Men comics was adapted for the big screen was in X-Men: The Last Stand back in 2006. While Dark Phoenix isn’t completely identical to the way the storyline was adapted in that film, it still feels quite repetitive. It’s a rehash of the same conflict that is present in the X-Men prequel series and offers shades of X-Men: The Last Stand despite not being a complete replication. When Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbs a cosmic force while the X-Men go on a space mission, she becomes more powerful than ever. As

Starfish (2019) Movie Review: A Wonderfully Ambitious Sci-Fi Pic About Grief

Starfish has a jumbled narrative yet is wonderfully jumbled due to its inventiveness and focus on human emotion.
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Starfish is an ambitious piece of science fiction that manages to keep afloat despite its attempt to juggle two vastly different storylines. The film aims to be both a poignant demonstration of grief and a post-apocalyptic monster movie at once. While both stories don’t exactly blend together, Starfish still thrives thanks to its immense panache and a commanding performance from its leading actress. The storyline follows Aubrey (Virginia Gardner) who’s reeling from the death of her best friend, Grace (Christina Masterson). However, after spending time in Grace’s apartment, the world becomes invaded by monsters from another dimension and Aubrey becomes

Ma Movie Review: Octavia Spencer Elevates Campy Thriller

Despite Ma being merely serviceabile, Octavia Spencer is delightfully maniacal as the titular antagonist.
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Most horror films don’t always rely on star power with Ma being a rare exception. With the involvement of names like Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, Luke Evans, Juliette Lewis, and Missi Pyle, it seems like a possible indication of the film’s quality. The trailer makes it appear to be a standard stalker thriller but with actors like the ones above, could it something more? Well, sort of. Although Ma nearly succumbs to being a quasi-B-movie, there are moments of brilliance to be found. The picture’s greatest source of brilliance is easily Octavia Spencer as the title character. It shouldn’t

Always Be My Maybe (2019) Movie Review: Charming and Incredibly Subversive

This insurgent romantic comedy thrives thanks to its hilarity and dramatic heft.
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Kind of like the Mariah Carey song the title references, Always Be My Maybe feels like a catchy pop tune. You know the same repetitive beats will play out yet you still can't help but listen because it's an easy, fun tune to sing along to. However, Always Be My Maybe still conjures different lyrics to make it stand out from other interchangeable romantic comedies. The film works as a funny, heartfelt reinvigoration of the "friend zone" trope present within the rather repetitive genre. The premise of the nice guy trying to tell the woman he’s always loved about his

Diamantino Movie Review: A Wonderfully Bizarre Camp Thriller

This queer fantasy succeeds thanks to its unapologetically schlock nature.
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Whenever the main character, soccer player Diamantino Matamouros (Carloto Cotta), steps onto the soccer field, he imagines himself seeing cute puppies and colorful mist. What the puppies represent in unclear but it’s still one of the many crazed things about this brazen queer thriller. Diamantino is quite balls-to-the-wall, attempting to mix sociopolitical context and eccentric science fiction, while featuring some exemplary character development. Once Diamantino Matamouros is introduced, he’s established as a sports icon. However, after he misses a penalty shot in the World Cup championship which results in Portugal’s loss, he becomes an immediate laughing stock. Wanting to get

Booksmart Movie Review: A Hilarious Romp with Immense Sincerity

A flawless and heartfelt directorial debut from Olivia Wilde.
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Booksmart may be about two high school seniors looking to go to a big party the night before graduation. However, it’s still a lot more than that. It’s an intricate depiction of female friendships that also handles generalizations high school students face while being inclusive without making a political statement. Booksmart is an astonishing coming-of-age story that hardly goes by the books and honestly, it’s hard to believe that this is Olivia Wilde’s directing debut. After getting into prestigious colleges and reaching the top of their class, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) feel like they’ve done everything according

Rocketman Movie Review: Incredibly Sublime with a Masterful Taron Egerton Performance

A fantastical musical biopic with a perfect mix of style and substance.
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It feels like it’s been a long, long time since we’ve seen a biopic depicted with as much gusto and ambition as Rocketman. Not only is it a powerful illustration of Elton John’s life, but it also has the unique structure of an escapist movie musical with his classic songs being used as musical numbers to demonstrate his life story. Even in the opening sequence, the film’s potent mix of style and substance becomes quite evident. The film opens with Elton John (Taron Egerton) attending a group therapy session at a rehab center. While there, he reflects on his turbulent

Her Smell Movie Review: Elisabeth Moss Roars with Greatness

Elisabeth Moss is next-level amazing as a troubled rock star.
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If there are performances from leading ladies this year more brazen and committed than Elisabeth Moss’ in Her Smell, then it’s going to be a Best Actress field for the ages. As a cruel and self-destructive rock star, Moss delivers a performance that provides shades of Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence. While the film as a whole is exemplary, it’s Moss’s performance that single handedly makes it one of the year’s best. Her Smell is essentially five short vignettes that make up a singular narrative. Initially, in the first few sequences, Becky is essentially presented as a

Pasolini Movie Review: An Ambitious Biopic with a Brilliantly Refined Willem Dafoe Performance

An exemplary biopic that features a rather understated gusto.
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Pasolini seems like it has similar DNA to the work of Lars von Trier. It features grainy, Dogme-style cinematography along with voiceover narration from Willem Dafoe who’s a frequent von Trier collaborator. In addition, its cynical main character mirrors the often melancholic outlook of the pictures in von Trier’s filmography. That being said, the biggest differences are that Pasolini has a shorter length at 84 minutes and it is based on a real-life subject as opposed to von Trier’s mainly fictionalized work. When it comes to the film’s length, it does fit into the storyline since it takes place during

The Skin of the Teeth Movie Review: A Rare Queer Horror Flick Done with Effort and Intent

A terrifically inviting and rather progressive thriller.
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If there are any fallacies within the horror genre that people like to bring up, it’s the never-ending set of plot cliches. Ranging from characters making stupid decisions to knowing who will live or die, there are a fair amount of machinations that are constantly subjected to criticism. However, one thing that should be a point of criticism is its poor to near lack of queer representation. Usually, gay horror characters are either portrayed as psychosexual villains or are just completely nonexistent. The latest psychological thriller The Skin of the Teeth proves to be a rare exception, though. In addition,

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: 'In Fabric' is Terrifically Sewn Together

An atmospheric horror-comedy with classic schlock value.
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Pardon the pun, but In Fabric feels like it’s cut from the same cloth as classic giallo fare. The emphasis on color along with the euphoric sound design recall what feels like a forgotten era within the horror genre. Even the opening sequence makes watching the film in theaters seem like a retro screening. As a film, In Fabric isn’t entirely stitched together properly. However, it’s still applaudable thanks to its craftsmanship as well as its unorthodox premise. The story involves a dress that curses and leaves an imprint on anyone who tries it on. Its victims include a single

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: Julianne Nicholson is Pitch Perfect in the Wonderfully Distorted 'Initials S.G.'

Julianne Nicholson is the bright spot of this already worthy genre bender.
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What happens when you put soccer, romance, a dead body, music, and porn into one movie? You get Initials S.G., a rather bold dark comedy about two broken people yearning for some adventure. The best way to describe Initials S.G. is that it’s wonderfully chaotic and while some will feel it swings for the fences a little too much, its genre bending efforts are still quite applaudable. Sergio (Diego Peretti) is a porn actor who’s obsessed with the music of Serge Gainsbourg and is a little down on his luck. So much so that he hopes for the Argentinian soccer

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: 'Charlie Says' is an Insightful Look Into a Heart of Darkness

An incredibly well-acted yet harrowing account of one of America's most infamous crime sprees.
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Director Mary Harron may be famous for the 2000 pitch black satire American Psycho. But now, she has helmed a project about a real-life american psycho, Charles Manson. However, it’s more about the point of view of the three women that have served him: Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie van Houten, and Susan Atkins. Neither judgmental nor sentimental, Charlie Says is a nonchalant yet incredibly effective telling of one of America’s most infamous crime sprees. Admittedly, there isn’t much graphic violence shown but the nature of the murders is already quite apparent. Also, the film is mostly about the three Manson girls

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: Sasheer Zamata Successfully Carries 'The Weekend,' An Ingenious Rom Com

A breezy romantic comedy that features great acting and bent cliches.
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After helming the decently made disability tearjerker Everything, Everything, Stella Meghie not only does something completely different but a slight reinvigoration of the genre it falls into. The romantic comedy The Weekend illustrates the familiar struggles of getting over your ex but in a way that is rather multifaceted in terms of its character focus. In addition, it juggles its various characterizations over the course of under 90 minutes. Over the course of one weekend, stand-up comic Zadie (Sasheer Zamata) stays with her ex Bradford (Tone Bell) at a resort run by her mother (Kym Whitley). However, things get complicated

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: Zoey Deutch is a Force of Nature in 'Buffaloed'

Zoey Deutch is pure dynamite as a fast talking anti-heroine in this biting black comedy.
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Zoey Deutch is one of those performers who should have a bigger movie star career yet hasn't quite taken off. Even though she's been in big studio films, the films she's appeared in haven't served her talents very well. In addition, her latest film Buffaloed proves that she's ready to reach leading-lady status since she is an absolute force of nature. She's a force as a producer on the film and of course, as a performer. In Buffaloed, Deutch plays Peg, an overly ambitious girl from a working-class part of Buffalo who lives with her loving mother (Judy Greer) and

Tell It to the Bees Movie Review: Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger Carry Uneven Romance

Despite an uneven narrative, Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger still allow Tell It To The Bees to buzz.
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Tell It to the Bees may be about a romance between two women who defy the conservative community they reside in. However, this is far from another Disobedience. But rather than compare the two films since they're completely unrelated, it’s best to delve into how Tell It to the Bees manages to be a noteworthy depiction of lesbian love. Even if it doesn't make much buzz, it still never stings. Where the film falters, though, is how it's unclear who has the chief vantage point. The love between both Dr. Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) and Lydia (Holliday Grainger) may be

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: 'Flawless' Brilliantly Offers a Profound Story About Self-Acceptance

A bold yet sincere coming-of-age story about learning to love yourself.
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Typically, films about high school students deal with conflicts like trying to fit in or the outcasts overcoming the villainous popular clique. However, the Israeli film Flawless chooses to slightly break free from the traditional narrative found within such films. Instead of being about trying to be popular, Flawless is more about learning to love who you are on the outside. One reason high school can be a harsh place is because teenagers tend to feel insecure about the way they look. For instance, best friends Keshet (Noam Lugasy) and Tigist (Netsanet Zenaneh Mekonen) are insecure to the point where

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: 'Lucky Grandma' Hits the Jackpot

A master class performance from Tsai Chin is the film's luckiest charm.
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There are moments in life where we feel our luck runs out completely. However, for Grandma Wang (Tsai Chin), it feels like she never has much luck. Even though she has a loving family, she still lives a life of solitude. She does take a trip to the casino so she can maybe get rich. However, after one losing game, she loses every chip that she won. When the camera focuses on Grandma’s saddened face after that doomed match, it’s clear that she’s had enough with her rotten luck. She’s a woman who’s fed up with the misfortune that seems

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: 'Luce' Is a Well-Acted and Necessarily Searing Racial Drama

A psychological thriller with razor-sharp political context and an incredible ensemble.
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One amazing thing about the drama Luce is that practically every character is hard to pin down. Despite the film dealing with the topic of race and facets within that topic, there’s no real good or bad guy. Even characters with the best intentions have something secret to hide. As a result of its grand ambiguity, Luce is wonderfully labyrinthian and will hopefully ignite some thoughtful conversations by the time the credits roll. Luce Hodge (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) is the model student at his high school. He’s the class valedictorian, captain of his debate team, and a star athlete on

Tribeca Film Festival 2019: 'Burning Cane' Is a Visceral yet Rhythmic Directing Debut

Despite its short running time, Burning Cane offers grand, thematic impact.
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The Devil may not be an enemy that can be seen at first glance. However, he can still take many forms and find ways to plague the most untroubled souls. In Burning Cane, he manages to serve as an unseen antagonist. He creeps his way through a poverty-stricken town in Louisiana and cripples the townspeople through the use of a demon that’s hard for some people to shake off. That demon is alcoholism. In more ways than one, alcoholism is a poison. It’s a dangerous addiction that affects the lives of those around you. As Daniel Wayne (Dominique McClellan) struggles

Rafiki Movie Review: A Harmonious Portrayal of Queer Love

A simple yet incredibly effective demonstration of love facing adversity.
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One way to describe Rafiki is that it feels triumphant. Partially because it was able to overcome its country-wide ban that nearly prevented it from being eligible to compete as Kenya's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar last year. Another reason is because it’s a harmonious story about love overcoming adversity. A love between two women that defies the homophobic community where they reside. The love that Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) have faces its fair share of hardships and enters political territory. But for the most part, the film feels breezy in its execution. Particularly,

Little Movie Review: Typical yet Amusing Body-Swap Comedy

Despite the story's grand familiarity, the laughs are anything but pint-sized.
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The central premise of Little is that it's pretty much a reverse Big. It depicts a 30-something woman who magically becomes her 13-year-old self. However, while Big and its female counterpart 13 Going on 30 handle the perils of wanting to grow up too fast, Little offers its own distinct storyline. Little attempts to handle the topic of bullying and how it turns us into the tormentors we despise. When the film first opens, 13-year-old Jordan Sanders (Marsai Martin) is performing a science act at her school talent show. But when she gets ridiculed, she swears that she will never

Sauvage Movie Review: A Fiercely Unsentimental Character Study

Felix Maritaud is the strong center of this unflinching look at a queer sex worker's life.
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When Sauvage first opens, Leo (Felix Maritaud) is in what seems to be a doctor’s office. The older man examining Leo asks him to take his clothes off. Right after that, the scene turns on a dime and the man gives him sexual pleasure. The scene establishes the tone for the entire film which is a chaotic and rather unflinching look at the life of a sex worker. It’s quite graphic in terms of its sexual content. However, it still thrives thanks to its central performance and impartial filmmaking style. Twenty-two-year old Leo (Felix Maritaud) lives on the streets as

The Wind Movie Review: A Traditional Psychological Thriller with Unsettling Flair

A promising feature-film debut that provides effective scares despite its loose structure.
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Loneliness can be killer. Living in a world of both physical and mental isolation can cause a whirlwind of despair and madness. The latest horror film The Wind is a well-orchestrated demonstration of the severe toll isolation takes. While the film may have a rather confusing start, as it progresses, it becomes an effective exercise in psychological terror. In addition, it proves that director Emma Tammi who makes her solo feature-film debut has a distinctive filmmaking voice. When Lizzie (Caitlin Gerard) is left alone in her cabin while her husband (Ashley Zukerman) runs some errands, she becomes haunted by possible

The Mustang Movie Review: Matthias Schoenaerts Carries This Poetic Gem

An incredibly moving and poignant character study.
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When The Mustang first opens, it seems like it’s going to be a preachy, political demonstration of how endangered wild mustangs currently are. The film’s opening sequence shows a horde of horses being captured, making us believe it’s going to be a glimpse at the system trying to capture them. That is until the sequence cuts to Roman (Matthias Schoenaerts), our main character, waking up from his sleep. Thanks to that neat editing trick, the theme for the film becomes established. As it turns out, The Mustang is simply about the strong bond between man and animal. It shows us

Us Movie Review: Discomforting and Hauntingly Ambiguous

Jordan Peele's sophomore effort is another simplistic look at the dark parts of humanity.
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With his directorial debut Get Out, Jordan Peele presented us with a searing, satirical portrait of liberal racism in America. Now, with his sophomore effort Us, he takes another look into the darkest facets of people’s souls. Us may seem like a home-invasion thriller with effective jump scares. But at its core, it’s really about the beast within ourselves that we desperately try to keep hidden. When the Wilson family goes on vacation only for it to be disrupted by their doppelgangers, they must literally come face to face with manifestations of the darkness within them. It’s unclear what exactly

The Wedding Guest Movie Review: Dev Patel Brilliantly Carries This Deceptive Thriller

A solid reminder that Dev Patel is a definite leading man.
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When The Wedding Guest first begins, it seems like it’s going to go in a dark direction. Our main character Jay (Dev Patel) is traveling to Pakistan and buys items like a gun and some duct tape. It’s clear he’s up to no good and little is known about him. But we’re still wondering what his plan is and why he even has a gun. But after his purpose becomes revealed and he kidnaps Samira (Radhika Apte), a bride to be, the tone slowly turns on a dime. At first, the ominous score and the restraint of Dev Patel’s performance

Gloria Bell Movie Review: Julianne Moore Is Utterly Captivating

A stylistically crafted acting showcase for the marvelous Julianne Moore.
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One trademark from director Sebastian Lelio is that he makes vivid, complex movies about women. He made his breakthrough with the 2013 film Gloria which depicts a middle-aged woman trying to find herself. In addition, A Fantastic Woman starring trans actress Daniela Vega won the Foreign Language Film Oscar. Also, just last year, he did the immensely overlooked lesbian drama Disobedience. Now, he has recreated the film that put him on the map with the remake Gloria Bell starring Julianne Moore in the role previously occupied by Paulina Garcia. It goes without saying that Julianne Moore is terrific as the

Captain Marvel Movie Review: Traditional with Supernova Levels of Fun

Brie Larson goes full movie star in this familiar yet adrenaline-fueled thrill ride.
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It goes without saying that Captain Marvel is a pretty big deal. It’s the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have a female superhero at the center. Also, it is co-directed by a woman, Anna Boden. However, it still possesses similar storytelling beats to other origin films in the MCU. But that doesn't mean Captain Marvel is forgettable or interchangeable. In fact, it manages to surpass other origin films like Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger thanks to its supernova levels of fun. It may not go overboard with gender politics or anything like that despite depicting

Greta Movie Review: Isabelle Huppert is Deliciously Sinister

Isabelle Huppert easily elevates this old school schlocky thriller.
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Greta may fall under traditional trappings of the stalker genre. However, it does attempt to distinct itself from other films within that genre by heavily focusing on the female gaze. Typically, these films involve a crazy woman in pursuit of a male protagonist with the only exceptions that come to mind being Single White Female and its clone, The Roommate. But Greta, which involves an older woman terrorizing a younger woman, proves to be another exception. In addition, it boasts a killer leading performance as Isabelle Huppert. As the titular antagonist, Isabelle Huppert is insanely chilly with a touch of

Sorry Angel Movie Review: A Sensible Depiction of a Doomed Romance

A profound, well-acted love story that is a whirlwind of emotion.
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It’s 1993. Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps) is a writer battling AIDS and coming to grips with his impending doom. He still lives with his child and has his friend Matthieu (Denis Podalydes) as a form of support. However, he develops a slight new outlook on life when he meets the youthful Arthur (Vincent Lacoste), a student and camp counselor. Once they fall in love, complications begin to emerge. Meanwhile, Arthur slowly discovers his own perspective on sexual activity. When Jacques and Arthur first meet, it is at a screening of The Piano. They immediately become smitten with each other and after

Alita: Battle Angel Movie Review: A Modest Visual Spectacle

A visually ambitious stunner with an underwhelming storyline.
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Robert Rodriguez is a master at doing films that are either a stunning visual experience like Sin City or a thrilling pastiche of classic genre fare like Planet Terror and From Dusk Till Dawn. As it turns out, his latest venture, Alita: Battle Angel, is a mixture of the two. Its story is rather old school and it is a visual feast for the eyes of the imagination. Even if the film’s screenplay ends up succumbing to tired machinations, it is still a thrilling theatrical experience that should be seen on the big screen. Based on the Japanese manga by

Isn't It Romantic? Movie Review: It Is Indeed

An amusing satirization with plenty of heart and a great Rebel Wilson performance.
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When watching Isn’t It Romantic?, it’s hard not think of I Feel Pretty when doing so. Especially because it came out last year. Both films have a similar premise involving a woman living in NYC who lack self-respect. But after badly hitting their heads, they get a new particular outlook on life and themselves. Their outlooks are demonstrated in different ways but they still have the same idea. However, Isn’t It Romantic? executes that idea in a far better manner. While I Feel Pretty has its heart in the right place, it doesn’t provide the same amount of laughs. Also,

What Men Want Movie Review: Taraji P. Henson Elevates Decent Rom-Com

Subpar yet still watchable thanks to Taraji P. Henson's charismatic performance.
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Admittedly, What Men Want could’ve been its own original idea rather than a gender-flipped remake of the Mel Gibson comedy What Women Want from 2000. Only because it’s a part of an ongoing trend of gender-flipping old properties when they could easily give actresses their own original properties. That being said, What Men Want still manages to be an amusing comedy that dissects gender and racial discrimination in the workplace. Plus, it’s proof that Taraji P. Henson can carry a film like it’s literally nobody’s business. Henson plays Allison “Ali” Davis, a sports agent who just can’t catch a break.

Sundance Film Festival 2019: Selah and the Spades is Terrifically Sharp

Sharply written and features a multi-layered star turn from Lovie Simone.
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It goes without saying that high school is Hell. As it turns out, the teen dramedy Selah and the Spades is a sharp look at the kind of students who make it into a hellscape. Particularly, the Queen Bee who rules the school. We may have seen high school films that demonstrate the vantage point of popular mean girls like Jawbreaker and of course, Mean Girls. However, Selah and the Spades still offers its own incisive demonstration of the political nature of high school cliques. There are five factions that make up the underground lifestyle of Halliwell Boarding School. The

Sundance Film Festival 2019: Untouchable Lets Weinstein's Victims Be Heard

A harrowing watch that continues the conversation surrounding sexual misconduct.
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The documentary Untouchable, which depicts the rise and fall of former movie producing mogul Harvey Weinstein, doesn’t tell us any information about him we don’t already know at this point. But what it does do is give us an idea of how monstrous he truly is. The interview subjects that have been subjected to his sexual misconduct describe the severity of his behavior and it becomes quite harrowing to watch. Granted, Untouchable was never meant to be an easy pill to swallow. But still. It’s discomforting seeing these unfortunate women relive their trauma at the hands of a man with

Sundance Film Festival 2019: Little Monsters is a Bloody Delight

A darkly humorous yet surprisingly heartfelt zombie comedy.
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For those of you who don’t know the synopsis, Little Monsters is not a documentary on Lady Gaga’s fan base. Instead, it is an entertaining zombie comedy that features Taylor Swift music, Star Wars references, and of course, lots of undead creatures. It also manages to be pretty heartfelt with its story involving a kindergarten teacher going to great lengths to protect her students from being infected and/or killed. Admittedly, the chief protagonist is Alexander England as Dave, a slacker who accompanies his nephew, Felix (Diesel La Torraca) on a class field trip so that he can get with his

Sundance Film Festival 2019: Sweetheart is a Terrific Creature Feature

A simple yet effective throwback to classic monster movie fare.
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Despite Sweetheart being a pretty standard creature feature, it still proves to be quite effective. One reason is because it features a strong central leading performance from Kiersey Clemons. Another is because writer/director JD Dillard crafts such masterful suspense leading up to its climactic finale. The premise may be simple. It’s a survival horror film about a woman who survives a shipwreck and wakes up to find herself stranded on an island with a mysterious creature. Yet Dillard is able to craft it so innovatively. During the film’s first half, there is very little dialogue. It’s mostly the main character

Sundance Film Festival 2019: Geraldine Viswanathan is the Strong Center of Hala

Geraldine Viswanathan is a revelation in this affecting coming-of-age drama.
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Part coming-of-age story and part meditative portrait of religious hypocrisy, Hala is quite an effective showcase. It also takes the typical story of a teenager adjusting to life in high school and makes it feel new by focusing on a Muslim American teen and emphasizing on the importance of choice. The film is about the titular character’s fight for her individuality from within and with those around her. When the film first opens, we see Hala (Geraldine Viswanathan) reciting a prayer before the scene eventually cuts to her masturbating in a bathtub. Then, we see her skateboard to school while

Sundance Film Festival 2019: Wounds Is Indeed Rather Hurtful

Wounds starts off promising before slowly going off the rails with its overly ambiguous premise.
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One way to describe Wounds is that the experience of watching it doesn’t feel like self-inflicted pain. However, it does feel like a slight bruising in the end because it’s such a mindbender and it becomes hard to decipher how you feel about the film in general. The first half offers strong promise but things go off the rails as the film progresses to the point where you can’t comprehend what you just saw. The basic premise is as follows. Will (Armie Hammer), a bartender from New Orleans, is working a shift one night. But when a customer accidentally forgets

Sundance Film Festival 2019: The Nightingale is Frustratingly Gratuitous

The Nightingale has strong political undertones yet still succumbs to its ultraviolent nature.
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The biggest positive about The Nightingale happens at the very beginning of the film. Our main character, Clare, is singing a tune for a bunch of British soldiers before the title card is revealed. Because of the film’s title and how Clare sings a lovely tune, it seems like we’re in for a rather light film. That is until things quickly turn on a dime and Claire becomes subjected to a gang rape while her family gets killed off. Already, The Nightingale becomes a task to sit through because of its graphic nature. The film even nearly falters because of

Sundance Film Festival 2019: Alfre Woodard is Oscar Worthy in Clemency

Alfre Woodard quietly delivers the best film performance of her career.
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It’s no secret that ageism towards older actresses in Hollywood is a legit problem. However, one faction of that problem that feels rather ignored is ageism towards actresses of color. As they get older, it becomes more difficult than it already is for them to land prominent film roles. But thankfully, Chinonye Chukwu, the writer/director of Clemency, cast veteran actress Alfre Woodard in a role that gives her plenty to sink her teeth into. Not only does she do the best work of her career in Clemency but she delivers a performance that should already put in next year’s race

Sundance Film Festival 2019: Velvet Buzzsaw is Wonderfully Chaotic

Velvet Buzzsaw is incredibly off-kilter and grotesque yet brilliant.
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Writer/director Dan Gilroy has proven himself as a master of demonstrating the craving for more. Whether it’s more ratings or more money, the characters in his films have a desire for more than they possess or the best of what they seek. For instance, the sinister Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler is always on the hunt for the next juicy story and is willing to shed blood in order to get it. But in Velvet Buzzsaw, our main characters that are involved in the world of art dealing are always craving the most marketable paintings. They even go far enough to

Sundance Film Festival 2019: Awkwafina Proves Her Dramatic Range in The Farewell

Awkwafina is the strong center of the bittersweet dramedy known as The Farewell.
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A movie about a family hiding the family matriarch from her own terminal illness. On paper, it sounds rather dour. But in the hands of writer/director Lulu Wang, The Farewell becomes a bittersweet dramedy about the conflicts of cultural ties. It's also carried by an effortless leading performance from Awkwafina who, along with the incredible ensemble cast, masterfully demonstrates the movie's balance of humor and heartbreak. In The Farewell, Awkwafina plays Billi, a Chinese American woman whose grandmother, also known as her Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), becomes fatally diagnosed with lung cancer. Due to Chinese culture traditions, Billi's family doesn't

Glass Movie Review: An Ambitiously Uneven Thriller

Glass is admirably zealous while nearly shattering due to its overt exposition.
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Glass, the final film in M. Night Shyamalan’s superhero trilogy that includes Unbreakable and Split, proves to be quite fragile. It does attempt to be a thoughtful deconstruction of the superhero mythos but it almost gets broken by its grand ambition. Partially because it’s rather disjointed in terms of character focus and also, it sometimes feels the need to spell out its comic-book parallels for the audience. But in spite of its needless exposition, Glass still thrives thanks to its attempts at dissecting comic book lore within a psychological thriller canvas. Also, it boasts some killer villainous performances. After being

On the Basis of Sex Movie Review: An Effective Crowd-pleaser

On the Basis of Sex is impactful thanks to its subject matter and central performances by Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer.
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It seems like we’re catching Ruth Bader Ginsburg fever. The documentary RBG, which depicts Ginsburg’s journey to the Supreme Court, came out early last year. Now, we have On the Basis of Sex, a fictionalized account on Ginsburg’s life that doesn’t necessarily focus on her road to being a Supreme Court Justice. Instead, it narrowly focuses on the case that became a major starting point in her ongoing fight for equality. There are parts of her personal life that the film does explore like when she started out as a Harvard law student before she transferred to Columbia. Also, it

Vice Movie Review: Christian Bale Saves a Self-Righteous Biopic

Adam McKay's tonally haphazard biopic is saved by a great Christian Bale performance.
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After hitting it big with The Big Short, winning an Adapted Screenplay Oscar in the process, director Adam McKay attempts to tackle the Bush administration with the Dick Cheney biopic Vice. He even uses the same seriocomic filmmaking approach that he demonstrated with The Big Short. However, Vice neither possesses any sharp wit nor does it pack an emotional punch. It does try to have it both ways by acting as a satire and a heavy drama but it doesn’t know what it wants to be. As a result, Vice ends up being the most tonally haphazard film I’ve seen

Vox Lux Movie Review: A Brilliantly Jarring Pop Epic

The anti-A Star Is Born in the best possible ways.
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Normally, I don’t like to compare one film to another when doing a film review. But Vox Lux is very much what people are labeling it as: The anti-A Star Is Born. It’s much more cynical and also quite violent. Yet, I still found it to be pretty brilliant. Understandably, not everyone is completely on board with it but it still had some interesting things to say about the nature of celebrity and how artistry can be used as a way to heal. After Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) survives a school shooting, both she and her sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) perform

Once Upon A Deadpool Movie Review: An Adequate Gimmick

A censored Deadpool 2. Nothing more, nothing less.
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Once Upon A Deadpool is exactly as it is advertised. It’s a fun, censored re-release of Deadpool 2 made to be a light holiday event. It features the exact same story just with added scenes of Deadpool reading to an adult Fred Savage in a replica of the bedroom from The Princess Bride. However, the opening credits scene with Celine Dion singing “Ashes” is nowhere to be found. The fact that this is the PG-13 version of Deadpool 2 allows it to be even more self-referential since that’s the nature of the character and is what makes him so distinctive.

Boy Erased Movie Review: Well-Intended yet Sufficiently Executed

Boy Erased has its heart in the right place but doesn't have a proper voice.
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Boy Erased is one of those movies that has its heart is in the right place but almost falters due to its slightly hampered execution. It does have its high qualities and it does its part by keeping the message alive about conversion therapy which is sadly legal in some states. However, it still doesn’t quite come together despite its admirable efforts. The film is based on a true story about the life of Garrard Conley who was sent to conversion therapy by his parents after being outed as gay. But Jared Eamons, who is the main character played by

The Favourite Movie Review: A Completely Brazen Ensemble Piece

The Favourite is completely innovative and easily Yorgos Lanthimos' most actor-driven picture.
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Yorgos Lanthimos tackling a period piece is a segway as unorthodox as his previous work. However, as it turns out, The Favourite proves to possess the same absurdist touch as The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer even if the script isn’t written by Lanthimos this time around. Admittedly, because Lanthimos didn’t pen the script, it is easily his most accessible film. But thanks to the use of techniques like the disorienting cinematography and the acting from two of his leading ladies who have previously collaborated with him and understand his esoteric vision, The Favourite still remains in

Shoplifters Movie Review: A Potent Mix of Pragmatism and Empathy

Shoplifters is a well-acted, bittersweet ode to the impoverished.
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One thing that’s so amazing about Shoplifters is that it succeeds in areas where it could’ve easily gone wrong. It’s an insightful look at a family living in poverty without becoming preachy and demonstrates people with misguided yet good intentions without acting judgmental. Director/writer Hirokazu Kore-eda handles the film with a pragmatic yet empathetic eye and as a result, crafts together one of the year’s best movies that clutches the heartstrings by the time the credits roll. The story follows Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) and his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), a couple that barely makes ends meet since they work

Green Book Movie Review: An Old Fashioned yet Badly Polished Look at Racism

Green Book is a safe crowd-pleaser but still badly antiquated.
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The best way to describe Green Book is that it’s a topical movie that has its heart in the right place but still falters because of its safe and narrow-minded nature. Despite the poster saying it’s inspired by a true friendship, the film is mainly interested in one half of that friendship. As a result, we get a look at historical American racism that is made presentable in a way that it’s problematic. In a rather awkward fashion, Green Book is chiefly about Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a New York club bouncer who chauffeured a famed pianist named Don Shirley

Widows Movie Review: A Pitch-Perfect Heist Thriller

Widows is an incredibly thematic crime drama with a killer acting ensemble.
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Steve McQueen may be a director that hails from the U.K. but he has successfully demonstrated his ability to venture into the darkest depths of American society. Previously, he crafted a harrowing portrait of historical American slavery with the Best Picture winner 12 Years A Slave. Now, with Widows, he has constructed a modern-day morality tale about race, police brutality, gender, class, and politics which presents itself under the guise of a popcorn heist thriller. While the film does demonstrate an exciting buildup to the climactic heist, at its core, it’s really about trying to survive in a lawless world

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Movie Review: A Dynamic Showcase for Melissa McCarthy

It's a strong acting showcase, a biopic, and a cautionary tale all at once.
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After landing an Oscar nomination for her scene-stealing turn in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy has managed to successfully parlay her awards success into comedic movie stardom. Well now, she gets to expertly show off her skills as a dramatic actress in the biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me?, delivering her best performance to date in the process. Granted, she has shown hints of her dramatic capabilities with St. Vincent and even Bridesmaids where she had the scene with the serious one-on-one talk with Kristen Wiig’s character. However, those were just indications of her range which is demonstrated in full force here.

Beautiful Boy Movie Review: Timothee Chalamet Elevates Muddled Family Drama

Timothee Chalamet easily makes this cluttered drama worth watching.
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Right off the bat, I’ll just say that my biggest gripe with Beautiful Boy is that it focuses less on its title character. The film may be based on a memoir by David Sheff, the father who tried helping his son battle meth addiction. However, the film would have benefitted from focusing almost entirely on the son himself. It is partially because of the commanding performance from Timothee Chalamet and also because of poor characterization. As Nic Sheff, David’s son who fought addiction, Timothee Chalamet is easily best in show. Even if it doesn’t top his brilliant, Oscar-nominated performance as

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Review: Rami Malek Electrifies As Freddie Mercury

Despite the film's formulaic storytelling, Rami Malek's commanding performance helps the film come alive.
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The band Queen is iconic because of not just their singles but their bold, genre-flipping style. Yet, the biopic on their life feels more like the kind of safe, accessible tunes that their former record label wanted to give more airplay to rather than the risky poetic tune that the film gets its title from. It attempts to check all the right biopic boxes when it could’ve been as unconventional as the band it depicts. That being said, Bohemian Rhapsody is still a moderately made film and it is done with slight filmmaking flare. It also serves as a celebration

1985 Movie Review: A Powerfully Meditative, Multi-Layered Gem

1985 is an understated yet powerhouse gem about small-town life and the AIDS crisis.
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Even though I’ve never really left the area I grew up in, in my opinion, the film 1985 still perfectly captures the struggle of being able to come back home. The feeling of going back to the small town you lived in your whole life that you desperately left behind, to escape either its mundanity or to bury family troubles, can be a conflicting one. Yet, that is just one layer to the story of 1985. It also captures the feeling of being closeted and demonstrates the AIDS crisis to fit the time period in which the film takes place.

Bad Times at the El Royale Movie Review: A Thrilling Genre Bender

Bad Times at the El Royale is wonderfully chaotic and boasts a killer ensemble cast.
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If there was an Oscar given for Most Well-Marketed Movie Of The Year, Bad Times at the El Royale would easily be a frontrunner. The film's marketing is so in sync with the shroud of mystery that surrounds it up until the final climax. Even while you're watching the movie, it’s difficult to determine what kind of movie you're watching. Is this a black comedy? Is it some kind of horror movie? Are we watching an Agatha Christie-style thriller? What kind of movie is this? Well, I can tell you one thing: This movie is a total blast. Its genre

New York Film Festival 2018 Review: Roma Is Flawlessly Transcendent

Alfonso Cuaron's latest film Roma is heart wrenching, awe inspiring, and vital all at once.
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The best word that can be used to describe Roma is that it is transcendent. It is a transcendent piece of cinematic art that captures your heart and is also a theatrical experience that manages to rupture the senses. After director Alfonso Cuaron made Gravity, the cinematic event of 2013 and one of the most monumental cinematic experiences of the decade, some of us probably wondered how he would follow that up. Well, he has made a film with a story that is smaller in scale yet is still quite simplistic. It seems like a straightforward story involving the life

A Star Is Born (2018) Movie Review: A Perfectly Adequate Remake

Bradley Cooper offers an effective glimpse at his potential greatness as a director with his decent remake.
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After getting two remakes of the famed 1937 classic, do we really need another version of A Star Is Born? Well, while the old story remains the same, director/actor/co-writer Bradley Cooper still manages to make his rendition both modern and timely. Also, Bradley Cooper may be one of the best actors of his generation but with A Star Is Born, he proves that as an actor, he can be an even better director. It goes without saying that his performance as fading country star Jackson Maine is terrific. However, what makes his direction even better is how he puts such

Where Hands Touch Movie Review: Well-Acted and Well-Intended yet Misguided

It retains the same theme of finding your identity that director Amma Asante has demonstrated in her previous work.
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Before I go further into my review, I’ll just get one thing out of the way. If you plan on seeing Where Hands Touch but haven’t seen the trailer yet, then my advice would be to skip the trailer and just see the film. The preview makes it seem like the film’s forbidden romance, which has been an understandable point of controversy, is its focal point. But as it turns out, Where Hands Touch is really about finding your identity and trying to survive in the midst of war. Leyna (Amandla Stenberg), a biracial woman, tries to pass as a

Life Itself (2018) Movie Review: Dour, Sentimental Drivel

The depressing Life Itself will surely be a contender for worst movie of the year.
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They say there is no greater journey than life itself. Well, one thing about life that isn’t great is the journey of sitting through movies like Life Itself. Even though the ensemble drama has an incredible cast, even they can’t save this mess which is schmaltzy to the point where it becomes nauseating. I mean, if the movie wants to demonstrate how life is full of unexpected surprises, why make it so depressing for the sake of being depressing? The way that the storylines are connected is practically designed to demand buckets of tears from the audience members. Just on

Colette Movie Review: Keira Knightley Successfully Anchors an Impactful Biopic

In a career-best turn, Keira Knightley amazingly brings a famed novelist's story to life.
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As an actress, Keira Knightley has become rather synonymous with period dramas. In fact, her two Oscar nominations were for period pieces: Pride and Prejudice and The Imitation Game. But here’s hoping that she can be in the running for a third nomination with Colette, a biopic on the life of a famed novelist who slowly found the courage to speak up after being silenced for so long. Knightley manages to do some of the best work of her career, portraying a complex woman who is vulnerable, sexually liberate, and tenacious. The titular novelist whom the film is based on

Tea with the Dames Movie Review: An Absolute Delight

A must-see for anyone who is a fan of these four legendary thespians.
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The documentary Tea with the Dames is exactly as it is advertised: A quartet of legendary British dames having a long conversation about their lengthy careers while sipping tea. As a result, we might not see it compete in the Oscar race for Best Documentary since films in that category tend to deal with heftier subject matter. But Tea with the Dames is still a worthwhile experience regardless. It’s an insightful look into the lives of legendary performers that also works as a piece of pure escapism. Seeing Dame Maggie Smith discuss becoming a mainstay in pop culture thanks to

The Land of Steady Habits Movie Review: A Compelling, Humanistic Character Drama

Ben Mendelsohn is the strong center of the naturalistic ensemble dramedy by writer/director Nicole Holofcener.
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Much like Enough Said, director Nicole Holofcener’s last film, The Land Of Steady Habits is a poignant telling of a person going through a midlife crisis. However, while Enough Said was a romantic comedy, The Land Of Steady Habits is a seriocomical ensemble piece about how growing up is different from growing old. At the center of the film’s ensemble is Anders Hill (Ben Mendelsohn), a divorced financier who decides to leave behind his career that he’s become disillusioned with and try to restart his life. In the meantime, he tries to maintain his relationship with his college graduate son

Lost Child Movie Review: Solid but Something's Still Missing

An admirably unconventional depiction of PTSD anchored by a strong performance by Leven Rambin.
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When Lost Child first opens, our main character Fern (Leven Rambin of The Hunger Games fame) is sitting on a bus heading home after fighting in the Army. When we hear the sound of gunshots while she’s resting, it seems to set the tone for the movie. Right off the bat, it looks like we’re in for a PTSD character study. In a way, the film is that but it also turns out to be an interesting genre bender as a way to avoid being a typical story about an Army soldier readjusting to home life. As Fern returns home,

Searching Movie Review: Brilliantly Deceitful and Ingenious

Director Aneesh Chaganty delivers what is easily the most immersive and innovative film of the year.
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It’s hard to know where to begin when describing the sheer brilliance of Searching. For one, it handles a really interesting gimmick of having the entire film shot on smartphones and computer webcams. Not only that, but the gimmick never overshadows the emotional storyline which deals with a father who will go to great lengths to save his missing daughter. The film’s ability to let the story and technical aesthetics go hand in hand smoothly is thanks in large part to writer/director Aneesh Chaganty. Along with leading man John Cho and co-writer Sev Ohanian, he has easily created one of

The Wife Movie Review: Glenn Close Does Career-Best Work

Glenn Close is a quiet force of nature in a masterfully written and well-acted gem.
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There’s no denying that Glenn Close is one of our greatest living actresses. Her career spans 30 years and she’s been a mainstay on the silver screen, the small screen, and the stage. Also, after losing at the Oscars a staggering six times, it feels like her moment may finally arise with The Wife. Much like how her character demands people to hear her voice, Glenn Close shall make voters finally take notice of her genius talent this time around. In The Wife, Glenn Close plays Joan, the wife of a famed writer named Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce). When Joseph

Crazy Rich Asians Movie Review: An Incredibly Winning Rom-Com

It succeeds thanks to its cultural significance and crowd-pleasing nature.
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It is quite admirable to see a film like Crazy Rich Asians being greenlit so that Asian-American audiences can see themselves reflected in a positive manner. I know in 2018, it shouldn’t seem like a big deal. But even though it is 2018, the tired practice of Caucasian actors playing whitewashed Asian roles is still being practiced. So, to have a film with a cast solely made up of Asian actors is quite a big deal. Crazy Rich Asians is a key cultural touchstone and also, a great movie. It is a fun movie going experience that manages to have

BlacKkKlansman Movie Review: Haunting, Hilarious, and Thought Provoking

BlacKkKlansman is a powerful and razor sharp yet timely effort from director Spike Lee.
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The best way to describe Spike Lee’s latest joint, BlacKkKlansman, is that it is haunting, humorous, and thought provoking in equal measure. It works as an acerbic buddy comedy that delves into the horrors of white supremacy which is still prevalent in today’s society. BlacKkKlansman may be based on a true story, yet it also feels like a documentation of the bigotry that the Trump presidency is currently demonstrating and not just because it features footage of last year’s Charlottesville riots. BlacKkKlansman is based on the story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American detective to serve in

The Spy Who Dumped Me Movie Review: Kate McKinnon Provides Non-Stop Laughs

A PSA that Kate McKinnon is a true blue comedic movie star.
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Not only is The Spy Who Dumped Me a fun movie-going experience but it is proof that we should put any potential talk of introducing “Jane Bond” to rest. I mean, why build off an already established property when we have original female-centered spy films like The Spy Who Dumped Me that can become their own franchises? Even if this film isn’t perfect or anything groundbreaking, I’d still gladly watch a sequel should one get made. The Spy Who Dumped Me follows the story of Audrey (Mila Kunis), a retail clerk who’s been dumped by her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux)

Brotherly Love (2018) Movie Review: Neither Heavenly nor Unholy

Thanks to two of its supporting actors, Brotherly Love thrives on a wing and a prayer.
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Based on the novel Seventy Times Seven by Salvatore Sapienza, Brotherly Love follows the story of Vito Fortunato (Anthony J. Caruso), a seminarian in the Catholic Church who must decide between his religious vows of chastity and his sexual freedom before becoming a Brother. Contributing to his dilemma is both his sex-crazed partner Tim (Chance McKee) and a landscaper named Gabe (Derek Babb) whom Vito falls in love with while away at a retreat. When Vito first meets Gabe, that is when the film kicks into high gear. That is in large part due to Derek Babb who gives a

Nico, 1988 Movie Review: Both Simplistic and Unsentimental

A sublime biopic carried by Trine Dyrholm who excels as the late famed musician.
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During the opening montage of Nico, 1988, the song “These Days” starts playing over it. A song that may be familiar to anyone who’s seen The Royal Tenenbaums and which might be the titular singer’s best-known song because of that movie. Even though Nico might not be familiar to modern audiences, the film Nico, 1988 makes a strong case as to why more people should know her story. It is a simplistic yet unsentimental depiction of an artist who had a passion for music even when it became difficult to hold onto it. Nico, 1988 follows the last three years

Mission: Impossible - Fallout Movie Review: Best Action Movie of the Summer

It is both the best action film of the summer and the franchise's best film.
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The Mission: Impossible franchise manages to live up to its title because it attains a feat that franchises rarely accomplish. It does the unthinkable by getting better with each installment and Fallout, the latest entry, is the best one yet. It features satisfying action and humor while also being a deep character study. Not to mention, it is extremely well-acted across the board. Mission Impossible - Fallout basically has everything one could want in a blockbuster which makes it a perfect summer movie going experience. Because it’s a sequel, that also means greater stakes are involved. The Syndicate, the crime

Sorry to Bother You Movie Review: Completely Zany yet Brilliant

A completely bonkers and bizarre yet thrilling directorial debut from Boots Riley.
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“Uhh…...what?” That was the best possible way to describe my reaction to Sorry to Bother You. It is completely bizarre, original, and balls to the wall. Yet, it’s still super brilliant. Sorry to Bother You is brilliant because it manages to be both scathing and sharply hilarious. This is a masterpiece that I’ll be thinking about for quite some time. Sorry to Bother You follows the story of Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a broke individual who lands a job at a telemarketing agency. Looking to get ahead in the industry, he discovers a secret to finding success: By speaking in

1/1 Movie Review: Solidly Acted yet Overly Ambitious

Aside from its scattered storytelling, 1/1 still flourishes thanks to its quietly commanding, leading performance by Lindsey Shaw.
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Plenty of us know Lindsey Shaw as Jennifer “Moze” Mosely from the Nickelodeon television series Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide. We remember her as the sweet and brainy best friend of the titular main character. Well, in the latest heavyweight drama 1/1, she gets to take a much darker turn. As a young woman coming to grips with her troubled small town life, Shaw is quite brilliant but manages to be the film’s saving grace. She does carry the picture on her shoulders well enough. However, the film surrounding her is unfortunately, a bit of a mess. There are moments

Eighth Grade Movie Review: Pitch-Perfect Portrait of Adolescence

A flawless portrayal of adolescence that features both uplifting and heart wrenching authenticity.
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Eighth Grade was a rather confusing and painful experience. The movie Eighth Grade, however, is a portrait of an adolescent coming to terms with her growing pains that is simultaneously humorous and heartbreaking. It also perfectly captures how going through middle school feels like the end of everything when it’s really the end of an era. Middle school is a time of confusion and uncertainty over what lies ahead and watching Eighth Grade felt like I was taking a trip back in time. The film-watching experience was hard for me because it was a difficult time in my life and

Path of Blood Movie Review: Harrowing and Uncomfortable

A harrowing look into the heart of war that is bound to make some viewers uncomfortable.
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When Path of Blood first opens, there is a video of a group of young jihadists laughing before they are about to carry on a planned mission. Then, there is a freeze-frame shot of one of the jihadists before the film’s title card is revealed. That one shot illustrates the documentary’s main theme. The main objective of Path of Blood is to show that war is a winless battle and it shows how easily youths can get swept into the battle. The film is mainly made up of archival footage shot by Al-Qaeda terrorists and shows their plot to overthrow

Ant-Man and the Wasp Movie Review: A Pint-Sized Superhero Film with Big Heart

Ant-Man and the Wasp is an improvement of its predecessor that is flawed yet still entertaining.
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Earlier this year, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War showed us how bold and innovative Marvel Cinematic Universe films can be. However, as Marvel movies dramatically evolve, Ant-Man and the Wasp proves that the MCU can still provide light popcorn fare. Admittedly, Ant-Man and the Wasp does possess heavy dramatic stakes but for the most part, it’s escapist fun that manages to outdo its predecessor. The story takes place two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest and has avoided contact with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter

Sicario: Day of the Soldado Movie Review: Hollow, Sloppy, and Pointless

Not only a pointless sequel but a miserable film-watching experience on various levels.
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The 2015 crime thriller Sicario was a morality tale about justice, vengeance, and power meticulously crafted by director Denis Villeneuve. Although there was an established antagonist, Villeneuve went an interesting route by exploring the reasons the characters had for hunting down the main villain rather than focusing on the villain himself. Villeneuve may not have been involved with the film’s sequel, Day Of The Soldado, but surely, the filmmakers involved would still retain his directorial sensibilities, right? Wrong. We don’t have the same meditative tale of corruption and revenge that was the first film. Instead, we get a sequel that

Boundaries Movie Review: A Solid Escapist Road Movie

Despite its predictability, Boundaries still succeeds thanks to its profound storytelling and great acting.
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One good way to describe Boundaries is that it does yet doesn’t live up to its title. It doesn’t offer any boundary-breaking storytelling. But it still is a poignant demonstration of what happens when one does or doesn’t impose limitations on the behavior of their children. Again, it isn’t anything we haven’t seen or been told before. But Boundaries is still worth recommending for being a simplistic, well-acted escapist road film. Boundaries follows the story of a single mother named Laura Jaconi (Vera Farmiga) whose life is in slight chaos. Her artistic son Henry (Lewis MacDougall) keeps getting into trouble

Director Christian Papierniak on His Feature Film Debut, Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town

"Whatever scene you’re doing is just about trying to grab whatever the truth is in that moment whether it’s a video game or whether it’s a movie." - Christian Papierniak
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In Izzy Gets The F*ck Across Town, perennial scene-stealer Mackenzie Davis gets a rare opportunity to carry a film on her shoulders. But she manages to do it with ferocious gusto. As Izzy, a struggling riot grrrrl rock star, Davis delivers a performance that possesses both dramatic insecurity and deadpan comic bite. Izzy may not be the easiest character to like and in many ways, is a complete mess. But Davis still makes her a protagonist worth watching thanks to her charisma that shines through in every single frame of the picture in which she appears. The film follows her

Ocean's 8 Movie Review: A Fun Escapist Spinoff

Ocean's 8 is entertaining popcorn fare. Nothing more, nothing less.
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Even though it could’ve been its own original property rather than an Ocean’s spinoff, Ocean’s 8 is still enjoyable popcorn fare. It may not be perfect but it’s still a fun moviegoing experience featuring terrific, witty performances from its A-list cast. Ocean’s 8 follows the story of Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), the sister of con artist Danny Ocean. After being released from prison on parole, Debbie quickly turns back to her life of crime. Debbie quickly assembles a group of women: Lou (Cate Blanchett), Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), Amita (Mindy Kaling), Nine Ball (Rihanna), Tammy (Sarah Paulson), and Constance (Awkwafina),

Hereditary Movie Review: Give Toni Collette The Best Actress Oscar

The film itself is a twisted experience that had me quivering by the time the credits rolled.
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It’s hard to know how exactly to describe Hereditary as a film. On one hand, it’s a dark descent into a person’s damaged psyche. On the other hand, it’s an enigmatic supernatural thriller that serves an allegory for the “demons” we inherit from our family. The film itself is a twisted experience that had me quivering by the time the credits rolled. But one thing about Hereditary that is perfectly describable is the brilliance of Toni Collette’s leading performance. Collette gives what is perhaps the best performance in a horror film in recent memory. One that will potentially join the

The Workers Cup Movie Review: Simplistic Almost to a Fault

Neither sentimental nor filled with heavy dramatic stakes, The Workers Cup is a simple demonstration of why people play sports.
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In 2022, Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup and its stadium is being built by 1.6 million migrant workers. Sixty percent of the workers are some of the world’s poorest people like India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. They work tirelessly to ensure that the one of the world’s biggest events can be held in the world’s richest country. The Workers Cup focuses on a select amount of workers who are chosen to compete in The Workers Cup, a football tournament for laborers. The tournament is sponsored by the 2022 World Cup and 24 construction companies were invited to select teams

American Animals Movie Review: A Conflicted yet Clever Heist Thriller

American Animals offers up a witty yet complex demonstration of the conflicting pursuit of the American Dream.
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American Animals is based on the true story of two college students from Lexington, Kentucky named Spencer (Barry Keoghan) and Warren (Evan Peters). Despite them having a somewhat tranquil lifestyle in middle-class suburbia, they still yearn for something more. They eventually come up with a scheme to live the American Dream by stealing valuable old books from the library of Transylvania University. They also enlist the help of accounting major Eric (Jared Abrahamson) and fitness junkie Chas Allen (Blake Jenner). But as the four men plan the robbery, it eventually leads to a downfall that will shape their lives in

On Chesil Beach Movie Review: Saoirse Ronan Keeps Afloat

Saoirse Ronan easily saves what ends up being a jumbled depiction of marriage and sexuality.
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The last time Saoirse Ronan starred in a film based on an Ian McEwan novel was Atonement back in 2007. Atonement was her big break and she landed an Oscar nomination in Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Since then, she’s ascended to leading-lady status and has now transported back to the literary world of Ian McEwan by starring in a film adaptation of his novel On Chesil Beach. Saoirse Ronan delivers a luminous and quietly commanding performance as a newly conflicted bride. However, she manages to be the only reason to watch On Chesil Beach which has a thoughtful

Tribeca Film Festival 2018: Naomi Ko and Andrew Ahn Discuss Their TV Pilot 'Nice'

"We were able to find the tricky balance between comedy and drama by keeping Teddy and the world of Nice grounded." - Naomi Ko
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While the Tribeca Film Festival may primarily be focused on film, it has also become a hub for television recently. During this year’s festival, there were season premieres of television shows being screened along with pilots looking for distribution. One of them that I was fortunate enough to watch was a pilot for a series called Nice. Nice is a story of a 23-year-old woman named Teddy (Naomi Ko), who previously fought breast cancer. But when her cancer comes back, she tries to keep it a secret from her family and friends. At about 22 minutes, Nice is a powerful

Tribeca Film Festival 2018: Untogether Is Good with a Great Jemima Kirke Performance

Untogether is a solid directing debut from Emma Forrest that possesses hints of greatness.
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Author-turned-director Emma Forrest attempts to explore the turbulent nature of relationships with Untogether. Admittedly, the film itself is rather turbulent in terms of how it depicts its thematic material. But it becomes evident that Forrest has a distinctive filmmaking voice. Her attempt to demonstrate the complicated nature of being in love is a solid acting showcase with some well-crafted sequences. Untogether stars the two Kirke sisters, Jemima and Lola, as two sisters named Andrea and Tara. Andrea is a former heroin addict who is also a writer and hasn’t published another book in a while. She is also having an

Tribeca Film Festival 2018: The Rise of Laia Costa, Star of 'Maine' and 'Duck Butter'

The star power of rising actress Laia Costa helps elevate two flawed showcases for her tremendous talent.
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One great thing about film festivals is discovering breakthrough talent. One actress who I haven’t seen act before that certainly caught my eye during the Tribeca Film Festival was Spanish actress Laia Costa. She may have made her real breakthrough with the German crime thriller Victoria. But now, it looks like she’s about to catch the attention of American moviegoers with the films she has lined up. Two of them are films that premiered at Tribeca: Duck Butter and Maine. Even if neither film fully delivers, the best thing about each film is Costa’s tremendous acting. In the sensual romantic

Tribeca Film Festival 2018: Little Woods Is a Well-Acted and Thoughtful Modern Western

Tessa Thompson and Lily James are the strong center of a modernized Western that is introspective and thought provoking.
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One thing about the Western genre that is tiring is how it is traditionally masculine. Films set in modern day that depict Western films and films set in the Wild Wild West are often told from a male perspective. But thank goodness for writer/director Nia DaCosta who created Little Woods, a modernized Western that focuses on women navigating their way through lawless terrain. It’s also a portrait of working-class America that is harrowing yet unsentimental. Little Woods will surely be one of the best films of the year. The story follows Ollie (Tessa Thompson), an ex-con who is attempting to

Tribeca Film Festival 2018: Mary Elizabeth Winstead Is Oscar Worthy in All About Nina

Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives a career-best performance as a struggling comedienne and deserves serious Oscar recognition.
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Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one of the most underrated actresses working today. Even though she has bounced from genre to genre and delivered a slew of quality performances, she still hasn’t been able to break through. One reason is probably because the films she’s done aren’t always as good as her talents. Well, thankfully, she has found a starring vehicle as amazing as she is. In the tragicomedy All About Nina, she not only gives the performance of her career but a performance that should put her in the awards conversation for Best Actress. The story follows Nina Geld (Mary

Tribeca Film Festival 2018: Disobedience Is a Compelling Portrait of a Defiant Romance

Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz, and Alessandro Nivola give three of the year's best performances in this compelling romantic drama.
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After helming the Oscar winning foreign language film A Fantastic Woman, director Sebastian Lelio brings us Disobedience, a portrait of forbidden love that is transfixing and anchored by three flawless leading performances. Also, like A Fantastic Woman, it is a great portrayal of queer women finding their inner strength and is a gem that slowly has you under its spell by the time it’s over. Based on the novel by Naomi Alderman, Disobedience tells the story of a New York photographer named Ronit (Rachel Weisz) who returns back home to London after hearing about the death of her father. Her

Tribeca Film Festival 2018: The Miseducation of Cameron Post Is an Insightful Gem

A harrowing depiction of conversion therapy that also manages to be hearty.
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When it comes to films depicting the LGBTQ experience, we rarely get films that depict the topic of conversion therapy. Even if conversion therapy doesn’t involve physical discrimination, it still causes youths to discriminate against themselves and it is a topic that should be depicted on screen more. Thankfully, this year, we will be seeing the release of two films depicting this issue. One of them is Boy Erased starring Lucas Hedges. The other is the subject of this review and that is the earnest, well-acted gem called The Miseducation of Cameron Post. It follows the story of a lesbian

Tribeca Film Festival 2018: Dry Martina Is a Bewildering yet Engaging Star Vehicle

Antonella Costa is the strong, complicated center of a tortuous story.
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In the opening scene of Dry Martina, our main character is performing at a concert and about midway through her performance, she immediately takes off her wig and steps out of the stage. The minute she stops performing, we see her turn into a different, more troubled person. That small moment is an indication of what Dry Martina is about. It is a character study about a woman on the verge of self-destruction that is successfully anchored by its leading actress even though the film itself is rather, shall I say, slightly dry. Martina (Antonella Costa) is a former pop

Tribeca Film Festival 2018: Cargo Is a Powerful Zombie Drama

Cargo puts a refreshing spin on the zombie genre and is anchored by a career-best Martin Freeman performance.
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When it comes to films depicting the zombie apocalypse, we see the same repetitive formula: Survivors must fight for their lives against the undead and try not to get infected. The latest entry in the zombie film genre, Cargo, demonstrates that same formula but puts a whole new spin on it. Yolanda Ramke, who wrote and co-directed the film with Ben Howling, has crafted a story about fatherhood set against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse and it is packed with both horror and heart. Cargo follows the story of Andy (Martin Freeman) and Kay (Susie Porter), an Australian couple

Director Leena Pendharkar on Her Latest Film '20 Weeks'

She talked about bringing the authentic relationship between the two main characters to life, the filmmaking aesthetics, and the backstory behind the screenplay as well.
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Abortion is a topic that feels as if it is rarely discussed on film. We’ve seen films about failing marriages and pregnancies before. But it is rare to get a film that depicts certain complications of pregnancy that some couples face. However, 20 Weeks dares to touch on the hot-button topic of abortion and it does so in a nonjudgmental manner. Anna Margaret Hollyman and Amir Arisan play Maya and Ronan, a couple that is faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to abort their unborn child when they discover that he has a severe birth defect. The

A Quiet Place Movie Review: Silence Has Never Been So Scary

A Quiet Place is a simplistic yet masterful gem that is destined to become a modern horror classic.
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Even though just saying the title now gives me chills, I will not stay silent on how amazing A Quiet Place is. Actor-turned-director John Krasinski takes a film with an intriguing, minimalist premise and executes it with precision while directing a masterclass acting ensemble in the process. Unsettling at every single turn and gripping from the first frame to last, A Quiet Place seems destined to become a modern day horror classic. A Quiet Place is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth that has been taken over by alien creatures who will hunt down anyone who makes sounds of any kind.

Ready Player One Movie Review: A Fun yet Hollow Escapist Journey

Ready Player One is entertaining popcorn fare drenched in nostalgia and not much else.
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Coming off of the Best Picture-nominated film The Post, Steven Spielberg makes the jump back to blockbusters with Ready Player One, continuing his “one for me, one for them” model of balancing historical dramas and blockbusters and Ready Player One surely feels like it was made for audiences with its stunning visuals and crowd pleasing action sequences. Yet, Spielberg's flair for substance over style that was present in his earlier blockbusters like Jurassic Park and E.T. is lost here. While Ready Player One is an entertaining thrill ride, its storytelling still feels rather empty. Based on the novel by Ernest

Love, Simon Movie Review: An Applaudable, Crowd-pleasing Gem

Love, Simon is a tremendously acted crowd pleaser that also deserves applause for its cultural importance as well.
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While Love, Simon is deserving of admiration because of its depiction of queer representation on a mainstream level, it should still be lauded for being a well-acted crowd pleaser that is bound to have people laughing, crying, and applauding by the time the credits roll. Despite there being some familiar beats in the storyline, they're still easy to overlook because Love, Simon is a winning film-going experience that tugs the heartstrings with absolute ease. Based on the novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Love, Simon follows the story of a high schooler named Simon Spier (Nick

Allure Movie Review: A Troubled Depiction of a Troubled Romance

Allure is hard to watch at times and is rather troubled but its leading actresses, Evan Rachel Wood and Julia Sarah Stone, still give it their all.
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Allure follows the story of Laura (Evan Rachel Wood), a troubled 30-year-old woman who works as a house cleaner for her father’s company. She’s someone who lives a life in solitude and has had trouble finding love. But that all changes once she meets a teenage girl named Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), a pianist who is dissatisfied with her privileged life with her overbearing mother. Once Laura persuades Eva to stay at her house and inadvertently kidnaps her, both women end up in a relationship fueled by manipulation and obsession. The best way to describe Allure is that despite its

A Wrinkle in Time Movie Review: Wondrous Yet Muddled

While it reaches for the stars with its jaw-dropping visuals, it still is bogged down by its storytelling and short length.
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After delivering the powerful Best Picture nominee Selma and helming the gripping, Oscar-nominated documentary 13th, director Ava DuVernay jumps into the big leagues with the $100 million blockbuster A Wrinkle in Time. However, while the film does reach for the stars with its jaw-dropping visuals mixed with emotional thematic material, it still is nearly bogged down by its predictable and hastily written story. Based on the children’s novel by Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time follows the story of a girl named Meg Murry (Storm Reid) whose physicist father (Chris Pine) has gone missing for four years, leaving her withdrawn.

Annihilation Movie Review: A Beautifully Horrific Piece of Science Fiction

Annihilation is a brilliant mix of sci-fi and horror that is cringe-inducing yet inviting.
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After making his directorial debut with Ex Machina, writer/director Alex Garland brings us his latest opus that is Annihilation, a sci-fi gem that is destined to become a modern-day classic. Because I won't go into full detail about the story to avoid potential spoilers, the best way to describe Annihilation is that it is a web of sci-fi, horror, and intrigue that is puzzling in the best possible ways. It’s one of those movies that has you asking a handful of questions by the time it’s over yet the fact that it is so visually entrancing and features strong performances

Black Panther Movie Review: Marvel's Most Game-Changing Film Yet

Black Panther brings the traditional offerings of a Marvel Cinematic Universe film with its action and humor while still being a story-driven masterpiece.
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When Captain America: Civil War came out in 2016, one of its major highlights was scene stealer Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther. Now, Black Panther has not only gotten his own solo movie but it is the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to date. It offers everything that fans want with its crowd-pleasing humor and action. Yet, it also manages to demonstrate powerful, thought-provoking storytelling. After breathing new life into the Rocky franchise with Creed and wowing critics and audiences with his powerful debut Fruitvale Station, director Ryan Coogler has done it again and gone 3 for 3. The story

The Cloverfield Paradox Movie Review: A Surprise Sequel That Gets Lost In Orbit

Despite its unique release strategy and its committed cast that is rich in diversity, The Cloverfield Paradox is unable to escape the story's tired machinations.
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The Cloverfield Paradox built a lot of hype by announcing that it would be available to stream on Netflix right after the Super Bowl. But unfortunately, the hype surrounding the super secretive and constantly delayed film turned out to be more interesting than the actual film itself. If you’ve seen Alien, Life, or even Gravity, it’s likely that you’ve seen The Cloverfield Paradox which is frustrating since it had potential to be better and a worthy addition to the Cloverfield franchise. Despite the efforts of its terrific cast, The Cloverfield Paradox ends up being an episodic imitation that gets lost

Phantom Thread Movie Review: An Ambiguous Tour De Force

Paul Thomas Anderson's most cerebral, genre-bending effort to date with a tremendous swan song performance by Daniel Day-Lewis.
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One way to describe Phantom Thread is that it is very cerebral. There’s always a lot of focus on the faces of the characters, forcing you to analyze what is going on in their heads which will be frustrating for some viewers. Yet, in spite of its nearly aimless ambiguity, Phantom Thread is still a masterpiece thanks to its Gothic atmosphere along with the mysterious and alluring performances by its main acting trio. Phantom Thread is set 1950’s post-war London and follows the story of dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) along with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). Reynolds has a

Proud Mary Movie Review: A Frustratingly Bad Taraji P. Henson Vehicle

Taraji P. Henson does all she can to salvage greatness out of what is a complete snoozer of an action flick.
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When watching the retro opening credits of Proud Mary where our main heroine is getting prepped up with the song “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” playing the background, it seems like we’re in for an action thrill ride in the vein of '70s blaxploitation films. But then, within the first thirty seconds, our expectations immediately become squandered. It seemed like it would be an exciting John Wick-style vehicle for Taraji P. Henson but it ended up being a complete misfire that does a disservice to her talents. Proud Mary follows the story of a hit woman named Mary (Taraji P.

The Shape of Water Movie Review: A Poetic Love Letter to Cinema

The Shape Of Water is a poetic and transcendent film-watching experience that captures you from the first frame.
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One word can be used to describe The Shape Of Water: Poetic. The Shape Of Water is a poetic demonstration of the magic of storytelling and after the ambitious yet divisive Crimson Peak, it is a return to form for director Guillermo Del Toro who has proven himself to be a master at crafting poetic genre fare like The Devil’s Backbone and one of the best movies ever made, Pan’s Labyrinth. While those two films are classifiable horror films, The Shape Of Water offers a little something for everyone: It’s romantic, adventurous, funny, musical, and horrific, and its eclectic experience

Desert Hearts Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Unsung Queer Classic

Desert Hearts is a groundbreaking yet underrated romantic gem for the history books.
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I never wanted Desert Hearts to end. I didn’t want to leave behind the breathtaking scenery of the desert and I definitely wanted to see more of the chemistry between the two leads. Desert Hearts is an intimate yet flawless gem that captures forbidden love that is apolitical yet groundbreaking during its time of release because it was the first film about a same-sex relationship between two women that isn’t tragic. While LGBTQ+ films that have a political agenda are meant to be told, Desert Hearts is proof that those aren’t the only stories that should be told. Based on

Coco Movie Review: Pixar's Best Since Inside Out

Despite following a standard Pixar formula, Coco is still entertaining and profound regardless.
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Even though Coco follows a standard Disney formula with its storyline about a young child trying to find their true calling, like with Mulan and Moana, it still manages to find ways to reinvent itself. Coco is not just about listening to your inner voice and taking control of your destiny. It’s also about family, forgiveness, and remembrance and it manages to be both entertaining and poignant. Coco follows the story of a boy named Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez), who dreams of becoming a musician and idolizes the late, famed singer Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). However, his family

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Movie Review: The Most Timely Film Of 2017

A dark comedy that is also the film America needs right now.
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Martin McDonagh may be a director from Ireland, but it is eerie how he has crafted a film about America that is so timely with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It deals with a woman starting a rampage against a patriarchal society which could easily mirror how women are standing up to the male-dominated Hollywood in the midst of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. There’s a line that the main character gives about how the police are “too busy torturing black folks to solve actual crimes” which is a demonstration of the ongoing nationwide issue of police brutality against minorities. Lastly,

Lady Bird Movie Review: Greta Gerwig Soars in Her Directorial Debut

Lady Bird takes the tired coming-of-age genre and makes it feel refreshing and naturalistic.
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Actress Greta Gerwig has proven her naturalistic acting chops in films like 20th Century Women, No Strings Attached, and Jackie. But now, she has announced herself as an exciting new filmmaking voice with Lady Bird, her solo directorial debut. Lady Bird may tread into a familiar genre: The coming-of-age dramedy. Yet, it feels distinctive because of how it hits close to home. It may be about a teenager trying to navigate high school but it also speaks to those who long to escape their small-town life and the parents who work tirelessly to make sure their children have a better

The Killing of a Sacred Deer Movie Review: An Ambiguous yet Intriguing Nightmare

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is unsure of its genre identity which makes it an exciting watch.
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When The Killing Of A Sacred Deer first starts, we get a glimpse of a beating heart being operated on with an ominous choir singing in the background. Right then and there, it becomes evident that the film will be a particular kind of experience. While Sacred Deer is a film with a traditional linear narrative, for the most part, it is more of an experience. It is an experimental nightmare that dares you to enter and piece the puzzle together. While you’re watching, you’re trying to figure out what kind of film you’re even seeing which makes The Killing

Thor: Ragnarok Movie Review: Marvel's Best Comedy to Date

Easily the best and most colorful film in the Thor trilogy.
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The previous Thor films have proven to be quite a mixed bag. The first film by Kenneth Branagh was interesting because of how it played into Branagh’s Shakespearean sensibilities. But its sequel Thor: The Dark World was a giant black hole of mediocrity with no creative vision and is the worst film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. Thank goodness for the idiosyncratic visions of director Taika Waititi who does a complete 180 on the first two films by making Thor: Ragnarok into a superhero comedy. While there are moments where Thor: Ragnarok attempts to go serious that don’t

A Bad Moms Christmas Movie Review: A Bittersweet Glass Of Eggnog

It's like deja vu in terms of plot but the cast makes it immensely watchable.
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When the film Bad Moms came out last year, it managed to become a massive summer hit towards the ends of the summer season. It made $183.9 million worldwide and became the highest-grossing film for newbie distributor STX Entertainment. But because the film did incredibly well, that meant it would get a sequel. As it turns out, A Bad Moms Christmas is a slight retread of the original but it is still a slight improvement in terms of laughs. A Bad Moms Christmas continues the story of Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) who are

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