Dallas Movie Screening

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Saturday, December 18, 2021

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Marvel and Sony have been very secretive about this sequel. For those wondering, most of the footage from the trailer for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is only from the first hour of the film. There are plenty of surprises in store for viewers. “No Way Home,” director Jon Watts third outing with the character, picks up exactly where the previous Spider-Man film left off – with the world discovering that Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is Spider-Man thanks to a newscast from J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons) of “The Daily Bugle.”

It’s no surprise that this revelation comes with big consequences for Peter, his friends MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon), and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). The opening scenes deal with all of them struggling with the frenzy of attention from the media, law enforcement, and civilians. Watts takes a handheld approach with the camerawork in these opening sequences, giving the movie a grittier, less polished feel. The movie starts on rough footing, taking a while to ease into its flow.

Looking for a way to return life to some semblance of normal, Peter turns to Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help. Peter convinces Dr. Strange to perform a spell that will cause the world to forget that he is Spider-Man. When the spell goes wrong, dangerous foes are unleashed.

Screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers have crafted the most entertaining of the current phase of Marvel movies. “No Way Home” has an energy that’s been lacking from the other Marvel films released this year, “Black Widow” and “Eternals.” “Eternals” was somewhat of a departure from Marvel’s usual type of movie (which was a pleasant surprise despite the movie not being among the best the studio has released). They continue this trend with “No Way Home,” attempting to create a unique experience using the character’s prior films.

As for the action sequences, they all feel slightly familiar. There’s a fight between Dr. Strange and Spider-Man that feels like it was ripped straight out of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” Derivative or not, the scene is admittedly still a feast of visual effects, perhaps showing us a glimpse of what’s in store for the soon-to-be-released Dr. Strange movie. The sequences where Peter fights the film’s multiple villains could have come from any Spider-Man movie. The same can be said for the shots of Peter swinging through New York City. Watts isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel with the set pieces.

“No Way Home” doesn’t have any trouble filling its lengthy runtime, nearly two and a half hours. There are multiple characters involved in this story, necessitating that Watts perform a balancing act to give them all appropriate screentime. The pacing is well handled, flowing smoothly from sequence to sequence. Although, the lack of filler sequences could mean some viewers will struggle to hold their bladders for the entire length.

While Watts’ movie isn’t as good as its predecessors, it’s still a fun, entertaining superhero movie. In spite of its shaky start, “No Way Home” is able to overcome this to deliver something memorable. The action sequences might not be much to write home about, but Marvel has managed to raise the bar again with what superhero movies can do.

(Review by Bret Oswald)

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A Journal For Jordan

“A Journal for Jordan,” actor turned director Denzel Washington’s latest film, chronicles the relationship between Dana Canedy (Chanté Adams), a journalist for “The New York Times,” and Charles Monroe King (Michael B. Jordan), a United States Army First Sergeant. From the start, we know that something bad has happened – Dana sits alone at her computer and begins typing a letter to their infant son Jordan, setting a somber tone. What exactly happened is saved for a later revelation, though you can probably guess.

Based on Canedy’s memoir “A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor,” Washington’s movie weaves around the couple’s timeline. The story starts in the mid-2000s before jumping back to the late 90s to show Dana and Charles’ initial meeting. Charles is recently divorced with a daughter from the previous marriage. Neither the ex-wife nor the daughter is shown during the movie (although the daughter is mentioned several times), an angle that could have provided more depth for Jordan’s character.

Washington bounces around in time throughout the film. Often, the year is given to us, which at least gives the viewer an idea of whether the event is before or after the birth of Jordan. In other moments, the title card solely says “Six Months Later…” We can only assume that the six months later refers to the previous year shown. There are also a handful of moments where time switches and the only designator is a detail in the scene. For example, a television newscast of a significant event reveals the date at one point. It’s not necessarily confusing, it’s just a little obnoxious.

Overall, “A Journal for Jordan” is a drama. While there are comedic moments, at least there were multiple spots where the audience loudly laughed, the main focus of the film is on the romance between Dana and Charles. Adams and Jordan give average lead performances. Nothing about these roles would make someone exclaim either performer as great actors. They aren’t bad performances, those are all given by the supporting cast (especially Jalon Christian who plays an older Jordan), they just aren’t noteworthy.

The pacing is atrocious – the film’s biggest pitfall. “A Journal for Jordan” moves along at a snail’s pace. Washington bores the audience with what could have been a moving story. Scenes drag on forever. It feels like it takes an eternity for the film to wrap up. Mixed with the acting, this was a little on the torturous side.

Washington’s film is to be released on Christmas Day. It seems better suited for a Valentine’s Day release. It’s a dramedy/tear-jerker that attempts to tug at its viewers’ heartstrings. Perhaps the studio was hoping this would be another award contender like Washington’s previous film, 2016’s “Fences.” Whatever season this is viewed in, it’s a stinker. This is a disappointing follow-up.

(Review by Bret Oswald)

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Spider-Man: No Way Home

***½ (out of ****)

By the end of Spider-Man: No Way Home, we really have no idea what is ahead for Peter Parker and his web-slinging alter ego. That is probably the best thing about this multi-purpose second sequel featuring this iteration of the character, who has always fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe the way a cog fits into a machine. This has been true for some characters in the universe (The recent deluge of television series seems to be working hard to remedy that for those secondary heroes, to be fair), but possibly none of them more than Tom Holland’s version of Peter/Spider-Man. Having been introduced during the heroes-fracturing civil war and the more cosmic one that led to his and so many others’ disappearance, this Peter’s existence has itself always been a loaded scenario.

That made the two previous adventures so surprising and, in their own way, the definitive vision of the dichotomy between Peter and Spider-Man onscreen. In those films, the hero faced two of the best foes in the franchise’s decade-plus history: Both challenged the legacy of Peter’s fallen mentor and his own heroic aspirations, and both were gratefully small-scale in comparison with some of the more intimidating villains this franchise has seen. His newest adventure goes a lot bigger and more multi-dimensional than the previous ones did, and even though the movie technically proves the old adage about bigness and its relationship to betterment, it is an expansive, fittingly emotional, and surprisingly loose and funny installment in both its immediate franchise and the larger one surrounding it.

We pick up precisely where the previous adventure left us: Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) has revealed that Spider-Man’s secret identity is Peter Parker, courtesy of J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) and his “InfoWars”-inspired video channel. This sends Peter’s life into a spiral of unwanted attention, which eventually extends to his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) when none of them receive scholarships to the university they jointly wish to attend. This gives Peter a bright idea: ask fellow world-saver Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell that might make everyone forget what Mysterio did.

Of course, the spell isn’t quite that straightforward, says Strange, and an interruption in the complexities of it leads to an unthinkable consequence: The fabric of space and time is ripped open briefly by their actions, and some new foes appear – well, new to this Peter, in any case. We remember them quite well: Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn/the Green Goblin and Alfred Molina’s Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus from Sam Raimi’s Tobey Maguire-starring trilogy and Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon/Electro from 2014’s Andrew Garfield-starring The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (There are two others, portrayed a little awkwardly by the characters’ digital forms, but these three are the genuinely significant ones). That’s about it in terms of revealing what role these villains will play in this story, as well as any other details about how the timelines of those films might intersect (accidentally or otherwise) with this one.

What can be revealed is that two plans emerge, with one eventually taking precedence. Strange’s coldly pragmatic idea is to send them back to their fate (death in three of the five cases). Peter, with his heart in the right place, can’t let that happen and plots to change the hearts and minds of these villains for good. What follows is a consistently unexpected and often absurdly funny trip through the cinematic past of Spider-Man onscreen – though, to returning director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers’s credit, not by way of a time heist in the tradition of what saved the universe a few movies ago. We get other cameos, as well as a high-flying climax atop the Statue of Liberty (under renovation of a very peculiar kind) that features a most unique team of allies for Peter to fight alongside.

That climax balances heart and a healthy sense of humor with a paradigm shift within the stakes of Spider-Man’s story and the universe-shattering events that seem to be defining this phase of the cinematic universe. Almost miraculously, though, Peter/Spider-Man remains at the center of Spider-Man: No Way Home, a movie that does a whole lot (indeed, perhaps a little too much) but never loses sight of its hero. That’s a superpower in its own right.

Review by Joel Copling

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The Tender Bar

Director: George Clooney

Studio: Amazon Studios

Review: The Tender Bar!

Movies about fathers and sons have been a thing since the dawn of time in Hollywood, but for some films that highlight the relationship between the two may or may not be as emotional as it gets. Usually, it’s not just focused on just dads and sons, sometimes it focuses on other family members who have been a father or mother figure to their own child[ren]. The Tender Bar is based on the 2005 memoir of the same name written by the real novelist J.R. Moehringer. Actor, filmmaker, and Academy Award winner George Clooney, who recently directed The Midnight Sky, receives another directorial gig to helm this piece. The film features Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Daniel Ranieri, and Lily Rabe.

The Tender Bar centers on a young boy named J.R. Moehringer who seeks a replacement for his father, who disappeared shortly after his birth, and bonds with his uncle and his fellow patrons at his uncle’s bar. As he does so, he is soon inspired to become a writer when he learns what his life has turned when his uncle became a father-mentor figure to him as he desperately tries to search for his real father.

The film serves as an acting debut for child actor Daniel Ranieri who carries the main role as young J. R. Moehringer throughout the film while Ben Affleck mentorly (and supportingly) appears as Uncle Charlie who runs a local bar in town. As an actor, Ranieri is learning about acting as well as taking lots of humorous advice from Affleck while working constantly together on and off the set. He seems to be enjoying doing this, but on the inside, Ranieri puts more effort and heart to his character portrayal. Affleck, on the other hand, is great and figuratively serves as a great mentor for young J.R. throughout the plot. He gives some really interesting parts to the film when it comes to bonding with someone in the family, spreads some child-and-adult humorous dialogue along the way, and plays the key role for the film’s story and progress. Tye Sheridan (Ready Player One) also portrays the role as the present day J.R. who is seen going off to Yale University while actress Lily Rabe (American Horror Story) graciously appears on J.R.’s side as his supportive but single mom throughout the film. Sheridan is wonderful despite some on and off screentime, but the main star of the show is Rabe. Rabe is amazing right there, showing how mothers bring some heartfelt moments and life’s greatest advice while taking care of a son as he grows up to be a happier person.

With Clooney’s direction, the plot feels empty and emotionless as the film only focuses on J.R. ‘s life and not the bar itself. The bar setting, shown in the film, becomes the main attraction for the film’s entirety where J.R. and Charlie’s true happiness lies ahead as they grow up to learn drinking, smoking, family life, and education without having to go to school thanks to Clooney’s R-Rated directorial intake and the unintentional script-writing coming from Oscar screen-writing winner William Monahan (The Departed). Even the strong language in this R-rated film doesn't seem helpful enough to increase higher points. While there’s a lot of darkness and depressing moments upon seeing the drinking and smoking scenes, Clooney, however, did demonstrate the bonding chemistry between Affleck’s Uncle Charlie role and Ranieri’s J.R. role, which is very emotionally effective that can teach most fathers and uncles a powerful lesson, even for myself too. This is a film where lots of people need to take upon whilst looking after one another in their lively adulthood.

Also present in the film are Christopher Lloyd (Back To The Future trilogy), Sondra James (Joker), Briana Middleton (also her acting debut in a feature film), and Max Martini (Saving Private Ryan). They both played as Grandpa, Grandma, J.R. 's ex-girlfriend Sidney, and J.R. 's estranged, alcoholic father called “The Voice,” who is also a radio host. Just FYI news to you, this is Sondra James’ final film at the time of her passing.

I’m not really picky about movies, but The Tender Bar is not a good 100-minute movie, just average, but not so terrible. Though only the actors Affleck, Sheridan, Ranieri, and Rabe did a terrific job on their acting roles, which is what makes this film nice to enjoy. Everything else, not so much. Hate to disagree with you, but I think this movie is not worth my time. Maybe it’s a good one if you’re a Ben Affleck type-of-guy. So, sorry to say this, but this film is a hard pass due to Clooney's inconvenient directing style, boring screenplays, and lack of heart they put much through.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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Spider-Man: No Way Home

Director: Jon Watts

Studio: Columbia Pictures/Marvel Studios

The world collides with Spider-Man: No Way Home!

If you guys haven’t seen Spider-Man: Far From Home, then please do not watch No Way Home yet as the filmmakers and cast wants you to refrain from any spoilers and not jump to conclusions on these films since lots of people, especially Spider-Man fans, are looking forward to this anticipated sequel. It’s going to be worth the wait where we get to see a lot of action coming from the returning director Jon Watts and the Spider-Man characters from the past but as this sequel wraps up on the MCU’s own Spider-Man trilogy, there are some plans for future Spider-Man films according to the studio executives and producers. Who knows, maybe it’s going to be the end or not. The film features the returning stars of Tom Holland, Zendaya, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

As depicted from Far From Home, Spider-Man: No Way Home focuses on Peter Parker whose main identity as Spider-Man was publicly exposed by Mysterio, leading his life and reputation to be turned upside down. Desperate for help, Parker seeks Dr. Stephen Strange to help him restore his secret identity. However, Parker soon discovers that restoring his secret identity breaks the open barrier of the multiverse, allowing the five supervillains from alternate realities to arrive and fight back.

MCU actor Tom Holland reprises his role as Peter Parker/Spider-Man while Zendaya reprises her role as MJ, Parker’s girlfriend. In this film, it shows how Holland has grown up and learns the responsibility of his powers and his well being, showing how real depth of his character has gone through. Of course, he doesn't have much needed rest in the film, he really pushes his limits to impress in the majority of his scenes. This goes to show that he really proves that Spider-Man is a top notch hero for the MCU. And as for both Holland and Zendaya when it comes to onscreen acting, they are what makes the film enjoyable and happier to see due to their stunning chemistry and the dynamic relationship between MJ and Peter. Regardless of what everything goes on, they are a pretty strong couple and it is just nice for a comic book film to have a relationship that feels so smooth and natural without overpowering the film’s plot.

Returning MCU cast came back to life. Benedict Cumberbatch reprises his role as Dr. Stephen Strange and he is amazing. He looks more mature in his role and has different viewpoints to Spider-Man onscreen. He even adds some really interesting parts to the film and plays a unique role in the progress of the story. Jacob Batalon is back, reprising his role as Ned. As an actor, his acting is greater than the way he acts in Far From Home. He is just a fun, lovable character (and a sidekick) who always supports Peter like any ordinary BFFs out there. This time, he is way more involved with Spider-Man and really improves his character so much as if he is having a blast working on this sequel. Actor Tony Revolori hilariously makes his onscreen return as Eugene “Flash” Thompson, Peter’s classmate and rival. Benedict Wong is also here, briefly appearing as Wong, Strange’s mentor and friend despite having less screentime in order to save room for his acting gig in the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel while Jon Favreau returns as Happy Hogan, who looks after Peter Parker. And lastly, we have Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) coming back as Aunt May and this time, she carries a much more supportive role than ever for Holland, tightening the character dynamics between her and Holland's Peter Parker which is what makes their relationship feel so real in every scene.

The one and only returning director for this anticipated sequel is Jon Watts himself. He crafts the story with the endless influences from Sam Raimi, who later directs the next MCU film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Marc Webb, and the Russo brothers. With his tireless direction, he makes the story really great with a side of emotional tones aiming towards Holland’s own Spider-Man persona and all the multiverse elements that threaten the world and to Spider-Man. While Watts really freshens up Peter Parker's real character arc between his human lifestyle and his superhero ego, it incredibly serves as a real highlight for the film’s plot points, giving some decent thumbnails along the way. It is obviously great seeing the returning villainy actors and they are treated with respect as the characters are furtherly explored. Even the ending is a fun-ride and feels well-deserved in its entirety because this is something anyone should invest in.

Speaking of villains, the film’s villain team includes Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Thomas Haden Church, Rhys Ifans, and Jamie Foxx, reprising their roles as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, Otto Octavious/Doctor Octopus, Flint Marko/Sandman, Curt Connors/Lizard, and Max Dillion/Electro from alternate realities. All of them are amazing and filled with energy in their villainy parts, but Dafoe and Molina really flourish in their roles and outshine them all, but the biggest surprise is Foxx as Max Dillon/Electro. His acting as a villain became a remarkable improvement than he was in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The returning actors Charlie Cox (Daredevil) and J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) are also present in the film, reprising their roles as Matt Murdoch and J. Jonah Jameson respectively.

This film is one serious, killer crossover due to several different characters and elements being used in the film compared favorably to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame thanks to the wonderful action sequences, the visuals, the CGI usages, and the script-writing. Though it’s totally understandable that some script writing talents in various MCU films often get criticised for their lazy writing, including adding too much comedy and humour in them, but for this film, it's a perfect balance that has been properly well-handled right here. Another noticeable object is that there are some funny moments here that give lots of die-hard laughs on the outside, but on the inside, they didn't outwit the serious, killer parts of the film. Even the pacing for the film is also very good, despite being two and a half hours of the film’s runtime, but it never felt that it was way too long as there isn't really any flaw or filler being present, which is an impressive accomplishment.

Overall, Spider-Man: No Way Home is the greatest, most epic film that really lives up to its name, absolutely being called one of the best films I ever watched in 2021. It really exceeds my expectations and it’s the endgame for all of you no doubt. Holland, Zendaya, and the returning cast are what really made it all possible thanks to the director’s genius eye. The action sequences and the visuals are up to par, everything else is really fun and seeing how the MCU’s own Spider-Man going against villains from the other franchises works very well in many cinematic levels, allowing the fun-filled sequences to be the center of attention for people to digest heavily with oxygen being blown out of their mouths. I promise you this is an extremely must and it’s a Spider-Man dream film everyone’s been waiting for. You will love it based on my expectations from some MCU films from the past, including Avengers: Endgame. And that is all I’m going to say, I can’t give anymore details from what I saw in the film. One last thing, please stick around during and after the end credits. You’ll get a good surprise on what happens next.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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8-Bit Christmas

Director: Michael Dowse

Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema

Level up for 8-Bit Christmas but level down on full power!

This week, we’re heading back to the good ol 'Christmas 1980s roots. Truth be told, some critics had some doubtful but very little expectations for this new holiday film. The film is based on the story written by Kevin Jakubowski, who also serves as the head writer. And of course, if you guys had previously read the book and found it was just “okay" while you’re viewing the trailer at the same time, it makes you think that this film can be little more than goofy kids stuff just like Home Alone or Jim Carrey’s The Grinch movie. But in a surprising turn of events, 8-Bit Christmas is a holiday movie that stands the test of time for viewers of all ages, featuring the cast members of Neil Patrick Harris, Winslow Fegley, June Diane Raphael, and Steve Zahn.

8-Bit Christmas takes place in 1988 and tells the story of a young boy named Jake Doyle, the prototypical 80s kid who wants just one thing for Christmas: a Nintendo Entertainment System. Much like Ralphie chasing his beloved Red Ryder, Jake concocts scheme after scheme (often featuring his grade school pals) to make sure a NES is underneath the tree on Christmas morning.

Child actor Winslow Fegley (Disney+ Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made) stars in the film as young Jake Doyle, a prototypical 80s kid who only wishes to have a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas while Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) portrays an adult version of Jake Doyle.

The film is directed by Michael Dowse whose recent projects include The F Word (featuring Daniel Radcliffe) and Stuber (one with Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista in it). With his direction in one hand, the story of 8-Bit Christmas is very much nostalgia-bait for 80s (and even early 90s) kids. It is filled with period-specific references, decor, clothing, language, and other holiday goodies from several Christmas 80s films, including 1983’s A Christmas Story. Fortunately for the cast and crew members, it never comes off as too hokey or pandering when shooting multiple scenes on the set and guiding each other on what Christmas movies are all about. Dowse really does a remarkable job of capturing the essence of that Christmas time period, making it look as if this is another John Hughes movie or something. It often makes me think (and to feel) like this is a Christmas flick where one excels higher expectations.

Speaking of references, this film is basically like a retelling of A Christmas Story, but in a modernized way. If one like myself can take a guess today, we must know that we live in a dastardly world filled with technology, streaming services, and newer video game systems being released, such as Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 5 (or PS5 for short), with the latter is something people are worth fighting for to get those game systems like it was Black Friday in the nutshell. It is also noted that the story also strongly believes that one can enjoy this movie even without being born somewhere in the 1980s or 1990s.

As the film is enjoyable and pleasant, some disappointments came up about this film. The story seems to be sloppy and somewhat flawful as they try to replicate the successes of those decorative Christmas 80s films and other source materials. The script-writing seems to be dimmer and less lazier than ever. Even throwing too much comedy in there isn’t helping as well, but despite some goofier material and spoiled-sassy moments being present throughout the film, this movie has a poignant family-based message about the holiday season. Final thing,iIn case you’re wondering, the entire film plot is basically a time-frame narrative told by Adult Jake (portrayed by Neil Patrick Harris), and it features some great performances by Young Jake's parents (both portrayed by Steve Zahn and June Diane Raphael).

I’m not going to be judgemental this time when it comes to Christmas movies, but I have to say 8-Bit Christmas is an ok 100-minute movie from the way pop cultures worked back in the 1980s-era. The actors in this film nailed it in every which way. It’s a movie for parents and teenagers, but for children, I highly caution this for the sake of any PG-13 rating exposures being present. In case anyone is asking, this is the one to show what it was like back then based on your childhood. Despite some downfalls and lack of anything new, at least I’m glad this film is not a reboot to any classic Christmas films. You may or may not like it, but this Christmas movie is something you should put on your holiday watch list. The film is up on HBO Max.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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Swan Song

(Review by Chase Lee)

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Spider-Man: No Way Home

(Review by Chase Lee)

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Thursday, December 9, 2021

No Time to Die

The latest James Bond entry “No Time To Die,’ finally hit theatres with a worldwide theatrical release.

It marks Daniel Craig’s return to the 007 role that he has played since his James Bond debut in 2006’s “Casino Royale,” one of the better entries in the series as of late.

With “No Time To Die,” his Bond character faces bad guys aplenty, especially Rami Malek’s Lyutisfer Safin, a horticulturist who deals in toxic exotic plants and the like.

Also returning in “Die” are Jeffrey Wright, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes and Léa Seydou. Seydoux shared screen time with Craig’s character in 2015’s “Spectre,” one of the better Bond entries as of late.

New in this entry is Ana de Armas’s Paloma character who states she has just had the new job for three weeks only. Paloma can handle herself just fine, since she and Bond get into a couple of scrapes together. This includes some fisticuffs fights and battles together, with Paloma fighting on all cylinders with some leg sweeeps and the like.

Don't forget the pair were great in Rian Johnson's "Knives Out" in 2019. That comedy-mystery found the duo working well together, sharing an easygoing rapport that translated well for the screen. So readers know, they've already a planned a trilogy of those characters to be coming out past 2021.

Waltz shows his disdain and muster with Bond in that he touts of his superiority in that all of his questions and answers reside in his downright downfall.

Wright’s Felix Leiter looks to Bond as a trustworthy friend and ally, something each hold dear to their friendship.

Also adding great support is Ben Whishaw’s Q character. As usual, he provides access to transportation to both Bond and Lashana Lynch’s Nomi in that of a flying contraption to aid in their mission.

Directing chores for “No Time to Die” were handled by Cary Joji Fukunaga, who has helmed the well-received “Beasts of No Nation” in 2015.

With “No Time To Die,” the pieces are all in place, but a certain gravitas is missing with said execution of all the dynamics within.

Writing chores for “No Time To Die” were scribed by writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. In this tale, the family dynamics take a place in center stage, since misogyny and philandering are put in the back seat altogether. I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure, since it constantly finds new ways of weaving the tableau to make it more dynamic altogether.

If one looks closer at the characters, they will see that Purvis, Wade and Joi Fukunaga receive story by credits as well along with writer Ian Fleming whose characters make up the general story.

“No Time To Die” was worth the wait, even though we had the COVID predicament and dilemma to deal with. At least it’s not like the old days wherein one had years to wait until the next chapter rolls around.


(Review by Ricky Miller)

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The French Dispatch

Wes Anderson is a director most people either adore or dislike. I am part of the former, since almost everything he’s done is pure gold to me.

I’ve interviewed him twice. The first was for “Bottle Rocket,” his debut movie in 1996 that paired Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Andy Wilson and James Caan. I then interviewed him again for “Rushmore,” another quirky comedy that followed the exploits of Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman). At the time, I was attending the university of North Texas and was a student there. The studio had a “Rushmore” bus wherein the movie was premiered went from different colleges and universities all over the United States. I even remember Schwartzman grabbing a guitar and non-chalantly playing a few chords on the guitar. Schwartzman obviously did not want to be there, but just felt obligated to participate in the press junket.

Going back to “Rushmore,” his character Max Fischer was an overachiever since he was the founder of many clubs, including the Rushmore Beekeepers Society, the fencing club, yellow belt in the Kung Fu club, he is also President of the French club and the aviation club with the Piper Cub Club and 4.5 hours lodged in.

Like a filmmaker such as Woody Allen, Anderson has his own cast of actors that he has with actors such as Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Jeffrey Wright and recent Oscar winner Frances McDormand. Anderson has recently crafted an intriguing tale with everything involved with “The French Dispatch, “ is the full name of the title: “The French Dispatch of the , Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun.”

With the first tale in the story, Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro is Moses Rosenthaler an incarcerated prisoner who does not want to part ways with a piece that he holds very dear. Adrien Brody’s Julian Cadazio wants to own the painting, but Rosenthaler does not want to part ways with it. Lots of hijinks ensue, but everything almost works out in the end.

The second story involves Timothée Chalamet’s Zeffirelli, who is having an affair with Frances McDormand’s Lucinda Krementz. It is very brief, since he changes midstream and finds someone his own age Léa Seydoux . Their love looks like its going to last, however. Simone and Zeffirelli looks like it will stand the test of time.

The writing credits for “The French Dispatch” are a varied lot. Besides Anderson, Roman Coppola, Hugh Guiness and Jason Schwartzman contributed story by credits to their resumes.

I am not a prude, but this movie contains a lot of nudity. They are used in spaces for Rosenthaler’s artwork as well as just everyday life.

What was really cool was hearing the voice of Anjelica Huston for part of the voice over narration. This is ironic, since she worked with Anderson previously on “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

Although this was not part of Anderson’s upper crust in the storytelling dynamic, it is certainly better than most of the shlock that Hollywood gives to the masses day in and day out.


(Review by Ricky Miller)

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(Review by Chase Lee)

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West Side Story

(Review by Chase Lee)

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Written and directed by Nathalie Biancheri, “Wolf” is an oddball slice of cinema. Biancheri centers her drama on a disease called species dysphoria, a mental disorder where the sufferer believes that they are actually an animal stuck in the body of a human. In the case of protagonist Jacob (George MacKay) that animal is a wolf.

In the facility, Jacob interacts with other patients with the same disease. Among them are patients who think they are a wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp), a German shepherd (Fionn O’Shea), a parrot (Lola Petticrew), a horse (Elsa Fionuir), a duck (Senan Jennings), a squirrel (Darragh Shannon), a spider (Amy Macken), and a panda (Karise Yansen). Jacob and wildcat quickly form a relationship. Wildcat appears to be close to overcoming her affliction (she’s given certain freedoms within the facility) but the relationship with Jacob seems to cause her to backtrack.

The action of the film takes place almost entirely within the confines of the treatment facility where Jacob is admitted at the start. The doctor (Paddy Considine) in charge of the facility uses harsh and inhumane methods on his patients, implying that the film is meant as a sort of indictment of mental health treatment. Patients are seen being guided around the grounds with collars and leashes and, if they are bad, bound and locked in cages.

Despite the oddity of the premise, the actors are all entirely committed to the weirdness. At times the patients interact as humans while at others they become the animal, conversing in the mannerisms of their chosen species. The mechanics of the disease don’t make much sense. If they believe they’re an animal, shouldn’t they always act like that animal? There is a lot of footage of MacKay and Depp roaming the halls at night as their respective animals. Their nighttime adventures raise many questions about the ineptness of the doctor and his staff. If these patients are known to prowl as animals, shouldn’t there be safeguards in place to prevent these nightly outings?

There is little story to “Wolf.” It mainly exists to offer viewers a glimpse into this strange world. Even with a fairly short runtime, “Wolf” feels like it plods along. Despite the cruelty of the doctor, it feels like there is little to no conflict within the story and there’s no growth to any of the characters. If Biancheri intended some deeper allegory to the story and characters it was completely lost on this viewer.

At least the photography from cinematographer Michal Dymek is interesting. He gives the visuals a suitably cold and aloof appearance, mirroring the environment that Jacob finds himself in. Although, the film’s cinematography gives off strong vibes of other arthouse movies.

Ultimately, “Wolf” is a movie that doesn’t entirely satisfy. It’s got an intriguing idea but doesn’t do much with it. There are too many moments where you feel like you are forcing yourself to continue watching for it to be a pleasurable experience (if you could call this type of story a pleasurable experience). Although this isn’t a particularly great movie, I’d say this is worth a watch with one caveat – make it a rental rather than a theatrical excursion.

(Review by Bret Oswald)

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Director Paul Verhoeven is known for pushing boundaries with his films. His latest, the 17th-century set “Bendetta,” is no different. Although, in this case, the film, about a nun, is also considered blasphemous and is already causing scandal among religious groups.

The movie, based on a true story and a book by Judith C. Brown entitled “Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy,” follows the titular nun Benedetta (Virginie Efira). As a youth, Benedetta was pledged to the church. She told everyone she encountered of her relationship with the Virgin Mary, who did everything Benedetta asked of her. A band of thieves attempts to rob her and her parents on their way to the convent. The attempt is thwarted after Benedetta speaks up to the leader and an act of nature is seen as a response from the Virgin Mary.

As an adult, Benedetta begins to have visions. Many of these involve Jesus, who proclaims that she is to become his wife. At times, the visions are violent and Jesus saves her from danger.

Shortly, Verhoeven introduces a new nun, Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia). Bartolomea has a history of abuse, seen joining the convent as her father attempts to beat her. She quickly takes a liking to Benedetta. The film includes a scene where Benedetta and Bartolomea bond while pooping. The two women soon begin a secret, physical affair.

If any of the above descriptions cause you even a bit of discomfort, it’s probably a good idea to seek out a different film for your viewing. From here, Verhoeven only further pushes the boundaries. Religious folks will especially find this movie distasteful – there’s a scene involving a statue of the Virgin Mary being used for carnal pleasures. The viewer is left to decide whether this is art or trash.

The always great Charlotte Rampling also stars as the convent’s abbess, Felicita. She (and her daughter) is the voice of reason within the convent. As Benedetta’s visions get more intense, resulting in the appearance of stigmata, she questions whether Benedetta is truly performing miracles or is she just a madwoman inflicting these wounds on herself.

From a filmmaking perspective, “Benedetta” doesn’t really do anything remarkable. The cinematography and production are fine, though nothing we haven’t seen before. Performances are likewise good although no one really sticks out as giving a spectacular performance here. At times, Efira goes into loud vocal spells, reminiscent of the demonic voice in “The Exorcist,” that are impressive, showcasing the actress’s ability to change character at the drop of a dime.

Altogether, this movie didn’t really do much of anything for me. I’m more than a little surprised at the acclaim I keep hearing for it (and the fact that it’s made multiple best-of lists for this year). It’s not a horrible movie though it is easy to see why some would hate it. I’d say that “Benedetta” is average at best.

(Review by Bret Oswald)

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Licorice Pizza

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Studio: MGM/Focus Features

Licorice Pizza is certainly one of the year end’s greats.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson is always a San Francisco type-of-guy, using his own experiences to craft such touching, remarkable stories in his entire life. But that’s how any ordinary filmmaker can do technically, because his ways of sporting the San Francisco colors are something to build a “powerful story-telling momentum" as they say, just like some viewers and other critics who start asking what goes around, comes around on this two-hour mark about what the movie is going to be truly about. While he serves as a head writer for this film, Licorice Pizza features the main newcomers of Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza takes place in 1973 and follows the story of two lovers, Alana Kane and Gary Valentine, who are growing up, running around town, and going through the treacherous navigation and meaningful definitions of first love while living in the San Fernando Valley.

Alana Haim portrays Alana Kane in the film while Cooper Hoffman, the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, receives his supportive, but superior role as Gary Valentine, a young-teenage actor who falls in love with Alana Kane. As new actors, both of them are outstanding and undeniable, mentoring each other onscreen and off the set while learning the apex predator of this dynamic acting. Even though it’s their first time acting in the film, they seem to be very natural at this and they really studied the cultural roots of young acting regardless of their age differences. For Hoffman, he certainly has the busted chops to sculpt a fully-believable and relatively-complex character, while Haim, on the other hand, is simply hilarious, charming, and attractive for many boys and male actors to glore their eyes from.

With Anderson putting his own work of art as director, the film, the editing, and the settings are also a very effective time loop. It’s not a time-traveling movie or something like that, it certainly feels like an old school California era where people enjoy their freedom, similar to what Quentin Tarantino did for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, in my own honest opinion. It feels way more genuine and extremely impressive. Anderson not only builds the 1970s San Francisco play but he also guides us through their many assorted misadventures thanks to the chemistry between Haim and Hoffman. But hey, it’s a stealth mode and fairly easy to buy as many film directors can’t be wrong about drama or romantic films. Licorice Pizza may be a slight difficulty to watch, depending on the story or the character’s climax for the audiences but the admiration of Anderson's colorful style will likely soar up the eyes of wonder. This is one of those films where people say “great films, bad judge of characters (or direction)” for that matter.

Also appearing in the film are Academy Award winner Sean Penn (Mystic River), musician Tom Waits, and filmmaker Benny Sadfie (Uncut Gems). They played as actor Jack Holden, film director Rex Blau, and American politician Joel Wachs respectively. Several actors appeared in this film, despite having less screentimes, that are recognizable to see. Here, we have Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, A Star is Born) as film producer Jon Peters, John Michael Higgins (HBO’s The Late Shift) as Jerry Frick, John C. Reilly (Chicago) as actor Fred Gwynne, George DiCaprio (Leonardo DiCaprio’s father) as Mr. Jack, and Anderson’s wife Maya Rudolph (Saturday Night Live) as Gale.

Frankly and dearly, Licorice Pizza is one of the greatest films I have ever seen, clocking in at 133 minutes. It is probably Paul Thomas Anderson's most creative and charming movie in general. But the main event is Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman who made this film just as exciting as ever. For much tone wise, it’s a sucker punch to learn something from any of his other movies. It's really long, but all of a sudden, it’s just a majorly enjoyable and mostly calming delve into young love into the old world (with a slight touch of abnormality in it). This film should be welcomed in the Academy Award community to be honest and this should be a great movie for everyone of all ages, despite the bad language being used in the film. I hope this film will earn lots of Oscar nominations for directing, screenplay, editing, acting, whatever. It’s absolutely magnificent to try and it’s something that cannot be ignored. And that my friends is how I live dangerously by those rules when it comes to movies.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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Being the Ricardos

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Studio: Amazon Studios

New cinematic episode of I Love Lucy is here, and it’s called Being the Ricardos!

As to what really defines what film is all about, romantic films do not always end with the boy-gets-the-girl part nor doesn't have to be associated with anything that has something to do with the word “love” in it. To add to that comment, the film is heavily based on the real-life CBS television show I Love Lucy featuring the real-life stars Lucille Ball and her then-husband, Desi Arnaz. Director Aaron Sorkin takes the spotlight to direct this film-within-a-television-show featuring the acting duo of Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem.

Being the Ricardos centers on the relationship between two television stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as they have been threatened by the press and the studio whether they should hold on and continue their complex-professional married relationship to each other in real-life during their week of critical-crucial production of I Love Lucy.

Academy Award winners Nicole Kidman (The Hours) and Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men) starred in the film as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the main stars of the American television sitcom I Love Lucy. The pair are actually lovers in real life, but in the end, they split. As Kidman struggles to portray a real-life television actress and a housewife altogether, she seems to be really good at it on her own meatier part. She brings a lot of mighty feminist power against men at all odds as a main signaling message about films and television shows, which is one thing many Oscar contending actresses should do. Bardem, on the other hand, really killed it as a real-life television actor, a talented singer, and an ordinary average (though somewhat absent-minded) husband. He certainly knows his own pros and cons whenever a fellow actress or filmmaker needed him.

Although the title is very misleading as there isn’t any character with the name Ricardo in it, the film is nonetheless directed by Aaron Sorkin who wanted to give this film a refreshing take on I Love Lucy as if it looks like he wants to make a new episode for that show. He is known for writing the The Social Network, directed by David Fincher, and recently helmed The Trial of Chicago 7, for which he received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay Oscar. For Sorkin’s directorial duty on this, he shoots for the big and small screens on this one as he knows what he’s been doing on every step and direction out of the way. He is really what makes the story completely organized and roughly smooth from start to finish until it reaches the climax between Kidman and Bardem with huge amounts of nervousness, intensity, and shocking displays of color bloating around the set. On the side note, the production designs, the editing, and the cinematography seem to be in order likewise.

The film is sorta like a mystery as lots of people, the media press, and the audiences wanted to find out if these two I Love Lucy actors are actually married couples. Some parts of the film contained documentary-like scenes using some actors to act as real-life I Love Lucy filmmakers to make it look like they are still living today. In addition, some of the scenes are shot black-and-white to match the representation of the show and the setting, which is what Aaron Sorkin really wanted as he needs to keep this film as accurate as the 1950s CBS television sitcom. And for that matter, Lucille and Desi’s children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. came onboard as executive producers of the film.

The rest of the cast are included as well: Jake Lacy (NBC’s The Office) as Bob Carroll Jr., J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) as William Frawley, Nina Arianda (Amazon Studios’ Goliath) as Vivian Vance, Tony Hale (Arrested Development, Toy Story 4) as I Love Lucy executive producer Jess Oppenheimer, Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) as Madelyn Pugh, and Clark Gregg (Marvel’s The Avengers) as CBS executive Howard Wenke.

Being the Ricardos is a great film, despite its misleading title. It clocks around at least 125 minutes, but it’s a movie criteria that meets its steady procedures for any romantic films and Oscar worthy films and contenders. Kidman and Bardem really fit the bill for their chemistry acting and so does the rest of the cast, but Kidman really outshines them all. I’m pretty sure that, despite the film being any greater, people will start to complain about married couples kissing and touching each other right there, but I think those reflect in real-life today and are part of the plot that demands them. So if you want to watch this, you can, but I highly recommend watching the television show first (or at least a couple episodes of it) before heading on over to this film. It’s a film that gave Amazon Studios a run of its money.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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West Side Story

Director: Steven Spielberg

Studio: 20th Century Studios

Steven Spielberg’s reimagining West Side Story brings the joyful, spectacular musical event to fans who grew up with the musical of the same name for many generations.

If you want something from Steven Spielberg, you’re in for a special treat because this new version marks Spielberg's first time directing a musical film, marking this film the second feature film adaptation, following the classic 1961 version. And of course, if you read my previous reviews about remakes and reboots at all, you must know that I have a huge distaste for them. For this one, it’s something you should give it a shot. Based on the 1957 stage musical of the same name and written by Tony Kushner, this film features the stars of Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler.

In this version of West Side Story, it takes place in 1950s New York City and it focuses on two young teenagers Maria and Tony whose ill-fated romance sparks the fires of the bitter rivalry between the local street gangs, the Sharks and Jets.

Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver) portrays his meatier-gangster role as Tony while Hollywood newcomer Rachel Zegler (in her feature film debut) joins in on his side as Tony’s love interest Maria. Elgort is really amazing trying to keep his musical acting elements swell without missing a beat. However, he really falls flat on some musical key numbers and scenes as if he struggles to maintain balance and delicacy when he tries his best to imitate the moves and the action for his Tony character compared to the classical version. Zegler, on the other hand, is very brilliant and stirring, giving her Maria character a bold, enduring taste in character development. The onscreen chemistry coming from them is truly magnificent as they put a tremendous amount of romantic perspectives and faithfulness to the West Side Story musicals and sources.

The whole reason why the West Side Story remake went into effect is thanks to the Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg who wanted to relive the classic 1961 film. Under his direction, the story is well told with the central themes of human being, love, and hate regardless of the differences of anyone. He knows how these messages impact many people’s lives no matter what differences they have from the past. It’s a voice that needs to be spread and shattered from silence and it is something many people in real-life take for granted as of today. So, he took matters into his own hands by taking advantage of this classic film and turned it into something free and creative while still following the footsteps from musical film director Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins, and cinematographers who have worked on this beloved original film.

With this new version of West Side Story, the pieces are all in place with well-said execution of all the dynamics within. The modernized, nostalgic musical numbers and the stirring choreography orchestrated by Justin Peck are absolutely well-handled as if the setting looks like the present day New York. Especially the music coming from Leonard Berstein, with lyrics produced by Stephen Sondhiem and score arranged by film composer David Newman, are exquisite and flawless. The acting-dancing casts, the filming crews, and the music mix-ups are very genuine as they knew that it takes a lot of commitment, pride, and dedication to provide and rehearse the musical pieces without fail. Musical films are hard work but it’s important to remember it takes a lot of musical dancers and actors to find and get back onto the right beats per measure without rushing or dragging. With that, this film meets all of its demands, the scope, and musical roots, better than what most recent Disney live-action remakes would have.

While the Jets and Sharks cast did a super-duper job nailing their acting and dancing routines, the film also includes the talented, wonderful actors and dancers present in the film; Ariana DeBose (Disney+ Hamilton) as Anita, David Alvarez as Bernardo, and Mike Faist as Riff. And surprisingly, for a huge bonus points to make this film nostalgically, we have the returning Rita Moreno, who won Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Anita in the 1961 film adaptation of the musical, appears in the remake in her new role as Valentina and serves as an executive producer for this film.

With many colorful-modernized dancing numbers, emotional tones, and beautiful reviving choreography, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story is a spectacular, musical event, lying down to be one of the greatest musical films of all time, chipping in at 156 minutes. I really loved the film as this film holds a very special place in our hearts, eyes, minds, and the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony who, admittedly, all grew up with the 1961 version. So, kudos to 20th Century Studios, Steven Spielberg, the cast, and the crew (mostly Rachel Zegler, Ariana Debose, and Rita Moreno) who all did a marvelous job telling stories about breaking the sound barriers about social acceptance, diversity, and the future of humankind. Steven Spielberg always gets away with the classics and remakes. Once the film is released, you really should watch it right away, or maybe on Christmas Day as your Christmas gift for an outing.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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Red Rocket

Director: Sean Baker

Studio: A24

Red Rocket blasts off at the speed of light!

Red Rocket is a typical, average drama-indie film that focuses on the washed-up porn star named Mikey Saber who now returns to his small hometown in Texas despite most of the people he knew don't really want him back in their presence. He now comes back to his estranged wife’s house to spend some nights there while seeking employment around town to help pay his ex-wife’s house rent.

Actor and a real-life (but former) porn star Simon Rex (Scary Movie films) receives his meatier-protagonist role as Mikey Saber, a former porn star who travels back to his small hometown in Texas while actress Bree Elrod appears as Mikey’s estranged ex-wife Lexi who reluctantly lets him spend some nights there at her mother Lil’s (portrayed by Brenda Deiss) house until he finds the job to pay the rent of his ex-wife’s mother’s house before deciding to head back to Los Angeles. As an actor, Rex is the man with the plan right there, but has never found a way to excel at all costs. He does have a plan to get back up and revitalize his career, but it requires him to reconnect with his old folks from his past who openly dislike his porn star career.

Under Baker’s direction, the middle act is bloated and not so bright, with much nudity being displayed and long stretches given for light material. He and his crackling filmmaking team explore the themes of hardship and drug life that made the film not to mentally break from that developmental society-mold when it comes to Simon Rex’s supporting characters. For Mikey's journey, his ultimate goal is to get back up on top, even though he sees dark and depressing moments around him as he rekindles with a drug queen that sees her business as a safety net for Lexi’s family. Under his own terms of movie characters, Baker respects Rex and the supporting cast, though Baker’s relationship with Simon Rex seems to be more complex and complicated. Rex as Mikey is a person that you love that you later hate and then bring back the love on and off. He’s like a person you showed dislike to him (and vice-versa). It’s not like you find this very gloomy, you will find this very amusing and intrinsically drawn to him because of his driving ambition, but as the film progresses, Mikey's grand plan comes closer to the film’s turning point that will lead you to shiver and ponder like crazy.

The film also provides some brink of American society as Baker utilizes these situations to explain the unforeseen popularity of Donald Trump on his presidential run-up and media campaign to the 2016 election. Baker's illustration about the allure of Trump doesn't try to be a grand statement for America itself, which is not a typical idea as the messages come together that are completely cleaner and understandable than the ones found in mainstream media and social media by all accounts.

Many thanks to the brilliant acting performance from Rex himself, there’s a lot of emotional responses coming from him whose most prominent role from been a recurring supporting part in the Scary Movie franchise to this film right now with some pornographic solo scenes being filmed in a series of straight-to-video porn releases. It’s almost as if he has lived the life of Mikey throughout the strings of pronograpghy in his entire career, Rex knows how to play the type of sleazy adult-oriented charmer.

While it does contain perfect casting, Red Rocket is an ok, maybe not a perfect movie as a whole. Baker has always found the sweeter side of things in America, which is something that is often unauthentically portrayed in Hollywood. With a runtime of 128 minutes, the film contains enough material for a tighter 100 minutes of the story. Still, with the overly fatty-meatier role given for Rex and the cast more than enough to chew on, resulting in an emotional rollercoaster that couldn't be replicated by bigger productions. Slotting in nicely for Baker's filmography and for distributor A24, Red Rocket is one heck of a ride of a lifetime from beginning to end, though it doesn’t reach the levels of any critically-acclaimed Oscar worthy films for that kind of flavor.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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Friday, November 26, 2021

House of Gucci

“House of Gucci” is the second Ridley Scott film to be released in the last couple of months. The first, “The Last Duel,” released in early October, is fantastic. It’s a medieval epic, reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” that sucks the viewer in with its presentation of the same story told from three perspectives. Unfortunately, this review isn’t about that movie. Those hoping for a double whammy of greatness are going to have to check their expectations at the door because “House of Gucci” is, in a word, awful.

I can’t think of a single thing I liked about this movie – I guess the set design and costumes were ok. “House of Gucci” is a film that feels simultaneously too long and hastily made. Scott jumps around with questionable edits and random jumps in time. It’s almost like this is a heavily edited version of a much longer epic. Perhaps this will be another “Kingdom of Heaven” situation and we’ll eventually see a much better director’s cut somewhere down the road. Although, I can’t imagine sitting through a longer edit of this mess.

The jarring edits and illogical time jumps are only one part of the whole of this abysmal picture. This feature’s length, nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes, looms over the viewer’s head as Scott drags us through the rise and fall of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) at the hands of his wife, Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga). Rounding out the rest of the Gucci family are Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), his uncle, Aldo (Al Pacino), and his cousin Paolo (Jared Leto). Leto’s make-up job looks fantastic – he’s completely unrecognizable in his role.

No one gives a good performance here. Considering the cast, this is close to unbelievable. Yet, these are some of the most ridiculous/horrific portrayals that I have ever seen. Each actor presents their character with outrageous Italian accents. These accents are so bad you can only be left wondering who on the set thought they were going to come across as serious portrayals. The performances themselves frequently delve into over-the-top histrionics, as if each performer is hoping for a Razzie nomination for their work.

Scott is just presenting a bunch of events to the audience. There is never any build-up to what leads to the eventual murder. One second Maurizio and Patrizia seem very happy together then in the next scene Maurizio publicly belittles Patrizia and suddenly can’t seem to stand the sight of her. A former lover is randomly introduced in the previous scene, implying this is the cause of the behavior shift. However, the change is unnaturally abrupt and feels completely out of character.

Salma Hayek portrays a television fortune-teller named Pina that Patrizia frequently visits. Her character comes across as randomly inserted into the story. It’s not until the final scenes that we understand her significance to the Gucci family. There’s little to no development of Hayek’s character or any sort of natural development to the pair’s relationship. I was certainly left wondering why Pina would get involved the way she did.

“House of Gucci” was one of the year-end releases I was most looking forward to seeing. Unfortunately, it’s a bitter disappointment. Good luck to anyone willing to attempt a viewing of this in the theater. It’s long and painful to sit through.

(Review by Bret Oswald)

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House of Gucci

Director: Ridley Scott

Studio: United Artist Releasing/MGM

House of Gucci is a downright crime-thrilling spectacle!

People have mixed feelings whether some films will be a hit or a miss, regardless of them being Oscar contenders circling around social media and the news outlets. People are going to think it’s a good movie, but later change their opinions about any film in particular. They would ask whether who knew crime-thriller films can be so anticipating to those who have brought a lot of Oscar buzz on this film along with several other films that have been Oscar contenders for the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony. Just to be on the safe side, this film contains lots of violence, strong language, dark-thrilling tones, and some nudity. Director Ridley Scott fully commits on completing another film slated for this year’s release and that is House of Gucci. The film features the stars Lady Gaga and Adam Driver.

House of Gucci follows a young woman and outsider named Patrizia Reggiani who marries a man named Maurizio Gucci, the grandson of Gucci founder Guccio Gucci, to make her way to the Italian rich label. Though, the relationship troubles the two as her big problem is that due to her being an outsider not being fit for a huge controll of the Gucci heir, her unscrupulous ambition begins to unravel the Gucci legacy and mystery as her romance with Maurizio triggers a reckless plethora of betrayal, decadence, thriller, revenge, and murder.

Singer and actress Lady Gaga (A Star is Born) receives her meatier, protagonist role as female outsider Patrizia Reggiani while Adam Driver (Marriage Story, Star Wars sequel trilogy) is given his supportive role as Maurizio Gucci, Reggiani’s husband and the grandson of Gucci founder Guccio Gucci. Gaga is beautiful, dignified, subtle, and more serious in her role with suspenseful twists as the film progresses, fighting for her own honor and glory against all odds. Her performance gives me some guidance to learn how and what any ordinary actor or actress can do on the set from start to finish. From my ways of viewing this, basically, she is like the female James Bond. Even more so, Adam Driver is also great, supporting Gaga's side behind her back. At first, he seems like a ladies’ man to some female actresses based on his previous films, but overall, he looks like he is having the time of his life as he took his role more seriously and cunning but with a side of comedy and ambition being added. And what stands out is the stunning chemistry between Gaga and Driver that references the past relationship between Kim Kardashian and Kanye West respectively.

Based on the book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed, written by Sara Gay Forden, Ridley Scott is the director of the film, marking this his second directorial duty in 2021 following The Last Duel. To those who don't know Scott, he is one of the legendary filmmakers in the world. His directorial credits on his movie resume include 1979’s Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and The Martian. As director for this film, he proves once again that an English director is one of those cinematic-driven forces on Hollywood that manages to make the films of the big studios interesting productions, but at the same time, his films are spectacular enough to become a crowd-pleaser to both fans and critics all over of any Hollywood cinematic productions.

This film is much like a gangster film, possibly due to having Italian characters in it as if this is a film featuring the Italian Mafia. Despite the news about the real-life Gucci family’s disgust and disapproval about this film, the production has all its values, the characteristics, the elements, and the basics of the Gucci family and a Ridley Scott flick, but the story is too emotionless and empty. On the upside, the setting and the cinematography have brought a lot of vision for a real-life family of a founder of any business. As with many similar events that have happened, Scott is trying his best to bring out the strong acting Gucci cast while trying to be truly accurate to the Gucci family history. The perspectives on this case are relatively different not only between the participants but also between those who discuss and interpret the events, both now and in the Gucci family history, but which is something that needs more work than it meets the eye. The pacing and the time lengths are also the biggest issues.

The rest of the acting cast of the Gucci family really played the game really well. We have Oscar winners Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) as Maurizio’s uncle Paolo, Jeremy Irons (Disney’s The Lion King, Reversal of Fortune) as Maurizio’s father Rodolfo, and Al Pacino (The Godfather, Scent of a Woman) as Maurizio’s other uncle Aldo Gucci. The film also includes Oscar nominee Salma Hayak (Frida) as Pina Auriemma, Jack Hutson (American Hustle) as Domenico De Sole, Reeve Carney (Penny Dreadful) as Tom Ford, and French actress Camille Cottin (Stillwater) as Paola Franchi.

House of Gucci is ok, just a typical movie with nice feminist cinema root to it, though it’s very hard to watch as this film clocks in at 157 minutes. I wasn’t keen to try this, but I think the director and the main cast of the Gucci family really outshine themselves onscreen, but Lady Gaga killed it all as a leading actress as she is who or what really makes this film fascinating to enjoy that eventually became one of the leading frontrunners for the Oscar nomination for acting. At first, almost everything else is glamorous, but the uncomfortable storytelling and the unconventional downfalls from this film are highly preventable to see, even the director can’t save the mess.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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Director: Jared Bush, Byron Howard

Studio: Disney

Disney’s Encanto twinkles the magic and music for children and families.

It appears that the Walt Disney empire continues to grow as this film marks the 60th animated feature of the enduring Walt Disney Animation Studios classic lineup, spearheading the legacy and the animation interest for both critics and audiences. Directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard decided to head on over to the studio’s animation division to helm this musical, magical classic tale that will take the fans on a magical journey to the magical worlds of South America. The film features the voice ensemble cast of Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Angie Cepeda, Diane Guererro, Jessica Darrow, Carolina Gaitán, and Wilmer Valderrama.

Disney’s Encanto takes place in a fantasy world of Columbia and centers on Mirabel Madrigal, a young Colombian teenage woman who deals with the frustration of being the only member of her family without any magical powers. However, she soon discovers that magic is in danger and she must go on a perilous journey to save her family and their home when their magic is on the verge of disappearing permanently.

Actress Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) is the voice of Mirabel Madrigal, a young teenger being the only one in the extended family who doesn’t have or possess any magical powers, leaving her dreadfully frustrated by her peers. As a voice actress, Beatriz is born of the role and she deserves to do lots of animation work as an actress. She even treats her own character as if she is having fun in her role regardless of whether she is good at acting or singing or both.

The story, the animation, and the visuals are highly well-done, thanks to the crackling team of animators and directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard with a license to kill, bringing a lot of colors and a variety of beautyness for the characters, the Madrigal’s house, and the spark from their magical powers. Some marvelous details on the costume designs, the music numbers coming from Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), and the production design are well-lubricated for that Columbian subject matter. To add to that positive vibe when it comes to storytelling, the film’s subject carries the main themes of family acceptance, reestablishing its harmony, learning to appreciate one another, and even celebrating one another's qualities, whether or not they are extravagant or simple. The directors know that each character in the Madrigal family gets their own personality, which is the main ingredient for character developments. And to top it all off, Encanto isn’t just a story, it’s all about family, music, and magic. With every spell of magic being put together, it’s all about the community coming together to rebuild what’s lost and learn what they can do to fortify one another in the process along the way.

The film bears a striking resemblance from Disney-Pixar’s Coco due to the family themes, the Mexican/South American settings, and the music being the center of attention focally, given the fact that the film’s composer Germaine Franco provided additional music compositions for Pixar’s Coco. His music and the composition score of those music numbers (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda) are astonishing, fitting the genre for the Columbian cultures and boundaries. As the studio continues to grow in terms of diversity, Disney has reached new, greater heights for more diverse representation for its animated features, including recent films like Moana, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Pixar’s Coco.

The rest of the ensemble voice actors portraying their family roles in the Madrigal family are exemplary and superlative to fit the tradition of casting Columbia/South American actors in the Columbian-centered films. Here, we have María Cecilia Botero as Mirabel’s grandmother Abuela Alma, John Leguizamo (John Wick, Ice Age films) as Uncle Bruno, Angie Cepeda as Mirabel’s mother Julieta, Diane Guererro (Netflix’s Orange is the New Black) as Isabella, Jessica Darrow as Luisa, Carolina Gaitán as Aunt Pepa, Mauro Castillo as Uncle Felix, Adassa (in her acting debut) as Dolores, Rhenzy Felizas (Marvel's Runaways) as Mirabel’s cousin Camilo, and Wilmer Valderrama (Handy Manny, The 70s’ show) as Mirabel’s father Agustín. And lastly, we have Disney mainstay Alan Tudyk (Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen) as a toucan.

With the cast, the colors, the music, and the magic being just right, Disney’s Encanto is a wondrous flick, clocking in at least 100 minutes. I really loved it, every scene and sequence right there in front of my eyes. This is probably one of the greatest films I ever watched in 2021. The directors, the animators, and the voice cast (mainly Stephanie Beatriz) truly know how animated films and musicals work on so many levels. This movie is deeply a must, no joke, it’s a guarantee from me. As a die-hard Disney fan, this film clearly recognizes the potential for its animation roots to reach family and friendly audiences on their seats over the holidays with this Thanksgiving release and on Disney+. One more thing, this film is theatrically paired with the short film Far From the Tree, written and directed by Natalie Nourigat, which features a strict but loving raccoon parent who struggles on to protect its family and offspring from harm and danger.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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