Dallas Movie Screening

Dallas Movie Screenings started out as a mailing list on Yahoo Groups to facilitate finding free screening passes in the DFW area. When Yahoo Groups shut down, we are now posting screenings on our Facebook page at http://www..facebook.com/groups/dallasmoviescreenings
Earlier Reesa's Reviews can also be found at:http://www.moviegeekfeed.com

Logo art by Steve Cruz http://www.mfagallery.com

Website and Group Contact: dalscreenings@gmail.com

Wednesday, June 30, 2021


Janicza Bravo

Studio: A24

Review: Zola

This film is heavily based on a viral Twitter thread taken by the actual Aziah "Zola'' King and the resulting Rolling Stone news article "Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted,” written by reporter David Kushner. Having been written by Jeremy O’Harris, Zola is directed by Janicza Bravo and stars Taylour Paige and Riley Keough in their main leading roles.

Zola centers on a female restaurant worker named Aziah "Zola'' King who meets a sex worker named Stefani, also a restauarant employee. Later, after they immediately become friends, Stefani invites Zola on a cross-country road trip to Florida, where their main goal is to make as much money as possible at the Florida strip clubs.

Actress and dancer Taylour Paige (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) plays the main, meatier role as Aziah "Zola'' King, a restaurant employee and a strip-club pole dancer while actress Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road) stands in by Paige’s side as Stefani, a restaurant employee who befriends Zola and persuades her to join in the road-trip with her. Paige and Keough both know that they are new to each other when it comes to movie acting and getting involved in buddy-heist films, but their competent chemistry begins to grow as if they got themselves flat and high-tailed like the ironic, comedic duo of Steve Martin and John Candy from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. For the moment, Paige seems hesitant on working on such movies with tolerable nudity but she decides to just go with the flow.

Actor Nicholas Braun (HBO’s Succession) joins the road trip as Stefani’s dim-witted boyfriend Derrek. He seems nervous and anxious to take the part but he knows what to do as an ordinary person who keeps the girls company and occupied on screen and on camera. He serves as some sort of a comic-relief, bringing some hilarious performances which is something any female-lead movie should do and must have.

The main director is Janicza Bravo who is an experienced short film director and television director. She has directed her first feature film called Lemon, featuring Brett Gelman, Michael Cera, and Judy Greer and was released in 2017. The film was originally going to be directed by James Franco but got shelved due to allegations of sexual misconduct towards Franco, so Bravo had to fill in his shoes. With Bravo's direction, the story and the atmosphere really bring out some colorful examples of several films featuring women characters providing stronger, deeper messages about female power sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct.

This movie is more of a biographical-drama film rather than just a comedy-heist. Bravo has the bright idea for the cast and crew how to craft a feature compared to Promising Young Woman, giving the two female actresses much character development, huge dynamics about friendship, and some advice on how they live their daily lives and fulfilling their purpose. Viewers should be warned that this film contains strong nudity and strong language, so if you’re planning on seeing this movie, better take proper precautions and take your children to another room or elsewhere.

Also featured in the film are Ari'el Stachel, Colman Domingo (AMC’s Fear of the Walking Dead), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), and Ts Madison. They portray their roles as Zola’s boyfriend Sean, X, Dion, and Hollywood respectively.

I hate to admit, this film is really hard to watch but Zola is pretty alright, maybe decent to say the least. Surprisingly, this film is about 85 minutes long, which is strangely shorter than any female-drama films. It’s funny but it isn’t as enjoyable as it seems to be. Though, the cast did a great job in the film, mostly for Paige and Keough’s performances. I do give respect to the director for the tremendous amounts of hard work she has put for herself, the actors, and the crew. If you want to watch this go for it, but if not, you can skip this.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Mary J. Blige: My Life

Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige released her second album, My Life, in 1994 which reached number 7 on the Billboard top 200 and number 1 on Billboard's RnB charts. The trail blazing album also was included on Rolling Stone Magazines top 500 albums of all time. Oscar-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth follows Blige's childhood that influenced the songs that became the athem for many young women who related to the pain, sorrow and depression in her music. Mary J. Blige is widely known for influencing the marriage of Hip Hop and RnB.

Born and raised in Queens, NY housing projects, Mary was raised by her mom, a nurse with 3 other siblings. Her dad was a Vietnam War vet who suffered from PTSD, alcohol, and depression left the family a few years after she was born. Mary was molested as a child and endured sexual harrassment from her peers. She turned to alcohol and drugs to escape then dropped out of school in her junior year. Wanting to persue music, she recorded a song at a mall recording store. Her mother gave it to her boyfriend who knew someone at Uptown Records. She was signed as a background singer as the first and only female artist on the label. And the rest is, as they say, history.

Mary and Sean Combs served as executive producers of the film, and Quincy Jones was the executive music producer. Combs was the early producer for her first album What's the 411? which cemented her image of a tough and streetwise woman of the projects. The documentary features commentary from celebrities Alicia Keys and Taraji P. Henson as well as footage from the 25th anniversary concert for My Life. The joy and emotional response of the audience are voiced in the meet and greet moments with her fans. Mary J. Blige has credited the realization of how her music has affected her fans with helping her pull through her darkest moments. Blige was suffering from clinical depression as she was recording My Life. She doesn't shy away from her abusive relationships, booze and drugs. She is a work in progress and puts it all on the table.

There has been recent biopics featuring women artists like Aretha and Pink revealing their struggles in the industry that is notoriously male dominated. As our collective society comes to grips with the inequalities women must face in the stuggle of survival, the stories of those who have succeeded despite the bruises and scars is an inspiration to all women, young and old. Music is the universal language. Blige was able to tap her experience and insecurities into narratives that spoke to young women who also faced those same obstecles. They would sing along at her concerts embracing and sharing their pains, fear and ultimately their love for Mary who put her life out there so raw and unflinching.

(Review by reesa)

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Director: Enrico Casarosa

Studio: Disney

Pixar plus Hayao Miyazaki equals LUCA!

You know, it’s a crime against nature to release films at home instead of in movie theaters. That’s not a movie when it’s not released in theaters. Luca is a one-word titled film that really hit me so hard and got stuck in my head during my battles of severe depression. Usually, Pixar films are what really cure people’s depression as well as making people sob into tears when it comes to embracing newer friends, families, and, of course, life. What can be more lovable and fun-filled for the summertime is spending time with the people we love. This film is directed by Enrico Casarosa and features the ensemble voice cast of Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Marco Barricelli, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, and Jim Gaffigan.

Luca centers on two young boys, Luca and Alberto, who dream of spending their day and life in the city of Portorosso in Italy as they ever imagined and wished for. Their dream nearly comes true until the biggest problem that threatens their fun and their well-being is that they are actually sea monsters living on the surface below the ocean in the human world.

American actor Jacob Tremblay supplies the voice of the titular character Luca, a human-but-actual-sea-monster in the film while Jack Dylan Grazer voices Luca’s sea monster best friend Alberto. The two actors have brought some real, but underdeveloped chemistry as best friends throughout the film compared to the studios’ main duos, such as Woody and Buzz, Lighting McQueen and Mater, Joe Gardener and 22, and other animated duos in the prestigious Pixar Cinematic Universe. Tremblay and Grazer all started out energetically given the fact the sea monsters are voiced by American actors while most of the characters setting and living in Italy are voiced by Italian actors. This new, original Pixar film is Enrico Casarosa’s directorial debut in his lifetime for the studio, though he did direct his own Pixar short, La Luna, which was shown in front of Pixar’s Brave, featuring Kelly Macdonald. As director, the story Casarosa has retooled has drawn some inspirations based on his childhood experiences while living in Italy to helm the film and its animation scenes in the real-life, basic location called the Italian Riviera. He and his crew of animators draw the line on every location, the sea, and the characters pretty well and accurately to respect all things Italian-related and for Casarosa himself.

The animation, the story, and the designs realistically capture this enduring, animated scenery, inspired by the Italian artists from history, Italian filmmakers, and mostly hand-drawn animated films. In addition, the film is heavily inspired from Hayao Miyazaki’s directed films due to its hand-crafty CGI measurements, the drawings, and the similarities on the production designs and the heartwarming messages about friendship. As a professional filmmaker, animator, and storyteller altogether, Casarosa really knows how to find his voice scattering all over the place for families and children of all ages, mixing a unique blend of styles throughout real-life events and dream sequences, which are pretty stellar. However, the mixture ended up less disappointing to the film’s narrative structure and character development. Despite this, the music compositions coming from Dan Romer sounded miraculous. Originally in the production line, Casarosa wanted to have Ennio Morricone as main composer but died before he was asked to provide the compositions for this film.

The other three actors mentioned in my introduction consist of Italian actors Emma Berman, Marco Barricelli, and Saverio Raimondo, which is very interesting to see given the fact that the film mainly takes place somewhere in Italy. Berman voices Giulia in the film while Marco Barrcelli voices Guilia’s father. Raimondo voices Ercole, the town’s bully and the main antagonist to Luca and Alberto. On the other side, the other two American actors Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan are also featured in the film, they voiced Luca’s sea monstrous parents respectively. Though, what’s extremely disappointing is that Pixar’s mainstay John Ratzenberger is seen absent in the film, thus breaking the studio’s tradition of not including him in the picture, not even a cameo for that matter.

Overall, Luca is a gorgeous movie, clocking in at 96 minutes. The director, the cast, and the animation crew really know how to make a beautiful movie, but it may not be up to par like Toy Story, Coco, or Soul. I felt like Luca is Pixar’s own Hayao Miyazaki movie. This film really captures its moments and really outshines any animated film or ordinary film released in the summertime. Regardless of the ups and downs, Pixar never fails to impress. Though, I am very saddened that this film is going to skip the theaters due to the ongoing pandemic but hopefully for the next Pixar film, it’s going to be back on the big screen again. The film is up on Disney+ now.

Bonus points for the old-school 1940s/50s Italian music playing in the Disney logo.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Director: Patrick Hughes

Studio: Lionsgate

Don’t rain on your parade with Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard!

This year is going to be a blast with all the summer action-packed blockbusters coming to the theaters near you after multiple delays since the pandemic. Pretty seems that this sequel is going to be as epic and exciting as ever because of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. However, my main question is will this sequel ever be going to outwit the original. We’ll just wait and see how well this goes. Director Patick Hughes returns to his director chair to helm this latest installment of The Hitman’s Bodyguard series, featuring the returning stars of Reynolds, Jackson, and Salma Hayek.

As the plot follows, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard focuses on the hired-bodyguard Michael Bryce who continues to maintain a friendship with hitman Darius Kincaid. Though the main problem for Bryce is that he is taking a mandatory leave of absence, requiring him not to use any lethal weapons in any case. Currently unlicensed and under scrutiny, Bryce, in addition, is also forced into action by Darius's volatile wife Sonia. Soon, all three learn that a madman has conceived a sinister plot that threatens to leave Europe in total chaos.

Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) reprises his role as bodyguard Michael Bryce while Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) reprises his role as hit man Darius Kincaid. Both actors seemed excited as they both enjoyed working with each other as well as providing some BFF moments throughout this film like the first. Their acting style does give some decent thumbnails and similarities from any film that was directed by either Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino. Surely, these guys believed that working in this sequel seems hard, but they both know that it’s a simple movie with lots of good or villainy characters being the center of attention which is something they should understand and explore based on their movie qualities and flaws they have to their limits.

Salma Hayek (2002’s Frida) steals the show in the film with her meatier role she has received as Sonia Kincaid, Darius' wife, giving an exciting chemistry with Reynolds and Jackson that really puts more bonus points into action. She seems very good at performing stunts based on her acting resume as her ways of acting in the film really gives the extraordinary buckets of thrills and chills to my ways of viewing for that matter. Of course, portraying a wife leading a dangerous style can be a tricky task, she is able to pull it off nicely in a smoother, sardonic tone as a sexy, but violent character, which is the main reason one should understand why the movie is titled this way.

The returning director is Patrick Hughes who decides to work on this film, picking up where the original film has left off. The sequel is written by Tom O'Connor along with Brandon and Phillip Murphy. As director, Hughes’ pacing is all over the place when trying to find a decent storytelling for those three characters in the film. Thanks to his ways of helming, the cinematography, the action sequences, and some newer characters are great just to keep the excitement going. He is trying to do his best with confidence to produce a lot of action and commotions for his audience.

With the film being easier to watch and enjoy, parts of the story and screenplay really threw me off. The weakened characters don’t seem very threatened and really meant it on their character personas. The editing is chaotic and cheezy with more explosions and overusing some comedic moments that really backfire on how great this action flick could or may be. And lastly and frankly, there are some poor and predictable plot twists flowing around as both the character depth and background fall flatter than ever.

Also featured in the movie are newcomers Frank Grillo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Antonio Baderas (Pain and Glory, Puss in Boots), and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby). All three portrayed their roles as Bobby O’Neill, Aristotle Papadopolous, and Senior respectively. And lastly, English actors who return for the sequel are Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) and Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), reprising their roles as Vladislav Dukhovic and Mr. Seifert.

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard wasn’t a good movie, maybe putting this on the average town. Though, I do admire and respect the high-level acting performances from Reynolds, Jackson, and Hayek. They make a great trio in the film (and to the franchise as a whole), but the story in this piece seems to be a bit off and is too muddled up for a decent amount of entertainment trying to find a great storyline to see what happens after the ending of the original film. I’m not saying it’s entirely bad or good, it isn't as thoughtful as it should be. I would rather go back and watch the original just a bit more than this sequel.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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Director: Mark Raso

Studio: Netflix

Don’t look now at Netflix's Awake!

This is a film where no one can't stop me from studying and watching any movies that are interesting to see upon reviewing the trailers and reading other critics’ movie reviews. Directed by Mark Raso and produced by Paul Schiff, this science-fiction film has dropped by on Netflix, featuring the main star of Gina Rodriguez. The film also includes Ariana Greenblatt, Finn Jones, and Lucius Hoyos in their supporting roles.

Awake follows after a mysterious catastrophe wipes out all electronics and takes away humanity's ability to sleep, several scientists are forced to race against the clock to find a cure for the unexplained insomnia before its fatal effects eliminate the human race. When Jill, a former soldier, discovers her young daughter may be the key to salvation, coercing her to decide whether to protect her children at all costs or sacrifice everything to save the world.

Gina Rodriguez (The CW’s Jane the Virgin) starred in the film as Jill Adams, a former U.S. army medic and current security guard at a local college while Ariana Greenblatt appears as Matilda, Jill’s daughter. Let me say this in a positive vibe, Gina Rodriguez is really good in this movie as she played the mother who tries her best to protect her kid while slowly losing her mind. Rodriguez and Greenblatt really bring down a subtle mother-and-daughter chemistry in order to exact many riveting depths and character developments on both of the actresses under the director’s wishes.

The director in the film is Mark Raso who took some directing chores from his feature films, Copenhagen in 2014, 2017’s Kodachrome (starring Ed Harris, Jason Sudeikis, and Elizabeth Olsen), and his 2012 short film Under. His work on the latter has received many film awards in his lifetime. Raso’s direction in the film seems to be in lower-levels of crafting any ordinary science-fiction that can be as good and exciting than ever, like the up-to-pars of James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, and Geroge Lucas. Raso himself, along with the filmcrews, has put some good angles and camera shots in the film focusing on the characters in nice, tonic measures.

However, regardless of the some good characters and the good camera angles, the story really failed to understand what are the events happening and situations the characters have faced. Even worse is the R-Rated screenplay even though there’s children being used in the film. The script is nothing too special to what the film has to offer. Parts of the story arcs, especially the ending in the film, became increasingly chaotic due to lack of comedy and colors in the film and bringing much violence in the film, which is a bit entertaining, but it could not save the movie or story.

Also appearing in the film are Lucius Hoyos as Jill’s son Noah, Finn Jones (Game of Thrones, Marvel/Netflix’s Iron Fist) as Brian, Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) as Dr. Murphy, Frances Fisher (ABC’s Resurrection) as Doris, Shamier Anderson (Wynonna Earp) as Dodge, and Gil Bellows (The Shawshank Redemption) as Dr. Katz.

Overall, Awake is a terrible movie, maybe the most boring film I ever seen on Netflix. It runs up to 96 minutes. While Gina Rodiguez has successfully nailed down in her character parts, Raso’s direction towards the film, the film crews, and actors starts to slowly degenerate enthusiasm as the story arcs put lots of people to sleep out of boredom. I hate to say this but you’re better off skipping the theatrics. Do yourself a favor and watch something else.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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F9: The Fast Saga

(Review by Chase Lee)

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Friday, June 18, 2021

Tom Clancy's Without Remorse

The new action-thriller Tom Clancy's without Remorse" hit aitwaves recently on Amazon Prime. It follows Michael B. Jordan's Johh Kelly, a Navy SEAL soldier returning home after an overseas trip and misssion.

So readrs know, this tale is based on a book my Tom Clancy. He wrote 1990's "The Hunt For Red October," dircted by John McTiernan. That submarine tale was i my book a four-star movie all the way. It starred Sean Connery as Marko Ramius, a well respected Russian submarine captain who is trying to defect to the United States. It was also one of Alec Baldwin's first leading man roles.

Kelly and his wife are expecting a bundle of joy in their near future. Things take an unexpected turn when some purely evil people kill the mom in her sleep.

Also involved in the story is Jodie Turner-Smith's Karen Greer, one of the few people in the world Kelly can still trust with his life and well being. Also key to the story is Jamie Bell's soldier Robert Ritter, who one does not whether to rrust him or not. Also involved is Guy Pearce's government higher up Secretary Clay. His part is more of a wild card, since one does not know whether to trust him orr not.

I liked this talke all around, but something was not appealing in the said execution of this story. It did fine with the action and setpieces, but some key ingredient was missing in the batter.

Directing chores for "Remorse" wewre handled by Stefano Sollima, who did a great job with the action in the sequel to Sicario in 2018. It was titled "Sicario: Day of the Saldaddo".

Sollima knows when and where to place the camera for the wide array of action sequences. I hope "Without Remorse" does well enough to make further entries to this tale which intrigues from start to finish.

Jordan has been in the business 20 plus years, making his debut in the independent drama "Black and White" in 1999. His part was on no consequence, but he has turned into a terrific leading man who never plays the same part twice. Scratch that, since he reprised his role as Addonis Johnson in "Creed" in2015 and the sequel in 2018.

So readers know, Jordan will be making his directorial debut with the third chapter in the Creed legacy sometime next year.

Tom Clancy's "Without Reservations" delivers in every single department and is worth the investment of time for your daily life. One could do worse in their film selection, but this trip is worth the time.

Grade: B
Review by Ricky Miller


(Review by Chase Lee)

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Friday, June 11, 2021

12 Mighty Orphans

Director: Ty Roberts

Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

12 Mighty Orphans is a small-but-mighty film everyone needs to watch and learn.

12 Mighty Orphans isn’t just an ordinary, average sports film but it’s a coming-of-age film. This motivational tale is based on the true story Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football, written by Jim Dent. Having been directed by Ty Roberts, the film features the stars of Luke Wilson, Vinessa Shaw, Wayne Knight, Jake Austin Walker, Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen.

12 Mighty Orphans takes place during the Great Depression and centers on the man named Rusty Russell who recently gave up a privileged position to coach football at an orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas. Despite the boys being orphans, Russell conceives the idea of whipping and training his young players into shape at the orphanage. As they get better with football, they soon become an inspiration to their city, the state of Texas, the entire nation of America, and to themselves.

The main actor in the film is Texas native Luke Wilson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Old School, Legally Blonde), portraying the signature role as Mr. Rusty Russell, a newly-recruited football coach for the orphanage in Fort Worth, TX. As a lead actor, Wilson is born to play the role as the football coach and has the ability to become a motivational speaker and, despite teaching sports, is also a true educator to his boys in the film. Surely, acting as a teacher or a coach can be a difficult chore to work on, but he knows he’s got some serious acting on learning how to bring inspiration that upholds him and the entire cast. Alongside, actress Vinessa Shaw (Disney’s Hocus Pocus) stands on Wilson’s side as his wife Juanita Russell. She seems concerned throughout the film but nevertheless, she’s being supportive of Wilson playing on his part. This goes to show how supportive any family member could be when it comes to being there for someone on what they need to do that is important. Shaw knows the real definition of what both sports genres and drama lie together.

Jake Austin Walker receives his meatier role as the toughest football player Hardy Brown. Of course, for a mighty sports champ, Walker seems to not understand the basics of football but once he learns to play under the careful instructions from Luke Wilson’s character, he knows how to handle this pretty well. At first, it seems tricky to be good at sports like other professional sports players, but Walker manages to get used to it for the sake of the plot and his own character.

The main director of the film is Ty Roberts who has the crew and the actors to film all the scenes in parts of Texas, including Fort Worth, given the fact that the entire setting takes place in Fort Worth. So with that, the director and the producers have made the film’s setting completely accurate for the film’s details and the building-up story chapters. Under Roberts’ direction, the plot seems to be very smooth and gentle as the setting takes place in the 1930s decade. As the film reaches the orphanage scenes, things start to crank the heat up when he guides Wilson towards his fellow orphan-turned-student characters in order to capture Wilson’s teaching drama effect for them. The director and Wilson both did an amazing job of bringing messages and very inspirational comments to better understand how to accept the losses of something people hold deeply in their hands and hearts. Lots of people can take away many things they love, but the one thing people cannot take away is one’s hopes and dreams. This is where you should watch and learn from Wilson’s lectures.

The cinematography, the editing processes, and the beautiful football scenery all bring down this lovely movie altitude as the director wanted to make this film as accurate as it was from Jim Dent’s book. Inspired by several sports movies, the filmmakers took a crack at every effort and situational ways to shoot and edit the medium football-playing shots. Even when it involves moving and tilting the camera to shoot the football scenes in the perfect angle. This may seem like a difficult process for any movie director directing a sports film, but in the end, Roberts, like other A-list movie directors, knows the basics of how to handle sporty entertainments. And lastly, for bonus points, Roberts added a few nobs of war scenes for Wilson’s character to adjust his character development for more depth and structure integrity.

Also appearing the film are Wayne Knight (Jurassic Park, Toy Story 2) as cruel, antagonistic orphanage director Frank Wynn, Robert Duvall (The Judge) as Mason Hawk, Treat Williams (127 Hours) as Amon Carter, Jacob Lofland (Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) as Snoggs, also-screenwriter Lane Garrison (Prison Break) as Luther, Scott Haze (Child of God) as Rodney Kidd, Houston native Kelly Frye (Criminal Minds, Rake and The Flash) as Mary Jane, Sampley Barinaga as Chicken, Levi Dylan as Fairbanks, and Slade Monroe as Wheatie. And lastly, Martin Sheen plays a superior, supportive role as Doc Hall, joining and aiding Luke Wilson behind his back for the film’s entirety.

12 Mighty Orphans is a fantastic movie. It clocks in exactly two hours for the film’s time length. Roberts, the producers, and the cast really did their work just right. Especially for Luke Wilson, he’s always here to bring down the guts and motivations towards his fellow colleagues, the crew, and the actors while keeping in character like he did in his previous films. I really enjoyed this film more than any other person who admires this piece of work. Looks very touching and durable to say the least. As with no flaws and no complaints on this film whatsoever, 12 Mighty Orphans is a perfect ticket for your personal, movie outing.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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In the Heights

Director: Jon M. Chu

Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

In the Heights is a colorful, musical adventure the fans will never forget.

Summertime is fun-time for those who are ready for something very exciting to happen. This musical tale becomes an anticipated journey that takes the fans and audiences to the magical world of multiculturalism of the arts. Directed by Jon M. Chu, the film is heavily based on the stage musical of the same name created by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda and consists the musical stars of Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, and Jimmy Smits.

In the Heights follows the exact same plot as the musical performance and takes place through the streets and scents of a cafecito caliente that flows the air just outside of the 181st Street Subway Stop where the likeable bodega owner named Usnavi is saving lots of money from his daily grind in hopes of having a better life, maybe the greatest than he could ever imagined, even as means through singing.

Broadway actor Anthony Ramos portrays (and possibly reprising) his main role as Usnavi de la Vega, having been done so in the Broadway version of that same name back in 2018 thanks to his theatrical-musical playing experience. Ramos took every effort and every soul to put up a good acting performance and lead the audience with some stronger character-developing arcs for this film. He, as a leading actor, looks like he doesn’t need much guidance from the director and producers to understand the hardest obstacles but he really knows the pros and cons of acting in a film and Broadway production as he easily follows his character parts really well and knows the trick up in his sleeves.

The director here in the film is Jon M. Chu, who has recently helmed his critically-acclaimed film Crazy Rich Asians. When it all comes down to plot devices, Chu utilizes his energy and his fun-filled directing professionalism to bring down the energy and excitingful wisdom to the actors and musical crews in this family-friendly musical adaptation (despite being given a PG-13 rating). His ways of handling a musical production can be quite tedious for the task but he knows he can’t let Lin-Manuel Miranda’s fans down while providing such beautiful singing-and-dancing cinematography and brighter messages dealing with social-justice that affect the entire nation, the people, and the film.

Also appearing in the film are Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton) as Usnavi’s friend Benny, singer and songwriter Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario, Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, Olga Merediz (Orange Is the New Black) as Abeula, Daphne Rubin-Vega as Daniela, Gregory Diaz IV as Sonny, Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) as Carla, and Jimmy Smits (L.A. Law, Rogue One) as Nina’s father and Benny’s boss Kevin Rosario.

Another surprise in the film that came with the twist is Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) who makes his small, but important key role as Mr. Piraguero, the man who competes against Mister Softee. If anyone asks, he’s the guy who played Usnavi de la Vega in the original Broadway production. He also serves as one of the producers for the film as part of his commitment of seeing his musical production being taken to fresh, cinematic technique intakes.

In the Heights is an outstanding musical film. It clocks in at around 143 minutes, but that’s a signature time strength like several musical films (not counting Disney) like La La Land, The Sound of Music, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and other ones you listed. With the musical numbers excelling to greater heights and depths, this so-called musical film is more than just a film itself, it’s a musical and a movie at the same time with the exact same pace for the music theater’s artistry and atmosphere. If you love Miranda’s works so much, you should really, really come and see this film. And I’m not joking this time, it’s a summer movie you should never miss out on. Even though you’re not a musical fan, this film is deeply a must regardless of your likes and dislikes.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Director: Michael Chaves

Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

Review: The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Horror films aren’t truly my thing, but upon seeing this, my mind tells me that this summer season is where another horror movie has entered the chat after The Quiet Place Part II. The film is originally going to be out sometime in 2020 by the time COVID-19 pandemic has eaten our theatrical entertainments up. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is directed by Michael Chaves and features the reprising stars of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It takes place in 1981 and centers on two investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, whom they take on one of the most sensational cases of their careers after a cop stumbles upon a dazed, bloodied young man walking down the road. Accused of murder, the suspect claims that it’s the demonic possession that serves as his defense, forcing the Warrens to undergo a supernatural inquiry. First off, the Warrens are great in this film. The franchise's returning actors Patrick Wilson (HBO’s Angels of America, Aquaman) and Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring series, Up in the Air) are excellent in the film, portraying their roles as Ed and Lorraine Warren based on their previous experiences with the other Conjuring films. Throughout the film, they have produced and developed a strong, real chemistry on screen, which is one of those films that is still called the most lovable protagonists in the history of horror/thriller media for a long time.

The film is directed by Michael Chave, marking the first Wan’s Conjuring version not to be directed by James Wan who instead acted out as a producer in the film. This is Chave’s second film as feature-film director after his directorial debut on 2019’s The Curse of La Llorona, another supernatural horror flick. Chave’s direction in this installment started out really nice and slowly before getting to the extreme-intense part of the story that focused primarily on the Warrens and their dastardly demon investigation. Since the demon scares really start to dry things up, the plot starts to shake things up a bit from the previous two films that makes the combination of Satanic cults and detective-style approach.

Although Chave is a good fit for this sequel, his direction and parts of the screenplay really seem entertaining that become up to par from the first two films. It’s a nice continuation in the franchise to see and to listen to an intriguing story that does delve into the crime drama genre along with giving us the scars we come to know. This case, it’s an absolute crime, drama, and horror film altogether for that combination. Regardless of whether or not the film is well-performed, Wan is here to work with the camera crews with certain cinematography flows and the horror-scare concepts towards actors. While Chaves doesn't follow Wan’s footsteps as well as filling his shoes at all, he is able to follow a certain format for this particular franchise to move forward though at a dragging pace at all times.

Another wishing take on this film is that my eyes personally would have loved to see more of a cinema focus on the court side of the case and the reaction of the defendants plea, it would have been a refreshing take for the film in a Chave’s way of storytelling depending on the scene cuts but what the film and the audience get still isn't bad.

The film also includes Ruairi O'Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, and Julian Hilliard in their supportive roles given from the director. Connor plays the character of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, a man who commits a murder, while Hook and Hilliard portrays the Glatzel siblings, Debbie and David.

With all that being said, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is still a decent sequel, just not the terrifying sequel as I would have imagined what this film has to offer. I’ll admit, I’m not a horror movie fan but it’s a shame to say as I believe this sequel hasn’t lived up to its expectations like the previous two installments that have some unique moments of terror and the ways of storytelling under James Wan’s genius eye. This so-called horror film doesn't reach up to its name and title to be honorably placed in the horror film department at the shopping spree.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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Saturday, June 5, 2021

Spirit Untamed

Director: Elaine Bogan

Studio: Universal Pictures

Spirit Untamed captures its enduring spirit, but falls entirely flat.

The film is heavily based on the Netflix animated series Spirit Riding Free, created by Aury Wallington, and also the second film to be given a theatrical release in nearly twenty years after the original film, which was nominated for Best Animated Feature Oscar in 2002. The film serves as a directorial debut for main director Elaine Bogan and co-director Ennio Torresan Jr. Spirit Untamed features Isabela Merced in her main-leading role, alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, Marsai Martin, Mckenna Grace, Julianne Moore, and Walton Goggins in their supporting roles being given from the directors.

The film centers on a young girl named Lucky Prescott who befriends a wild mustang named Spirit, who later shares her rebellious spirit. However, when a heartless wrangler and his team conceive the plan to capture Spirit and his herd, Lucky and her new friends must embark on the adventure of a lifetime to rescue the horse that will change her life forever.

Isabela Merced (Dora and the City of Lost Gold) voices Lucky Prescott, a young girl who meets and befriends a wild mustang named Spirit while Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler, Brokeback Mountain, Spider-Man: Far From Home) voices Jim Prescott, Lucky’s estranged father. The two characters both have a strange and complicated relationship with each other since the death of Lucky’s mother and her father’s ways of keeping her safe after she (Lucky) moved back from the East Coast city to Miradero, a small, not-so-bright rural town located on the edge of the frontier.

Oscar-winner Julianne Moore (Still Alice, The Lost World: Jurassic Park) voices Cora, Lucky’s aunt and Jim’s sister, who has looked after Lucky and has herself moved back with Jim due to her niece’s free-spirited behavior. Moore’s character seems to be in an emotion of being ok, but her overprotectiveness on Lucky threatens her and her own safety and care-free personas. Her character, like Jim Prescott, both have some concerns about Lucky and themselves as they live in a dysfunctional family-life after Lucky’s mother’s tragic passing.

To those who asked about villains, the film does have an emotionless villain in the film. The main villain in the film is the horse wrangler leader named Hendricks (voiced by Walter Goggins, Ant-Man and the Wasp) who seeks to capture Spirit. Walter’s villany really character brings a combination of any fictional villains hating animals as well as messages of animal cruelty and lack of freedom towards the Spirit character in the film.

Under the direction from Elaine Bogan, the film’s main goal is to reintroduce the Spirit character but add some newer, distinguishable characters and newer plotlines on the sheet of parchment paper. The crew did provide the film some terrific visuals despite the film being entirely CGI and some good acting from the voice cast. Bogan, along with the animation crews, wanted to bring back the Spirit character in order to improve the main human characters’ personas and understand the difficulty of any situations the human characters have faced. That also includes family-friendly relationship improvement and doing what’s right for any animal the character(s) have encountered in their journey. This stint really gives anyone the nostalgia chills of National Velvet film (starring Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor) and Black Beauty movie adaptations.

While the film is interesting to watch, the film lacks the originality and pizazz from the original 2002 animated film, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. It felt that Bogan has focused too much on coming up with an interesting idea on how to keep this Spirit franchise going, compared to the Netflix series. Especially going towards the music, which didn’t improve much, even when the songs are ok, the score becomes unmoved and unmotivated. Regardless of the downsides, the filmmakers just have to make do with what they are given since the hard battle of COVID-19 has forced the crew to work at home rather than in-person as a team.

Actors Marsai Martin (Black-ish), Mckenna Grace (Disney’s Crash and Bernstein), Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and Eiza González (Baby Driver) are also present in this animated tale. Martin and Grace voiced the two horse riders Pru Grangler and Abigail Stone while Braugher portrayed Al Granger, Pru’s father and stable owner. Lastly, González appears as Milago-Navarro Prescott, a well-known horse rider and Lucky’s late mother.

Spirit Untamed wasn’t a good 90-minute movie. It doesn’t add up to the artistry of the original film, but it’s a film that makes people feel comfortable choosing which entertainment one needs to fulfill. I do respect the all-star voice cast as well as the messages dealing with female empowerment and animal cruelty, but the story arcs and the off-topic flows from the franchise really prevent me from enjoying this film. Some kids might love it, but for grownups, not so much. I hate to say this but go back to watch the original, hand-drawn animated film rather than seeing this terrible CGI reboot/spin-off. To proceed with caution, this animated flick is rated PG.


(Review by Henry Pham)

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