Jojo Rabbit Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80% Available on Disc and Streaming From the brilliant mind of New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi (Oscar-winner this year for Best Adapted Screenplay) comes this irreverent yet fantastic film about a young boy living in Germany during WWII who struggles with being in the Hitler Youth while at the same time befriending a young Jewish girl hidden in his walls while taking advice from an imaginary Hitler who follows him around. The first part is pure slapstick until the gravity hits, converting this into a poignant and thoughtful fantasy. The cast is just perfect with Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie showing off their potential as the young heroes while Scarlett Johansson (Oscar-nominated here), Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson and Taika Waititi himself as Hitler, round out the amazing cast. And while it may look like it makes light of a horrifying subject, at its very heart it is a sober, thought-provoking story worthy of its many accolades. A
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Rated PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95% Available on Disc and Streaming When Tom Hanks signed on to make a film about Mr. Rogers, there was a palpable feeling of anticipation felt throughout the country. And while he really is simply amazing in the role, many were like me in that they wished this had been a biopic instead of a story about Mr. Rogers getting involved in a journalist’s life. But that’s the story this time out. Matthew Rhys plays the lead role as a cynical man with family issues who is sent to interview Fred Rogers for Esquire Magazine. The movie takes place like an episode of Mr. Rogers where our hero’s focus is on the troubled man. And it does work. It’s a lovely tale that is hard not to love. That being said, I wanted more Mr. Rogers and less of what I got, leaving me in a happy state but yet somewhat unfulfilled by the end of the movie. B+
Midway Rated PG-13 for sequences of war violence and related images, language and smoking Rotten Tomatoes Score: 42% Available on Disc and Streaming The Battle of Midway was an important and pivotal battle against the Japanese during WWII and it is very deserving of a big epic motion picture. But just as in the case of the 1976 Charlton Heston bomb by the same name, this film is a mess with a great cast and a bad script, with a director in over his head. Here, Independence Day director Roland Emmerich takes a lame and derivative war script, full of some of the worst dialog in ages, and throws in as much CG as they can possibly fit in, hoping you won’t know the difference. But you can see it in the casts’ eyes when they say their lines, that this film is an awful attempt to tell a story that needs to be told much better. My favorite is Woody Harrelson, who while playing Texas hero Admiral Nimitz, phones in his role looking like there is just enough pot to get him through the shoot. Ultimately we get one of the worst war films since Michael Bay took on Pearl Harbor almost 20 years ago. C-
Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer Not Rated, but would be an R Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79% Available on Disc and Streaming Certainly one of the most interesting films of the week is this documentary that explores the history of America’s most infamous tabloid and how it eventually gave way to Donald Trump’s success in winning the White House. It truly helps you understand how when the man yells out fake news – it comes from expertise in the subject. It is a fascinating look at a group of “journalists” and businessmen figuring out how to make money with made up news and then make more money by gaining exclusives and burying the stories. It might make you a bit embarrassed to be an American at times, but it is who we are, whether we like it or not. And the ironic thing about this documentary is that the filmmakers work diligently to show the hard truth behind the fiction. A-
Ford v Ferrari Rated PG-13 for some language and peril Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92% Available on Disc and Streaming One of the most underrated films of 2019, and winner of two Academy Awards, is this film based on the true story from the 60’s where the Ford racing team, lead by legendary car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and race car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) went head to head against Enzo Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in 1966. As far as racing movies go – it’s one of the best ever made with an equal amount of both great storytelling and action. And in 152 minutes, it zips by due to the masterful filmmaking of James Mangold (Logan) and his talented production team. As someone who cares little about these kinds of films, it made me want to care in ways I didn’t expect. A-
First Love Rated NR – but would be R if rated Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97% Available on Disc and Streaming In Japanese with English Subtitles From prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike comes this peculiar, off-balance crime thriller about a talented and serious young boxer who, after a diagnosis of inoperable brain cancer, falls in love with a prostitute and gets swept up in a crazy drug-smuggling scheme over the course of one night in Tokyo. Just like this week’s Oscar-winning Korean filmmaker Boon Jong Ho, Miike has a unique style of story-telling that might seem unusual to American audiences, but is none-the-less entertaining. This film is a bit violent and scatter-brained, but I also found it to be hilarious and memorable. Sure the story is somewhat hard to follow, but it’s worth the attempt for sure. B+
White Snake Rated NR – but would be PG-13 if rated Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74% Available on Disc and Streaming From GKIDS comes this animation import from China about a young snake catcher from a small village who discovers a beautiful and mysterious young woman who has lost her memory. Together they go on a frightening journey to save the world from an evil power. Culturally, the film apparently has more meaning in its native China, but there is much to take in and appreciate here. The story itself is fairly hard to follow but no worse than what you’d find from Miyazaki. But what interested me the most was the spectacular animation. This is truly a beautiful film to look at and listen to, with a score that feels inspired by Tan Dun’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It’s a little rough for the youngsters with more violence than you’d expect as well as an abbreviated sex scene that is rare for animation. So pre-teens and teens, and especially adults, are the target audience. B-
Shutter Island: 10th Anniversary 4K SteelBook Limited Edition Rated R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68% Available on Disc and Streaming Back in 2010, Martin Scorsese knocked it out of the park with this psychological thriller about a detective (Leonardo DiCaprio) who travels to a remote mental hospital to investigate the disappearance of woman who was admitted after murdering her three children. I am fully convinced that the only reason this film didn’t succeed to a much larger degree was that most folks only saw it once. Once just doesn’t do it. The story is good the first time around, but it just isn’t great. But watch it a second time, in close proximity to the first, and the film takes on a completely different personality and tone. It’s not even remotely the same film the second time you watch it. To me, that made the film truly special, and one of the most under-appreciated films in recent history. This complexity is mind-boggling at the very least and genius at its very base. With all of his accolades and notoriety for his body of work, this remains my favorite Scorsese movie to date and still one of my favorite films of all time. A+
Doctor Sleep Rated R for disturbing and violence content, some bloody images, language, nudity and drug use Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77% Available on Disc and Streaming Stephen King’s followup to The Shining takes place decades later as young Danny (Ewan McGregor) is now an adult who discovers a young girl with his same gifts who is being hunted by a group of supernatural gypsies who want to feed off her “shine.” As a big fan of the book, the original movie, and even all of the controversy over the making of the original movie, I found this to be a fascinating project all over. First off, this is a well-made horror film with terrific performances by McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson who plays the perfect combination of sexy and scary as the main villain. The transition from the book was well-executed as it hits all the main notes with a smoothly flowing narrative that doesn’t seem to be skipping out on huge chunks, like we’ve seen with many other King adaptations. I’m not sure if the film would be super accessible for folks who haven’t seen The Shining, but if that’s you – you need to stop what you’re doing and watch it. For shame. And then watch this. For everyone else, this frightener is a welcome surprise worth visiting. A-
Waves Rated R for language throughout, drug and alcohol use, some sexual content and brief violence-all involving teens Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84% Available on Disc and Streaming Back in 2016, Austin-native Trey Edwards Shults made a little indie called Krisha with his family that won big at SXSW, and now with the much larger budgeted Waves, he has gotten national attention again during this awards season. The story follows a family in South Florida going through turmoil when bad decisions lead to horrific consequences. The narrative is unsettling as it comes off as two completely different films, one occurring after the other, and both only loosely connected by family bonds. But the performances are exceptional, especially that of Sterling K. Brown as the domineering but caring father trying to hold it all together. His performance alone makes the film worth watching. And while the end result is a strangely crafted film, it leaves no doubt that Shults is a talented young filmmaker with a big future. B-
Last Christmas Rated PG-13 for language and sexual content Rotten Tomatoes Score: 47% Available on Disc and Streaming Emilia Clarke, aka The Mother of Dragons, plays a young wannabe West End actress who lives at various friends’ homes throughout London while working in a Christmas store, constantly dressed as an elf. But things change in her life when she runs into a charming young man, played by Crazy Rich Asians hunk Henry Golding. Director Paul Feig has been incredibly successful of late with smart female-driven comedies such as Spy, The Heat and Bridesmaids. But this one isn’t as clever as it thinks it is and comes off as rather cheesy until the gravity pull in the third act. Also, it’s affinity to George Michael is just strange and distracting, rather than the tribute I’m sure it was trying to be. I love me some George Michael – more than any straight man I know – but the way his songs are presented here make the movie seem more like a weird little juke box musical than a meaningful romantic comedy tearjerker, which it obviously had potential to be. C
Parasite Rated R for language, some violence and sexual content Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99% Available on Disc and Streaming Perhaps the biggest surprise of this awards season is the extreme popularity of Bong Joon Ho’s latest drama, Parasite. The story follows a poor but street-smart family in South Korea who manage to place themselves, one by one, as servants of a wealthy family not paying attention. But just as they are starting to enjoy their new lifestyles, an ousted employee unveils secrets that are bound to cause extreme complications. Since 2007’s The Host, I have been a huge fan of Bong Joon Ho. His tales are always unique, weird, engaging and unforgettable. This one is no different. And while it’s not my favorite of his growing resume, I am certainly glad he’s getting the attention he deserves. What really works here is the creativity of the storytelling and the eclectic production design. It also helps to have a fantastic cast who can pull off such a tale. Strangely enough, I thought the plotting was a bit contrived and way too convenient. But if you just follow him down the rabbit hole, you’ll have a great time watching what could surprise everyone come Oscar night. A-
Terminator: Dark Fate Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70% Available on Disc and Streaming This new chapter in the Terminator franchise takes place after T2, as if the other subsequent chapters didn’t even exist. Here, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), after the death of her son, commits her life to being a terminator hunter. When she meets a young woman getting her own special future protection, she decides to help the girl survive long enough for her to reach her potential. Quite honestly, this should have been a decent hit, rather than the disappointing flop it ended up becoming. James Cameron was back as producer. Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger were back in their iconic roles. And to round it off, Tim Miller (Deadpool) sat in the director’s chair with David Goyer (Batman Begins) as writer. It even had decent reviews. It’s a ginormous production with huge and impressive set pieces and even better special effects. My biggest problem with it was that the third act was a bit of a contrived mess, where everything happens just a bit too easy. But still, this is a big summer movie (which came out in November) and is worth a watch now at home. B
Harriet Rated PG-13 for thematic content throughout, violent material and language including racial epithets Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73% Available on Disc and Streaming Harriet stars Broadway star Cynthia Erivo as the American hero Harriet Tubman, a runaway slave who in turn fights to help hundreds of slaves escape the South to freedom in the North. Though we’ve learned about Tubman in school, I’ve been dying to see her come to bigger than life in a huge Hollywood movie. Unfortunately, this time out wasn’t that dream film we were clamoring for. Cynthia Erivo is most definitely the perfect actress for the part, but the screenplay here is just too simplistic to deliver the goods. Kasi Lemmons is a really great director and writer, but the narrative was unsuccessful when it comes to presenting such a legendary tale. Perhaps it was too ambitious and needed more of an HBO mini-series approach, but most likely this needed a different set of filmmakers whose skillsets could have made this story shine like it deserved. Here you’ll get a small taste of what made Tubman great, but unfortunately we’ll have to wait for a better project to come around in order to really be hit hard by her history. This is definitely not the biopic this legendary American deserves. C
Gemini Man Rated PG-13 for violence and action throughout, and brief strong language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26% Available on Disc and Streaming Megastar Will Smith and Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (Life of Pi) team up here in this special effects extravaganza about an elite assassin who is targeted by a young, perfect clone of himself. And with a remarkable leap forward in technology, both parts are played by Will Smith. The film is truly impressive-looking, much more so than what we saw in the aging effects used in The Irishman recently. But the story here just doesn’t deliver. The relationship between villain Clive Owen and young Will Smith doesn’t gel and the third act is simply ridiculous. When Ang Lee has a solid script, he can work wonders, but when the screenplay suffers, as this one does, the end result is disastrous. So this might be one where you just watch the trailer to appreciate the cosmetics and call yourself lucky you didn’t waste your time with the rest. C-
Zombieland: Double Tap Rated R for bloody violence, language throughout, some drug and sexual content Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68% Available on Disc and Streaming Set after the events of the fantastic 2009 zom-com Zombieland, the gang is back and still trying to survive in a zombie-filled world where the walking dead have evolved in crazy and scary ways. As is expected, the film is fun and fairly exciting, but lacks the originality many of us were hoping for. I dug the new zombie subtypes and the pacing is as fast as the script is witty – but by the end I was hoping for just a little more than the end product. B-
The Addams Family Rated PG for macabre and suggestive humor, and some action Rotten Tomatoes Score: 44% Available on Disc and Streaming From the 60’s television comedy to the 90’s theatrical releases, The Addams Family was known to provide a curiously weird and darkly funny entertainment experience. But with this new animated version, the family has now hit a new low. The narrative follows a home improvement celebrity who wants to do something about the Addam’s home, which she considers an eyesore, and the family must passively thwart her efforts. And if you think that description doesn’t make much sense – neither does the story which never becomes even moderately funny or clever. Even my nine-year-old found the movie to be a bore without a single laugh of enjoyment. It’s so unusual that a cast including the talents of Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz and Allison Janney would have found this a worthy script to take on, and even more strange that a studio could have pumped so much money into it. But the end result is a dud that will leave both you and your kids cringing. F
The Lighthouse Rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence, disturbing images, and some language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92% Available on Disc and Streaming From Robert Eggers, the writer/director of 2016’s wildly disturbing horror pic The Witch, comes this very different, but still disturbing tale about two lighthouse keepers (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) on a remote island in New England in the late 1800s. While not nearly as frightening as it is sold, it makes up for that in pure oddity. Artistically, the film is in a beautiful and hypnotic black and white that doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling but rather enhances the ambience the director was going for. And since it is essentially a two-man show, it’s nice to have such talented actors in the mix. Willem Dafoe is especially great as the veteran old lighthouse master. Unfortunately, the film takes on such a strange personality that you feel like you are witnessing something from a Ripley’s museum rather than a narrative feature. For shear creativity and its unique vibe, I have to say this is a weird tale worth watching but be prepared that what you will experience is anything but ordinary. B
Joker Rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69% Available on Disc and Streaming Certainly the most polarizing film of the year, Joker has managed to make a lot of people angry while at the same time exciting audiences enough to become the highest-grossing R rated film ever. I’m solidly in the first camp. The story follows the genesis of the infamous DC villain as he struggles with mental illness and discovers his life’s purpose in creating chaos. It brushes up with Batman but never solidly enters his universe. I have to fully admit that it is a well-made film with a tremendous performance by Joaquin Phoenix. But the material is sick and depraved, and in my opinion, potentially dangerous. I felt ill while watching it, and at the same time extremely paranoid at every little movement seen out of the corner of my eye in the theater. Watching at home will make you feel safer, but I just can’t help but fear that this movie will serve as inspiration, rather than entertainment, for a small section of its audience. I just don’t think there’s any place for a movie like this in today’s world. F
2019, in my opinion, was a rather mediocre year for cinema. Sure we had some mega hits like Endgame and Rise of Skywalker, but many of the films that should have been good let us down and the end-of-year quality we are used to turned out to be a lot of buzz without the substance to back it up. I was fortunate in that I managed to skip a lot of the true stinkers. If you ask why Cats and The Fanatic aren’t on the worst list – the answer is simple: I played hooky from those screenings. Sometimes I actually do make good choices it turns out. I did manage to see a few great films, and lots of good ones. My favorite this year just happens to be:
1) Rocketman (On Disc and Streaming). It’s one thing to make a Bohemian Rhapsody-like biopic about an iconic rock star, but to turn it into an all-out dance-in-the-streets musical that works is kind of a miracle. This very Rated R take on the life of Elton John looks and feels like the truth. And quite honestly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this fantasia is exactly how he remembers it. If I had to guess, the underrated Taron Egerton has been positioning himself for this project for years, and he was right to do so as he is perfect here in every way. As is the the moving story and the exceptional way it is presented here. Perhaps it could have made a few more bucks had it been a little less graphic and real, but its authenticity and vulnerability are what makes the movie truly special.
2) 1917 (In Theaters). This WWI picture follows two young British soldiers as they are given an impossible mission: deliver a message as fast as you can, deep into enemy territory, to your brother, in order to prevent 1600 soldiers from walking straight into a German trap. The story doesn’t exactly feel original here, but the storytelling most definitely does. And to make it more exciting and authentic – the film is shot in real-time, by famed cinematographer Roger Deakins, to give the appearance of being filmed in one continuous shot with not cuts. It is a spectacular and unique experience and likely to give American Beauty director Sam Mendes his second Oscar win.
3) Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (On Disc and Streaming). If anyone will be competing with Mendes for awards this season, it will be Quentin Tarantino with his masterpiece about Hollywood in the summer of 69. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as a mediocre actor and his stuntman, the film takes us on a weird and wonderful exploration of an infamous time, providing the most fun you’ll ever have watching a movie about the Manson murders. QT’s writing and story-crafting give the audience a journey they probably wouldn’t normally want to go on only to find themselves joyous that they went in the end. And while it has a dark and scary side to it, it is the closest thing to a comedy we’ve ever seen from him with a healthy mix of uncomfortable laughs and pure comedic genius.
4) Knives Out (In Theaters). Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, along with an incredible iconic cast including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon and Christopher Plumber take on this murder mystery which follows the death of a famous writer and the chaos that ensues amongst his greedy and contentious family. While the thought of James Bond taking on Captain America sounded interesting to me, the trailer didn’t exactly have me excited. But once I started watching, I grew a big goofy grin on my face that didn’t go away until the credits. This is a smart and fun nail-biter with terrific chemistry from one heck of a great ensemble.
5) The Irishman (On Netflix). Netflix had a spectacular year and they could very easily walk away with some major hardware come awards time. In their highest-profile movie, Robert DeNiro stars as Frank Sheeran, the fixer to Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa in this epic gangster drama. Yes the film is long at 209 minutes, but director Martin Scorsese takes his time in a way he’s never been able to do with other studios, creating the rich tapestry that is this little-known side to a much bigger story. What Netflix was able to provide for us here was not just a masterclass in acting and filmmaking, but also a really important film within the mafia genre.
6) The Two Popes (On Netflix). Based on a true story, but in no way associated with the Catholic church, this film follows the succession of Popes from Benedict to Francis (played here by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce) as they both try to do what is right in light of scandal and self-doubt within the complex political system that is the Vatican. While I’m not a Catholic, I have admired Pope Francis, as well as the church itself, since he took his post in 2013. I thought it was a brave choice given the struggles the church has gone through for the past two decades. I was quite surprised to learn that this beautiful and complicated story from City of God director Fernando Meirelles and The Theory of Everything writer Anthony McCarten had no backing or even acknowledgement from the church, and while many of the filmmakers behind it are non-Christians, the film is not full of the expected negativity and cynicism, but rather progress and hope. It’s a softer and more gentle film than you might expect, but it is nonetheless powerful in its delivery.
7) Bombshell (In Theaters). Truly one of the biggest scandals of our time was when the head of Fox News, Roger Ailes, was brought down by a large group of credible and brave women who decided it was time for the bad behavior of the men in the industry to stop. This film stars Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson and John Lithgow as Roger Ailes, all told from the minds of director Jay Roach (Austin Powers) and writer Charles Randolph (The Big Short) who creatively tell us how they think it all went down. Sure – part of the reason I loved this film was a beautiful feeling of schadenfreude – where I admit I drew pleasure in Ailes’s pain as he is largely responsible for much of the mess and division our country is in today. It’s also nice to see a real-life villain lose his power in such a shameful way. But more importantly, it is a great thing to remember the victims and see them come out of the fire with a huge counter victory, setting the stage for a world where women have less of these issues in the future and hoping for the day that they go away entirely.
8) Dolemite is My Name (on Netflix). Yes another Netflix film. They made a commitment to produce awards-worthy films in 2019 and this one is just terrific. Eddie Murphy stars as the real-life Rudy Ray Moore, who in the 1970’s changed comedy forever with his underground character Dolemite, only to later to independently create one of the most treasured films of the Blaxploitation era: 1975’s Dolemite. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Murphy grace the screen, but he is back in a big way with this surprisingly heartwarming comedy from such an unlikely source. Once the kids have gone to sleep, you should do yourself the favor of watching this not-so-hidden gem that is sure to make you lose your breath in hysterics many times while at the same time gaining a lesson in the history of black comedy and cinema.
9) Uncut Gems (In Theaters). Adam Sandler puts on the performance of his career in this crime thriller about a charismatic New York jeweler whose constant need for the next big score finds him in an uncomfortable mix of precarious situations, mostly due to his bad instincts, poor choice of business partners and his unattainable ambitions. The frenetic energy and perpetual discomfort make this a tough one to sit through and impossible to look away. I wouldn’t call it fun, but it certainly is memorable experience worth taking.
10) Yesterday (On Disc and Streaming). My last pick here is a just simply a great feel-good movie from one of my favorite directors (Danny Boyle) and one of my favorite screenwriters (Richard Curtis) making a movie about my favorite band (The Beatles). In this fantasy, a down-on-his-luck singer songwriter (Himesh Patel) is hit by a bus during a blackout, only to wake up from his concussion to discover the Beatles never existed and he feels compelled to be the person to introduce the world to their music. Yes it is cheesy, but the cheese is glorious throughout and it is still one of the most entertaining films I went to see in 2019.
Aladdin, Avengers: Endgame, Crawl, Ford v Ferrari, Jojo Rabbit, The King, Midsommar, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Queen & Slim, Toy Story 4
1) Wonder Park. A little girl creates a massive and crazy amusement park in her head, proving that you can do anything with creativity. Except this isn’t creative – it’s chaotic – and we are not amused.
2) Glass. This unwanted and unneeded sequel for both Split and Unbreakable sets a hero and his villains against each other in one of the dumbest final battles in the history of final battles.
3) Dumbo. Most of Disney’s live-action remakes have been really well-done, but this one about the infamous flying elephant never makes it off the ground, mostly due to completely ignoring its source material.
4) What Men Want. In it’s attempt to role reverse Mel Gibson’s 2001 one note comedy “What Women Want”, “What Men Want” places Taraji P. Henson as a woman who can hear men’s inner thoughts. But instead of becoming funny and relevant, the film becomes sexist and desperate for laughs it can’t get.
5) Dark Phoenix. It’s a shame that a franchise like X-Men that started with such promise has been torn to pieces by this dark and heavy sequel which should have never been made. If only they could have dreamed up a mutant with the ability to zap this film out of existence.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action In Theaters This ninth and final chapter in the Star Wars saga as we know it follows our heroes Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewbacca, C-3P0 and BB8 as they attempt to stop Kylo Ren as well the returned Emperor Palpatine from crushing the rebellion and taking over the entirety of the universe. From the opening moments of the film we discover that Palpatine is not only back, but that he also never went away – he has always been there propping up the dark side from behind the scenes. This little tidbit, and the only major plot point I will give away here, sets a new tone for the adventure as the audience and the heroes simultaneously learn the secrets which Lucasfilm and Disney have been hiding from us since The Force Awakens was released in 2015. There is a lot to like in this monstrosity of a film. First, I loved that our main heroes are all together for their final journey. I hated seeing them split apart in the last film’s convoluted story and failed subplots. Here, the adventure seems better constructed, more dangerous, and as thrilling as you can imagine. Where the film falters a bit is in the overuse of side stories and a running time not able to support them. Where most films would feel overly long at 155 minutes, I would have easily welcomed 180 if it meant that the multitude of important stories were all more carefully crafted and the pacing provided enough time to understand them. This project felt truly rushed throughout. I’m sure with tons of conversations and multiple viewings, I will have this film down; but upon first watch, there are moments when I was truly scratching my head. That being said, we get closure here in the right way, honoring both the characters we have grown up to love and the audience that cares deeply about them. A-
Downton Abbey Rated PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material, and language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84% Available on Disc and Streaming Set after the events of the much-beloved PBS television series, the owners and staff of the beautiful English estate Downton Abbey discover that they will be granted a royal visit from the King and Queen, forcing them to prepare for perfection, and then play dirty in order to get the chance to avoid being sidelined and serve the royals to the best of their ability. If you haven’t seen the show, this might be a tough one and frankly not very interesting for you. But for fans, which there are many, there is a lot of joy to be had here as you get to revisit old friends and watch them show you why you fell in love in the first place. That being said, I’d like to give this film two grades. For fans and familiars: A; for non-fans: C
Abominable Rated PG for some action and mild humor Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81% Available on Disc and Streaming In the last year, Hollywood has released three animated films about yetis, and with this newest Dreamworks release, we finally get the last of them. In this tale, a young girl from Shanghai discovers a yeti, and, along with her friends, decide to escort the creature back to his home in the mountains. Setting this film apart is that the yeti has powerful magical abilities that can transform the physical world around him. The movie has an undoubtedly beautiful aesthetic and the story is, at the very least, creative. What gets old quickly is that the movie tries desperately to be like Kubo and the Two Strings and it simply didn’t need to be. The music is nice, but it gets in the way of the narrative rather than enhancing it. C+
Ad Astra Rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84% Available on Disc and Streaming Brad Pitt plays an astronaut from the not so distant future who is sent on a top secret mission to the outer regions of the solar system when the government is convinced that his father and fellow astronaut, Tommy Lee Jones, is causing massive destruction on Earth from his actions in space. The film has some remarkable special effects and its subject is taken seriously, but ultimately the miscasting of Pitt and Jones make the film a tough sell. Both are fantastic actors (Pitt will almost surely win the Oscar this year for Once Upon a Time In Hollywood), but these actors needed to bring a bigger emotional pull to their characters that I don’t think they are capable of. Still, I loved the ambition of the film and the set pieces are some of the most impressive of the year. So I think it is a film worth watching, but one that could have been so much better. B-
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85% Available on Disc and Streaming One of the big films to beat this awards season is Quentin Tarantino’s 9th movie which explores 1969 Hollywood, and chiefly gives a new spin to what we know about the Manson murders. The film follows a popular star, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who spends most of his time with his friend and stunt man, Brad Pitt, as he tries to cling on to whatever success he can muster up. The story is wildly all over the place, but when it comes together at the end, it does so in such a beautiful manner that it leaves you with a fantastic experience. It’s like a crazy recipe with ingredients that shouldn’t mix, providing an unbelievable and unforgettable meal. DiCaprio is at the top of his game here in the lead, but Brad Pitt steals the show in a role that is almost certain to win him an Oscar for best supporting actor. There are many who had problems with the last act due to its complete lack of historical accuracy, but I love the brave and brilliant approach Tarantino takes and found myself having way more fun than I signed up for. After all, I went in thinking this was a movie about the Manson family and left smiling after a barrage of hysterical comedy and thrilling surprises. This is certainly one of QT’s best projects to date and one he will be known for for decades to come. A+
Freaks Rated NR for violence and some language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88% Available on Disc and Streaming This indie horror sci-fi film follows a young girl who has been locked inside of her house, protected by her father (Emile Hirsch), who has never allowed her to step outside. But as you journey into the story, you discover that the father is not just paranoid, but rather the outside world isn’t what it seems and deadly dangers lurk everywhere. What starts out as just weird tale full of paranoia, turns into a slick and unique little sci-fi pic. Helping the project is the talented cast including Hirsch and Bruce Dern who both elevate the project into being extremely watchable for those fans of the genre. The story is a bit hard to follow, but it is certainly engaging and interesting, even if its peculiarities abound. B-
Dark Waters Rated PG-13 for thematic content, some disturbing images and strong language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93% In Theaters In Mark Ruffalo’s second and unrelated film about fighting du Pont (recall 2014’s Foxcatcher), Mark plays a lawyer who takes on the du Pont organization after he discovers that their pan coating product Teflon was having deadly effects, especially on the families that lived near the production facility. Truly a David vs Goliath story, these types of tales are important for public consumption as they teach us many lessons while entertaining us, namely that they prove that corporations do not always police themselves and, much of the time, do what is best for the corporation without any regard to who is hurt along the way. The movie, through a heavy-handed one-sided approach attacks du Pont like a bulldog and while history proves that they deserve this treatment, the script could have been a little less overzealous. At times the film feels like a strong and heavy drama, and at others it begins to feel like a television movie of the week. And while Ruffalo’s performance is pitch perfect, much of the talented cast, including Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins and Victor Garber seem off their game. Still, I think this is a worth-while film to watch with a great lesson that needs to be reflected upon as our corporations become more and more powerful with very little oversight due to the too-frequent deregulations we have been exposed to over the last several years. B-
Ready or Not Rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88% Available on Disc and Streaming Certainly up there with the recent release Crawl in regards to guilty pleasures of the year is this relatively low-budget horror film about a young girl who marries into an eccentric family only to find out that on her wedding night she must play a game of hide and go seek, where if they find her, they kill her. The movie doesn’t pretend to be anything but what it is, but by the end it is glorious fun as you watch the street smart young beauty turn the tides on her captors. It has a warped sense of humor with plenty of over-the-top performances by its talented cast. B+
Where’d You Go, Bernadette Rated PG-13 for some strong language and drug material Rotten Tomatoes Score: 49% Available on Disc and Streaming Richard Linklater’s latest follows Cate Blanchett as an eccentric architect who has lost her creative spark as she meanders about her life with her family in suburban Seattle. But upon a series of crazy and unfortunate events, she goes on a crazy journey to hopefully bring her back to life again. Quite honestly I was a little bored with much of the film, which is ironic given the story, but the tale has such a fun and inspiring ending that I found myself glad I made it through. The performances are all very good and I still have a love for Linklater’s story-crafting. While not one of his best, it is one worth watching. B
Game of Thrones: Season Eight Rotten Tomatoes Score: 58% Available on Disc and Streaming Game of Thrones had a full head of steam on it heading into its eighth and final season, but the last two episodes made everyone so angry that unfortunately it has a bit of a black eye right now. Sure I would have loved to have seen a different turn of events. I had an ending in my head that would have made the series go out in a glorious blaze of glory. But they didn’t ask me, or you, and instead gave the show a finale, even if it wasn’t the one it deserved. Still, there are moments to love in this final season, such as the breathtaking “The Long Night” which might be a great place to stop watching the show if you haven’t been through it already by now. B-