Tag Archives: Movie Review

Movie Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

Premise: A teenage girl’s secret love letters are exposed and wreak havoc on her love life.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is Netflix’s charming teen romance film based on the first of Jenny Han’s trilogy of novels. In adapting the story to film, screenwriter Sofia Alvarez and director Susan Johnson pack the ethos of classic John Hughes films into a modern teen world. They do so in an earnest and unironic way that feels refreshing in an age of cynicism and satire. Guided by a pair of very charismatic young stars, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a romantic teen drama you won’t soon forget.

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Movie Review: Troop Zero (2020)

Troop Zero (2020)

Premise: In rural 1977 Georgia, a misfit girl dreams of life in outer space. When a competition offers her a chance to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troop of Birdie Scouts, forging friendships that last a lifetime.

Troop Zero is a well-meaning and sugary sweet story of accepting and celebrating who you are and finding that special community of people who will embrace your quirks and support you. Its focus is on Christmas Flint (McKenna Grace), who has recently lost her mother and finds comfort in looking to the stars. Her leadership in forming a troop so she can get her voice on NASA’s Golden Record is the film’s strongest asset. However, the rest of the troop members’ journeys don’t quite connect to hers, much to the detriment of the overall story.

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Movie Review: Fantasy Island (2020)

Fantasy Island (2020)

Premise: The enigmatic Mr. Roarke makes the secret dreams of his lucky guests come true at a luxurious but remote tropical resort. But when the fantasies turn into nightmares, the guests have to solve the island’s mystery in order to escape with their lives.

Blumhouse’s reimagining of 70s & 80s television show Fantasy Island is at best a passable cheese fest depicting beautiful people in peril. At its worst (and sadly, most frequent), it’s the dull presentation of an uninspired thriller that’s more concerned with revealing its mystery than creating compelling characters.

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Movie Review: Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Premise: After discovering a small, blue, fast hedgehog, a small-town police officer must help it defeat an evil genius who wants to do experiments on it.

Sonic the Hedgehog has finally raced its way into theaters after a highly publicized face lift in the visual effects department. Despite the publicity, however, Sonic is mostly dead on arrival. Aside from a few scant comedy beats and a delightfully over the top performance from Jim Carrey, Sonic the Hedgehog feels like a slapped together adaptation of a video game franchise for which no one seemed to be clamoring.

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Ben’s Column: Birds of Prey (2020) Movie Review

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Premise: After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord..

You would certainly be validated for being a little skeptical of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), especially after the unmitigated disaster that was 2016’s Suicide Squad. Heck, you’d even be validated based on DC Comics’ track record in trying to establish their own Marvel-esque connected universe. The studio stumbled out of the gate up until and including 2017’s Justice League, but has had some winners recently with Wonder Woman and Aquaman. But once DC leaned away from forcing the issue of a shared universe and focused on the characters within that universe, they found a way to make compelling films again. Rest assured though, Birds of Prey may contain some hidden Easter Eggs for diehard DC fans – which I missed entirely – but there were far from any overt references to other characters (besides the Joker, of course) or set-ups to future films. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: Miss Americana (2020) Movie Review

Miss Americana

Premise: A look at iconic pop artist Taylor Swift during a transformational time in her life as she embraces her role as a singer/songwriter and harnesses the full power of her voice.

Celebrities: they’re just like us! They eat spicy burritos! They wear denim overalls! They spill their steaks when there’s turbulence on their private jets! It’s hard to go into Miss Americana if you’re not slurping up the Taylor Swift Kool-Aid (like myself) without at least some level of cynicism. It’s not that I dislike Swift or her music – I thoroughly enjoy both the song and music video for “You Need to Calm Down” – I’ve just always been very clearly outside her target demographic (plus I’ve fallen way out of touch with contemporary music in general, but that’s a discussion for another essay). Continue reading

Ben’s Column: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) Movie Review

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Premise: On an isolated island in Brittany at the end of the eighteenth century, a female painter is obliged to paint a wedding portrait of a young woman.

Maybe it’s reductive – cliché, even – to say that there’s nothing quite like your first love. Maybe, for some, it’s not your first that you remember most, but someone who opens your eyes and shows what true human connection can be. These are only some of the themes explored in Céline Sciamma’s latest film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Heartbreaking but hopeful, complex but familiar, Portrait tells the story of a doomed romance between two young women in the 18th century – one a painter (Noémie Merlant) and the other her muse (Adéle Haenel), the daughter of a wealthy family who is betrothed to a man she’s never met. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: 1917 (2019) Movie Review

1917

Premise: Two young British soldiers during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldiers’ brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.

There’s no denying that 1917 is a technical marvel. There’s also no denying that nearly every individual element of the film is impressive, from the score to the cinematography to the production design. Unfortunately, the elements that are left by the wayside are the ones it needs to be a complete experience that its audience can fully invest in, like memorable characters or an original story. Continue reading

Movie Review: Color Out of Space (2020)

Color Out of Space (2020)

Premise: After a meteorite lands in the front yard of their farmstead, Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) and his family find themselves battling a mutant extraterrestrial organism as it infects their minds and bodies, transforming their quiet rural life into a technicolor nightmare.

H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story The Colour Out of Space has enjoyed a few adaptations to film over the years and has also served to inspire the likes of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel (and Alex Garland’s film) Annihilation and Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers. Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, is the latest cosmic and body horror adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story. It’s the classic tale of the Gardner family, a meteorite that lands on their property, and the havoc it unleashes. Through wonderfully vibrant visual effects and strong body horror elements, Color Out of Space leaves the viewer with a lot of dread to digest. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: Bombshell (2019) Movie Review

Bombshell (2019)

Premise: A group of women take on Fox News head Roger Ailes and the toxic atmosphere he presided over at the network.

In the final title card before the credits roll on Bombshell, it states that Roger Ailes was the highest-profiled figure to be taken down from sexual harassment, “and he won’t be the last”. This message of hope is certainly earned after the film that preceded it, but it’s the overall way it was handled that prevents it from really sticking. The film opens with a fourth-wall breaking monologue from Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) to get us all up to speed on the inner workings of the Fox News network where she anchors her own conservative talk show – Bombshell begins in the early days of the Republican presidential primaries and runs roughly up to the election. Because this is 2019 and we’re living in a post-The Big Short world (no surprise that Bombshell was written by Charles Randolph, the Oscar-winning co-writer of the former), I suppose it’s now mandatory for all films with semi-complex true stories to include some direct to camera speeches, breaking down the ideas at work into easily digestible chunks. But after the beginning, these self-aware moments, including some internal monologues from some characters and a weird visual moment, fall by the wayside in order to tell a more straightforward story. Which ultimately end up being a wise decision from director Jay Roach because those moments just feel like dead weight. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: The Two Popes (2019) Movie Review

The Two Popes (2019)

Premise: Behind Vatican walls, the conservative Pope Benedict and the liberal future Pope Francis must find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church.

When you have an event in the Catholic Church that hasn’t occurred in around 700 years, it’s almost inevitable for a film depiction of that event. In the case of The Two Popes, that event was the abdication of the papacy by Pope Benedict XVI in 2013 and the ascension of Pope Francis. Director Fernando Meirelles, with a script from Anthony McCarten, depicts the event as a series of meetings between the Pope (Anthony Hopkins) and then-cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) as the two debate faith, and the role the church plays in helping its members. The film establishes within minutes, following the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and the election of a new Pope by the conclave of cardinals at the Vatican, the differences between the two and what is at stake for the church as a whole: one is all about reform, and one is more conservative. Pope Benedict (then-Cardinal Ratzinger) is the favorite, who is seen actively campaigning after the first vote, whereas Bergoglio is more reluctant and even seems relieved when he is not elected. Fast forward seven years and Bergoglio considers retirement when he is called to Rome. The bulk of the film takes place at the pope’s summer home in the Italian countryside where Bergoglio attempts to persuade Benedict to accept his resignation, and Benedict stalls, hoping that he will stay. The film is stripped of some of its drama because we already know the end result, but Meirelles uses these scenes to emphasize the differences between the two men; whereas Bergoglio sees himself as a servant of the people (a core teaching of the Jesuit sect to which he belongs), Benedict believes the church is a beacon on a hill, helping to steer people in the right direction while remaining at arms’ length. “Change is compromise”, Benedict states early in their meeting. Continue reading

Movie Review: 1917 (2019)

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4.5 stars

1917 (2019)

Premise: Two young British soldiers during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldiers’ brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.

Sam Mendes’ 1917 is an impressive faux single shot movie set during WWI with an immersive ticking clock plot. The tagline of “time is the enemy” couldn’t be more accurate as the movie follows two men tasked with delivering a message that will save up to 1,600 soldiers walking into a trap. Although it may appear at first glance to lack certain plot and character elements, 1917 offers a powerful message of duty, perseverance, and honor in an intentionally inglorious way. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: Uncut Gems (2019) Movie Review

Uncut Gems (2019)

Premise: A charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score, makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. Howard must perform a precarious high-wire act, balancing business, family, and encroaching adversaries on all sides, in his relentless pursuit of the ultimate win.

Meet Howard Ratner. He’s Jewish, in his 40s, married with three kids but is in the midst of divorcing his wife. He runs a successful* jewelry business to the stars in Manhattan, and has what can laconically be described as a gambling addiction. Almost everyone is tired of Howard’s shtick as soon as they come into contact with him, including his wife and daughter. The only people he has genuine connections with are his teenage son and his girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox, a breakout star in the making). Physiologically speaking, he has to sleep at some point, but there is no evidence to suggest he does. His mind is constantly racing, moving from one deal to the next, trying to get ahead and hit the jackpot. He’s a machete juggler where all of the machetes are on fire, and he’s prone to dropping them a little too frequently. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Movie Review (Non-Spoiler)

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Premise: The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.

In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren tells Rey “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” The line, along with many other plot developments, was read as director Rian Johnson’s overt message to fans to let go of any preconceived notions of what a Star Wars movie should be. It was a bold move, considering fans have done nothing but look to the original films, hoping to reclaim the glory and joy that they felt when Star Wars was at its peak. Continue reading

Movie Review: Cats (2019)

Cats (2019)

Premise: A tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life.

When the trailer for Cats was released earlier this year, it became ensnared in a viral bloodbath of ridicule on social media. Of course, it’s a film adaptation of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical about cats holding a talent show to gain entry into cat heaven in a seemingly deserted city. It stands to reason that any version of it would look bizarre and invite ridicule. However, being a cat owner myself, I felt obligated to give Cats a whirl.