Moonlight and all the images you see in this review are owned by A24
Directed by Barry Jenkins
I don’t get to see a lot of independent films where I live, and the few chances that I do get to see them usually involve a long drive to a faraway theater with exorbitant prices. Such is the case with this film which has been getting a whole lot of buzz recently, especially with Hollywood’s recent push to diversify itself (and with Birth of Nation having more baggage than they expected). My knowledge of LGBTQ+ cinema is somewhat limited, though even then I’m not even sure the best way to define that. I’m pretty sure that saying John Waters or Gus Van Sant are “gay filmmakers” is right on the money as their work often centers around LGBTQ+ characters and their struggles, but what about directors like Lee Daniels or Rob Marshall? Sure, you can point to most of their movies and point out themes and messages that can be relatable to those in the LGBTQ+ community, but would you put The Butler or Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides along alongside Gus Van Sant’s films? Hell, what about movies that are explicitly about LGBTQ+ issues but are directed by those who aren’t in the community such as Brokeback Mountain, To Wong Foo, or even this film which was written by a gay man (Tarell Alvin McCraney) but directed by a straight one? Look, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who can give you a better answer to that question than I can, so I’ll just stick to what I at least PRETEND to know best; namely talking about the movies while making snarky comments. Is this the film that truly lives up to the ideals that Hollywood has failed to live up to and will get all the credit it deserves, or is this a mediocre endeavor that the cynics in the Academy will glom onto just to make themselves look better? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the life of Chiron and is presented to us in three distinct segments. We see him when he’s small and is known as Little (Alex Hibbert), when he’s a teenager and the nickname has been dropped (Ashton Sanders), and as an adult when he starts using another nickname Black (Trevante Rhodes), and in each one they show a little bit more of his struggle. What struggle is that exactly? Well it doesn’t take long to figure out that he’s gay which everyone around him seems to pick up on and, for the most part, use it against him. His mother (Naomie Harris) is dealing with her own problems with addiction so this just seems like an unbearable inconvenience for her and plenty of kids in school just bully him because he seems different. Now it’s not like the whole world is against him as a local couple, Juan and Teresa (Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monáe), try to give him some guidance in his life, and he has a friend named Kevin (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and André Holland) who tries to keep his spirits up even though he’s got his own growing pains to work through and his own share of bad choices to make. Will Chiron ever feel accepted in a world that seems tailor made to keep him down? How will decisions that he and his family make at certain points in his life affect him later on? Most importantly, WILL YOU JUST KISS HIM ALREADY!? YOU BELONG TOGETHER!!
Moana and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements
Well it certainly took Disney long enough to realize Dwayne Johnson was tailor made for kids movies, but then again he hasn’t had a very strong track record with those which is kind of baffling. His previous Disney outings include the Race to Witch Mountain Remake as well as The Game Plan (ugh…) and the only other animated film he’s done is that awful Planet 51 where he played the whitest of white dudes mugging his ass off. Hopefully being a part of one of Disney’s biggest films of the year is not only gonna prove that he’s perfect for this kind of material when used correctly, but may even open up new doors for better roles in better movies aimed at a younger audience. Not only that, but it’d be nice if all of our mythological films didn’t keep circling the Greek and Norse well and that we can start integrating other culture’s heroes and legends into the pop culture lexicon which seems to be this films primary goal; even more so than cashing in on People Magazine’s Sexiest Man of the Year! Is this movie yet another hit for the resurgent Walt Disney Animation Studios, or are we staring down the barrel of another Pocahontas level disappointment? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with the legend of Maui (Dwayne Johnson); world famous demigod and creator The People’s Elbow. The guy was basically the Hercules of this culture as he had super strength and did lots of heroic deeds throughout the Polynesian Islands with the help of his giant fish hook that let him turn into any creature he wanted and was also pretty good for bashing things. , Maui takes his heroic antics one step too far and manages to steal The Heart of Te Fiti (essentially Gaia) and is attacked by some bad mo-fo lava creature which ends with him losing his magic hook and getting stranded on an island; the heart of course getting lost forever in the ocean during the confrontation. Without her heart, Te Fiti can’t control the darkness or whatever that evil stuff is called, and over time it starts to spread to all the islands; killing the crops and making the seas very unfriendly to boats. One such island is the home of Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) who’s basically Jim Carrey from the Truman Show where all she wants is to go out exploring, but her father the chief (Temuera Morrison) doesn’t want her going out on the terrible ocean and instead trains her for a life of politics as she will inherit the throne at some point. That all changes however when the darkness finally reaches their shores, and Moana’s grandma (Rachel House) reveals that she’s been holding onto the Heart of Te Fiti (basically a glowing rock) for years now as the ocean chose her and has been waiting for Moana to be ready to take on a quest to find Maui and have him return The Heart to Te Fiti. Despite her parents’ protestations against her leaving the village, she must go out and carve her own path like any good Disney protagonist and sails the oceans in search of Maui. Will Moana eventually find the island that Maui was stranded on? Okay… well that’s a given, but will they be able to work together to return the heart to its rightful owner, or will they bicker the whole journey as any good Disney pairing does for the first two thirds of their movie? Who else is after the heart and just how far are they willing to go to get it? Will these pursuers give Maui PLENTY of chances to polish his ass kicking skills after such a long hiatus!?
In this episode, Bob Ross has to survive the rapist Blues Brothers, a thirteen year old axe-wielding model in her twenties, and a paralysed grandpa in a staring contest with the camera. Trust us, it still doesn’t make sense in context.
The Edge of Seventeen and all the images you see in this review are owned by STX Entertainment
Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig
Oh hey! It’s our good ol’ friends at STX entertainment once again! They’ve only been around for just over a year now, yet they’ve responsible for five of the films I’ve had to review this year; all of which have been to surprisingly polarizing results with The Boy being one of the biggest surprises of the year and Free State of Jones turning out to be a major snooze fest. Still, they are sitting pretty after Bad Moms managed to rake in almost two hundred million dollars (and I get the feeling The Space Between Us is gonna make quite a few bucks as well), so they’re gonna stick around for some time; especially if their latest film manages to find a similar audience the way Bad Moms did. Does The Edge of Seventeen fill a niche for teenage moviegoers while also being a great film in its own right, or is this yet another lazy attempt to get the John Hughes formula to work one more time? Let’s find out!!
The movie is all about Nadine Byrd (Hailee Steinfeld) who’s life as a middle class white girl REALLY sucks as she’s at the point in her life where nothing makes sense and everyone seems to be against her; especially when that’s compounded by the tragic loss of her father a few years back which drove a wedge between her and her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) to this very day. Not only that, but she’s ALSO got to deal with her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) being so perfect at everything so she gets to compare her own lousy existence to a better one every single day. What could POSSIBLY make things worse!? Her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) sleeping with her brother? Okay, that will do it. Clearly Nadine is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and needs to find a way to become more comfortable with her own life and the ways in which it is changing; whether it’s by hanging out with a guy who TOTALLY loves her but she’s not all that into (Hayden Szeto) or working up the nerve to talk to the dude she’s been crushing on for quite some time now (Alexander Calvert). Will Nadine finally get her life on track after getting through this rough patch in her life? Will the hot bad boy who works in a pet shop FINALLY notice her? Maybe her teacher (Woody Harelson) can help sort this all out for her.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by David Yates
Well DC certainly isn’t about to keep Warner Bros solvent for years to come, so it’s time to dip back into the Harry Potter well and Accio them some of that sweet franchise cash! Now despite the somewhat desperate circumstances surrounding the studio behind this film, there is a lot of potential here as JK Rowling wrote the script for it and David Yates has returned once again to direct. Then again… neither one of them has had much luck with their creative endeavors since the last Potter film, particular David Yates whose Legend of Tarzan earlier this year is one of the many domestic flops Warner Bros has had to deal with in the last few years. Huh. Well I’m SURE none of that is important when it comes to this film which promises to get us all back to waving overpriced wands and repurchasing the book sets once again! Does this latest entry in the Potter Franchise manage to inject some new life to build a new slate of films from, or is this a desperate cash grab form a lot of people who haven’t found a way to move on from this series? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arriving in New York City with nothing more than the clothes on his back and his TARDIS like suitcase full of magical creatures. He’s come to the US in search of yet another magical creature to further his research, yet things start to go sideways once his suitcase’s latch starts malfunctioning which gives some of the more rascally creatures a chance to escape. You’d think that tying a belt around it would solve the issue, but maybe he would need a MAGIC belt and simply didn’t have one available at the time. Anyway, one of the creatures does get loose which is quickly retrieved, but not before a No-maj (the American word for Muggle) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) sees too much as well as Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson) who seems to work for the US Ministry of Magic and wants to bring Newt in for questioning. Sadly for all involved, shenanigans ensue and Newt’s suitcase is broken wide open for even MORE creatures to escape which means that he must roam the streets of New York looking for them with Tina and Jacob in tow in an attempt to keep things nice and quiet as well as avoid jail time for all three of them. Of course, that’s not ALL that’s going on here as there seem to be some deeper intrigue involving a REALLY on the nose religious group known as the New Salem Church (subtle) being led by some zealot (Samantha Morton) and there might even be some traitorous players in the US Ministry of Magic that are helping them in their goals of hunting down magic users. Will Newt manage to get his creatures back before animal control either kills them or gets eaten themselves? What exactly is the New Salem church after, as well as those inside the wizarding world who are VERY closely looking at their activities? How the hell did Newt even get mixed up in all this!? HE JUST WANTED TO BUY SOMETHING!!
Hacksaw Ridge and all the images you see in this review are owned by Summit Entertainment
Directed by Mel Gibson
So The Birth of a Nation, while still being directed by terrible person with seemingly no interest in doing the hard work to change that, at least had the benefit of its filmmaker being a new voice with a desperately needed perspective in an industry that had grown pretty monolithic despite the way the world (and their audience) was changing around them. Mel Gibson on the other hand has been around for decades and is already part of that overly white-cis-het culture that needs to be changed (both in Hollywood and everywhere else) which is only compounded by him being a shit bag for WAY longer. Now I’m sure that he struggles with his demons constantly and that those kinds of fights are never easy to win, but no one owes this guy sympathy for those plights considering the harm he’s caused or their money to see his films even if it’s good in its own right. I’m a film critic, so I critique films and all I can do is try to relay what this movie is trying to do, if it succeeds in doing so, and how I reacted to it given the full scope of how and why it was created instead of just on how well they made it. Is this a masterpiece from a deeply disturbed filmmaker, or has the director’s own personal hang-ups dragged down a biopic about a much great man than him? Let’s find out!!
The movie is essentially a biopic of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) whose religious beliefs meant he would not carry weapons or cause direct harm to others, but he still wanted to serve his country and do what he can to help his fellow Americans fighting in the Pacific Rim, so he enlists anyway with the hope of being a medic. Now apparently medics STILL have to carry weapons and get weapons training, but he refuses to do even that much and becomes a target by his commanding officers (Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington) and fellow recruits who consider this an act of cowardice rather than religious conviction, and the movie takes great pains to explore the suffering he went through to earn the right not to carry a weapon as well as how he got these convictions (his alcoholic father Tom played by Hugo Weaving was a big influence), how this act of rebellion can ruin his life as well as the life of his wife Dorothy (Teresa palmer) and what he does once he’s in the field of battle with no way to protect himself. Does Desmond manage to keep his convictions even when faced with the horrors of battle? Will the rest of his unit learn to respect his convictions once he proves himself out in the field? Is the film drenched in religious symbolism and Jesus allegories? Does a bear shit in the woods? And is Mel Gibson a serial abuser?
Arrival and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Well this is another movie that just kind of snuck up on me. Apparently we’re not supposed to know movies are coming out unless they’re part of a franchise or have talking animals in it. The thing is that had I known about this more than a week before it came out, I probably would have gotten really excited to see it as it’s directed by the same guy who did Sicario which was one of my favorite movies of last year. That, and hard sci-fi is usually an easy sell for me, so maybe it wouldn’t have hurt to throw this trailer in front of that new Independence Day movie or something. Anyway, does this in-depth examination on the problems with communicating not only work as a scientific procedural but as a badass alien flick, or is all the moody imagery and themes about humanity’s inability to effectively talk to one another just a cover for a mediocre slog? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with a montage as we see Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) give birth to her daughter Hannah and watch her grow up and die due to some sort of illness. After that uplifting introduction, we see Dr. Banks go back to work (presumably some time has passed since the funeral) where she’s a professor of Linguistics at… some college. Unfortunately, it JUST SO HAPPENS that aliens have started landing all over the planet in these giant spaceships that are referred to as Shells, but always looked like black contact lenses to me. Because she’s so good at what she does, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) brings her to one of the landing sites to see if she can help them understand the alien creatures inside. Those two, along with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) who is a theoretical physicists need to work together to get these aliens talking or else the world governments, especially a Military leader in China General Shang (Tzi Ma), get too antsy about the shells just hanging around and start firing at them. Can this rag tag group of smart people unlock the secrets inside of these spaceships and prevent humanity from destroying them and possibly themselves in the process? Just what exactly do these aliens want, and why are they just hanging around instead of doing something productive? Seriously, they mastered light speed travel, but they couldn’t figure out a way to communicate with the primitive species BEFORE parking their giant spaceships!?
Shut In and all the images you see in this review are owned by EuropaCorp
Directed by Farren Blackburn
So when did this movie get announced, because I didn’t know anything about it until I looked up the new releases for this week. It’s not like Naomi Watts is an unknown actor, and horror movies are big business right now, so the fact that I didn’t even see a trailer for this at any of the horror films I saw this year is not a great sign of what’s to come. Still, it’s not like movies that get a whole bunch of press are guaranteed to do any better, and a lot of great horror films don’t even get a theatrical release, so maybe they just didn’t know how to sell something like this. Does this film deliver yet another fantastic horror experience in a year that has already had so many, or will this just get lost in the shuffle? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the Portman Family who at one point consisted of three able bodied and happy members, but after a car accident has been reduced to the mother Mary (Naomi Watts) and her son Steven (Charlie Heaton), the latter of whom has suffered severe brain damage and is pretty much unable to move or communicate. After six months of this routine where she cares for her son and then goes to work as a childhood psychologist, things start to change when one of her patients Tom (Jacob Tremblay) is being moved to Boston so that he can get more specialized care. The night after Mary finds this out however, Tom shows up at her doorstep… well technical he smashes the window to her car and crawls inside, and while Mary is trying to figure out what to do next, the boy disappears into the night. So not only is she dealing with her son who is in need of constant care, she now has a possible dead boy on her conscious (they’re up in Maine so it’s snowing all the freaking time) and starts to hear things go bump in the night along with a series of night terrors that are making it hard for her to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Are the things that Mary is hearing at night real and a possible threat to her and Steven? Will Tom be found at some point, or is he really just a kid-cicle waiting to be uncovered once Spring rolls around? Wait, didn’t I see this movie like a year ago!?
Trolls and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox
Directed by Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn
Ugh… I seriously do not care about trolls; either in general or the ones created by Thomas Dom which this new movie is supposed to be based on. We already have two Smurf movies and another one on the way! WE DON’T NEED A KNOCKOFF!! Okay, I need to calm down. Just because it’s a DreamWorks animated film based on a property I do not care about, doesn’t mean it’s going to be BAD. Shrek was based on a book, and I liked that movie! Okay… that was like fifteen years ago, but maybe they can pull off that same magic here as well! Does this manage to be a fun adventure in a colorful world, or is this one hell of a bad trip? Let’ find out!!
The movie begins with a whole backstory for the Trolls and the Bergens. You see, boys and girls, Trolls are full of sunshine and happiness and like to sing, dance, and hug all the time. Bergens on the other hand are grumpy and miserable like all of us in the REAL world, and apparently the only time they feel any semblance of happiness is whenever they’re eating Trolls. I guess all that ecstasy the Trolls have to be taking in order to keep up their parties makes their flesh chock full of endorphins or something. For the longest time, the Trolls lived in a tree right in the middle of the Bergin kingdom (seems like a bad idea if you ask me), but they escape with due to the valiant effort of their king (Jeffrey Tambor) and the ones the Bergens end up scapegoating for this is their Royal Chef (Christine Baranski) who is banished form the kingdom. Twenty years later, the princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) is set to become the queen of their new home, and she puts on the biggest party EVAR despite the protestations of the grumpy survivalist Troll, Branch (Justin Timberlake). Sure enough, the revelry is enough to get the attention of the Chef, who’s been looking for the Trolls for the last twenty years, and she’s finally able to snatch a few of them to bring back to the Bergens and get back into the graces of their current leader, Prince Gristle Jr (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Poppy sends all the remaining Trolls to Branch’s doomsday bunker to stay safe, and Branch begrudgingly goes along with her to rescue her kidnapped subjects so that he can clear them out of his home as soon as possible. You know! Like that OTHER DreamWorks character who’s a lonely curmudgeon in a fantasy world! Will Poppy and Branch find their friends before they’re boiled alive, chopped to pieces, or stuffed in a pie? Just what does the Chef have planned once she gets back in the Bergens’ good graces? Seriously, do these Trolls do ANYTHING other than party!?
Doctor Strange and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Scott Derrickson
So on the one hand, I don’t’ really have any love for Doctor Strange as a character, and I’m still a bit salty that they didn’t cast Hugh Laurie in the role which I have been fan casting since the film first got announced all the way back in what, the beginning of phase two? On the other hand I’ve been a fan of C Robert Cargill as a film critic all the way back in the good ol’ days of Spill, so there is a part of me that wants this to succeed just because I like that ONE GUY. Then again it’s a Marvel movie, so it’s going to succeed anyway. LOOK! It’s complicated, alright!? I don’t put myself is some sort of cryogenic fridge between movies so my “precious objectivity” is working at peak efficiency! Actually, I should probably look into that and see if I can skip most of the next four years… ANYWAY! Does Doctor Strange deliver on all the weird fun that the trailers are promising, or is this another cookie cutter entry in the ever expanding Marvel canon? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is a world renounce Neurosurgeon with an ego the size of Hulk’s biceps and ends up smashing the hell out of his car while texting. Fortunately, the only part of his body that was harmed was his hands, but unfortunately he can’t be neurosurgeon if he can’t even pick up a pencil. Now instead of starting a diagnostics department and act super snarky to his subordinates, he instead blows his fortune trying to get his hands fixed to no avail while also pushing away his only real friend Christine (Rachel McAdams) due to his increasingly bitter outlook on life. His last resort is this temple in Kathmandu Nepal which healed someone else with even worse debilitating injuries and finds someone to take pity on him in the form of Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who takes him to see THE ANCIENT ONE (Tilda Swinton). She blows the puny human’s mind away with what can only be described as a drug trip, but I think the implication is that she just gave him a small taste of what the universe has to offer, and she begrudgingly takes him on as a disciple despite his arrogance and penchant for being whiney. Of course, there might be ANOTHER reason why she wants at least one more meat shield training at their monastery. You see, the LAST prized pupil of The Ancient One was some jerk named Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) who’s now trying to do some bad stuff and will probably be coming for her bald ass soon enough, so the more bodies on hand to absorb energy blasts, the better. Will Stephen Strange find what he is looking for in the teachings of the ancient one? What is Kaecilius after and why is he so pissed about everything? Seriously, what the hell were they smoking when they were making this?