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Ad Astra (2019)
Despite a strong turn by the reliable Pitt and awesome visuals the space saga is a void
AD ASTRA (2019) **1/2 Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Kimberly Elise, Loren Dean, Donnie Keshawarz, Sean Blakemore, Bobby Nish, LisaGay Hamilton, John Finn, John Ortiz, Natasha Lyonne, Liv Tyler. Somewhat listless and dull space drama with Pitt (always good, and expectedly solid here; the film's strongest asset ) as an astronaut sent with the task to voyage to Mars to seek out a possibility of a link-up with his long-lost fellow explorer father (Jones), whose mission decades ago adds a new wrinkle to Earth's future. While the visuals are on par with say Kubrick, but filmmaker James Gray (who co-wrote the bone dry screenplay with Ethan Gross) keeps things at a near monotone level with little action, suspense or even humor. The narration that echoes Pitt's film with Terrence Malick, THE TREE OF LIFE even becomes a chore.
Fessenden's finest hour
DEPRAVED (2019) *** David Call, Joshua Leonard, Alex Breaux, Ana Kayne, Maria Dizzia, Chloe Levine, Owen Campbell, Addison Timlin. Indie maverick filmmaker Larry Fessenden tackles Mary Shelley's classic horror tale 'Frankenstein' by updating it for the 21st century involving a PTSD suffering doctor (Call) who creates a living creature (Breaux) out of dead bodies and state-of-the-art pharmaceuticals which proves the old adage 'just because you can, doesn't mean you should' with a fine mix of dread and pathos. The leads all excel echoing even James Whale's classic chiller and by far this is Fessenden's finest hour.
Bittersweet and heartfelt docubio on one of the greatest entertainers of our time; one of the year's best films.
LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE (2019) **** Reverent and well-executed biographical documentary on the pioneering rock star Linda Ronstadt depicting her career as a female entertainer who made an indelible impression in her field beginning in the 1960s as a folk rock singer to a quartet then inevitably a solo career the likes the world had never witnessed with a string of hits, platinum selling albums, concert tours, and her forays into Mexican music and standards that solidified her as a performer whose soulful and passionate voice that has recently been side-lined with her contracting Parkinson's Disease. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman incorporates talking head tributes from her friends/peers like Dolly Parton, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and Don Henley with vintage footage of her singing with deep impact. One of the year's best films.
It Chapter Two (2019)
Still floating ....
IT CHAPTER TWO (2019) *** Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Martell, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Teach Grant, Nicholas Hamilton, Xavier Dolan, Taylor Frey (Cameos - Stephen King and Peter Bogdanovich) Follow up sequel to the remake of the Stephen King chiller with The Losers' Club re-uniting reluctantly 27 years later to their hometown of Derry, Maine to kill-off once and for all the demon clown Pennywise who has reawakened slaking his thirst on anyone within its reach, and all the more better for the seven friends who attempted to extinguish it's existence. Director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman reteam to deliver the shivery goods if it is a tad padded (nearly 3 hours long) with the young cast as well and their older alter egos (all well served overall).
Danish horror film straddles the line with torture porn
FINALE (2019) ** Anne Bergfeld, Karin Michelsen, Damon Younger, Kristoffer Fabricus, Mads Koudal, Kim Donderholm, Gustav Scavenius. Danish horror film about a pair of young women working a lonely night shift at a gas station find themselves in a nightmare when they are abducted and tortured while being broadcast on a dark web live program. Filmmaker Soren Juul Petersen's big-screen debut leans more on torture porn than social commentary yet allows his young protagonists' a field day of emotions which sets the film apart from the usual slasher fare.
Pitch-dark horror with some truly brutal kills
BLOODLINE (2019) *** Seann William Scott, Mariela Garriga, Dale Dickey, Kevin Carroll, Christie Herring, Raymond Alexander Cham, Jr., Leith M. Burke , Nick Boraine, Dusty Sorg, Sean H. Scully, Larsen Thompson. Pitch-dark horror film with Scott (at a career high and severe shift in doing so) as a family man high school counselor cum serial killer who seeks to stop his inner turmoil of his abused past by killing off his young charges' ne'er do well kin. Director Henry Jacobson (who co-scripted with Avra Fox-Lerner & Will Holey) keeps things sharp as a scalpel with some brutal kills while maintaining a balance of family values no matter how twisted.
Tous les dieux du ciel (2018)
Bizarre horror film about siblings and sins of the past
ALL THE GODS IN THE SKY (2019) ** Jean-Luc Couchard, Melanie Gaydos, Zelie Rixhon, Thierry Firemont, Alber Delpy. Bizarre French horror film about a brother and sister (Couchard and Gaydos) bound by the sins of the past resulting in the former's belief they will be 'saved' by an extraterrestrial force since their earthbound life is cursed. Filmmaker Quarxx (who wrote and directed) has a unique eye for the sordid and sad at the same time (i.e. David Scherer's make-up effects) but the final act is a truly WTF overall which sinks the film like a stone.
Ready or Not (2019)
Giddily dark and fast-paced horror thriller; Weaving gives a tenaciously primal turn. One of the year's most highly entertaining films.
READY OR NOT (2019) ***1/2 Samara Weaving, Mark O' Brien, Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Nicky Guadagni, Elyse Levesque, John Ralston, Liam MacDonald, Ethan Tavares, Hanneke Talbot, Cleine Tsai, Daniela Barbosa, (voice of Nat Faxon) Giddily dark and fast-paced horror thriller with newlywed Weaving (in a tenaciously primal turn) on her wedding night facing a life-and-death game of hide-and-seek with her in-laws who are hellbent on sacrificing her by dawn in a generations old deal with The Devil (!) High-concept and high-octane with a crazy quilt Rube's Goldbergian flair thanks to the directorial team of Radio Silence ( Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett) and one helluva nutty original screenplay but Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy that plumbs the depths of Gothic Addams Family zaniness with a razor-sharp skewer to barb you with. One of the year's most highly entertaining films (and by all means stay for the WTF end!)
The Sonata (2018)
Well-executed horror flick with a top-notch performance by Tingley; worthy to seek out
THE SONATA (2019) *** Freya Tingley, Simon Abkarian, James Faulkner, Rutger Hauer, Catherine Schaub-Abkarian. Well-executed horror flick with a top-notch performance by Tingley as a promising violinist who finds herself in dark waters when her estranged father (Hauer in one of his final performances), a brilliant but mentally unbalanced classical composer, commits suicide and bequeaths his estate and legacy to her. Filmmaker Andrew Desmond - who co-scripted the well-crafted screenplay with Arthur Morin - lavishes on the atmosphere largely thanks to the beautiful production design by Audrius Sumikas and handsome cinematography by Janis Eglitis elevates its tale of dread and demonic underpinnings with finesse. Worthy to seek out.
Svart Cirkel (2018)
Plays like a greatest hits of modern-day terror
BLACK CIRCLE (2019) ** Felice Jankell, Erica Midfjall, Hanna Midfjall, Christina Lindberg, Hanna Asp, Johan Palm, Hans Sandqvist, Inger Nilsson. Intriguing but ultimately disjointed horror film about a pair of sisters who discover a supernatural vinyl record whose self-help mumbo jumbo unearths dopplegangers wanting to break on thru to the other side. Filmmaker Adrian Garcia Bogliano taps into many sub genres - Cronenbergian body horror, Lynch doubles, Craven dreamscapes, RING-like overtones (audio instead of video), INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS viscera and even echoes of giallo - and while it plays like a greatest hits of modern-day terror the film's final act is far too telegraphed and shrug-worthy.
Good Boys (2019)
Pint-sized SUPER BAD more or less
GOOD BOYS (2019) **1/2 Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon, Molly Gordon, Midori Francis, Izaac Wang, Millie Davis, Josh Caras, Will Forte, Mariessa Portelance, Lil Rel Howery, Retta, Michaela Watkins. Frequently funny foul-mouthed hi-jinks with tween best buds Tremblay, Williams and Noon attempting to get to a 'kissing party' with pitfalls including a destroyed drone, a cache of drugs and attempts of shoplifting beer. A mini-SUPERBAD at best thanks to Lee Isenberg and Gene Stupnitsky's screenplay (the latter directed) that manages the Apatow creed of hilarity and heart.
The Wolf Hour (2019)
Watts is superb
THE WOLF HOUR (2019) *** Naomi Watts, Jennifer Ehle, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Jeremy Bobb. Watts is superb as a writer on an emotional downward spiral after the death of her grandmother and holing up in her South Bronx apartment during the Summer Of Sam in NYC (1977) with her mind playing tricks on her and ultimately her conflict of remaining in her home despite the fact the outside world will always be a factor. Director Alistair Banks Griffin taps into his inner Polanski echoing the legendary filmmakers' 'apartment trilogy' with the right amount of dread, despair and claustrophobia.
47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)
You'll be rooting for the fish
47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED (2019) ** Sophie Nelisse, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju, Sistine Rose Stallone, Brec Bassinger, Jon Corbett, Nia Long, Kylin Rhambo, Davi Santos. Four idiotic teens decide t to check out a remote underwater city of caves and discover they're now on the menu since it's infested with sharks. You'll be rooting for the fish. (Dir: Johannes Roberts)
The creepy monsters are worth the price of admission yet something is missing to make the horror palpable
SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK (2019) **1/2 Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint, Natalie Ganzhorn, Austin Abrams, Kathleen Pollard. Creepy horror tale based on Alvin Schwartz' novel about a group of friends who unwittingly unleash a supernatural force when they discover a book of titular tales in a haunted mansion on Halloween which endangers each and every one of them. While the freaky looking monsters and apparitions are spot-on, the fine young ensemble of unknowns and decent direction by Andre Ovredal there's a want for more (or even darker dread) then what is onscreen in spite its shepherding by executive producer and fellow filmmaker of the genre Guilermo del Toro (who adapted the story with Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton).
QT's fun and deadly valentine to 1969's La-La-land hits all the right marks with sparkle from Robbie, a knowing wink by Di Caprio and an Oscar worthy turn by Pitt
ONCE UPON A TIME ...IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) ***1/2 Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Kurt Russell, Luke Perry, Al Pacino, Damine Lewis, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Mike Mo, Lorenza Izzo, Michael Madsen, Rumer Willis, Bruce Dern, Damon Herriman, Scoot McNairy, Clifton Collins Jr. , Rebecca Gayheart, Martin Kove, Clu Gulager, Brenda Vaccaro, Nicholas Hammond. Quentin Tarantino's love letter and fabled valentine to LA circa 1969 with fun cast focusing on has-been actor Rick Dalton (a wise tweak and knowing wink to how it could be for a movie star fading fast) and his best bud/stunt double Cliff Booth (scene-stealing Pitt having a field day) with the sun-dappled backdrop of La-La-Land and the shadow of Charles Manson looming on the horizon. Tarantino continues his success with a jukebox of vintage tunes, sweet rides and gobsmacked tourist postcard shots of Tinsletown's landmarks (all neon and bulging marquees as far as the eye can see). Robbie's sweet turn as Sharon Tate is lovely and QT wisely allows the late actress onscreen time as herself in a MATT HELM film and while his gift of gab sometimes sputters the last act is a humdinger and once again Pitt, I can't strongly recommend more highly for a Best Supporting Actor nom whether he's doting on his pit bull, kicking Bruce Lee's ass or tangoing with the sinister hippie family of Manson he proves his low-key charm has unbridled still waters running deep. One of the year's more entertaining films too boot.
hrowback to the '70s creature features and weather disaster flicks of the drive-in set (um, this is a good thing)
CRAWL (2019) *** Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark, Ross Anderson, Jose Palma. Throwback to the '70s creature features and weather disaster flicks of the drive-in set (um, this is a good thing) with a hurricane in Florida threatening the lives of Scodelario (excellent) attempting to rescue her estranged father Pepper (equally strong) when not only is the storm endangering their lives but the true threat of peril with alligators literally thrown into the mix. Filmmaker Alexandre Aja pulls out all the stops and wisely uses fantastic CGI with non-stop chills, action and dread enducing WTF will happen next? thanks to Michael and Shawn Rasmussen's twisty/turny screenplay and executive produced by genre master Sam Raimi. Fun scares aplenty.
Ari Aster is the 21st century M. Night Shyamalan ; um - that is not a good thing.
MIDSOMMAR (2019) * Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter. To Quote the late, great Roger Ebert : I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie
Ari Aster is the 21st century M. Night Shyamalan ; um - that is not a good thing. He's a one-trick pony. His sophomore film follow up to the jaw-dropping horror film HEREDITARY is a major disappointment, a blatant rip-off of THE WICKER MAN and ultimately an exercise in futility. A group of friends are invited by another from Sweden to attend a nine-day celebration of his small hometown that quickly downward spirals into the fact that it's (duh) a cult with hellish consequences. While Pugh is arguably the best thing about the major misfire the biggest conflict is having any empathy for four obnoxious twenty somethings (not one can you root for or relate to as to the (sur)reality of their nightmare unfolding. I'm done with Aster; mic drop.
Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
Peter Tingle! Holland's awkward charm is becoming iconic in spite of the echoing of SPIDER-MAN 3 (um, not a good thing)
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019) *** Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhall, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, Remy Hill, Martin Starr, JB Smoove, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Cobie Smulders, Peter Billingsley , (voice of Dawn Michelel King) (Cameo: JK Simmons) Fun and fast follow-up of the Spidey franchise with erstwhile Peter Parker (Holland truly fitting into the role with awkward élan) taking a much needed vacation after AVENGERS - END GAME where his high school class trip to Europe has a few roadblocks, namely an extraterrestrial force and Mysterio aka Quentin Beck (Gyllenhaal) added to the mix making things extremely difficult in his romantic plans to express his love for MJ (Zendaya, all coltish and dead-pan charm too boot). While the direction by Jon Watts and the screenplay by Erik Sommers is lively the tedious chockblock of CGI is underwhelming and over-the-top at the same time (echoing SPIDER-MAN 3; um, not a good thing). Looking forward to the next chapter on home turf.
More than a 'female SUPERBAD' -the dynamic duo of Dever & Feldstein make this one of the best films, comedies and films about teens of the year (or any year).
BOOKSMART (2019) **** Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Victoria Ruesga, Mason Gooding, Skyler Gisondo, Diana Silvers, Molly Gordon, Billie Lourd, Eduardo Franco, Nico Hirago, Austin Crute, Noah Galvin, Michael Patrick O' Brien, (voice of Maya Rudolph) Hilarious last-day-of-high-school comedy with the dynamic duo of Dever & Feldstein (channeling their inner Joan Cusack and Melissa McCarthy, respectively) as besties who realize at the last minute they have not had a fun time as teens and decide to make one final stab at a classmate's epic party on the eve of graduation. Funny, whip-smart and a great ensemble (Lourd's 'bad penny' of a friend is hysterical recalling Natasha Lyonne) help fuel the shrewd screenplay by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel & Katie Silberman that echoes John Hughes, Judd Apatow and Cameron Crowe while actress Olivia Wilde makes a humdinger directorial debut wisely allowing her talent cast to get their ya-yas out and revealing her inner Amy Heckerling, to boot. One of the best films, comedies and films about teens of the year (or any year).
Toy Story 4 (2019)
The final chapter (?) of Pixar's classic franchise is still fun and clever and pulling at the heart-strings.
TOY STORY 4 (2019) ***1/2 (Voices of: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Kay, Jordan Peele, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, June Squibb, Carl Weathers, Don Rickles, Meadeleine McGraw, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Emily Davis, Lili Sage Bromley, Jeff Garlin, Estelle Harris, Laurie Metcalf, Mel Brooks, Betty White, Carl Reiner, Carol Burnett, Bill Hader, Patricia Arquette, Timothy Dalton, Flea, Melissa Villasenor). The gang is back again in possibly the final chapter of the Pixar franchise with Woody (Hanks) attempting to juggle duties as the group's leader while taking a new toy under their wing, Forky (Hale, stealing every scene) created by his young charge Bonnie and embark on a vacation trip which reunites him with his beloved friend Bo Peep (Potts). Fun and clever still the ensemble of talent is overwhelming (and sadly many are short-shrifted as well) but the theme of universal love of children and their playthings still pulls at the heart-strings. (Dir: Josh Cooley)
The Dead Don't Die (2019)
"This Won't End Well" - Murray & Company try their best while Jarmusch finds his inner Romero
THE DEAD DON'T DIE (2019 **1/2 Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Caleb Landry Jones, RZA, Larry Fessenden, Rosie Perez, Carol Kane, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, Selena Gomez, Esztter Balint, Rosal Colon. Indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch gets in touch with his inner George A. Romero in this funky yet somewhat disappointing zombie comedy about a small-town facing end of the world changes - the earth is off its axis and the dead are returning to life with predictable tropes embedded and underscored (Driver's deadpan police officer's refrain of "This won't end well" and his well-known use of horror lore are key throughout the carnage involved). While I can see why the director (who also wrote the Saltine-dry screenplay) attempts to shake things up in it final act all I can say is 'um, no you shouldn't have'. Murray's sheriff and Swinton's ethereal funeral director are a hoot, as well as Waits' Greek chorus as the town's hermit, as expected but the rest of the cast is sorely wasted (literally).
Spencer stretches her acting muscles in this disjointed horror flick
MA (2019) ** Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis, McKaley Miller, Corey Fogelmanis, Gianni Paolo, Dante Brown, Tanyell Waivers, Dominic Burgess, Heather Marie Pate, Tate Taylor, Luke Evans, Margaret Fegan, Missi Pyle, Allison Janney, Kyanna Simone Simpson. Disjointed horror film that showcases Spencer's darker side as a put-upon middle-age woman who unlikely becomes the friend of a group of teenagers who use her cellar as a joint to get lit up in. While the actress stretches her muscles with her disturbed character the plotting is predictable (echoes of A Nightmare On Elm Street and even Psycho to lift from a few chillers) no thanks to Scotty Landes' so-so screenplay and not-too-scary direction from Tate Taylor.
WICK-edly Entertaining and Over-the-Top; Primo Keanu
JOHN WICK : CHAPTER 3 - PARABELLUM (2019) *** 1/2
Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Tobias Segal, Anjelica Huston, Said Taghmaoui. Kick-ass continuation in the action franchise with laconic assassin-on-the run/dog lover Wick (Reeves having a helluva field day) facing immense odds on his life with practically EVERYONE out to kill him with a $14M bounty on his head. Proving that excessive violence never solved anything, the outrageous graphic violence is plentiful (um alert Guinness for record held in head shots alone!) and gleefully over the top absurd (a lethal fight has its victim reflect on just what a battle he's been in) and gainfully entertaining. Buckle up. (Dir : Chad Stahelski)
The Curse of La Llorona (2019)
Scareless supernatural chiller
THE CURSE OF LA LLORNA (2019) ** Linda Cardellini,Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Raymond Cruz, Marisol Ramirez, Patricia Velasquez, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tony Amendola. Scareless supernatural chiller about a cursed Mexican ghost who comes to claim a widow's young children as her own with nefarious methods. Lackluster script by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis is only hindered by cliche-riddled direction by Michael Chaves.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
"..whatever it takes..."; Fittingly uncompromising final chapter
AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) ***1/2 Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Brie Larson, Tom Holland, Karen Gillan, Zoe Saldana, Evangeline Lilly, Tessa Thompson, Rene Russo, Elizabeth Osen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Pm Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Letitia Wright, John Slattery, Tilda Swinton, Jon Favreau, Hayley Atwill, Natalie Portman, Maris Tomei, Angela Bassett, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, William Hurt, Cobie Smulders, Winston Duke, Linda Cardellini, Frank Grillo, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, James D'Arcy, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Redford, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt, Samuel L. Jackson, Ross Marquand (Voices of: Bradley Cooper & Vin Diesel) Grande finale in the supernova Marvel franchise with the titular super heroic team facing impossible odds in the devastating aftermath of the alien Thanos' universal wipe-out has the Herculean task in changing things back for the better with deadly results in the process. Filmmaking brothers Anthony and Joe Russo continue to balance the amazing set pieces, epic battles and human factor largely thanks to the equally well-written screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely bringing all the feels with its trademark wit and WTF extravaganzas too boot. The astounding ensemble each have their moments but the heartfelt trials that Evans' Captain America and Hemsworth's Thor shine brightly so. Fittingly uncompromising final chapter.