Dream Log

2019 | Dir. Michael Dowse | 105 Minutes
4 out of 5
A serviceable, surprisingly bloody, R-rated comedy deserving of an extra point thanks to the charm of its two excellent leads and fun supporting cast. Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista are without a doubt an entertaining duo, fully committing to their roles as the timid doormat Uber driver and the too-macho-for-his-own-good hero cop. While the picture features some truly hilarious moments, the script is slightly undercooked, leading up to a third act that's somewhat lacking. It could have also made more use of Iko Uwais though we do get a couple brutal, if brief, fights between the Indonesian action phenom and Bautista.

2019 | Dir. Ari Aster | 147 Minutes
4 out of 5
Writer/director Ari Aster's follow-up to Hereditary is a beautifully shot exercise in ritual catharsis, and as far away as viewers can get from a generic big studio horror film. In fact, hyper-elaborate pagan ceremonies and lingering graphic violence aside, I'm not 100% sure I'd even file this one under horror. It's strange, it's engaging, it's creepy (maybe not outright scary enough for weirdos *like me* who ravenously consume the genre), it's morbidly funny, it drifts a bit before it goes off the rails, and it's ultimately mighty gratifying.

2019 | Dir. Danny Boyle | 116 Minutes
3 out of 5
A sweet and adorable romcom starring very attractive people that just happens to feature decent covers of the Beatles' greatest hits performed by charming lead Himesh Patel. The fun and intriguing high-concept plot device that sets the story in motion is mostly played for clever (but never too clever) laughs, eventually tying into the stardom-is-corrosive moral of the tale. The universe-altering incident is never explored in greater metaphysical depth - and that's fine, really! It's one of those saccharine-by-design follow-your-heart movies, not a speculative sci-fi mindwarp after all. The most creative aspect of the picture is director Danny Boyle's signature visual flair, and he's clearly overqualified for the job. Side note: Kate McKinnon is awesome as Ed Sheeran's aggressively evil manager.

2019 | Dir. Gary Dauberman | 106 Minutes
3 out of 5
The latest Conjuring-adjacent flick has a lot going for it - amiable and versatile young leads, inspired creature designs and set pieces, and even a touching story at its core. The problem is that it just isn't particularly scary. Despite having all the right components, and competent direction that adequately builds the appropriate atmosphere, the scares are impressively constructed but disappointingly toothless. Also, for an Annabelle movie, the comically creepy doll (or, per the lore, the demon that manipulates it) doesn't really do very much, sharing the spotlight with the other entities unleashed from the Warrens' storied room of cursed objects. It's a fun, but ultimately forgettable ride. Here's hoping the next mainline Conjuring film delivers the quality horror that these spin-offs lack due to one mediocre aspect or another.

2019 | Dir. F. Gary Gray | 115 Minutes
2 out of 5
This soft reboot is so dull, it's downright criminal. Casting Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth in the respective MIB rookie and burned-out mentor roles was a brilliant notion but their talents are utterly, heartbreakingly squandered on a not-very-clever not-quite-weird-enough plot, and the lifeless and forgettable set pieces in between. Perhaps most upsetting, Kumail Nanjiani, one of my favorite performers ever, provides the voice for a tiny alien creature that essentially serves as the joke writers' weaksauce punch-up dispenser. While the movie's not offensively terrible, it's just a waste of time for everyone involved including its potential audience. It could have been so much more.


Spider-Man: Far From Home

2019 | Dir. Jon Watts | 129 Minutes

"People need to believe, and nowadays they'll believe anything."

Nick Fury recruits Peter Parker to take part in a secret mission assisting an otherworldly stranger in his fight against an incredible threat, disrupting Peter's school trip touring Europe. Still grieving over the recent loss of his beloved mentor, Peter is reluctant to answer the call to action as he juggles his duo-identity as unassuming high school student and famous masked hero.

Taking on the unenviable task of following Avengers: Endgame and closing out a decade of Marvel Studios productions, on top of delivering a satisfying sequel to his well-received Spider-Man reboot, Jon Watts returns to the direct and hits it right out of the park. Spider-Man: Far From Home balances mildly raunchy teen comedy and high-flying superhero action while exploring hefty themes with skill and style. This sequel is centered around the inherent challenges of carrying on the legacy of the departed and the dubious veracity of information during uncertain times.

Taking a page from the very best Spider-Man stories, Peter Parker struggles with embracing the responsibility of being a hero, this time with the added pressure of having to fill the void left in Tony Stark's absence. Until the final act of the story, Peter dodges the public expectation for him to be the next Iron Man, much to the chagrin of an impatient Fury. Peter even concedes the role much too quickly when he makes his biggest mistake yet. Having shared with Peter the grief over losing Tony, a decidedly more sympathetic Happy Hogan helps Peter realize that no one expects him to be infallible because Tony certainly wasn't. However, it becomes apparent that many still bear a grudge against Tony for his fallibility.

Posthumously bringing the story of Tony Stark full circle, the primary antagonists of the picture are revealed to be disgruntled Stark Industries ex-employees, eager to fabricate and install their own hero to take Tony's place. In the aftermath of the cataclysmic and unpredictable events of Avengers: Infinity War and the years that followed, this band of purportedly downtrodden engineers take advantage of the seemingly constant state of widespread panic to construct a crisis and a champion that the vulnerable public is conditioned to accept. On top of the villains' sinister plot of false narratives and manufactured catastrophes, the script is full of jibes questioning the accuracy of online reports and broadcast news. Brilliantly fitting, the evil ringleader's final attack is the weaponized deployment of doctored video footage, more harmful than a physical attack against the hero.

The picture is one of the better looking Marvel Studios films, making good use of location shooting in Venice, Prague, and London. The visual effects behind several waking nightmare sequences during the back half of the film are magnificent, comparable and even besting some of the wilder, more surreal sequences from Doctor Strange. Michael Giacchino's musical score is some of his best work for Marvel Studios yet, further developing on his Spider-Man theme from Spider-Man: Homecoming as well as contributing an appropriately bombastic theme for Mysterio.

It's not difficult to make the case that Tom Holland is the best live-action Spider-Man. It helps that Marvel Studios' writers continue to provide him with inspiring material, with it he is able to showcase a broad and nuanced range of emotion, selling the physical comedy with panache and really delivering the touching moments when Peter is at his most helpless. Jake Gyllenhaal is an absolute pleasure playing the selfless would-be mentor-figure Quentin Beck, and he's even better after the fateful mid-point of the picture. As M.J., Zendaya's chemistry with Tom Holland is palpably adorkable, and she has some of the best lines accentuated by her natural delivery for dry humor.

The supporting cast features Jacob Batalon, Angourie Rice, and Tony Revolori reprising their roles as Peter's classmates Ned, Betty, and Flash, each with their fair share of funny moments. Martin Starr is joined by J.B. Smoove portraying Peter's bumbling amusingly clueless schoolteachers. Jon Favreau and Marisa Tomei appear briefly as Happy and Aunt May, sharing a budding romance that makes Peter hilariously uncomfortable. Samuel L. Jackson is reliably cool in his eleventh appearance as Fury, once again alongside Colbie Smulders as Fury's trusty confidant Maria Hill who is afforded her first truly awesome action beat since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Remi Hii delivers a believable performance as Peter's insufferable square-jawed romantic rival.

With an excellent cast, affecting light-hearted comedy, and some truly spectacular visuals, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a worthy second installment in the Tom Holland Spider-Man film series, and a fitting coda for Marvel Studios' Infinity Saga. Clearly produced with as much love, style, and appreciation for the spirit of the source material as Spider-Man: Homecoming, the scope and spectacle is on a larger, much more impressive scale this time around.

A breaking news report sourced from media personality and conspiracy nut J. Jonah Jameson broadcasts Quentin Beck's dying message to the world: doctored video footage framing Spider-Man for his crimes coupled with the revelation that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.

Nick Fury and Maria Hill are revealed to be the Skrulls Talos and Soren in disguise. The couple notifies the real Nick Fury that they delivered Tony's glasses to Peter. Meanwhile, Fury directs a Skrull crew in a massive space station.

- Jake Gyllenhaal was once briefly in the running to replace Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker in director Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2

- The return of Iron Man executive producer Peter Billingsley as erstwhile Stark Industries scientist William, famously on the receiving end of Obadiah Stane's classic "Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave! With a box of scraps!" outburst, might be my favorite unexpected MCU callback so far

- Composer Michael Giacchino references Alan Silvestri's theme for The Avengers in two key scenes

- Happy cuing up AC/DC's "Back In Black" as Peter uses Tony's tools to create a new Spider-Man suit (and Peter misidentifying the song as a Led Zeppelin tune) is also a nice callback for MCU true believers

- J.K. Simmons reprises the role of J. Jonah Jameson, having previously appeared as the most vocal Spider-Man hater in the multiverse in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man film trilogy, and I couldn't be happier; he is the undisputed definitive J.J. Jameson after all

- Video: Donovan Mitchell (ESPN Spot)


Toy Story 4

2019 | Dir. Josh Cooley | 100 Minutes

"He's not lost, not anymore."

During a family road trip, Woody embarks on a perilous mission to rescue Bonnie's new favorite toy and encounters an old friend experiencing life beyond his inherent sense of unwavering duty.

Full of heart and thematically rich, Toy Story 4 maintains the high storytelling standard set by the previous Toy Story films. Instead of manufacturing a rudimentary retread, the filmmakers crafted a sobering, though still exceptionally amusing, re-examination of the series' core themes of loyalty, the value of being loved, and the inevitable limits of unconditional love. While Toy Story 3 is a tale of rediscovering love, and accepting its ephemeral nature, the central narrative of Toy Story 4 is concerned with realizing and embracing personal value and agency over seeking validation from love. This deeply emotional journey is taken by stalwart series protagonist Woody.

The twitchy kindergarten craft creation Forky overcomes his urge to return to trash and accepts his importance to Bonnie as her favorite toy when Woody recounts his positive experiences with Andy. Antagonist pull-string doll Gabby Gabby, dedicating her existence to woo one specific child at the expense of anyone who gets in her way, attains a more enlightened perspective when she learns by Woody's example to offer her love to any child in need of it. Having completely let go of the need to be owned and loved by a child, Bo re-enters Woody's life as a self-assured heroic figure, thriving in her status as a lost toy, eager to explore the open world before her, presenting her favorite cowboy with a new and exciting life he had never considered before.

Tom Hanks turns in his finest voice work to date, playing Woody a little warier and a little less excitable. The patient dignified resignation in Hanks' interactions with Tony Hale's manic and naive Forky run in stark contrast to the constant antagonistic frustration prevalent in the early stages of Woody's relationship with Buzz. Treading the line between sweet and sinister, Christina Hendricks is perfect as Gabby Gabby, domineering, menacing, manipulative, vulnerable, and sympathetic all at once. Finally given a true role in the overarching narrative, Annie Potts is an absolute joy as the radically transformed Bo. Subtle choices in Potts' line delivery go a long way to suggest the porcelain figurine has been through a lot over the years so as it's not so hard to believe she is now more action star than love interest.

The movie is also incredibly funny thanks to some sharp writing and its fun cast. A running gag with Tim Allen's Buzz Lightyear literally taking guidance from his inner voice by repeated pushing his own buttons is hysterical. Acclaimed comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are an inspired addition to the cast playing a pair of delusional stuffed animals. With a thematically appropriate (mildly) tragic backstory, Canadian stuntman toy Duke Caboom voiced by Keanu Reeves unequivocally steals the show.

Needless to say, the film is yet another unparalleled visual masterpiece from Pixar's animation geniuses. Despite its relatively smaller scope when compared to other films in the series, the primary antique store and fair grounds locations are full of life and meticulous artistry down to the most minuscule of details. Bo showing Woody her favorite place in the antique shop atop a high shelf with a clear view of the light refracting off all the chandeliers in the room is just one of the many standout moments.

Toy Story 4 is as entertaining and emotionally moving as one can expect from Pixar's top-tier productions. The unexpected magic of this sequel is in how naturally it resumes a journey that had seemingly reached the end of its cycle but, in retrospect, would feel incomplete without this installment. It is essential viewing for fans of the series, fans of the Pixar's brand of high quality animation, and anyone with an appreciation for good storytelling.

Duke Caboom strikes several poses with the Pixar Animation Studios logo and delivers a long-awaited high-five

- Hamm the tech-savvy piggy bank

- A vintage 1970s style A113 sign appears in the antique shop

- Numerous items featured in the antique shop reference various Pixar feature films and animated shorts including Tinny from Tin Toy, an Ernesto de la Cruz vinyl record (Coco), a Super 8 copy of Lifted, and a handkerchief with Wally B. stitched into it (Andre and Wally B.) among many others

- Bo's sheep discover the grape soda bottle cap from Up in the playground

- The Pizza Planet truck is tattooed on back of the carnival worker's leg

- Incidentally, another film featuring a malicious child's doll, a remake of Child's Play, premiered the same week as this film

- Another film featuring an even creepier sentient doll, Annabelle Comes Home, premiered the following week

- Series regular Don Rickles passed away while the film was in pre-production; his dialogue for Mr. Potato Head was constructed using archival recordings with permission from his family

- Comedy legends Mel Brooks Carol Burnett, Betty White, and Carl Reiner provide the voices for Bonnie's old and forgotten baby toys residing in her closet

- Keanu Reeves' voice was previously featured with Key and Peele in the action comedy Keanu

- Video: Toy Story 4 "Teaser Trailer Reaction"

- Timothy Dalton (James Bond in The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill)


Avengers: Endgame

2019 | Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo | 181 Minutes

"Everything's gonna work out exactly the way it's supposed to."

Heroes gather and attempt to undo the devastation that Thanos forced upon the entire universe.

Thematically, Avengers: Endgame is the story of heroes living through grief, coping with failure, and confronting the past in order to build a brighter the future. The film unfolds as three overstuffed acts that play like a trio of distinctly entertaining films. After a prologue that directly follows the events of Avengers: Infinity War, the first act proper is a deliberate but incredibly moving getting-the-band-back-together dramatic comedy exploring the variety of ways the heroes handle depression and the specter of failure. The second act is a thrilling high stakes multi-front mission that forces the heroes to confront their pasts directly. The film's third act delivers a sensational action extravaganza unlike anything ever successfully attempted before in a superhero movie. During this climatic battle to end all battles, nearly every hero gets their personalized moment to shine as they secure their future in the fight of their lives.

Despite the extended running time of just over three hours, the filmmakers do not offer a single shred of tangible exposition to the uninitiated, trusting that audiences for this picture did not choose to begin at the end. Its sprawling story draws upon every Marvel Studios film leading up to it, its funniest jokes and its most touching moments are completely dependent on the audience's familiarity with the previous movies. It also serves as the definitive final chapter for several members of the core team initially established in the first Avengers film, their stories concluding in fitting and poignant ways.

Robert Downey Jr. masterfully brings Tony Stark's character development over the last decade to the forefront, delivering Tony's signature wit and arrogance as it gives way to a palpable vulnerability. As a world-weary and more practical Steve Rogers, Chris Evans is better than ever personifying decency, optimism, and unyielding determination as the stalwart leader of the Avengers. Scarlett Johansson carries Natasha Romanoff's most complete dramatic arc yet with genuine emotional resonance, a repentant assassin desperately seeking absolution for past sins, a reformed killer who fully embraces her found family, particularly with her closest friend and comrade-in-arms Clint Barton. Jeremy Renner returns as a tougher, emotionally scarred Clint on a self-destructive quest for vengeance, fully utilizing his dramatic talent and action star experience. Mark Ruffalo is downright lovable playing a surprisingly new self-assured take on Bruce Banner. Also taking on a shockingly different approach to his character, Chris Hemsworth is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking as a deeply broken Thor, remarkably human in how he deals with his sorrow.

Paul Rudd delivers his funniest and most dramatically moving work continuing to accentuate his strengths as a relatable comedic personality in the role of Scott Lang. Bradley Cooper returns to voice Rocket, sharing some of his best scenes with Hemsworth's Thor, carrying on their amusing rapport established in the previous Avengers film. Finally provided with a fully-formed character arc, Karen Gillan is magnificent as the emotionally distant cyborg killer Nebula learning to value what remains of her humanity. Though her screen time is limited, Brie Larson owns every moment that features Carol Danvers, exuding absolute confidence as the super-powered space hero. The film also features the return of Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Danai Gurira as Dora Milaje General Okoye, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, Taika Waititi as Korg, and numerous actors from past Marvel Studios films reprising their roles in surprise appearances.

Avengers: Endgame is the ultimate follow-up and conclusion to over twenty films spanning eleven years, delivering an overwhelming abundance of emotional fulfillment on top of mind-blowing spectacle. It is a lovingly-assembled grand finale, an unprecedented achievement for the superhero film genre, and an honest to goodness pop culture milestone, rewarding the loyalty of Marvel Cinematic Universe fans three thousand times over.

"Hey, man! Make love, not war!"

- To maintain the secrecy of the film's plot, Robert Downey Jr. was the only cast member allowed to read a full copy of the script

- The heroes who vanished in Avengers: Infinity War are missing from the Marvel Studios logo following the cold open

- Alan Silvestri's musical score references Pinar Toprak's theme for Captain Marvel, Christophe Beck's theme for Ant-Man, and Michael Giacchino's theme for Doctor Strange

- Co-director Joe Russo and Thanos creator Jim Starlin make cameo appearances sharing a scene with Steve Rogers

- Several themes from Alan Silvestri's score for Captain America: The First Avenger are featured throughout the film

- Ken Jeong and Yvette Nicole Brown (Chang and Shirley on Dan Harmon's Community) make cameo appearances

- Video: Alan Silvestri "Totally Fine"

- Video: Alan Silvestri "Portals"

- Dave Bautista (Mr. Hinx in Spectre)


Captain Marvel

2019 | Dir. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck | 124 Minutes

"I've been fighting with one arm tied behind my back, but what happens when I'm finally set free?"

While pursuing a group of shape-shifting enemy combatants, Vers, an interstellar warrior with the ability to channel limitless energy crash lands on Earth. After befriending awestruck SHIELD Agent Nick Fury, she discovers the truth about her past as US Air Force pilot Carol Danvers and the source of her extraordinary powers. With her newfound knowledge, Danvers changes the course of an intergalactic war.

Though Captain Marvel is essentially a superhero origin story, filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck mostly forego standard pacing and narrative structure as the feature opens in the midst of a war between two alien races, providing limited exposition to the audience and presenting the Danvers' backstory in disjointed fragments. The beginning of her adventure on Earth is entertaining but slightly meandering as Danvers chases vague leads with an unclear connection to both her enemies and her past. However, by the midway point of the film, when the real stakes are revealed, the story rewardingly comes into razor-sharp focus, running parallel to Danvers' journey in rediscovering her genuine memories, regaining her sense of identity, and truly realizing her potential that had always been actively suppressed by others.

Captain Marvel primarily takes place on Earth in 1995, and Boden and Fleck use the period setting well enough, dressing the production with fun, only occasionally distracting nostalgic details by way of decade-specific background props - my favorite is naturally a "Street Fighter II: Champion Edition" arcade cabinet sitting in a bar, sound effects - Nintendo Game Boy and dial-up modem beeps and bloops, and choice needle drops - most notably No Doubt's "Just A Girl" in a key fight scene and Hole's "Celebrity Skin" to close out of the film. Though the sight of Carol Danvers radiating with cosmic energy is magnificently glorious, the most impressive visual effect is the miraculous digital de-aging of iconic veteran actor Samuel L. Jackson, somehow so natural that it never becomes jarring.

Perfectly cast in the lead role, Brie Larson exudes playful humor and unflappable confidence as Carol Danvers, imbuing the title character with unique charm and charisma. Samuel L. Jackson reprises the role of Nick Fury with an entirely fresh approach, presenting a previously unseen, less jaded side of the SHIELD agent that can still be surprised and impressed by the mysteries of the universe. The dynamic between Laron's cool and composed Danvers and Jackson's constantly astounded Fury lifts the film, leaning into buddy cop action comedy tropes in the best way possible. The heart of the story is the unbreakable friendship betweeb Danvers and fellow Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau played by Lashana Lynch, and the love they share with Rambeau's doting daughter Monica portrayed adorably by eleven-year-old actress Akira Akbar. Lynch and Akbar do an excellent job of providing emotional weight and authenticity to Danvers' journey. Lynch is particularly convincing in conveying the initial confusion and heartbreak upon Danvers' unexpected return to Earth after being told by the military for over half a decade that her friend had perished in a failed test flight.

Film villain extraordinaire Ben Mendelsohn is surprisingly hilarious as the Skrull commander Talos, delightfully fleshing out the role especially during the back half of the story as the character takes a unexpected turn. Conversely, Jude Law plays no-nonsense Kree Starforce leader Yon-Rogg with a stoicism that is appropriately frustrating. In a dual role, Annette Bening shows of her versatility playing both the Kree Empire's computerized leader (as it appears to Danvers) and Danvers' inspirational mentor Dr. Wendy Lawson (who hides a secret of her own). Absolutely stealing the show is Goose, an unsuspecting feline with an alarming secret played by four different cats: Reggie, Archie, Rizzo and Gonzo. The film also features Gemma Chan, Algenis Pérez Soto, and Rune Temte as members of Starforce. After an extended absence, Clark Gregg makes a welcome return as Phil Coulson, also impressively digitally de-aged like his senior SHIELD colleague. Seemingly returning for posterity, and somehow making even less of an impact than in their Guardians of the Galaxy debut, Djimon Hounsou and Lee Pace reprise the roles of Korath (a member of Starforce in the past) and Ronan the Accuser (still a sociopathic extremist but just sightly less).

Marvel Studios properly introduces their most powerful hero in an entertaining blend of space opera and 1990s buddy cop comedy. At its center, Captain Marvel is an inspirational story of realized potential finally unburdened by limitations unjustly set by others. Though it works within the trappings of a superhero origin story, there is an abundance of humor and several exciting twists that keep it thoroughly engaging. For existing fans, it is a worthy addition to the Marvel Studios canon that provides new context for previous installments and sets its sights toward a brilliant future.

Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo
After debating over what to do about Nick Fury's pager that has suddenly become inactive, the Avengers meet Carol Danvers.

Goose regurgitates the Tesseract on Nick Fury's desk.

While riding the subway, Stan the Man rehearses lines for his cameo appearance in Kevin Smith's Mallrats.

- In memory of Stan Lee, the Marvel Studios logo that opens the film exclusively features images of Stan Lee and clips of his various cameo appearances from the Marvel Studios films

- Goose is named after Nick "Goose" Bradshaw from Top Gun; in the original Marvel Comics, the character is known as Chewie, named after Chewbacca from the Star Wars films

- Marvel Studios security director Barry Curtis makes a cameo appearance as a strip mall security officer

- Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson previously appeared together in Kong: Skull Island

- During Stan Lee's cameo appearance, Pinar Toprak's musical score subtly references the Marvel Studios Fanfare composed by Michael Giacchino

- Acclaimed Captain Marvel comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick makes a cameo appearance as a commuter in a Los Angeles subway station

- As Monica and Danvers select new colors for Danvers' uniform, they cycle through tbe color schemes of past Marvel Comics incarnations of Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel: black, red, and gold; black and gold; and green and white

- Alan Silvestri's theme for The Avengers plays as Nick Fury decides to name name his initiative to gather enahanced heroes to protect Earth after Carol Danvers' aviator call sign

- Website: Captain Marvel | Trailer & Official Movie Site (1990s Style)

- Video: Pinar Toprak "Captain Marvel"



2018 | Dir. Adam McKay | 132 Minutes

"When a monotone bureaucratic Vice President came to power, we hardly noticed."

An alcoholic college dropout makes a promise to his ambitious girlfriend to turn his life around. He lands an internship at White House and eventually maneuvers his way to become the Secretary of Defense, his sights set on the Oval Office, eager to utilize an obscure political theory to attain an unprecedented amount of power. As his dream of becoming president slips away, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presents itself when he is offered the job of Vice President.

Writer/Director Adam McKay's follow up to 2015's The Big Short is an entertaining but wildly meandering evisceration of George W. Bush's enigmatic and ruthless Vice President. While the film's mysterious narrator eloquently states the picture's mission to examine exactly where a man like Dick Cheney originates, the movie never quite delivers on that promise. During its first half, the audience is presented with an unassuming dirt bag who becomes more callous as he successfully makes his way up the political ladder, but his motivations as dramatized by McKay's narrative never seem to go beyond an unquenchable thirst for power with occasional asides suggesting that he is also driven by the whims and ambitions of his wife Lynne. Perhaps by design, the second half is woefully unfocused, sorely lacking anything resembling a coherent emotional throughline.

It's an understatement to say that the overarching story is less than cinematic, but thankfully McKay's comedic sensibilities and the surreal storytelling structure of the picture serve to really liven things up. Stylistically similar to The Big Short, complex concepts (this time, political concepts), and sometimes the Cheney's character traits and backhanded strategies, are explained in humorous asides that are as funny as they are grim. However, the concluding punchlines doubling as major dark revelations surrounding the Bush Administration may seem underwhelming to anyone who paid close attention to news headlines at the time.

Christian Bale's Dick Cheney impression is uncanny and appropriately subdued. In that sense, it should be noted that the role does not require Bale to emote in the slightest as it is very much a purely physical transformation. Ever the force to be reckoned with, Amy Adams turns in another praiseworthy performance as Cheney's headstrong wife and prime motivator Lynne. Steve Carell is captivatingly despicable as the morally bankrupt Donald Rumsfeld. Sam Rockwell's screen time is limited but he is eerily believable as George W. Bush. The film also features Alison Pill and Lily Rabe as Cheney's daughters Mary and Liz, Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, and Alfred Molina, Naomi Watts, and Jesse Plemmons in minor but memorable roles.

Creative narrative structure, clever asides, and key bits of exposition delivered through fun featured cameos only carry Vice so far as it loses a considerable amount of steam during its back half. While it is an amusing and pointed indictment of the fundamental flaws within the American political system, the film's most glaring fault is that it doesn't have anything new or revelatory to say about Dick Cheney and the presidential administration he absolutely controlled.

- Christian Bale gained 45 pounds to play Dick Cheney, reportedly eating lots of pies

- In one memorable sequence, Adam McKay compares the powers obtained through the Unitary Executive Theory to those of Galactus from Marvel Comics; McKay contributed to the script for Ant-Man and is rumored to be developing a film centered on Silver Surfer, Herald of Galactus

- Sam Rockwell (Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2)


A Star is Born

2018 | Dir. Bradley Cooper | 135 Minutes

"Music is essentially twelve notes between any octave. Twelve notes and the octave repeats. It's the same story told over and over. All the artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes."

By chance, talented amateur singer Ally leaves a lasting impression on country music superstar Jackson Maine when he sees Ally perform a drag bar. After convincing Ally to join him on stage to perform an original song that she had written, Ally becomes an overnight success. The pair fall deeply in love but their relationship is under constant pressure from Jack's objection to Ally's career choices and his personal struggles with depression and addiction.

Marking Hollywood's fourth take on A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper's directorial debut is clearly Cooper's passion project considering the amount of heart evident on screen in every frame. The love story that drives the picture is genuinely moving as is the inevitable tragedy inherent in every version of the story. Musical sequences are executed with impressive technical mastery, ranging in scale from small and intimate to massive and exhilarating. The songs, many of which were written by Lady Gaga and Cooper, are bona fide earworms. The moment Ally joins Jack on stage to perform her star-making song is pure cinematic magic, an instantly iconic sequence for the ages.

Unfortunately, the rest of the picture following that moment is spent coming down from that high, never to reach it again. Though surely by design, what remains is a fairly standard critique of stardom and celebrity ego, with Ally following the path of a generic albeit wildly successful pop singer and Jack overtaken by his deep-seated trauma and alcoholism. The wisdom Jack ultimately imparts on Ally is to use her voice to say something meaningful while she has the attention of the world, but his message never cuts any deeper than that.

The fantastic chemistry the two leads share is nothing short of remarkable. Lady Gaga is extraordinary as Ally, perfectly showcasing her authenticity, her vulnerability, and her raw musical talent. Gaga's innate charisma makes it remarkably easy to fall in love with Ally, providing a unique natural energy to her performance. Taking on the role of a self-destructive FM-country star on his way out, Cooper turns in a reliable but relatively standard performance with just enough quietly tormented inner life to stay engaging. The most impressive aspect of Cooper's performance is his commitment to look and sound the part of a country rock artist, without a doubt the product of dedicated research and training. The supporting cast features Andrew Dice Clay as Ally's lovable working class father, Sam Elliott as Jack's long suffering brother and manager, and Dave Chappelle in what amounts to an extended cameo appearance as Jack's supportive best friend.

Though not an entirely fresh retelling of a familiar story, A Star is Born is a well-crafted and emotionally resonant picture with an exceptional soundtrack. Its simple but moving love story is the feature's greatest strength. The film's biggest flaw is that it does not fully illustrate its most interesting idea: the responsibility of pop artists to deliver meaningful art considering the powerful but fleeting nature of their influence on the world.

- The amusing dialogue in the drag bar scenes were mostly improvised

- Some of the musical performances were filmed at the 2017 Coachella Festival

- Jack and Ally's dog in the film is played by Bradley Cooper's dog Charlie

- Video: Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper "Shallow"

- Video: Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper "Shallow" (Live in Las Vegas on January 26, 2019)

- Video: Lady Gaga "Always Remember Us This Way"

- Video: Lady Gaga "Look What I Found"

- Video: Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper "I'll Never Love Again"

- Bradley Cooper (Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame)



2018 | Dir. Alfonso Cuarón | 135 Minutes

"We love you so much, Cleo."

The modest life of a live-in housekeeper for a middle-class household in 1970 Colonia Roma is disrupted by an unexpected pregnancy. As her employer's marriage falls apart, political turmoil on the streets boil over, and her own situation worsens, Cleo carries on with genuine love and support from the family she serves.

Roma is a meditative examination of a life that would typically be overlooked or dismissed outright for a narrative feature. Beautifully shot in striking black and white, writer/director Alfonso Cuarón accentuates major events of Cleo's story by setting them against the politically volatile times of early 1970s Mexico. Mounting tensions within Cleo's life and her household symbolically manifest into spontaneous forest fires and violence in the streets. Through all of her highs and lows, the profound affection that Cleo shares with the family that employs her figuratively and literally saves her life as well as theirs.

Dedicated to his childhood nanny and loosely based on her life, Caurón captures the minutiae of Cleo's day-to-day activities in tender loving detail. Through these moments and her interactions with the family, particularly with the children she tends to and cares for, Cleo is authentically presented as a fully defined human being with a dignified inner life, never framed as a doting servant but as a valued member of the household. Visually, the scope of the film gracefully expands in several key sequences featuring Cuarón's signature long extended takes that seamlessly build dramatic tension.

Without any formal acting experience, Yalitza Aparicio is warm, charming, and remarkably natural as Cleo, essentially the polar opposite of a big flashy lead performance in the best way possible. Aparicio is especially heartbreaking during the final stretch of the story that requires her to express great loss and greater bravery. Playing the mother of the family, Marina de Tavira effectively portrays a highly-educated headstrong woman on the cusp of a painful divorce, a person who could not be any more different from Cleo in terms of social status and temperament. Some of the film's best moments are shared between Aparicio and de Tavira, as Cuarón focuses on the struggles that the two women have in common.

Visually breathtaking, crafted with love and precision, Roma is a comprehensive showcase of Alfonso Cuarón's skills as storyteller and filmmaker. The picture takes a deeply personal and compassionate look at the life of a humble servant and presents it on a scale that gracefully shifts between intimate and epic. The deliberate pacing the film may be a detractor for some viewers, but the human story of perseverance and unconditional love at its core is profoundly moving and absolutely worthy of an audience.

- Like the character she portrays, Yalitza Aparicio cannot swim and was terrified about the climatic sequence on the beach

- The family goes to the cinema to see the 1969 space adventure film Marooned starring Gregory Peck, a direct inspiration for Alfonso Cuarón's 2013 film Gravity for which he won an Oscar for Best Director


Green Book

2018 | Dir. Peter Farrelly | 130 Minutes

"You never win with violence, Tony. You only win when you maintain your dignity. Dignity always prevails."

New York wise guy Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga is hired by acclaimed black pianist Dr. Don Shirley to be his driver and bodyguard for an extended concert tour running through the American Midwest and the Deep South. On this travels with Dr. Shirley guided by the Negro Motorist Green Book, Tony witnesses the injustice black people are subjected to every day. By the end of the journey, Tony develops a lasting friendship with Dr. Shirley.

Based on the real life story of Tony's relationship with Dr. Shirley, written and produced by Tony's son Nick Vallelonga, Green Book is an odd couple comedic drama that juxtaposes street wise Tony with high society artist Dr. Shirley to present a heavy-handed but shallow anti-racism message. Director Peter Farelly, best known for broad comedies, is a competent fit as the narrative follows the standard structure of a road movie not dissimilar to his past hits Dumb and Dumber and Me, Myself, and Irene. The humor, based primarily in Tony's ignorance and lewdness is rote and by the numbers, as is the way the film handles its central moral, from Tony quipping about the size of women's breasts in Pittsburgh, to his incredulous reaction when he discovers Dr. Shirley is unfamiliar with Little Richard's music, to his dramatic proclamation that his world is "blacker" than Dr. Shirley's when comparing the poverty in his Italian American community to Dr. Shirley's upper class way of life.

Viggo Mortensen's commitment to the role of Tony is commendable, doing his very best to humanize the character despite the fact that he was virtually written to as a stereotypical caricature. As Dr. Shirley, Mahershala Ali is brilliant, lifting up the film with his presence and showcasing his wide range of talent by bringing subtlety to the script's underwritten and somewhat inconsistent depiction of the virtuoso - troubled, reserved, eloquent, lonely, alcoholic, closeted homosexual. The onscreen chemistry between Mortensen and Ali is serviceable but less than memorable. Though always a welcome sight, Linda Cardellini appears in a small part as Tony's wife Dolores without much to do.

Strong performances from Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali elevate Green Book's status from mediocre to pseudo-prestigious. At best, the film is a mostly harmless feel-good picture that simply wags a finger at racism in America. At worst, it doesn't quite work as a comedy or a drama, presenting situations that are far better executed in other pictures that tackle the same subject matter with substantially more grace, tact, and pertinence.

- Dr. Shirley's family condemns the film, stating Tony and Dr. Shirley's relationship was only on a professional level, and the friendship depicted in the picture is a complete fabrication

- Viggo Mortensen gained over 40 pounds to play Tony

- Linda Cardellini (Laura Barton in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Avengers: Endgame)


The Favourite

2018 | Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos | 120 Minutes

"You wish me to lie to you? 'Oh you look like an angel fallen from heaven, your majesty.' No! Sometimes, you look like a badger, and you can rely on me to tell you. Because I will not lie! That is love!"

Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough and adored adviser of Queen Anne, reluctantly assists her estranged cousin Abigail Hill when she arrives at the royal palace seeking employment. As Sarah enforces her political party's agenda through her relationship with the queen, drawing ire from the opposition, the increasingly despondent queen begins to direct her attention and affection towards Abigail who utilizes every tool at her disposal to rise above her station. Tensions escalate as Abigail positions herself in direct opposition to her cousin.

With a deliciously sharp screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara that reveals itself as the story of a love triangle by its second act, The Favourite takes full advantage of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos' relentless sense of comedic timing and talent for building discomfort. Frequent chapter breaks call attention to the brisk pacing of the film with each chapter named for an amusing line of spoken dialogue. The dialogue itself is often grandiose and hilariously blunt in the same breath, giving way to blatant and purposeful anachronisms that turn up throughout the picture, accentuating the dark humor befitting Sarah and Abigail's rivalry and the tragedy that permeates Anne's life. Perhaps due to Lanthimos having no part in writing The Favourite, the stilted line delivery prevalent in his other films is practically absent in this one.

Olivia Colman is heartbreaking and truly excellent as the doltish morbidly-depressed queen. Equal parts ridiculous and sympathetic, Colman delivers an impressively controlled performance that humanizes an under-educated but well-meaning monarch stricken by pathological illness and grief. At the very top of their game, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are delightfully cruel as Sarah and Abigail. As the film progresses, in a captivating showcase of their respective talents, the cold exterior of Weisz's Sarah is chipped away to reveal a vulnerable tenderness while conversely Stone's Abigail gradually loses all pretenses of propriety. The film also features Nicholas Hoult in a supporting role as a foppish short-tempered Tory that he plays rather convincingly.

Exploring themes of love, loss, deception, and desperation, The Favourite is as crass, challenging, and darkly funny as one would expect from a film by Yorgos Lanthimos. The picture is worth seeing just to witness the merciless and extremely amusing competition between Rachel Weisz's Sarah and Emma Stone's Abigail. However, the true highlight of the feature is Olivia Colman's simultaneously hysterical and deeply tragic performance as Queen Anne.

- Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz previously appeared in director Yorgos Lanthimos' 2015 film The Lobster

- Olivia Colman gained 35 pounds to play Queen Anne

- Kate Winslet was initially cast to play Sarah Churchill

- The picture was shot mostly with natural or practical lighting

- The only moment of the film in which male characters have a conversation not about women without women present is a brief exchange between two male characters regarding a duck