ISN’T IT ROMANTIC Starring: Rebel Wilson, Adam Divine and Liam Hemsworth Directed by: Todd Strauss-Shulson Rated: PG 13 Running time: 1 hr 26 mins Warner Bros.
Natalie (Wilson) isn’t sure about a lot of things. A skilled architect, she is treated more as a gopher by others in her office instead of a valuable asset. One thing she is sure about? She hates romantic comedies,which her assistant (Betty Gilpin) constantly watches at her desk. One night, while battling a mugger, Natalie is knocked unconscious. When she comes to, she discovers that her life has changed. And she’s not happy.
A winning comedy built around the chemistry of its stars, “Isn’t it Romantic” is a fun time at the movies. Much of the fun comes from trying to pick out all of the rom-com tropes that Natalie dislikes yet is now experiencing. Handsome suitor? Check. Overly-gay best buddy? Check. Killer karaoke chops? Yes, sir. The more she learns the more frustrated Natalie gets. And when she learns that every time she tries to use the “F” word she is overridden by the sound of a honking horn, she is horrified that the world she is now living in is only rated PG 13.
With two of the “Pitch Perfect” films behind them, Wilson and Adam Divine have built an amazing rapport, and it shows on the screen. Hemsworth is quite charming and Bollywood star Priyamnka Chopra is both funny and beautiful! The story moves quickly (the film is less than 90 minutes long) and makes a nice Valentines gift for that special someone. Unless,of course, they hate romantic comedies!
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell and Sebastian Stan
Directed by: Karen Kusama
Running time: 2 hrs 1 min
A body is discovered in a deserted area. Next to it lies the murder weapon and some oddly discolored money. On the back of the victim’s neck are two very distinctive tattoos. Detective Erin Bell (Kidman) stumbles to the scene, mutters “I think I know who did it,” and stumbles away. Thus begins “Destroyer.”
Riding strongly on the narrow shoulders of its lead actress, “Destroyer” is a film that, through a series of flashbacks, tells the story of how Erin Bell went from gung-ho law officer to the self-destructive drunk she is now. We slowly learn that she and her partner (both at work and in love) were deep undercover with a gang of bad guys (think Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Utah in “Point Break,” though I’m not sure how well Kidman can throw a football). The more we learn the more we aren’t sure whether we should sympathize with Bell’s plight. She’s still a tough cop – one who will go to any lengths to obtain information – but she’s also a horrible human being. You feel sorry for her and her plight, but you also can’t help but think she brought it on herself.
Going the “no makeup” route here, Kidman is almost unrecognizable. In fact, in some scenes she more resembles former “Dr. Who” star Tom Baker rather than one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. With her hollow cheekbones and mousy hair, she could easily be mistaken for your neighborhood crack addict. She is the emotional heart of the film and she does not disappoint.
Working from a script by “AEonFlux” screenwriters (Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi), director Kusama, who also helmed the film “Girlfight,” keeps the story moving, giving the viewer just enough information that, no matter how hard they try, they are always a step or two behind. Well recommended.
Starring the Voices of: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks and Will Arnett Directed By: Mike Mitchell Rated: PG Running Time: 106 minutes Warner Bros. Pictures
“The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part” was never going to live up to the first. Well. I take that back. It could have. The first film’s core creators, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, are no longer at the directorial helm, but have their names plastered throughout the credits as producers and writers. Personally, I don’t think the oddball duo have yet to fail when they’re behind the camera. But as writers and producers, their names are surprisingly all over the place in Hollywood, from movies like “Smallfoot” to “Brigsby Bear.” They generally hop on board projects with promise, and while the follow-up to “The LEGO Movie” had promise, it partially delivers.
The sequel, just like in real life, takes place five years after the first film. The first one ended on the ominous announcement that real world child, Finn (Jadon Sand), has a baby sister. That baby sister has intruded on Finn’s imagination, therein intruding on the imaginary LEGO world on-screen. Emmett (Pratt) and Lucy’s (Bank) brick world has gone from a thriving metropolis to a “Mad Max” hellscape where other worldly LEGO creations stop off in their world to abduct and torment Emmett and Lucy’s pals. It’s only later that the duo find out that Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), of the Systar System, is abducting their friends for a specific purpose and are now targeting them. Trying to explain this almost feels more confusing than it should be. So if you haven’t seen the first, just skip this one.
The manic whimsy of the first is still intact, as jokes sometimes come flying fast and furious with a kinetic energy that’s reminiscent of other Lord and Miller productions. Unfortunately the film takes a while to find out what new stories and themes it would like to tell the audience. The first handful of minutes are spent catching viewers up on events in the fictionalized worlds, as well as retelling jokes, beat by beat, down to the punchline. Older viewers might feel like they’re being duped, much like fans in the 80s felt when seeing “Airplane II: The Sequel.” Luckily that feeling dissipates after a while.
You may have forgotten, as you should, but there was a silly controversy back in 2014 when the first “LEGO Movie” came out. Some found that the movie was bad for kids because of its “anti-corporate” message. I can feel your eyes rolling as you read that. But for those who felt like that was a legitimate gripe, you’ll be pleased to know that this film feels a lot more like a cash grab and doesn’t have an anti-capitalist leaning. That being said, there are still a lot of moments of subversive brilliance possibly directed at the studio.
A good chunk of those clever jokes seem to be digs at Warner Bros., who may have demanded a sequel after money came rolling in. I won’t give the playful comedic jabs away since they’re in the film’s third act. In a handful of instances before that, the film appears to be taking part in other kid’s movie tropes, like musical numbers or sequel/world building, as a chance to not only make-fun of the constructs, but point out how they’re generously shoehorned in to most narratives in kid’s movies. If Lord and Miller merely served as producers, and not writers, I might actually feel like some of these creative choices were studio notes. It’s also possible I’m looking far too into it.
Even while scraping away some of the layered intellect this film has, this sequel is non-stop eye candy accompanied by rapid-fire jokes that’ll put smiles on the faces of kids and adults alike. While there’s no doubt that this’ll please the young ones, it might have some parents who watched the first one feeling fatigued. That’s because it doesn’t quite match the persistent irreverent wit of the first, or the revelations that reward viewers who watch the film a second time. Even though I’ve spent a lot of time comparing this one to the original, this sequel still manages to squeeze out some heart from its human and brick characters. “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part” is beautifully animated, uproariously funny and mischievously inventive, but not as much as as its predecessor.
IN LIKE FLYNN Starring: Thomas Cocquerel, Clive Standen and Corey Large Directed by: Russell Mulcahy Rated: R Running time: 1 hr 46 mins Blue Fox Entertainment
Fletcher Christian. Peter Blood. Robin Hood. "Gentleman" Jim Corbett. All of these men had great adventures on the big screen. But none of them were as exciting as the early adventures of the actor who portrayed them, Errol Flynn. Some of those adventures are on display in the new film, "In Like Flynn."
The film begins in New Guinea in 1930. There we find Flynn (Cocquerel) leading a film producer (Daniel Fogler), his cameraman and some helpers through the jungle, looking for images to be used in an upcoming film. Their presence upsets the local tribesmen and soon the group is fleeing for its life, with Flynn repeatedly saving their hides. When they are successfully back at their camp, the producer tells Flynn he needs to come to Hollywood. But Flynn has other plans.
I've always been fascinated by the back-stories of people. What incidents from their past led them to their present. If "In Like Flynn," which is based in part from some of Flynn's writings,is to be believed, the roles he would later play were boring compared to his life experiences. Sailing the oceans. Hunting for gold. And, in true Flynn fashion, a big hit with the ladies, the film portrays him as a real life Indiana Jones. He lived for adventure.
The cast is first rate. As Flynn, Cocquerel has the good looks that made the Tazmanian Devil a star. More importantly, he captures the spirit with which Flynn approached every day of his life. No matter the circumstances, you can always see the gleam of mischief in his eyes. As his best friend and fellow adventurer, Rex, Corey Large (who also produced and co-wrote the film) is equally good. The two actors make a great team and their chemistry keeps the film moving. Also keeping the film moving is the fluid direction of Russell Mulcahy. Mulcahy, who turned a brilliant career making music videos (his video for "Video Killed the Radio Star" was the first ever shown on MTV) into Hollywood features, among them "Highlander" and "Ricochet." Even after four decades behind the camera it's clear that he hasn't lost his talent for taking viewers on a visual adventure. And it's one I highly recommend you take.
COLD WAR Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski Rated: R Running Time: 1 HR 29 mins Amazon Studios
Nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography), “Cold War” is an engaging yet tragic period drama that is much deserving of all its accolades. Shot entirely in black-and-white with English subtitles, writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski (“Ida”) deftly captures the brutal essence of communist-controlled Eastern Europe while putting us on a complicated, 15-year odyssey of obsession.
The story begins in 1949 Poland where the scars of a world war are still fresh. A soft-spoken music director Wiktor (Tomasz Kot, “Gods”) is tapped to co-helm a school that’s intended to create a group of talented young people to stage traditional, Polish folk dances. It is during auditions at the bullet-ridden school that a crafty blonde singer named Zula (Joanna Kulig, “Pitbull: Tough Women”) catches his eye. Despite a warning about her troubled past, Wiktor and Zula develop a secret, passionate love affair.
Two years later they have an opportunity to escape their communist oppressors by crossing into West Berlin, but Zula chickens out while the brooding Wiktor leaves her behind anyway to go carve out a life as a jazz pianist in Paris. Even though lovers come and go as the years pass by, Wiktor still regards Zula as the love of his life. His devotion to her is so strong that he even risks being sent to a Polish prison when he travels to Yugoslavia to watch Zula perform.
They only reunite when Zula marries an Italian man so she can get out from behind the Iron Curtain to be with Wiktor. A successful singing career begins to take shape with Wiktor accompanying her on piano. However, her jealousy towards other women and her desire to be the center of attention, especially Wiktor’s, leads Zula to run back to communist Poland. Wiktor is desperate to follow her but he knows he will be arrested if he does. It proves to be a fateful test of his devotion to her.
Pawlikowski’s endeavor has all the feel of a film straight out of 1957 as he channels the bleak repression the peoples of Eastern Europe faced under Soviet dominance. There is a paranoid sense that there are eyes everywhere, and in some instances its true. It’s this omnipresent fear he generates with his script that gives Zula and Wiktor’s relationship a palpable edginess. Their romance is so much like a careening roller coaster that it makes it difficult to accurately predict its outcome.
Kulig is brilliant as she infuses a sense of instability into Zula. In a way, you want to yell out in vain to Wiktor to stay away from her, but his devotion runs so deep that he is beyond help. This obsession is played with expert subtlety by Kot and skillful direction by Pawlikowski who keeps the pacing brisk with a short running time. Never mind the critical darling that is “Roma.” Instead, go see “Cold War.” Trust me, there’s nothing cold about it.
STAN & OLLIE Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly and Danny Huston Directed by: Jon S. Baird Rated: PG Running time: 1 hr 38 mins Sony Classics
They were one of the greatest comedy teams of all time. The thin, quiet Englishman and the almost larger than life "Babe" from Georgia. There job was to make us laugh and this they did. But when the laughter stopped, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy found themselves on the outside of Hollywood looking in.
Featuring two award-worthy performances by Coogan (Laurel) and Reilly (Hardy), "Stan & Ollie" tells the story of the duo as they mount what they hope is a comeback with a vaudeville tour of Great Britain. Interspliced among the trip are scenes from the duo's past. We join them on the set of 1937's "Way out West." While working on the film they discuss their upcoming contract renewal and the hopes of more money from studio head Hal Roach (Huston). Laurel is released from his contract and Hardy is left to do a film with Harry Langdon ("Zenobia"), which is heretofore referred to as "the Elephant movie." Though the two have reunited for the tour, there appears to be no love lost between them. When Laurel states that he loves "Babe" (Hardy's nickname), Hardy replies, "You loved "Laurel and Hardy," but you never loved me.
If I'm going to throw out kudos to this film, and I already have with the actors, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the amazing make-up work presented. Like Hardy, Reilly has (and I mean this in a nice way) beady eyes and you can see into Hardy's soul through Reilly's. Coogan is equally brilliant as Laurel, who spends a majority of the film writing scenes for a comeback film he knows will never be made. Thankfully this one was.
If you're not familiar with the work of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, I urge you to seek it out, either through home video or YouTube. If you are, and are a fan, I urge you to seek out "Stan & Ollie."
CLYDE COOPER Starring: Jordi Vilasuso, Abigail Titmuss and Richard Neil Directed by: Peter Daskaloff Not Rated Running time: 1 hr 21 mins Souvenir Films
While a man sits sadly on the edge of a bed, two beautiful women begin to experiment with each other. Suddenly they are interrupted by the sound of a single gunshot. Thus begins the noir-ish drama “Clyde Cooper.”
A slickly shot mystery, the plot finds the title private investigator (Vilasuso, a staple the past 15-years on various daytime soap operas) being asked to help a smitten gentleman find a woman who, despite only knowing her for a few days, has become, in his mind, THE one. Cooper takes the case only to discover that there is a lot more going on then meets the eye. People aren’t who the seem to be and, as the bodies begin to pile up, Cooper discovers a twist in the case that adds a new dimension to the film.
The script, by director Daskaloff, gives Cooper some nice throw-away lines and it’s a credit to Vilasuso’s talent that he comes off as a well intentioned wise ass instead of a boor. Production credits are strong and whoever came up with the idea of a house with a piano key stairway – one that plays when you’re going up or down – deserves to never be without a job. An entertaining musical score by Jonathan Price helps keep the action flowing.
Starring: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan Rated: PG-13 Running Time: 129 minutes Universal Pictures
What are some of the best non-DC/Marvel superhero films? That’s when folks would throw out movies like “The Crow” or “The Rocketeer.” But what about truly original superhero films, ones not based on comics? That’s when you really get down to the nitty gritty of films that hold their own against CGI-filled blockbusters. Before “Unbreakable,” there was “Darkman” and “The Toxic Avenger.” But unlike the latter, “Unbreakable” has spurred some worthy sequels.
It’s been discussed online for nearly two decades that director M. Night Shyamalan had always intended for “Unbreakable” to inevitably be a trilogy. The question remained even after the release of “Split,” a trilogy about what or who? So does “Glass” fulfill what fans were told, a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy? Or does it pull a Disney and create the possibility of more sequels? Luckily Samuel L. Jackson’s character doesn’t reveal himself to be Nick Fury all along.
Much to the surprise of fans, the throwdown between David Dunn (Willis) and Kevin Crumb as the Beast (McAvoy) happens fairly early on as Dunn is tracking down some kidnapped cheerleaders, the latest in a string other kidnappings and vicious murders in Philadelphia. Police are hot on both their trails though and arrest both before they can spar for too long. Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), is at the scene along with authorities because she wants to study the two for their delusions of grandeur, believing that comic book culture is behind their perceived abilities. Also in custody, and sitting down with Dunn and Crumb for some bizarre group therapy, is Mr. Glass (Jackson). Dr. Staple’s hope is to convince the trio that their super strength and super intelligence isn’t what it seems.
While sometimes clunky, everything that feels out of place or misguided eventually comes together in the third act. When everything is said and done, David Dunn (probably because of the salary Bruce Willis commands), seems to be more of a side character in this film. But it’s also not necessarily about the origins of Mr. Glass. We already got that in “Unbreakable.” The movie does have him play a key role, revealing why the film is inevitably named after him. But a good chunk of story outside the trio’s therapy sessions is Mr. Glass and Crumb’s multiple personalities scheming, talking and acting. It’s in these scenes that audiences are treated to every individual inhabiting David’s head. Acting wise, nothing’s quite as impressive or entertaining as McAvoy’s scenery chewing, but other side characters from the previous films provide some emotional weight as they make their way in throughout the film, building towards the climax.
It feels a little long, and is as the longest film in the trilogy, mainly because Shyamalan unfortunately falls back onto some poor storytelling mechanics that we’ve seen before with some of his weaker films. He tends to over explain plot points by showing and telling the audience what’s happening. It can feel a little condescending since the film is built around the idea that you’ve seen the previous two films and that you should be smarter than the average moviegoer. I would usually chalk it up to a talking head at the studio, but this is something Shyamalan has done in films like “The Happening” or “The Village.” Luckily he doesn’t do it ad nauseam.
“Glass” doesn’t subvert superhero tropes or makes any kind of new critiques of the genre, but it manages to manipulate viewer’s emotions and expectations enough to where everything genuinely feels original. The action is filmed in a way where our imagination, instead of computers, fills the void. Even the simplest things that Dunn or Crumb do, feel grand because of the lives they’re saving and taking. Because they’re not throwing each other into buildings like Superman and General Zod, but instead slowly bending steel or taking their time to punch down metal doors, the story feels more grounded in reality. It helps that every character is morally flawed. The good and evil on display blend together to elicit sympathy and disgust.
“Glass” ends up being the weakest of the three films, but it’s still an entertaining finale. Some might be turned off by how it all ends, but I applaud the bowtie. While most directors would have left the door open, just in case the box office receipts warranted a sequel, Shyamalan promptly wrote “Glass” as a final chapter to this superhero story. It feels complete, without the need to tell us anymore or asking us to sit through another chapter, something most superhero movies these days don’t know how to do.
ON THE BASIS OF SEX Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer Directed by: Mimi Leder Rated: PG-13 Running Time: 2 hrs Focus Features
In the era of the Me Too movement, the biographical drama “On the Basis of Sex” has the appearance of fitting in with the times as it highlights the early struggles against oppressive sexism by current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. While it contains all the necessary components of a story that you know will be uplifting in the end, it often feels like it should come with shiny wrapping paper and big red bow. While the story makes it clear how difficult it was for Ginsburg to launch her legal career simply because of her gender, the film is too generic for its own good. Inspiring? Yes. Different from a myriad of other inspirational, biographical dramas? Not so much.
It’s 1956 and director Mimi Leder (“Deep Impact,” “The Peacemaker”) does a great job with the first shot of the film by having a sidewalk crammed with emotionless male law students and professors walking to class clad in drab suits. In the middle of it all there is a singular woman in a blue dress standing out from the nameless crowd. The talented Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything”) generates a sense of wide-eyed excitement as Ruth, but she also manages to show us there is a determined confidence within the aspiring attorney.
Ruth not only has to force reluctant Harvard professors to pay her any serious attention, embodied by a law dean (Sam Waterston) with a paternalistic attitude towards his few female students, but she also has to balance being newly married to aspiring tax attorney Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer) and being a new mother. Further complications arise when Martin is given a grim diagnosis of testicular cancer with less than a 10% chance to survive. Ruth’s resolve is such that she attends Martin’s classes as well as her own as he battles his illness.
Ultimately, Martin recovers and becomes a rising star at a law firm while Ruth is unable to get any jobs because of her gender. She relents her pursuit and by 1970 has established herself as a law professor at Rutgers University. Her life and career are forever changed, though, when Martin presents her a gender-based tax case involving a bachelor who was denied a tax deduction based upon the fact he never married. The Ginsburgs see it as an opportunity to start breaking down every law in the country that discriminates against gender, but first they must win their case, which proves to be more daunting than Ruth could have ever imagined. It all sets up a dramatic courtroom climax that we have seen in some variation or form many times before.
“On the Basis of Sex” is an inspiring film with nice performances and a nice story. However, there isn’t a wow factor to it or anything that leaves a lasting impression afterwards, with a possible exception of Jones’ solid performance. Ginsburg’s impressive legal career is already well-documented, yet we don’t see enough of what her private life was like, much less what she was like while growing up. There is an emotional connection we are not able to quite establish with her because of this void, albeit there is one brief story Martin relates to their teen daughter about Ruth’s relationship with her mother.
The story flows easily but it fails to get down and dirty considering the offensiveness of the situation women of the times faced then, and still face today. And to be fair, where is the inspirational movie about the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court – Sandra Day O’Connor? Shouldn’t her tale of sacrifice and ceilings shattered be told as well? “On the Basis of Sex” is a decent film that’s enjoyable but not impactful.
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart and Nicole Kidman
Directed by: Neil Burger
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 2 hrs 5 mins
I’m going to start right out and say that, when he first burst upon the movie scene, I found Kevin Hart to be no more than an even louder Chris Tucker. He could be funny but he could also be annoying. In 2016 I began to come around, impressed as I was with his performance opposite Dwayne Johnson in “Central Intelligence.” This week, with his new film, “The Upside,” he may have finally won me over.
“The Upside” is the story of two very different men who learn to rely on each other. Hart is Dell, a recently released convict trying to right by his son but not wanting to put the effort into what it takes. Cranston is Philip, a once very active billionaire who is now a quadriplegic, confined to a wheelchair. Dell tells his parole officer that he’s looking for work, but to prove it he needs to have paperwork signed by three prospective employers or it’s back to the hoosegow for him. He accidentally wanders into an interview session where Philip is speaking to prospective care-givers. Intrigued by Dell’s “I don’t have time, just sign this” attitude, he offers him the job. And a heartfelt and funny adventure begins.
For those who aren’t aware, “The Upside” is a true story and is based on the 2011 French film “The Intouchables.” It is a story of how people can change, whether they want to or not. Dell finds himself going from the projects to the penthouse (literally), while Philip, who has been slowly withdrawing since the death of his wife, begins to discover the joys of living again. Both actors give solid, moving performances, with just enough laughter to keep the story moving. As Philip’s business assistant, Kidman is no-nonsense in her dealings with Dell, likening his position to a baseball game – three strikes and he’s out.
Director Burger keeps the story flowing nicely, hitting all of the right emotional notes. A fine way to enter the new year!
1.VICE – Like his Oscar winning THE BIG SHORT, writer/director Adam McKay gives a humorous take on the life and times of our 46th Vice President.
2. BOY ERASED – Stellar performances by Lucas Hedges and Joel Edgerton (who also wrote and directed) in a film dealing with “conversion” training. Edgerton is beginning to look like he will be one of the best filmmakers of the next generation.
3. BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY – The story of Freddie Mercury and his musical group QUEEN. Some complained that Mercury’s X-rated lifestyle was tamed down too much but Rami Malek’s award worthy performance is the real story here.
4. A STAR IS BORN – Damn you, Bradley Cooper! Is there nothing you can’t do? Cooper stars and directs in the fourth telling of the familiar tale, adding enough twists to make it seem new. Extra points for casting the amazing Lady Gaga.
5. BLACKKKLANSMAN – Easily Spike Lee’s best film since DO THE RIGHT THING, the film’s 1970’s era message is just as important today.
6. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT – The best of the M:I films, with Tom Cruise once again risking life and limb for our entertainment.
7. CHAPPAQUIDDICK – An early film this year that looks into the fateful accident that derailed the Presidential dreams of Ted Kennedy.
8. BLACK PANTHER – Not a great Marvel Movie…just a GREAT MOVIE. With FRUITVALE STATION and CREED already on his resumé, director Ryan Coogler has proven to be a voice to be listened to.
9. HOSTILES – A January release, this is an outstanding period western starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi and, sadly, Scott Wilson in one of his final roles.
10. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? – Award worthy performances from stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant highlight this true story about an author who had to resolve to forgery to make any money.
1.BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE – I cannot speak highly enough of Drew Goddard’s follow up to one of my Halloween faves, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. Once again Goddard holes up his small cast in a single location that is not quite what it seems and is a joy to explore. And what a cast! While bigger names like Jeff Bridges and Jon Hamm deliver reliably solid performances (the latter chewing all the scenery with a fabulous southern accent), the real revelations are from relative newcomers Cynthia Erivo and Lewis Pullman. The Tony-winning Erivo is the film’s heart as a struggling singer who checks into the El Royale ahead of a nearby gig. When she gets wrapped up in a scheme with Bridges’ character, Goddard uses her powerhouse voice to deliver “You Can’t Hurry Love” in easily my favorite single sequence of the year. Meanwhile Pullman is just barely holding everything together as the hotel’s lone caretaker whose role entails much more than cleaning towels and whose past is bubbling beneath his boyish, twitchy surface. I really just wanted to hug him. Finally, as with CABIN, Goddard goes ahead and subverts Chris Hemsworth’s affable hero persona. This time by casting him as a vile Charles Manson type–this is the 60’s in California after all– whose limited screen time serves merely to concentrate the sinister vibes emanating off his gyrating abs. Everyone is supported by top notch production design, a rocking soundtrack and some gorgeous Seamus McGarvey cinematography. It just really sizzles.
2. HEREDITARY – This slow burning descent of one family after the death of their secretive matriarch may be an all time fave viewing experience in a packed theater. Where a lot of modern horror relies on jump scares, Ari Aster held us captive in many scenes by showing the terrors just slightly to the side in the gloom of the frame or holding on the silence after a traumatic event–all while my audience slowly lost its mind. Which was fitting, because we were watching Toni Collette’s character doing roughly the same. It’s a crime that Collette isn’t in the major film awards conversations (yet? C’mon Academy!) because she was so engrossing and almost painful to watch.
3. BLACK PANTHER – Ryan Coogler’s brilliant entry into Marvel was remarkable for so fully realizing a whole new world within a “Universe” we’ve already been living in for the past decade. And unlike some chapters of the MCU, he did it right here on Earth. Wakanda was beautiful and populated by such a well drawn cast of characters, it was nearly impossible to pick a favorite (but it’s Shuri, come on). Meanwhile, unlike some big purple menaces, Erik Kilmonger’s (Michael B Jordan) ‘villainous’ motives were some of the most complex that the franchise has dealt with. So much so that Chadwick Boseman’s T’challa had to face a real crisis of conscience that not many Marvel heroes do!
4. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU – I feel like the less I say about this film, the better new viewers’ experiences will be. Boots Riley’s take on the desolate modern economic landscape just throws a LOT at you with a notable hard turn in the second half that will likely decide where you land on this one. As someone who is rarely surprised at movies today, I was fully on board.
5. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – I knew going in that every outlet in the Disney-Marvel Marketing Machine kept saying “It’s Thanos’s movie, it’s really going to belong to Thanos” but boy, I was not prepared for…Thanos’s movie! Not only did the Russo brothers bring to life a presence worthy of scaring the bejeezus out of ten years of assembled super heroes, but that they let him Do That was a true shocker. It’s hard for me to judge INFINITY WAR fully until I see what goes down in ENDGAME because, to quote THE PRESTIGE, “making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back.” But for now, I sit stunned.
1. BLACK PANTHER – The best movie of the year, BLACK PANTHER proves to be one of the two or three best titles in the 10-year Avengers odyssey. Directed by the brilliantly talented young filmmaker Ryan Coogler (CREED, FRUITVALE STATION), this supremely entertaining, comic book epic has a superb cast and an engaging, intelligent story. Its story of a young king who thinks he knows what it takes to be a ruler but is faced with a day of reckoning that turns his views upside down is a potent one. The climax is tragic to the point that it’s Shakespearean and it’s all assisted by one of the most consistently good performances by an entire cast that you will see, especially in an action movie. Michael B. Jordan, who was cheated out of an Oscar nomination for his role in CREED, is a powerful presence in the film as its lead antagonist. BLACK PANTHER has everything you could ever want in not only a superhero movie but in a movie period.
2. A QUIET PLACE – In terms of creativity and originality, A QUIET PLACE is only rivaled in recent times by last year’s masterpiece “Get Out.” A brief, yet sophisticated sci-fi horror tale brimming with mystery, A QUIET PLACE stars the husband/wife team of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt as a couple struggling to keep their family alive in a world taken over by aliens who react to sound. You must pay attention to the little details in this one to spot clues to the backstory, which itself is horrifying. The story has a bit of a Stephen King-like vibe to it as the suspense builds around the impending birth of a new baby. A must-see.
3. FIRST REFORMED – Ethan Hawke shines in what is arguably writer/director Paul Schrader’s greatest cinematic endeavor. It is a work of art in every sense of the word as Hawke plays the minister of a tiny congregation in an old church in upstate New York. His character is haunted by a past that riddles him with guilt and leads him to drink. When we meet him, he has begun to keep a diary of his tormented thoughts as he tries to mentor those that are just as much pain as he is. Hawke is mesmerizing in the most brilliant performance of his career with strong supporting help from Amanda Seyfried and a nice dramatic turn by Cedric the Entertainer. The ending is haunting to say the least and will leave you and anyone you watch it with debating what it all means.
4. THE FAVOURITE – With some of the best costume designs you will see in any film, THE FAVOURITE is a wonderful historical drama containing the most splendid, witty dialogue of the year. Set against the backdrop of early 18th century England, two women (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) vie to be the favorite of the increasingly sickly Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). The political intrigue is delightful as Weisz and Stone’s characters will go to any lengths to be the apple of Queen Anne’s eye, thereby having access to tremendous power. Colman delivers the best performance by an actress in 2018 and it’s not even close. She is brilliant in every sense of the word as portrays a woman teetering on insanity after having had 18 pregnancies but no living children. There are ultimately no winners in all of it. Just tragic losers.
5. LEAVE NO TRACE – While watching the powerful performance delivered by New Zealand-born actress Thomasin McKenzie in the drama LEAVE NO TRACE, it is impossible to not think about what director/writer Debra Granik once pulled out of a relatively unknown young actress named Jennifer Lawrence. It is perhaps an unfair comparison considering that Lawrence received the first of her four Oscar nominations for her role as a tough, teenage Ozarks girl in 2010’s WINTER’S BONE. However, as Tom, McKenzie provides something that is special to watch on the silver screen. Through her eyes alone she projects her character’s tough, determined nature which she also reveals is just a façade masking a 13-year-old girl’s desperation to please a father (Ben Foster) traumatized by war. Foster once again demonstrates how skillful he has become in recent years. Pain leaks out of every pour in Foster’s skin as his character is so consumed by PTSD from combat that he puts Tom in danger every day they are on the run without thinking about what he is doing. Based upon the 2009 book My Abandonment by American novelist Peter Rock, LEAVE NO TRACE, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, is a moving work of genuine sadness that will pull at the heartstrings of anyone who has a heart.
6. BLACKKKLANSMAN – In what is Spike Lee’s best effort in years, BLACKKKLANSMAN is an engrossing crime drama loosely based upon real events. It tells the tale of new African American, Colorado police officer Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) who infiltrates a local branch of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s via the phone. To represent himself in person, he convinces a Jewish detective (Adam Driver) to be his face. While it’s an entertaining piece of work that takes a lot of dramatic license, Lee’s effort tackles racism head-on and reveals its ugliness likes few films do. As such, it’s not without controversy but because of that it accomplishes the goal of making people talk and think about racism in America.
7. GREEN BOOK – Inspired by a true story, this period drama is a surprisingly complex, emotional work considering its director, Peter Farrelly, is best known for comedic fare like SHALLOW HAL and DUMB AND DUMBER. With GREEN BOOK, Farrelly captures the stark racial divide of 1962 America with an exploration of the relationship between white bar bouncer Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and black pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) as they travel across the Midwest and Deep South. Mortensen dazzles with his knack to bring to life every subtle nuance of the characters he plays. This role is no exception as he helps make Tony Lip someone we can truly care about even though in the beginning it’s a little tough to do. Ali, a 2017 Oscar winner for MOONLIGHT, gives Don a vulnerable sophistication while also breathing out a certain degree of naïveté without seeming to break a sweat. It all adds up to GREEN BOOK being the type of rare movie where everyone can feel a little bit happier about the world when the lights go back on.
8. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? – Like many other people, I grew up on Mr. Rogers so perhaps I’m a little biased, but this documentary feels like a warm and cozy sweater vest. It dispels a lot of myths about the man who wanted nothing more than to work with children. We learn a lot about this kind, gentle soul from those closest to him and it’s refreshing in this age of cynicism and character assassination to discover he was pretty much exactly like he was on the TV.
9. HEREDITARY – Simply put, this is one of the most messed up movies you will ever see. HEREDITARY is tale of a family being turned upside down when the family matriarch’s death starts a sequence of horrifying events that lead to a supernatural, head-scratching, unsettling climax. Toni Collette is fantastic as the mother of two who becomes increasingly unraveled thanks to a plan set into motion by her recently deceased mother. It goes without saying that a film is automatically creepy when it silently begins with a nondescript obituary on the silver screen. Don’t stay up too late to watch this. Otherwise you will feel the need to keep all the lights on and the covers over your head.
10. BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY – Some of have criticized this film for not devoting more time to the exploration of the late Freddie Mercury’s private life. However, this rock biography is not titled “The Freddie Mercury Story.” Instead it focuses on the rise of a band with a singer who had a rock voice like none other before or since. While the story is admittedly a little glossy, the core strength of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is the incredible performance by lead Rami Malek who absolutely commands the screen. He masters every movement, every voice inflection, every insecurity, every bit of bravado of the real Mercury. It is a legendary accomplishment and is worth every penny to see.
1. EIGHTH GRADE -Back in August I wrote, “Cringy. Heartfelt. Anxiety inducing. Unflinching. Heartbreaking. Hopeful…Bo Burnham’s debut film seemingly has it all, and it does.” That still rings true after a few rewatches. Four months later, along with dozens and dozens of screeners, EIGHTH GRADE, is still my favorite film of the year because of how raw and emotional it is. It’s good for the souls of the young and old.
2. BLACKKKLANSMAN -Last year, GET OUT made me feel what it’s like to be a black man in a predominantly white situation or setting. This year, BLACKKKLANSMAN made me feel my own white guilt. Both movies are timely and timeless. BLACKKKLANSMAN is a church sermon that needs to be heard by everyone within an earshot. This is easily Spike Lee’s best film since DO THE RIGHT THING if not his magnum opus.
3. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE – Phil Lord and Chris Miller should just have their own animation studio. They were robbed of an Oscar for 2014’s LEGO MOVIE and it’ll be another crime if SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE doesn’t win best animated picture this year. It’s a trippy journey that blurs the line between comic book and cinema. Not only is it the best animated film of the year, it may be the best superhero movie of the year. Sorry Disney.
4. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU -What begins as a satire, quickly becomes a hyper absurd sci-fi that blends commentary on racism and classism, along with jabs at America’s path towards corporatocracy. Boots Riley brings a fresh voice and unique criticism that’s familiar, yet distinct. It’s the kind of film with no middle ground. You’ll either love or hate it.
5. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? -In today’s climate, the world might need another Mr. Rogers, if that’s possible. Without mentioning any names or incidents, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? feels like a pertinent documentary about the impact kindness and compassion has. Even the iciest of hearts will have a tear in their eye by the end credits.
6. VICE -Comedy doesn’t quite the praise it deserves. Ask any actor or creator how hard it is to craft something funny. Now add in a dose of reality and seriousness. Just like in THE BIG SHORT, Adam McKay tackles a difficult subject and makes it palatable for general audiences. VICE is a dark riot, making us laugh and realize the expanding power of the Executive Branch.
7. BOY ERASED -Not only is this a powerful story about sexual identity, but it’s a somber reminder about how one of the America’s most heinous acts, conversion therapy, remains legal. The film does a nuanced job of highlighting the emotional, mental, and sometimes physical cruelty that conversion therapy puts it’s victims through. It’s simply tragic.
8. MANDY– What if heavy metal music became a movie? You’d have MANDY, an 80’s acid nightmare come to life, with the help of a gonzo, smiling Nicolas Cage, covered in blood. This is a midnight film that will surely develop a cult following, or at the very least, a legion of Cheddar Goblin fans.
9. WIDOWS – This is Steve McQueen’s most mainstream film, yet it’s still visually intellectual like his previous films. McQueen is a master behind the camera and weaves a caper that’s not only rich with heavy material and social themes, but engaging from beginning to end.
10. THE FAVOURITE – THE FAVOURITE is devilishly funny and cynical. It’s the kind of movie that could delight those who loathe period piece dramas, like myself. The humor and dialogue crackle for two hours as the film’s three leading ladies find new, humorous ways to stab each other in the back.
HONORABLE MENTIONS : SUSPIRIA, ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE, FIRST REFORMED, ISLE OF DOGS, ROMA, BLOCKERS, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, LOVE,SIMON, CRAZY RICH ASIANS, MOM AND DAD
1. JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM -The bigger the budget, the more it should be looked down upon. This movie cost nearly $200 million and it stunk like one big pile of dino crap. Just think how many good, small budget films could have been made instead, but that wouldn’t have raked in over a billion dollars, now would it?
2. BOOK CLUB -Not only do they still make crap like this, but they release in theaters and trick good actors and actresses to star in it. This is pure drivel. Keep this crap off the silver screen and keep it on the Lifetime Network.
3. WELCOME TO MARWEN -The more I think about it, the more this film makes me mad. It’s a steaming crap that’s beneath the actors in it, it soils Zemeckis’ good name and unfortunately mishandles a true story. Unlike most train wrecks, you can look away from this one.
4. SUPER TROOPERS 2 -Careful what you wish for. Fans of the original should have looked towards other fanbases who asked for a sequel, like GHOSTBUSTERS, THE HANGOVER, etc. and got a big pile of crap instead. This movie is an unfunny dumpster fire that should offer a refund to it’s IndieGoGo supporters.
5. TERMINAL – Didn’t hear about this one? Good. To reiterate my favorite word in this list, it’s crap. This is the kind of film I could easily placed at the top, but it’s not as deserving as my scorn as the other films noted above because it quietly came and went without ruffling too many feathers. Still though. This one is crap. Don’t even bother looking it up out of curiosity.
Michael A. Smith:
1.LIFE ITSELF – As I say on our Podcast, I’ve never been so happy to see someone hit by a bus. THIS IS US plots work in small doses, but on the big screen, they suck!
2. THE MEG – If my 230 pound body can’t swim by people without attracting notice, then a 50 foot shark sure as hell shouldn’t be able to.
3. OCEANS 8 – Boooooooooooorrrrrrrrrring!
4. LOVE, SIMON – What could have been a film that delivered a great message takes the easy way out by making everything peachy too easily.
5. GRINGO – I had so many high hopes for this film. Sadly, Nash Edgerton did not get any of the film making skills his brother Joel inherited.
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James and Regina King Directed by: Barry Jenkins Rated: R Running time: 1 hr 59 mins Annapurna Pictures
2018 may go down as the year when everything old became new again. Especially in films. Messages(and misdeeds) from the past were brought to cinemas in new, fresh styles but the messages were not lost. Films like “Black Panther” and “Blackkksman” made audiences, both black and white, take a look atthe world around them and demand that it change. 2019 continues that path with the latest film from “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins, “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
Tish (Layne) and Vonny (James) are young and in love. Vonny isan artist with dreams of opening his own gallery. Sadly, they live in a time when society, and even members of their own families, are not as supportive as they should be. They find their love challenged when Vonny is arrested and charged with committing a brutal rape. We know he’s innocent but, thanks to a racist cop (the creepy Ed Skrein) and a victim (Emily Rios in a very strong performance) who has fled the country, the deck is already stacked against him.
As someone that has always enjoyed reading, I was well aware of the late James Baldwin. He was an author who was not afraid to write about the world as he saw it, no matter the view. Director Jenkins, who shared the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2016 for “Moonlight” – and will surely be nominated again for his work here – has kept the novel’s 1970s setting intact, but the tale told could easily have been placed in today’s world, a place where institutionalized racism is still an ongoing problem.
Jenkins has assembled a skilled cast of actors, both new and old, to shoulder the emotional impact of the story. In her first feature film, Ms. Layne is the heart and voice of the film (Tish narrates the story as it progresses). Her bright eyes and constant smile tell the audience that she is in love and will always be, no matter the consequences. Mr. James, who has portrayed such historically important characters as John Lewis and Jesse Owens, is also strong. He is a strong black man in an era when some parts of society confused “strong” with “trouble.” As Tish’s mother, Sharon, Regina King delivers one of the best performances in ANY film released this year. In their review of “Beale Street,”Entertainment Weekly plainly asked “Will someone please give Regina King an Oscar already?” I wholeheartedly agree!
A film that makes you think, like the perfect diamond, is rare. “IfBeale Street Could Talk” is flawless.
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell
Directed by: Adam McKay
Running time: 2 hrs 12 mins
Our Score: 5 stars
On the animated program “Lil’ Bush,” which was a comical look at the administration of President George W. Bush, his vice-president, Dick Cheney, was portrayed as possibly the son of Darth Vader. If Adam McKay’s latest film is to believe, Cheney may in fact actually have been Emperor Palpatine!
Dick Cheney (Bale) is a man who came from a troubled youth – lots of drinking and carousing – and rose to be within a heartbeat of holding the highest office in the world. And, if the film “Vice” is to be believed, he did it in the most ruthless way possible. You have to love a movie that informs the viewer at the beginning that it is a “true story,” than clarifies itself by explaining it’s as true as it can get considering nobody really knows anything about Dick Cheney.
After being kicked out of school and forced to live with his wife, Lynne (Adams), in her parents house, Cheney is given the ultimatum from the missus to either make something of himself or hit the road. He is chosen to be part of a group of young men whose job is to assist members of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington D.C. and is chosen by the straight-shooting Congressman from the state of Illinois, Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell). Sensing a kindred soul – or lack of one – Rumsfeld takes Cheney with him as he progresses through the ranks of government. And, like Michael Corleone, he teaches Cheney to keep his friends close and his enemies closer.
I have always marveled at the talents of Christian Bale. From first seeing him at age 12 in “Empire of the Sun” through “American Psycho,” the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy and his Oscar winning turn in “The Fighter,” he has always impressed me. So when I say that here he gives the best performance of his career, give me credit that I know what I’m talking about. In fact, if you didn’t know Bale was in this film I would dare you to tell me you know it’s he portraying Cheney, so immersed in the character is he. He is joined note for note by Adams, the strong woman-behind-the-the man, who adds another award-worthy performance to her repertoire! Throw in Carell, Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush and Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, and you have a true actors workshop on display.
The other half of this film is the script from director Adam McKay. Long known as Will Ferrell’s partner in crime on such films as “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights,” McKay hit the big time by winning the Best Adapted Screenplay Award for his film “The Big Short.” “Vice” is told in a similar way, with narration and flashbacks that make you chuckle while still lamenting the fact that this guy was basically helping to run our government. With no apologies. In fact, when the incident where Cheney, on a hunting trip, accidentally shot a fellow hunter in the face, we are shown the news clip where the VICTIM actually apologizes for causing any inconvenience to the Cheney family!
Dick Cheney has been with us for over four decades. Like cockroaches and Keith Richards, he may never go away. But if there is one positive to his story, it’s that it gave us what, in my opinion, is the best film of 2018!
GREEN BOOK Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali Directed by: Peter Farrelly Rated: PG-13 Running Time: 2 hrs 10 mins Universal
Nominated by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in five categories at the upcoming 2019 Golden Globes, including Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, “Green Book” is one of the most acclaimed films of 2018 with 49 nominations from various cinema-related organizations. Inspired by a true story, this period drama is a surprisingly complex, emotional work considering its director, Peter Farrelly, is best known for comedic fare like “Shallow Hal” and “Dumb & Dumber.” With “Green Book,” Farrelly captures the stark racial divide of 1962 America with an exploration of the relationship between Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) as they travel across the Midwest and Deep South.
It doesn’t take long to figure out that Tony Lip is a man you don’t want to mess with as he is the kind of tough guy who will hit you when you get out of line and will hit you harder if you strike back. Tony is thus the right fit as a bouncer at a New York City nightclub that’s frequented by wise guys from the Italian mob. However, despite their efforts to lure him to their line of business, Tony stays on the straight and narrow, sort of, as he is more than happy with being a devoted family man. Now while that’s all well and good, Tony has a set of racist attitudes towards people of color, exemplified when he tosses two water glasses into the trash after two black handymen drink from them in his house. When the nightclub he works at is shut down for remodeling, Tony Lip resorts to all sorts of ways to earn money for his family, including his participation in an impromptu eating contest that gets him fifty dollars. Thanks to his reputation as a man who can get things done, Tony Lip is called in to interview for a job as a driver for famed classical pianist Don Shirley.
It doesn’t go well at first because while Tony Lip is about as uneducated and uncultured as they come, Don holds multiple degrees and can speak several languages. Ultimately, Don hires Tony Lip because he needs someone who can protect him during a two-month concert tour that will take them through the heart of the segregated Deep South. As the two men learn more about each other, the more their divides begin to melt away to be replaced with curiosity and even friendship. This is helped by the conditions they witness as Don experiences for the first time the true pain of segregation and Tony Lip has his eyes opened to the injustice of it all.
Farrelly’s creation, with its terrific music selection, costumes and lingo, puts us in a time machine that takes us back to an America that had yet to lose its so-called innocence to assassinations and the Vietnam War. “Green Book” reminds us that that innocence was tainted with bigotry and hatred. It also reminds us how ignorance can be overcome with unity. In addition to its smartly written script and solid direction, “Green Book” contains a pair of dare I say Oscar nomination worthy performances. Mortensen dazzles with his knack to bring to life every subtle nuance of the characters he plays. This role is no exception as he helps make Tony Lip someone we can truly care about even though in the beginning it’s a little tough to do. Ali, a 2017 Oscar winner for “Moonlight,” gives Don a vulnerable sophistication while also breathing out a certain degree of naivete without seeming to break a sweat. It all adds up to “Green Book” being the type of rare movie where everyone can feel a little bit happier about the world when the lights go back on.
Starring: Steve Carell, Leslie Mann and Merritt Wever Directed By: Robert Zemeckis Rated: PG-13 Running Time: 116 minutes Universal Pictures
Back in 2015, director Robert Zemeckis brought the story of Philippe Petit to life in “The Walk.” It was a visually stunning film with a gripping story that was accompanied by a sore reminder at the core of its story, the Twin Towers in New York City. It was an awe inspiring flick that was equally joyful and tragic. That kind of nuance has been lost from Zemeckis’ touch in 2018 with his latest film, “Welcome to Marwen.”
I mention “The Walk” because it came seven years after the gripping documentary, “Man on Wire,” which many would agree is the better story of Petit. This time around, Zemeckis is crafting another story in the shadow of a documentary. Back in 2010, “Marwencol” brought the world the story of Mark Hogancamp, a man who finds solace and comfort in dolls and a miniature city he built outside his residence after a vicious attack that robbed him of thousands of precious memories from his previous life. It’s a humbling and breathtaking story that has been robbed of its magic in “Welcome to Marwen.”
Steve Carell does bring that humble nature and PTSD terror to Hogancamp’s story, but it comes up short once Zemeckis’ starts monkeying with the mechanics. About a third of the film is told through the eyes of the dolls that Hogancamp craft’s, as well as their surroundings. These scenes are a little jarring, as they come to life to fill in a plot point, or in Hogancamp’s mind, during a restless night of sleep. These scenes feel out of sorts with the film because they pop-up like a jump scare or are inadequately shoehorned in alongside real-life events.
While it’s a creative concept, with the dolls literally coming to life and talking to Hogancamp or playing out parallels in his life, they muddy the storytelling waters. Zemeckis’ attempt to be clever, end up diluting the various themes of Hogancamp’s story, one that is about recovery, acceptance and the mental struggles that victims of vicious attacks go through. Also undercutting these serious subjects is misplaced humor that disjoints the overall narrative.
Moments that should move you emotionally fall short because of how tonally misshaped “Welcome to Marwen” is. The doll sequences become overbearing, stretching out the story, with several aimless subplots and awkward moments that come off unintentionally funny as opposed to sympathetic. I can’t complete dislike something that comes from a good place, but it’s understandable if someone walks out of this movie confused or bothered by its half-hearted attempts at compassion.