Category Archives: 2023

Movie Review: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (2023)

Friday in theatres.

Kelly Fremon Craig’s joyfully innocent adaptation of the Judy Blume young adult novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (A) is the book club conversation a generation has waited a half century to manifest. And it’s a modern-day film classic. Raised by a Christian mother (Rachel McAdams) and a Jewish father (Benny Safdie), a 12-year old girl (Abby Ryder Fortson) embarks on a series of questions about religion and faith while averting the preteen perils of life in the sixth grade. Craig magnificently evokes the 1970s milieu of the source material, with a spin the bottle smorgasbord of funny and heartwarming episodes ranging from fitting into a curious club to fitting into a bra. Fortson is a natural as the titular character at the center of her own set of crushes and crashes; she anchors the film with fortitude and nary a false move. She’s worthy of all accolades. Graduating from her own mean girls mentality, McAdams is exquisite as the eternally plucky mom, and Kathy Bates is a hoot as the family’s wry paternal grandmother. The film maintains sublime seriocomic delicacy as it balances glimpses at various belief systems and plumbs some taboos on the verge of adolescence. It’s heartwarming throughout, without a dash of cynicism. See it with someone you cherish.

Movie Review: Little Brother (2023)

The grand tradition of the dramatic road trip movie, so splendidly rendered in films such as Rain Man and Y Tu Mamá También, can add a new sentimental two-hander to its ranks in Sheridan O’Donnell’s Little Brother (A-), an intimate and inspiring indie that world premiered at the Atlanta Film Festival. Jake, portrayed by Daniel Diemer, has been tasked by his father (J.K. Simmons) to reluctantly transport his suicidal older brother Pete, played by Philip Ettinger, home for a family intervention. The dynamic between the central brothers in motion through a brittle journey to face their sometimes fractured bond, is thoroughly captivating, alternately heartbreaking and hilarious; and their pathway through the gorgeous West in locations such as Albuquerque and Twin Falls makes for an enjoyable and enlightening ride. As Pete, Ellinger diffuses the effects of mental illness with humor and regression to juvenile highjinks to mask his inner tumult. He’s consistently absorbing and magnetic in the tricky part. As the sometimes stoic straight man, Diemer has a tough role too and slays it with steely restraint. His tender depiction of abiding brotherly love is also sublime. When the siblings come to breakthroughs in how to confront and reconcile mental distress that’s not likely to vanish from looming large, O’Donnell continues to nourish the story with direction and dialogue which is rarely reductive or overly sentimental. This is the kind of movie that can save lives, and its notions of making the most of one’s lived experience and savoring the familial bonds to lift us when most needed have the power to deeply move.

Movie Review: Showing Up (2023)

Indie writer/director Kelly Reichardt is generally regarded as the matriarch of “slow cinema,” and her leisurely paced drama Showing Up (B-) focused on a ceramics artist played by Michelle Williams could be characterized as next of kiln: a slow burn with the effect of making the viewer feel quite glazed over at times. But ultimately the minimalist auteur punctures the porcelain veneer of her peculiar observational character study with moments of pathos and humor bordering on therapeutic. There’s nary a plot, aside from Williams’ character readying her whimsical figurines for an exhibition night while nursing an injured pigeon back to health and checking in on a brother suffering a declining mental state. This sibling is effectively portrayed in an off-kilter performance by John Magaro, providing an allegory about how artistic obsession isn’t too far removed from going a little crazy. Williams sculpts an idiosyncratic performance at the film’s center opposite a talented cast in bit roles including Maryann Plunkett and Judd Hirsch as her estranged parents and Hong Chau (winning as always) and André Benjamin as fellow denizens of an insular artist colony. Reichardt’s voyeurism into the process of creation has a way of growing on the viewer and soon enough conjures a mild bit of a maelstrom in its timid teacup. Although the pigeon might be the undisputed VIP character in the heart of this art house fare, this film should reward those seeking a story that breaks the mold.

Movie Review: Chevalier (2023)

Do you hear the peoples’ strings? A French Revolution set historical costume drama about a virtuoso violinist whose contributions to classical music had been heretofore lost to history, Chevalier (B+), directed by Stephen Williams, is old-fashioned entertainment with a twist. The illegitimate son of an African slave and a French plantation owner, Joseph Bologne. brilliantly portrayed by Kelvin Harrison Jr., rises to inconceivable heights in French society as a celebrated violinist-composer and fencer, dangerously liaising with a married woman (Samara Weaving) and Queen Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton). The women in the ensemble are uniformly strong (including a vamping Minnie Driver) and more than compensate for the supporting male performances, largely a predictably disapproving lot of prune faces. Although Williams won’t win any prizes for cinematic breakthroughs, he moves the story along briskly and frankly hits some operatic crescendos at times. In the lead role, Harrison commands his every sequence and commendably connotes his heartbreak of being caught between two worlds punctuated by the braggadocio of his public persona. It’s a rousing, crowd-pleasing biography with high relatability for those who liked Moulin Rouge or The Woman King, plus the music is also magnificent at the end of the day.

Movie Review: Beau is Afraid (2023)

If you’re hankering for that sensation of having your head smashed with a mallet for three hours, this is your film. Director Ari Aster parlays his skills at horror moviemaking into an absurdist examination of trauma in the bloated, tonally challenged folly of Beau is Afraid (D). What starts out promising wears out its welcome quickly as the mawkish title character played with commitment by Joaquin Phoenix endeavors against great madcap odds to visit his controlling mom, portrayed briefly with campy relish by Broadway legend Patti LuPone. There’s no denying Aster’s mastery of the camera, and he orchestrates occasionally clever and sometimes whimsical sequences illustrating the video game style obstacles thwarting the protagonist’s mental health – but the shrill outweighs the droll in his prolonged one-note allegory. A handful of delirious dark comic laughs can’t fully compensate for the extended and sometimes pretentious march into the mental abyss. Whatever thesis statement Aster is trying to present about the peculiar familial relationship afoot in this tale is buried in distracting artifice. It’s a disappointing miss, cynical and nightmarish without proper payoff to its downhill slide.

Movie Review: The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

Plumbers mysteriously vanishing into an unknown universe isn’t just the scenario homeowners find themselves in when their toilets are backed up; it’s also the premise dogging video game siblings Mario and Luigi for damn near four decades. Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie (B-) animates Brooklyn’s cunning craftsmen with Chris Pratt spryly voicing heroic Mario and Charlie Day endearingly embodying his timid fraternal twin brother Luigi. Partnered with feisty fighter Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), Mario must save his brother from the clutches of Bowser (Jack Black) who threatens to topple an idyllic Mushroom Kingdom the guys discover in an underground pipe lair. The movie is full bounce off the walls energy with kaleidoscopic colors and clever details dotting every horizon. But the uninspired script often throws a wrench in the good time with lackluster color by number plot points and groaner catch phrases. The highlight is Black’s Bowser chewing the scenery with relish and even tickling the ivories. He’s clearly in on the joke. Ultimately it’s hard not to be swept up in the parkour and pinball wizardry of the action sequences, and it’s largely good clean fun for the family. Despite some rather obvious needle drops on the soundtrack, Brian Tyler composes rousing music inspired by classic game play. The nostalgia factor is strong, and as Donkey Kong barrel battles and kart races on rainbows commence for the film’s mercifully brisk run time, you simply surrender and take the plunge.

Movie Review: Air (2023)

Available on Prime Video 5/12/23.

It’s the ultimate “inside baseball” about the world’s most iconic basketball shoe. Director Ben Affleck’s ‘80s-set chronicle about Nike’s courtship of rookie hoops star Michael Jordan, Air (B+) is a crowd-pleasing triumph. Matt Damon is effective as the wonkish mid-level exec fixated on attaching his swoosh to a champion of the court, with Affleck offering comic relief as the new-age company head. Jason Bateman and Chris Tucker also get plum roles as their business associates in a film that’s essentially a talky bake-off between Nike and adversaries at Adidas and Converse, not to mention a battle to outwit a sleazy sports agent middle man, played masterfully and mercilessly by Chris Messina. Delivering grace and gravitas to her role, Viola Davis makes her mark as MJ’s mom and unofficial sponsorship gatekeeper. The film succeeds with the rat-tat-tat of hilarious bro banter and the sparks of being scrappy. Setting his movie to a banger of a vintage MTV greatest hits soundtrack, filmmaker Affleck tells an unlikely true story with humor and pathos, giving Damon space to set just the right tone at the center of the quest.  These real-life underdogs fight red tape with metaphorical mixed tapes in glorious fashion. For a movie about famous sports shoes, it keeps things loose and limber and pivots in an instant.

Guest Movie Review: Chupa (2023)

Now on Netflix.
By Christian Waltermire
Guest Critic

Jonás Cuarón’s Chupa (C+) wastes no time jumping right into the action; and while there may not be much here to captivate someone above the age of ten, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with this Netflix original. Cuarón manages to turn a piece of Mexican folklore into a cute creature feature fallowing Alex (Evan Whitten), a kid from the U.S. who visits his grandfather (Demián Bichir) in Mexico for spring break. Alex initially doesn’t show much interest in his familial heritage; but along his journey, through discovering his father and grandfather were luchadores, and by making friends with a cuddly Chupacabra cub, our protagonist is launched into a whimsical adventure. The hero endeavors to dramatically dodge a researcher (Christian Slater) wanting to capture his new friend while also braving personal trials related to connecting with Latino culture. The lead creature is certainly the main attraction, stealing attention from anyone else on screen. Cuarón succeeds in making Chupa believable, leveraging a canine stand-in to allow a natural connection to form between the younger actors and the mythical animal. While this movie might not be on anyone’s re-watch list, its runtime makes it bearable, resulting in an easy film to throw on with the kids.

Guest Movie Review: Hunger (2023)

Now on Netflix.
By Christian Waltermire
Guest Critic

Sitisiri Mongkolsiri’s Bangkok-set Hunger (B-) is a visually appealing film meant to provide commentary on the upper echelon of society as far as it applies to perceived (and perhaps well substantiated) pretentiousness when it comes to the finer things in life. Aoy, played by Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, is a chef working at the family restaurant she is intended to inherit, but when a customer working for a fine dining chef tells her she’s too good for the establishment, she decides to make a switch. This is where Chef Paul (Nopachai Jayanama) comes into play, the owner of a private catering service serving high paying clients. The film makes a point to present the food in a manner that isn’t entirely appetizing, showcasing scenes of surrealism as the clients devour dishes such as animals. The film, while well executed, slips into some derivative territory with its “eat the rich” mentality. It puts forth the message that decadence and money aren’t everything and when compared with the simple things life can provide, the alternative is soulless. We’ve heard this message before so don’t go into the film thinking you’ll be met with any deep philosophical questions. It’s still a fun watch, while not particularly challenging, and will certainly be palatable for a Friday Netflix night.

Movie Review: A Thousand and One (2023)

A.V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One (B+) is a glorious parallel tale about motherhood against all odds set against an unfolding story of gentrification in Harlem in the ‘90s and 2000s. Teyana Taylor is brilliant as the unapologetic and free-spirited Inez who kidnaps her 6-year-old son Terry from the foster care system. Together mother and son set out to reclaim their sense of home, identity and stability in a rapidly changing town while harboring secrets. A talented Josiah Cross shares several gripping sequences opposite Taylor as her character’s young adult son (played earlier in life by Aaron Kingsley at age 6 and Aven Courtney at age 13). Will Catlett also gives a winning performance as Lucky, her love interest. The film will have audiences questioning whether Inez is making good choices but never doubting the sincerity of her maternal love. Rockwell also plumbs issues of erasure as literal human lives and real plights seem to be wiped away in the name of NYC’s progress. The soundtrack music by Gary Gunn is brisk and propulsive, dotted with radio voices of mayors prattling about jaywalking and other inconsequential issues while the film’s central characters seek food or shelter for the night. It’s an effective movie with tear jerking moments but an indomitable spirit. And a star is born in Taylor.

Movie Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)

This year’s ultimate heist movie includes a bard, a barbarian, an amateur sorcerer and a shape-shifting druid, infiltrating a castle to topple a villain, steal riches and reunite a family. It’s also inspired by a tabletop role-playing game. Set in the fantasy milieu, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley’s Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (B+) announces its intent to comically entertain with everything short of clanking coconuts as its merry revelers interrogate the dead, jailbreak with flying beasts, grapple with awkward teleportation techniques and generally make up the game as they are playing it. Chris Pine is droll perfection as the man with a plan – actually many of them – as he commandeers a team featuring Michelle Rodriguez (grand physical performance), Justice Smith (earnest in mustering his magic) and Sophia Lillis (good as the skeptic). Hugh Grant is a scene-stealer as an arrogant and acerbic baddie, and Regé-Jean Page has a funny bit as a stoic paladin. The CGI has a throwback quality to adventure yarns of the ‘80s but plays a supporting role to the abundant comic treasure trove provided by the central quartet. Although it drags a little in the final act, this is the triumphantly entertaining family film for which many will seek. It might as well be called Dangers & Dad Jokes with its slings and arrows of gags, but the undercurrent of strong characters devising impromptu strategy in a mythic land with high stakes will keep everyone engaged in the experience.

Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)

You’re unlikely to find a more action-packed extravaganza than Chad Stahelski’s epic neo-noir thriller John Wick: Chapter 4 (A-).  For fans of opulent martial arts, fetishized weaponry, graceful ultraviolence and grand canvas action storytelling told with fluidity and dexterity, it doesn’t get much better than this. The absurdity of Keanu Reeves’ central character’s indestructibility plays like a fever dream across multiple continents and unfolds amidst gloriously elaborate set pieces as the skilled assassin endeavors to exact revenge against those who have left him for dead. The film’s mythology of a criminal underworld with specific rituals and rules keeps the over-the-top antics strangely grounded, despite some unbelievable survivals from multi-story falls from buildings. The film provides a juicy new villain as part of the High Table, the council governing the criminal underworld, in the form of a diabolical Bill Skarsgård; he’s a complete delight, especially brooding over a city built in miniature where he has plotted out his fiendish finale. Donnie Yen is badass as blind henchman Caine, who utilizes inventive motion detectors to dispatch of his prey in an early sequence. Having shepherded this series throughout its run, Stahelski orchestrates the story and stunts with the cadence of a master; and across NYC, Morocco, Japan, Berlin and Paris, he devises and stages some of the most breathtaking set pieces assembled for detailed hand to hand combat. His signature highly-choreographed, long single action takes are all here in abundance, with extremely memorable stunt sequences in the traffic circle of the Arch De Triomphe, in a fictional nightclub surrounded by waterfall fixtures, in a Japanese art museum where you know none of that glass is going to survive either and most notoriously on the steps up to the Sacré-Cœur basilica, which prove to be their own impenetrable hazard. Hiroyuki Sanada, Ian McShane, Shamier Anderson and Clancy Brown provide strong support in the ensemble. Reeves’ words are mercifully limited, but he says so much with his body and actions; it’s such a wonderfully lived-in character. This is an impeccably made film of its genre and highly recommended for action fans. It takes its flame thrower to nearly all imitators. By all means, see this movie in a theatre.