John Wick can come back any time he damn well pleases. That was the message delivered by the 2014 action hit that not only saw the eponymous assassin returning to his death-dealing ways, it was a return of sorts for the film's star, Keanu Reeves. Keanu is back, John Wick is back, and the film that follows, John Wick: Chapter 2, is a perfect, action-packed, bullet-riddled, blood-soaked sequel. The follow-up does precisely what a sequel should do. It's bigger than its predecessor, and more elaborate than the efficient, streamlined actioner it follows. It isn't necessarily better. That would truly be an impossible task, but John Wick: Chapter 2 delivers on all this new franchise promises, an action extravaganza that keeps us amped for more.
Before The LEGO Batman Movie, Chris McKay (of Moral Orel, Robot Chicken) was best known as the animation co-director and editor of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s 2014 film, The LEGO Movie. His work on the critically acclaimed film earned him the American Cinema Editors Eddie Award for Best Edited Feature Film, Animation, as well as an Annie Award nomination for Best Edited Animation Feature Film. Now, McKay will forever be known as the guy who saved Gotham City’s Caped Crusader from a dark and gritty existence with The LEGO Batman Movie, perhaps the best film based on a DC Comics property since 2008’s The Dark Knight, and maybe the best pure Batman movie since Nolan's Batman Begins (2005).
There was a secret festival favorite at Sundance 2017. That film was Columbus. This quiet drama is Korean director Kogonada's first venture into the feature length realm. He is most known for his video essays on Vimeo, and damn did all of that study of film pay off. Kogonada's Columbus covers a lot of ground in the most elegant gestures and proves Kogonada knows his craft inside and out. From the absolutely exquisite cinematography by Elisha Christian, to the subtle yet powerful performances from lead actors Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho: this quiet film finds its way right into your soul.
Yo, this film is dope. Patti Cake$ (yes, the title is actually spelled with the $ sign) is an original comedy about a chubby white girl in New Jersey who dreams of being a famous rapper. Australian actress Danielle Macdonald plays Patti, a young, impoverished, overweight woman living with her mom and grandmom in "Dirty Jersey". Her best friend is an Indian man, played by newcomer Siddharth Dhananjay, who works as a pharmacist. Together they spend their nights spitting rhymes, catching shows, and strolling the streets of New Jersey with the skyscrapers of Manhattan taunting them in the distance. When they meet a musician known as "Basterd", played by Mamoudou Athie, they realize this might be their chance to make it big.
The power of people. But who is the leader that can inspire people to actually get out and protest? Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower is a documentary about the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in 2014, as well as the story of Joshua Wong, the young activist who lead the movement. I've been excited to see a documentary about this specific moment in Hong Kong's history, and this film covers that event and much more. This really shook up something deep inside of me. Joshua Wong is now my idol, I'm totally inspired and invigorated by him and his endless passion for democracy through peaceful protest - power in numbers. I admire this kid so much, and this doc is a fantastic introduction to who he is and what he helped achieve.
After working with Jessica Williams in his 2015 film People, Place, Things, writer/director Jim Strouse (of Grace is Gone, The Winning Season) recruited her for a lead role and wrote an entire film around her. The Incredible Jessica James stars Jessica Williams as a struggling playwright living in New York City, dealing with a break up. Strouse makes light, amusing, charming films that have fun stories based on real situations. The Incredible Jessica James is no exception, and might just be Jim's best film to date. It's full of so much life and passion and love and, most importantly, optimism. In these troubling, tumultuous times, where depression and frustration are all too prevalent, a little bit of refreshing optimism goes a long way.
What a weird film this is. Ingrid Goes West is an indie comedy from director Matt Spicer, making his feature directorial debut. It's about a self-centered, vain woman obsessed with Instagram who moves to Los Angeles to chase down, mimic and befriend another Instagram celebrity. Aubrey Plaza plays the deranged woman who has nothing to live for in life except "Likes", so she takes some inheritance money and starts replicating the lifestyle of an internet-famous person living a "perfect" life. While this sounds like it could be a good drama, it's actually a comedy with some wild laughs, even though they're at the expense of people who live obsessive, narcissistic lives. The film is enjoyable overall, but has a few problems that hold it back.
This film is awesome. Band Aid has a fun concept: a married couple struggling to stay together decides to start a band and write songs about their fights. Written by, directed by, and starring Zoe Lister-Jones, along with an all-female crew, the film is a funny, heartfelt, thoroughly enjoyable look at relationships and love. Band Aid features a few original songs that were performed live on set while shooting, as well as with fantastic performances by the husband and wife in the relationship. Adam Pally co-stars with Zoe, and the two feel completely authentic in their depiction of a married couple stuck at a rough spot in their lives trying to figure out where to go. I very much enjoyed watching this film, and I hope audiences give it a look as well.
I didn't think watching amazing footage of coral dying would make me so emotional, but it did. I was wiping away tears through this fantastic documentary, Chasing Coral, the follow-up to Jeff Orlowski's Chasing Ice. Orlowski is a very passionate, extremely talented filmmaker who not only dives deep into his projects, but knows how to make an engaging and encouraging documentary. Chasing Coral documents Orlowski's mission to capture time-lapse footage of coral in the ocean being bleached due to rising water temperature, which is caused by the excessive amount of fossil fuels we're burning. Not only does he get the footage, he crafts a gripping narrative around chasing coral and ends with a enthusiastic call for action. Go see this doc.
Have you ever seen a film that is so incredible, so extraordinary in every way, that when it's over you feel totally drunk on happiness, high on cinema, floating away with huge smile? That's how I felt walking out of the world premiere of Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name at the Sundance Film Festival. This film is a masterpiece. Everything about it is so wonderful and so moving and so unforgettable. Call Me By Your Name is the latest film by Luca Guadagnino, adapted from André Aciman's book of the same name, about the sexual awakening / coming-of-age of a young boy from Italy. It's a sweaty, sultry, seductive story infused with sensuality and intense intimacy. An utterly sublime cinematic experience that left me floored.
As a movie lover, I'm inherently aware of how important storytelling is to inspiring and invigorating all of us. It can bring us together, make us feel hopeful, and teach us that we should always keeping dreaming, and always be ourselves. Brigsby Bear, a Sundance film co-written by and starring Kyle Mooney, directed by Dave McCary and produced by the Lonely Island guys as well as Phil Lord & Chris Miller, is a wonderful ode to the power of storytelling and friendship. I wasn't expecting to enjoy this film as much as I did, but there is a genuinely sentimental side to it, on top of all the laugh-out-loud comedy, that elevates it from something fun to something truly memorable. You won't be able to forget the Brigsby Bear after seeing this.
I'm just going to come right out and say it here right at the beginning - Taylor Sheridan is one of the best screenwriters working today. It's not even debatable. And with Wind River, he shows that he is just as capable and talented at directing as well. Wind River is the feature directorial debut of screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (of Sicario and Hell or High Water previously) telling a riveting murder mystery in the snowy mountains of Wyoming. Sheridan's screenplay is brilliant, filled with metaphors and truthful characters and twists and turns and thrilling moments, all intertwined within themes of grief and vengeance and survival and good-vs-evil. It's topped off by fine performances from the entire cast, making this an invigorating film.