Review: 'Shazam! Fury of the Gods' Falls into the Typical Sequel Trap
"Stick to saving the world, kid!" I believe that the enjoyment of a movie inherently depends on the time at which it's released. Some films don't quite work on the first viewing, but after a revisit sometime later, we're often surprised by a much better movie than we remembered – and also vice versa. In 2019, Shazam! was a breath of fresh air in a DCEU (DC Extended Universe) marked by its inconsistency, providing viewers a lighter environment and more charismatic characters. However, any enthusiasm for Shazam! Fury of the Gods was low during the last few months of anticipation… Was this sequel able to surprise me once more?
Review: Radio Silence's Horror Sequel 'Scream VI' is Satisfying Enough
We live in the Franchise Era, and I doubt that anyone would attempt to claim the opposite. Nowadays, if an original film without any intentions of creating a new saga of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs, ends up with the slightest commercial and financial success, it's only a matter of time before rumors of follow-up movies become a reality. The horror franchise Scream rising from the ashes is hardly a surprise, but its return last year (with the entry titled Scream from directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett) was so well received that many – myself included – consider it the best sequel in the franchise. One year later, does Scream VI live up to expectations or does it fail to capitalize on the wave of enthusiasm that its predecessor created?
Berlinale 2023: Fest Highlight 'Femme' is Vividly Tense & Provocative
Ending on a high note!! What a discovery – I hope this goes on to create conversations around the globe. My final screening of the 2023 Berlin Film Festival was this terrific film - Femme, co-written and co-directed by filmmakers Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping. It's one of the best films of the festival this year. It's also one of the only films (out of those the 22 I saw during the fest) that rightfully deserves to be called "innovative" – not necessarily for the filmmaking, mainly for the storytelling. Femme is an extraordinarily brave, compassionate, open-minded film crafted around a contemporary, thought-provoking narrative that had me on the edge of my seat. It rides an especially fine line between being extremely uncomfortable and tense, and also enticing and exciting in its tale of revenge and subversion. It not only kept me entertained, with the audience enjoying a few good laughs, but I'm still grappling with its plot and how ingeniously it's designed to make viewers ask – what is right, what is wrong, what is the right way to handle this dilemma?
› Posted on February 28 in Berlinale, Review | Comments
Berlinale 2023: Japanese Thriller '#Manhole' Has Some Gnarly Twists
The stuck-in-one-place subgenre of horror is packed with clever concepts and places to be stuck in (from a coffin to a sailboat). #Manhole is the latest entry in this subgenre and it truly is one of these films where, no matter what it is anyone thinks is going on before watching, no one will ever guess what the actual twist is until it arrives. The film is the latest feature from Japanese genre director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (also of Hole in the Sky, Green Mind Metal Bats, Freesia: Bullet Over Tears, Magic, Blazing Famiglia, Sketches of Kaitan City, Summer's End, My Man, Mukoku) and it opened in Japan just a few weeks before premiering at the 2023 Berlin Film Festival. The title is officially #Manhole with the hash symbol, which makes sense once the film gets going and the social media subplot kicks in. This quick festival review will be spoiler free, as I'd rather everyone go watch this film without knowing anything more before heading in. It is not a spoiler to say that there are twists, because of course, that's obvious & expected for a horror movie like this.
› Posted on February 25 in Berlinale, Horror, Review | Comments
Berlinale 2023: Celine Song's 'Past Lives' is a Lovely Look at Choices
It will always be a mystery trying to figure out where life will take us next. Even though we cannot see into the future, many dwell on their past and the choices they've made. It is an alluring thought process, usually tantalizing and stimulating. We can wonder what if over & over, and can make an important decision taking us down a different path today, but our lives will always continue from where they are right now. Playwright Celine Song's feature directorial debut is titled Past Lives, a beautiful, warm embrace of a film touching on these topics of choices & decisions. After first premiering at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, it has gone on to screen at the 2023 Berlin Film Festival in the Main Competition section. Everyone seems to be falling in love with this film at both festivals, and it makes me so happy to observe. I first watched the film at its world premiere at Sundance, putting it on my Best of the Fest list, but I wanted to wait until my second viewing at Berlinale before writing down more of my thoughts on it. I can confirm it's just as wonderful a second time.
› Posted on February 24 in Berlinale, Review, Sundance 23 | Comments
Review: Elizabeth Banks' 'Cocaine Bear' Delivers What it Promises
There are several factors that influence a viewer's decision to go to the theater or press "play" on a streaming service to watch a recent movie. Nowadays, it's extremely rare to see an audience exclusively persuaded by a mere premise – Cocaine Bear may be one of those uncommon gems. The title doesn't lie in the slightest: Jimmy Warden's script is inspired by a (very short) true story transformed into a kind of animal slasher wrapped in a dark comedy environment. Actress / filmmaker Elizabeth Banks ventures into directing for the third time (following Pitch Perfect 2 and Charlie's Angels), but can she handle such a crazy premise?
› Posted on February 23 in Review | 1 Comment
Berlinale 2023: The Whimsical, Angry Ideology of Malkovich's 'Seneca'
"Sometimes even to live is an act of courage." As much as this may be the perfect kind of ridiculous film to dismiss and forget, I can't stop thinking about Seneca. Made by German filmmaker Robert Schwentke, who has been working in Hollywood for years (RED, R.I.P.D., Allegiant, Snake Eyes), he has returned to his roots to make something much more intelligent and so much angrier than his action blockbusters. It is an exceptionally wacky, weird, linguistically loquacious, intellectually stimulating, amusing, strange film that is just as indescribable as it is thought-provoking. I can already tell that most critics, actually most people at all who dare to watch this film, will hate it. It's heavy-handed and direct, especially at the end, which always upsets most people. Yet also so funky and, well, for lack of a better word – philosophical (because of course it is, considering it's about a famous philosopher) – that it just won't sit well with most viewers. Even if it is far from perfect, I can't help but want to talk about Seneca, and talk about why I find it fascinating anyway.
› Posted on February 21 in Berlinale, Review | Comments
Review: 'Ant-Man: Quantumania' is a Disappointing Start to Phase Five
Despite much discussion about MCU's Phase Four - from its structure to the ever-complicated quantity vs. quality debate - the truth is that it was generally well received. Personally, I prefer this last "Phase" to the other(s), but either way, the adventures of Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) never really impressed me. If the original is a generic yet decent origin flick, the sequel is one of the few movies in the MCU that didn't get a positive review from me. Considering this and the fact that the "big bad" of The Multiverse Saga is introduced – on the big screen – in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, expectations weren't exactly easy to define.
› Posted on February 17 in Marvel, Review | Comments
Berlinale 2023: 'BlackBerry' is a Very Geeky Story of RIM's Rise & Fall
Another story of nerdy kids who build some innovative technology that goes on to change the world – until it grows too big for them to handle and they lose control of it all. It's a pretty common story these days, and almost always makes for captivating entertainment, even if we already know what's going to happen. That's exactly the case with BlackBerry, a new Canadian film from director Matt Johnson which is premiering in the main competition at the 2023 Berlin Film Festival. It's a bit of an odd pick for this fest, but it's a good film nonetheless. It's not at all experimental or innovative, which is totally fine; it's a decidedly linear and straight-forward story about the guys who created the BlackBerry cell phone. It was invented by a group of very geeky Canadian men who ran a little company called Research in Motion (aka RIM). After taking on an aggressive co-CEO from the business world, things quickly took off, and the rest is history, etc. Another Icarus story about nerds – and one mega asshole businessman – flying too high once they achieved success.
› Posted on February 17 in Berlinale, Review | Comments
Review: 'Ant-Man: Quantumania' Dives Deep into the Quantum Realm
Down, down, down to the Quantum Realm ye' go. Marvel Studios is back with their latest, the 31st MCU movie to date so far (with more on the way later this year), yet another sequel - Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. While it technically is a sequel to Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) continuing the storyline following Paul Rudd as Scott Lang as the superhero known as Ant-Man, it really is more of an introduction to "Phase Five" of the MCU. It's a huge step forward, or a giant step down into the tiniest of realms. As the title indicates, this is all about "Quantumania" - taking us down to the Quantum Realm, and exploring the inhabitants of this entirely different, strange and unusual world while following the Pym Family and their attempts to escape and return to, well, the "regular-sized" Earth realm. This truly is the MCU's Star Wars, featuring some spectacularly trippy visuals, turning this sequel into the movie I really wanted to see with the disappointing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Although the script still is the weakest link.
› Posted on February 16 in Marvel, Review | Comments
Review: Dave Franco's 'Somebody I Used to Know' Misses the Mark
For me personally, Dave Franco was never an actor that carried such an aura that automatically made a film or series tremendously more interesting entirely due to his presence. That said, his feature directorial debut, The Rental (from 2020), left a good impression, despite the movie itself being far from perfect. On the flip side there's Alison Brie (best known from "Community", "Glow", Horse Girl, Spin Me Round). The actress has also ventured into producing and writing in recent years, and now joins her husband to star in the film Somebody I Used to Know, handling the lead role and sharing a screenplay credit with Franco.
› Posted on February 9 in Review | Comments
Best of the Fest - 10 Favorites from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival
The 2023 Sundance Film Festival wrapped up last week after returning to a 10-day in-person event in Utah running alongside an online counterpart. Now it's time to present our annual Best of the Fest list. I was able to catch a total of 50 films this year (my full list on Letterboxd), half of them at screenings in Park City, the other half virtual screenings. This is my 17th year in a row covering Sundance, and this fest still has a special place in my heart. It was so nice to be back again. I am presenting one big list of my 10 favorite films - a mix of a few documentaries and narrative features. All 10 of these below are worth watching, and I highly recommend seeing them on the big screen whenever they show up at your local theater. I also wrote another editorial about how much Sundance 2023 focused on discoveries & first-time filmmakers, returning to their roots as a launching ground for so many wonderfully talented storytellers. Below are my favorites, the films that connected with me and have remained on my mind all the way through the 10 days of the fest.
› Posted on February 3 in Feat, Indies, Lists, Review, Sundance 23 | 1 Comment
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