"There can't be two alpha titans." Everyone's favorite big cuddlelizard is back with another smash & tumble adventure around the world. Godzilla vs. Kong is finally here! You're Next and The Guest director Adam Wingard picks up where Mike Dougherty left off with Godzilla: King of the Monsters just a few years ago. And Wingard also picks up where Jordan Vogt-Roberts left off with his Kong: Skull Island movie. This is a very American franchise now, focusing more on the epic destruction and CGI-filled fights than any humans, because that's what we want! Let them fight! And ohhh, do they fight. And tons of humans get squished, but that's what happens when these two titans battle. This is nature vs nature and we just need to get far enough back so we can watch without getting caught up in all the destruction. Does it pack a punch? YES IT DOES.
Holy gore hell. It's only March, and we already have at least two incredibly unique, extremely strange mind-fuck animated films that are definitely not for kids. Dash Shaw's Cryptozoo premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival in January, and The Spine of Night just premiered at the SXSW Film Festival this month. (And let's not forget about that wacky puppet horror Frank & Zed from the Nightstream Film Festival last year.) These films are yet another reminder that animation is a medium, not just a genre, and can be used to tell any kind of story - including extremely violent, gory, not-for-kids stories that could only be realized with animation. Fresh from SXSW, The Spine of Night is an instant cult classic, find-it-on-VHS-anywhere-you-can-at-whichever-video-store-stocks-it, extra gnarly, mind-melting sensation. Just don't watch this sober.
The fans were victorious. Zack Snyder's Justice League is finally upon us. After a four year journey that originated with director Zack Snyder departing the project due to a family tragedy, the four-hour superhero epic defied all odds and expectations and arrived streaming on HBO Max this past weekend (watch the final trailer again). No longer besmirched by Joss Whedon's neutered version of Justice League from 2017, Zack Snyder's Justice League (formerly known as "The Snyder Cut") restores his epic vision for the superhero film, and it is a victorious triumph for perseverance and for the vision of an auteur who never gave up.
You know that inner voice that always prevents you from doing the right thing? That always stops you from being your true self? What if you could learn to reject it and listen to yourself instead, staying true to who you really are. That is the concept behind Violet, a seemingly autobiographical film that marks the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Justine Bateman. This indie dramatic feature just premiered at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival and it's one of the most creative films I caught during the virtual festival this year. It's set in Hollywood, following a development executive struggling with her life as this voice, literally voiced by Justin Theroux, keeps telling her how much she sucks and how she should just keep quiet and do her job just like she's told. Eventually, she learns to stop letting that voice control her and starts listening to herself.
"More often than not, a hero’s most epic battle is the one you never see; it’s the battle that goes on within him or herself." Love him or hate him, Kevin Smith is a fascinating guy and iconic filmmaker. Love him or hate him, he has made 13 movies (so far), created a podcast empire, and cemented himself in pop culture history as a famous fanboy. Like many of us, he started as a film lover. He always wanted to be a storyteller, but had no idea if he could ever be successful. After seeing Linklater's Slacker, off he went to the Vancouver Film School in the 1990s, where he met producer / filmmaker Scott Mosier, and the rest is history. Malcolm Ingram's new documentary Clerk, which just premiered at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, take us through Smith's entire life, examining his legacy and many accomplishments – both as a filmmaker and as a person.
I'm just going to say this right up front: Ninjababy is one of the most creative, innovative films I've seen this year. This film rocks! For whatever foolish reasons, I was resistant to watching this one when it first premiered at the 2021 Berlin Film Festival. Then I finally caught up with it at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, after many of my colleagues had been raving about it. I wasn't ready to be this blown away by how brilliant and innovative and progressive and hilarious it is. This is the kind of fresh, insightful filmmaking that the world needs more of. This is the kind of empathetic, thoughtful, and delightfully witty storytelling that will shape the next era of cinema. It's not what you're expecting, and yet it's so much fun, and so smart in every way as it goes on and confronts real issues of what it's like to be a woman. This is modern cinema at its best.
As the world changes, and as society evolves, so must teaching, and so must teachers. But how, exactly, and where is there an example of a teacher that can best educate (and handle) youngsters as they're growing up? This exceptional documentary brings us into the classroom of one extraordinary teacher who offers a near perfect example of how to teach and deal with rowdy adolescents. Mr. Bachmann and His Class, also known as Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse in German, has premiered at the 2021 Berlin Film Festival and is one of the documentary highlights of the fest this year. Directed by German filmmaker Maria Speth, the film runs a grand total of 3 hours and 37 minutes. However, it properly and proudly earns its "Frederick Wiseman from Germany" comparison because it seriously comes close to matching the quality of his films.
Be afraid, be very afraid. There's something going on out there, something stirring in the shadows, and it's something we need to be worried about. Fascism is back. It's reared its ugly head too many times in too many countries recently. And filmmakers definitely have something to say about this, especially German filmmakers. Je Suis Karl just premiered at the 2021 Berlin Film Festival, the latest feature from German filmmaker Christian Schwochow (of November Child, Cracks in the Shell, West, Paula) and screenwriter Thomas Wendrich, and it's an unnerving, frightening, realistic portrayal of the rise of fascism. From the moment it started, I immediately had knots in my stomach, knowing what was coming. Much like watching Titanic or United 93, you know what's about to happen and I felt that intense dread watching it all play out.
How well do you really know your friends? Perhaps you know them better than they want to admit. Perhaps you don't know all of their secrets. But whatever it is that connects you, that's what matters. And that's what this beautiful film is all about. Language Lessons is something really special. I feel honored to be witness to the start of a whole new indie subgenre - mumblezoom. (Or maybe zoomumble? Zoomcore?) It doesn't surprise me that Mark Duplass is involved in the next evolution of mumblecore, but this really is Natalie Morales' film above all. This film is like a big warm hug of pure, perfect goodness that we all so need right now. Just patient and lovely in its heartfelt reminder that friendship is vitally important and we need to stop being so against anyone who tries to care. Let love glow, let it shine, let it heal us, let it take us on journeys.
Love is hard. While it seems like it should be easy, once that feeling overtakes us and embraces us, the act of loving is not as easy as it seems. We all know this, at least we've heard it said before, yet we all long for love and wish we'll find someone to make us less lonely. But how can we achieve that if we've lived for so long on our own, establishing an entirely independent life. Is there even an answer to that question? One of my all-time favorite romances, Spike Jonze's Her, digs into this question and the fabric of love and how it works. I'm Your Man is another new sci-fi romance film that also digs into this question, and presents us with a peculiar yet fascinating story of love and its impossibly complex dynamics. It's a sweet, low key story about a robot lover created to be the "perfect" partner and how he changes one woman in ways she wasn't expecting.
"You are being considered for the amazing opportunity of life." Another year, another Top 10. Better late than never, as they say! Though this usually happens with me, getting this list out takes a lot of time… It was a tough year to keep writing during 2020, despite watching films all the time. I saw over 400 films during the year, trying to watch as much as I could despite the lockdowns and the shut downs, and everything else going on. But here it is anyway - my personal list of my Top 10 Favorite Films of 2020. Most of all, I just want to share my love for these glorious works of cinema. It's not that surprising that many of my favorite films are films about how magical and mesmerizing life is to live, which is important during this pandemic time anyway. We have to keep on living, despite all the challenges, we have to seek the light, despite all the darkness, we have to find beauty, despite all the ugliness. And these films provided that much needed bliss.
When we think of "elders", we usually think of our grandparents or grand-uncles, or even that nice lady who works in a grocery store and always talks to you and asks you about your life whenever you stop by. This is normal. However, shady legal guardian Marla Grayson in I Care a Lot, filmmaker J Blakeson's latest film (after The Disappearance of Alice Creed and The 5th Wave), only thinks of them as a constant flood of cash. Blakeson's dark comedy thriller is a chaotic mix of genres, a crazy rollercoaster ride, and it certainly saves itself with a stellar cast and a storyline that is interesting enough to keep us invested right up until the end.