I was just a student when I first learned about Ed and Lorraine Warren. My friend and I decided to give a presentation about them and their work fighting against demonic forces. After seeing the first installment of The Conjuring, I was blown away by James Wan's intricate storytelling and the film's elevated uniqueness within the horror genre. The third installment in this horror franchise, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, directed by Michael Chaves (of The Curse of La Llorona previously), possesses a divergent feeling. It falls rather short of its predecessors; however, its fascinating story based on true events, along with actors Vera Farmiga & Patrick Wilson returning as Lorraine & Ed Warren, still charm and spook.
Dodie Smith's 1956 children's novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians originally introduced the world to Cruella de Vil, a fashion-obsessed heiress who kidnaps a litter of Dalmatian puppies to create a spotted fur coat. When Walt Disney read the book back in 1957, he immediately obtained the rights and assigned Bill Peet (Cinderella, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty) to write the animated adaptation. 1961's 101 Dalmatians was a worldwide box office success, so much so that it was re-issued to cinemas four times: in 1969, 1979, 1985, and 1991. In 1996, Disney released a live-action version, starring Glenn Close as the iconic fashion criminal. Both the animated film and the live-action movie have spawned sequels, but now the franchise's villain is getting her own origin story with Cruella, starring the Academy Award winner Emma Stone.
I must admit, I was terrified after watching Saw for the first time. I was thinking about Jigsaw coming after me and telling myself that I needed to set a good example – I was in middle school at the time, after all. When I re-watched the entire series a few years later, I saw the franchise in a completely new light. Instead, I concentrated on what John Kramer was attempting to convey to us – a torturous lesson about morality and the consequences of his victims' actions. In Spiral, the new and refreshed thriller "From the Book of Saw", Darren Lynn Bousman (also the director of Saw II, III, and IV) doesn't exactly reinvent the killer genre. Still, he certainly takes the unusual atmosphere of the cult franchise and blends it with contemporary components, creating a thrilling, bloody spectacle that feels like a captivating ode to its predecessors.
"I cannot be myself back home." I need to write about this film because it's the best film I've seen in 2021 so far, and I've been thinking about it all the time since watching. Limbo is a dark comedy about the refugee experience in the UK written & directed by British filmmaker Ben Sharrock, and it was initially supposed to premiere at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival last year (before it was cancelled). Instead, it premiered at the Toronto, San Sebastian, Zurich, and London Film Festivals in the fall, and it has already been earning rave reviews. I'm so glad I finally caught up with it. Limbo would be my top pick for the Palme d'Or if Cannes had happened, really truly. I honestly want to drop the m word and call this a masterpiece. I loved it so much. It's perfect, there's not a thing to change about it. It even sticks the landing - in a seriously exhilarating way.
Imagine suddenly waking up disoriented in an unfamiliar place. As you walk through the narrow, round tunnel hallway, you reach the window and look out to see space – vast, uncharted blackness with millions of stars. Suddenly, you spot the Earth, your home. That's where you're supposed to be and where your family is. Soon you learn that you're now on a two-year mission to Mars, and you're not coming back any earlier than that. That's the situation that Michael (played by Shamier Anderson) finds himself in at the start of this film. In the Netflix Original Stowaway, directed by filmmaker Joe Penna (of Arctic previously), the characters must fight to survive their voyage in space while struggling with existential questions throughout.
"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.