Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Review: Uncut Gems

Release date: December 25, 2019
Running time: 135 minutes
Starring: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett

Adam Sandler is magnificent in his return to serious roles.  He plays hustling Jewish jewelry merchant Howard Ratner as he tries to close the biggest sale of his career while all his past hustles come back to bite him.  Ratner must juggle his family problems, business problems, friends, and enemies in this complex hustle movie.  

The main draw of this film is the genuinely fantastic acting and characters.  Ratner is a driven, but flawed man, with a need to succeed at any cost and an unhealthy belief in his own abilities.  He also has to juggle his family, mainly his wife played by Idina Menzel, and his girlfriend played by Julia Fox.  And through this he has to deal with many crumbling relationships, both familial, business, and personal in his ever present need to win.  Rounding out the cast is his genuine, but somewhat shady, friend / partner played by LaKeith Stanfield and a potential high profile customer in Kevin Garnett.  All of these characters, and more, intertwine in this complex story.  Their interactions are fun to watch, and the various personas at odds with each other really give this film its sparkle.  

However, if you are not interested in a tense hustle, this might not be for you.  The film is a long one, but that is partly because so much is crumbling around Ratner and it is all explored in various subplots.  There is a lot of dialog and drama, but not a lot of action.  And although there is some comedy, it is not what you would expect from a Sandler film.  There is a lot to enjoy in this movie, but if you are coming to this thinking it will be like otehr films Sandler is known for, you will be disappointed.  Additionally, Ratner makes some pretty ridiculous decisions in his need to succeed, some of which are just bone-headed.  However, the character is consistent and Sandler plays it perfectly. 

Uncut Gems is complex, with enough facets to allow its fantastic characters to sparkle brightly. 

Watch It

Monday, December 30, 2019

Review: Good Newwz

Release date: December 27, 2019
Running time: 134 minutes
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor, Diljit Dosanjh 

Good Newwz is a new comedy / drama about a couple who turn to IVF in order to have a child.  Facing increasing societal, family, and marital pressure to have a child, Varuun and Deepti Batra (Kumar and Kapoor) turn to a well respected doctor to finally give them the child they think they have been wanting.  However, in a strange coincidence, Mr. Batra's sperm sample gets mixed up with another, very different Batra couple, Honey and Monika Batra (Dosanjh and Avani).  How these two very different couples deal with this mix up and the resultant life decisions form the crux of this film. 

Good Newwz is a funny movie, with many laugh out loud moments and jokes with plenty of double meaning, which is what I would have expected from Kumar.  However, a good portion of the humor also comes from co-star Dosanjh and his outlandish but totally heartfelt character Honey Batra.  Although Varuun and Deepti were the main protagonists, I didn't love their characters.  Both characters have times when their actions make them unlikable,  and much of their conflict seem to be because they give in to societal pressures.  This is odd because I do like both of those actors, especially Kumar.  I think the character was written to be more stereotypical Indian working man and that hurts this part of the film.  Honey and Monika, on the other hand, seem to be much more pure-hearted and relatable, despite their outlandish characters.  That's not to say that Varuun and Deepti were unlikable all the time; they just took many actions in the film that I did not agree with or mostly understand.  And despite the fact that part of the fun of this film is seeing all the different characters interact, I believe you could have changed Varuun and Deepti slightly and still retained much of the essential conflict.

Despite Good Newwz being marketed as a comedy, there are many surprisingly heartfelt and dramatic moments in the film.  Whenever you deal with something as personal as children and issues with conception, there will inevitably be some associated drama.  And I loved that Good Newwz didn't shy away from a lot of this: the medical information, the societal pressure, the sexual innuendo, it is all left in the film.  Good Newwz portrays this well and despite all the comedy surrounding it, the heartfelt moments do feel pure.  And this drama is interspersed with some very funny scenes, particularly with Honey and Monika.  One thing I do wish we got was more information on the other Batras.  They are introduced and you get some story about them, but I wanted to know more about where they came from and what they did.  The main characters are Varuun and Deepti, but I wanted to get a good picture of all the cast.  

Good Newwz delivers some enjoyable characters, laugh out loud comedy, and tackles some important issues with surprisingly heartfelt dramatic moments in a film that will entertain you right from conception.

Rent It

Friday, December 27, 2019

What to Watch This Weekend: December 27, 2019

In Theaters: Spies in Disguise
Spies in Disguise should not be pigeon-holed into a second tier animated film.  It is a beautifully animated adventure featuring two leads with great chemistry, some truly impressive animation, and a fantastic soundtrack to entertain both young and old.  For more information, check out our review!

In Theaters: 1917
1917 uses impressive camera work and Hollywood magic, booming special effects, and impressive sets to tell an authentic, dramatic war story.  For more information, check out our review!

At Redbox: Ad Astra
Ad Astra is a slow burning near future space journey that will take you to the stars and beyond if you give it the time.  It is a slower watch. but it rewards you with a fantastically realized world and some pretty amazing special effects.  For more information, check out our review!

Streaming (Amazon): Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhall's dark and surprisingly well reviewed movie follows a reporter who breaks into the world of Nightcrawling, i.e., following police sirens in the hopes of getting a scoop on a crime story.  This movie received positive reviews for its dark setting, comedy, and scathing commentary on popular culture! 

Streaming (Starz): Men In Black: International
The series reboot did not get good critical reviews, but has decent audience reviews.  It is a harmless and forgettable member of the series, but one that has two starts with great chemistry in a fun summer adventure through the galaxy. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Deal: Free Rental of Polar Express From VUDU

Get some of that holiday cheer with a free rental of The Polar Express, starring Tom Hanks from VUDU.  This 2004 animated film follows the exploits of one little boy who boards the magical train in all its holiday glory.  

In order to get your free rental, head over to VUDU and enter the promotion code GIFT4YOU.  This will give you the rental that you can start any time in the next 30 days.  Once you start it, however, you will have 24 hours to finish it.  Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Thanks to Slickdeals for pointing out this deal!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Review: Dabangg 3

Release date: December 20, 2019
Running time: 160 minutes
Starring: Salman Khan, Sudeep, Sonakshi Sinha

Dabangg 3 follows a super cop who is forced to confront an enemy from his past in order to save his present.  Inspector Chulbul Pandey (Khan) is your stereotypical Hindi action star: great fighter, pure of heart, and always one step ahead of the enemy.  However, in this case an enemy from his past re-emerges and Pandey is forced to make some tough choices that might hurt those he loves.  

Dabangg 3 has an over the top, campy style.  It feels like a combination of an old school spaghetti western and Anchorman.  Pandey has a sarcastic machismo that is very pronounced.  He is ridiculous through and through, from his aviators to his pencil mustache, Pandey is a character.  Thankfully, this doesn't go into a chauvinistic realm; Pandey is a strong alpha character that does ridiculous things, but for the most part he is not patronizing.  And in true action movie form, there are several fight scenes including a very climactic final one.  And in true Bollywood form, this film has about 6 dance numbers.  It feels like they tried to turn everything about Hindi cinema to 11 for this movie!

But as strangely comical as the tone is at times, the movie can't decide on what tone it wants to set.  Certain scenes are dark and serious followed by light-hearted ridiculous humor; the movie switches back and forth between them regularly.  And despite Pandey's pronounced character, this movie does not have much to say.  In Anchorman, Burgundy's character was a vehicle to explore old, outdated stereotypes.  But in this film, Pandey is more of just a funny, extreme character without a greater message.  And Dabangg 3 is a very long movie, with essentially a mini movie in the middle as Pandey's past is explored.  It is an in depth look and sets up the rest of the movie, but it felt like there could be significant cuts to get the film under 2 hours without sacrificing much.  As it stands, this film definitely felt like a two and a half hour plus movie.

Dabangg 3 is a ridiculous comedy with fun action and a quirky but genuine protagonist.  

Rent It

Monday, December 23, 2019

Review: 1917

Release date: December 25, 2019
Running time: 119 minutes
Starring: Andrew Scott, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden

1917 is a new war drama that tasks two unlucky soldiers with crossing the front lines of the war to deliver a vital message to two Allied battalions.  This seemingly simple task must be accomplished within a day and could have dire consequences for those battalions and the overall war.  

One of the most impressive--and potentially polarizing--aspects of this film is its cinematography.  Sam Mendes shot the movie to appear to happen in a single take, with hidden cuts to make it look like you are watching one continuous recording.  It is very impressive to see and makes you wonder how this occurred.  It can be distracting at the start--constantly looking for the cuts--but after a while I didn't notice it and just appreciated it for the story.  And it really adds a sense of tension and believability to this dramatic film.  

The journey itself is self-contained as the entire adventure must take place within a day.  And the fact that there are two soldiers taking this trip is enjoyable as you can see their different personalities clash.  I likened it to a World War I Lord of the Rings, with the main movie being the journey and seeing how the two very different people overcome the obstacles before them.  But that time constraint also limits what you can see in the film; because it takes place in a day you can't get a sense of more than this area of the war and this specific mission.  The filmmakers do their most with what they have, taking the viewer to a few different locales and some very impressive scenery, but the temporal aspect means that the film can only show so much.

But what it does show is very impressive with a great attention to detail.  After seeing They Shall Not Grow Old, I was impressed by how authentic the trench scenes looked.  They looked desolate, terrible, and run down; probably not as accurate as the real things but still very impressive to see and probably about as close as we could get without experiencing it ourselves.  And the contrast of those desolate locales with some of the more lush areas that appear later in the film is breathtaking. 

1917 uses impressive camera work and Hollywood magic, booming special effects, and impressive sets to tell an authentic, dramatic war story.  

Watch It

Sunday, December 22, 2019

What to Watch This Holiday

We have a special Holiday-themed What to Watch with suggestions for streaming movies so you can stay in, stay warm, and avoid the cold.  Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!

Anna and the Apocalypse (Amazon and Hulu)
My favorite movie of last year, Anna and the Apocalypse offers something refreshingly different from anything else out now, with the perfect combination of holiday cheer, catchy music, zombie action, funny characters, and high school drama.  And the soundtrack has become a holiday regular in my house!  For more information, check out our review!

A Bad Mom's Christmas (Showtime)
The mom's are back for some holiday planning.  Bad Mom's Christmas returns the same cast from Bad Moms, with some holiday cheer / drama thrown in for extra effect.

Die Hard (Crackle)
Some may debate whether or not this belongs on the list, but since it's our website we're including one of the best Christmas movies of all time, Die Hard.  Learn about the importance of perseverance, family, and trying to keep it a silent night with this holiday classic.

The Grinch (Netflix)
Get into the holiday spirit with Illumination's animated movie The Grinch.  This remake of the classic Dr Seuss tale adds some bright, beautiful animation and enough updates to keep the story fresh.  

Jingle All The Way (HBO)
Arnold's Christmas classic may not be the most well-reviewed movie, but sometimes bad movies can make for great staying in evenings.  And the desperate, last-minute shopping theme might resonate with any other procrastinators out there.

Klaus (Netflix)
A beautifully animated holiday movie with a funny and heartwarming story, Klaus is a new Netflix film but will likely be on people's holiday schedules for years to come. 

Love Actually (HBO)
One of the original massive cast, story crossing films, this holiday classic merges many different story lines during a UK holiday season.  And through it all you will see love, sadness, cheer, and friendship through many people's eyes.  

Noelle (Disney+)
Anna Kendrick does her best to make this silly, harmless, Hallmark-style film enjoyable.  It doesn't offer much, but for those with Disney+, you just might find some holiday cheer from it.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Screening: JUST MERCY


Wide release: January 10
Rated: PG-13
Run time: 137 minutes

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

A powerful and thought-provoking true story, “Just Mercy” follows young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Jordan) and his history-making battle for justice. After graduating from Harvard, Bryan had his pick of lucrative jobs. Instead, he heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or who were not afforded proper representation, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley (Larson). One of his first, and most incendiary, cases is that of Walter McMillian (Foxx), who, in 1987, was sentenced to die for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence and the fact that the only testimony against him came from a criminal with a motive to lie. In the years that follow, Bryan becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings and overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds—and the system—stacked against them.

Michael B. Jordan (“Black Panther,” “Creed,” “Creed II”) and Oscar winners Jamie Foxx (“Ray,” “Baby Driver,” “Django: Unchained”) and Brie Larson (“Room,” “The Glass Castle,” “Captain Marvel”) star in “Just Mercy,” an inspiring drama that brings one of the most important stories of our time to the big screen.

Award-winning filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton (“The Glass Castle,” “Short Term 12”) directed the film from a screenplay he co-wrote, based on the award-winning nonfiction bestseller by Bryan Stevenson.

Screening Details:
Monday, January 6
AMC Mazza

Be sure to Like and Follow Watch or Pass on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and share with your friends!

As always, screenings are first-come, first-served so please arrive early to ensure you get a seat.

What to Watch This Weekend: December 20, 2019

In Theaters: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker finds balance in the force, advancing the story of the current arc while providing plenty of fan service for fans of the franchise.  It has the same great core group of characters, amazing effects and sound, and despite some issues, satisfyingly concludes this chapter in the Star Wars saga.  May the force be with you.  For more information, check out our review!

At Redbox: Abominable
Abominable is a beautifully animated journey with a fun cast including a lovable otherworldly creature.  The movie has a some breathtaking animation, funny characters, and a ton of heart.  For more information, check out our review!

Streaming (Amazon): The Aeronauts
The Aeronauts is a high-flying adventure with two fantastic leads, a compelling story that is unfortunately affected by Hollywood fantasy, and thrilling effects and sound.  For more information, check out our review! 

Streaming (Cinemax): BlacKkKlansman
After you're done seeing Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, enjoy a lighter side of him in this Spike Lee historical comedy based on an incredible true story.  It has an amazing cast, biting commentary, and a lot of humor. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Review: Spies in Disguise

Release date: December 25, 2019
Running time: 101 minutes
Starring: Will Smith, Tom Holland, Karen Gillan, Rachel Brosnahan

Spies in Disguise is a new animated film by Blue Sky Studios, the Sony animation studio that is most well known for the Ice Age films.  Spies in Disguise follows super agent Lance Sterling (Smith) when he is forced to team up with brilliant, but kind of bumbling Walter Beckett (Holland) to stop a major threat.  The two have very different strengths and styles, but will have to work together and learn from each other to have any hope of fixing the situation.  Oh, and Lance Sterling spends much of the movie as a pigeon, which further complicates things.    

Spies in Disguise is inspired by 1960s-style action movies and it definitely shows throughout the film.  Lance is the suave, always on top of it spy who wears a tuxedo in the field and sips martinis--basically an animated James Bond.  And the film has beautiful animation with bright colors (when needed), some pretty amazing glitter and other effects, and a variety of locales.  The style is carried over into the sound as well, which has an awesome modern take on 60s style music; the film blends 60s sounds with hip hop artists and some other appropriate sound effects.  It gives the film a unique sound that accentuates the wonderful animation.

Because the two main characters are required to work together, the chemistry between them could make or break this film.  Thankfully, Will Smith and Tom Holland are perfect as an unlikely duo: Smith as a debonair, confident super agent and Holland as the nerdy, awkward, but brilliant scientist.  They play off each other perfectly and have some very funny dialog as they learn to cooperate.  Spies in Disguise's humor follows a trend with animated movies, by making jokes that both kids and adults can enjoy.  There are some references that only the parents will get, which keeps the film interesting for young and old audiences.  In this vein, much of the dialog also has double meaning to keep adults and kids entertained.

However, Spies in Disguise is a much darker movie than I expected for a kids film.  The directors said that the did this to help balance some of the inherent silliness of the movie.  The gritty style helps to ground the movie despite some of the wacky events happening throughout.  My child didn't mind, but if you have small children this movie might be a little scary even for them.  

Spies in Disguise should not be pigeon-holed into a second tier animated film.  It is a beautifully animated adventure featuring two leads with great chemistry, some truly impressive animation, and a fantastic soundtrack to entertain both young and old.

Watch It

BONUS: Check out a Q&A with Directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane.  They talk about the movie, the stars Will Smith and Tom Holland, and the directorial process and how they came up with some of the wacky gadgets.  Warning, this contains spoilers from the film.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Release date: December 20, 2019
Running time: 141 minutes
Starring: Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega

You don't need me to tell you whether or not you should watch Star Wars Episode IX, the Rise of Skywalker.  You either already have your ticket to opening night or you are not a fan of the series and won't see it.  But, on the off chance you haven't decided already, Star Wars Episode IX is an action packed movie that should please fans of the series and might just make Star Wars fans of those that aren't.

Episode IX reunites us with the main characters of the latest story arc, including young Jedi Rey (Ridley), Sith Kylo Ren (Driver), crack pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac), and storm trooper turned Resistance hero Finn (Boyega).  As with almost every movie in this new arc, the First Order is trying to destroy the last bastions of resistance, and the resistance are trying to stay one step ahead of them and find a way to turn the tide of the war.  However, this time they have a confident, yet conflicted Jedi in Rey to help fight against the First Order and the Dark Side.  And it is good that this cast is back because they really are a great core group.  Even Driver, with his more emotional Sith character is welcome in this film as he really gets to showcase his acting.  And with this being the third movie in the story arc, these characters have grown and progress from where they were in Episode VII and VIII.  It was great seeing them start off the film much more confident and capable than we have seen in the previous two movies.    

As you would expect from a Star Wars film, the effects and style are top notch.  There is a ton of CG but it is so well done that you don't even notice it.  It really helps to transport you into the intergalactic conflict of the light side versus the dark side when you don't have to worry about being pulled out of the experience.  And the sound is equally fantastic.  It has all the effects you have come to expect from the franchise and a few new ones thrown in to keep the movie fresh.  And speaking of things you would expect, the film has tons of call backs and references to previous Star Wars films and series, which is great to see in what should be the culmination of George Lucas's original plan for the series.  And just like in the previous films, in between (and during) the action there is plenty of humor to break up the direness of the main character's predicament. 

However, Star Wars is not a perfect movie.  The movie jumps around a ton at the start while it tries to reacquaint the audience with the main story threads from the last film, which causes the first part of the movie to feel disjointed and confusing.  And after this sporatic opening, the film's pace is off and can drag at times during its over two hour duration.  And, as with many previous Star Wars films, the plot itself is a little too convenient and linear, with the characters going to exactly where they need to at that time to advance the story along its critical path.  And it is good that the main character's were so strong in this film, as some of the characters that were brought back for fan service miss their mark, both in acting and in impact.  And, probably the biggest indictment of the film, at the culmination of the story I wasn't excited to see the next phase of the movies.  I know I will see it but it feels like the story wraps everything up but doesn't leave you pumped for where the franchise will go next.  

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker finds balance in the force, advancing the story of the current arc while providing plenty of fan service for fans of the franchise.  It has the same great core group of characters, amazing effects and sound, and satisfyingly concludes this chapter in the Star Wars saga.  May the force be with you.  

Watch It

Monday, December 16, 2019

Review: Panipat

Release date: December 6, 2019
Running time: 165 minutes
Starring: Arjun Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Kriti Sanon

In 1761, a huge battle was fought between thousands of troops at the fort of Panipat between the Marathas and the King of Afghanistan.  Panipat depicts this battle, as well as the build up to the encounter and all the political and military intrigue that went into it.  Sadashiv Rao Bhau (Kapoor) leads the Marathas to try and expel the invading Ahmad Shah Abdali (Dutt) of Afghanistan.  Along the way there is plenty of drama and betrayal that will turn the tide and decide the victors of this epic battle.

Panipat focuses on a historical battle, but in doing so it recreates many ancient areas.  The sets and costume design are beautiful to see.  I don't know how historically accurate they were, but they look very imaginative and really transport you into this world.  And the dance numbers were very intricate with tons of dancers being used to create some very entertaining intermissions.  The acting is good, if a little over-dramatic.  I really liked Kapoor and Dutt, both for their acting talent and for their contrast.  The two characters they portray are very different and this contrast is interesting to see.  However, at times this contrast is overblown, where the Marathas are portrayed as wonderful, brave, nationalists while Abdali and his army are portrayed as a more sinister force.  It felt overdone and extended to the sets for those characters; the Afghanistan scenes were in dark areas with cold colors like blue.  It felt like the film was trying too hard to tell you who the bad guys were.  And as with many of these conflicts, there were probably several shades of gray in this battle that are lost in the translation to the big screen.  A lot of times this movie feels similar to 300, a stylized recreation of a real battle where the film industry decides to make something more entertaining than accurate.

However, despite being a movie about a major battle, much of the movie involves the build up to the fight.  There are a few minor military confrontations during the first couple of hours, but overall the movie involves a lot of travel and drama with very little fighting.  The few battles that happen before are over relatively quickly so that we can see more talking and intrigue.  Additionally, many of the battles have very obvious CG, which definitely breaks your enjoyment of the fight.  It's tough to get invested in a battle when you can see obviously computer generated canons and explosions that look out of place.  And the fighting itself is very choreographed and not as tight as I would have liked.  There are many sword fights where the swords are clearly not making contact with the other soldier.  All of these break your sense of disbelief during the main draw of this film, the actual battle of Panipat.  

Panipat will take you back to 1761 to watch a defining historical battle.  The film has some really beautiful sets and costumes, charismatic stars, and some really entertaining musical numbers.    

Rent It

Friday, December 13, 2019

What to Watch This Weekend: December 13, 2019

In Theaters: Jumanji:The Next Level
Jumanji: The Next Level returns with a new adventure featuring the same great cast, additional characters to meet along the journey, and a commitment to video game tropes that is entertaining and hilarious  For more information, check out our review!

At Redbox: Once Upon a Time In Hollywood
Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is a visual treat that captures a golden time in Hollywood perfectly, but the long run time and lack of action hampered this Tarantino epic.  However, you can easily deal with this long run time by watching it from the comfort of your own home!  For more information, check out our review!

Streaming (HBO): Unfriended: The Dark Web
It's Friday the 13th so we figured we should give you all a horror option.  An interesting film told through an online video call and other computer-based venues, Unfriended: The Dark Web is a little creepy, has a fun cast, and a little intrigue.   

Streaming (HBO): The Long Shot
A very well reviewed box office bomb, the Long Shot is available on HBO streaming.  The movie had a fun story and fantastic chemistry between the two leads Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen.  Go ahead and give it a shot this weekend. 

Streaming (Amazon): The Report
A movie that is already getting some award buzz, the report is a cold, factual movie with a great performance by Adam Driver.  The film is not going to thrill you, but if you want a strong, factual film that delves into important recent historical events, then check this out this weekend.

Review: Black Christmas

Release date: December 13, 2019
Running time: 92 minutes
Starring: Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue

A group of sorority sisters staying at school for the holidays suddenly find themselves being stalked by a masked stranger with a taste for blood.  The killer starts by taunting them on social media, and then appears out of nowhere for the final kill.  Do these ladies give in or band together and fight back?

The movie has a refreshingly different and diverse all female main cast.  The women are all in the same sorority but have very different motivations and backgrounds.  The main character, Riley (Poots) is dealing with a horrific event in her past that adds some depth to her character.  Her main sisters Kris (Shannon)--a fiery revolutionary that is raging against the patriarchy--and Marty (Donoghue)--a quieter but equally supportive friend--help her to confront this event and move past it.  The ladies have a good chemistry and I liked how different and supportive they were of each other.  The film also has an old school style, with a grainy camera, long camera shots, and a gothic setting.  I think this was a nod to the fact that this is a remake of a remake of a 1974 movie, but in any event it was really fun to see at the start.  And the suspense of the film as the killer is stalking his victims is palatable.  The movie does a great job with making the audience stay at the edge of their seat longer than you would expect, making them wait for the inevitable jump scare and holiday-inspired kill.  All of these positives really help to stay in the holiday horror spirit.

However, although the plot at the beginning of the film is entertaining and suspenseful, the movie goes off the rails after the reveal.  I'm all for weird horror plots, but this seemed to notch up the crazy to a new level.  And for a movie with such a diverse, strong female cast, the male cast is definitely lacking in it.  Although there are a few outliers, the vast majority of male members in the film all look the same and have the same motivations; at times I struggled to even tell one from the other.  And the few males that were different tended to disappear as the movie progressed.  I really liked Landon (Caleb Eberhardt) and wanted to learn more about his character, but he just popped in occasionally and had a very minor role.  And although the dialog of the film was interesting at times, it also could be corny and a little too dramatic; some of the more intense scenes in the film caused me to chuckle due to this, which hurt the impact of those parts.  However, despite these issues, Black Christmas is still a refreshingly different holiday horror film that maybe should be enjoyed at home.

Black Christmas is a refreshingly different holiday horror film with a diverse all-female cast, a ton of tension, and an old school style that will keep you in the holiday horror spirit.    

Rent It

Review: Jumanji: The Next Level

Release date: December 13, 2019
Running time: 123 minutes
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan

They're back in the game!  A year after their original jungle trek, Spencer begins to lose some of the confidence he had gained from the first adventure.  Hoping to recapture some of that and get out of his rut, he reassembles Jumanji to take one more trip into the jungle.  After they find out, his old friends come to his rescue, but unwittingly take a few additional people with them: Spencer's grandfather and his old friend / enemy Milo.  How this newly assembled team deals with the dangers of Jumanji will determine whether they make it out alive!  

One of the most refreshing aspects of the Jumanji reboot is that it took many standard video game conventions--multiple lives, bad dialog options, magical bags of holding--and converted them hilariously onto the big screen.  Thankfully, the Next Level keeps this alive with many of the same quirks that Jumanji highligted—like poor, looping NPC dialog—and additional video game staples to that will keep the inner gamer in you laughing.   Another enjoyable aspect of the first Jumanji was the diverse cast that fit together perfectly, both the in game heroes and their real life child counterparts.  The Next Level keeps this as well with the same cast of characters returning with a few additional characters and tweaks to the old formula.  Overall, it is a welcome return to form for this series and it is wonderful to see these again on the big screen.  However, as detailed below, the new additions are funny at times but often hurt the original films magic.

The Next Level strays from the original movie's formula by setting the film in pretty much every locale but a jungle.  You'll encounter a dessert, an oasis town, and snow covered mountains, none of which have the same appeal as the original jungle setting.  Additionally, the film mixes up the characters a little—presumably to keep the audience guessing and to keep the characters fresh—but some of the changes got old quick.  It was funny the first time, but unfortunately they kept going back to that well and it became tiresome by the end of the film.  And this tiresome aspect of the film causes it to slow down tremendously at the start and consistently impedes the pace of the film.  Unfortunately, this is a case where the additions hurt the simple magic that made the first film so enjoyable. The Next Level keeps a lot of that, and it is still a fun movie, but that original light is just a little dimmer because of what was added.  As odd as it sounds, I wish they would have just stuck to the old formula but in a new quest.  

Jumanji: The Next Level returns with a new adventure featuring the same great cast, additional characters to meet along the journey, and a commitment to video game tropes that is entertaining and hilarious.  

Rent It

Screening: The Song of Names

In Washington, DC area theaters January 3

Starring: Tim Roth, Clive Owen, Catherine McCormack
Score by Academy Award Winner Howard Shore
Directed by: François Girard

Martin Simmonds (Tim Roth) has been haunted throughout his life by the mysterious disappearance of his “brother” and extraordinary best friend, a Polish Jewish virtuoso violinist, Dovidl Rapaport, who vanished shortly before the 1951 London debut concert that would have launched his brilliant career. Thirty-five years later, Martin discovers that Dovidl (Clive Owen) may still be alive, and sets out on an obsessive intercontinental search to find him and learn why he left.

Screening Details:

Monday, December 16
Landmark E Street
555 11th St. NW, Washington, DC

To RSVP, please send an email to WDCMovies@gmail.com with your name and whether or not you plan to bring a guest.  More details can be found in the flyer below.