Friday, September 27, 2019

What to Watch This Weekend: September 27, 2019

In Theaters: Abominable
Abominable is a beautifully animated journey with a lovable otherworldly creature.  The movie has a some breathtaking animation, a funny, lovable cast, and a ton of heart.  Check out our review for more info!

In Theaters: The Panti Sisters
I loved the Panti Sisters, despite the ending feeling a little too convenient.  Our review  recommended as "a hilarious film that has plenty of important messages below its flamboyant skin.  It is something that is so wonderfully different and heartfelt that it should not be missed."  

At Redbox: Yesterday
Yesterday is a fun movie even if you are not a Beatles fan, with a decent number of funny scenes and solid music from the cast.  And if you are a Beatles fan, this movie has a ton of references for you to enjoy.  Check out our review for more info!    

Streaming (HBO): Uncle Drew
Uncle Drew is not a great movie, but it is an entertaining one that features some NBA stars acting like old men!  And the credits sequence was one of the funniest I have seen in a while.  It leaves HBO this week so make a fast break to your closest streaming device!

Streaming (Amazon): Gloria Bell
Gloria Bell is a very modern portrait of a free spirited woman in her 50s trying to live her best life.  Julianne Moore and John Turturro are wonderful in this slow, but engaging character film. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Review: Abominable

Release date: September 27, 2019 (USA)
Running time: 97 minutes
Starring: Chloe Bennet, Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor 

In Abominable, a young girl recovering from a family tragedy decides to take on the impossible and help a young, but adorable yeti (named Everest) return to its home.  This task is made all the more difficult due to a high tech, para military organization also wanting to find the yeti; but with less altruistic motivations.  

Since this is the same studio that brought How to Train Your Dragon, you know they can model some strange creatures.  Everest is beautifully animated with some wild hair and otherworldly expressions.  His mannerisms are part puppy, part child, but they will definitely make you smile!  And his sounds are equally impressive, with animal-like sounds that have a strange but lovable hint about them.  His interactions with the rest of the group are really fun to see, as he learns more about them and they learn more about his strange mannerisms and abilities.  

Everest's journey goes throughout China, with all the diverse locales that come with it.  From neon cities, to idyllic countrysides, beaches, a vast dessert, and a snowy mountain, the areas visited in this film are picturesque and breathtakingly done.  And Everest's companions during this trip are all quite different and fun to get to know.  Each has a different motivation for helping out; but they come together as a cohesive unit.  I was definitely smiling at this unlikely band's antics during much of the film.  However, some of the antagonists have paper thin motivations and absurd character changes to move the plot along.  But don't let those minor complaints detract from this new Dreamworks classic.

Abominable is a beautifully animated journey with a fun cast including a lovable otherworldly creature.  The movie has a some breathtaking animation, a funny characters, and a ton of heart.

Watch it

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Review: The Panti Sisters

Release date: September 20, 2019 (USA)
Running time: 108 minutes
Starring: Paolo Ballesteros, Martin del Rosario, Christian Bables

The Panti Sisters tells the tale of three gay, cross dressing sons who are called back to their estranged and terminally ill father's house.  Their father tells them that in order to get their very large inheritances, they must stop dressing like women, act like "men," and give him a grandson.  Each son that completes this task will be given a share of the inheritance, if no sons do it, then they will get nothing.  Despite these sisters being biological brothers, there is no love lost between them due to past drama, and the sisters go to hilarious and sometimes sad lengths to attempt to complete this task. 

The Panti Sisters is driven by the amazing performances of the three main stars.  Each of the sisters is slightly different in how they portray themselves, and their interactions are very entertaining.  The past drama within the family is slowly explored as you get deeper in the story, and this drama provides a rich backdrop for some inter family squabbles.  But thankfully, the film is more than a simple money grab story; it explores some deeper, darker issues albeit in a generally funny way.  The film touches on inequality in the Philippines, homophobia, and nontraditional family dynamics during this crazy pursuit.  Sometimes it does so tactfully and other times it is a little too blunt in its points; but I was glad to see that the film had something below the flamboyant and hilarious surface.

However, one problem with the film is the ending.  In what appears to be an attempt to wrap up all the loose ends from the movie, the end feels too cookie cutter for what was a uniquely fun experience.  Events happen that seem too convenient and that go against what we have been seeing for the entire film.  But, those minor points aside, what you get with the Panti Sisters is a wonderfully unique movie about an odd, but interesting family.  

The Panti Sisters is a hilarious film that has plenty of important messages below its flamboyant skin.  It is something that is so wonderfully different and heartfelt that it should not be missed.  

Watch it

Friday, September 20, 2019

What to Watch This Weekend: September 20, 2019

In Theaters: Ad Astra
Ad Astra is going to be a polarizing film, but I really appreciated the world that they were building and the deep character study of Pitt's character.  Our review called it "a slow burning near future space journey that will take you to the stars and beyond if you give it the time."

In Theaters: Dream Girl
I absolutely loved Dream Girl and thought it was a hilarious and different Bollywood film.  Our review called recommended it "[i]f you want to see something incredibly funny and different, with more to say about society than your average movie."  

At Redbox: Aladdin
Aladdin is a fine remake of the animated classic.  It is not as good as the original movie, but Disney did a good job re-imagining the film and Will Smith's genie, though not as good as Robin William's portrayal, still has a lot to love about his character.  Smith makes the role his own, and has a fresh take on the character that is fun to see.   

Streaming (HBO): Catfish
Catfish has not been available to stream for free since the Manti Te'o fiasco (I tried to watch it that weekend after it had been available to stream forever).  It is finally back on a streaming service, and the original film that arguably coined the term should definitely be seen.  

Streaming (Amazon): Operation Finale
The drama about the real life mission to capture Adolf Eichmann is a tense film starring the amazing Ben Kingsley and Oscar Isaac.  The mission itself is pretty unbelievable and is helped along by some very good performances. 

Review: Promare

Release date: September 17, 2019 (USA)
Running time: 111 minutes
In Promare, a new anime from animation studio Trigger, people are spontaneously shooting out strange, purple fire.  These affected people, known as Burnish, are a threat to safety and must be stopped by a quirky band of specially trained fire fighters.  Each member of this group is unique, from the gadget princess to the hot headed youth looking to prove himself.  If this premise sounds ridiculous, you are correct.  However, the story is the last of what makes Promare so special.  

Promare's animation is unlike anything I have seen in an anime.  Love it or hate it, Promare has a unique style that is bold and different.  It has a heavily cell shaded, sometimes 16-bit style.  Some parts look like a high res minecraft even.  And the colors are bold and bright and in your face.  During some of the action scenes, it can be hard to follow because of how tough the details are to pick out with the heavy colors.  But that being said, Promare’s style comes together at times and it is something have to see in action to appreciate.

Accompanying the unique style is a wonderful soundtrack.  The music hits perfectly with the animation and it really enhances the overall viewing experience.  It is tough to describe other than they seem to have perfectly matched a variety of styles to this anime.  It has flavors of 80s pop, electronica, and even some video game style chiptunes.  In fact, much of Promare looks like a video game on the big screen, from the heavy visuals, to the computer generated scenes, the intense action, and the sound wouldn’t feel out of place in a console adaptation.

However, the plot of Promare is tough to follow and slightly ridiculous.  It is typical anime, but with an even more ridiculous premise of trying to stop the Burnish.  They are billed as terrorists at the start, but there are plenty of plot twists that make you wonder who is the real villain.  And the ending just jumps the shark, as is typical of anime.  I appreciated what the studio was trying to do, but I still wanted to have some coherence of a plot while this was happening.  Character’s motivations changed at the drop of a hat, and the overall explanation for the Burnish felt very far fetched.

Promare is a uniquely animated movie epic, with bold visuals and a fantastic soundtrack.  However, the style can be heavy at times and the overall premise just doesn't make sense.  

Rent it

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Review: Ad Astra

Release date: September 20, 2019
Running time: 122 minutes
 Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, Tommy Lee Jones

Ad Astra is going to be a polarizing movie.  It is the marriage of Gravity and Intersteller, a movie set in a near future that has Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) go on a journey to the stars in the hopes of stopping a catastrophic series of electrical surges.  Despite this odd premise, the movie tries to be more grounded in plausible near future technology, and builds an interesting world not so different from our own.  The best part of this movie is that although it is set in a future where space travel is common place, the setting is so well done that the world doesn't seem implausible.  

One thing you will notice about Ad Astra is it is more of a character study than space action movie.  Brad Pitt is the only advertised actor and it shows; the movie focuses on him and him alone.  You get to hear his thoughts, see his reactions to many stressful situations, and really dig into what makes his character tick.  One of the hallmarks of his character is that he is cool under pressure, which can be little off putting since he will show no emotion even in the most intense situations.  It is similar to Ryan Gosling's portrayal of Neil Armstrong in First Man; it actually mutes some of what should be intense action sequences.  But it also means that his character is a great vehicle to experience this future world with, allowing the audience to really take in all that this film has on display.

And speaking of muting, one thing you will notice, or not notice, is the lack of sound in the emptiness of space.  The movie does a great job of recreating the isolation of space.  Many intense scenes are eerily quiet, which is an interesting experience to say the least.  Additionally, although there is music in the film it is not overpowering.  I would recommend watching this film in a quiet location so you can really appreciate this feeling of isolation. 

The isolating sound and slow character study make for a slowly progressing movie.  It is something that I think will be polarizing to much of the audience, but I loved it.  The plot itself is interesting despite it being drawn out, and there are some odd sequences that didn't hit right.  There is a tragic scene towards the first third of the film that just seemed out of place, and a large part of the main story feels like it was unnecessary.  And this is especially off putting given how slowly the story progresses; perhaps the film could have felt a little tighter by cutting some of these scenes.  It feels like this could have been resolved with a few writing tweaks, but what you are left with is still a very interesting film experience. 

All that being said, 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.  

Watch it

Monday, September 16, 2019

Screening: Joker

In theaters on October 4
(Warner Bros. Pictures / Village Roadshow Pictures / BRON Creative)

Director: Todd Phillips

Writers: Todd Phillips & Scott Silver, based on characters from DC

Producers: Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper, Emma Tillinger Koskoff

Executive Producers: Michael E. Uslan, Walter Hamada, Aaron L. Gilbert, Joseph Garner, Richard Baratta,
and Bruce Berman

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler,
Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, Marc Maron, Douglas Hodge, Josh Pais, Leigh Gill

Director Todd Phillips “Joker” centers around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big screen. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is indelibly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fracturedsociety. A clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night…but finds the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this gritty character study.

Screening Details:

Tuesday, October 1
AMC Mazza

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

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

Review: Dream Girl

Release date: September 13, 2019
Running time: 132 minutes
 Ayushmann Khurrana, Nushrat Bharucha, Annu Kapoor 

Dream Girl is a new Hindi film that tackles issues of loneliness in our connected society.  It is a humorous highbred of Catfish and Sorry to Bother You.  In it, talented but jobless Lokesh (Khurrana) takes a job as a phone companion where he has to impersonate a woman in order to get lonely Indian men to talk to him / her.  Lokesh has an innate talent for this but as the men get more attached to the fake personality over the phone, he starts to have doubts about what started out as a harmless job.  

This film lives and dies by its characters and thankfully they are diverse and interesting.  Khurrana is absolutely a joy to watch; he has so much charisma as both Lokesh and Pooja that you can't help but focus on his character and root for him.  He is put in a variety of humorous, serious, and everywhere in between situations and handles them all perfectly.  There are so many laugh out loud moments that are caused by a perfectly timed line or a funny look!  Additionally, Khurrana should be commended for fully committing to this role when many mainstream Bollywood actors would have considered it too risky for their career.  Thankfully he pulls it off perfectly and I can't wait to see what else he does!  The rest of the cast are also interesting to learn about.  Although Pooja attracts several people to continue calling her, each person calls her for a different reason from a very different place in life.  It is learning all these motivations and the interactions these different characters have with Pooja that drives this movie onward.

As I mentioned, Dream Girl is incredibly funny.  The writing is crisp and entertaining and the various characters in the film are a joy to watch.  Although the film is a comedy, it tackles issues of loneliness in our connected society that you wouldn't expect from a comedy of this type.  These individuals keep calling Pooja because they are missing something from their life, and it is sad to see that these people place so much hope on something that is not real.  This is explored in a humorous manner, but the underlying seriousness of these issues bubbles up now and then.  However, as the characters get more attached and Lokesh tries to extract himself from their advances, the film slightly devolves.  And at the end, when the film tries to tie all these thoughts together, the movie falls flat.  But these should not detract from what is a hilarious and surprisingly deep film. 

Dream Girl is a hilarious and daring film, one that I didn't expect to come out of Bollywood and thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.  If you want to see something incredibly funny and different, with more to say about society than your average movie, then check out Dream Girl.  

Watch it

Friday, September 13, 2019

What to Watch This Weekend: September 13, 2019

In Theaters: Hustlers
Hustlers is definitely the biggest release out this weekend, and it is an entertaining movie from start to finish.  Our review called it "a female wolf of wall street, with a decent amount of craziness, high risk scams, and strong personalities."

At Redbox: Booksmart
One of my favorite movies of the year and a refreshing take on the coming of age drama is finally available for rental.   Our review called Booksmart “a smart, sharp, hilarious comedy and the new valedictorian of the high school coming of age class.”  

Streaming (HBO): Mary Queen of Scots
Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie's historical drama is a slow burn, but what a fantastic journey it provides.  It is filled with interesting characters, political intrigue, and breakout performances by both leading ladies.  

Streaming (Amazon): Late Night
Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling's talk show comedy is one of the year's most overlooked independent films and is now available to stream at home.  If you didn't see it in theaters (and frankly, not many people did), then make sure to check it out from the comfort of your home!

Review: Saaho

Release date: August 30, 2019
Running time: 170 minutes
 Prabhas, Shraddha Kapoor, Jackie Shroff 

Saaho is an action, special agent, heist film in the vein of Fast and the Furious meets NCIS.  Saaho is a cool as ice character who is always one step ahead of everyone around him, allowing him to play all the sides while constantly wearing mirrored sunglasses.  He is definitely an over the top individual, and his journey is equally as over the top.

This film is an action film with a capital A.  It seems like every scene has some sort of disastrous situation, lots of slow motion footage, explosions or car crashes, gunfire, and a cold as ice Saaho easily figuring out how to escape it.  The film goes non stop; I don't think I've seen a movie with more slow motion shots since the original Matrix.  Thankfully these disastrous situations happen all over, with a diverse setting in some very beautiful scenes and areas that Saaho explores on his journey.  And as a Hindi movie, the film is interrupted multiple times by elaborate dance numbers, which are fun to watch right after a tense, explosion filled firefight.

The plot is convoluted with several plot twists, schemes, crosses, and double crosses.  And this leads to a film that is almost three hours long.  The film is so long that there was a random trailer in the middle of the movie, probably to allow for a quick intermission.  Along the way you’ll meet plenty of characters, see many different motivations, have some surprises, and also probably get confused by all the double crosses.

Saaho is definitely meant to be an over the top character, with everything about him exaggerated.  His punches hit extra hard, his shots are perfectly accurate, and his dialogue feels like there is a pause after every line.  It really is as if Leroy Jethro Gibbs was crossed with the Rock.  But Prabhas clearly enjoys portraying Saaho and his character, while over the top, is still fun to watch.  Shraddha Kapoor does a good job as his side kick / love interest, and although she starts as a somewhat hopeless character, she grows stronger as the film progresses.

If you are in the mood for an over the top action movie with a larger than life protagonist, then buckle up for a long, explosive, smoldering journey.  

Rent it

Review: Ne Zha

Release date: July 26, 2019
Running time: 110 minutes
 Yanting Lü, Joseph, Mo Han

Ne Zha tells the story of a young boy blessed with unique abilities that cause him to be incredibly powerful but also feared by the village where he grew up.  The boy is mischievious, as you would expect of a young child, and is constantly disobeying his parents and getting into trouble.  However, the boy must grow up quickly when a force threatens him and everyone in his village.

Ne Zha is a Chinese animated feature that stradles the line between a kids movie and a more serious animated film.  The animation is beautfiul at times, but also feels like it can't decide on a genre.  Most of the movie has detailed but childish and simple animation.  However, some parts, especially the end, move into a more refined and anime-style animation.  There are some scenes that are simply gorgeous, but those are few and far between.  However, when the action hits it is really beautiful to see, and the final scenes of the film are pretty spectacular.  And these spectacularly animated scenes are met with an equally majestic soundtrack.  The theater was shaking during the climax of the film!

Ne Zha also tries to tell deeper messages of prejudice and fate, but those are lost a little in the execution.  For example, the villagers fear and dislike the boy because of his past, but also because he gets into trouble and damages their homes and bodies.  It was tough to feel bad for him when he was consistently (unintentionally) hurting those who were afraid of him.  Additionally, this might be a culture barrier, but I didn't love some of the jokes and humor of the film.  The characters are fine but mostly one note, and the main friendship in the film feels rushed.  The film spends so much time at the start that when it tries to get to the main conflict, it rushes at top speed without much additional development.

Ne Zha is a beautifully animated feature that tries to tell a deeper message but doesn't quite execute.  It should be enjoyed if you are interested in this film, but can be enjoyed from the comfort of your home.

Rent it

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Review: Hustlers

Release date: September 13, 2019
Running time: 109 minutes
 Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles 

Hustlers tells the true story of a group of strippers turned friends turned grifters who decide to take advantage of wealthy wall street types.  What starts as a harmless embarrassment soon spirals into something much worse.  As the Hustle grows, so do the challenges and consequences these women face.  

This film stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu in roles that are very different from what they've done before.  Wu takes a complete 180 from her Crazy Rich Asians character, to play a sweet but capable stripper /grifter.  Lopez plays the alpha of the group; a strong, confident, but brash leader of the pack.  Together they make a good pair although I didn't love Wu's character at the start.  She seemed way too naive and had some awkward dialog or lack there of.  Lopez however is at her finest; when she's on screen, she is the clear focal point!  The rest of the cast does a good job of supporting these leading ladies, with some notable performances by Cardi B and Lili Reinhart.  

The story moves at a decent pace, starting slowly but speeding up as the Hustle grows.  But the slow pace at the start does a good job of introducing you to the characters and humanizing them.  You really get to know the main characters and their motivations.  However, this film does suffer from some less than stellar writing.  Some of the dialogue is corny and a lot of Wu's dialogue at the start feels like it's missing.  There are moments where she has a conversation with Lopez and says absolutely nothing, which was very distracting. And although Lopez is a strong female lead, sometimes her dialog is overdone.  Additionally, the film does glorify some pretty ridiculous crimes with an us or them mentality.  

But if you can get past these issues, Hustlers provides an unreal story about some slick and sexy women.  It is a female wolf of wall street, with a decent amount of craziness, high risk scams, and strong personalities.  

Watch it

Monday, September 9, 2019

Review: Chhichhore

Release date: September 6, 2019
Running time: 143 minutes
 Sushant Singh Rajput, Shraddha Kapoor, Varun Sharma 

Where were the best times of your lives?  In Chhichhore, that time was the first year of the India Institute of Technology where an unlikely group of friends form some serious lifetime bonds.  These bonds are tested when one of the friends experiences a serious family issue later in life, leading to a reunion that highlights just how strong this college friendship was and continues to be.  

The most enjoyable aspect about this film is the cast.  The film flashes between present day and college days, with actors that look similar enough to their counterparts to allow you to easily identify them.  The film focuses on six main friends that you root for from start to finish.  Each member of Hostel 4--the friend's living quarters--is quirky and lovable, and their very different personalities come together for an unlikely enjoyable cast.  I really liked how the group truly felt like a band of misfits forming a common bond when they needed each other most.  It is a very relatable film and message, and one that will instantly grab you and pull you through this heartwarming journey.  

The story is told through a series of flashbacks that keep the film moving, and it is a blast to see the differences between the these characters crazy and awkward college days and their more professional present day lives.  Chhichhore is a wholesome Animal House, with as much silliness and pranks with less creepy situations.  Since this is a Hindi film, there are some awkward situations between opposite sexes, but they are tame and not exploitative.  The story is endearing with a little of everything: there are some corny moments, some laugh out loud moments, and some moments that will make you cry.  But through it all you will be rooting for this strange band of misfit friends.  

If you are in the mood for an uplifting, wholesome Animal House, check out Chhichhore. It is both silly and sweet with a good message, endearing characters, and a story that will make you cry and laugh out loud. 

Watch it

Friday, September 6, 2019

News: Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) Teaser Trailer

Although this is a leak of a teaser trailer that you can practically find it anywhere online, it is very much worth watching.  I was excited to finally get a sneak peak at this project! And while the beginning of this teaser is clearly a clever nod toward IT Chapter Two that opens this weekend Harley Quinn is back and this time she brought some friends to start some mischief in Gotham without Joker!

What do you think of this trailer?

Birds of Prey Synopsis:

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is an upcoming American superhero film based on the DC Comics team Birds of Prey. It is intended to be the eighth film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). The film is directed by Cathy Yan from a screenplay by Christina Hodson and stars Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, and Ewan McGregor. Birds of Prey follows Harley Quinn as she joins forces with Black Canary, the Huntress, and Renee Montoya to save Cassandra Cain from Gotham City crime lord Black Mask.

Robbie, who also serves as producer, pitched the idea for Birds of Prey to Warner Bros. in 2015. The film was announced in May 2016; Hodson was hired to write the script that November, while Yan signed on to direct in April 2018. The majority of the cast and crew were confirmed by December 2018. Principal photography lasted from January to April 2019 and took place in Downtown Los Angeles, parts of the Arts District, Los Angeles, and soundstages at Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, California. Birds of Prey is expected to be the first theatrically released R-rated DCEU film.

Birds of Prey is scheduled to be released in the United States by Warner Bros. Pictures on February 7, 2020.