Mark Saldana’s Best Films of 2018

By Mark Saldana

2018 was another fantastic year for cinema, but it was a particularly exciting year for me.  In addition to reviewing hundreds of films this year, and attending my four usual film festivals, I was accepted into the Austin Film Critics Association.  With this honor comes even more access to films before their releases.  And for the first time in my ten years as a film critic, I am able to complete my year end report before the New Year arrives. Read more »


By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

Based on the acclaimed novel by James Baldwin, this movie offers a fictionalized take on the African-American experience during the 1970s. Still, this is a story that reflects the real injustices and turmoil that Black Americans went through during the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement.  Written and directed by Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), If Beale Street Could Talk tells a beautiful, but devastating love story between a loving and sensitive artist and his shy and humble girlfriend.  Jenkins’s gorgeous direction, along with the performances by the cast make this movie one of the best films of the year and also a timeless classic. Read more »

Review: VICE

By Mark Saldana 

Rating 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

From writer/director Adam McKay, the filmmaker made the razor sharp satire, The Big Short, comes another biting and witty film that pulls no punches.  With Vice, McKay takes on the political career of Dick Cheney and how he literally became the most powerful Vice President of the United States.  Chameleon actor Christian Bale, once again immerses himself into the role, body and soul, and delivers a truly fascinating and somewhat frightening take on the enigmatic politician.  Vice may not exactly be one of the best movies of the year, but it is definitely an imaginative, entertaining and disturbing satire. Read more »


Jennifer Lopez Shines in the Romance Comedy “Second Act”

By Liz Lopez

Rating: B-

Jennifer Lopez stars in and produces “Second Act,” an office comedy that also features the issues she has with her romantic partner, and also the strong bond she has with her close friends. The screenplay written by Justin Zackham (“The Big Wedding,” “The Bucket List”) and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas (making her debut as a writer with this film) have created an entertaining, though slightly predictable story. From reading the simple synopsis that markets it as “an inspirational comedy,” I was not anticipating the additional story lines about her past and current romantic life to play such a big part of the film. For this, I do think the writers did a good job of weaving them together in a not so obvious way initially. The screenplay also does excel in writing scenes to fit the talent that Lopez is capable of, from the serious to the comedic. The scene in the store where she quits and then trips on her exit is pretty standard in many other comedies and I did not find it necessary. I will try to say this without too many spoilers, but two things I do not like about the script is the resume that was created and then having the protagonist take action for employment with it. At first, this story seems to say it is acceptable to “fake your way in” or to not be honest about things. Ultimately though, the story does turn around to show how the dishonesty does have consequences, in both the personal and professional life of the character. To be fair to the story, the protagonist has had work opportunities pass her by because of a certain requirement, despite the knowledge and talent she has acquired during the course of her career. “Second Act” is about how this character decides to not be overlooked again and take advantage of an opportunity – even if it is not how she imagined it takes to get her foot inside the door. Read more »

Austin Film Festival 2018 Review/Interview: BEN IS BACK

By Liz Lopez

Rating: B+

Peter Hedges (“The Odd Life of Timothy Green”) has written and directed a drama about a young man, Ben (Lucas Hedges), his addiction and the many effects it has on all his family and families all around. Hedges story does not shy away from scenes that are very traumatic to family members and a feeling of fear is present shortly after the beginning as the family is preparing for the Christmas holiday. One scene shows Holly Burns (Julia Roberts) sitting in a church as her teen daughter, Ivy (Kathryn Newton) and young twins, Lacey (Mia Fowler) and Liam (Jakari Fraser) are rehearsing for a Christmas pageant. When they return home, they are in the holiday spirit and want to continue with festivities. That is, until they have an unexpected guest waiting for them, Ben (Hedges), waiting out front after leaving the sober-living facility. He has only been clean less than three months and not everyone is ready to receive him. The stand-out performances by Roberts, Hedges and Newton are very impressive and most definitely portray their characters as if they are a family unit that has dealt with the heavy (and mixed) emotions and blows from having an addicted family member. Read more »

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