FILM NEWS: La Bamba is featured during the seventh annual TCM Big Screen Classics series

By Liz Lopez

Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies present the seventh annual TCM Big Screen Classics series. Featuring acclaimed films released from 1941 to 1996, the series has something for everyone including dramas, musicals, comedies, adventure, mystery and more.

Each film is presented with pristine digital projection, movie-theater-quality sound, and in its original aspect ratio, as they were intended by the filmmakers. The TCM Big Screen Classics series is further enhanced with fascinating pre- and post-feature insights presented by popular TCM hosts, including TCM Primetime host Ben Mankiewicz.

La Bamba (1987) is written and directed by Luis Valdez and features Lou Diamond Phillips in the lead role of Mexican American rock & roll legend Richie Valens who passed away in the plane crash with fellow musicians Buddy Holly and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. Among the featured cast are Esai Morales, Rosanna DeSoto, Elizabeth Peña, Danielle von Zerneck, and Joe Pantoliano.

SYNOPSIS: The life of bursts across the screen in this celebrated, music-filled movie with star-making performances by Phillips as Richie and Morales as his half-brother, Bob. La Bamba, written and directed by Luis Valdez, depicts the 17-year-old's rocket rise to fame, as he fights family problems and bigotry, to become a recording star with a string of hit singles and a date with destiny. Fueled by Valens' hit songs performed by the Grammy-winning Los Lobos, as well as classic '50s tunes, La Bamba recreates the thrilling early days of rock and pays homage to the enduring legacy of a remarkable talent whose music crossed all borders.

Fathom Events will offer the film on Sunday, April 18, Wednesday, April 21 & Thursday, April 22nd. For the full list of theaters in the Austin area and other cities, visit www.fathomevents.com/events/La-Bamba/theaters

Source: Fathom Events

THE COURIER

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Now available for viewing via Premium Video on Demand, The Courier tells the compelling true story of British businessman Greville Wynne, a mostly unassuming salesman recruited as a spy during the Cold War and how his work with Russian secret agent Oleg Penkovsky helped defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch (as Wynne) and Merab Ninidze (as Penkovsky), the movie offers audiences a palpable and intense espionage thriller that shows the toll such work can take on the people involved. Director Dominic Cooke, an English writer/director who has mostly worked in theater shows that he has the chops to handle some viable feature film work.

During the early 1960s, both the British MI6 and the US CIA worked feverishly to keep tabs on the activities of the USSR, in particular their nuclear arms program. Utilizing spies on both sides, these intelligence organizations shared valuable informaton overseas to help prevent the escalation of the nuclear arms race. Both the MI6 and CIA recruit the seemingly benign and very personable Greville Wynne to travel to Russia regularly, under the guise of a business deal, to exchange information with contact Oleg Penkovsky, a Soviet intelligence officer, who feels that his government has gone too far. As both Wynne and Penkovsky proceed with this strategy, they both put their lives and marriages on the line to make sure relations between the United States and the USSR never devolve into a full scale nuclear war.

Written by Tom O'Connor, Dominick Cooke's film is most definitely a tense and riveting drama and thriller that honors the sacrifices made by both Geville Wynne and Oleg Penkovsky who both courageously worked together to keep England and the USA well-informed of the Soviet's activities and strategies during the Cold War. The film is certainly indicative that even the most unlikely of persons on this planet is capable of making a difference if given the chance to prove himself. Had Greville Wynne had not been recruited by MI6, he probably would've proceeded about his business and life without a direct stake in the crisis and perhaps, things would've ended more tragically.

Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze perform superbly in their roles and share a genuine chemistry as both friends and colleagues. The movie also stars Jessie Buckley as Greville's wife Sheila, a loving and caring spouse who begins to suspect that something is very wrong about her husband's Russian business trips. The film also features a great performance by Rachel Brosnahan as CIA officer Emily Donovan, one of the agents overseeing and working with Wynne.

The Courier has already been playing in theaters, but if one would prefer to watch this movie at home, it is now available via Video on Demand services. It is a great espionage drama based on a fascinating true story that I must hightly recommend.

SXSW 2021: JAKOB’S WIFE

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

From producer/director Travis Stevens, the filmmaker behind several genre festival favorites, comes a "biting" dark satire that critiques some of the more archaic conventions of marriage. Horror legend Barbara Crampton stars as the titular character who finds herself trapped in a stale and stagnant marriage where she has lost sight of the joys of living and a true sense of self-worth. This is a film that is an absolutely fun and entertaining horror film that delivers blood-drenched laughs, but definitely takes the material serious enough to treat its protagonist as a valuable and relatable character.

Crampton stars as Anne Fedler, the bored and frustrated wife of a church pastor in a small town, who no longer feels content in a marriage that has lost its fire and passion. Larry Fessenden stars as Jakob, Anne's husband and church pastor whose dedication to his church has alienated his wife and has put a major damper on their love life. Feeling unloved, under valued, and taken for granted, Anne decides to meet up with old flame Tom Low (Robert Rusler), hoping to experience what her marriage is sorely lackng. Things go way worse than anticipated, though, when Anne's attempt at a romantic tryst ends with Tom getting killed and Anne getting changed into a vampire. As Anne undergoes this major conversion, she must decide if her old life is worth salvaging and Jakob must step up as a loving husband to defend himself, his marriage, and the life they once had.

Written and directed by Travis Stevens, who co-wrote with Kathy Charles and Mark Steensland, Jakob's Wife gives its audience bloody vampire horror with a sharp and sly sense of humor. The movie may be a portrait of a struggling marriage on the break of divorce, but it is also a film that utilizes vampire tropes along with some statements on female empowerment to deliver some intelligent messages. Stevens and his writers never let things get too heavy, though, which keeps the movie thoroughly amusing and enjoyable.

Stevens, who has previously worked with both Crampton and Fessenden, knows their talents well and allows them to both shine brightly here. Crampton, especially, gets to transform from a subdued, demure wife to a red hot, sexy vampire badass. As Jakob, Larry Fessenden also gets to undergo a transformation from a conservative church pastor to a passionate husband and vampire hunter fighting to save his wife, life and marriage.

I must say that of all of the horror/genre films that I watched during this year's SXSW, Jakob's Wife was definitely the most fun and enjoyable one. It pleases me that both Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden still have much love and passion for horror and that they have continued to work and thrive within the milleui. It also makes me happy that filmaker Travis Stevens shares that passion for genre filmmaking and continues to work hard to give genre fans what they crave so dearly.

VOYAGERS

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)

Much like William Golding's novel, Lord of the Flies, this science fiction thriller depicts what could happen when teenagers/young adults are left to their immature devices when placed in positions of responsibility. The problem with this film, however, is that is comes across as a not-so-great knock of Golding's story, offering a highly predictable story told without finesse and skillful filmmaking. To its credit, the film does feature some solid performances by its cast, but ends up becoming an utterly frustrating and tiresome experience, as it fails to expound upon what Golding had already done so well in his novel.

Tye Sheridan stars as Christopher Rebbs, a young born and bred among others for an important space mission to travel to discover and begin habitation of a new home. The setting is the future, and Earth is on the verge of becoming uninhabitable. The powers-that-be on the planet have decided to send a crew of genetically engineered humans on a mult-generational mission to reach a planet very far away, so that humanity can continue to thrive and survive. Lead by adult leader Richard Alling (Collin Farrell) the crew grows up on the ship, but have been kept in control of their pubescent impulses and desires by an unknown chemical in a beverage they ingest regularly.

When Christopher and his ship mate Zac (Fionn Whitehead) discover the chemical, they both decide to stop taking it. As the rest of the crew becomes aware of this source of "control" they all decide to stop drinking it leading to increased aggressive behavior and sexual desire. Things get even more complicated after Richard gets tragically killed in a bizarre incident when attempting to repair some damage outside of the ship. As Zac grows even more aggressive and violent, Christopher and ship mate Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) attempt to stand as the voices of reason in a spacecraft that is quickly becoming more divided as the behavior devolves into chaos.

Even though the concept and premise is rather ingenious, the film disappointingly never capitalizes on its intelligent foundation. Writer/director Neil Burger never delivers a movie that could have been a rather inventive take on William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Instead, the whole experience comes across as predictable, way too obvious, and all too trite. The parallels to modern events and politics are there, but because Burger's approach is too on-the-nose and often heavy-handed, the whole experience is rather weak and silly.

As I stated above, I feel that the cast performs well. They were obviously trying their best, despite the weak material with which they were working. Tye Sheridan gives a solid, charismatic effort as Christopher. Fionn Whitehead gives a wickedly fiery turn as Zac, the id to Christopher's ego. Lily-Rose Depp also performs well enough as Sela, but her performance definitely feels slighted and stunted by the limited character development.

Voyagers is simply one of those movies that had the opportunity to do something exciting and compelling, but ultimately fails to deliver what it promises. The film is now playing in theaters, but I feel it just isn't worth the effort or risk to go see it.

SXSW 2021: VIOLATION

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

This dramatic horror film from Canada deals with the very traumatic problem of rape and abuse, but offers a more frightening and disturbing take on the aftermath of such trauma. Written and directed by, and starring Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Violation depicts what can happen when a family's once happy and comfortable relationship gets totally turned inside out when a family member abuses another. The film is a rather gut-wrenching and unflinching piece that shows how extensive the damaged caused by rape can really destroy a person's psyche.

Sims-Fewer stars as Miriam, a mostly sweet-natured, but possibly troubled woman who has been struggling with maintaining a happy marriage with husband Caleb (Obi Abili). Miriam and Caleb visit her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and her husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe). Though some problems with Miriam's relation with both her husband and sister do surface, everyone seems to be having a great time. Miriam actually shares a warm and playful chemistry with her brother-in-law too. However, things get way out of hand as the evening proceeds, leaving Miriam shattered beyond any repair. This totally changes the tone of the visit and result in some incredible violence in the events that follow.

I have to say that this film took a while for me to absorb and appreciate. This is most certainly a difficult film to experience and will especially be difficult for anyone who has been assaulted or abused. The violence that results in the film is meticulously depicted with such detail that it actually takes way too much time. That is my singular complaint about the film. It literally becomes a procedural moment that, while it is difficult to watch, actually just feels like the filmmakers took it too far.

Nevertheless, I still applaud the audacity and boldness they have to depict a far less glorified payback-for-assault story that goes to such shocking levels that are actually more frightening than the assault itself. I also applaud the performance of writer/director/actor Madeleine Sims-Fewer who is absolutely incredible as Miriam. The entire cast performs well, but it is Sims-Fewer who without a doubt astounds.

The film screened at SXSW, but is now available for streaming via the horror service Shudder. Though it is a film I highly recommend, I do hope that my readers proceed with caution. This film is not at all for the faint of heart.

SXSW 2021: DEAR MR. BRODY

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

In 1970, Michael James Brody Jr. an heir to oleomargarine millions, publicly announced that he would give away all of the money from his $25 million fortune to anyone who needed it. Known as a "hippie angel," Brody obviously was not prepared for the massive response he would receive once he made his offer public. Directed by Keith Maitland (Tower), the documentary film Dear Mr. Brody recounts the events surrounding this massive undertaking by Michael J. Brody, Jr. and the genuine need it revealed. Featuring a mix of both press footage and interviews with people close to the late benefactor, along with either the actual people who reached out or their closest relatives, Maitland delivers an outstanding and emotionally affecting about Brody's wild-haired, but seeming well-meaning gesture.

In addition to utilizing press footage and interviews, Maitland utilizes some awesomely appropriate aesthetic choices that capture the style and feel of the hippie generation. Any audience watching this film should feel like they are experiencing a living time capsule of the 60s overflowing into the 70s, as optimism and dreams sadly devolved into reality and cynicism. Maitland often launches the film forward to the present and reveals the impact that Brody had on the masses who, obviously, were in dire need of assistance. The film also reveals much about Brody and his troubled life, and often tries to shed light on why he would even want to attempt such a crazy and massive undertaking.

I cannot say any more positive things about this film that I already have. Keith Maitland takes this incredible story and gives it the documentary film it definitely deserves. This year's virtual SXSW film festival was a great year for documentary movies, and this one is certainly one of my favorite offerings.

THE KNOT

By Laurie Coker

Rating: B+

Indian writer/director Ashish Pant explores disparaging class divides in his freshman, full-feature film effort, The Knot (Uljhan). The film, starring Vikas Kumar and Saloni Batra rolls along at a slow burn and digs deeply into the chasm that exists between the haves and have nots. Pant’s is suspenseful, although sometimes poorly paced, drama that reveals gaps within a relationship between a man and his wife after an accident that permanently alters their lives and tests their boundaries. A powerful cast, solid soundtrack, and personal camera angles make for a beautiful, character-driven film that reflects on India’s cast system.

GODZILLA VS. KONG

By Laurie Coker

Rating: A

I still get a chuckle when I think about watching old-school Godzilla movies and the rubbery creature stomping around with people screaming “Godzilla” lips not matching sound. Great stuff! The giant lizard has graced the screen countless times in several different forms, but CGI experts have gone above and amazingly beyond expectations in the newest battle – this one in Godzilla vs. Kong. Weaving together human and humane stories with the beasts, director Adam Wingard and crew create a visually perfect, seamless monster conflict that goes farther than crashing through cities and actually giving emotions and personality to more than just the humans.  Godzilla vs. King Kong is a creature-feature sequel to 2017’s seriously cool, Kong: Skull Island and 2019’s not so perfect Godzilla: King of the Monsters and it is extraordinarily fun and engaging to watch.

SXSW 2021: WOMEN IS LOSERS

By Laurie Coker

Rating: A+

Getting into my VIRTUAL SXSW mode, settling into my office chair, and choosing my first film proved a bit more difficult than I imagined compared to face-to-face experiences of past festivals. Once I figured it all out, I chose Women is Losers as the first film I watched. Written and directed by Lissette Feliciano, Women is Losers stars Lorenza Izzo, Bryan Craig, Chrissie Fit, Simu Liu, Liza Weil, Cranston Johnson, Alejandra Miranda, and Shalim Ortiz and it offers a vivid and sometimes darkly humorous look at women’s issues in the 1960s seen through the eyes of a catholic school girl, Celina Guerrera (Izzo).

GODZILLA VS. KONG

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

After the somewhat frustrating self-seriousness of 2014's Godzilla and 2019's Godzilla: King of Monsters, a team of writers and director Adam Wingard have managed to take the goofy fun elements and exciting action of Kong: Skull Island to help steer this latest entry onto its proper course. Even though the development and plotting of the human element in the film is mostly straight-faced, Wingard's installment has a prominent element of comedy, as well as some mad, science fiction, B-movie qualities that make the movie a thoroughly entertaining experience. And when it comes to some down and dirty monster fighting, Godzilla vs. Kong definitely delivers the goods, regardless of whose side one supports.

Set five years after the events of Godzilla: King of Monsters, the movie begins with humanity's coping with the aftermath and destruction caused by those events. Monarch, the organization in charge of monitoring and containment of "Titan activity," continues to do what they can to protect the human race, while attempting to maintain some harmony with the continued existence of Godzilla and Kong, who has been relocated to a containment facility after Skull Island becomes inhabitable for the giant creature. Meanwhile, a successful tech company named Apex works on a secret project to "help" humanity deal with the titan problem. As their work seems to attract the wrath of Godzilla, Apex CEO Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir) seeks the help of Hollow Earth theorist and scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) to help him discover a powerful source of energy beneath the Earth's crust to fuel a weapon to defeat the titans.

With a screenplay by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, based on a story by Terry Rosio, Michael Dougherty, and Zach Shields, Adam Wingard's Godzilla vs. Kong is simply a damn good and enjoyable piece of silly popcorn cinema. While nevertheless maintaining a certain degree of gravity, the film never takes itself so seriously that the entire affair becomes tiresome and boring. That was my main complaint with the first two Godzilla installments of this series. The filmmakers behind Godzilla and Godzilla: King of Monsters got too caught up in making some serious science fiction that they forgot what makes these types of movies fun and exciting. At least Kong: Skull Island keeps things fun, thrilling, and adventurous, but also has an element of silliness that helps lighten things on an entertaining level. Thankfully, this installment has the best of both worlds and the result is a joyful and explosive marriage of monster goodness.

The entire cast all seem to be on the same page too, with everyone relishing the material and acting accordingly. In addition to returning actors, Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler, the movie features some great additions in Rebecca Hall, Alexander Skarsgard, Julian Dennison, Shun Oguri, Elsa Gonzalez, and Demian Bichir. Bichir is particularly enjoyable as the ego-maniacal CEO of Apex, a man who wants to save the world, but also desires the fame that would come with it. The real standout, however, is Brian Tyree Henry who stars as conspiracy theorist/podcaster Bernie Hayes. Henry definitely keeps the mood in hilarious and fun with some exceptional comic delivery and timing.

And I must say that I am also impressed with the skills of director Adam Wingard who pulls off this movie as the best installment of the series so far. Wingard obviously has a great mind for the material and knows well what will keep audiences invested and entertained. Though I only gave this film a 3 out of 4 Star rating, it is a very enthusiastic and satisfying one. Make no mistake, Godzilla vs. Kong is a B-movie, but it is a great one at that. The movie opens in theaters on March 31, 2021, but will also be available for streaming on HBO Max for a limited time.

DEMI LOVATO: DANCING WITH THE DEVIL

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Some people often question why so many celebrities have so many problems and issues when they are obviously successful. What do they have to be sad about? These same people usually forget that celebrities were not always famous and that, regardless of their fame, they are still human with a lot of the same weaknesses and problems that non-celebrities have. SXSW 2021 officially began with a powerful and moving documentary series which candidly reveals the struggles and problems of pop singer Demi Lovato, particularly how she almost lost her life to addiction.

The documentary series details the life and career (so far) of successful pop singer Demi Lovato, and how the trauma of abuse, mixed with the pressures of fame lead her down a path of addiction and self-destruction. Lovato had previously planned to release a documentary a few years ago that would cover her tour in 2018, along with her supposed recovery from addiction. The truth of the matter was that, during this tour, Lovato relapsed into her drug addiction and the documentary would get derailed by a near-fatal overdose. Now that Demi has survived and worked very hard to recover as best as she can from this tragic experience, she is now prepared to tell her story which exposes the roots of her problems which include a history of physical, mental, and sexual abuse which helped push her into a pattern of self-abuse and addiction.

Despite the fact that I have never really followed Demi Lovato's career, nor have I been a fan of her music, I still found myself moved and affected by this heartbreaking documentary. Lovato has come to a point where she can courageously express her story and all of the horrible things she has gone through. I applaud her courage for revealing details that are not only sad, but are also embarrassing. Director Michael D. Ratner does a great job in presenting this dark, but ultimately inspiring story. I feel that it is an essential documentary series for anyone who has suffered abuse and/or has struggled with any form of addiction. Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil is now available on YouTube.

SXSW 2021: BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

Inspired by conspiracy thrillers such as Blow Up, The Conversation, and Blow Out, writers Tim Woodall, Phil Drinkwater and director Jacob Gentry offer a more modern take on this type of story, with mostly mixed results. Though the movie has a fascinating premise, I feel that the execution and presentation leaves more to be desired. While Broadcast Signal Intrusion does have its moments and has an intelligent and timely message, it just never lands its intended impact.

Harry Shum, Jr stars as James, a lowly and lonely video archivist for a television station. While transferring video to an updated format, James discovers a bizarre and disturbing video clip interrupting programming from a several years back. He soon discovers that the clip and others very similar to it were part of some pirated signals that interupted programming on three different occasions, spread out over time. The videos seem to be sending coded messages, but the whos, what and why are not at all clear. James instantly becomes obsessed with discovering the truth behind these clips even if he has to risk his job and life to do it.

Even though I appreciate the movie's premise and its message, particularly in this age of internet misinformation and conspiracy theories, I found myself a bit underwhelmed by the film's overall presentation. The filmmakers do deliver some suspense, along with some shock and awe, but often meander too much and get redundant with the procedural aspects of James' investigation. This definitely takes away from the movie's impact and is ultimately disappointing. Actors Harry Shum, Jr and Kelley Mack perform well in the film, despite its weaknesses and do help in keeping the audience invested.

And as much as Gentry and his writers want their movie to be to be the next great conspiracy thriller, they end up leaving much to be desired. I find enough of the movie entertaining and intriguing to give it a moderate recommendation, but do encourage anyone interested to temper their expectations. I definitely see the various shades of influence from better, more effective thrillers, but Broadcast Signal Intrusion needs more than that to make it stand on its own as a thoroughly riveting thriller.

SXSW 2021: WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED: THE HISTORY OF FOLK HORROR

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

This year, I began my virtual festival a day early with a couple of screeners. The first of which was a screener for a lengthy and comprehensive documentary detailing horror cinema's and television's offerings in the subgenre of folk horror. While this film might seem like an enjoyable refresher for die hard horror fanatics, it should prove to be educational for any novices or casual horror admirers. Writer/director Kier-La Janisse, a film writer and programmer, does a fantastic job of detailing the origins for folk horror movies, how well they effectively challenge conventions, enlighten audiences, and how they often simply scare the hell out of us.

Janisse, with the help of other film writers/journalists and filmmakers who have dabbled in the subgenre, gives the audience a rich history lesson in folk horror. The film reviews over a hundred films, featuring these films best clips, and describes their worth and impact. Not only is the film education, but Janisse and her contributors and crew keep the experience fun, exciting, spooky and atmospheric. It is a documentary that offers a wealth of information that people will either want to take notes, or just watch more than once. It is a film that should be presented for film students interested in learning much about horror and this specific subgenre.

SXSW 2021: WITHOUT GETTING KILLED OR CAUGHT

By Laurie Coker

Rating: A

Texas music has a life of its own. Whether born in the state or transplanted from elsewhere, stars like Townes van Zandt and Guy Clark left their mark on the industry beyond the Lone Star State’s borders. SXSW documentary, Without Getting Killed or Caught, takes a personal and bare look at perhaps one of the greatest Texas songwriters of all time, Guy Clark.  Tamara Saviano and Paul Whitfield craftily weave together archive footage, narration by Sissy Spacek, and contemporary interviews, providing a profound portrayal of their subjects and the times in which they lived.

SXSW 2021: THE FALLOUT

By Laurie Coker

Rating: A

As a teacher who in her final two years of a long career found herself participating in active-shooter drills and watching the aftermath of school shooting, I hesitated to choose The Fallout as one of my SXSW Festival picks. A fellow critic encouraged me to take a look and it floored me, in good and bad ways. The Fallout starring Jenna Ortega, a talented young actress whose performance mesmerizes, is poignant, timely and terrifying in more ways than one.  Director/screenwriter Megan Park creates a vividly real depiction of the collateral damage brought on by such an event, touching on survival guilt, fear, parental reactions, fighting back, moving forward, and falling apart.

SXSW 2021: THE END OF US

By Laurie Coker

Rating: C

All joking aside, during this pandemic, many people found themselves “locked-down” with people with whom they already had shaky relationships. We have yet to discover the magnitude of the emotional toll this situation has taken on relationships. The End of Us, the feature film debut by directors Henry Loevner and Steven Kanter, attempts to find humor (albeit it dark) in a stressful time for everyone. Hollywood, attempting to capitalize on the situation, is spewing out its share of pandemic-themed productions. Loevner and Kanter's story has potential but falls short on energy.

THE COURIER

By Renee' C.

Rating: 4.5 (Out of 5 Reels)

Cold War spy Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his Russian source, Oleg Pendovsky  (Merab Ninidze) try to put an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis (IMDB).

I am a big fan of Benedict Cumberbatch work in movies and television. Especially, the BBC version of Sherlock so I knew he would be fantastic in this film. Cumberbatch portrays an ordinary British business man who reluctantly gets pushed into helping a Russian official smuggle documents about their missiles to the United States. He is great at portraying an ordinary individual who is pushed into extremely dangerous situations. We watch him morph into a more courageous individual as the movie progresses.

Oleg and Greville a lot alike because they both have families and they both want to help advert nuclear destruction. It is interesting to watch what unfolds for both characters as things go along. It reminds me of the film Bridge of Spies by Steven Spielberg directing, starring Tom Hanks. If you are a fan of that film you will most definitely like this film as well. I highly recommend this film and look forward to seeing more of Cumberbatch’s work in the future.

THE FATHER

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

With an already impressive list of performances in his filmography, Anthony Hopkins delivers yet another amazing and tremendous performance in The Father. Based on the play Le Pere by Florian Zeller, the film adaptation more or less feels like a film adaptation of a theater production, but with some impressive cinematic techniques and editing that offer more dimension. The movie follows the life of an elderly British gentleman who struggles with dementia, and presents his struggles through his own eyes. This perspective is appropriately disorienting and sometimes confusing, but not in any bad ways. Director Florian Zeller and his cast and crew have made an outstanding film that gives their audience some genuine insight into what it is like to have dementia and thusly, delivers a heart-wrenching gut punch of an experience.

Hopkins stars as Anthony, an older gentleman whose caring, but flustered daughter (Olivia Colman) has moved in with him to oversee his care during his final years. Though Anthony claims to feel fine and totally capable of life on his own, he begins showing signs of confusion and dementia, as he himself can no longer differentiate from the reality of the situation and his perception of what is happening. As these major changes occur in his life, Anthony becomes increasingly disoriented and unable to identify who is who in his life.

I was certainly taken aback and emotionallly affected by this powerful and sad movie. Writer/director Florian Zeller has done an amazing job of presenting a starkly realistic portrait of a man losing his grip on reality and clinging to his past memories for dear life. Zeller and editor Yorgos Lamprinos have pieced together an intricate piece that skillfully tells Anthony's story from his perspective. This technique is initially confusing, but still works tremendously as we the audience manage to determine what is real and what is not. The experience is both surreal and heartbreaking with Hopkins giving another transcendent performance.

In his portrayal of the afflicted Anthony, Hopkins completely immerses himself into his character, beautifully and disturbingly expressing a wide range of emotions and traits. In addition, actress Olivia Colman gives another incredible acting turn as Anthony's daughter Anne who oversees her father's care. It is such an amazing performance that I chose her as my pick for best performance by a supporting female actor. The film also features great acting by Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots, Mark Gatiss, and Olivia Williams.

Now even thought this movie is sad and emotional, I still highly recommend it. It impressively gives its audiences a realistic experience of the struggles of confusion and dementia in the latter years of one's life. The Father opens in theaters on March 12, and will be available on VOD on March 26, 2021,

CHERRY

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Anthony and Joe Russo, the filmmaking duo responsible for some wonderful entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, have returned to cinema with a dark and gritty true story about post-war PTSD, drug additction, and crime. Despite their decision to part ways with the MCU, the filmmaker brothers have cast MCU regular Tom Holland in the lead role. Based on the novel of the same name by Nico Walker, Cherry shows an overly valiant attempt on the part of the filmmakers to completely abandon their superheroic tenure and offer audiences a more seedy and ugly slice of true crime and psychological turmoil. Though the film does have a powerful and riveting story as its basis, the directors' attempts at duplicating auteurish stylings and tropes too often overshadow the story's heart and soul.

Tom Holland stars the titular Cherry, a character based on Nico Walker who once served as an Army soldier and medic who returned from the war with a serious case of PTSD. The movie begins with Cherry's pre-war life as a struggling college student with very little aim or direction in life. Unsatisfied with his life so far, he decides to enlist in the Army in an attempt to escape what feels like a dead end and hopes to discover a bigger world outside of his limited experience. The military does offer him more, but not at all in a positive way.

As he experiences the abuses of training, followed by the attrocities that come with war, Cherry ends up with a bleaker view of life. After he has returned home safely, he does have a loving girlfriend waiting for him; however, this love offers him little comfort from the trauma and nightmares he continues to experience. As a way of coping with his psychological torment, Cherry develops an opiate addiction which can only be maintained through a life of robbing banks. This sets into motion a destructive cycle for him and his girlfriend Emily (Ciara Bravo) who has also become a desperate addict.

With an adapted screenplay by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg, the Russos seem desperate to shed their Marvel superhero images and make a film that feels more realistic and organic. Though the story has all of the makings of a great psychological crime thriller and a powerful portrait of addiction and turmoil, the Russos focus way too much on the style of their presentation and manage to lose sight of what their compelling lead character has to offer. Now this is pure speculation on my part, but this movie appears to be a response to the negative reactions of director Martin Scorsese towards comic book, superhero fare. Cherry comes across as the Russos' overly defiant rebuttal that they make real movies with artistic integrity. And in attempting this, they not-so-subtly try to duplicate Scorsese's signature style when it comes to this type of story.

This focus on the style over substance certainly takes away from the overall impact of the film. Nevertheless, the acting in the film does manage to keep its audience somewhat invested, with Tom Holland offering a performance that shows more range and maturity than some of his previous roles. He is the main reason that this film maintains a certain degree of watchability. I was, however, less impressed with Ciara Bravo, who seems to struggle with the challenges of portraying Cherry's loving, but also drug addicted girlfriend Emily. To be fair, her character gets slighted by poor writing and character development, but at the same time, I simply did not find her performance convincing or credible.

In the end, this movie proves to be a really disappointing follow-up to the great work the Russos did on their MCU entries. The work they contributed to that franchise helped keep the series compelling and exciting. I sincerely would love to see the Russos shine beyond their great work for Marvel, but Cherry just isn't a step in the right direction. If still interested in this movie, the film is currently showing in some theaters and will be available on AppleTV + starting March 12, 2021.

STILL LIFE IN LODZ

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

The Holocaust and World War II had a massively tragic impact on the Jewish people in Europe. For the Jewish people in German-occupied Poland, especially in the city of Lodz, their lives were totally uprooted, as they were moved into camps, forced into slave labor, or were executed. Some people managed to survive, and with them, they will forever have a mix of joyful and horrific memories, but nevertheless a rich history in their lives. Filmmaker Slawomir Grünberg has made an amazing, powerful, and poignant documentary about a trio of people with personal and familial ties to the city of Lodz. The film not only captures their pilgrimage to their roots in Lodz, but also reveals their family's histories and how they survived to make this journey possible.

The first story involves an old painting which remained in an apartment home throughout the tragedy and turbulence of the period. One time Lodz resident Lika Elbaum fondly recalls how the painting was a regular fixture in her life when her family moved into that apartment and how she and her family would have to leave their home and the painting behind when they were forced to move in 1968. Despite the horrific history of the area and the impact it would have on the apartment's tenants, that painting endured as a symbol of beauty and peace. The film follows Elbaum's more recent visit to Lodz, her fateful reunion with the painting, and the history of the art piece and the very poor tenement apartment which housed people greatly affected by World War II and the holocaust.

In addition to Elbaum, the documentary also reveals the stories of American Paul Celler and artist Roni Ben-Ari whose families were impacted by the holocaust and the tyranny of the German Nazis controlling the town. Celler and Ben-Ari visit the various places where their parents lived and worked. As they recall the stories shared to them by their parents, they get to see with their own eyes the various locales mentioned in those stories and share the turmoil their families experienced during the Holocaust.

This is an incredible documentary film that I highly recommend for everyone, particularly young people studying world history in school. This film offers some very personal perspectives on the Holocaust, the war and the aftermath on the people from a poor and humble Jewish community. Director Slawomir Grünberg and his crew do a remarkably fantastic job of telling these stories, using both traditional and less-traditional documentary techniques. The film offers some genuinely emotional insight into three families affected by the tragedy of the holocaust and how they managed to endure and survive for future generations.

This wonderful and beautiful film will be available for viewing in both virtual cinemas and some theaters starting March 12, 2021.

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

With an amazing voice cast, gorgeous computer animation, and a genuinely heartfelt story, Disney studios has yet another winner on their hands. That might sound a tad formulaic, but if a certain formula works and succeeds greatly, it is best to stick with it. Raya and the Last Dragon explores a side of Asian mythology not previously portrayed in other Disney movies. This, mixed with their tried and true formula, proves to be a recipe for success.

Kelly Marie Tran stars as the titular Raya, a young and optimistc warrior of Kumandra's Heart Land. The entire land of Kumandra was once a thriving nation where humanity and dragons lived in harmony. Humanity's greed and the threat of evil spirits known as the Druun destroyed and divided the once utopian society. In the aftermath of these events, harmony, peace, and the dragons no longer existed. In its wake, the Heart Land and other communities have remained distrustful of each other for several generations.

Chief Benja (Daniel Rae Kim) leader of the Heart Land and Raya's father, hopes to finally reunite the various tribes Kumandra in an attempt to form a united front against the evil of the Druun. However, greed, mistrust, and envy derail Benja's plans which opens the doors for a tragic attack by the Druun. As she manages to survive the attack, Raya hopes to revive the legendary dragon Sisu (Awkafina) to save her people.

I most certainly adore this movie. Its message of hope, love, and optimisim are timeless, but definitely come at a time when humanity needs it the most. Written by Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim, and directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada, Raya and the Last Dragon succeeds and rises above its formula to offer audiences heartfelt entertainment with important messages and critiques about humanity. It truly is a beautiful experience.

Kelly Marie Tran is perfectly cast as Raya, a young lady struggling with the optimism of her father and the real word problems her people faces. Awkafina is also perfectly cast as the awkward and hilarious Sisu, a dragon who also shares Benja's optimism and hopes to help contribute to a better world for everyone. Gemma Chan is great as the strong and formidable rival to Raya, Namarri, a young warrior who wishes to contibute to the advancement of her tribe. The movie also features wonderful voice work by Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, and several others.

Raya and the Last Dragon is getting released in theaters on March 5, 2021, but will be simultaneously available on Disney+ with "Premier Access" on the same day. It is a movie I must recommend as a delightful family adventure.

CHAOS WALKING

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)

With a slew of false starts, production and creative problems, reshoots, rewrites, and retooling, it is a wonder that this film is finally seeing the light of day. Based on the book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, Chaos Walking is a messy film whose production and creative woes are all too evident. Though the story has a rather clever premise and an oddly compelling plot, the rushed pacing and poor story and character development derails what could have been a remarkable and amazing science fiction thriller. To its benefit, the movie has a great cast that includes Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, and Mads Mikkelsen. However, these talented actors and the story's wildly creative ideas deserve a much better cinematic treatment.

The story takes place in the near future. Due to what is merely hinted at as unbearable living conditions on Earth, humanity has sought out to colonize another inhabitable planet where conditions will be initially crude, but still livable. The film begins after humans have already begun colonization on an earth-like planet. Thought life is currently bearable, the colonists have endured many hardships, particularly the tragic loss of most of the women at the hands of the creatures indigenous to the land. As for the remaining males, all of them are afflicted by a bizarre phenomenon known as "The Noise," a condition that reveals all of their thoughts out in the open.

The film's protagonist Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) may have lost his parents, but has managed to survive under the care of his foster fathers Ben Moore (Demian Bichir) and Cillian Boyd (Kurt Sutter). Though Todd's fathers prefer a quiet and simple life, Todd ambitiously dreams of more excitement and power. Well, things get more exciting for Todd when he discovers that more colonists are planning to arrive soon. This is indicated when Viola Eade (Daisy Ridley) crash lands on the planet. Intrigued with Viola, Todd hopes to help her accomplish her goals. However, the power hungry Mayor of Todd's town, David Prentiss (Mikkelsen) has other plans for the new arrival.

Based on the fictional book series by Patrick Ness, screenwriters Ness, Christopher Ford (with other writers in the mix) and director Doug Liman (with some reshoots by Fede Alvarez), have obviously struggled to make this movie work. With so many cooks in the kitchen, it is no surprise that this movie has endured so many problems to get released. It is a wonder, however, that the studio has managed to finally finish the film and saved it from being completely shelved. That said; Chaos Walking is a clear case of opportunities and potential missed.

As clever a premise as it has and all of the naturally built-in humor it milks, the movie simply rushes through its inticrate story with nearly most of its ideas coming across as undercooked. The cast members give their performances with much earnestness, but their characters suffer from the lack of proper development they deserve. Liman (and presumably Alvarez) do succeed in keeping the gravity of things moderately engaging and compelling at times, but in the end, the final product never, ever, sticks the landing.

Chaos Walking is still getting a theatrical release, but the distributors should have aimed for a streaming or VOD release instead. It is a movie I honestly cannot recommend. While it isn't entirely a horrible, tiresome experience, the whole movie eventually stalls out in the end.

COMING 2 AMERICA

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

It has been almost thirty three years since the Eddie Murphy movie Coming to America opened in theaters and became a comedy classic. Since then the movie has nearly constantly earned a mass of devoted fans who often repeat some of the more quotable lines and shared many laughs over the raucuous jokes and gags. The film is definitely a product of its time, as some of the more racy comedy probably could not be created today in our current climate. Any attempts at a sequel would have to be somewhat toned down and would most certainly lack the edginess that director John Landis and the film's other creative minds brought to it.

Nevertheless, director Craig Brewer (Dolemite is My Name), and writers Kenya Barris, Barry Blaustein, David Sheffield, and Justin Kanew teamed up with Eddie Murphy and most of the same cast members, along with some new collaborators to create a second installment. As expected, the movie doesn't have the same level of edgy comedy as the first installment, but does deliver some mildly enjoyable humor in a movie that more or less feels like a reunion show. It is a movie that definitlely feels like a straight-to-television sequel that doesn't quite live up to the legend of its predecessor.

Eddie Murphy returns as the beloved and charming Prince Akeem Joffer, heir to the throne of Zamunda. Since the events of the first movie, Akeem and his wife Lisa Joffer have remained married and are raising three strong and intelligent daughters. While this pleases both Akeem and Lisa, the strict tradition of Zamunda demands that Akeem's heir be a male. Initially, this poses a threat to the future of the country.

Without a "proper" leader to take the throne after Akeem's demise, the ambitious dictator of rival nation Nextdoria, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), has his eyes on the prize. Not all hope is lost, however, as Akeem discovers that he might have an illegitmate son in America who may have been conceived during his first visit there. Akeem and his faithful assistant Semmi (Arsenio Hall) must return to America to discover the truth about his potential heir.

Despite this movie's lack of bite and the same level of heart that makes the first film so great, I still found myself enjoying this movie. It is a sequel that heavily relies on the nostalgia of the original movie, and often does so too much. Still, I found myself laughing at some of the movie's new gags, new characters, and even appreciated that this installment actually critiques some of the less favorable material of the first movie.

While it is enjoyable to see Murphy and Hall reprise their lead characters, it is also great to see them once again portray the more cartoonish and outlandish supporting characters such as the barbers, Reverend Brown, and of course Queen's not-so-beloved singer Randy Watson. It is also a joy to see actors Shari Headley, James Earl Jones, Paul Bates, John Amos, and others return to their beloved characters. Joining the returning cast members are Wesley Snipes, Lavelle Johnson, Leslie Jones, and Tracey Morgan. All of whom seem to have a blast with their characters.

As I mentioned above, Coming 2 America comes across as a lesser sequel that got spared a theatrical release and has gone straight to television. So I suppose it is perfectly appropriate that the movie did not get a theatrical release and will be available for streaming via Amazon Prime. It is a film I moderately recommend for fans of the original, but I must encourage these fans to greatly temper their expectations. The movie is now available for one's nostalgic enjoyment on Amazon Prime.

COMING 2 AMERICA

By Laurie Coker

Rating: B-

We need humor, especially now. I decent, belly laugh can raise spirits and is priceless to the soul. Over thirty years after the Coming to America had us rolling in the aisles, the cast is back, and then some in Coming 2 America. This newest film offers up culture-clash comedy that is intermittently but solidly funny, with some delightfully inspired gags spattered in between. But the true joy comes in with a barrage of cameos and shout-out to characters, lines, and moments from the original.

BILLIE EILISH: THE WORLD’S A LITTLE BLURRY

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

For Billie Eilish, the title of this documentary/concert film is most definitely an appropriate title, given her meteroric rise to fame. As RJ Cutler's film reveals, the still teenage Billie has been living in a very blur of fame, fortune, and critical acclaim. This experience is particularly difficult for someone who suffers from depression, and Tourette Syndrome. Though a talented singer, songwriter, and performer, the aftermath of success can be tremendously overwhelming and difficult to handle. Cutler's film beautifully showcases why Eilish has achieved fame and success, but also gives an intimate glimpse into the impact it has on the artist herself.

Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O'Connell was raised in an American family where music has played a huge role in her life. Mostly collaborating with older brother Finneas, Eilish first got the world's attention when her song "Ocean Eyes" received over a hundred thousand listens when her brother released it via SoundCloud. This attention would further propel the career of the young singer and would gain her a record deal that would forever change her life. Cutler's film follows Eilish, her brother Finneas, and their family, as they all continue to work on advancing Billie's career and attempt to maintain her mental health in the process.

The film reveals the creative process that Billie and Finneas go through to create and record her songs. The movie also shows the psychological and physical toll that stardom has taken on the artist. It is a documentary that showcases and celebrates Billie's passion and charisma and the impact it has on her fans. However, the price of fame also can have a negative impact on someone who has some personal struggles of her own.

Now, before I go any further, I have to say that when it comes to modern music, I have become what is known as an old "fuddy duddy." In my life, I have reached a point where I rarely follow modern musical artists and mostly seek comfort in music that I know and love. That said, I found myself rather intrigued and sometimes moved by Eilish and what she expresses through her songs. I also came to appreciate the talent of her brother Finneas and the work he puts into the songwriting, musicianship and the production process.

These aspects make The World's A Little Blurry an intriguing and watchable piece. One doesn't necessarily have to be a fan or all that familiar with Eilish and her music to get into what this documentary has to offer. At the same time, though I enjoyed her music and marvelled at her stage presence and charisma, the film also serves as a reminder that fame has a darker side, and one has to be concerned how this facet will ultimately impact the obviously troubled young lady.

Now, I hope that statement never gets misunderstood or misconstrued because I feel that Miss Eilish comes across a vibrant, talented, and beautifully expressive artist. But I do know that success and the road that inevitably follows has its negative effects and has previously, time and again, caused irreperable trauma to anyone suffering from various ailments. I suppose that is exactly what director Cutler hopes to express through his film. As fruitful and rewarding as fame is, there is always a dark side to it all.

That said, Cutler expresses this concern as more of an underlying issue that never completely overshadows the positive aspects of Eilish's fame. While she struggles to balance everything, she does have the support and love of her parents and her brother Finneas. All of these loved ones in her life remain determined to keep her level, balanced and away from trouble that could derail her life and career. In addition, Cutler's film showcases what an amazing performer Eilish is. His film delivers some wonderful showcases of her talent and stage presence.

Though this documentary is certainly tailor-made and targeted toward her devoted fan base, I nevertheless found it to be a compelling portrait of a modern performer that has great talent and love towards her fans. It is a documentary and concert film I recommend mostly for Billie Eilish fans, but if one happens to be curious about her success and the reasons behind it, this film offers some definitive answers. Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry will available for viewing via AppleTV+ starting February 26, 2021.

Mark’s Best of 2020

By Mark Saldana

Under normal circumstances, in a non-pandemic world, I would have already written and posted this end-of-year review and would have already moved on and focused on the films this year has to offer. Most of the major film awards would've already taken place, but just like everything else in 2020, accolades and award shows honoring the year's best were put on hold and ultimately postponed for later. Thanks to COVID-19, things drastically changed for cinema, its audiences, and for the critics and reviewers who cover film.

In January 2020, the year started off fairly normally. I began attending regular theatrical screenings and reviewed films accordingly. As the coronavirus began to rapidly spread in the United States, film studios began to hold back and redetermine stategies in a time of uncertainty. As the year quickly entered March, everything came to an unnerving and frightening screeching halt.

Film studios decided to either completely hold back film releases or postpone the original release dates to either later in the year, next year, or indefinitely. As a result, movie theaters closed, and at a time when so many people were stuck at home, we began to experience what initially felt like a drought when it came to films. As the studios desperately attempted to salvage what was beginning to feel like a disaster, they began to pursue at-home options for releasing their shelved offerings. As spring concluded and slowly moved into summer, streaming and video-on-demand began to provide audiences what theaters could no longer do. A lot of the 2020 movies were being released through these options and screened in the homes of people worldwide.

As this was occurring, I started to receive more and more options to review movies at home. Though I dearly missed and continue to miss theatrical screenings, I found some comfort in the fact that I could resume reviewing films in a safer environment. It was an option that was and still is better than nothing at all. As the year proceeded into the time that is known as "awards season," it was mostly business as usual for me. Though I used to screen some of these films in theaters, the rest normally get screened via either physical or online screeners that I watch at home.

I suppose, for some of my readers, the question remains as to why I am so late in posting this 2020 review. The reason mainly has to do with the decision of my film critics group, the Austin Film Critics Association, to postpone our normal screening and voting schedule until March. This is a decision for which I was in favor. I felt that this would give us more time to properly screen and asseess the great achievements in film that 2020 had to offer.

So, as we approach the weekend when the Golden Globes will "officially" kick off the major movie awards shows, I decided to follow suit and reveal my choices for the best of 2020. Even though the year was scary, bizarre, surreal, and sometimes depressing, cinema had lots of gems to entertain, intrigue, and make people critically ponder the state of our world. So, without any further ado, here are my choices for the top ten movies of 2020, along with my selections for accolades in more specific film categories.

Mark's Top Ten Films of 2020:

  1. Nomadland
  2. Minari
  3. Promising Young Woman
  4. One Night in Miami
  5. Da 5 Bloods
  6. Miss Juneteenth
  7. La Llorona
  8. Our Time Machine
  9. American Utopia
  10. Wolfwalkers

Honorable Mentions: Judas and the Black Messiah, The Forty Year-Old Version, The Father, Soul, All In: The Fight For Democracy

Best Director: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

Best Original Screenplay: Lee Isaac Chung, Minari

Best Adapted Screenplay: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

Best Female Actor: Frances McDormand, Nomadland

Best Male Actor: Riz Ahmed, The Sound of Metal

Best Supporting Female Actor: Olivia Colman, The Father

Best Supporting Male Actor: Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami

Best Score: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross & Jon Batiste, Soul

Best Animated Film: Wolfwalkers

Best International Film: La Llorona

Best Documentary Feature Film: Our Time Machine

Best Cinematography: Joshua James Richards, Nomadland

Best Editing: Yorgos Lamprinos, The Father

MINARI

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

The American dream is a goal that not only natural-born citizens of the United States hope to accomplish, but is often, more importantly, a goal that immigrants hope to achieve. That is the main message of this beautiful and heartfelt movie about South Korean immigrants trying to survive during the 1980s. Based on the life experiences of filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung, Minari depicts the life of South Korean immigrants working hard to thrive and survive in rural America. It is an American tale as old as the age of this nation, but it is also a lovely reminder that this nation of ours can be the land of opportunity to those willing to work hard to get there.

Minari follows the Yi family, a Korean family who has moved from California to rural Arkansas where patriarch Jacob (Steven Yeun) desires to become a farmer, cultivating the vegetables often used by his culture. Living in a small, mobile home, the Yi's must adjust to their new environment, with Jacob promising that this move is a step forward for the family. To make this dream come true, Jacob and his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) must also work for steady income at a local hatchery where they separate the female chicks from the males. As Jacob pursues his dreams, he and the family encounter several obstacles along the way. Though things appear bleak initially, Jacob remains undaunted in his goals, much to the consternation of his more pragmatic wife Monica.

This is truly one of the best films I watched in 2020. Lee Isaac Chung has made a film that plays out naturally and realistically without any artificial sweetness or heavy-handed melodrama. It is a timeless story that appeals to the human heart and soul. Though it will resonate strongly with American immigrants, it has a genuine heart that should appeal to audiences of various backgrounds.

All of the cast members give excellent performances, but three particular actors stand out for me. As Monica's mother Soon-ja, Youn Yuh-jung is wonderful as an unfiltered and outspoken grandmother. As Paul, Jacob's assistant in farming, Will Patton gives an incredible turn as a sweet and optimistic religious zealot who has some farming skills and previous experience. As David, the youngest child of the Yi family, child actor Alan Kim is an absolute joy to witness on the screen.

Minari is one of those films that is so timeless and always relevant. It is a movie that is sure to please and have an impact on audiences of various backgrounds, However, it will definitely resonate with immigrant audience members who know what it is like to adjust and assimilate to the United States and its people.

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

Based on the true story of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and the infiltration of the Chicago chapter of the party by FBI informant William O'Neal, writer/director Shaka King presents an all-too-real and dual-faceted example of our US government's oppression of Black America. Out-spoken and unfiltered, the Black Panther party made its presence known and heard during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Though this perceived threat to "American" standards served as a rallying shout to fight systemic racism and oppression, the Black Panther Party and their associates only fought for equal treatment, as promised by the law and Constitution. The FBI then resorted to utilize informants fearful of any prejudicial treatment by law enforcement. One such informant was criminal William O'Neal.

Lakeith Stanfield stars as O'Neal, a small time crook caught in the nasty web of law enforcement and the FBI who wish to use him to take down the Black Panther party. Approached by agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemmons), O'Neal is given the ultimatum of complying with the FBI or face harsher treatment for his petty crimes. The main target of the FBI is Chicago chapter leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), a boisterous and charismatic Black Panther leader fighting hard for the advancement of the Black community. As O'Neal gets more involved with the Panther party and closer to Hampton, he becomes more conflicted with his role in the takedown of the activist.

Written by Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas, and Keith Lucas, Judas and the Black Messiah is an amazingly powerful movie that should serve as an eye-opener to anyone who blindly accepts or naively denies the evil deeds of which our government is capable and has committed. For the oppressed and anyone who has experienced any form of prejudice, it is a rallying shout to stand up and fight for what is right and just. King, his writers, cast and crew do an outstanding job in presenting this tremendous story. Given the problems that have troubled our nation for far too long, this film also screams the question, when are things going to completely change for the better?

The film has an incredible cast with both Kaluuya and Stanfield bringing passion, emotion, and humanity to their characters. The movie also features a beautifully realized performance by Dominique Fishback who stars as Deborah Johnson, Fred Hampton's girlfriend. Jesse Plemons also gives an appropriately nasty and uncaring turn as O'Neal's ambitious FBI handler Roy Mitchell.

This is yet another movie that hopes to bring audiences more awareness of the racism and oppression that has infected our nation for far too long. I feel that I have written so many reviews about movies that tackle this subject. And I am sure it is a subject that other, more seasoned, veteran film writers have handled for decades before me. As I conclude this review, I have come to the sad realization that it is horrifying that we still need movies like Judas and the Black Messiah to keep reminding people that this is a problem that still troubles our country.

THE MAURITANIAN

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

Based on Mohamedou Ould Salahi's memoir Guantanamo Diary, this film adaptation by director Kevin Macdonald does manage to deliver an emotional wallop, but gets undermined by a mostly dull, legal procedural approach to the material. The movie follows the legal defense and their investigation into the unlawful detention and torture of Salahi who gets suspected of playing a role in the attacks on 9/11. As a commentary on the lack of due process involved in the 9/11 investigations and the horrible methods involved in the interrogations, The Mauritanian works well enough. However, the rest of the movie proves to be a mostly trite exercise in story-telling and character development.

Jodie Foster stars as the tough and no-nonsense attorney Nancy Hollander. An advocate for international law and human rights, Hollander decides to represent Guantanamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim) when she realizes he has been wrongfully imprisoned and held without the proper due process he deserves. Though Salahi may have had some loose ties with a terrorist involved in the 9/11 attacks on the US, he has been treated as a prime suspect undergoing intense interrogation and enduring the extreme tortures endorsed by the government and the millitary. While Salahi continues to wait desperately in his prison, the government and the military do everything they can to cover up any evidence of wrong doing which makes his case a most difficult and challenging battle.

With an adapted screenplay by M.B. Traven, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani, director Kevin Macdonald presents a compelling, but flawed and occasionally weak movie that too often follows the legal process by the numbers. While this may come across as more realistic, it is a rather lacking approach when it comes to cinematic storytelling. That said, the film mostly works due to the strength of its intended messages and the impact of its depiction of the inexplicably inhumane treatment of Guantanamo prisoners.

In addition, actor Tahar Rahim brings a real and genuine humanity to the character of Mohamedou Salahi. It is a beautiful and inspiring performance that transcend all weaknesses of the script and direction. Jodie Foster gives a solid performance as attorney Nancy Hollander. Though the development of the character is a bit lacking in the writing. Foster's talent also adds to the character's translation on the screen. Shailene Woodey also performs well as the emotionally torn and tormented Teri Duncan, a younger and less seasoned attorney working on the case with Hollander. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as prosecuting attorney Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, but plays it so broadly that the character's development suffers further.

Though this movie has its problems, I still feel it is important that most Americans watch it to get a better perspective on the fallout of 9/11 and its impact on the rights of people. The film opens in theaters on February 12.

BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Barb and Star initially seems like an SNL sketch idea that never made it to the show and seems destined for failure in a feature treatment. Going into this movie, I tempered my expectations accordingly, but was ultimately pleasantly surprised with the delightful comedic results that this silly and goofy comedy achieves. Both Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, who also co-wrote the film, obviously have much love for their characters and this love is clearly evident in their committment to them and their story. Director Josh Greenbaum also shares this love and admiration for the dynamic, middle-aged duo and presents their movie with much aplomb and glee.

Wiig and Mumolo star as middle-aged best friends Star and Barb. Star, who is a divorcee, and Barb who is a widow, both don't have much excitement in their lives and are in much need of a major change. After losing their comfortable jobs at Jennifer's Convertibles, the two friends decide to take a friend's suggestion and take a much-needed vacation in Vista Del Mar, Florida. While they are a initially a little out of their element at the lavish and colorful resort, lots of liquid courage helps spice things up after they meet a fellow vacationer named Edgar (Jamie Dorman).

What they don't know, however, is that Edgar is actually working as a pawn in a nefarious plot to destroy the resort. After a rather embarrassing and traumatic childhood experience in Vista Del Mar, the angry and vindictive Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also portrayed by Wiig) uses Edgar to infiltrate the resort where she will unleash a massive swarm of killer mosquitoes. As Barb and Star become more involved with Edgar, the lovesick, hopeless romantic becomes torn between his discovery of true love and his previous committment to his Sharon.

I had an absolute blast with this movie. Between the goofy antics of Barb and Star and the dynamic and hilarious comedic turn by Jamie Dorman, the exercise is silliness and utter absurdity offers pure comedy gold. Though the wicked plot by the villain is dumb and ridiculous, it never, ever overplays its role in the grand scheme of the film. The hilarious writing and tremendous comedic acting by both Wiig and Mumolo should be a masterclass of comedy and improvisation. Their skills are on perfect display here with two artists sharing incredible chemistry and timing.

As I stated above, Dorman is an absolute delight and jumps into his silly, but heartfelt role with a mix of wreckless abandon and sincerity. This is definitely a more exciting and inspired performance than any work he did in the mostly dreadful Fifty Shades movies. The movie also features great performances and appearances by Vanessa Bayer, Damon Wayans, Jr, and Wendy McLendon-Covey. I must also praise Kristen Wiig once again, but this time for her wicked fun and silly turn as the cold and calculating villain Sharon Gordon Fisherman.

This film was originally slated to be released in theaters last summer, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it got put on hold. It will be available for viewing via streaming and video-on-demand services on February 12. It is a movie that exceded my expectations and is sure to provide wonderfully comedic entertainment to anyone who gives it a chance.

THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

The idea of making another time loop movie actually is rather amusing if one were to think about it. In a time loop plot, a character or characters often repeat a day or a certain chain of events, sometimes with different outcomes, only to start over again. The end desire is to experience the day or certain period of time correctly or flawlessly to get better results. To make another time loop movie also seems redundant, given that it has been done before multiple times, but the goal is to set one's story or movie apart from others that have preceded it. In the case of The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, writer Lev Grossman, who based the screenplay on his short story, and director Ian Samuels hope to bring something different to the subgenre, but end of treading upon thematic territory that is all too familiar. At the same time, the filmmakers do end up bringing a slightly more serious and poignant element that does manage to tug on some heart strings.

Kyle Allen stars as Mark, a young high school student who has been caught in a temporal anomaly/time loop that has him repeating one particular day for no apparent reason. As the film begins, Mark has already experienced this particular day so many times that he already knows what to expect. Things change majorly when he discovers that he isn't the only one aware of the this metaphysical phenomenon. A young lady named Margaret (Kathryn Newton) is also repeating the same day and the two decide to team up to get through this bizarre situation as best as they can.

Both Mark and Margaret discover that during the course of this remarkable day, there are many simple, but beautiful pleasures and experiences to behold. The two document these events in a little map of their town. Though these magical moments seem rather extraneous at first, they discover that the map and these patterns of remarkable events may hold to key to their escape from the anomaly.

Much like other movies that utilize this plot device, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things mostly uses the time loop phenomenon for comedic purposes. This works mostly well, but also loses its steam a little when things get a little redundant. On the other hand, a subplot (which I won't spoil) makes the film much more emotional and heartfelt than most other time loop movies. That said, the end result is a charming and sweet film that celebrates the many facets of life and reminds us to treasure the things we often take for granted.

Director Ian Samuels, cinematographer Andrew Wehde, and editor Andrea Bottigliero give the film a pace and flow that glides almost effortlessly in the beginning as the character Mark rushes through his day to get to the things he likes and desires the most. However, they start to slow things down beautifully to behold, admire and experience the beauty and magic that life often has to offer. The filmmakers show superb proficiency in presenting this otherwise familiar story and the actors also follow suit by committing heart and soul to their characters.

Both Kyle Allen and Kathryn Newton perform well in their respective roles, but seem to lack a genuine chemistry which holds the film back from making its full, intended impact. Still, they both earnestly bring much heart and longing to their characters, so that positive aspect helps alleviate any lack of romantic chemistry between them. Josh Hamilton also performs well as Mark's loving, but awkward father Daniel. Jorja Fox also has a brief, but impactful turn as Margaret's mother Greta.

So as far as time loop movies go, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things isn't exactly perfect, but it definitely is not horrible. It is an amiable and amusing movie that has a little magic of its own, but never quite reaches the heights of cinematic beauty as Groundhog Day or the level of hillarity as Palm Springs. The movie will be available for streaming via Amazon Prime on February 12. It gets a moderate recommendation from me.

Austin Film Festival 2020 Review: HORTON FOOTE: THE ROAD TO HOME

By Liz Lopez

Rating: A+

Anne Rapp (“Tender Mercies” script supervisor, among others) directed and produced the documentary, “Horton Foote: The Road To Home,” and the world premiere was at this year’s Austin Film Festival. For anyone who is not familiar with Horton Foote, he is a Wharton, Texas born playwright and screenwriter, who also started out as an actor early on in his career. Foote received an Academy Award for the Best Adapted Screenplay of “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1963) and his script for “Tender Mercies” received the award for Best Original Screenplay (1984). He is also a Pulitzer Prize winner for drama for the Broadway play, “The Young Man from Atlanta.” He is a recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 2000.

I recommend viewing this film that took years in the making. Rapp captured hours of footage when she and Foote drove around his hometown during the latter years of his life, before he passed away in 2009 in his 90s. He provides story after story about his family (and others) in his community, including the first story he created for his mother as a child. Among the interviewees in the film, is Robert Duvall who worked in Foote’s films, as well as playwright Edward Albee, a contemporary of Foote, Matthew Broderick, Richard Linklater, Bruce Beresford, Betty Buckley, and Elizabeth Ashley, as well as family and community members. One of my favorite parts of the film is the use of various actors giving voice to nine of Foote’s work in short monologues. It is through them that we learn so much more of Foote and his work, his community and experiences there that led to his award - winning career.

Among the diverse monologue performers are two Austin based actors, Yesenia Garcia (originally from McAllen, Texas), who performs as Alma Jean from “The Midnight Caller” and Rupert Reyes who performs as Will from the Pulitzer Prize winning play, “The Young Man from Atlanta.” Each of the actors were perfect for the roles they performed, but it is Reyes who brought so much depth and emotion to the character he portrayed. It definitely had me on the verge of tears as the camera focused closely on the actor. The cinematography by Mark Birnbaum and Bill Schwarz is excellent as they work the shots in both color and black and white, as they did for the monologues.

Serving as producer on the film alongside Rapp is the award - winning Austin-based filmmaker Miguel Alvarez (La Perdida, Tadpoles). He is Executive Producer for AFF's award-winning television show, On Story. Miguel holds both a BS in Mechanical Engineering and MFA in Film Production from the University of Texas at Austin where he continues to lecture today.  

The film is available for viewing during the festival and we will announce news of the next available screenings of the film as soon as it is received. 

Source: Anne Rapp, Austin Film Festival, Este Bandido

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

By Laurie Coker

Rating: B+

I love traveling with my grandchildren and together we enjoy listening to audiobooks. On one trip, my granddaughter and I, both huge animal lovers, listened to The One and Only Ivan, the story of a silverback ape raised in captivity. Disney+ brings the book, based on a true story, to streaming television. Thea Sharrock directs a stunning blend of live action and remarkable CGI with an excellent cast of real and voice actors.

TESLA

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

Writer/director Michael Almereyda tells the story of Nikola Tesla in a biopic that takes some novel approaches to its visuals and aesthetics, but ultimately struggles to maintain keep its audience engrossed in it. With Ethan Hawke in the plead role, I expected more from this film, but even the actors talents get held back by the film's weaknesses. Nikola Tesla's life story is truly a fascinating one, but Almereyda just doesn't succeed in proving it as such.

The film begins in 1884 when Tesla begins working for Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan). As the two men offen differ in their visions and opinions, it proves to be a match made in hell. Eventually, after failing to make any headway in Edison's company, Tesla quits and decides to venture out with his new partner Anthony Szigeti (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), hoping to change the ways electricity is harnessed and utilized. Tesla would proceed to do this, but his inability to look at the pictures of his career and life would lead to eventual failure.

Despite some of the bold interesting choices made by writer/director Almereyda, the writing, particularly the story and character development, fails to generate excitement and develop a real connection with its audience. It was as if Tesla himself, being extemely intoverted and narrow focussed, was telling the story himself. There are ways to express this mindset and personality type in more exciting and entertaining ways. However, Amereyda follows a mostly dull path that shows a lack of passion for his subject.

Ethan Hawke performs solidly in the role of Tesla, but just can't seem to transcend the limitations of the writing. I found Kyle MacLachlan more interesting and entertaining as rival Thomas Edison. I also enjoyed the acting of actress Eve Hewson who protrays love interest and the film's narrator Anne Morgan. The movie also features solid work by Jim Gaffigan, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and Rebecca Dayan.

I feel that Nikola Tesla deserves a more exciting and fulfilling biopic than any film that has already attempted to tell his story. I realize he probably wasn't the most charismatic and personable man, but I believe there are ways of portraying that compellingly. Tesla obviously does not succeed in doing so and leaves much more to be desired.

UNHINGED

By Laurie Coker

Rating: B

Academy Award winner Russell Crowe graces the screen as an utterly detestable and completely deranged man filled with rage and hatred. Director Derrick Borte with a script written by Carl Ellsworth, delivers an intense, shocking thriller, that speaks to the festering issues that silently plague people until all rationale leaves them.  Unhinged is stressful and madly mesmerizing watch andCrowe’s character captivates with his violent craziness.

WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Based on the novel of the same name by Julia Walton, director Thor Freudenthal's and screenwriter Nick Naveda's film adaptation offers a mostly moving portrait of a teen struggling with mental illness and the people who love him that are determined to see him persevere. Actor Charlie Plummer stars as lead character Adam Petrazelli, a meek and kind young man afflicted with schizophrenia, a sometimes debilitating condition that causes both visual and auditory hallucinations. Having tried multiple medications with no successful results, Adam, at the behest of his mother Beth (Molly Parker) agrees to go through a trial period with an experimental new drug. Though this new drug finally offers him some efficacy, the side effects are way less than desirable. As Adam pursues a romantic relationship with his classmate Maya (Taylor Russell), he decides to stop taking the medication all together. This strategy, of course, backfires badly when Adams hallucinations start occurring again.

Director Freudenthal and writer Naveda do some exceptional work in giving audiences some vivid and surreal looks int o the mind of character Adam Petrazelli. I have not actually read the novel on which this film is based, so I can only attest to how creatively the hallucinations get presented in the movie. It is definitely a strange journey that ranges between amusing and disturbing. The film does a mostly good job of balancing the humor and the drama, but goes somewhat melodramatic or grandiose at times. That is definitely the film's biggest weakness.

Regardless of this, the lead cast members perform quite well. Charlie Plummer brings a lovably sheepish and appropriately awkward charm to his turn as Adam Petrazelli. He certainly has the range to express the necessary emotions required by his character. Talented actress Taylor Russell first caught my attention in a remarkable movie titled Waves. I was really impressed with her presence and her ability to subtly express various feelings. As Adam's formidable love interest Maya, Russell continues to prove her abilities as a charming and passionate performer.

The movie also features lovely work by Molly Parker, Walton Goggins, and Andy Garcia. Three particular actors, however, manage to steal the show quite often in the the film. These three talents star as hallucinations that represent different facets of Adam's mind. AnnaSophia Robb, Devin Bostick, and Lobo Sebastian all perform exceptionally as Adam's non-existent friends. Though it is a technique that has been utilized a lot in other movies, it's one that works beautifully.

So, I would not be swayed by the fact that tthis movie is a teen romance based on a uoung adult novel. Words on Bathroom Walls has plenty of great things going for it in its favor. It is a film that will tap into a range of emotions, but might particularly resonate with peopke suffering from mental health disorders.

TRAIN TO BUSAN PRESENTS: PENINSULA

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

South Korean director Yeon Sang-ho, who made a huge splash with his zombie flick Train To Busan, is back with a new installment, Peninsula. Yeon actually takes a page out of the career of zombie master George Romero and has created a sequel with different characters that takes place within the same zombie apocalypse universe. With Peninsula, the director and co-writer Park Joo-Suk go for an even more action-oriented affair that is obviously more fun, but less dramatic and tragic. The result is a fun and exciting movie, but one that lacks the emotional impact of the first installment.

Gang Dong-won stars as Marine Captain Jung-seok. The movie begins more or less where the previous installment ends. A virus that is turning people into violent zombies has rapidly erupted in South Korea, leaving its citizens frantically seeking shelter. Now that Busan is no longer the safe haven it once was, Jung-seok, his sister, brother-in-law, and nephew join the masses of people evacuating the nation. After an infected person manages to get on one of the escape boats, all hell breaks loose when the virus takes hold. Jung-seok and his brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon) manage to escape, but their loved ones are not as fortunate.

Four years later, both Jung-seok and Chul-min continue to live in Hong Kong and cross paths again when they get offered a chance to escape their impoverished existence. A group of Hong Kong people are assembling a small team of people willing to travel to a quarantined peninsula in Incheon where a truck loaded with U.S. dollars is available for the taking. Both Jung-seok and Chul-min agree to participate, despite the risks of being attacked by the zombies that have taken over the peninsula. As the group proceeds with their plans, they discover that it isn't just zombies that pose a threat, it is the uninfected people who continue to reside there.

Written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho who co-wrote the film with Park Joo-Suk, Peninsula does offer audiences exciting action and fun, but lacks the emotional depth that makes the first movie so powerful. The story and character development also fail to achieve the same level of greatness and originality. It is an enjoyable and riveting journey, but ine that treads on all-too-familiar territory. The movie features a wonderful cast that performs tremendously despite the limitations of the script.

It is a movie I do recommend, but one for which ardent fans of the first installment should temper their expectations. Should Yeon Sang-ho decide to maje another chapter in this cinematic universe, I do hope that he and his creative partners will come up with something that will launch this franchise forward into more satisfying territory.

UNHINGED

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Russell Crowe, the person, has been known to lose his temper quite infamously. So, it came as no surprise to me that he was cast in a movie about a furious and deranged villain who victimizes someone who crosses him in an unfavorable situation. Now, to clarify, I am not saying that Crowe would actually go to the horrible lengths his character does in the film, but let's just say, it is a role that is not a huge reach for someone of his temperament. That said, Unhinged does offer some palpable suspense, excitement and shocks, but never rises high above similar material presented in Lifetime movies with similar themes.

Crowe stars as Tom Cooper, a middle-aged man going through a very bad time in his life. Though the movie never gives exact details, it does reveal that Cooper has recently gone through a divorce that has pushed him to a breaking point. Meanwhile, mother, and future divorcee, Rachel Hunter (Caren Pistorius) stuggles to adjust to her life as a single mom while in the process of her own divorce proceedings. On one particular morning going wrong, Rachel frantically tries to get her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) to school on time, but traffic and fate have other plans. When the frustrated Rachel honks her car horn when Cooper reacts too slowly at a traffic light, it is a decision she will regret during the rest of her soon to be terrifying day.

Written by Carl Ellsworth, and directed by Derrick Borte, Unhinged is definitely a thrilling, tension-filled rollercoaster ride, but never delves deep enough to be taken too seriously. The movie starts out well enough, but when the Rachel character starts making incredulously ridiculous decisions, I grew increasingly frustrated. As the film gets into its intense climax, that's when metaphorical sharks get jumped and the movie goes off the rails. It is sad to say that Lifetime movies have better handled climaxes than this movie. That isn't to say I wasn't entertained, or rather amused. Quite honestly, as this movie itself gets "unhinged," I was laughing hysterically.

As far as the cast is concerned, the performances work well enough for this caliber of movie. Caren Pistorius gives a solid turn, but portrays a character written as someone with limited intelligence. Russell Crowe brings the necessary intensity and rage to his character, but his character also lacks proper development in the writing.

As fun as this movie is, it never succeeds in making an intelligent statement on human affairs. The filmmakers throw in viral videos as examples of similar real events, but this technique comes off as pretentious, given the end result that is this movie. Unhinged is good for some thrills and laughs, but nothing more.

Movie News: THE HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD

Movie News: THE HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD

Source: Lionsgate SANTA MONICA, Calif., March 29, 2021 – The world’s most lethal odd couple – bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) and hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) – are back on another life-threatening mission, joined by Darius’s volatile wife Sonia...

Movie News: PALMER

Movie News: PALMER

Source: AppleTV+ FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – February 11, 2021 – Nathaniel Rateliff’s official music video for his track “Redemption” premieres today; watch/share https://found.ee/NRRedemption. Written for and featured in the Apple Original film Palmer, “Redemption” is...

Latest

Giveaway: NOBODY

Giveaway: NOBODY

Sources: Universal Pictures, Fandango

TVR, in association with Universal Pictures and Fandango, are giving away Fandango Gift Cards to go see the new action flick Nobody, starring Bob Odenkirk.

Sometimes the man you don’t notice is the most dangerous of all.

Emmy winner Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul, The Post, Nebraska) stars as Hutch Mansell, an underestimated and overlooked dad and husband, taking life’s indignities on the chin and never pushing back. A nobody.  

When two thieves break into his suburban home one night, Hutch declines to defend himself or his family, hoping to prevent serious violence. His teenage son, Blake (Gage Munroe, The Shack), is disappointed in him and his wife, Becca (Connie Nielsen, Wonder Woman), seems to pull only further away.

The aftermath of the incident strikes a match to Hutch’s long-simmering rage, triggering dormant instincts and propelling him on a brutal path that will surface dark secrets and lethal skills. In a barrage of fists, gunfire and squealing tires, Hutch must save his family from a dangerous adversary (famed Russian actor Aleksey Serebryakov, Amazon’s McMafia)—and ensure that he will never be underestimated as a nobody again.

Nobody is directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ilya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry), from a script by Derek Kolstad, the narrative architect of the John Wick franchise, and co-stars legendary Emmy winner Christopher Lloyd as Hutch’s father and multi-hyphenate musician-actor RZA as Hutch’s brother, whose own hidden talents aid Hutch in his quest for vengeance. 

To enter for a chance to win, send an email to trueviewreviews2@gmail.com. Winners will be randomly selected startiing Friday, March 26, 2021.

Official Hashtag:

#NobodyMovie

Facebook:

facebook.com/nobodymovie

Twitter:

twitter.com/NobodyMovie

Instagram:

instagram.com/nobodymovie

THE COURIER

THE COURIER

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Now available for viewing via Premium Video on Demand, The Courier tells the compelling true story of British businessman Greville Wynne, a mostly unassuming salesman recruited as a spy during the Cold War and how his work with Russian secret agent Oleg Penkovsky helped defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch (as Wynne) and Merab Ninidze (as Penkovsky), the movie offers audiences a palpable and intense espionage thriller that shows the toll such work can take on the people involved. Director Dominic Cooke, an English writer/director who has mostly worked in theater shows that he has the chops to handle some viable feature film work.

During the early 1960s, both the British MI6 and the US CIA worked feverishly to keep tabs on the activities of the USSR, in particular their nuclear arms program. Utilizing spies on both sides, these intelligence organizations shared valuable informaton overseas to help prevent the escalation of the nuclear arms race. Both the MI6 and CIA recruit the seemingly benign and very personable Greville Wynne to travel to Russia regularly, under the guise of a business deal, to exchange information with contact Oleg Penkovsky, a Soviet intelligence officer, who feels that his government has gone too far. As both Wynne and Penkovsky proceed with this strategy, they both put their lives and marriages on the line to make sure relations between the United States and the USSR never devolve into a full scale nuclear war.

Written by Tom O’Connor, Dominick Cooke’s film is most definitely a tense and riveting drama and thriller that honors the sacrifices made by both Geville Wynne and Oleg Penkovsky who both courageously worked together to keep England and the USA well-informed of the Soviet’s activities and strategies during the Cold War. The film is certainly indicative that even the most unlikely of persons on this planet is capable of making a difference if given the chance to prove himself. Had Greville Wynne had not been recruited by MI6, he probably would’ve proceeded about his business and life without a direct stake in the crisis and perhaps, things would’ve ended more tragically.

Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze perform superbly in their roles and share a genuine chemistry as both friends and colleagues. The movie also stars Jessie Buckley as Greville’s wife Sheila, a loving and caring spouse who begins to suspect that something is very wrong about her husband’s Russian business trips. The film also features a great performance by Rachel Brosnahan as CIA officer Emily Donovan, one of the agents overseeing and working with Wynne.

The Courier has already been playing in theaters, but if one would prefer to watch this movie at home, it is now available via Video on Demand services. It is a great espionage drama based on a fascinating true story that I must hightly recommend.

SXSW 2021: JAKOB’S WIFE

SXSW 2021: JAKOB’S WIFE

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

From producer/director Travis Stevens, the filmmaker behind several genre festival favorites, comes a “biting” dark satire that critiques some of the more archaic conventions of marriage. Horror legend Barbara Crampton stars as the titular character who finds herself trapped in a stale and stagnant marriage where she has lost sight of the joys of living and a true sense of self-worth. This is a film that is an absolutely fun and entertaining horror film that delivers blood-drenched laughs, but definitely takes the material serious enough to treat its protagonist as a valuable and relatable character.

Crampton stars as Anne Fedler, the bored and frustrated wife of a church pastor in a small town, who no longer feels content in a marriage that has lost its fire and passion. Larry Fessenden stars as Jakob, Anne’s husband and church pastor whose dedication to his church has alienated his wife and has put a major damper on their love life. Feeling unloved, under valued, and taken for granted, Anne decides to meet up with old flame Tom Low (Robert Rusler), hoping to experience what her marriage is sorely lackng. Things go way worse than anticipated, though, when Anne’s attempt at a romantic tryst ends with Tom getting killed and Anne getting changed into a vampire. As Anne undergoes this major conversion, she must decide if her old life is worth salvaging and Jakob must step up as a loving husband to defend himself, his marriage, and the life they once had.

Written and directed by Travis Stevens, who co-wrote with Kathy Charles and Mark Steensland, Jakob’s Wife gives its audience bloody vampire horror with a sharp and sly sense of humor. The movie may be a portrait of a struggling marriage on the break of divorce, but it is also a film that utilizes vampire tropes along with some statements on female empowerment to deliver some intelligent messages. Stevens and his writers never let things get too heavy, though, which keeps the movie thoroughly amusing and enjoyable.

Stevens, who has previously worked with both Crampton and Fessenden, knows their talents well and allows them to both shine brightly here. Crampton, especially, gets to transform from a subdued, demure wife to a red hot, sexy vampire badass. As Jakob, Larry Fessenden also gets to undergo a transformation from a conservative church pastor to a passionate husband and vampire hunter fighting to save his wife, life and marriage.

I must say that of all of the horror/genre films that I watched during this year’s SXSW, Jakob’s Wife was definitely the most fun and enjoyable one. It pleases me that both Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden still have much love and passion for horror and that they have continued to work and thrive within the milleui. It also makes me happy that filmaker Travis Stevens shares that passion for genre filmmaking and continues to work hard to give genre fans what they crave so dearly.

VOYAGERS

VOYAGERS

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)

Much like William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies, this science fiction thriller depicts what could happen when teenagers/young adults are left to their immature devices when placed in positions of responsibility. The problem with this film, however, is that is comes across as a not-so-great knock of Golding’s story, offering a highly predictable story told without finesse and skillful filmmaking. To its credit, the film does feature some solid performances by its cast, but ends up becoming an utterly frustrating and tiresome experience, as it fails to expound upon what Golding had already done so well in his novel.

Tye Sheridan stars as Christopher Rebbs, a young born and bred among others for an important space mission to travel to discover and begin habitation of a new home. The setting is the future, and Earth is on the verge of becoming uninhabitable. The powers-that-be on the planet have decided to send a crew of genetically engineered humans on a mult-generational mission to reach a planet very far away, so that humanity can continue to thrive and survive. Lead by adult leader Richard Alling (Collin Farrell) the crew grows up on the ship, but have been kept in control of their pubescent impulses and desires by an unknown chemical in a beverage they ingest regularly.

When Christopher and his ship mate Zac (Fionn Whitehead) discover the chemical, they both decide to stop taking it. As the rest of the crew becomes aware of this source of “control” they all decide to stop drinking it leading to increased aggressive behavior and sexual desire. Things get even more complicated after Richard gets tragically killed in a bizarre incident when attempting to repair some damage outside of the ship. As Zac grows even more aggressive and violent, Christopher and ship mate Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) attempt to stand as the voices of reason in a spacecraft that is quickly becoming more divided as the behavior devolves into chaos.

Even though the concept and premise is rather ingenious, the film disappointingly never capitalizes on its intelligent foundation. Writer/director Neil Burger never delivers a movie that could have been a rather inventive take on William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Instead, the whole experience comes across as predictable, way too obvious, and all too trite. The parallels to modern events and politics are there, but because Burger’s approach is too on-the-nose and often heavy-handed, the whole experience is rather weak and silly.

As I stated above, I feel that the cast performs well. They were obviously trying their best, despite the weak material with which they were working. Tye Sheridan gives a solid, charismatic effort as Christopher. Fionn Whitehead gives a wickedly fiery turn as Zac, the id to Christopher’s ego. Lily-Rose Depp also performs well enough as Sela, but her performance definitely feels slighted and stunted by the limited character development.

Voyagers is simply one of those movies that had the opportunity to do something exciting and compelling, but ultimately fails to deliver what it promises. The film is now playing in theaters, but I feel it just isn’t worth the effort or risk to go see it.

THE COURIER

THE COURIER

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Now available for viewing via Premium Video on Demand, The Courier tells the compelling true story of British businessman Greville Wynne, a mostly unassuming salesman recruited as a spy during the Cold War and how his work with Russian secret agent Oleg Penkovsky helped defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch (as Wynne) and Merab Ninidze (as Penkovsky), the movie offers audiences a palpable and intense espionage thriller that shows the toll such work can take on the people involved. Director Dominic Cooke, an English writer/director who has mostly worked in theater shows that he has the chops to handle some viable feature film work.

During the early 1960s, both the British MI6 and the US CIA worked feverishly to keep tabs on the activities of the USSR, in particular their nuclear arms program. Utilizing spies on both sides, these intelligence organizations shared valuable informaton overseas to help prevent the escalation of the nuclear arms race. Both the MI6 and CIA recruit the seemingly benign and very personable Greville Wynne to travel to Russia regularly, under the guise of a business deal, to exchange information with contact Oleg Penkovsky, a Soviet intelligence officer, who feels that his government has gone too far. As both Wynne and Penkovsky proceed with this strategy, they both put their lives and marriages on the line to make sure relations between the United States and the USSR never devolve into a full scale nuclear war.

Written by Tom O’Connor, Dominick Cooke’s film is most definitely a tense and riveting drama and thriller that honors the sacrifices made by both Geville Wynne and Oleg Penkovsky who both courageously worked together to keep England and the USA well-informed of the Soviet’s activities and strategies during the Cold War. The film is certainly indicative that even the most unlikely of persons on this planet is capable of making a difference if given the chance to prove himself. Had Greville Wynne had not been recruited by MI6, he probably would’ve proceeded about his business and life without a direct stake in the crisis and perhaps, things would’ve ended more tragically.

Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze perform superbly in their roles and share a genuine chemistry as both friends and colleagues. The movie also stars Jessie Buckley as Greville’s wife Sheila, a loving and caring spouse who begins to suspect that something is very wrong about her husband’s Russian business trips. The film also features a great performance by Rachel Brosnahan as CIA officer Emily Donovan, one of the agents overseeing and working with Wynne.

The Courier has already been playing in theaters, but if one would prefer to watch this movie at home, it is now available via Video on Demand services. It is a great espionage drama based on a fascinating true story that I must hightly recommend.

SXSW 2021: JAKOB’S WIFE

SXSW 2021: JAKOB’S WIFE

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

From producer/director Travis Stevens, the filmmaker behind several genre festival favorites, comes a “biting” dark satire that critiques some of the more archaic conventions of marriage. Horror legend Barbara Crampton stars as the titular character who finds herself trapped in a stale and stagnant marriage where she has lost sight of the joys of living and a true sense of self-worth. This is a film that is an absolutely fun and entertaining horror film that delivers blood-drenched laughs, but definitely takes the material serious enough to treat its protagonist as a valuable and relatable character.

Crampton stars as Anne Fedler, the bored and frustrated wife of a church pastor in a small town, who no longer feels content in a marriage that has lost its fire and passion. Larry Fessenden stars as Jakob, Anne’s husband and church pastor whose dedication to his church has alienated his wife and has put a major damper on their love life. Feeling unloved, under valued, and taken for granted, Anne decides to meet up with old flame Tom Low (Robert Rusler), hoping to experience what her marriage is sorely lackng. Things go way worse than anticipated, though, when Anne’s attempt at a romantic tryst ends with Tom getting killed and Anne getting changed into a vampire. As Anne undergoes this major conversion, she must decide if her old life is worth salvaging and Jakob must step up as a loving husband to defend himself, his marriage, and the life they once had.

Written and directed by Travis Stevens, who co-wrote with Kathy Charles and Mark Steensland, Jakob’s Wife gives its audience bloody vampire horror with a sharp and sly sense of humor. The movie may be a portrait of a struggling marriage on the break of divorce, but it is also a film that utilizes vampire tropes along with some statements on female empowerment to deliver some intelligent messages. Stevens and his writers never let things get too heavy, though, which keeps the movie thoroughly amusing and enjoyable.

Stevens, who has previously worked with both Crampton and Fessenden, knows their talents well and allows them to both shine brightly here. Crampton, especially, gets to transform from a subdued, demure wife to a red hot, sexy vampire badass. As Jakob, Larry Fessenden also gets to undergo a transformation from a conservative church pastor to a passionate husband and vampire hunter fighting to save his wife, life and marriage.

I must say that of all of the horror/genre films that I watched during this year’s SXSW, Jakob’s Wife was definitely the most fun and enjoyable one. It pleases me that both Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden still have much love and passion for horror and that they have continued to work and thrive within the milleui. It also makes me happy that filmaker Travis Stevens shares that passion for genre filmmaking and continues to work hard to give genre fans what they crave so dearly.

VOYAGERS

VOYAGERS

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)

Much like William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies, this science fiction thriller depicts what could happen when teenagers/young adults are left to their immature devices when placed in positions of responsibility. The problem with this film, however, is that is comes across as a not-so-great knock of Golding’s story, offering a highly predictable story told without finesse and skillful filmmaking. To its credit, the film does feature some solid performances by its cast, but ends up becoming an utterly frustrating and tiresome experience, as it fails to expound upon what Golding had already done so well in his novel.

Tye Sheridan stars as Christopher Rebbs, a young born and bred among others for an important space mission to travel to discover and begin habitation of a new home. The setting is the future, and Earth is on the verge of becoming uninhabitable. The powers-that-be on the planet have decided to send a crew of genetically engineered humans on a mult-generational mission to reach a planet very far away, so that humanity can continue to thrive and survive. Lead by adult leader Richard Alling (Collin Farrell) the crew grows up on the ship, but have been kept in control of their pubescent impulses and desires by an unknown chemical in a beverage they ingest regularly.

When Christopher and his ship mate Zac (Fionn Whitehead) discover the chemical, they both decide to stop taking it. As the rest of the crew becomes aware of this source of “control” they all decide to stop drinking it leading to increased aggressive behavior and sexual desire. Things get even more complicated after Richard gets tragically killed in a bizarre incident when attempting to repair some damage outside of the ship. As Zac grows even more aggressive and violent, Christopher and ship mate Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) attempt to stand as the voices of reason in a spacecraft that is quickly becoming more divided as the behavior devolves into chaos.

Even though the concept and premise is rather ingenious, the film disappointingly never capitalizes on its intelligent foundation. Writer/director Neil Burger never delivers a movie that could have been a rather inventive take on William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Instead, the whole experience comes across as predictable, way too obvious, and all too trite. The parallels to modern events and politics are there, but because Burger’s approach is too on-the-nose and often heavy-handed, the whole experience is rather weak and silly.

As I stated above, I feel that the cast performs well. They were obviously trying their best, despite the weak material with which they were working. Tye Sheridan gives a solid, charismatic effort as Christopher. Fionn Whitehead gives a wickedly fiery turn as Zac, the id to Christopher’s ego. Lily-Rose Depp also performs well enough as Sela, but her performance definitely feels slighted and stunted by the limited character development.

Voyagers is simply one of those movies that had the opportunity to do something exciting and compelling, but ultimately fails to deliver what it promises. The film is now playing in theaters, but I feel it just isn’t worth the effort or risk to go see it.

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