Review: Luz

The classic horror film hasn’t entirely disappeared from the cinema landscape, but the current trend it to make more of it than just the easy jump out of your seat shriek-fest. Get Out, Suspria, and Hereditary have shown that there’s an audience for new kinds of horror. And Luz rides in on that wave with with a minimalist demonic possession flick that takes place mostly in a police station.

Review: The Lion King (2019)

Can you feel the love again?

In the circle of life that is cinema, The Lion King is back in all its original story glory, with a couple of new songs and stunning visual effects. The “reimagining” of the 1994 animated classic blends live-action techniques with virtual reality tools and photo-real digital imagery to create an all-new computer-generated medium that resembles something of a cross between traditional animation, Animal Kingdom and Mr. Ed. The added layer of ‘realism’ makes the light stuff lighter – and the dark stuff darker – in and around the fictional landscape of Pride Rock, somewhere in Africa.

Review: The Farewell

In this bittersweet dramedy based on a real story from the writer/director’s own family, Billi (Awkwafina, Crazy Rich Asians) a struggling New York writer discovers that her Grandma (Zhou Shuzhen) back in China has cancer. It’s a huge blow since they’re really close, but Grandma doesn’t know and the family wants it to stay that way. But just so they can all see her before she dies, they concoct a wedding where everyone can get together with her back in Changchun. The Farewell boasts a fabulous ensemble cast in a story that while set squarely within its Chinese culture and location feels universal in its truths about family relationships and the lengths we’ll go to for someone we love.

Review: One Child Nation

Nanfu Wang has made a couple of my favorite documentaries of the past few years. Hooligan Sparrow followed a Chinese women’s rights activist’s journey and put both the subject and the filmmaker in danger. Her follow-up film I Am Another You took place in the US as she lived for a while with a charming young homeless man. In both films she was as much a part of the story as her subjects. In her newest film, which she co-directed with Jialing (Lynn) Zhang, she returns to China with her new baby to peel back the curtain on the country’s horrifying one child policy and the toll the decades long social experiment took on the women of China. From 1979 through 2015 the Chinese government decreed that women could only have one child, and to that end millions of women were forced to have abortions, be sterilized, or abandon their children to human traffickers. It’s a harrowing film as you hear the stories from many of the perpetrators who still think the policy made sense.

Review: Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

Oh, to be a great man’s muse! To have him write poetry and songs about you, to you, for you. And all you need do is sit at his feet and adore him while he creates! This is the story of Marianne and Leonard. Marianne Ihlen was a Norwegian single mom living on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s, when Leonard Cohen came into her life. It was a love that would last both their lifetimes and would be responsible for many of his most memorable songs. Sadly though, what this documentary fails to tell us is who Marianne was. Her presence is only a means by which to tell the story of Cohen and his rise from writer/poet on a Greek isle to global folk music star. And while I did learn a few things about Leonard, the long stretches of the film with Marianne sitting on a boat or with people talking about her were actually boring. And at the end, you’re left with nothing of her to hang onto.

Quickie Review: Stuber

Stuber’s problems start at the beginning – with its title. You ‘get’ the reference easy enough and early enough once the story begins to unfold (Stu + Uber = Stuber). But the name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue or stick in your head like its stronger box office competitors (e.g. Rocketman, Toy Story 4, Yesterday, Spider-Man, etc.). Plus, Stuber is, quite simply, lame. Moviegoers craving a silly escape into a mindless action comedy may be okay with that. But for everyone else, save your money and your time – at least until this one hits the streaming market.

In a nutshell, Stuber is a weaker version of the weak but amusing mismatched buddy comedy Ride Along, only the pair rides around in an Uber instead of a police cruiser.

Quickie Review: Maiden

With the US Women’s soccer team on a championship run, the timing couldn’t be better for seeking out a documentary like Maiden. It’s a prime example of #GirlPower – on the high seas! Maiden tells the story of the first ever all-female crew to enter the Whitbread Round the World yacht race in 1989. The film looks at how one woman’s dream transformed into reality, despite an overwhelming number of obstacles – on water and on land – in a field dominated by men. In her 20s, Tracy Edwards followed her passion, dismissed the naysayers and recruited a group of strong young women to embark on a great adventure involving 32,000 miles of global racing on a second-hand yacht (renamed Maiden), a near-mutiny, weather woes, physical challenges and sheer exuberance.

Review: The Dead Don’t Die

Anyone who’s been a fan of Jim Jarmusch’s movies over the years – Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, Mystery Train – knows he has an off-center view of the world and it’s events. So going into his take on a zombie flick, you don’t expect the usual Night of the Living Dead scare-fest. And you don’t get one. What you get is a deadpan Sheriff (Bill Murray) and his pessimistic Deputy (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) dealing with their small town being overrun by hordes of their friends and family from the nearby graveyard, all watched from afar by the town’s wise Hermit Bob (Tom Waites). It’s a fairly straight zombie apocalypse story, but it’s peopled by a slew of wacky Jarmusch characters and told with a wink and a nod. All in all it’s sometimes fun, but definitely not a film for lovers of the horror genre it’s making fun of the whole time.

Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home

I’m suffering a bit from early-summer superhero fatigue, so I fully acknowledge that my ailment could account for my less than enthusiastic endorsement of Spider-Man: Far From Home. It’s still an endorsement though. Because no matter my personal angst and anguish over the final moments of Avengers: Endgame, this latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe does a solid job picking up the pieces from Endgame and moving the MCU forward. Spider-Man: Far From Home is an entertaining, somewhat bittersweet sequel that wears two hats: it’s a follow-up to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming reboot (with a youthful Tom Holland swinging into the role full-throttle), as well as to Endgame, which must be seen first to fully appreciate and understand what’s going on in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the 23rd film in the MCU. In Far From Home, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man from Queens, Peter Parker, is growing weary of the awesome responsibilities that come with global superhero status and is itching to be just a regular teenager again, at least for the summer. But a school trip abroad doesn’t exactly go as planned, and Peter is called upon to step-up, fill the void left by the Avengers shake-up, and help save his classmates – and the world – from a new, monstrous threat.

Review: Yesterday

Quick – try and recite the lyrics to Eleanor Rigby (“picks up the rice in the church…”) Not so easy, is it? Imagine having to recount the music and lyrics to all the Beatles classics – or risk having them gone forever? That’s a dilemma central to the premise of Yesterday, a somewhat bland yet charming cinematic tribute to the Beatles – and to love, love, love.

Won’t you please, please help me… stop singing so I can tell you about the movie? Don’t let me down. Here goes: