Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One is a futuristic homage to the past, circa 1980s, resembling somewhat of a cross between Avatar and Divergent with the added twist of being directed by the ever-popular and prolific Steven Spielberg (The Post). If all that appeals, then go to the top of the leaderboard and ready yourself for an appealing (though far from classic) adventure that explores the pros and cons of living in the real world with all its flaws versus disappearing into a virtual reality game that promises a real pot of gold at the end of the virtual rainbow. If you’re up on your pop culture references (it helps to have seen The Shining at least once), pine for those trips to Blockbuster for the latest on VHS, or still have an Atari in the storage room, then Ready Player One is worth seeing on the big screen. Plus, it’s got a pretty awesome soundtrack.

Review: Journey’s End

War is hell. Especially in this World War One drama, where almost the entire film is set in the trenches just yards away from the enemy Germans. It takes place over just four days and is adapted from a well-known play by WWI veteran R.C. Sherriff. What is different in this war movie though is that it isn’t about the derring-do, but is a portrayal of the time between the battles — the anticipation, the camaraderie and the boredom. Only a few of the officers know from very early in the story that they are vastly outnumbered and that there will be no reinforcements. They’re to be sacrificed to slow down the Germans. But stiff upper lip and all that rot, so they soldier on for the cause. And for their leader Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin, Hunger Games), it’s tearing him apart.

Review: Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun is like a Nicholas Sparks movie in training. It doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of a traditional Sparks tearjerker, but it does try hard to follow the formula. The movie opens with bright sunlight reflecting off the water as a teenage girl describes in voiceover how what we’re seeing is all just a dream. She can’t really be out in the sun. It might kill her. Thus begins a romantic drama about 17-year-old Katie Price (Bella Thorne) and her nighttime meet-cute with her longtime crush Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger) – a guy she’s secretly been watching from the tinted windows of her house on the hill for about a decade.

Review: Beauty and the Dogs

Beauty and the Dogs is a very timely and very taut Tunisian #MeToo movie. The entire film is just nine shots, each a slice of the harrowing story of a young woman raped by policemen and trying to bring charges against them for it. There is a very Kafka-esque feeling to the whole ordeal. She can’t get medical attention without her ID, but she lost it during the rape, and she has to go to the police station to report it before she can go to the doctor, and everyone along the way just wants her to let it go for any number of reasons. It is horrifying, but she’s a fighter and so it is ultimately a #GirlPower flick!

Review: Oh, Lucy!

Without doubt one of the quirkiest movies I’ve seen in a long time, Oh, Lucy! is by turns hilarious and sad and brutally honest. The central character is Setsuko, a 40-something Japanese woman, who’s bored beyond belief with her life when her niece Mika (Shioli Kutsuna) talks her into taking a “free trial” English lesson. And what a class that is! The first clue that this will not be a normal school is that it’s set in a massage parlor. Then there’s the cute teacher John (Josh Hartnett, Penny Dreadful) who employs some “innovative” pedagogical techniques including decking his students out in wigs and doling out copious hugs. He christens Setsuke “Lucy” for the class, and though she was only going to check it out, she has so much fun that she decides to do the classes for real. But when John suddenly heads home to the States, along with her niece Mika, Lucy decides to follow them, and her stuck-up sister Ayako (Kaho Minami) tags along. What follows is Lucy’s Southern Californian odyssey of self-discovery.

Review: Love, Simon

There’s plenty to love about Love, Simon. It’s a charming romantic dramedy about a cool high school senior who has an awesome family, a great circle of friends, and one big secret: he’s gay. This isn’t some small indie drama that weighs heavy on the soul. It’s a sweet, lighthearted, relatable coming-of-age and coming-out story that plays a lot like a typical John Hughes teen ensemble movie updated for the times, where snapchat, texting and online forums are a primary means of communication. It’s backed by a major studio (20th Century Fox) so it actually has a fighting chance to reach a wide, mainstream audience – as it should.

Review: A Wrinkle in Time

I sooo wanted to like this movie. Really, I did. But despite its star power both in front of the camera (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, etc.) and behind it (director Ava DuVernay), A Wrinkle in Time is a bit of a hot mess. It’s colorful, visually stunning in parts, and spreads a heartfelt message about familial bonds, embracing your faults, finding strength in your individuality and all that good stuff. But in the end, the narrative gets lost in the spectacle – and Oprah’s larger-than-life, eye-glittered presence is more of a distraction than a serviceable plot device. The story just doesn’t add up. I don’t recall that being the case with Madeline L’Engle’s classic novel, first published in 1962. I read it in the 1970s (when I actually devoured more books than movies – probably because I couldn’t drive) and have fond recollections of protagonist Meg Murry’s travels through time and space in search of her scientist father who went missing while studying the universe.

Review: Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy

If you don’t know about British artist Andy Goldsworthy, this documentary is a great way to get your feet wet. He’s hard to classify artistically, since there are not a lot of others doing what he has been doing so beautifully for decades, collaborating with the natural world in sculpture, temporal pieces, and photographed performances, using found materials, stone, even his own body. I’ve loved his work for ages, and this film takes you on a 3 year walkabout with him as he creates his magical experiences. There was actually a moment during the film when I was in awe. This is a must see for art lovers!

Quickie Review: Death Wish

Talk about bad timing. I’m not sure I would have liked this movie on any particular day in any particular year, but this week especially, it feels so… wrong. It’s a brutal remake of the 1974 brutal action crime drama Death Wish, with Bruce Willis taking on the role made famous by Charles Bronson. Heaven forbid there was hope to reignite the franchise. That would be a disaster. Please, Bruce, just stick to Die Hard(s) – or how about a Moonlighting reboot? I’m sure the NRA and vigilante groups will love this movie. That’s exactly why I hate it.

Review: They Remain

This psychological horror flick relies heavily on sound effects and music to take a walk in the woods to a very scare place. Adapted from Laird Barron’s short story “30”, the main plot revolves around two biologists hired by an unnamed corporation to investigate some strange animal behavior on a remote tract of land they bought. The land also just happens to be the site where a Manson-like cult ended up in a bloodbath years earlier. Keith (William Jackson Harper, Paterson and The Good Place) and Jessica (Rebecca Henderson, Manhunt: Unabomber) spend their days setting up motion controlled cameras and taking soil samples to try and find out if there is anything particularly supernatural about the place, though you never know exactly what the corporate overlords are looking for. And of course strange things do start happening. And the question becomes, what’s real and can this possibly end well?