Review: 12 Strong
Cinema Clash Podcasters talk Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water, Wonder Wheel, and the DC Film Critics Awards
Mini-Reviews: I, Tonya

Review: Molly’s Game

Molly’s Game is based on the true story of Molly Bloom, a competitive freestyle skier who famously blew her Olympics chance and then rose to the pinnacle of the high stakes poker world running the most exclusive games in the country. The film is writer extraordinaire Aaron Sorkin’s (West Wing, The Social Network) directorial debut. And it’s intense. Jessica Chastain is outstanding as Molly. She’s smart and driven and living large. And Idris Elba is very easy on the eyes as Charlie Jaffey, the high-powered lawyer she hires to save her when it all comes crashing down and the FBI comes after her.

Review: Downsizing

Downsizing starts with a fun premise: What if you could make humans really small so our impact on the earth is also really small? It’s a great jumping off point for a silly comedy, but what makes Alexander Payne’s (Nebraska, Sideways) new film Downsizing work is that it winds up being more than that. Matt Damon stars as everyman Paul Safranek who’s convinced that he and his wife (Kristen Wiig) can have a better life as tiny people. More money, a bigger house, more leisure, (and yeah, save the planet.) But after he’s already downsized, she backs out and he’s left all alone in tiny town. Fortunately for the audience, he soon meets two new friends: the irrepressible Dusan (Christop Waltz, Inglourious Basterds), his upstairs neighbor and man of multiple schemes, and Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau Treme, Inherent Vice), a former Vietnamese dissident and now Dusan’s one-legged housekeeper who drags Paul into a more interesting life. Not that Matt Damon isn’t good, it’s just that these two steal the show.

Review: The Post

It’s the most timely film of the year without a doubt, with the most respected lead actors on earth, directed by one of America’s favorite directors. It’s a political thriller and a #GirlPower drama all rolled into one. And it’s a true story. Meryl Streep stars as Kay (Katherine) Graham, publisher of The Washington Post. And Tom Hanks plays editor Ben Bradlee. The Post is the story of their decision in 1971 to print the Pentagon Papers, a secret 47 volume Defense Department study that revealed decades of government lies about the Viet Nam War. The New York Times had broken the story, but the Nixon White House shut them down with threats of prosecution for espionage. So The Post decided to use the Times’s demise to run with it and print even more of the inflammatory facts. The central question which drives the story is will they get it to print before the Justice Department shuts them down, too.

Review: Pitch Perfect 3

Awards season is filled with a lot of complex, thought-provoking stuff that represents your cinematic meat and potatoes, with a side of veggies. Pitch Perfect 3 is your fluffy dessert. A simple treat that goes down easy but should be consumed in moderation. It’s not nearly as good as the refreshingly original Pitch Perfect (2012) or its entertaining sequel, Pitch Perfect 2 (2015). But it is good enough to satisfy the fan base (you know who you are, pitches). At this point, the law of diminishing returns has definitely nibbled away at the comedy/music franchise. But there’s room for replenishment and redemption because the main characters are still fun to watch, and the music is still fun to hear. In other words, despite PP3 being marketed as the Bellas’ “Farewell Tour,” there will surely be a PP4 ‘Comeback Tour’.

Review: The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman is the type of movie I could watch multiple times – not for the (so-so) plot – but rather, for the musical production numbers filled with heart, spectacle and earworms galore. If you don’t like Broadway musicals, The Greatest Showman won’t ring your bell. But if you’re a fan (as I am), you’re bound to enjoy this original movie musical that is, in essence, a Broadway show on the big screen. It doesn’t quite rise to the level of a Moulin Rouge or Les Miz, but like the circus that P.T. Barnum created, The Greatest Showman is fun for the whole family. And c’mon, who doesn’t like Hugh Jackman, the most versatile guy in show business?!

Quickie (Animated Feature) Reviews: Coco and Ferdinand

First things first. Disney-Pixar’s Coco is way better than Ferdinand and will probably win Best Animated Feature at the 2018 Oscar ceremony in March. So if you have to pick just one, Coco is the better bet, especially for anyone aged seven and up.

Spoiler-free review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Don’t worry Star Wars junkies. You’ll love The Last Jedi. Problem is, I’m not a Star Wars junkie – I’m just a casual fan – so (gasp!), I wasn’t as blown away by “Episode VIII” as the somewhat Comic-Con-obsessed crowd that I saw it with. Not that I didn’t enjoy most of my two-and-a-half hour visit to a galaxy far, far away. I just happened to like 2015’s nostalgia-fueled The Force Awakens a bit more. The Last Jedi picks up right where that one left off. The franchise’s young new heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds herself on a distant planet, face to face with the elusive Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). She’s there to return his light saber, get some Jedi training, and convince him to rejoin the Resistance led by his sister, Princess/General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher). You know the rest. I’m just kidding. You don’t, unless you’ve seen the film or read the spoilers. I’m not enough of an expert to know what constitutes a spoiler, so I’ll just err on the side of caution and keep it brief.

Review: Call Me by Your Name

What a beautiful film! It’s a coming-of-age story set in 1983. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is 17-years-old, living in the bucolic Italian countryside with his parents in their 17th century villa. His father is an archeology professor who invites an American student to come work with him each summer. This summer’s student is the handsome and charming Oliver (Armie Hammer). Elio is initially put off by Oliver’s ease and charm, and by the fact that he took his room for the summer, but slowly the two of them become friends, and then much more. It is set in the years before men could be open about such things, even to one another.

Review: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water is shaping up to be an awards-season contender, though it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – or water. It’s a mesmerizing adult fairy tale co-written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth). In a nutshell: the film is about a lonely mute named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who falls in love with a fantastical sea creature (Doug Jones in a gilled wetsuit) being held prisoner in the high-security lab where she works as a cleaning lady. Sure, it all sounds kinds of weird, and it is – but it’s also a stunning film with some stellar acting.

Cinema Clash Podcasters talk Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water, Wonder Wheel, and the DC Film Critics Awards

Got an hour or so to kill? Like to listen to podcasts? If so, check out this super-sized edition of the Cinema Clash podcast with Charlie and Hannah (me) and special guest Christian Hamaker as we spar over: Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, Sally Hawkins as a mute cleaning lady who falls in love with a fish man in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, Woody Allen’s mediocre Coney Island period drama Wonder Wheel; Plus, the winners, losers, shocks, surprises, disappointments and debate surrounding the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Awards. [Note: You can also subscribe to the Cinema Clash on iTunes so you never miss an episode.]