Welcome to the first of my Bite-Sized Reviews! In this feature, I'm throwing down brief thoughts on the three most recent films we've seen in a non-theatrical setting. Think of this as a journal entry from my road to watching every movie. Today I'm taking a quick look at a superhero flop, singing cats, and orcs on the force.

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Green Lantern (2011)

Well, I'll just come out with it. Green Lantern is not a good movie. It would be easy to trash for its lousy special effects (That costume! That mask!) or impossibly silly villains, but I'll settle for casting barbs at its screenplay.

Green Lantern is utterly unambitious; it aspires only to execute on then well-established genre formula. Mediocrity is not criminal as long as it is competent, but Green Lantern neither does anything new nor seems to really understand the betters it seeks to mimic. A superhero movie is more than powers and a boss fight. As with any satisfying story, we want our hero to learn something, to change, to grow. This script is unburdened by such frivolities as character development or story arcs. Hal Jordan begins the film as a high flying ace, the best at what he does, and ends it the same way, only having traded his jet for a magic ring.

Does he learn anything? Not really. Infuriatingly, in a film where the villain is literally fear given form, it seems obvious to have your hero learn to face and overcome his own fears and doubts. The script seems vaguely aware of this. Early in the film, Hal, having flown a successful mission, suddenly becomes paralyzed by memory of his father's death in a plane crash (in an unintentionally hilarious scene, his father throws a thumbs up before exploding). Brushing off his troubled feelings, Hal tells his family its "my job to not be afraid." And that's that, it's never brought up again. Hal accuses others of giving into fear then saves the day without resolving any of the internal conflict, clumsy though it may be, that might make him an interesting character.

Anyway, it's got Ryan Reynolds, so that's good I guess.

Score: 2 of 5 of those who try to stop whats right burn like my power, Green Lantern's Light! 


The Aristocats (1970)

Here's a bit of colorful fun! It's probably among the weaker of Disney's earlier animated portfolio, but I'd be lying if I didn't catch myself chuckling as paint splattered kittens jump around on piano keys or compulsively humming O'Malley's theme tune a few days after watching the film. On the other hand, "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" might be the worst Disney song of all time (I look forward to your letters) and that's before considering the sequence's abrupt veer into racist caricature.

Distasteful relic of a less sensitive time aside, I can see why the people who grew up with The Aristocats love it. The characters are cute and quotable (noted non-feline duo Napoleon and Lafayette made me laugh out loud more than once; they are good boys, yes they are). There's a good-natured silliness running through the entire adventure. Comparisons to One Hundred and One Dalmatians, which preceded The Aristocats by about a decade, are unavoidable; after all, both films feature cuddly pets escaping schemes to off them. The Aristocats is undeniably the simpler film and, having traded the very frightening Cruella de Vil for bumbling butler Edgar, is less scary, too, and so better suited for the very youngest children.

I always feel a twinge of loss watching the old Disney classics. Not to diminish the artistry of modern animation, but there's something amazing about hand drawn features and their little flaws. An errant sketch line is a momentary reminder of the human touch on every frame, each an imperfect labor of love.

Score: 3 of 5 kittens learning their scales and their arpeggios. 


Bright (2017)

And then there's Bright, a generic buddy cop movie spliced with generic fantasy tropes that would be mediocre but inoffensive if not for its tortured exploitation of real race issues on an ill-advised quest for relevance. The script, presumably a first draft written in crayon, is allergic to subtlety and so (rather than with skillful symbolism) presents an instantly recognizable caricature of America where black people have been essentially replaced by orc stand-ins, orcs which are universally depicted as blinged-out, baggy-clothed gangsta stereotypes (well, near universally - our hero orc cop is one of the good ones, I guess). Anyway, maybe watching cops beat and abuse thuggish orcs instead of brown people will jolt Joe America out of his All Lives Matter idiocy, but I somehow doubt it.

The film doesn't actually do anything with all this imagery, by the way. Bright isn't really about racism or racial injustice, the film just wants you to know it knows they exist. How very progressive.

If it feels like I'm harping on the point, that's because the rest of the film is entirely forgettable! I did enjoy the future-fantasy aesthetic and the interactions between Will Smith and Joel Edgerton. And that's all I got. I wouldn't not watch a sequel (I do not value myself or my time), but I definitely wouldn't re-watch this.

Score: 1.5 of 5 fairies brutally murdered while Will Smith exclaims "Fairy lives don't matter today!" (No really, this movie is trash.)

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Thanks for reading! If you've seen any of these films and want to agree (or disagree) with my takes, I'd love to talk about it, so leave a comment or send an e-mail!

Welcome to the official schedule for the third annual Shocktober! For the uninitiated, Shocktober is an October family tradition, a month-long celebration of the Halloween spirit with 31-days of Halloween-themed film. This year's lineup is our biggest yet: 37 films from three continents representing almost 60 years of film history. And as always, the line up includes a little something for everyone to enjoy, no matter how brave or squeamish.

Below you'll find our family's Shocktober list complete with notes on the cheapest ways to watch. You can also find the list in calendar form with more complete rental notes here. For those of you with a Letterboxd account, I've created a Shocktober 2017 List to make it easy to follow along and add films to your profile.

About half the films on this year's list are available via some streaming service; the rest are available as digital rentals from various platforms. If you want to celebrate Shocktober but want to avoid spending, you can always use sites like Just Watch to find streaming substitutes. Have fun and remember: screaming is the reason for the season!


The Super Spooky Shocktober 2017 Schedule

1 - IT, 2017 (In Theaters)
2 - Psycho, 1960 (Digital Rental)
3 - The Omen, 1976 (Digital Rental)
4 - Cujo, 1983 (Digital Rental)
5 - Let the Right One In, 2008 (Hulu)
6 - Rosemary's Baby, 1972 (Amazon Prime)
7 - Get Out, 2017 (Redbox) 
8 - Spring, 2014 (Digital Rental)
9 - Tucker and Dale vs Evil, 2010 (Netflix, Hulu)
10 - The Sixth Sense, 1999 (Netflix)
11 - Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974 (Amazon Prime)
12 - Teen Wolf, 1985 (Amazon Prime, Hulu)
13 - Coraline, 2009 (Netflix)

14 - Horrible Horror Movie Triple Feature
Birdemic: Shock and Terror, 2010 (Amazon Prime)
Night of the Lepus, 1972 (Digital Rental)
Maximum Overdrive, 1986 (HBO Go/Now)

15 - Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1992 (Digital Rental)
16 - Godzilla, 2014 (Digital Rental)
17 - The Wicker Man, 1973 (Digital Rental)
18 - The Fly, 1986 (Digital Rental)
19 - Aliens, 1986 (Digital Rental)

20 - Science Fiction Double Feature
Repo! The Genetic Opera, 2008 (Digital Rental)
Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975 (Digital Rental)

21 - Spooky Story-time Double Feature
Kwaidan, 1965 (Digital Rental)
Creepshow, 1982 (Digital Rental)

22 - The Witch, 2016 (Amazon Prime)
23 - Pet Semetary, 1989 (Amazon Prime, Hulu)
24 - Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, 2016 (Starz)
25 - Under the Shadow, 2016 (Netflix)
26 - Frankenweenie, 2012 (Digital Rental)
27 - Honeymoon, 2014 (Netflix)

28 - Slasher Sequels
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, 1985 (Digital Rental)
Halloween 2, 1981 (Starz)
Friday the 13th Part 3, 1982 (Starz)

29 - Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977 (Digital Rental)
30 - It Follows, 2015 (Netflix)
31 - Hocus Pocus, 1993 (All-Day Marathon on Freeform) 


Will you be doing your own Shocktober? Do you have any fun Halloween movie traditions? Share in the comments below!




By now you've heard that seemingly everyone hates mother!, a polarizing work of art-with-a-capital-A that might be best described as an anti-crowd pleaser. It's true - this enigma of a film is not for everyone, certainly not for the casual moviegoers seeking the bog standard horror flick unhelpfully promised by bait-and-switch marketing. Weird from the word go, mother! only gets weirder as it swells to a crescendo of surreal, fever-dream crazy that will bewilder, anger, shock and upset. Make no mistake: there will be walkouts. But for patrons with an appetite for the eccentric or a hunger for a bit more than popcorn flick fluff, mother! serves up a twisted allegory drenched in symbolism ripe for interpretation that's fun to watch and more fun to argue about after the credits roll.

From its opening scene, mother! signals it is a different kind of movie, welcoming us with flickering, dream-like visions: a face in flames, an otherworldly crystal, a house shedding its burnt-out husk to become beautiful, and finally a woman formed out of the ash - the titular Mother, played by Jennifer Lawrence. She shares this home with her husband, a poet played by Javier Bardem wrestling with writer's block without inspiration for his next great work. She clearly loves him, but he is distracted and distant. When she shows warmth, he withdraws and retreats to work, staring at blank pages. Still, she is devoted and pours herself into an all encompassing renovation of their home to create, she says, a paradise for him.

Then comes a knock at a door - the first of many to come that will throw Mother's happy quiet into chaos. A man (Ed Harris) mistakes their home for a bed and breakfast. Mother is wary but her husband, delighted to meet someone new, invites him to stay. The two are unnaturally fast friends, sitting up all night laughing and swapping stories. The next morning, to Mother's horror, the man's wife (Michele Pfeiffer) arrives. She is probing, inappropriate, and drips with contempt for Mother, but she too is invited to stay.

If mother! felt like a dream before, here it starts to creep towards hazy nightmare. mother! isn't a particularly scary film, but it is consistently disquieting. Mother begins to have disturbing visions (because this bonkers ride is best taken totally unspoiled, I'll leave it at that). As the unwanted visitors' ever-presence becomes suffocating to Mother, the film becomes claustrophobic thanks to camerawork fixed permanently and uncomfortably close to her face. The film has no real musical score, leaving our focus squarely on the sounds of life around the house. Experienced through Mother, they are cold and isolating. Even her beloved husband, delighted by the guests and their stories, increasingly disaffected by Mother's pain, seems alien.

There are more knocks, more (and worse) guests and mother! shifts from a psychological suspense drama to something more like a home invasion quasi-horror. And then, suffice it to say, the film goes places.

With the camera so intimately close to her for the entire two hour running time, this is Jennifer Lawrence's film and she performs admirably. Her role requires both great restraint and range, both of which she demonstrates. Some have complained that her Mother seems muted and inhuman. I wonder if that doesn't miss the point. More importantly the reserved Mother of the first act makes an explosively emotional second act all the more gut-churning. Lawrence is supported by secondary performances impressive in their own right. She and Michele Pfeiffer's wonderful, deliciously hateful wife share some of the film's best scenes. Ed Harris is perfectly affable. Javier Bardem's presence is appropriately but ambiguously menacing.

At some point while watching mother! you will have a "what the hell is happening" moment. And of course, what is happening is... well, it depends on who you ask. This is clearly a film about something other than the action on screen, but what exactly that is depends entirely on the viewer. mother! is a puzzle whose pieces can be put together into many different pictures, withholding "meaning" from those that do not look for it. Many disagree. mother! has been hammered by both those who see it as confusing, pointless provocation and those who argue that it is a pretentious and shallow film playing at high art - both meaningless and meaningful, just not meaningful enough. Perhaps. It wasn't to me.

There is one truly disappointing thing about mother!, though. Since the film's disappointing box office over the weekend, Darren Aronofsky has taken to explaining his intended "true meaning" in a series of widely publicized pieces. I hope this doesn't deter newcomers from finding their own. After all, isn't that what art is all about?

Score: 4 / 5




Are you smelling the sea breeze in your sleep? Hankering for a heavenly hike? Day dreaming of Disney World delights? My friend, it's June and time for a vacation! But wait! Before you phone a friendly travel agent, consider one of these fine films for your itinerary - a perfect compliment to your week of bliss.

Sun shining a bit too brightly? Duck into the hushed dark of the screening room! Happy trails leaving unhappy feet? Kick back, relax, and let the running happen on-screen. Disney lines too long? Skip straight to your seat to see the brand new Disney movie!

You see? No matter your vacation destination, you can't go wrong with a stop by the movies. There are 15 feature films coming to a big screen near you in June. Without further ado, here they are!


In Theaters Friday, June 2

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

At a Glance: Two prankster best friends accidentally hypnotize their overbearing principal into believing he is an idiot superhero named Captain Underpants. The film adapts a series of popular children's books called "The Adventures of Captain Underpants" that were some of those most frequently banned by schools in 2012.


Why I'm Excited: Excited is a bit strong. Accepting, perhaps? This is one of three PG-or-under films this month and seems like a perfectly harmless kids' film with some bathroom humor that'll make you groan but your tykes squeal with delight.


Wonder Woman

At a Glance: Diana, princess of Themiscyra, is fiercest among the Amazon warriors. When the horrors of the first World War arrive on her shores, Diana leaves her beloved home behind to help mankind end the war to end all wars.


Why I'm Excited: DC's last two releases - "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and "Suicide Squad" - were dismal, in part because they attempted to cram too much into one film without giving any one element room to develop. With "Wonder Woman," DC is returning to basics with an uncomplicated origin affair that lets a single hero shine. With early reviews pouring positivity, I'm hopeful that DC's cinematic universe will finally find its stride.



In Theaters Friday, June 9

It Comes At Night

At a Glance: A man and his family live barricaded inside a tiny house, holed up to keep safe from terrors that lurk outside at night. When strangers arrive in need of shelter, the balance they've struck inside is disrupted.


Why I'm Excited: Since their founding in 2014, A24 has been the single most exciting independent production and distribution company around. Many of the best films in recent years - "Moonlight," "The Lobster," "Room," and "Ex Machina," just to name a few - bear the A24 seal. Even if this wasn't a psychological horror thriller set in close quarters (for which I am a huge sucker) I'd be lining up for a day one ticket.


Megan Leavey

At a Glance: The story of the bond between a marine and the military combat dog with whom she fights abroad and for whom she fights at home.


Why I'm Excited: It's a dog movie so get your tissues ready!


The Mummy

At a Glance: A rogue and his partner unearth the lost tomb of Princess Ahmanet, unwittingly releasing a power-hungry monster into the world. "The Mummy" is the first film in Universal's recently unveiled Dark Universe franchise.


Why I'm Excited: This will probably be terrible but I'll see it anyway because a) I really loved "The Mummy" movies as a kid and b) I'm easily won over by arrangements of "Paint It Black." Hoping for a campy monster flick that doesn't take itself too seriously.


In Theaters Friday, June 16

47 Meters Down

At a Glance: Two women become trapped among sharks when their diving cage sinks to the ocean floor.


Why I'm Not Excited: "47 Meters Down" is being released into theaters nearly a year after it's original release - as a direct-to-DVD film - was scrapped a week before it hit shelves. Perhaps that suggests confidence in the film's theatrical chances, but the trailer does little to wash off that home-video smell.


All Eyez On Me

At a Glance: This biopic explores the life, music and activism of Tupac Shakur.


Why I'm Not Excited: It would be great to see another successful musical-drama biopic after 2015's "Straight Outta Compton," but "All Eyez On Me" has suffered a rocky production history that includes multiple rewrites and a lawsuit that divided the original creative team. It's difficult to weigh that against the talents of the director or writers as their own experience with features is limited. That said, the trailer looks fantastic but to avoid disappointment I'm deploying strategic pessimism.


Cars 3

At a Glance: When Lightning McQueen suffers a terrible accident on the track, his racing days appear to be over. But with the help of some new friends, he trains to get back into the race and prove himself against the newest line of high-speed racers.



Why I'm Excited: Critically speaking, Pixar's record of quality has but one blemish: "Cars 2." I've actually never seen a "Cars" film, but I'm rooting for Pixar to self-correct after the missteps in 2 and redeem their popular franchise in the face of Disney Animation's miserable "Planes" spin-offs.


Rough Night

At a Glance: Amidst a wild night of partying, five friends accidentally kill a male stripper.



Why I'm Excited: It may be "Weekend at Bernie's" with bachelorettes, but don't hold that against it. The cast is solid and though this is their first feature film, writer-director Lucia Aniello and co-writer Paul Downs have worked together on TV hits like "Time Travelling Bong" and "Broad City." I'm pegging this as likely solid, if a little rough around the edges.


In Theaters Wednesday, June 21

Transformers: The Last Knight

At a Glance: As war rages between humans and Transformers, a new threat arrives to destroy the world - aided by a turned Optimus Prime.


Why I'm Ambivalent: I haven't seen Transformers 2-4 (I will before seeing this one) but I didn't hate the first so I'm not sure what to say here other than to state a few facts.Though the studio has plans for sequels throughout the next decade, this is director Michael Bay's last film in the series. The films are more savaged by critics with each release, so I assume that trend will continue. I'm not sure what a critic looks for in a movie based on cars turning into robot men but I'm also not sure why the movies need to be two and a half hours long either.


In Theaters Wednesday, June 28

Baby Driver

At a Glance: Baby is getaway driver to a collection of bank robbers, drowning out the world and achieving laser sharp focus with music. When he finds love and tries to leave the crime behind, he becomes entangled in one last high octane job for a ruthless kingpin who threatens everything.


Why I'm Excited: A new Edgar Wright movie? Sold, day one, Baby! "Baby Driver" has been described as a stylish, musical car-chase heist movie, which is something I didn't realize I needed until recently. Critics have raved about the film since "Baby Driver" premiered at SXSW in March; as of this writing, the film is sitting at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and 81% on Metacritic. And again - this is an Edgar Wright movie. What more needs be said?


In Theaters Friday, June 30

Amityville: The Awakening

At a Glance: A family moves into a new home, seeking to be closer to better medical care for their long-comatose son, unaware that the home was once the site of a grisly murder. When the boy suddenly awakens, strange and terrible things begin to terrorize the family.


Why I'm Not Excited: This is hands-down one of the worst trailers I've seen this year. After watching it, I find myself in near-disbelief that this is a real feature film being released into theaters in the year-of-our-Lord 2017. Thankfully, this is not a 2017 release, but a 2015 release delayed repeatedly over two years by production company woes and reshoots prompted by test screening responses. Bury your expectations lower than sub-basement level if you want to avoid disappointment.


Despicable Me 3

At a Glance: Gru returns to face off with the 80's obsessed villain Balthazar Bratt and contend to with twin brother he never knew he had: Dru.


Why I'm Excited: Trailers lie, but I'll be damned if I wasn't giggling when I saw this one in theaters. It just looks plain fun. Of Illumination Entertainment's previous features, the "Despicable Me" franchise ("Minions" notwithstanding) has enjoyed consistently positive reception. There's no reason to think this one won't continue the trend.


The Beguiled

At a Glance: An injured Union soldier is given shelter at an all-girls boarding school in Confederate Virginia. As the girls care for him in turn, romantic rivalries begin to violently boil. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, this is a second film adaptation of the 1966 novel, but not a remake of the 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood.


Why I'm Excited: When "The Beguiled" premiered last month at the Cannes Film Festival it not only scored praise from critics but made Sofia Coppola the second woman to ever win the festival's award for Best Director. That's more than enough to make me hopeful that 2017 will finally see a great thriller when the film opens in a few weeks.


The House

At a Glance: A suburban couple loses their daughter's college fund and attempts to replace the money by opening an underground casino in their home.



Why I'm Excited: If you're making a comedy, you could do a lot worse than Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell as your leads, and while this is writer-director Andrew Cohen's first feature film behind the camera, he and co-writer Brendan O'Brien have turned in solid scripts in the two "Neighbors" films.



Welcome to the Guide to Love and Movies Valentine's Day Spectacular! "Dinner and a movie" is a phrase that for too long has raised the specter of hum-drum date night mediocrities. No longer! Movies, like fine wine, must be carefully paired with a meal. This year we've prepared three romantic itineraries to bring cinematic sizzle to your date, our little gift to all the lovers out there. Bon appetit!

 
 Brooklyn (2016)



An option for serious cinema lovers, an internationally-inspired dinner is paired with a moving Best Picture nominee about a homesick girl who finds love in a brand new country. This date night is unlikely to appeal to anyone with a deep-seated hatred of the Irish.

The Meal: Get into a New York state of mind by stopping into your favorite pizza shop. To put an Irish spin on your pie, consider toppings like cabbage, potato, or sausage. If you're an adventurous couple, pretend to have accents! Exclaim "Fugget about it!" or "What a load of bollocks!" anytime you think someone is listening, then giggle to yourselves. Engage in a pretend argument about the merits of black pudding or complain loudly about "the damned protestants."

After Dinner: Enjoy the movie! "Brooklyn" is rated PG-13 and runs for 1h 52m. After the film, solemnly contemplate the experience of immigrants in the United States. Invite your most racist relatives over for dessert and coffee. Sit in silent, abject misery when they launch into a series of vitriolic diatribes against refugees. Donate $10 to the charity of your choice. Go to bed, but stare at the ceiling for hours.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)


Celebrate Valentine's Day with this unconventional choice featuring the romantic passions of legendary star-crossed criminals.

The Meal: This date starts by looking your best. Head to the mall with your sweetheart. Select stunning outfits for each other. Steal them. Head to your favorite restaurant with four or more dollar signs on Yelp. Order the most expensive things on the menu, then leave without paying. Notice a wine rack as you race out. Select a wine. Steal it. At your local entertainment retailer, ask for help finding "Bonnie and Clyde" on Blu-ray or DVD. Steal it. When driving, speed at all times.

After Dinner: Pop the cork on your wine selection, kick your feet up, and enjoy the movie! "Bonnie and Clyde" is rated R and runs 1h 52m. Sirens approach. When the cops finally break the door down, the end credits are playing, but the room is empty. Somewhere, tires squeal and tail lights fade into a dark, distant mist. A new legend begins.


Twilight (2008)
 

Celebrate a love that will never die with this affordable date night inspired by the the timeless story of a girl and the 100 year old corpse who loved her!

The Meal: Surprise your sweetie to a delicious four-course dinner spread across four mouth-watering stops in this culinary celebration of the best-selling four-part series! Kick things off with a toast over a pair of Bloody Marys hastily concocted in the parking lot of your favorite grocery store, then dash with the speed of a glitzy glampire to Burger King for an appetizing round of garlic-free onion rings. For your main course, enjoy a burger from Wendy's, made to order as under-cooked as possible. Finally, head to the only place with arches as golden as Edward's eyes and enjoy an ice cold McFlurry. Close your eyes and imagine the frosty sensation of open-mouth kissing a Cullen.

After Dinner: After returning home, retreat to the sofa and snuggle up for the movie! "Twilight" is rated PG-13 and runs for 2h 2m. When it concludes, discover you have died. Spend eternity haunting your apartment/house with your boo.

And that wraps it up. Thanks for taking the time to read this year's V-Day spectacular. If a blog could have a valentine, you'd be ours. Happy Valentine's Day everyone!
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