Monday, September 25, 2017

Other websites I wrote for

Here's all the articles I wrote for The Playlist back when they were associated with

And for

And for


Lastly, my rotten tomatoes page:

Sunday, December 27, 2015

More - Part 4

Ricki and the Flash

It's fun to see Meryl Streep play a rock star, but the movie surrounding her musical performances is so, so rote and overly-familiar. Of course her kids hate her. Of course there's awkward tension between her and the woman who took her place in the family. Of course there's a will they/won't they scenario between Ricki and her former husband. Of course there's a triumphant wedding at the end where everyone gets along. Still, there are movies where you can tell how it's going to play out and you manage to enjoy it anyway, Ricki and the Flash is just not fun enough to make you forget that you've seen some version of this story before.

Grade: C

Stanford Prison Experiment

It may feel repetitive after awhile, but I found Stanford Prison Experiment to be a very compelling, gripping watch.

Grade: B


While it often plays a lot of the same notes as the first "Rocky" film, "Creed" succeeds and goes beyond the legacy of the first film by being so drenched in heart and emotion. Sylvester Stallone gives the best performance of his career, but Michael B. Jordan is just as great as the young man determined to get out of the shadow of his old man: a man he never met, yet still feels connected to. And as for Ryan Coogler, well, he's the real fucking deal.

Grade: A-

The Good Dinosaur

It hits all the right emotional notes, but something's missing in Pixar's latest effort. Visually, it's quite spectacular, but the story and characters are too generic and that's ultimately what matters most to me. It winds up playing out like a uninspired mashup of The Lion King and Finding Nemo.

Grade: C-

Mississippi Grind

Basically a stealth remake of Altman's California Split, but I didn't mind at all. Something about the concept of two loners - one talkative, one unlucky - gambling together and getting themselves in trouble, something about that concept really appeals to me. I don't know why.
But you add Ben Mendelsohn, who's on top of his game here, and Ryan Reynolds, who finally puts his cocky, charismatic on-screen persona to good use here --- those performances and their chemistry together really makes Mississippi Grind a breeze to watch. A fun, good ol' fashioned, breezy character drama - that's what this is.

Grade: B+


Will Smith gives a solid performance, but focusing so much on Omalu kinda took away from the scope of the story. Watching how he discovers the CTE disease just doesn't make for very fascinating cinema and the movie basically has no ending. The real meaty drama is the way the NFL continually covers up, lies, and manipulates its way through their knowledge of the concussion issue. By being so intensely about Omalu, we miss out on the "concussion hearing" meeting that takes place between the NFL and Dr. Bailes - who's forced to give Omalu's speech to the league as the NFL refuses to listen to Omalu.
I watched the Frontline documentary that goes over these issues. I know how important Omalu's work is. Centering the movie around his work and findings is one thing, but centering around HIM was a mistake. As a result, "Concussion" winds up not nearly being as hard-hitting as it could've been.

Grade: C


In a James Bond film, I only really care about plot when it's in the moment. If the movie works just enough and the action set pieces are enjoyable and well-made, then I can generally get with it. "Spectre" pretty much delivers on those fronts for the first 2/3rds. Character-wise, nobody really stood out except maybe for Bond's go-to guys. M and Q and Penny, for instance. As for his love interests? The villain? Both those elements fell flat for me, despite my growing love for Lea Seydoux.

The action wowed me just enough to have an overall positive outlook on "Spectre," but man, they really tried to test me with its overabundance of "shocking" plot revelations. I didn't give a shit about the whole 'spectre organization' aspect, and I thought Mission Impossible Rogue Nation had very similar plot lines but they streamlined it enough that you didn't get too lost into the details. I mean, the bottom line is, there's never going to be a final Bond film. The stakes can only really get so high. So, to have all these "startling" revelations where you're tying together storylines for previous films, that kind of stuff really gets in the way of what otherwise could've been, AND should've been, a rollicking good time.

I really enjoyed "Skyfall" and I thought Mendes did a solid job in his second outing, but man, it'd be a shame if Daniel Craig ended his reign on this note. I'm really starting to enjoy Craig as Bond and wish he'd go out on a higher note than this.

Grade: C+

The Man From UNCLE

Underwhelming on the action front, but Cavill, Hammer, and Vikander were actually pretty fun to watch together. Not too sure about Hammer's Russian accent though. It was alright, though it kinda felt like "Cold War-era Sherlock Holmes"at times. Solo and Illya's constant bickering/simmering bro-mance made me think of Holmes/Watson in Ritchie's "Holmes" films. The problem - Cavill/Hammer are not Downey Jr./Law. So, yeah, in summation, it was ok.

Grade: C+

The Big Short

I liked a lot of aspects of The BIg Short and I loved Steve Carell. Thought Bale/Gosling/Pitt were solid too, but I also really enjoyed the lesser known actors like Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, and John Magaro. I was into the way Adam McKay played with the form and how he used direct-to-camera narration, but the camera work and editing style was a little too cumbersome to wade through. I know the style is purposeful, but when you're dealing with numbers and "sophisticated" Wall Street lingo, I'm not sure distancing the audience with the near montage style of editing is the best way to go. I get the choices McKay made, but I'm not sure about the execution. Also, despite the solid performances, because you're dealing with, basically, 4 separate story arcs that never externally intersect with each other, some storylines wind up feeling more involving than others. There's an imbalance there that keeps the film from really excelling on its own terms. But, did I like the film? Yes, yes I did.

Grade: B

I'm all caught up! Except for one more movie...

Brief reviews of all the 2015 movies I've seen in the last month or two - part 3

The Overnight

This movie is almost aggressively slight, which actually made me like it that much more. One married couple invites another married couple, who just moved into the area, to their house so their kids can have a playdate. But it turns out that first married couple may have an ulterior motive for this invitation. Wife swapping? A foursome? Some freaky sex thing? Well, "The Overnight" is more than just a series of cheap sex gags and awkward situations, it's also a mature examination of marriage and intimacy with a surprising amount of depth for just 80 minutes. Also, I love Adam Scott. I think I've said that before. Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, and Jason Schwartzman? A cast like that, it's hard not to love this movie.

Grade: B+

The Gift

Joel Edgerton deserves all the credit in the world for crafting this thriller, which isn't quite A-level, but is most certainly an engrossing viewing experience. This was Edgerton's first time behind the camera and he also stars as the villain (or is he the villain?). But this is more than just a vanity project. Edgerton also gets great performances from Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman. Bateman, in fact, is the biggest wow factor here, as his character is really nasty and Bateman never holds back. Ultimately, I think the film suffers a little bit trying to find the perfect conclusion, but I was mostly satisfied with the end product.

Grade: B


Powerful stuff. Heavily reminiscent of "All the President's Men," which isn't a complaint or a knock. It's hard to make a movie about investigative journalists without making it too didactic or sentimental, luckily Tom McCarthy keeps a remarkably firm grip on the tone and gets fine performances from a top notch supporting cast. Everyone puts forth a great performance here, especially Keaton, though Mark Ruffalo is the true standout of the bunch.

Grade: A-


Welcome to "Room," a harrowing film that's guaranteed to make you cry at least five times during its two-hour span. But those cries are well-earned. Brie stars as Joy, a woman who's been held prisoner inside a shed, that's been converted into a tiny one-room shack, and is forced into having sex with her captor every night. Over the seven years of being held hostage, Joy gave birth to Jack. For five-year-old Jack, living in this room is all he knows. "Room" is, at first, about this tight-knit mother/son relationship and the ways Joy tries to shield Jack from the awful sexual abuse she gets put through by her captor. But then, half-way through the film, Jack and Joy escape. And once they escape, they don't live happily ever after. No, Jack and Joy have to adjust to living a free life. For Jack, the freedom is simply overwhelming. For Joy, her freedom doesn't really feel like freedom. "Room" looks into the psychology of being trapped and held captive for several years and that's where it really shines. One of the best films of the year.

Grade: A


"National Lampoon's Vacation" was written by one of the great '80s filmmakers, John Hughes, and directed by a master comedy craftsman in Harold Ramis. They are the type of filmmakers that are, for some reason, very hard to come by these days. They knew how to make comedies. They knew how to give a movie the right balance of heart, mean-spiritedness, and sight gags. Why is that so hard to replicate these days? 2015's "Vacation," written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein brings the Griswolds into the 21st century and it's painful to watch. It's a mix of gags that try way too hard or are too lazy. Not in-between. And there are gags that callback to the original film while taking away the soul of those jokes. It's a movie so bad, it deserves this shittily-written review.

Grade: D

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Brief reviews of every movie I've seen these last two months - part 2

The Final Girls

The Playlist Review

Grade: C+

Winter on Fire

The Playlist Review 

Grade: A-

The Tribe

An unsettling, unforgettable look into the lives of deaf Ukrainian teenagers who fight, turn tricks, and get into all kinds of nasty business. Not an easy film to swallow when it's all said and done, and claims that some content in the film is merely there for shock value is not completely unfounded. Still, you cannot deny that this film, which has no subtitles whatsoever, is a unique achievement.

Grade: B

The Leisure Class

Billed as a comedy, but far from it. Didn't laugh once. The humor was supposed to come from Tom Bell's performance, but man, it fell flat for me. Simply having a character ramble on awkwardly isn't funny, or maybe it can be with a better writing team. I can't quite give "The Leisure Class" a fully negative grade because there is some interesting stuff in here, you just have to really pry. But the characters are wildly inconsistent from scene to scene and the pacing is horrendous for what's meant to be an 85 minute half-farce/half-dark comedy. I also thought that "somebody defecated on the Bentley" line would have more play. Nope.    

Grade: D- 


A curious picture. The underwater scenes are pure eye candy. There's so much clarity in those images under the sea, and the crashing of the waves is a dominant, recurring motif throughout. I'm not quite sure I can piece together the film completely. It has body-horror elements combined with an overall otherworldly feel. Not thoroughly engaging, but I liked it for the most part.

Grade: B- 

James White

An intense character study that contains a couple of stellar performances. Manages to take on a story that, on the outside, may seem like a pretty familiar subject matter, but there's a specificity to these characters and their struggle that makes the drama in James White's life feel realistic and resonant.

Grade: B+


Exquisite, immersive, tender, heart-breaking, reassuring, life-affirming, wondrous, romantic, seductive, sexy, beautiful, lovely, charming, unforgettable, an absolute cinematic treasure.

Grade: A+

Son of Saul

What makes "Son of Saul" so powerful is both what it chooses to show and what it chooses NOT to show. It's masterful, thanks to the bold creative choices made by director Laszlo Nemes and his lead actor Geza Rohrig.

Grade: A


At first glance, a very simple story, but the way Kaufman and Duke Johnson play with form adds such a layer of complexity that becomes harder and harder to ignore the longer you think about the movie. There's a lot going on here than what initially meets the eye.

Grade: A

Magic Mike XXL

I think I actually prefer "XXL" over the first film BECAUSE this one is thinner on plot. It never really drags, despite being almost completely conflict-free. It's just a handful of beefcakes having a great time doing their thang on willing women. I can dig it.

Grade: B

more to come


Monday, December 7, 2015

Brief reviews of movies I've seen these last two months - part 1

Yeah, my updates have been very sparse. Grad school has kept me crazy busy. Like I said before, I do still update my letterboxd account on a regular basis, mainly because there's less pressure to write well-thought-out reviews on there.

So this rundown will be a mix of re-posted.slightly refined letterboxd reviews and original thoughts. Let's waste no more time.


Riveting from start to finish. Brolin and Blunt are solid, but halfway through, "Sicario" sneakily becomes the Benicio del Toro show, who gives his best performance in years. A haunting, pointed film that demonstrates to us why America's "war on drugs" will forever be unwinnable and makes it undeniably clear as to who the real victims of such a war are. Director Villenueve and DP Roger Deakins have teamed up once again (after 2013's "Prisoners") and the results are electrifying. The last 45 minutes, in particular, contains such a perfect combination of acting, cinematography, editing, etc... cementing Sicario's status as being one of the very best films of 2015.

Grade: A

Queen of Earth

A movie filled with ugly, mean-spirited, cruel, and hateful characters... and I couldn't look away. For 90 minutes, "Queen of Earth" plunges deep into the horrors of depression. This isn't merely a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, instead you watch Elisabeth Moss's character go through a slow, seemingly endless breakdown from beginning to end. It's some pretty chilling, unnerving stuff. A horror movie where the weapon of choice is barbed insults, insults that have the potential to do just as much as damage as a knife or a sickle. 

Grade: A-

Steve Jobs

That first segment, in 1984, crackles. It's Aaron Sorkin at his best. Danny Boyle doing his best to stay out of the way. The performances are top notch and on point. It's some great, talky drama. Unfortunately, each subsequent segment is a retread of that first 1984 segment. The same arguments play out in almost exact same way. The same characters keep popping up, even when it seems like a stretch that they'd be there. The arguments they have suddenly have less drama or tension attached to them. Steve Jobs having the most important conversation of his life EVERY time he's about to give his big speech feels so overly contrived. Overall, "Steve Jobs" was a big dud for me.

Grade: C

The Martian

We're starting to see a trend of big-time auteur-driven sci-fi films getting released in October/November every year. I, for one, am not complaining. I loved Gravity, thought Interstellar had a lot of great moments, and The Martian has proven to be Ridley Scott's best film in years. What stands out most about The Martian? It's not merely the visuals, it's the combination of humor, science, and close attention to character that really makes this movie work for me. Yes, it ends in a way that makes you wanna cheer. You'll go home with a smile on your face. It's popcorn entertainment through and through, but it's the type of popcorn entertainment that goes down smoothly and you don't feel all too sick afterwards. Watch this with family and you'll have a great time.

Grade: B+

Crimson Peak
Man, Guillermo del Toro really walked the tightrope on this one. There were so many times when I felt this could veer off into unsavory territory, but damnit, he pulled it off. Mostly. Once I accepted that the whole haunted mansion aspect was going to be more "spooky" than downright scary, the movie really started taking off for me. It's really hard to make a "gothic" movie these days, thanks to Tim Burton, but del Toro really demonstrated that he can put his own stamp on the "gothic, 1800s-era" subgenre of horror.

Grade: B

Bridge of Spies

A masterfully made historical drama with just enough thrills to keep you going from beginning to end. Tom Hanks may not be the most exciting actor of our time, but like with "Captain Phillips," he once again demonstrates why he's been such a revered actor for so long. Mark Rylance also gives a powerful performance.

Naturally, expectations were high for me, especially when you have a script co-written by the Coen Brothers with Spielberg (and DP Janusz Kaminski) behind the camera. I'm happy to say those expectations were met and then some. I wasn't surprised this turned out to be good, I was surprised by how politically relevant this story is to modern times and impressed that Spielberg acknowledged as much without turning Bridge of Spies into a "message movie." On the surface, it's just a good old-fashioned Hollywood drama, but as the story continues to unfold, you'll find that America's decades-long "war of information" with Soviet Russia isn't that much different than the "war on terror" that we fought for the past 15 years.

Grade: A

This takes us up to mid-October.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Brief Reviews of every new movie I've seen in the past month

These are pretty much pulled from my letterboxd account. I always had the intention of writing longer reviews here, but I just haven't had time. But, just for safe keeping, I'm re-posting them here.

Straight Outta Compton

At 150-minutes, the amount of ground this film attempts to cover is most certainly ambitious. Unfortunately, due to the film spanning over 9 years, the characters suffer greatly. You don't really see as much growth as you should, except with Eazy-E whose arc feels the most thorough among the bunch.

There's a lot of elements to "Compton" that goes through the standard biopic route, but it's still supremely enjoyable. The performance scenes are packed with energy and, considering what these characters go through during their youth and the raps Ice Cube writes, the movie feels just as relevant today as when the events took place.

Simply put, NWA's journey is fun to watch. From their rise to their breakup. More could've been explored during the downfall, instead of checking off random moments throughout Ice Cube and Dre's history. Still, it's hard not to get a little emotional when you realize Eazy-E died just as he was trying to get the group back together. Not even sure how true that is, though Cube and Dre were producers on the film so the script must've gotten their "ok" before it went into production. So, that adds even more weight and sorrow to his untimely passing.

It's a fun 2 1/2 hour ride. It has its problems. We may have seen Paul Giamatti in this type of role (as NWA's manager) a few too many times, but I really liked it a lot and wouldn't mind watching it again in the near future.

Grade: B

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Definitely one of my favorites of the year thus far. It's a story that could easily go in so many bad, cliche directions, but writer/director Marielle Heller does such a stellar job of giving Minnie such humanity. Even when she's at her worst, you can't help but feel invested in her. She's just a very curious, naive teenager wanting to explore her sexuality and it gets her into all kinds of trouble.

The movie's centered around Bel Powley and she's so expressive, her face just grabs your attention immediately. More than that, for a low budget indie, the movie successfully pulled me into this girl's world of mid-1970s San Francisco. I was captivated. And charmed. And at times, moved.

From my experience, growing up with an older sister, yes, this really is "the diary of a teenage girl" at least to me. For better or worse. In its naive charm and beauty and its raw ugliness. This is not your average coming-of-age story. It goes way beyond that. Just a lovely movie.

Grade: A-

Mistress America

First of all, take this review with a grain of salt. I saw this early in the afternoon today and there was an old couple who were incredibly distracting during half the movie. That might've stopped me from fully enjoying the movie and I really want to give it a second look in the next few months.

Coming from someone who loves Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, I just couldn't fully get into "Mistress America." I dug the soundtrack, I liked Lola Kirke, and it's hard not to admire Baumbach's attempt at making a manically paced screwball-ish comedy.

But the speedy delivery of the one-liners felt too choppy at times, instead of there being a natural flow. And Gerwig, I hate to say this, her character was a bit too grating from the beginning. She never charmed me and while I was mostly jiving with the film during the first half, the screwy back-and-forth that takes place during that whole rich Connecticut house sequence --- it really didn't work for me.

Again, maybe I was in a bad mood because I even like Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding. I love Frances Ha. There's much to like about MIstress America, I just found the execution to be a bit off.

I'll visit you again, Mistress America. But the first go-around was not as fun of a ride as I'd hoped.

Grade: C+

Sleeping with Other People

Consistently engaging, often very funny. What takes it down a peg is a third act that's rife with odd tonal shifts all leading to a conclusion you know is inevitable from the start. I appreciate Headland not going the overly obvious route to get to that inevitable ending - but don't think it was executed as well as it could've been. Still a well-made romcom. I think I even liked it a little more than Trainwreck to be honest.

Grade: B

Black Mass

Johnny Depp is fine. Edgerton is great. Most of the performances are great and are the reason why I ultimately found the movie to be decent. But this was a potentially interesting story told in a very dry, by-the-numbers manner. There's a certain point where the movie realizes that it cares more about John Conolly's arc (played by Edgerton) than giving Bulger any sort of arc at all. As a result, Bulger is a bit of a dull character and despite Depp having a tight grasp on the role, he doesn't really do anything with the character that feels different than Jack Nicholson in "The Departed."

He may have gotten the look down, but I'm not sure he really put his own stamp on the character. Maybe Bulger isn't that interesting of a guy? Cooper, and the film's screenwriters, don't give Depp much to do beyond making him look and sound really intimidating. By contrast, Edgerton brings a lot of nuance and depth to his character, FBI Agent Conolly. His struggle to remain loyal to his childhood friend ultimately winds up being his undoing, and it's that story that kept me hooked through to the end.

But being "hooked" doesn't necessarily mean "emotionally involved" or "deeply invested." I simply felt nothing for this movie despite the positives. It merely feels like a "series of events that happened" as opposed to a gripping rise-and-fall, classic gangster film.

Grade: C+

Monday, August 24, 2015

I got busy

I'm gonna be honest with you. It's going to be really hard to keep up with this when I start grad school, which is next week. As it is, as I prepare for this semester, I'm finding very little time to write about the movies I recently saw. They are "Diary of a Teenage Girl" and "Straight Outta Compton."

It sucks because I was finally starting to get a solid amount of traffic to this site, but I'm afraid I'll be updating this more sporadically in the future.

I did write a review for The Playlist last week for a Dutch movie called "Prince":

So there's that.