Review – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

Release Date: November 22, 2019

Director: Marielle Heller

Cast: Tom Hanks, Matthew Ryss, Chris Cooper

Synopsis: Inspired by a true story, editorial writer Lloyd Vogel is tasked to profile Mr. Rogers amidst personal and family struggles.

Rating: 3.5/4 Stars

[The following review is spoiler-free]

As a child, I watched Mr. Rogers with eager anticipation and wonder awaiting to learn something new and insightful. In cardigan and sneakers, here was a man invested in teaching viewers like me the many intricacies of life with kindness and patience. And with an earnest interest in the learning of processes, I, too, found myself caught up in the same awe Mr. Rogers evoked every single time without fault. In A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, that same wonder and awe is captured in full delight.

The story of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood focuses on the life of Lloyd Vogel, a journalist whose reputation is as tough as his questions and hardened outlook on life. Only one person, Fred Rogers, is willing to meet the man for a profile piece on his personal life. Lloyd reluctantly takes on the task of interviewing Fred Rogers and those around him while coming to terms with his own feelings and thoughts regarding self, family, and life in general.

Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) introduces himself to Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Ryss) in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

Director Marielle Heller crafts A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with creative love and affection that had me smiling all the way through. Sequences inspired from Mr. Roger’s own show that are mixed into the meta-narrative framework of an episode add whimsical charm and levity to elevate the film from becoming completely derivative of mushy melodrama. Performances from Tom Hanks, whose work here does indeed merit an Oscar nomination, and fellow cast mates breathe life into their characters with much heart and care. It’s in their interactions with one another during seemingly small and thoughtful moments that bring out the main messages and themes at play without relegating itself to becoming overly preachy.

Matthew Ryss in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

In its end, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood maintains itself as a wonderful and loving tribute to Fred Rogers and all the people impacted by his presence and generosity. Of all the messages brought to light, one remained throughout which is this: we all yearn for acceptance, acknowledgment, and unconditional love. Mr. Rogers reminded us of that sentiment day after day with tender care and genuine honesty. I imagine many who watch the film will have some room for similar reflection, and perhaps, hearts and minds will be lightened, too. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a joyous film with humanity at its core. We all could use a bit of learning and listening for healing and growth. Fred Rogers aimed to teach us so in his warm and consistent invitation to neighborly fellowship each and every day.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is rated PG for strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language.

Review – Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Release Date: October 18, 2019

Directed by: Taika Waititi

Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson

Synopsis: A young boy searches for acceptance in the ranks of the Nazi army, all the while balancing his mother’s resistance, a deadly secret, and his imaginary friend: Adolf Hitler.

Rating: 3.5/4 Stars

[The following is a spoiler-free review written by guest movie critic, Ashton Pacholski]

Adolf Hitler. Ruthless German politician. Infamous leader of the Nazi party. A little boy’s imaginary friend…? Only Taika Waititi could realize the latter, showcasing incredible deft and humor when dealing with any subject. From voyeuring with dubious vampires (What We Do in the Shadows), to rocking with the gods of Asgard (Thor: Ragnarok), Waititi has crafted another classic with his newest film Jojo Rabbit, a hilarious coming-of-age story set in war-torn Germany. A questionable setting for the genre, but nevertheless—in the right hands—a perfect canvas for the film’s poignant takeaway.

Stephen Merchant leads a team of Gestapo on the hunt in Jojo Rabbit (2019)

The story centers around Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis)—a ten-year-old, Nazi-loving boy—whose main passion in life is to become one of Hitler’s closest confidants. Jojo, with high hopes of climbing the ladder of The Third Reich, enters a special training program for young boys, helmed by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell). And showing the boy support on his heroic journey to bravery is none other than the imaginative Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi)…and yes, you read that correctly. Moving from a series of humorous events to the next, kept afloat by Waititi’s kinetic pace, Jojo is landlocked to his village—having to show support from the home front. And it isn’t until all things get quiet that Jojo hears something shuffling around in his walls. Hidden within his home, Jojo finds something that could light his whole world on fire: a potential flame in the shape of Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a runaway Jewish teen.

Thomasin McKenzie in Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Now, to address the elephant in the room…wearing a swastika…it’s no easy feat to combine Hitler and comedy. And don’t get me wrong, I had my reservations as well. However, Waititi has utilized the notion of imagination to critique, and in no way, shape, or form, generate sympathy for this character. Brilliantly portrayed by himself, Waititi hyperbolizes the myopic idiocracy of this figure, harkening back to the greatness of Chaplin (e.g. The Great Dictator). And noting the film’s humor, leading actor Roman Griffin Davis provides an Oscar-worthy performance: balancing humor, tragedy, and catharsis all on his little shoulders. Others in the cast, including Scarlett Johansson (Jojo’s mother) and Thomasin McKenzie, bring an emotional levity to the film, while others—those “noteworthy” for their humor—sometimes detract from the film’s overall resonance.

Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit (2019)

A touching film about the power of change, Jojo Rabbit is a compelling story that at times had me laughing out of my seat, at times speechless, and at times reflective. With beautiful cinematography, and wonderful dialogue that echoes the greatness of Mamet, here’s a film that utilizes one of history’s darkest hours to teach us all a valuable lesson: “to err is human.” Now, the title might dismay some reticent movie-goers, but let me reiterate something: Jojo Rabbit is cinema at its most creative. A brilliantly conceived rabbit hole—pun intended—that Waititi invites viewers into with masterful and hilarious grace.

Jojo Rabbit is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language.

Review – Doctor Sleep (2019)

Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance in Doctor Sleep (2019)

Release Date: November 8, 2019

Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran

Synopsis: After decades of decadence, Danny Torrance gets a second chance at life only to find himself at odds with a deadly force of unprecedented evil.

Rating: 3.5/4 Stars

[The following is a spoiler-free review]

I haven’t been as pleased with a sequel to a film for quite some time. Few directors can take something as revered and cherished as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and adapt its successor with incredible deft and brilliance as Mike Flanagan does here. With Doctor Sleep, he embarks the ambitious task of melding Kubrick’s and King’s revered works while seeking to tell a story all his own. Terrifying, thoughtful, and downright chilling, Doctor Sleep is an incredible achievement in filmmaking.

Decades have passed since the events of The Shining with a gruff and older Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) wandering through bars and homes as a drifter. Years of alcohol abuse have plagued Danny whose ability to shine has remained clouded under the influence as ghosts continue to haunt him both literal and metaphorical. After a chance encounter, Danny’s life takes a turn and his ability to shine into the lives of others affords him the opportunity to find renewed life. Meanwhile, a dark and deadly danger lurks in the shadows preying upon those with incredible clairvoyance led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) who is as cunning and chilling as she is lethal. With their survival at stake, The True Knot seek their victims and set their eyes on a young girl (Kyleigh Curran) who provides the key to satiating their hunger.

Rebecca Ferguson as the formidable foe, Rose the Hat, in Doctor Sleep (2019)

Shot beautifully and composed with consideration to its predecessor, the film maintains a continuity in its long shots, smooth pans and dissolving transitions. Tension in the film remains throughout and it doesn’t hold back on its scares including a scene that will have you squirming with discomfort in your seat. Disorienting sequences captivate to not only throw characters and viewers off-kilter but even maintain the mystery that feels both wonderful and at times rudimentary in its plot devices. Despite some of those moments and questionable character choices, Flanagan proves to be a master storyteller to keep an eye out for in the years ahead. If you haven’t seen his most recent outing with Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, you’d be remiss not to witness true terror played out with incredible craftsmanship.

Kyleigh Curran as Abra in Doctor Sleep (2019)

Ultimately, Doctor Sleep is a frightfully good time at the movies and established itself as a worthy successor to one of cinema’s greatest. I must admit I haven’t read the book by which this film is adapted from, but with having spoken to a brother of mine who has read and seen the film, it’s essence remains even within the films reworking. Mike Flanagan succeeds and surprises with his latest labor of love, and viewers have much to look forward to as Doctor Sleep unfolds into its (mostly) satisfying conclusion. Much secrets and scares await for those brave enough to go back into this world. Room 237 awaits your stay.

Doctor Sleep is rated R for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity and drug use.

Review – Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Newcomers to the franchise, Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes, look as befuddled as I was while watching the narrative unfold in Terminator: Dark Fate

Release Date: November 1, 2019

Directed by: Tim Miller

Cast: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis

Synopsis: Set over 20 years after the events of T2, an advanced Terminator sent from an apocalyptic future seeks to hunt and kill a target whose very life and existence merits saving.

Rating: 1/4 Stars

[The following review is spoiler-free]

I should have seen it coming. I’ve traveled along the river Denial many times throughout my life, and the Terminator franchise has had its last 16 years go by with attempted fanfare and spectacle only to shed predominant failure and disappointment, one after another. As I entered a near empty theater and watched the film unfold before my very eyes, I was surprised by what I saw and then not surprised by how I felt after. I’ve been here before, and with Terminator: Dark Fate, there seems to be no fate left worth making in this tried and tired universe.

Gabriel Luna, as the formidable Rev-9, goes toe-to-toe with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 model in Terminator: Dark Fate

A new and dangerous Terminator from the future (Gabriel Luna), decked out with all the latest and greatest features, begins its hunt for the unknowing Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), a hardworking, family-oriented seemingly nobody. Meanwhile, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), likewise sent from the future and augmented with enough power to challenge Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel in a spar, hurries to save as the indomitable and deadly Terminator, the Rev-9, moves in for the kill. As Grace serves to protect, familiar characters including a no-nonsense, gun-totting, quip-quipping Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and a mysterious, yet very helpful T-800 model Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) rise to the occasion to offer help on behalf of mankind. As the hunt continues, the stakes increase with more chase and explosions viewers have now come to expect with their blockbusters. Answers are revealed and the stage is set for showdown after showdown until the climactic battle. No new ground here, we’ve all seen this before. Coincidence? I think not.

I could go on and on about this film, but most viewers who have been around since the beginning will likely guess where things are going. Certain story elements either don’t make sense and can’t be explained thanks in part to copious amounts of plot holes throughout, or much of the the narrative beats are as disposable and derivative as the rehashed plot from previous entries that Terminator: Dark Fate ends up becoming. Hollow characters abound including both new and returning faces which ultimately leads to a shallow experience. With missed opportunities and poor execution of character moments, genuine investment is lacking thereby leaving me not caring at all. The action is generic, and the set pieces feel like they’ve been copied and pasted from out of the Fast and Furious template. If you like slow-motion as a means to attract your attention during action, you may not find it as detracting as I did; for me, it was everywhere, and the action was undercutted even in some of the more bizzare moments. All I’m going to say is: poor fly.

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, and Natalia Reyes as Dani Ramos in Terminator: Dark Fate

Rarely has there ever been a film I’ve discouraged others from seeing, and for those who are willing to sift through the sandbox of Terminator: Dark Fate, I’m warning you. As a Terminator film, it’s sad and yet simple to say: it sucks. Maybe I’m jaded, but considering the previous three attempts to follow Cameron’s first two, it’s hard not to feel the burn. With a dismal outlook as grim and gray like the future depicted, recent box office receipts point to a similar fate; it’s safe to say that this franchise is dead. However, if there’s anything to learn from the Terminator franchise, old enemies rarely ever die without a fight. There may be some inkling of a narrative left here somewhere like a diamond in the rough, but this time it’s best to bury the corpse before it stinks up the place.

Terminator: Dark Fate is rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity.

Review – Parasite (2019)

Woo-sik Choi in Parasite (2019)

Release Date: October 11, 2019 (limited)

Directed by: Joon-ho Bong

Cast: Kang-ho Song, Yeo-jeong Jo, So-dam Park

Synopsis: Twists and turns lay ahead as a family in need seeks to exploit a wealthy household by clandestine means.

Rating: 4/4 Stars

[The following review is spoiler-free and compiled in collaboration between writers, Ashton and Tyler Pacholski]

The Korean auteur Joon-ho Bong has found a new host with his latest film, Parasite. With a decadent recipe for films that tackle socio-economic issues of class (e.g. his dystopian feature, Snowpiercer), Bong delivers a modern-day parable that really festers inside its viewers. By being his most grounded work to date, devoid of imaginative creatures (e.g. the wonderfully created Okja), Parasite is filled with authentic people dealing with real problems, fears, and ambitions. I haven’t seen and experienced a film in a long time that allowed me to feel empathy for both sides of the economic spectrum. An eclectic tapestry of emotions, tones, and visuals, Parasite transcends the notion of genre to become something else entirely: a beautiful singularity.

Woo-sik Choi, Kang-ho Song, Hye-jin Jang, and So-dam Park as the Kim family in Parasite (2019)

The story follows the family of Mr. Kim, patriarch to clever con-artists, set upon a mission to exit their impoverished plain and find a new habitat. With eyes locked on the gullible and rich Park family, the Kims meticulously infiltrate and integrate themselves in the Park’s inner circle of help; through a series of wonderfully orchestrated events, viewers will relish at the execution of their “long con.” With their operation in full swing, the humor of the job begins to take a dark turn, and it’s in this tonal shift of circumstance and mood that the true genius of the film shines.

Yeo-jeong Jo in Parasite (2019)

With Parasite, it’s the metaphorical nature, lively characters, and original narrative that will have its viewers coming back for seconds. Deeply layered, nuanced, and complex, the film is a technical masterpiece that offers a smart and entertaining look into the realities of class division with gushing gusto. Channeling the grand tragedies of Shakespeare, this familial tragedy infects the pathos of its audience, balancing their emotions in a way only a master storyteller could. And with that, Bong provides a stage so brilliantly and intentionally decorated that it had me taken aback several times by its thematic resonance.

Ji-so Jung in Parasite (2019)

Winner of the 2019 Palme D’Or, it’s no surprise that Parasite is one of the very best films of the year. As I walked out from my viewing of the film at the Tallgrass Film Festival earlier this fall, I hadn’t the slightest idea of how much I would be blown away by its effect. To infect my mind with creative inspiration I have been ruminating over ever since my initial viewing, the film finds its hook and raises the temperature to boiling heights. With Parasite, Joon-ho Bong has found a new host in us all. Not just as future storytellers and purveyors of thought, but as a species for the future.

Parasite is rated R for language, some violence, and sexual content.