2019 Summer Movie Review: It: Chapter Two


Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård) returns to haunt Derry once again in It: Chapter Two. (Source: Slant Magazine)

Stephen King’s magnum opus was long overdue for an adaptation reboot. 2017’s It : Chapter One was everything I wanted and more. An R-rated horror film with a great sense of humor, thrills, and featuring a poignant and somewhat crude portrayal of adolescence and facing childhood fears. It worked due to Andy’s Muschietti’s confident direction, atmosphere, the terrific performances by a talented group of child actors, and Bill Skarsgård’s terrifying presence of the evil shape-shifting Pennywise the Clown. 

It: Chapter Two is a longer sequel–clocking in at almost three hours long–containing A LOT of flashbacks and reuniting for the characters. The child actors and the same crew return while a cast of adults portray their child counterparts. Although slightly messy and not as terrifying as before, it’s still thrilling enough to keep the film going.

After defeating Pennywise the Clown (Skarsgård), Bill Denborough (Jaeden Martell) and his six friends (all of whom formed the Losers’ Club) all make a blood oath promising they will return to Derry, Maine, if It is not entirely dead. 27 years later, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Michaud), the African-American of the group, remains as the town librarian. He has heard about a recent killing of a gay kid named Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan)–as seen in a gruesome sequence early on in the film. He decides to call his childhood friends, who have each gone their separate ways.

  • Bill (James McAvoy) is a successful mystery author and screenwriter, who is infamous for writing terrible endings.
  • Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard, as a child; Bill Hader) has been hitting the stages with his stand-up comedy.
  • Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis; Jessica Chastain, who worked with Muschietti in his feature film debut, Mama) is a fashion designer still enduring abuse from her husband Tom Rogan (Will Beinbrink)
  • Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer; James Ransone), the hypochondriac, is a successful risk analyst in New York with an overbearing wife Myra (Molly Atkinson, who played Eddie’s overbearing mother in the first film)
  • Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor; Jay Ryan), once overweight, is now a hunky architect in Nebraska.
  • Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff; Andy Bean), the Jewish kid, who is now living in Atlanta as an accountant for a law firm.

All but one reunite with Mike at a Chinese restaurant (where they eventually get attacked by their fortune cookies). Once the Losers are all back in town, they begin to ponder their past as well as confronting their worst fears yet again. They all learn about a ritual that would put an end to Pennywise once and for all.

The movie takes awhile to get going. There is a lot of catching up on these colorful characters and scenes that feel gratuitous. Not to mention, the length is 30 minutes too long. Once it gets going, the craziness hardly lets up. The reason why the first film was great is because it realistically captures how a child witnesses their own horrors in the most shocking of ways and bravely facing the fears. Although it’s not as terrifying as its predecessor, there are still a fair share of creepy images. Muschietti succeeds yet again with his clever use of camera angles and fun set pieces (i.e. I love the sequence in the carnival funhouse). As thrilling as the climactic battle can be, it does run out of steam. This movie contains the most blood used in any movie. 

The adult cast has terrific chemistry; each of them having their standout moments. Starring in his first horror film, Hader steals every scene he is in–generating some good laughs and sympathy from the audience–and having an arc that is fascinating. Skarsgård doesn’t earn much screen time this time around, but he still kills it as Pennywise; showing more of It’s forms and briefly of his creepy origins, kudos to Gary Dauberman’s screenplay not turning into a soapy melodrama like the 1990 original turned out to be.

It: Chapter Two blows the original miniseries out of the water. It might not win everyone over, but there is plenty of nightmare-inducing scares to offer. I am glad these movies have come out at a perfect time. They will always be a Halloween tradition for years to come. Don’t forget to watch out for a cameo in this movie that needs to be seen to believe.



2019 Summer Movie Review: Blinded by the Light


Javed (Viveik Kalra) and his friends decide to bring a little light into a dull English town in Blinded by the Light. (Source: Vancouver Sun)

Bruce Springsteen has been an international icon for almost 50 years. Releasing such big hits as “Born to Run”, “Born in the U.S.A.”, and “The River”, he became the true definition of Americana. Despite suffering from depression, The Boss has released an autobiography entitled Born to Run (of course) and is still making music to this day. His new album, Western Stars, contains a more folksy vibe (compared to his early work) featuring brass and orchestra music. As a result, not only is the album a bona-fide masterpiece, it also speaks true about people’s lives–hopes, fears, and everything in between. 

One of the artist’s massive fans is Sarfraz Manzoor, a British journalist from Pakistan whose life has changed when a classmate from school introduces him to the music of Bruce, which helps him parallel between the lyrics and his personal life. This is the set-up for the latest hit from Sundance, Blinded by the Light, which Manzoor co-wrote the screenplay with director Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham) and Paul Mayeda Berges.

Set in Luton, England, in 1987, where Margaret Thatcher is U.K.’s Prime Minister and Ronald Reagan is U.S. President, Javed Khan (newcomer Viveik Kalra) is a Pakistani teenager living with his parents (Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra) and sisters Yasmeen (Tara Divina) and Shazia (Nikita Mehta). As an aspiring poet, he’s struggling to make a living after father Malik gets laid off at the local General Motors automobile plant. Not only that, he’s also getting constantly bullied by his neighbors and peers at his new school. One day, his classmate Roops (Aaron Phagura) gives him some cassette tapes of The Boss (“Whose boss?” Javed asks. “The boss of us all,” Roops responds). Javed begins to understand his family situation.

If Blinded by the Light decided to take place in rural America (for example, Iowa or Nebraska), it would be fine. However, I doubt it would hold as big of an impact as to what Chadha brings through her directing and screenwriting. The movie never talks down to its audience; instead, giving them a sense of inspiration and wonder. They have control on what they thrive. That’s how Springsteen’s lyrics correspond to Javed’s lifestyle. I love the scene where Javed and Roops pull a prank at the local college radio station, where they lock the doors while “Born to Run” plays on the record player. They both run out of the school while singing and dancing to the song, which is symbolic for Javed escaping his life to pursue something special.

21-year-old Kalra is a revelation as Javed, who tries to succeed as a writer while getting the support from his family, especially his father. The audience cracks a smile whenever Javed turns on his Walkman to hear the lyrics for “Dancing in the Dark” and “The Promised Land” and when he sings his heart out to “Thunder Road” (Bollywood style!) to his new girlfriend Eliza (Nell Williams, Game of Thrones). Also, it’s hard not to feel his frustration in his household. Ghir’s Malik is portrayed as a strict father who expects his son to be successful in these harsh times, even though he disagrees with Javed’s taste in music. Hayley Atwell has a minor yet effective role as Ms. Clay, Javed’s writing teacher who becomes his only positive influence. When he shows her the poems he has written, she sees a lot of potential (the last act really hits home).

Blinded by the Light is the movie the world needs right now. It’s filled with wit, charm, emotion, excellent music, and great acting. This and Rocketman are among my favorites of 2019 thus far. I will watch them for the rest of my life.


2019 Summer Movie Review: Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw


Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) are forced to work with each other in the first spin-off in the never-ending Fast and Furious franchise. (Source: IndieWire)

The Fast and the Furious franchise is one of the longest-running film series of all-time. With the first four films focusing on street racing, Fast Five (the best in the series) and Fast and Furious 6 made the transition of becoming high-octane heist films defying every law of gravity imaginable. Furious 7 made a great departure for the late Paul Walker (who died from a fatal car crash in 2013), and The Fate of the Furious was just as fun.

The first spin-off features two of the funniest characters (played by two of the toughest actors working today) who kick a billion tons of ass. Together, they take on a massive British superstar. David Leitch (whose John Wick revitalized the tired genre and brought Keanu Reeves back to the action spotlight) is behind the camera this time. With Hobbs and Shaw, he feels right at home.

Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) is the most powerful terrorist the world has ever seen. While genetically-enhanced and bulletproof, it’s damn near impossible for him to be killed. He attempts to use Snowflake, a deadly virus that would affect humanity. Meanwhile, DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and British mercenary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) are forced by the CIA to team up together with Deckard’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby, The Crown), who goes rogue after injecting the virus herself. With time counting down, they help take down the powerful Brixton and his organization, once and for all.

Besides Tokyo Drift, I happen to enjoy this stupid franchise. Who knows when it will officially come to a satisfying close, but I’ll continue to see more entries (including spin-offs). Hobbs and Shaw is another enjoyable entry. One of the reasons why it works is the chemistry between Johnson, Statham, and Kirby. Hobbs and Shaw might hate each other’s guts (their constant bickering generates some good laughs), but they don’t hesitate to get the job done. Kirby’s Hattie is also a ton of fun to watch; not only does she kick ass, she is also incredibly smart. I love the amusing flashbacks when her and Deckard pull off schemes as children, and naming them after famous British musicians (“The Keith Moon”, “The Mick Jagger”). Elba can play this type of role in his sleep, but his Brixton is so powerful that he could challenge Thanos in a duel of massive proportions.

The brutal action showcases Leitch’s directing talents. Of course, they defy physics (like the series is known for), but they strap the audience in for something thrilling and eye-popping. The climactic fight in the rain between the two heroes and the villain is one of the most beautifully-choreographed fights of the year. Although the film is approximately two-and-a-half hours, the film moves at a brisk pace.

Of course, the film is far from perfect. Without giving too much away, there are some cameos that are too distracting. The soundtrack ranges from great to borderline obnoxious. I love hearing Yungblud’s gorgeous cover of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” as the film opens and closes. The humor can be a bit of a mixed bag as well. When it works, it works! The movie pick itself up once Hobbs and the two Shaws are on-screen, and explore Hobbs’ massive family. If any of you are looking for something ridiculous yet thrilling and charming this month, Hobbs and Shaw is worth it. It knows what it wants to be, and it delivers! This is perfect matinee entertainment!


2019 Summer Movie Review: Yesterday


Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) becomes Britain’s biggest pop sensation in Danny Boyle’s Yesterday. (Source: Smooth Radio)

The Beatles have been loved for generations, since their successful U.S. debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1964, 73 million people tuned in on an exciting night during a time where the nation mourned for the death of JFK. Their fears soon faded once the band performed in front of a screaming audience. It established a popularity in other British bands in the U.S., including The Kinks and The Rolling Stones. 

Their music has been used in numerous movies; famously in A Hard Day’s Night, where John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr play satirical versions of themselves, and Across the Universe, a dazzling yet overblown jukebox musical set over the course of 1960s history. 

We already have an enjoyably trashy biopic of Queen (Bohemian Rhapsody) and a magical rendition of Elton John’s life (Rocketman). With two upcoming films featuring music of Bruce Springsteen (Blinded by the Light) and a Christmas-themed film featuring the music of George Michael (Last Christmas), 2019 might end up being a fun year for these type of films featuring classic artists. Now–director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis collaborate for the first time to give the audience another jukebox musical featuring the wonderful music of The Beatles with Yesterday, a movie that is less of an acid trip than Across the Universe.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) lives in the small seaport town of Lowestoft. He’s a struggling singer-songwriter to make a name for himself. One night, the unthinkable happens. A worldwide power outage occurs when he gets hit by a bus. Once released from the hospital, he performs a gorgeous rendition of “Yesterday” in front of his childhood crush Ellie (Lily James) and a group of his friends, in which they thought he originally wrote the song. Befuddled, Jack eventually finds out he is in a world where The Beatles and their music never existed. He becomes a worldwide phenomenon from recording their music at a local recording studio, with the support of his new manager Debra (Kate McKinnon) and Ed Sheeran (playing a fictional version of himself).

The poster consists of Jack walking across the iconic Abbey Road alone with a guitar on his back. The tagline reads: “Yesterday, everyone knew The Beatles. Today, only Jack remembers their music. He’s about to become a very big deal.” 

With that, he sure does! Although with disappointing results.

For his theatrical debut, Patel has great talent as a singer; putting enough vibrant energy into the 17 Beatles songs used in the film. With the music aside, as Jack, he comes across as a character with little to no personality. Sadly, same goes to the charming Lily James, whom I loved in Cinderella, Baby Driver, and last year’s Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Even with a gifted supporting cast, there are stuck in a setting with barely any character. The concept is nothing short of genius with some humor thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, there is nothing to save for the narrative containing barely any surprises.

The movie does have its moments. All of the songs used (imagine how long it must have taken to accept the copyrights) are wonderfully covered by Patel, a talent I could actually see having a more successful music career. Without giving anything away, the movie has surprisingly touching final act I think a box of tissues is required. Other than that, Yesterday is a movie I wanted to like. However, it ends up as a bland and borderline heartless musical that will attract Ed Sheeran fangirls.


2019 Summer Movie Review: The Last Black Man in San Francisco


Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and Mont (Jonathan Majors) try to reclaim a Victorian mansion in Joe Talbot’s fantastic debut The Last Black Man in San Francisco. (Source: The Atlantic)

The Last Black Man in San Francisco, the latest hit from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is based on an actual friendship between Jimmie Fails and director Joe Talbot, two San Francisco natives who would hang out constantly. They would ride on skateboards and discuss their hopes, dreams, and fears. Considering how expensive it is to live in the city, Jimmie has been living in group homes all of his life. 

After its premiere earlier this year, it has finally expanded to more theaters around the country. I admit, it’s definitely worth the wait.

Jimmie (Fails, playing a fictional version of himself) and Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) are two street-smart African-American friends living in San Francisco. They spend time with Mont’s blind grandfather (Danny Glover, delivering the most tender performance of his long career), watching classic film-noirs while Mont narrates the scenes for him. While Mont is an aspiring artist and playwright, Jimmie is struggling to live the life he wanted, especially earn money at a good paying job. One day, the two friends stop at a stunning Victorian mansion, built by Jimmie’s grandfather after World War II, in the historically black Fillmore District. Although the place is owned by an older white couple, they stop by every day to renovate it. Together, they both reminisce the past while living in the present.

Talbot’s directorial debut is a miraculous achievement. Although moving at a patient pace, every scene feels 100% authentic rather than forced. The actors feel like real people. It’s a beautiful tribute to a beautiful city that is as surprising as it is thoughtful. Fails and Majors portray one of the most heart-rending friendships I’ve ever seen in recent years. Adam Newport-Berra’s cinematography and Emile Mosseri’s score give San Francisco an almost dreamlike quality. Not to mention the soundtrack, containing hip-hop and classic folk songs, including Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” and Michael Marshall’s gorgeous cover of “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”, summing up the city’s diverse beauty. The mansion, at the film’s core, is symbolic for Jimmie’s hopes for a future that he could live up to his generation. 

To quote David Fear, of the Rolling Stone, “You can tell this movie is going to be special within its first five minutes.”

I cannot agree more! The Last Black Man in San Francisco will be a movie I will watch for the rest of my life. I’ll be damned if this doesn’t earn any Oscars.


2019 Summer Movie Review: Toy Story 4


Woody (Tom Hanks) catches up with an old friend (Annie Potts) in Toy Story 4. (Source: Washington Post)

In 1995, John Lasseter made history by bringing the first ever feature-length computer-animated film Toy Story. It followed a group of toys coming to life whenever humans aren’t around, and they help each other in the most perilous of situations. It became a monster box-office success, Disney/PIXAR decided to make a sequel. Toy Story 2 featured a much bigger adventures that went into new heights. No one knew the toys would make a comeback ten years later with Toy Story 3, where things got more emotional and intense. When it was announced there is going to be Toy Story 4, everyone (including myself) got nervous. If the previous film ended on a pitch-perfect note, how would the series go on? Director/co-writer Josh Cooley (who worked as one of the screenwriters for Inside Out) steps into use his bag of tricks. The results are nothing short of surprising.

A year after Andy has left for college, the toys have a great owner in Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles, via audio archives, and Estelle Harris), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and the rest of the toy gang go on a road trip with Bonnie and her parents before heading for kindergarten. At her orientation, Bonnie makes a new toy made out of a spork called Forky (Tony Hale), although he sees himself as trash instead of a toy. Woody embarks on a mission to save her new toy. Along the way, he encounters Bo Peep (Annie Potts) at an antique shop, who helps him make his way back to Bonnie and the toys.

This movie really shows how much the animation has evolved since the first film. It opens up with Woody and the toys trying to save a toy in the rain. Notice the water droplets dripping on the toys. It’s clear the animation is more photo-realistic and a lot more breath-taking this time around. Every single shot is like a painting come to life. 

Of course, you see a lot of familiar faces (and voices) as well as some likeable newcomers. Toy Story 4 is centered more on Woody than the previous entries. It continues to contain the wonderful message about always being there for one another (either toys or human owners). Before, Woody’s relationship with Bo Peep was more flirtatious. Here, they have matured over the years. I’m so glad Bo Peep has a much more fascinating empowered character arc. 

The side characters are a ton of fun to watch. Forky would have easily been one that would have been straight-up annoying. But–it’s hard not to feel bad for him, despite finding hilarious ways of escaping. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are a hoot as Ducky and Bunny, two carnival prize toys who want to be “The Chosen Ones”. The scene-stealer, however, is Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom, a Canadian daredevil toy with a tragic backstory, who is just as sophisticated as The Stig from Top Gear. I mean, is there anything Reeves cannot do?

For all of the parents out there, Toy Story 4 might be too dark and upsetting for younger children. The appearances of vintage pull-string doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her ventriloquist dummies are intimidating. For those who have followed the series since the beginning, expect a handful of emotional moments. I sense this will be the end of a beloved saga, but it does, once again, end on a high note.


2019 Summer Movie Review: The Dead Don’t Die


Three officers (Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny, Adam Driver) all have a feeling there’s something not right in a small town in Jim Jarmusch’s horror-comedy The Dead Don’t Die. (Source: IndieWire)

Jim Jarmusch is one of the most unique filmmakers of all-time. He has been writing and directing movies since the 1980s. Since his 1984 debut Stranger than Paradise, his films have showcased a dry sense of humor and subtle storytelling. His anthology film Night on Earth and his most recent masterpiece Paterson are among his best. The Dead Don’t Die, his latest film, is not the first time where Jarmusch uses horror-movie creatures (the two main characters in Only Lovers Left Alive happen to be vampires). With this movie having a massive ensemble featuring collaborators of Jarmusch’s earlier work as well as newcomers, it tends to have a message about climate change. Unfortunately, the movie hardly does anything to it.

Set in the small town of Centerville (population: 738), strange things begin to occur. A radio station has reported a “polar fracking”, causing the Earth to come off its axis. The sun is staying up longer than usual. Cell phones and watches stop working. Pets are mysteriously disappearing and reappearing as vicious. At night, people are being eaten alive. Chief Officer Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver), and Officer Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny) begin to investigate. Peterson quickly comes to the conclusion reanimated corpses are coming out of their graves late at night. They all go around town talking to the locals and prepare for battle.

I appreciate a good deadpan comedy and a good zombie movie, and some amusing references to classic horror films, from Psycho to Night of the Living Dead. Jarmusch does show his love for the genre; adding some elegant touches. For instance, when the zombies are killed, they produce dust instead of blood and gore (like everyone is used to seeing). However, they hardly make up for the deadening dullness Jarmusch brings to his nonsensical writing and tedious directing.

Driver and Murray are both the masters of deadpan humor. Their chemistry is the only decent quality in this movie. In an early scene, they are both in the police cruiser. Sturgill Simpson’s country anthem “The Dead Don’t Die” (a song I hope gets nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar) is playing on the radio. Cliff is wondering why it sounds so familiar. “Well, because it’s the theme song,” Peterson says, sensing they are breaking the fourth wall. Then, it’s all downhill after the opening scene.

Containing an ensemble featuring the likes of Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, RZA, Selena Gomez, Iggy Pop among others, everyone is about as soulless as the movie itself. There are plenty of unnecessary subplots (particularly one set at a juvenile detention center) that don’t go anywhere. Even on a low-budget, the visuals look cheap. There’s a moment where Gomez’s Zoe, a hipster from Ohio, introduces herself while bidding farewell, and computer-generated sparkles explode behind her (I don’t know what the hell that was all about). Probably the weirdest part of all is Swinton’s performance as Zelda Winston, a Scottish funeral director obsessed with the samurai, with a fate so ridiculous it will infuriate moviegoers. Every single human character is about as soulless as the zombies. The Dead Don’t Die is a wasted opportunity.