Top 5 Anticipated Movies of 2017

Happy 2017!  As we leave a tumultuous 2016 behind, a look ahead to the year in movies.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (May 5)

Hooray! The gang is back for more intergalactic shenanigans. This time baby Groot joins in as Rocket’s sidekick. Plot details are still mum, but are they really necessary? Marvel’s hot streak seems unending and the stakes are relatively low for these characters. Here’s to a good time at the movies this summer!

Get Out (February 24)

 A black man (Daniel Kaluuya) meets his white girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) parents (played by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) in their small, racially homogenous town. Things seem alright until he meets the town’s few black residents; who act as if they’re under a trance. Get Out is the directorial debut of Key & Peele’s Jordan Peele. Check out the trailer here.

The Lego Batman Movie (February 10)

Okay, it’s mainly an attempt to sell more toys. But so was The Lego Movie. Lego Batman must take care of his new charge, Robin, while saving Lego Gotham from Lego Joker. From the trailer, it looks like the same irreverent fun as The Lego Movie. It features the voice talents of Will Arnett, Michael Cera, and Rosario Dawson.

Alien: Covenant (May 19)

While Prometheus was underwhelming, the Alien franchise remains the best in sci-fi horror. The newest entry is a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to the 1979 Alien. A ship is stranded on the planet the Prometheus crew crash landed on, and there they discover the xenomorphs and meet the android David. Here’s a link to the redband trailer.

Blade Runner 2049 (October 6)

The long awaited sequel to the sci-fi classic has arrived. Thirty years after the first, 2049 stars Ryan Gosling as a new blade runner who unearths a secret with a devastating impact. Harrison Ford reprises his role as Deckard. The film is also is directed by Arrival helmer Denis Villeneuve, which bodes well for a thoughtful and exciting film. Check out the recently released teaser here.

Review: 3%

Note: this is a spoiler-free review of the show.


In the future, year 104, the world is divided into to two classes: the poor in the slums, and the rich who live in the Offshore. Every year, all 20-year-old citizens from the slums compete to live in the Offshore. “In The Offshore, all are given equal opportunity to advance.” Proclaims the charismatic leader, Ezequiel. Only 3% of the contestants, candidates, will get to live in Utopia. However, The System is threatened by The Cause. Maybe there was something lost in translation (show is shot in Brazilian Portuguese), but those are the most unoriginal names. Anyway, 3% follows five candidates (Michele, Fernando, Joana, Marco, Rafael) in their quest to become the lucky 3%, and Ezequiel (João Miguel). He’s the almighty Supervisor, who might be working with The Cause.

As an ensemble show, 3% follows a Lost format. Each episode focuses on one character of the ensemble, with flashbacks, and their journey through The Process. Michele (Bianca Comparato), is the secret resistance fighter. Marco (Rafael Lozano) is the vain and relatively well-off candidate. He considers it his birthright to make it to The Offshore, the rest of his family has. Rafael (Rodolfo Valente) is the trickster-type. Fernando (Michel Gomes) is the sweet, paraplegic, who befriends Michele. Joana (Vaneza Oliveira) is the lone wolf.

You also see elements of the Hunger Games, Elysium, Survivor. Candidates must outwit, outlast, and outplay each other to prove themselves worthy to the Administrators. They are given “tests”, like assembling blocks quickly to show high IQ; and successfully making across a tunnel while being dosed with hallucinogens, to prove perseverance, maybe?

From the beginning, the show presents The Process as an invasive and dehumanizing ordeal that only proves the candidates’ willingness to submit to the system. In the pilot, they are put through a questionnaire that is invasive and harsh. It is like a job interview, psychological evaluation, and lie-detector test. They ask a black woman how often she washes her hair. Fernando’s disability is mocked. Michele is hit on by the interviewer and mocked for her attachment to a sentimental object. “Are you worth being saved?” They ask. They are really asking what are the candidates willing to give up. The ones who pass the first stage, must disavow all ties to their former lives.

Despite rigged nature of The Process, some characters are willing to defend this system, like Fernando, the paraplegic who has near-religious faith in the system. The most optimistic character of the show. He firmly believes in the system, and believes in its mission for good, even when confronted of the reality of its unfairness. He believes in self-reliance, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. It is admirable, but also frustrating to Michele, who tries to get him to see the injustice. The candidates know they are being watched, yet this doesn’t prevent anyone, Rafael mostly, from cheating. No one is eliminated for cheating. They are eliminated for giving the wrong answers or not completing the test on time.

This is not light escapism. In fact, you may be wishing for escapism from this show. Given the current political climate, this is a show that plays to the worst fears of a totalitarian government, built on ideals of equality and self-reliance. This show might be better if watched once a day, like a miniseries event. One problem is that the 3% is depressing. The demoralizing tests are, well, demoralizing after a while. The subplot of Ezequiel being watched by his superiors is the least interesting part of the show. The Cause is barely mentioned after the pilot. Michele is pushed to the back burner soon. It’s not that all shows have to be upbeat and positive. But for a show that presents a resistance and a revenge story within the pilot, it doesn’t show much interest in either of those.  All of 3% eight episodes are streaming on Netflix.

Recap: The Santa Clarita Diet


Available on Netflix February 3

Spoilers on the first half

Meet Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Sheila Hammond (Drew Barrymore). They sort of like their bland, upper-middle class, Southern California life. Shelia and Joel are real estate agents. They have a surly teenage daughter Abby (Liv Hewson). Their home is between two rival, alpha-male cops Dan and Rick. Dan (Ricardo Chavira) also acts as a one-man homeowner’s association. His wife (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) is phony and bored. His stepson, Eric (Skylar Gisondo) is a nerd and has a crush on Abby. Abby is indifferent.

Their suburban dream is interrupted one morning, when Sheila feels a pain in her lower abdomen. Later while showing a house, she projectile vomits in front of the buyers. It’s worse than The Exorcist. Total faux pas, and everyone pretends they can’t hear her vomiting her insides out in the bathroom for the next ten minutes. Joel finds her in a bathroom that looks like the lobby from The Shining, but with a kale smoothie. She’s also thrown up an organ apparently.

They can’t worry about that too much though, because the new guy, Gary (Nathan Fillion) might steal their big sale. He also shamelessly hits on Sheila in front of Joel. But Sheila kind of likes it. She’s feeling different, a little frisky. She buys a new Range Rover and starts clubbing. Oh, and she can’t feel her heartbeat and craves raw meat.

After consulting Eric, the family concludes that Shelia is “undead.” They’re not using the zed word. They’re not entirely sure what she is; but, just in case, they figure it’s a good idea to keep her fed. They wouldn’t want to see her when she’s hungry.

Speaking of cravings, Gary is thirsting for Sheila. He sneaks up on her in her backward one morning. In a predatory Gaston-y way, tries to get Shelia to have sex with him. It almost works, until Shelia gets hungry. Nathan Fillion has been Marion Craned.

This is a triple-D cocktail: equal parts Desperate Housewives, Dexter, and Death Becomes Her. The first five episodes are binge-worthy. Each episode is about 25 minutes, and while the tonal shifts are awkward, the chemistry between the leads is charming. It’s fun watching Joel and Sheila figuring out how to be serial killers while maintaining their perfect façade.

One criticism is that Sheila isn’t fully set up as a meek suburbanite. Her transformation into a cussing, impulsive realtor doesn’t stick. They rely a little too much on Barrymore’s natural sweetness. It’s a safe tactic, because Drew Barrymore is just adorable, especially when she’s cheerfully making a brain smoothie.

As the uptight and cowardly Joel, Timothy Olyphant veers into manic desperation.  His pasted smile is borderline psychotic. His only outlet is weed, which annoys Sheila. One day, in his impotent rage, he destroys the toaster oven. I wish there was a little more to his character than failed musician. Oh well.

The first half of The Santa Clarita Diet deals with Joel and Sheila trying to find appropriate victims. Joel is trying to figure out what happened to Sheila. Sheila is “following her passion” and “living her best life.” She’s become the neighborhood Oprah. Abby starts having trouble in school. She and Eric become friends. Meanwhile, Dan is snooping around their yard. He thinks there’s something up with the Hammonds.


Recap: The OA

Episode 1 “Homecoming”


What is The OA? A better question is who? Netflix’s new original show promises a sci-fi and fantasy mix that should appeal to fans of The Returned or Stranger Things. The OA pulses with a quiet intensity, which may not be for everyone. An unidentified woman (Brit Marling) is caught on a cell phone jumping off a bridge. She later wakes in a hospital, and is identified as the missing girl, Prairie Johnson. Seven years after her disappearance, she has a strange scar on her back, mysterious powers, and isn’t blind anymore.

She refuses to tell anyone where she was, or how she got her sight back. So, her homecoming is difficult. Her parents, played by Alice Krige and Scott Wilson, struggle with connecting to and protecting their daughter. Was this alien abduction, a cult, or a rift in the time-space continuum?  Prairie says she wasn’t kidnapped; she just left home one day, and was picked up by some woman. She says her jump off the bridge was an attempt to find the people who she was with. Oh yeah, she also doesn’t call herself Prairie anymore, she now goes by, The OA.

OA talks vaguely of this dimension’s sickness and being true to your invisible self. Which seems mysterious for the sake of it. While referring to yourself as an entity is a little annoying, Marling is assured and not overly delicate. Thankfully, The OA doesn’t dwell in the mystery of the premise too long. As soon as she meets the local teenage bully/sociopath-in-training Steve (Patrick Gibson), she recruits him, and four other people, to help her find someone named Homer Roberts. But first, she tells a story.


OA was not born Prairie Johnson. She was born the scion of a Russian miner. When she was seven, she, and her other rich classmates, almost drowned in a bus accident. She was saved by a woman who exists, possibly, in another dimension. In exchange for going back, the woman took young OA’s sight. Who was this woman? Who is Homer Roberts? How did young OA become Prairie Johnson?

Brit Marling, one half the show’s creator, writer, and producer, is an assured lead. And doesn’t act with any contrived fragility, kind of like a grown-up Eleven. Looking forward to uncovering the mysteries.

First Impressions: Unfriended (2015)

Unfriended (2015)

So on the nose it’s bloody, Unfriended takes on cyberbullying using a unique execution of the “found-footage” device. One year after the Laura Barn’s suicide, the “friends” who posted the humiliating video that drove her to suicide are haunted by her vengeful spirit.  Aside from the novelty of watching the event play out on a computer screen, multiple screens, in real time, it follows the same teenage horror conventions.   It’s entertaining but it’s not scary.  If you do see it, be sure to watch it with a group of rowdy teenagers. Someone needs to warn the characters on screen that it’s not safe to investigate the strange noise in the basement.

Recommend: Eh…

It Follows (2015)

Dir. David Robert Mitchell

Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto

A slow burning horror film. It Follows successfully blends supernatural horror with early slasher films. Some may be disappointed by the deliberate pace and the lack of surprise. However, the film’s atmosphere is hypnotic, and it will stay with you after you leave the theater. SPOILERS ?

It begins with a teenage girl running for her life through a quiet suburban neighborhood. She is half dressed and improbably wearing red stilettos. Like a virulent outbreak of the clap, It Follows is a cautionary tale of the consequences of premarital sex. After an idyllic first time Janie (Maika Monroe) is drugged and tied to a chair by her beau. He tells her now something is after her, and the only way to get rid of it is to pass it on by having sex with someone else. It Follows, cribs the style of earlier slashers like Friday the 13th and Carpenter’s Halloween. But rather than the faceless enemy, “It” in It Follows takes the form of people known to the victim. A chilling commentary on sexual violence.

Also, unlike those earlier films, it’s more interested in the emotional aftermath and not the body count. Look elsewhere for gory, blood-soaked kills. Janie soon enlists the help of her friends, and the adolescent love triangles become the heart of the film. The teenagers are somewhat interchangeable, but their anxiety and longing is communicated. This is especially true for Paul (Keir Gilchrist) the wannabe savior, desperate to leave the friend zone. The monster in It Follows remains unnamed and ill-defined, perhaps by design. Simply speaking, the loss of innocence is a traumatic and inescapable experience. Because of the film’s emphasis on character rather than jump scares, It Follows stays with you. It does for walking what The Ring did for static on T.V.

Stylistically, It Follows continues the trend of retro-style horror, like The House of the Devil and You’re Next. It has the look, the filter, of an older film. The costuming and settings are older. The camera is steady. It’s only noticeable flair is the slow, searching zoom, which services the story by cultivating paranoia. It even has a synth heavy soundtrack by Rich Vreeland. Despite the old packaging and classical storytelling approach, it’s refreshing. It isn’t an “updates” nor does it try to subvert the genre. Cell phones and e-readers live harmoniously with analog televisions and wood-paneled walls. It Follows successfully fuses old tropes to create a unique film.

Recommend: Yes, BUT…do not go in with the expectation that it will be “the best American horror film in years.”

Availability (US): Wide theatrical release 27 March

Review: 5 to 7

5 to 7 (2015)

dir. Victor Levin

starring: Anton Yelchin, Berenice Marlohe

A story about a young writer falling in love with an older, married woman. 5 to 7 is a charming culture-clash romance that nimbly balances comedy and drama.

Writer/director Victor Levin’s debut begins with a montage of the bench plaques in Central Park.  The little loving messages from couples and individuals is reminiscent of Pont des Arts (the love lock bridge in Paris).  It sets the light and sweet tone of the film.  From Manhattan’s upper west side setting to the Jules et Jim references, 5 to 7 has a breezy and nostalgic air.

When Brian (Anton Yelchin), a struggling writer, meets the glamorous Arielle (Berenice Marlohe), he reluctantly begins an affair that can only take place between the hours of 5p.m. to 7p.m.  She assures him that it’s a normal type of relationship in France.  She even invites him to meet her husband (Lambert Wilson), who is in his own 5 to 7 affair with the sprightly Olivia Thirlby.  It is an odd setup that generates very funny moments, especially with the children.  They are so happy Brian is mom’s boyfriend.  Berenice Marlohe and Anton Yelchin have a warm chemistry that doesn’t cheapen the relationship.  Despite the circumstances, the characters genuinely care for each other.

The downside of the film’s old-fashioned charm is that it becomes too sentimental.  The parents, played by Glenn Close and Frank Langella, are affectionately, stereotypically, Jewish parents.  All the players speak earnestly and truthfully.  It’s a bit unrealistic, especially as the relationship reaches it’s inevitable conclusion.  The aftermath of the relationship is somehow treated too lightly and too earnestly.  However, 5 to 7 leaves a warm lasting impression.

watch the film’s trailer here.

Recommend: Yes. It’s an unconventional romance with an old-fashioned heart.

In Theaters (US):  3 April, 2015

Review: Slow West

 Slow West (2015)

Dir. John Maclean

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Rory McCann

A sardonic western that relies too much on tone.

Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a young man, a Scottish immigrant, on a quest to find his lost love Rose (Caren Pistorius). Michael Fassbender is Silas, the misanthropic bounty hunter who promises to help find his lost love. Little does Jay know, Rose is a murderous outlaw, wanted by bounty hunters across the west; including a nasty looking Payne (Ben Mendelsohn). Outfitted in a pimp coat made of dead ewoks and a face tattoo, Mendelsohn is subtly dangerous without overacting. All the actors are appropriately understated within this detached western.

Unfortunately for Jay his lover has moved on without him. His ignorance of this fact is sadly ironic, and unfortunately for the film, it is his only character trait. The tone of the film is ironic and sardonic. Strangers appear in the middle of nowhere and spout vaguely philosophic, irrelevant monologues. It’s lighter and comedic, but with one-dimensional characters in a fatidic story, it’s an empty experience. The depiction of the American West adds to this emptiness. It’s too clean. Perhaps too many films depicting the west as a hellish desert filled with disease and pestilence, has soiled (all puns intended) my view of the West. The landscape in Slow West seems more like an untouched, magical forest.

Slow West has a cool and ironic tone, but there isn’t enough substance.

Recommend: No

Movie Review: Clouds of Sils Maria


Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

dir. Olivier Assayas

starring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace-Moretz

A post-modern meditation on maturity and power. Set in the Swiss Alps, and Maria Enders’ (Juliette Binoche) insecurities, Clouds of Sils Maria covers similar thematic territory as Black Swan and Birdman, albeit with more complexity.

Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, a respected and mature actress. She is asked to be in the play the made her famous twenty years ago. It’s a play about a younger woman, Sigrid, who seduces her older female boss, Helena, then abandons her. It drives Helena, to suicide…maybe.  Clouds of Sils Maria lives in the ambiguities and explores how power changes with age. The abrupt, ironically looser, edits enhance that feeling. However, when looking back, you feel you were being set up for a twist that never comes.  The Swiss Alps are a beautiful and otherworldly setting for this intellectual approach.  As the play is deconstructed by the characters, echoes of the relationship dynamics in the play are seen in the film.

Maria reluctantly accepts the role of the older woman this time. The younger woman is played by Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace-Moretz), a woman famous for her tabloid headlines rather than her Hollywood superhero movies. Maria is uncomfortable playing an older woman. She hates Helena, she’s too weak, she’s self-destructive, she’s boring. To her the role is admitting aging, becoming invisible. Her and her assistant, played by a surprisingly human Kristen Stewart, run lines, and run through Maria’s insecurities in the Alps. Kristen Stewart, as the assistant Val, acts as the devil’s advocate in Maria’s debates. Val is Maria’s right hand, her shadow. The pair have a best-friend bond, which allows Val to challenge Maria’s assumptions. She pushes Maria to see the depth and complexity in the character.  Val reminds her that the text hasn’t changed, Maria has. She suggests that vulnerability isn’t weakness. Binoche and Stewart have great chemistry that changes from sisterly, to mentor, to even sexual.  Their relationship is key.

Clouds of Sils Maria takes a unique approach to familiar material.

Recommend: Yes, it’s a discussion starter.

Review: Forever Into Space

Forever Into Space (2015)fis_card

dir. Greg W. Locke

starring: Kelly Sebastian, Tyler Evan Rowe, Oliver Fetter, Julianna Pitt, Jaz Valentino

A film that’s more about a feeling. Shot in crisp black and white, Forever Into Space is a glimpse into the lives of over-educated and underemployed twenty-somethings in New York City.  It centers on Audrey Harrington (Kelly Sebastian) a writer/blogger trying to earn a living off her writing, and her struggling friends.  The film pays homage to other New York-set films and subtly answers the criticisms lobbed at millennials.  With a budget of less than $1000, Forever Into Space is no budget film-making at its best.

The first comparison that comes to mind is ClerksForever Into Space shines in the small moments, where the characters are just hanging out, occasionally waxing philosophically. There is an homage to the bridge scene in Manhattan that puts the focus on the speakers rather than the object of their conversation. Maybe that’s a generational difference?  Unlike Clerks, here there is an underlying tone of hunger and disappointment.  It takes place in 2013 and economic uncertainty permeates the film. These are people who did what they were supposed to, like go to college, move out, get a real job; but they are constantly told that they are entitled brats who expect everything for nothing.  That disconnect is the films’ slogan, “the have-to-do-it-yourself generation.” It can be a bit slow, but its authenticity and immediacy make it worth a watch.