By Marc S. Sanders

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson helms a film stuffed with beefcake, gusto, an artificial leg, and LOTS OF DUCT TAPE. Even his world-famous chest tattoo makes a cameo.

Skyscraper is his latest action piece, and it makes no bones about how absurd its set pieces and stunts are.  This is a self-aware picture; self-aware of all its UN-likelihood.  It has to be.  

The writer of this piece, that is not a Die Hard ripoff, is Rawson Marshall Thurber (rolls off the tongue like Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese) is also the director.  I can almost promise this guy wrote this script in airport terminals and secluded library corners with his iPad knowing how out of control this hostage/burning building film would be and just laughed hysterically, like a mad scientist, as he typed.  Heck, he probably took his old GI Joes out of the shoe box and used them to storyboard on the tall oak tree in his backyard.  This guy should be given all jobs first considered for Michael Bay.  He knows the audience will roll their eyes at everything they are seeing, and he goes even crazier with the next set piece.  


It’s not enough that Johnson, with an artificial leg, can climb a sky high crane while a skyscraper (hence the title) blazes to pieces next to him.  He then makes a ridiculous leap from said crane to said skyscraper through a broken window.  What?!?!? It could happen!!!!! Same as you can put sticky duct tape on your hands and shoes, and climb the outside of the building with the same artificial leg, like Spider-Man.

So, what do you think reader? Did I like Skyscraper?  You bet I did.  The edits are sharp.  I know The Rock isn’t going to perish, but when his hand slips from a ledge, you bet I jumped.  I laughed with such glee at each moment of ridiculous suspense. I loved the badassery of Neve Campbell playing the reverse of a distressed damsel wife to Johnson.  

On top of all that, this skyscraper, located in Hong Kong, and reportedly 5 times the size of the Empire State Building, is a gargantuan setting of the best technology.  Known as The Pearl, this is one super cool building of over 220 floors plus a fun house hall of mirrors dome at the top.  How that dome helps the world or even just the building beats the hell outta me.  It’s just amazingly cool and that’s why it’s there. 

So yes!!!!  Go see Skyscraper. Throw your logic and snobby intolerance for the absurd off the roof and have a great time at the movies.


By Marc S. Sanders

To those who naysayed this standalone installment in the galaxy far, far away, all I say is you are trying too hard to be pleased.  Shut up and have some fun, will ya?

Solo: A Star Wars Story presents a film that stands on its own, relying on mysterious legendary side stories only talked briefly about for the last fortysomething years like the Kessel Run, Sabaac card games, dice and the origin of how Chewbacca met everyone’s favorite space smuggler, Han Solo, plus the Millennium Falcon and the scoundrel Lando Calrissian.  

My brother and even a few friends of mine (Joe Pauly) grew up loving John Wayne’s films. No one else epitomized a Hollywood western better than The Duke.  He was their childhood hero.  For me, it is the generation after that which introduced the space cowboy Han Solo played by Harrison Ford.  He is not anywhere near a multi-dimensional character; pretty one note if you ask me (which ironically is opposite of what I demand in any kind of storytelling these days).  

Captain Solo was the guy who would make it up as he goes; never planning ahead or considering others beyond his trusted furry partner and his beloved spaceship.  He’d poorly talk his way out of trapped situations and when that didn’t work, he was a fast draw with his blaster.  

The screenwriters for Solo, legendary Lawrence Kasdan with his son Jonathan, were all aware of Han’s placement in this space opera, while constructing this film.  Only this time they intended on showing how that devil may care came about. It reminded me of a similar approach writer Paul Haggis took with the reinvention of James Bond in Casino Royale.    A lone hero trusts very little beyond his own arrogance and self-assurance.  The Kasdsans used that technique as the spine for this story and it works.

Director Ron Howard is the right guy to fill in following a notorious director incident beforehand.  Howard keeps the film moving fast with casualties you might not expect to perish, revealing masks (an under looked theme of the original films), traitors, fast ships, fast cars, and their pursuits and chases.  A favorite scene, saluting the Western, is a thrilling train robbery across a snowy mountain that seamlessly changes its angle and vector at times.  It’s as awesome a scene as it promised in the trailers.  

Howard is best at keeping the film grounded in actors rather than tired CGI cartoons.  He definitely makes Han, Lando and the rest look convincing trying to steer a ship or carry a blaster and play cards.

The cast is great.  Alden Ehrenreich is fine in the role; young, cocky, brash, handsome.  I wasn’t looking for him to do a Harrison Ford impersonation.  That would only look like a 12:45 am Saturday Night Live skit. The guy had to do his own thing, not someone else’s much like the Batman and Bond films have done before.  Donald Glover is perfect as Lando, even adopting Billy Dee Williams own way of pronunciation (“Han” vs Ha-an”).  Still, he makes the part his own.  He’s fun to watch.  Beyond some mild makeup scarring, Paul Bettany makes for a really uncomfortable crime lord, like a suave Miami Vice drug kingpin, and Woody Harrelson is just right in the inspirational pirate role; gruff and tough and educating.  Emilia Clarke is finally directed properly in a film.  (I still haven’t forgotten her awful Terminator: Genisys Sarah Conner portrayal.). She is dangerously sexy, but smarmy and cocky like Carrie Fisher was.  She’s a great femme fatale of the 1940s beautifully incorporated into some very thick sci fi.  

This was such a fun time at the movies.  Go ahead.  Accuse me of my bias, but as well shouldn’t I be expected to be a tough demanding critic of all new Star Wars material?  I’d probably be wanting it to match the magic of the original trilogy.  Well no.  I don’t want it that way.  I want new and fresh ideas, while still recognizing George Lucas’ used universe settings.  Disney and Lucasfilm continue to move along, stretching their imagination in monies well spent while also following the rules of smart aleck characters, film western motifs, Eastern cultures and death-defying cliffhangers.  Had the Star Wars franchise remained with Fox, audiences would not be getting the treats we’ve been blessed with for these last 10 years.

Solo really only has two minor misfires.  The droid L3, Lando’s Co-pilot, does not live up to Anthony Daniels nor Alan Tudyk and their high brow robot attitudes.  Why? Because it’s hard to understand what L3 is truly saying.  The lines are garbled at times; drowned out by the robot dialect I guess, and maybe also by a mostly origninal score.

As well, there is one ending moment that’s eye opening, but puzzling with little demand for it.  It was one surprise that did not seem to be well thought out and considering this is a stand alone film, it left me unsure of what Lucasfilm hoped to gain from it.  The moment was too distracting for me.  Yet it’s in there and it’s not the worst offense.  Just very very unnecessary and perplexing.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is none other than great fun with something to think about.   I was laughing out loud.  The audience we were with was clapping and cheering.  That’s why Star Wars films continue to thrive.  Their audiences get caught up in the ride, especially when the films are relatable while not taking themselves too seriously.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Boots Riley
Cast: LaKeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick
My Rating: 6/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 93% Certified Fresh

PLOT: In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a universe of greed.

[Author’s Note: In my mind, it’s virtually impossible to discuss Sorry to Bother You without making comparisons to Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us.  But I will give it the old college try…]

Boots Riley’s directorial debut, Sorry to Bother You, has been described by Riley himself as an absurdist dark comedy combined with magical realism and science fiction.  Talk about your genre mashups.  While other directors have proven this kind of filmmaking is not only possible but profitable (Being John Malkovich [1999], Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [2004]), Riley’s film feels like he bit off a little more than he could chew.  After it was over, instead of feeling like I had seen something groundbreaking and provocative, I felt like I had just sat through an ambitious student film.  At some point, it lost its way.

Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield) is an underachiever with an improbably gorgeous girlfriend named Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a performance artist who specializes in the kind of art that involves water balloons, spent bullet casings, and recitations from The Last Dragon (1985).  All righty, then.  Cassius is hired as a telemarketer at a company where the fact that he falsified his résumé and brought in fake trophies shows initiative.  On his first day on the job, the film shows flashes of promise.  As he makes the calls, his workstation magically drops into the homes of the people he’s calling, a perfect representation of the intrusion these callers make.  After repeated failures, an old-timer named Langston (an underused Danny Glover) gives him a tip: Use your white voice.  “I’m not talking about Will Smith-white.  That’s just proper.”  Now THAT’S funny.

So Cassius starts using a white voice (overdubbed by David Cross) on his calls, and wouldn’t you know it, he becomes the highest-selling telemarketer on the sales floor.  This is not fantasy, as far as I’m concerned.  I recently watched a documentary where a Latino man submitted hundreds of résumés while job hunting with no responses.  In desperation, he changed his name on his résumé from “Jose” to “Joseph.”  Presto…the calls started rolling in.  True story.

Anyway, Cassius gets a promotion and is moved upstairs to be a “Power Caller.”  Meanwhile, the other telemarketers organize and strike for better wages, so Cassius is derided as a scab every time he comes to work.  But then he discovers what he’s actually selling as a Power Caller.  It has something to do with a company called WorryFree, a system whereby workers sign a lifetime contract to live and work in a single communal location with no paychecks.  One of their slogans is, “If you worked here, you’d be home now!”

WorryFree is run by Steve Lift, played by Armie Hammer at his smarmy best.  In the movie’s most pointed satirical moment, Lift invites Cassius to a party where he goads Cassius into rapping for his party guests.  “Come on, you’re from Oakland, I refuse to believe you don’t know how to rap!”  Cassius tries some feeble rhymes, and then he realizes exactly what Lift and his party guests want to hear.  His solution is controversial, provocative, and hilarious.  I won’t spoil it for you…it’s the high point of the film.

Meanwhile, there are other scenes involving the strike, the strikers, an underground movement called Left Eye, a Claymation sequence, horses, and a nearly-naked Detroit wearing a costume that looks inspired by Janet Jackson’s infamous Rolling Stone cover shoot.  It’s all a little haphazard and cluttered and unfocused.

I believe this movie has a point.  I think it comes closest to MAKING its point when it deals specifically with how the telemarketing company and Steve Lift plan to transform their workforce to increase profits, and with how Cassius deals with the conflict between his steadily increasing paychecks and his moral conscience.  But in between those scenes are myriad other plotlines and side notes that were merely distracting rather than world-building.  (For example, did we really need those scenes where Detroit may or may not get involved with another man?  Was it necessary for Steve Lift’s party to devolve into an Eyes Wide Shut situation?  And in the name of M. Night Shyamalan…was that ending really necessary?)

Sorry to Bother You seems to have struck a chord with many viewers.  I am not one of them.  After it was over, I found it impossible not to compare it to other recent films like Get Out, Us, or even BlacKkKlansman.  Those films found their through lines, made their points, AND were also massively entertaining.  Sorry to Bother You feels like it fell short of the finish line with those goals in sight.


By Marc S. Sanders

Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is a stand out film among what has become an overpopulated Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It is a super hero film for sure, complete with the standard gadgets, super strength and abilities, action and over the top science fiction. Yet, this film did not have to be a superhero narrative to drive home the message of its story. This could have been an Oliver Stone film rooted in political quagmire. It could have been a John Hughes teen rip off film that takes place in a typical Wasp suburban school.

A question embraces this film. Simply, when is it appropriate to share?

Chadwick Boseman plays the title character also known as T’Challa, and following the recent death of his father he becomes the next king of the fictional African based country of Wakanda, a location hidden from the rest of the world so that no one else can take advantage of its most precious resource, Vibranium, which has allowed for the most sophisticated technology, weaponry and even medical advancements ever known. How it’s all lumped together, who knows? Pick up a Marvel Comics Encyclopedia for that answer. T’Challa is tasked with whether it is a moral obligation to share the resource with the rest of the world. However, if it is provided, will the Vibranium be taken advantage of for nefarious purposes?

(SIDE NOTE: Reviewing all of these Marvel films is getting to be trying, as I feel resorted to using the same terminology some times; words and phrases like “hero,” “villain,” “nefarious purposes” and “also known as.”)

His nemesis is Eric Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan; this guy is going to get an Oscar one day. Killmonger is an educated, skilled soldier and cousin to T’Challa who was abandoned by Wakanda following his own father’s betrayal of the country. He grew up in the projects of Oakland, California. Killmonger returns to Wakanda with the purpose of becoming king and allowing the tech and resources Wakanda possesses to be used by the outside world, particularly by populations of African descent and people of color who have endured a history of suffering. Once again, Marvel Studios scores with a villain you want to root for and endorse. Just like Jeff Bridges’ Obidiah Stane in the first Iron Man film, you have to recognize the stance that Killmonger holds on his side of argument. That’s great writing. It’s not so much that Killmonger is a slaughterer. He really isn’t at all. Once he overthrows the hero, the mission is only just beginning as he wishes to right the wrongs of Wakanda for never providing in the first place. It’s ironic really. This guy sides on the fact that he doesn’t want a wall, while the protagonist is doing all he can to maintain a divider to the outside world. In 2018, was there another film that really reflected the sign of the times so succinctly?

Coogler makes a beautiful sweeping film of country and special effects. The Wakandan ships are very cool. Overhead shots of Africa and the camp bases of various tribes are astonishing. One particular tribe resides on a winter like mountainside and the leaders room is spectaculary decorated in horizontal lumber hangings. T’Challa’s staff of mostly female combat warriors and scientists led by Lupita Nyong’o are really exciting. At times the film takes inspiration from some of the best standards of the James Bond films, as his sister introduces her latest inventions for the Black Panther suit. Naturally, the Black Panther costumes are stand outs in the film, black with glowing power enhancements of purples and yellows.

Is Black Panther worthy of a Best Picture nomination and an abundance of awards attention? I’m still not sure. It’s a very strong piece that is light years ahead of any DC Universe film, but it has great characters and messages like most of the Marvel films and even some of the more recent Bond films featuring Daniel Craig. Maybe it is one of the best films of they year, and maybe it should be a Best Picture nominee, but perhaps only because 2018 did not offer a wealth of extraordinary film achievements to begin with. I found merits in all of the 8 Best Picture nominees in this particular year, but I also found problems with many of them too (don’t get me started on A Star Is Born); shortcomings that in another year with better films would keep many of these nominees from ever being considered for the grand prize.

Yet, as I document these thoughts, I think about Black Panther again. Truly, it does not have anything negative in its feature. Ryan Coogler directed and wrote a very focused and thought provoking film. Yup! It was truly one of the year’s best films.


By Marc S. Sanders

M Night Shamylan is kicking himself right now for not thinking of this story.  All it took for director/co-writer John Krasinski was very, very minimal dialogue, some well skilled young actors and his brilliantly, talented wife Emily Blunt to pull off one of the best pictures of 2018.

Another desolate, post-apocalyptic future has occurred and thankfully this story does not feature tired zombies or vampires.  Krasinski uses old fashioned techniques to hide or mistakenly reveal his characters to the boogie men with no other agenda except to shut out all of the noise. A silo, a basement, a waterfall, fire, a nail, a hearing-impaired character, bare feet, a toy space shuttle, sand, lights and fireworks. I accepted every plot device used in the film, and each element is a miniature story in and of itself.  As well, when there are moments that allow the four main characters to actually talk, there stands to be good reason for it and I bought all of it.

Emily Blunt is an incredible actress full of hard concentration and Krasinski does not let up on long running close ups to heighten her tension of isolation surrounded by the most terrifying threats, all while enduring a physical emergency.  She stares without a blink.  She effortlessly shakes with paranoia, and she evokes pain of the worst kind; all without uttering a sound or saying a word.  This is the same actress who played a snobby diva in The Devil Wears Prada, and later went on to portray the most popular nanny of all time, Mary Poppins.  This performance should not be overlooked.  It’s incredible.  You don’t need monsters in your face to be afraid.  All you need is Emily Blunt to carry you along.  

Krasinski springboards his terror off the best horror films from Jaws to The Shining to Alien to The Blair Witch Project and the original Paranormal Activity.  Yet, he does manage to pioneer his craft with A Quiet Place.  This is not something you have seen before. Hiding in silent fear has been done to death.  The girl always hides in the closet from the killer.  Here, you can hide, but staying out of sight won’t necessarily save you or do you any favors.  These creatures just might be prepared for that.  So, now you have something new to wrestle with.  Can you keep quiet?  This script does not make that easy. If ever a movie was to justify the need for Oscar categories like Sound and Sound Effects Editing, then this is the film to turn to.  These tools give reason for the storyline more overtly than any other that I can imagine.  You do not take the sound for granted, and you do not take the lack of sound for granted either.

Miguel Rodriguez and I originally saw this picture in a Dolby theatre.  It’s a telling film that gives reason for a Dolby theatre in the first place.  A film like this is worthy of the upgraded ticket price. (By the way, Mig, you still owe me $11.00.)

Put John Krasinski up as a top-notch director.  I believe this film was granted a very small budget, but like the best directors to come before him, he has managed to put up big screams and the best in dramatic storytelling with little expense. He even manages to tug at your heartstrings if you allow it. The ending was a huge pay off for me personally.  John Krasinski gives you a horror film, but he’ll make sure you have something to think about while you’re watching it, and long after you have left the theatre.


By Marc S. Sanders

Director Paul Feig has a great approach to directing women and how characters interact with one another. Bridesmaids was one of the best ensemble comedies of the last twenty years. With A Simple Favor, adapted by Jessica Sharzer from the novel by Darcey Belle, Feig goes for the twisty mystery.

A Connecticut suburban mommy vlogger named Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) befriends an ice cold three piece suit business executive rebel mom named Emily (Blake Lively) when their elementary school age sons become friends. These women couldn’t be more different. Neither really has friends. Stephanie teaches unseen internet surfers the latest recipes or arts and crafts. Emily teaches Stephanie how to make martinis, drink and how to make your place in the world by saying “Fuck you!” to someone’s face, especially if it’s your boss.

As the exposition progresses, Stephanie becomes relied upon to watch after Emily’s son, Nicky, all too often. One day though, Emily doesn’t come to pick Nicky up and all but disappears with no trace. Stephanie attempts to uncover what happened. She talks with Emily’s husband (Henry Golding) who was out of town at the time of the disappearance. She makes the mystery an ongoing theme on her vlog and invites theories from her viewers. Comments range from “I bet it’s the husband.” to “That poor little boy.” Furthermore, Stephanie begins to adopt some of Emily’s aggressive traits to pursue her own investigation. Kendrick’s change in character is one of the more fun elements of the film. She becomes a modern day Jessica Fletcher or Nancy Drew.

The script for A Simple Favor plays like the better seasons of Desperate Housewives, or as mad as the film Wild Things with Denise Richards & Neve Campbell with outrageous sexual episodes that are meant to deceive or play with your mind. Twists that I wouldn’t dare reveal occur to deepen the mystery even further and Paul Feig’s film even seems to have a Jekyll/Hyde personality at times.

Anna Kendrick is bubbly, fun and quirky. Blake Lively is lethal and harsh. Both actresses are great contrasts to each other. What allows these two ladies to get drawn to one another and eventually call themselves “best friends” is their lack of friendship with anyone else and the very, very dark secrets they both possess. When the set ups are done, the ladies’ histories may or may not become instrumental in Emily’s disappearance and Stephanie’s curiosity for the truth.

As ridiculously far fetched as A Simple Favor is, I liked it because it kept me guessing. More so, I was really wondering who the true perpetrator was. I did not trust any of the players in the film, not even Stephanie, and so I was engaged.

A Simple Favor is one of those films where you won’t know if you liked the film until it reaches its conclusion. A mystery must depend on how satisfying the resolution is. Is it believable? No matter how absurd everything is, again, is…it…believable? For a time, I was hoping, UTTERLY HOPING, this was not going to go the way of Fight Club or Secret Window. If you’ve seen those films then you know what I’m talking about.

So again, is it believable? Yeah! I like to think so. Therefore, I gotta recommend the film.


By Marc S. Sanders

Spike Lee has finally received a Best Director Oscar nomination for his film BlacKkKlansman. It is based on the book by Ron Stallworth. In the 1970s, Stallworth was the only black police officer in the Colorado Springs police department. He was always ready to face the backlash and criticism for his afro and skin color. He also orchestrated an infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan while developing a trust with their Grand Wizard and eventual Presidential candidate David Duke.

John David Washington (son of Denzel) portrays Stallworth with high intelligence, instinct and even tolerance to stay focused on the end goal of incriminating Klan members out to do more than just march. Stallworth partners up with Flipp Zimmerman, a Jewish cop who will make his presence as Stallworth among the ranks of the Klan. Call it a Cyrano set up. Stallworth does the talking over the phone. Flipp stands in their presence.

I’ve usually been hot and cold on Spike Lee. Forgive me but when a “Spike Lee Joint” debuts in theatres, my subconscious immediately expects a very biased and unfair viewpoint of racial tensions in America. I don’t care for Lee’s outspoken statements in the media at times and I shake my head at some of his misguided actions. That’s another conversation that I welcome to have with anyone at another time. However, Lee takes a very aware and balanced approach here. The film opens with Alec Baldwin as an evil messenger of hate attempting to record a sermon for his disciples. Lee films Baldwin very disturbingly among different color hues and jittery close ups and wide angles. It’s nauseating and it should be.

Then Stallworth’s story begins and he is assigned to go undercover at a former Black Panther member’s (played by Corey Hawkins, who I loved in the revival of 24) speaking event on a college campus. The police expect this will be an orchestration of violence among the black community but Stallworth sees it is anything but that. Lee commits a beautiful filmmaking effort as he shows the faces of black people listening to the speech in spotlights as Hawkins continues on. These are college students simply looking for a way to never succumb to anyone who considers them inferior. The speaker does hold the white man accountable, yes, and I don’t care for that as I’m a white man with no instinct of superiority. Therefore, don’t lump me in with a small sect of misguided people, please. Still, the scene is effective and relatable. America has its ugly histories and America is not settling for insensible and uncaring treatment of its people either.

From here, the film takes on a more linear story as Stallworth and Zimmerman build their case.

Lee offers good debates among his cast of characters. Stallworth becomes attracted to an activist named Patrice, played very well by Laura Harrier. Here’s hoping to a long, successful career for her. Patrice believes the police are the enemy and even questions if Stallworth will remain a police officer following this case. Stallworth takes pride in being a cop. Black Life vs Law Enforcement.

Stallworth and Zimmerman bear witness to the mentality of the Klan. Over and over the Klan members suspect Zimmerman of his Judaism. He denies it and goes to great lengths to disprove his heritage and yet the Klan continues to question him, despite some high level members truly believing his guise of white supreme devotion. White Supremicists vs. Judaica & Black Life.

Lee has offered a powerful film that left my wife and I up until two in the morning discussing its dynamics; discussing how many things have changed for the good since the 50s; discussing how many have gotten better, have gotten worse and how some things have sadly resurfaced in recent years.

BlacKkKlansman reminds me that Lee is truly an accomplished filmmaker. Beyond his messages and viewpoints, Lee knows how to edit a scene and offer inventive camera angles and direction. He’s a prize student of film, now a teacher. This latest effort is a reminder of how Lee’s production of Malcolm X in 1991 was robbed of recognition at the Academy Awards, a true injustice.

BlacKkKlansman is Spike Lee’s best film since Malcolm X and one of the best films of 2018.


By Marc S. Sanders

Science Fiction/Horror for the thinking viewer is the best way to describe this film.

Director Alex Garland has found a way to make a viewer’s eyes pop, not just with fear but with the unimaginable. This is as good an effort or better than his other well known film, Ex Machina. I foresee it will not be long before Garland is recognized among the ranks of today’s most notable and popular directors like Del Toro and Nolan.

This is not a run of the mill monster movie. This is fictionalized science that seems foreign and strange, yet makes complete sense by the time the credits roll. All questions are thankfully summed up despite a hanging thread or two to relish in deep thought long after the film has ended.

Natalie Portman strongly leads a nearly all female cast to uncover the purpose and functionality of “The Shimmer.” She does so, but at what expense? She’s great and believable in her role with lots of dimension by way of her career as a Johns Hopkins professor/former army infantry soldier and through periodic dreams of sin she feels guilty over.

Jennifer Jason Leigh does her best no nonsense disturbing creep. Gina Rodriguez makes good transitions in levels of sanity.

Like Black Panther, I’d argue this is also a front runner for art direction as an encapsulated swamp is overrun with strange pastel plant life, mixed up animal life and cinematic lens flare. Yes, here the lens flares serve a narrative purpose which is why the cinematography should also be given some recognition.

I’m looking forward to seeing this again to uncover what I missed the first time.

Annihilation turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of 2018.


By Marc S. Sanders

Disney’s Christopher Robin is a live action interpretation of a classic story that I approve of. Like Maleficent, it’s a film that is based on new, original material with familiar and beloved classic characters of the Disney machine-unlike recent reinventions of Beauty & The Beast and Aladdin. Those films are just the same with minor tweaks that don’t generate enough hype or interest for me. (No—I will not be seeing The Lion King. I already saw it back in 1992.)

Marc Forster (Quantum Of Solace and Finding Neverland) directs while never losing sight of the fact that Winnie The Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, etc all stem from classic children’s literature by A.A. Milne. The film opens with a backstory on the title character starting with his playful adolescent connection to Pooh & Friends, followed by his departure from them into a strict boarding school and then into adulthood (played sweetly by Ewan MacGregor). Christopher falls in love with Evelyn (Hayley Atwood) and before their child is born he is sent off to war only to return as a no nonsense efficiency manager for a luggage company. He has forgotten his friends who live and do nothing (which always leads to something) in 100 Acre Woods. Worse, Christopher never laughs nor hardly acknowledges his daughter Madeline. He is not a child anymore.

This is the film that Steven Spielberg probably wanted when he directed Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman in 1991’s Hook. It just came off too clunky and messy at the time.

As the story continues, Forster is not so covert in his symbolism of Christopher Robin shedding his crotchety adult persona and returning to his childhood whimsy. Christopher crawls through the hole in the tree, muddies his suit, loses his briefcase and disregards his paperwork.

I found myself rooting for Christopher’s new found happiness and his revived love for his wife and daughter. I loved the stuffed animal interpretations of the Pooh characters (with voice work from Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett and Toby Jones). Yet, the tears at the sweetness of it all never arrived. As quick as the film began, it was never a challenge to realize how it would all turn out.

So no surprises to be had in Christopher Robin, but an original story to appreciate nonetheless. That’s good enough for me.


By Marc S. Sanders

Oprah Winfrey has a big head.

I don’t mean a big head as in a large ego. I mean Oprah Winfrey has a BIG HEAD. So BIG that I caught every sprinkle of glitter in her eyebrows and lipstick that it looked like it came out of the discount basket at Justice For Girls. Why do I focus on this first and foremost? Well…because that is about where the scope of imagination stops in Ava DuVernay’s direction of A Wrinkle In Time.

Remember the first time you saw The Wizard of Oz? Remember when Dorothy walks out of her monochromatic home and into the brightly lit Munchkinland? Judy Garland walked cautiously. Spoke carefully (“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”) There was a reaction to all of the grandeur and strangeness. Now, over 82 years later, many fantasies on film refuse to take inspiration from that timeless cinematic moment. A Wrinkle In Time definitely doesn’t.

In Duvaraney’s interpretation, Reese Witherspoon, dressed in a white king size bedsheet with hideously bright orange hair can just appear in the living room of a home and no one has nary a response to the unusual. There is neither panic, nor a “wow,” not an eye bulge, not a large swallow of gulp. Nothing. The protagonist, Meg, and her mother just say who are you (actually I’m not sure they even said that), and Reese puts on her over exaggerated smile and cheerful vocal inflection and speaks in some kind limerick dialogue. She walks out the front door, disappears into the night, and no one says anything; no one ponders anything. There is no imagination in the filmmaking here, nor in the scriptwriting. This is a fantasy, right?

Mindy Kaling is another fantasy character in garish makeup and costume. She quotes expressions from various poets and artists from history. Why? I don’t know. What does she lend to Meg’s mission? Yawn!!!! Nothing.

Zach Galifianakis accepted the role of another weird character that Johnny Depp probably turned down, and would have likely been offered to Robin Williams had he still been alive. Zach has nothing to say either.

Meg has a little brother named Charles Wallace. I know this because the script hammers away this kid’s name over and over again. Charles Wallace. Charles Wallace. CHARLES WALLACE!!!!! Not just Charles. This kid is always addressed as CHARLES WALLACE!!!! There’s a drinking game in the making. Give the movie 15 minutes and I promise you, you will be heavily intoxicated after hearing CHARLES WALLACE again and again and AGAIN!!!!

All of these claims go back to my one main, sole issue with this film. A complete lack of imagination and awareness of its fantasy.

DuVernay films Oprah as a towering 20 foot presence (literally) and fills in every void of space on the screen with her head. “CHARLES WALLACE” is about all Meg says to her little brother; there’s no sibling connection. Lastly, the most glaring error, is there is no reaction to the wonder of this fantasy. Were any of the actors informed there would be more to the green screens they were filming in front of?

So, it’s a nay for me. If you are going to do a fantasy make sure everyone in the production gets the memo please.

Oh yeah, Meg is on a mission to find her missing father in the universe of time or something like that. Yeah. That whole thing never mattered much to me. It didn’t really seem to matter much to Meg either.