It’s flawed, it doesn’t flow as smoothly as “Split”, and it might confuse the hell out of newcomers. Know that? I still had a blast watching “Glass”, the sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable”, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis, and 2017’s “Split”, in which James McAvoy played a psychiatric patient who suffers from dissociative identity disorder. It’s been a long time coming for writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, but he has finally managed to assemble all these characters in one movie. Call it his version of “The Avengers” if you may. McAvoy is out to dazzle us yet again here, stealing every scene he appears in and showing real acting chops as Kevin and his 20 something different personalities. But the tables have turned this time around: we’re in a mental institution and Kevin is being “treated” for his disorder. David Dunn (Willis) and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) are also being treated there, and this is the setup for Shyamalan’s ultimate crossover. And so we’re off into a series of events that naturally take a turn into the supernatural. Basically, if you’ve enjoyed the previous two installments and were eager to see things come full circle in “Glass”, I think you will enjoy what Shyamalan has in store for you. It doesn’t always pay off, but I admire what he has managed to do here, and I was pleased with the end result. Would it be the same without McAvoy? That’s something worth debating. Through it all, he’s played all these characters for real, as if they’ve meant something. That’s worth the price of admission alone.
I am not a big fan of the number 3, but when it comes to animated movies, I am willing to make an exception. Here’s a trilogy that remained consistent over the years, delivering one spectacular installment after the other. And “The Hidden World”, the first sequel in five years is no exception: it’s a fun-filled adventure with just the right dose of humor to satisfy fans of the series. After an action-packed opening sequence that gets a bit chaotic, the movie gets down to business, and its business is telling a good story. Hiccup (once again voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his friends discover that Toothless isn’t the only Night Fury in the world. This takes them on an adventure to find the “Hidden World”, a place where dragons of all types live. Meanwhile, a tyrant named Grimmel (a delightful F. Murray Abraham) has an evil plan of his own, one that involves him hunting down Toothless and destroying everyone that tries to stop him. Writer-director Dean DeBlois, who made the first two films, knows exactly how to keep the action going while guaranteeing rooting interest from start to finish. We know the stakes are high here, and we want our heroes to succeed. That’s what makes this third installment work so well, along with some beautiful visuals and an emotional climax. Will kids enjoy it? I have no doubt in my mind. But adults may find some real rewards in it as well. It’s that good.
“Roma” doesn’t look or feel like any other movie I’ve seen in 2018, and not just because it was shot in black and white. It has a distinct atmosphere, and that’s obvious from the very first shot. Director Alfonso Cuarón transports us back to his childhood neighborhood in Mexico City. The year is 1970 and we’re watching life unfold before our eyes as he recreates every single detail of his family home. The mother struggles to raise all 4 of her children when the father walks away one day. The story is mostly told from the point of view of a domestic worker called Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) who witnessed everything and played a huge role in raising the kids while dealing with problems of her own. It’s an intimate piece for sure, and Cuarón poured his heart into it by writing, editing, directing and producing the film. There are moments where I expected something huge to take place. That’s what might have happened in a mainstream Hollywood film perhaps, but Cuarón isn’t interested in that. He wants to explore the “ordinary” drama of everyday life: the trials of being a parent, the obstacles domestic workers face, the joy of childhood. The arc of the story is ambitious, and it only sinks in when the movie ends and you realize how much life can change in less than a year. It helps that the film is beautifully shot. It also helps that all the actors are up to the task. My only complaint is that I felt detached from the story at times and I wish I felt more emotions in key moments. I know that “Roma” has been praised through the roof and is basically a shoe-in to win an Oscar for Best Foreign language movie. And there’s no doubt in my mind that the film is simply beautiful to look at. But you should know straight away that it moves at a leisurely pace, which means it won’t appeal to every moviegoer. But if you’re a cinema student or a movie buff or perhaps a fan of Alfonso Cuarón’s work, from “Children of Men” to “Gravity”, then consider “Roma” a must-see.
If I had to give you one reason to see “The Mule”, Clint Eastwood would be it. It’s a joy and a privilege to see him in top form at 88, playing a Korean war veteran who somehow ends up transporting drugs for a Mexican cartel. He is also a man who is trying to reconnect with his family, after years of neglect. Let me pause a little bit here to mention the fact that Clint Eastwood’s acting debut was over 60 years ago. I kept thinking of that as I was watching “The Mule”. As an actor and director, Eastwood never truly ran out of steam. His character’s story here isn’t nearly as good as the performance itself, but I would gladly watch it again just to savor his presence onscreen. And he has assembled an array of talented actors, including Andy Garcia, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, and Dianne Wiest, who plays his ex-wife. The story moves at a leisurely pace, and that’s a sign of a director who is truly comfortable with his material. But that can also be detrimental, especially in the last act where the movie requires more action. No matter. “The Mule” is in cinemas because of Eastwood’s star power, and he’s still got it, even after all these years. In Hollywood these days, that’s no easy feat.
Let’s start the year with something that’s been bugging me for a few days. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good hype when it comes to movies, as long as it’s justified. In the case of “Bird Box”, Netflix’s latest apocalyptic thriller starring Sandra Bullock, the hype isn’t justified at all. As I start my 9th year on this humble blog, I have to accept the fact that “meme culture” is alive and well on social media, something that didn’t even exist when I started writing back in 2010 (or maybe it did but not as aggressive as today). Anyway I’m drifting. What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t see “Bird Box” upon its release. So I had to endure a week full of memes on Twitter, hyping up the movie and calling it “the next big thing”. Eventually I saw the movie and it’s not bad by any means. But it isn’t great either. I guess you could call it a cross between M. Night Shyamalan’s misfire “The Happening” and last year’s terrific “A Quiet Place”. In the latter, if you made a sound, you died. In “Bird Box”, if you open your eyes, a mysterious entity will take your life. Sandra Bullock plays a devoted mother who has to lead her two children down a treacherous river to get to a safe sanctuary. In between, we get flashbacks of how things started, leading up to this very moment. It’s an intriguing idea for sure, fueled by a good performance by Bullock. But unlike “A Quiet Place”, which kept the element of surprise alive, this one plays its cards much too early and never truly rises above the routine. As someone who’s been watching apocalyptic films for as long as I can remember, I wasn’t blown away by “Bird Box”as I didn’t find myself invested in the story as much as I should. Which brings me to this: why were we bombarded by all these memes as soon as the movie was released on Netflix? Call it a smart marketing strategy (and it paid off) or simply call it spam, there’s no denying that it got us talking about this film. But will it stand the test of time? I don’t think so. It has a few solid ideas here and there, but “A Quiet Place” did it better as it kept me intrigued from start to finish. “Bird Box” simply didn’t.
T’is the season. You’re probably getting ready to see “Home Alone” for the 100th time, but there are several Christmas films that are also worth seeing. Some of them bring back so many memories, while others are simply enjoyable films that everyone can enjoy during the holiday season. What are some of your favorites?
The Polar Express 
I wanted to include an animated film and what better film than “The Polar Express”? The simple story about a young boy who embarks on a journey to the North pole will enchant kids and adults alike. I remember getting the special edition DVD over a decade ago which included a snow globe. That, along a magical ride, made “The Polar Express” a regular on my list.
Better Watch Out  It only came out last year, but if you’re looking for a thriller to watch on Christmas, look no further. On the surface, it sounds like a “Home Alone” rip-off. It isn’t. This twisted holiday thriller from director Chris Peckover will keep you on the edge of your seat. With screenwriter Zack Kahn, “Better Watch Out” provides young Levi Miller the chance to dig into the role of a twelve-year-old boy who has a crush on his babysitter. On a quiet December night, they both find themselves alone in Miller’s house, with intruders ready to break in at any minute. But is it a normal home invasion? I’ll never say. But I can tell you that the movie will take you places you don’t see coming, with constant twists and turns that will make your head spin. It’s a must-see.
It’s a Wonderful Life  I know it’s on every “essential” Christmas list, but “It’s a Wonderful Life” is truly a classic that has stood the test of time. It’s a Holiday classic through and through about a desperate man who receives a visit from an angel who shows him what life would have been like if he had never existed. James Stewart is phenomenal as the everyday man who feels life has let him down. It’s a beautiful film that needs to be cherished by every generation.
Elf  “Elf” is probably one of my favorite Will Ferrell movies. Its funny premise finds him looking for his biological family, after he was raised as an elf by Santa Clause himself. It’s a charming film, filled with hilarious gags and an unforgettable performance by Ferrell. It acquired its “cult” status many years after its release and deservedly so. It’s certainly a must-see comedy for the holiday season.
The Family Stone  Christmas is all about getting together with your family, even if everyone is dysfunctional, and “The Family Stone” doesn’t shy away from the truth. It’s a film that I enjoyed at the time of its release, and I still find myself revisiting it every year. Think of it as “Meet the Parents” but the holiday edition. Dermot Mulroney plays a man who brings his uptight girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker) to meet his family for Christmas. You guessed it: they’re all going to make it a living hell for her. This isn’t a perfect movie by any means, but a charming cast and a cozy atmosphere made it a Holiday favorite of mine.
Jennifer Lopez plays a 40 something woman who wants to prove that street smarts is just as good as book smarts. So she creates a fake CV and lands a dream job as a consultant for a big company. That’s the premise of “Second Act”, a movie that pretty much gives zero fucks about logic and asks the audience to do the same. And the sooner you realize that the more fun you’ll have with this harmless comedy. I honestly have nothing much to say about it. If you’re the target audience for this type of comedy, you’ll probably enjoy it. Others may look for the nearest exit. I fall somewhere in between. I cringed at the film’s many utterly illogical scenes, but Lopez and the cast surrounding her made it go down easier. After several weeks of giant blockbusters, I guess it’s not so bad to sit back and relax with a film like “Second Act”. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does serve its purpose.