‘The Whale’ TIFF Review: A Shattering Comeback for Brendan Fraser


When you look at the premise for a film like The Whale, one can only imagine how this premise could be difficult to pull off successfully. In the hands of a filmmaker like Darren Aronofsky, much suspicions could be raised, but he manages to pull off what might be his most hopeful film thus far. Perhaps that’s not to say he doesn’t find himself potentially dragging his viewers back into a territory of simple misery porn when the central focus is Brendan Fraser’s character and his deathly obesity, yet the case being presented is far more thoughtful. And like Requiem for a Dream was for many, The Whale can be tough – but when Darren Aronofsky is at his best, he shows himself to be a wholly thoughtful filmmaker. This is where I find The Whale lands.

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‘Triangle of Sadness’ TIFF Review: Palme d’Or Winning Satire Comes Packaged Without Filter


Ruben Östlund wins the Palme d’Or at Cannes again, following his first win with 2017’s The Square – and he certainly hasn’t gotten any less vicious ever since. With Triangle of Sadness, Östlund goes without being filtered, his satire feeling like it’s reached a new height, showing the lifestyles of the rich at their most vulnerable. It’s only the least of where all the riotously funny moments from Triangle of Sadness come about, but watching everything come together is where one could only get the feeling that it’s only playing out like a time bomb and as the audience, you’re waiting for everything to explode at some point or another. And the moment the explosion hits, it’s hard to look away from the chaos.

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Review Ms. Marvel 1×1: Generation Why


This is the start of a 6 week test for me so we will see how this goes. I’ve never reviewed a TV show without at least a season or even a second episode. Future reviews may be wisps. But we will see.

Who is the breakout comic book character of the last 15 years? There are a number of good answers. Harley Quinn pulled away and got a semi-solo film along with a hit show. Obviously Deadpool. I could argue the Guardians of the Galaxy. But there is a character that feels unique to me. Kamala Khan made her first cameo 9 years ago, her first true appearance 8-1/2 years ago, and had her first TV episode yesterday. I know a ton of people who don’t really read comics but who got in to read her. To me, Kamala is the indisputable breakout character.

So it goes without saying her first appearance in live action–she was in Marvel Rising in animation–had to be correct. The pressure was almost impossibly high with the maximum amount of eyes. There couldn’t be a Thor that gets summoned by a college student here. Especially when you factor in the glorious climate we’re in. If you’re doing a show with a Muslim heroine good enough absolutely isn’t. Great was needed. The pilot had to be true to the character and high quality. If not, no second shot.

Whew, we’re good for now.

The first episode is a fantastic start, a stylish, funny, clever adaptation of the comics that draws from a diverse blend of influences ranging from the comics and the Avengers game to Clarissa Explains it All and Chris Columbus’ golden age. This is a 40 minute ride that also accomplishes what most Marvel pilots haven’t and feels like an actual pilot to an ongoing series as opposed to a self contained story. I actually felt like I was watching a show.

The pilot, named after the first arc of the comic in one of many nods to the material, focus on Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a Muslim teenager in New Jersey facing a very normal life as a fangirl. She’s Avengers obsessed with her YouTube channel rapidly filling in how the world views the heroes along with answering the plothole of how anybody on the street knows what happened at the end of Endgame. (Scott Lang is a constant podcast guest.) She’s a normal high schooler with a best friend (Matt Lintz), a popular girl enemy (Laurel Marsden), and of course parents that don’t understand her (Mohan Kapur and Zenobia Shroff).

The show kicks off when a box of her grandmother’s things is sent to Kamala as she is looking to fix up a Captain Marvel costume for a fan con. Kamala discovers a bracelet and adds it to her costume as she sneaks out to the con. Then she puts the bracelet on and of course everything goes awry as it gives her hard light powers. A disaster ensues. And of course she gets caught by her mother. But we know what she can do. End of episode.

I’m working from what amounts to one issue of a comic. And I think the fact that I can judge this in those terms is how you know it nailed the job it has as such. We have a heroine. We have a cast. We have a world. We have a distinctive tone. We have an origin. The only thing we don’t have is the costume yet. But we have so many things in place to run from here. And it’s hard not to want that next episode.

I’ll get the obvious thing everyone is praising out now. This show belongs to Iman Vellani who is Christopher Reeve and Hugh Jackman level perfect as Kamala. Yes there’s a lot of metatext that she’s very similar. I don’t care. I care that she sells Kamala and she is from the first word the character we love. If the character never got her powers, I would be hooked on just her.

But of course she’s not the only actor singing. I was shocked at how much Kapur and Shroff sell their work as her parents. The easy thing to do is to have these characters be stern and unlikable. They’re deeply warm, funny people that obviously love their daughter. They really help push this to another level. If the show is to be about a daughter going against her parents, I genuinely feel like the deck is stacked fairly to make it hurt. Lintz and Marsden also fill their roles well, though they don’t have all the material I know their characters can get just yet from the comics. These are characters to watch.

The show gets off to a strong start technically. The pilot comes from directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah who show tremendous flair here. The show has a distinct, weird look with graphics that feel genuinely of a young woman’s mind and even a great fantasy scene. It’s also well written by showrunner Bisha K. Ali. The dialogue crackles.

I’m not all in here. It’s too early to tell if the change of origin from Inhumanity (one of my least favorite comic events ever for the record) to a family artifact will work. It feels like it could go bad. I also feel like while a clash between generations is a teenage trope, I want this to feel real and earned and not the typical one we see with Muslim characters as if conservative families of all kinds don’t have it. Lastly, it really does irk me her Muslim friend Nakia is barely in it while her white bully gets far more screen time. (Bruno, Lintz’s character, is in proportion to the comics.)

We’re off to a great start though. This is what Kamala Khan deserves.

Review: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent Celebrates Nicolas Cage


One of the most important moments in my cinema going career was seeing Adaptation at the Col. Glenn theater in Little Rock, AR. It was my first trip to that theater. It was my first time to leave the city I lived in with friends to see a movie. And of course, it was Adaptation. That’s a classic. Much has changed in the last 20 years. I no longer see any of those people regularly. I live in the center of Little Rock. I’m of course married , a father,and work 8-4. The corporate ownership of that theater has changed. But it’s still the main theater in the city and it made the perfect place to see the spiritual sequel to Adaptation, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a grand tribute to Nicolas Cage’s lengthy career starring Cage as a heavily fictionalized version of himself. He’s in debt, divorced from his wife (Sharon Horgan), and has no connection with his daughter (Lily Sheen, the actual daughter of actors Michael Sheen and Kate Beckinsale.) He can’t get work so he takes a job appearing at the birthday party of superfan Javi (Pedro Pascal). They become instantly bonded but Cage gets tapped by a pair of CIA agents (Ike Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish) to prove Javi is actually the head of a gun running cartel and bring him down. Chaos ensues.

I’m a huge fan of Cage’s run between 2002-2005, ending violently with World Trade Center and The Wicker Man., so I was inclined to love this film which feels like a spiritual twin to both Adaptation with its meta elements but also The Weather Man, Cage’s underloved film about an egotist focused on his career at the cost of his family. This is a movie that is deeply in love with Cage’s films but actually understands why they are so good. Cage is a great at character work and digging into flawed men. He gets to do that here and really tears apart what a disaster this man is. It’s just that this man happens to have his name and career.

And it’s so easy to imagine the bad version of this film: Nothing but bad memes. This definitely gives you the over the top Cage you want, but there’s more to this movie than slamming us in the ribs and reminding us of other films. This isn’t that. It’s a genuinely well made film. Director/co-writer Tom Gormican has a fantastic eye and with co-writer Kevin Etten understands that a real script is kind of nice to have here. The farce elements and the action are all first rate. And Cage goes all in as both himself and a deaged ghost of his younger self who is everything we remember about 80s Cage. He’s fantastic.

The film largely avoids being the bad version through the genius creation of Javi. Pedro Pascal is fantastic as the most adorkable fan imaginable. He’s so lovable he’s responsible for one of the film’s few weaknesses which is that Javi is so lovable you never doubt the film is going to reveal he’s an innocent. It really never lets you truly believe that he’s the big bad and the actual one is so obvious I’m not even sure it’s a twist. In fact I’ll say right now the only big complaint I have is the film telegraphs every note. But I’m not mad because we do wind up loving him so much that we’re relieved that he is what he seems.

I really had a blast with this film. This is a celebration of one of the greats and just a thoroughly entertaining movie.

Turning Red Review: A Deeply Personal Triumph Deserving a Better Release


I have incredibly complicated feelings about Disney which is the nicest anyone should feel. They’re the most monopolistic corporation in the history of media. They hold back progressive art through this monopoly while feinting towards progressive stances. They bought Fox only to destroy it and withdraw most of their films from the public. They’re also the owners of so much I love including Marvel and Star Wars. They’ve made great work through their myriad studios. I couldn’t ever truly boycott them because I’d deny myself what I love. It’s complicated indeed.

Last week it got worse. The company bungled its response to the Don’t Say Gay bill in Florida. It’s come out the studio has suppressed LGBTQ content in its films. They tried to apologize but the discontent is out there. And it should be. This is a dark moment on that front and the biggest corporation can’t be neutral let alone hostile.

All of this puts a shadow over a film that does not need it. Turning Red, directed and cowritten by Domee Shi, already suffered the indignity of being denied a theatrical release, a fate that befell the previous two Pixar films. It then had to come out amidst the controversy of its distributor shooting itself in the foot.

Here’s the good news. The film is proving an immediate hit. I’m approaching 40 and my twitter feed is nothing but raves for the film. It’s received strong reviews and struck a chord with audiences. It will survive the troubled release and most likely be a film that matters to people for a long time to come. And it deserves to.

Turning Red tells the story of Meilin (Rosalie Chiang), an overachieving 13-year-old living in Toronto in spring 2002. She’s striving to be the best at everything, a mission fated to fall apart when she falls victim to the family curse and turns into a giant red panda. It’s a curse that impacts all the women in her line but it can be stopped with a ceremony the next month. The problem? It falls on the night of a concert from her favorite boy band and even more, Meilin starts to like being the panda. Will she get cured or is there anything to cure?

Much was made of a reviewer who boasted they found the film unrelatable, a review that annoyingly also ate up a lot of the discourse. This is patently ridiculous. Turning Red is one of the most relatable films yet from Pixar. I may not have been a Chinese-Canadian girl in 2002 but I was a teenager and the movie nails what being an academic overachiever seeking to succeed feels like. The characters in this film are inherently relatable, richly etched and highly specific. I watched it and I remembered geeking with my friends.I honestly am talking around her friends because you need to meet them blind then live in their world.

The movie also benefits strongly from a potent central metaphor. The easy one to connect it with is menstruation but I think there’s an even clearer one in trying to live up to expectations. Meilin is pushed to be the best in everything to make everyone happy. She snaps, in this case becoming a giant adorable kaiju. It’s not as ugly as a meltdown but it sure is familiar.

Given that it’s Pixar, quality animation can rightly be assumed. The company has been playing with more cartoonish styles in recent years and it looks great for it. This is proudly a cartoon. It even has an intense anime influence, especially in the eyes. Color is great here.

The movie is strong on the voice front. Chiang is a likable heroine while Sandra Oh does her usual phenomenal work as Meilin’s empathetic but stern mother. Supporting voices are great. This is the kind of film I expected to hear James Hong in and smiled when he showed up. The film also has remarkably strong boy band music that’s a spot-on pastiche from writers Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell.

If the film has a weakness, it’s that it’s fairly predictable. Pretty much every plot point is broadcast from a mile away and I admit there were times I was waiting for the film to catch up. It’s not a bad thing given that I am a good 20+ years above the target audience, but I do have to note it.

What I’m ultimately left with on this film is a deep frustration that the film didn’t get the release it deserves. This is a phenomenal debut for Shi who establishes herself as an important voice. It deserves better than to be reduced to content for the service that threatens to be forgotten in a week. This doesn’t deserve to be seen just at home on TV. It should play on a big screen where the gorgeous animation can be soaked in.

This deserves the best. It’s a genuine triumph from an individual filmmaker and a top-notch studio that crafted something special. Put the politics and absurd reactions aside. Turning Red is gold.

‘Da 5 Bloods’ Review: A Potent, if Indulgent Affair from Spike Lee


After watching BlacKkKlansman, the images that Spike Lee brings you at the film’s end stick with you. In many ways, Da 5 Bloods is as perfect a follow-up to said film as one can imagine, now starting with the hard-hitting footage of history leading up to the Vietnam War. As these bits of history lead into a story about African American veterans coming back together, Da 5 Bloods makes itself out to be Spike Lee retaining that sense of urgency – even at the cost of some pretty evident self-indulgence on his own end. Yet there’s still something worth looking into as Spike Lee doesn’t ever let go of that same energy as he continuously finds ways to adapt it into the days coming by.

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‘Crazy World’ TIFF Review: A New Breed of Supa Action


Joining me for this review is a fellow contributor who also attended the Toronto International Film Festival with me, Samuel Caceres.

There has never been a better time to be a Wakaliwood supa fan than the closing night at TIFF 2019. One would already wonder how much more insane could the no-budget studio from Uganda possibly take their passions for making action films after the sensation that is Who Killed Captain Alex? and Crazy World doesn’t let down upon expectations at all. 

[No, it hasn’t. As a matter of fact, this film alone has transcended from the medium when TIFF introduced the one and only VJ Emmie to perform live as the audience watched the Midnight Madness screening. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that no other audience can experience again.]

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‘The Vast of Night’ TIFF Review: Andrew Patterson’s Directorial Debut Transports You to a Greater Mystery


The Vast of Night already carries something ominous along the way based on the title alone, but if anything else best sums up what makes this film a perfect Rod Serling tribute, all the evidence you need is present in there alone. There’s nothing more vast about the atmosphere that makes up the nighttime, because for some you can already say that it’s a beautiful thought – and yet for others it also makes for great nightmare fuel. Andrew Patterson’s directorial debut is one that mixes all of those elements in order to create what is also the perfect Twilight Zone tribute film, and it also leaves a lingering effect on the viewers.

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‘Saint Maud’ TIFF Review: A Paranoid, Horrifying Tale of Devotion from a Brilliant New Voice


The debut feature film of Rose Glass, Saint Maud is a peculiar horror film of sorts but it’s one that works its way into your own mind before it taps into an area that only makes the experience feel all the more nerve-wrecking. It’s impressive enough noting that this is only a first feature film too, because Rose Glass already carries a distinctive approach to the genre that feels like the work of an established auteur. Akin to many other religious horror classics whether they go from William Friedkin’s The Exorcist or Ken Russell’s The Devils, Saint Maud finds itself ranking among the best of these sorts for a newer generation – and it only leaves me wondering what more can Rose Glass offer within the future.


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‘Color Out of Space’ TIFF Review: Nicolas Cage Goes Wild in this Dazzling H. P. Lovecraft Take


Horror auteur Richard Stanley’s first full-length directorial effort in twenty seven years since his firing from The Island of Dr. Moreau, Color Out of Space is possibly the best adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft to have graced the screen not to be directed by Stuart Gordon. There’s no better way to sum up what one can expect from an adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft starring Nicolas Cage than to say it is one among his most beautiful looking films and even one of his most unhinged works to date. One can only set their expectations high up when seeing the possibilities of what a combination like Nicolas Cage and H. P. Lovecraft can bring out, but knowing what it is that Richard Stanley was able to bring to the screen with such a combination, the results are far beyond what one could ever comprehend. If there’s anything else worth noting, here’s hoping that we get to see Richard Stanley get to work behind the camera again far more often in the future.

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