Friday, February 22, 2019


At last!!! We have reached the top, my personal Top Ten Favorite Films of 2018. As always, I have listed where you can find the full reviews for each film should you wish to read them.

Let's get started!

Rapacious and wrathful. Ravenous and feral. Unapologetic and unrepentant. And absolutely, bloody brilliant. Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Favourite" is the historical costume period drama that I really have a strong feeling that we have all wished to see as he ruthlessly showcases all of the raw emotions and reprehensible actions that would otherwise be repressed.

With a startling trio of fearless and rightfully Oscar nominated performances from Olivia Coleman, Rachael Weisz and Emma Stone, as characters all jockeying for power and control over each other while navigating various levels of greed, jealousy, self-righteous entitlement, enraged self-preservation, "The Favourite" is tremendously and refreshingly unorthodox in its open display of gluttonous, lusty, profane vulgarity--a perfect juxtaposition of the regal surroundings and royalty of the characters. While easily his most accessible feature to date, Lanthimos continues to provoke and challenge as he weaves a social satire that just may be designed to mirror the sheer, unrelenting ugliness of our current political dialogue by driving his characters and us in the audience deep into the figurative and literal filth of things and the effect is wildly, provocatively liberating and even surprisingly poignant to view and, I would imagine, for the actors to perform.

Yorgos Lantimos' "The Favourite" is a viciously fang baring dark comedy that plunges its venomous bite repeatedly and rapturously. 
(Originally reviewed December 2018)

George Tillman Jr.'s excellent, pitch perfect adaptation of the outstanding debut novel from Angie Thomas, is an urgently stirring and sobering standout that explores with deftness and honesty the realities of racial code switching, police brutality and racial profiling, the urgent necessity of the survival of working class Black communities and Black families, the legacy and continuation of Black activism and all at the center, a fully three dimensional 16-year-old Black female leading protagonist we would follow absolutely anywhere.

The story of Starr Carter (a sensational Amandla Stenberg), who lives in the fictional working class Black community of Garden Heights yet attends school in a wealthy, predominantly White prep school and becomes a first hand witnesses the brutal murder of her childhood friend/first love by a White police officer is an up to the minute and piercingly humane message from the Black Lives Matter movement to a world that still refuses to regard the full value of Black people as human beings. And in addition, we are not only given another outstanding portrait of a Father/daughter relationship but of involved, engaged, loving and protective Black Fathers as Russell Hornsby's performance as Starr's former gang member/ex-con now neighborhood grocery store owner named Maverick was award worthy.
(Originally reviewed November 2018)

Meticulously observed, richly perceptive, deeply aching and featuring an impeccable, remarkable leading performance by Elsie Fisher, Bo Burnham's "Eighth Grade" is a marvelous slice-of-life film so astute and accurate to the turbulence and fragility of life at the end of Middle School that it nearly functioned as a documentary.

Fisher stars as Kayla Day, as we follow her through her final week of eighth grade as it is filled with all manner of painfully awkward situations and relationships with her classmates as well as with her single Dad (a lovely Josh Hamilton) and mostly, her vibrantly alive inner world which is fretfully, anxiously, hopefully trying to make sense of herself.  In addition to housing another excellent Father/daughter story, Burhman has also utilized "Eighth Grade" as a powerful cultural commentary about our societal addiction to social media and how, as a result, we have become more disconnected and cripplingly lonelier.

Bo Burnham's "Eighth Grade," so sad yet still hopeful enough to illustrate that this time of life can be survived, was so authentic that it gave me PTSD flashbacks to my own year in eighth grade.
(Originally reviewed August 2018)

With all due respect to those of you who still adore Pixar and especially those whose collective jaws dropped with "Spider Man Into The Spider Verse," but I am sorry, Wes Anderson's "Isle Of Dogs" was not only one of the very best films of the year, it was without question, one of the most original films of the year, animated or otherwise.

As for originality, it should be celebrated that in our time of sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, and everything being based from a previously released book, cartoon, toy or amusement park ride, "Isle Of Dogs" emerged from nothing else other than the zestful, unfiltered imagination of Wes Anderson.

This tale of a dystopian Japan set 20 years in the future, where dogs have been exiled to the isolated Trash Island due to a mysterious "dog flu" for which there is no cure and is feared will transfer to the human population. Yet, the determined 12-year-old Atari takes to the skies towards the island to find his dog and is soon befriended by a quintet of abandoned canines (voiced by Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and in a terrific performance, Bryan Cranston). This by itself would be more than enough for any film but Anderson ingenuously delivers a storytelling feast involving conspiracy theories, Japanese folk tales, non-linear storytelling structures, a 12-year-old American exchange student freedom fighter, cannibalistic dog pack, kidney transplants and whatever else flowed through his feverishly inventive brain and every little detail worked tremendously.

As for a work of animation, "Isle Of Dogs" is resplendent and especially so as a work of the painstaking process of stop-motion animation. The amount of visual details within each and every frame of this film is staggering and I feel is just a gift to behold for my eyes luxuriously soaked in every beauteous image.

And yet, it is not all just canine hijinks, as Wes Anderson, true to his idiosyncratic form and dry, droll wit has indeed lovingly crafted a dark, melancholic affair that speaks directly to the bonds shared between ourselves and all of our animal friends, plus also existing as an allegory to our real world stresses of climate change and immigration. This is a deliriously inventive work more than worthy of our collective celebration as it is a cinematic universe unlike any other and created and presented with boundless energy, zeal and blissful imagination.
(Originally reviewed April 2018)

A work of staggering elegance, grace, pain and palpable tragedy, Barry Jenkins' follow up to his  Oscar Best Picture winning "Moonlight" (2016) is the sumptuous adaptation of the James Baldwin novel which was not only a stunningly languid film about the Black experience, it was far and away one of 2018's most artfully humane films.

Set in early 1970's Harlem, this story of 19-year-old Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and 22-year-old Alfonso "Fonny" Hunt (Stephen James), whose tender, pure romance is supremely tested when Fonny is wrongly arrested and imprisoned for rape is a testament to the power, strength and most importantly, the endurance of love within Black romantic relationships and Black families within a cruelly indifferent and punishing White society.

With its non-linear structure, luxurious tempo, luscious cinematography and Composer Nicholas Breitell's sweeping, aching score which evokes the sound of Black American sorrow itself, "If Beale Street Could Talk" is a film of devastating beauty, tremendous empathy, and mournful truth. It is indeed a work of art so lavish that it exists as a richly expressionistic tone poem.
(Originally reviewed January 2019)

It is rare that a film just flat out announces its own sense of greatness from the very first frame. Bradley Cooper's "A Star Is Born" is precisely one of those very rare films and this one was an undeniable powerhouse. Itself the fourth remake of the classic rise and fall musical drama, Cooper, armed with an astonishingly high confidence, crafted a classic Hollywood melodrama and up to the 21st century minute rock musical weaved in poignant and potent themes of fame and celebrity, alcoholism and addiction, fading male dominance and rising female empowerment, a smashing love story and damn, Cooper can sing too!!!

On top of it all is indeed the debut acting performance of Lady Gaga herself, as the aspiring singer/songwriter that Cooper's veteran country rock star takes under his wing and soon becomes her lover. She is absolutely, positively sensational, unquestionably proving that she indeed has the acting chops to deliver a full, three dimensional, multi-layered performance as skilled as any veteran actress.

What we have with "A Star Is Born," is swing for the fences filmmaking, over-flowing with bravado, style and heart as it effortlessly merges the melodrama, the magical and rock film authenticity the likes of which I have not seen since "Almost Famous" (2000) and even "Purple Rain" (1984)--and tremendous kudos to both Cooper and Gaga for singing LIVE during every musical sequence in the film!!

A motion picture event of splendid reach and depth, Bradley Cooper's "A Star Is Born" is exactly the movie "Bohemian Rhapsody" wished it could have been!
(Originally reviewed October 2018)

The greatest film of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe for certain. A comic book based film that fully transcended its own genre, Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" is monumental and majestic movie making. The first Marvel film that is truly about something other than heroes and villains, and with aims even greater and higher than the full representation of Black people within a major big budget superhero film release, Coogler lovingly imagines the fictional African nation of Wakanda, a technology advanced utopia that affords viewers the Afro-Futurism "What If?" concept of what a Black world may have been like if we had not ever been colonized, stolen, enslaved, murdered or has our bloodlines diluted through rape.

Yes indeed, "Black Panther" is a passionately personal artistic socio-political statement in the guise of a blockbuster as the meticulous design (sets, clothing, languages, color schemes, music, dialects, tribal markings, rituals, customs, ancestry, legacies) merged with the connection and divide between of Black Africans and Black Americans richly fuel the narrative far above and beyond the standard heroes and villains narrative.

As our titular hero, we have T'Challa the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), heir to the Wakandian throne after the assassination of his Father and Erik "Killmonger" Stevens (a searing Michael B. Jordan), the film's antagonist and representation of the painful realities of the Black experience, an African-American who has been stripped of his culture with no ability to fully access his ancestral birthright and armed with a fury that is self-righteous and rightful--therefore, making him the most complex villain in the Marvel film series to date and furthermore, making their dichotomy less Professor Xavier and Magneto and decidedly more akin to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" is a film about cultures, both real and imagined, lost and found, subjugated, humiliated, eradicated and yet maintained, sustained, and poised for the fullness of ascension. It is also the story of a new King, determining precisely how he should reign, through inclusion or isolationism. And it is a superhero movie where the most powerful elements have nothing to do with superheroics whatsoever. A truly magnificent achievement.
(Originally reviewed February 2018)

An astoundingly beautiful documentary that fully made me completely re-evaluate and re-engage with the iconic Public Television figure whose program existed as his life's mission, to help children, and therefore, absolutely all of us, understand our own individualistic and inherent value as human  beings and to be acknowledged as such with ever present grace, acceptance and unconditional love.

The story of Fred Rogers, the ordained minister and life long Republican who created, wrote, hosted and performed the one-of-a-kind and frankly, radical and revolutionary children's television show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" was nothing less than revelatory, entrancing, sobering and undeniably moving as there was unquestionably not even one dry eye in the theater--and that included mine and repeatedly so.

I believe that the outpouring of emotion for this film and the power it definitely harbored is precisely due to the intense and even anxiety ridden nature of our current times and social landscape which does reveal a certain spiritual decay and existential pain housed within all of us as our discourse has shattered, our tribalism has become more impenetrable and our compassion for each other and ourselves has deteriorated considerably. What Director Morgan Neville has accomplished through his briskly paced, and artfully engaging is to celebrate this gentle giant who endlessly found cause to celebrate the world in which he lived and the people who populate it, solely through the belief that everyone is deserving of love and also, that we are all capable of loving.

An antidote to our horrific landscape and a cinematic crime that the Academy Awards neglected to nominate this wonderful film for an Oscar.
(Originally reviewed June 2018)

A filmmaker of unrelenting fearlessness, audacity, inventiveness, creativity and yes, fair mindedness, Spike Lee emerged this year with one of the finest films of his entire ouevre as "BlacKKlansman" is extraordinary, exhilarating and downright essential movie making.

Based upon the improbable, absurd yet defiantly true story of Colorado Springs Police Detective Ron Stallworth, John David Washington stars as Stallworth who infamously infiltrated the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK..and yet, Stallworth is Black. To continue the investigation into the KKK, which soon leads to none other than KKK Grand Wizard David Duke himself (Topher Grace) and the uncovering of a domestic terrorism plot, Stallworth continues to communicate with the organization via telephone while White, Jewish Police Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) portrays Stallworth in person.

Being provocative, confrontational, and controversial is indeed to be expected from an new "Joint" from Spike Lee but with "BlacKKKLansman," he has only continued to explore the turbulent landscape of race and racism in America with integrity, soulfulness, peerless skill, and a multi-layered purposefulness that this time, deftly illustrates the differences and similarities between the 1970's Black Power/Civil Rights movement and the White supremacy groups with images and rhetoric of racial self-love and self-preservation. Yet, Lee is rightfully wise to also showcase the subtle difference between the two, as being Pro-Black does not mean being Anti-White and White supremacy is the self-preservation of a race at the expense and eradication of all other races. 

Within the characters of Stallworth and Zimmerman, we are given two individuals, through serious self-examination, who come to the realization that when it comes to upholding social justice, there is no standing upon the sidelines, and that prejudices and racist tendencies are closer than one may have ever expected to experience around and even within themselves. 

Racial code switching, the pressures of being the first and only Black face in a White environment, and perceptions of race from oneself as well as those who surround you, all within a narrative and period piece purposefully designed to run concurrently with the continuously unfolding events of right here and now in the 21st century, Spike Lee's "BlacKKKlansman" is a brilliant slow burn of a film which builds into a towering, invigorating, dynamic and infuriating inferno.   
(Originally reviewed August 2018) 

For my number one favorite film of 2018, I turn to Boots Riley's unrepentantly WTF debut feature, a film of such tremendous audacity and anxiety that it is also one of the very best films I have seen within this decade.

The odyssey of Cassius Green (played by Lakeith Stanfield), who takes a job as a telemarketer and gains financial glories only after learning to utilize his "White voice" to attract customers, is an astoundingly singular cinematic vision that not only speaks directly to this specific time in our collective cultural history in the 21st century but also to all that has happened in the past and what will play out in the future.

While it is a film about racial code-switching and the perceptions and prejudices about and concerning African-Americans, Riley has crafted an insidious fever dream of razor sharp agitprop that eviscerates reality television, cultural appropriation, the desperate status of current hp-hp and rap music and at its most feral, the full dehumanization of rampant capitalism and even worse, the full dehumanization of not ever taking a stand.

Presented as a social satire yet utilizing techniques of magical realism, surreal thrills and even science-fiction horror, Boots Riley has weaved an uncomfortable, disturbing, oft-putting, often surprising nightmare of a film that supplies a major plot twist you will never see coming that flies the film completely through the looking glass and yet, superbly continues and even cements its message during which every character is complicit and is transformed by the knowledge that blindly adhering to the status quo is precisely what will cause our societal downfall. 

No, this film is not for everyone and nor should it be as it is film designed to provoke and turn your brain inside out with a heartfelt fury. Despite the politeness of its title, Boots Riley's "Sorry To Bother You" is everything but.

This film is a cinematic Molotov cocktail.
(Originally reviewed July 2018)

There you have it. 2018's Savage Scorecard series is now complete thus making full breadth and space for the 2019 movie year!

Saturday, February 16, 2019


In all honestly, 2018 was such a strong year for the movies that I truthfully do not have many films at all to give one last swift kick towards.  Even moreso, most of what I will present here are not even films that I would consider to being "bad." Just ones that were disappointments and ones I would  most likely not re-visit.


In a year which brought us two of the best films the Marvel Studios have ever made, Peyton Reed's "Ant-Man and the Wasp" was quite the come down. Yes, the conceit of this character and series is to be more low stakes than many of the more epic minded Marvel entries. But Reed's first go with Ant-Man was just sensational, light and frothy while being absolutely inventive with its special effects and playful visuals toying with  our size perspectives.

This time, the successes of the first film felt a bi told hat in a story that was so low stakes and not really much ever happened other than things growing bigger and smaller over and over again. Yes, it had it good points. Paul Rudd remains as engaging as ever. The new character of Ghost (as played by Hannah John-Kamen) made for a terrific tragic villain. The journeys into the Quantum Realm continue in their psychedelic wonder. And it's always great to see Michelle Pfeiffer.  But that said, and except for a great post-credit sequence tying directly into "Avengers: Infinity War,"  this film is an inconsequential place holder.
(Originally reviewed July 2018)
The same thoughts are voiced for this film as well, a sequel that really works overtime and yet, not very much happens. There is much to admire, from the resplendent animation to Bird's zippy plotline and adventurous style and the fact that Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) gets to be the star of the show this time around. And yet, I just found myself more than a little bored, making this yet another subpar Pixar sequel that pales considerably from the original, making for one I will most likely never see again--and to think, this studio was once the GOLD  STANDARD for American animated films, the films that I would watch all over again in their entirety right this instant. "Incredibles 2" is not one of them.
(Originally reviewed June 2018)

When it comes to the nature of homage, there is a very fine line between innovation and a simple exercise in nostalgia. "Ready Player One," Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the smash Ernest Cline novel is truly mixed at best, and while the source material for me was also more than middling and not much more than an excuse to have a book length pop-culture clothesline, this film failed to connect with me for different reasons.

As with the novel, the story itself is very clever. Set in the year 2045, where the Earth has become an over-populated disaster zone, humanity has turned towards life in the virtual reality world known as the OASIS where everyone lives through their avatars and the pop culture ridden landscape of essentially anything you can think of from the 1970's-1990's with the 1980's as the touchstone. The film chronicles a race for the three virtual keys that will reward the victor with complete control of the virtual wonderland. Yes, it is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory merged with "Tron" (1982) and "The Matrix" (1999) and since this is Steven Spielberg we're talking about, he has delivered a visually astounding feature.

But aside from some sequences, including a blast of an opening and voluminous car chase starring every familiar vehicle from pop culture you can think of, to dancing in a floating disco to New Order's "Blue Monday" and a downright spectacular tribute to Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" (1980), and a slight commentary about our continued dehumanization in the real world compared to our synthetic lives on-line, "Ready Player One" is an otherwise empty experience drowning in purposeless CGI bombast and hollow nostalgia.
(Originally reviewed March 2018)

And now for the honestly bad ones...

Before Liam Neeson revealed himself to being the George Zimmerman of yore--a violent, racist caveman ready, willing and able to murder an innocent and random Black man in a bizarre form of troglodyte chivalry, the worst thing to happen to him was this film here, one so utterly stupid that I never even bothered to waste my time reviewing it! Not much more to say than it was simply 2018's entry in the annual "Liam Neeson Gets Mad" action series, this time involving a murder conspiracy upon a commuter train, and it was the dumbest, most insufferably inexcusable piece of tripe yet. It made the hysterical "Taken 3" (2014) look like "The Godfather" (1972). 

The more I think about this film, I like it less and less.

Dear readers, I know how much so many of you loved this movie. I know that many of you are probably rooting for it to win Oscar recognition, thus capping off a very impressive awards season for itself, an accomplishment that only accents its massive box office success.  To that, I am happy for you and I do not wish to rain on your parade.

But for me, as a lifelong lover of the movies and the band Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody" was an enormous letdown, the very type of film that could have been so much more because Queen, and the immortal Freddie Mercury in particular were so much more in reality. They deserved nothing less than a film for the ages and what they received (and for that matter, sanctioned as the surviving band members signed off on the film) was a bland, sanitized, watered down, by the numbers, sing-a-long crowd pleaser as tame as any forced jukebox musical.

Yes, we can debate about what kind of a movie "Bohemian Rhapsody" could have been for I would have loved to have seen the hard R rated art film that exploded onto the screen and broke the rules of the musical biopic genre much like how Queen fully re-wrote the rules for what rock albums could be over and over and over again. That is decidedly not what Bryan Singer, and then the uncredited Dexter Fletcher who finished the film after Singer's firing, delivered. Now, this would be OK, a more wide reaching populist film, but why did it have to be so badly stagnant?

There are good scenes here and there and it is gloriously filmed, but there was no momentum to the film, and therefore no ascension, just an empty checklist of the things we have to place into a Queen  biopic just to say that these events were represented. And even then, the wealth of blatant historical inaccuracies was astoundingly oft-putting to the point where they completely took me out of the film!

No, you do not even have to be a Queen scholar to know when certain SMASH HIT songs were released but here they are in the film being depicted as being written in the wrong years, band members performing when they did not and worst of all, life altering events completely re-arranged to manufacture prefabricated drama in a life story that already possessed more than its share of inherent drama. The greatest offense for me was having Freddie Mercury's AIDS diagnosis become the catalyst for the band's iconic Live Aid performance in 1985, when in reality, Mercury's diagnosis arrived two years AFTER Live Aid! Inexcusable!

No, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is not a documentary. I realize that. But the re-structuring and watered down nature made the experience more than a little banal as well as fully inauthentic. As for Rami Malek's celebrated work in the impossible role of Freddie Mercury? Well, he works like the devil and he is probably the greatest Freddie Mercury impersonator you will see but I do not think it is really a great performance.

All in all, "Bohemian Rhapsody," a film designed to celebrate the life and legacy of Freddie Mercury and Queen, ended up being a film that was ultimately a disservice to them.
(Originally reviewed November 2018)


One of my favorite lines of dialogue from John Landis' eternal "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978) arrives late in the film when the several members of the beleaguered, cheerfully dilapidated, outrageously drunken, unrepentantly filthy fraternity Delta House find themselves within the office clutches of the insidious Dean Vernon Wormer (the late John Vernon). As he regards each member of the fraternity with disgusted contempt yet relishing in at the prospect of expelling them all from Faber University due to their relentless debauchery and poor grades, he turns to college Freshman Flounder (the late Stephen Furst) after delivering his sad midterm grades and proclaims, plainly, "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

Something very similar could be said for the "Jurassic Park" film series.

Now, we reach my least favorite, otherwise known as the worst film of the year, with "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" the fifth film in this miraculously continuing series which has not grown even one brain cell smarter in the interim between each installment. With the still spectacular special effects and seamless action set pieces and grandstanding dinosaurs as the stars, the series has remained on track. Unfortunately, where it has also remained on track and has refused to evolve is through the storytelling and complete lack of even one intelligent human being that could even begin to make a film like this interesting, as well as exciting, awe inspiring, frightening and even entertaining. Honestly, it is UNFATHOMABLE to me as to why the filmmakers have just refused to have the human characters be smart just even one time instead of being yet another lumbering, bludgeoning episode of "Whack-A-Mole" where stupid people do stupid things solely to get eaten.

And it is not even that these characters, once again led by Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, are just not smart. They all seem to have fallen under a sort of collective amnesia, like the participants on a long running reality game show who are actually shocked, shocked I tell you from the goings on the viewers at home all expect and are commonplace. These characters behave as if they have no knowledge of the previous "Jurassic Park" installment, and even their actions within the previous installment.

So, how else can anyone explain to me why Howard's character has become a dinosaur right's activist?! And for the love of Pete, why do these idiots keep going back to the island anyway, even one that is about to consume itself due to an erupting volcano? If not then we can't have those nifty special effects then can we? Characters are continuously duped by those bad corporate interests who still think these genetically created dinosaurs can be tamed and used for their own greedy financial ends, all of which could easily force even a child viewer of these movies to ask "Didn't any of you learn the lessons from say...the first film?"

I could go on and on but why bother? A loud, bombastic, belligerent bore fully devoid of anything resembling terror or adventure or intelligence, "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" is so terrible, so stupid, so mind-numbingly bone headed, that I am now going to root for the dinosaurs to emerge victorious just so human beings cannot make another one of these awful movies.
(Originally reviewed October 2018)


Thursday, February 14, 2019


Part Two of my four part series is now here for you and this time, I will commemorate the films that were just this close to finding a spot in the Top Ten, therefore the name "Number 11." As always, if you wish to locate the full review, I have listed precisely where you can find them.

It was "the snap" heard 'round the world and it left us all in ashes.

Anthony & Joe Russo's "Avengers: Infinity War," the 19th film in the on-going Marvel Comics saga was the game changer to upend everything we have seen over the past 10 years and this feat was superbly achieved with a storytelling heft, zest, verve. flair, imagination and most importantly, a fearless level of creative risk that left viewers in stoned silence by the film's conclusion...and undeniably salivating for the next installment which will arrive in April 2019.

And in fact, it should not have even have worked at all. To build an epic film with every Marvel character we have seen over 10 years into one narrative could have been a disaster. Yet, with clean clear storytelling and a fierce commitment to these characters (and the source material from which they sprang), "Avengers: Infinity War," while easily being the darkest and most doom laden entry yet, is a veritable triumph, making it the second best Marvel Studios release so far as well as being the very type of superhero film that propelled me back in time to the days when I read these books religiously.
(Originally reviewed April 2018)

Ethan Hawke was robbed!!!! Yup, I said it. Ethan Hawke was robbed as he was not nominated in the Best Actor category for this year's Academy wards. So shameful as what he delivered in Paul Schrader's mesmerizing, quietly wrenching drama was the best performance of his entire career.

Hawke stars as Reverend Ernst Toller, a a pastor at a tiny, upstate New York parish and is undergoing a severe spiritual crisis. A solitary figure, mourning the failure of his marriage, the death of his son as a soldier in Iraq, the struggles of maintaining his church in the looming shadow of the nearby mega-church, he has now fallen deeper into alcoholism and has taken to chronicling his thoughts, and fears into a journal for the time span of one year. and soon, from his dwindling congregation, he meets the pregnant Mary (Amanda Seyfried) and her husband Michael (Philip Ettinger), a radical environmentalist.

What ensues is a subdued, somber, meditative, decidedly adult sermon of a film in which the philosophical, religious allegory, and even the surreal all congeal into a disturbing experience designed to inspire debate, to get angry with and to even be confused by.  "First Reformed" is a film that imperatively speaks to the turbulent pulse of modern society.
(Originally reviewed June 2018)

The more I think about this film, the more impressed I am with it.

Peter Farrelly's "Green Book" stars Viggo Mortensen as Tony "Tony Lip" Vallelonga, a New York City Italian-American nightclub bouncer who becomes the driver for the affluent, eccentric and highly educated concert pianist Dr. Don Shirley (an excellent Mahershala Ali) on a concert tour through the deep South utilizing The Negro Motorist's Green Book, a guidebook for Black motorists displaying the motels and restaurants that will provide services.

What could have been a horrific version of "Driving Miss Daisy" in reverse merged with "The Help," Farrelly refreshingly made a wise, nuanced exploration of race relations within the entertaining constructs of a crowd pleasing road movie. I appreciated how Farrelly was not afraid of h is subject matter, showcasing the sting of racism while also providing the heartfelt message of how much we could gain, and even advance as a society, if we only spent some time in a car listening to and learning about each other, instead of building walls keeping us apart.
(Originally reviewed February 2019)

It really hurt to leave this one off of the Top Ten list as this criminally ignored film was an absolute jewel.

Nick Offerman stars as Frank Fisher, the proprietor of a record store for 17 years yet due to dwindling sales, he has decided to close its doors for good. Additionally, he is barely preparing for the departure of his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) for college where she plans to begin her studies to become a doctor, her life's passion. One evening Frank persuades Sam to partake in one of their legendary "jam sessions," where the two will play their respective instruments, compose and record a song together, which Frank soon (and unbeknownst to Sam) uploads to Spotify and eventually becomes a hit internet single.

In addition to caring for his mentally ill Mother (Blythe Danner) and for Sam facing a farewell with her girlfriend, "Hearts Beat Loud" is a richly aching Father/daughter story about the two participants struggling with growing up without causing the other any additional hurt. It is rightfully autumnal , melancholic and speaks directly to the time of life when forced changes reveal a world of emotions, including feelings of regret for lost chances, past failures, possibilities not taken and a fear of the unknown future.

Again, a so-called "small" film with an enormous reach and a heart as wide as the skies, "Hearts Beat Loud" is a film of rare tenderness and palpable bittersweetness yet fiercely honest and carries not one prefabricated moment.
(Originally reviewed July 2018)

The year's best action film by a mile and once again, it has achieved the..ahem...impossible as this series, now in its sixth installment, only keeps getting better, making this episode the finest to date.

Ferociously paced and filled end to end with all manner of jaw dropping set pieces yet completely anchored by strong storytelling, characters and performances from the entire cast, "Mission: Impossible-Fallout," while certainly being a product of 21st century cinema, feels more like a throwback to the films we all lined up for during the 1980's. Event films that more than went out of their way to provide you with a sense of wonder, shock, awe and "How did they do that???" moments that are blisteringly real and not reliant upon CGI bombast.

So much credit goes to McQuarrie and the tireless, relentless Tom Cruise for giving 1000% in creating a series that has long eclipsed James Bond and Jason Bourne and for my tastes, has now reached the upper echelon of films like Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" (2008).

Yes indeed, this is superlative entertainment executed spectacularly well. It truly makes you believe the unbelievable even when it is happening right in front of your eyes. 
(Originally reviewed July 2018)

The year's best thriller by a mile and one made the more horrific due to the plot and subject matter being planted so firmly in our current 21st century landscape and relationships with technology and social media. It takes the mundane and turns it all into a harrowing societal warning.

John Cho stars as David Kim who frantically searches for his daughter Margot (Michelle La) after she does not return home from a study group session at a friend's house. "Searching" is an insidious film that employs the brilliant technique of having every image appear solely through the lens of social media, text messages, laptop and surveillance cameras, television broadcasts and the like, meaning that not one image whatsoever appears in the real world, so to speak. This quality enhances the story while again taking what is now so commonplace and making it terrifying to the point where logging on afterwards may feel utterly different and even creepier.

While there is no graphic violence on display, the tone of the film is more realistic than escapist and once it was all said and done, the overall effect rattled me down to my bones.
(Originally reviewed December 2018)

There was a great disturbance in The Force regarding this film.

For me, an O.G. "Star Wars" fan from DAY ONE baby, this was the "Star Wars" stand-alone film of which I was most skeptical and in fact, I was least anxious to see as I  feared it only existed to continuously mine the original trilogy for lucrative measures. Then, there was the firing of the film's original directors--never a good sign. But then, like a Jedi Master, Ron Howard appeared and directed the film to absolute glory.

With a white lightning pace and clean, clear, direct storytelling, "Solo,"  is the origin story of Han Solo (now played by Alden Ehrenreich with rock star swagger), and how he ended up in the criminal underworld of the galaxy far, far away a long time ago. In doing so, Ron Howard has given us a "Star Wars" film that works as a heist movie/gangster saga as well as one that has nothing to do with Jedi Knights, lightsabers, the mysticism of The Force or the over-arching Skywalker family drama at all, making it a lighter, even faster affair with all manner of beautifully executed set pieces and cliffhangers for Han and his compatriots (including a priceless Donald Glover absolutely perfect as the younger Lando Calrissian) to get in and out of.

Shockingly with a nearly $400 million worldwide box office take, "Solo" was considered to be a box office failure, certainly ruining any chances for further prequel installments. Such a shame, as Ron Howard more than delivered the goods and made a spectacular new addition into our on-going science fiction/fantasy universe that George Lucas built.
(Originally reviewed May 2018)


Tuesday, February 12, 2019


It is time for the lists, dear readers! It is time for my annual Savage Scorecard series, where I compile my favorite and least favorite films of the year. For me, the cinematic year of 2018 was an exceptional one, where filmmakers both veteran and not really pushed themselves to realize films that often stood very tall creatively and artistically.

For this first set, I will begin with "The Honor Roll," films that did not make the Top Ten or even what I like to refer to as "Number 11," but were indeed strong, notable releases well worth viewing. As always,  I will direct you to where you can read the entire, full reviews of each film should you wish to see them.


-The post-apocalyptic tale of a family struggling to survive and escape from a collective of monsters who ravenously arrive by being attracted by the slightest sound, made for a horror thriller so ingenious that I was surprised that I had not seen something like it before.

Essentially a silent movie, I thoroughly enjoyed how Krasinski established the rules for his cinematic universe by showing us how sound can and cannot be utilized, how it travels, how day-to-day existence works without sounds and on a more existential level, how the sounds of nature have returned to the forefront of the world again. All of these tactics, and eschewing with horror film tropes like excessive gore, ensure that "A Quiet Place" remains a taut, gripping, stylish and effective pulse-pounder filled with strong performances and anchored by a genuinely moving Father/daughter story between Krasinski's character and his teenage daughter Regan (played by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds).
(Originally reviewed July 2018)

While there were some qualities housed inside of children's films that do not sit terribly well with me, (an insistently bustling wall-to-wall film score, platitudes repeated ad nauseum, aspects of some of the younger actors' performances) Ava DuVernay's otherwise dazzling, emotionally satisfying adaptation of the Madeleine L'Engle classic novel is indeed filled to the brim and beyond with effective child-like wonder.

The story of 13-year old Meg (played by Storm Reid) on her tireless search, with the aid of three astral travelers (Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah Winfrey) to save her long disappeared Astrophysicist Father (played by Chris Pine) as well as the universe in the process, is ultimately the type of children's film that is indeed in short supply: one that is child friendly while also being artful, sophisticated, empathetic, psychedelic and also one that refuses to exist as an empty piece of mercenary product as it carries the message that love itself will save existence.

And furthermore, representation is everything for when was the last time you saw a film in which the heroine (!) was a teenaged, bespectacled African American girl who is a Scientist and Mathematician who is given the opportunity to change the universe through the brilliance of her intelligence, the belief in herself and abilities, the strength of her convictions and the purity of her compassion. What DuVernay has delivered is a young woman's inner journey from self-doubt to empowerment while also displaying a joyous ode to Afro-futurism and Black excellence. 
(Originally reviewed March 2018)

Alex Garland's lavish and challenging dark dream of a film is that rare science fiction film that is greatly more concerned with ideas rather than pyrotechnics and the result is a disturbing, deliberately paced experience that is simultaneously somnambulistic and sinister.

Natalie Portman stars as a Professor of cellular biology who joins a team of military scientists (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny) into a mysterous quarantined zone known as "The Shimmer," a landscape of constant mutation, time manipulation and from which all previous scientific exploratory teams have never returned.

Garland has created a film where the aesthetics and atmosphere contributes to the overall effectiveness of the film as much as the plot and characters and in ding so, he has weaved an experience that feels as haunting as a bad dream without falling completely into terror. For what I think Garland achieved greatly is to present the concept of what is evolution and the idea that as something begins to assert itself into existence, then something invariably must begin to disintegrate.

This is a film that will indeed, and insidiously, burrow under your skin. 
(Originally reviewed March 2018)

While not quite as powerful as Ryan Coogler's primal "Creed" (2015), Steven Caple Jr.'s sequel advances the story of Adonis Creed (the titanic Michael B. Jordan) and Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, again eliciting a warmly effortless and deeply effective performance) as the film brings the events of "Rocky IV" (1985) full circle as Adonis battles Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who murdered his Father, Apollo Creed in the boxing ring 30 years prior.

Caple Jr. not only elevates the cartoonish qualities of "Rocky IV"  to an emotionally riveting degree by applying a greater sense of humanity and gravitas, "Creed II" is a stirring and soulful examination of Fathers, sons, the legacies left behind and the legacies attempting to being built. How all of those concepts clash and conflict entirely rests within the characters of old warriors still wrestling with and being haunted by the consequences of their choices and how the young lions try to leap out from those immersive shadows while also honoring them. Additionally, I loved how Caple Jr. also delivered a richly moving story set within the 21st century Black experience via the love story and growing family of Adonis and the hearing impaired rising singer-songwriter Bianca Taylor (Tessa Thompson).
(Originally reviewed December 2018)

Director Jesse Peretz's pitch perfect adaptation of the excellent Nick Hornby novel certainly does suggest a certain followup to the sublime High Fidelity, as we are again presented with the melancholic obsessions of a music fan and the turbulence that ensued with his romantic partner. But, for "Juliet, Naked," we probe even further as the film is a deeply perceptive story of middle aged malaise, arrested developments and the ruts we find ourselves stuck inside of and all contained within an aching love triangle.

Rose Byrne absolutely sparkles as Annie, the film's main protagonist, the long suffering girlfriend of Duncan, the aforementioned musically obsessed Duncan (an excellent Chris O'Dowd). And Ethan Hawke is sublime as the reclusive rock star Tucker Crowe, the object of Duncan's adoration yet who miraculously formulates a connection with Annie. For Annie, the wonder of this film is that we are not given an experience that simply boils down to which man she will choose. What we are given is the story of a woman trying to attain happiness through self discovery and serious attention towards herself.

Jesse Peretz's "Juliet, Naked" is a "small" film with an enormous reach.
(Originally reviewed September 2018)

After blowing me completely away with his blistering, brutal "Whiplash" (2014) and kind of lulling me with his over-rated "La La Land" (2016), Writer/Director Damien Chazelle returned to form (for me) with his episodic docudrama/interior exploration of Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling in a performance that is accomplished, difficult, mature and quietly intense), which is by turns visceral and demonstrably muted, a distinct set of juxtapositions that worked fluidly in this remarkably poignant film.

From visually striking and harrowing first person only viewpoints from the cockpit of one rocketship journey after another during America's attempts to reach the moon, Chazelle essentially dives into Armstrong's psyche as well, while creating a poetic psychological drama of grief and mourning over the death of his daughter, making the full experience of "First Man" artfully solitary and elegantly claustrophobic.
(Originally reviewed October 2018)

Admittedly, this film contains a wild plot twist that still feels to be unnecessary and its ending does wrap things up in too tidy of a bow, but despite those misgivings, "Tully," the third collaboration between Director Jason Reitman and Writer Diablo Cody, is a whip-smart, deeply empathetic, rightfully unglamorous look at 21st century Motherhood.

Charlize Theron, in a searing performance, stars as Marlo, a not-so-young Mother, with a loving but detached husband, and now three children, and is barely able to hold herself together as she is severely overwhelmed and suffering from nearly debilitating exhaustion and sleep deprivation. Enter 26-year-old Tully (MacKenzie Davis),a "night nurse," who is assigned to the home to assist with the children and house cleaning while Marlo can finally sleep. Marlo and Tully soon formulate a close friendship, which forces Marlo to confront the person she was when she was younger and the dreams she had for herself at that age compared and contrasted with who she is right now.

Where this film succeeds richly is how unsentimental, and therefore, how realistic a portrayal of Motherhood is presented throughout. The sense of draining normalcy of feeding, breast pumping, changing diapers and repeat and repeat ad nauseum showcases how Marlo finds her own body becoming less human and more machine like, her visage descending into catatonia and all delivered without any sense of prefabricated melodrama. In fact, and at its finest, "Tully" is a film that passionately illustrates that being someone's Mother, and surviving to tell the tale, may be the most heroic act one can do.
(Originally reviewed May 2018)


Thursday, February 7, 2019

THE ROAD BETWEEN US: a review of "Green Book"

Screenplay Written by Nick Vallelonga & Brian Hayes Currie & Peter Farrelly
Directed by Peter Farrelly
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

I have to admit to you that I was apprehensive about seeing this one.

In 2018, an exceptional year that showcased differing styles and genres of Black filmmaking excellence, from titles as varied as Spike Lee's "BlacKKKlansman," Boots Riley's "Sorry To Bother You," Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther," Barry Jenkins' "If Beale Street Could Talk" among others, I just was not certain if I really had it in me to see what was kinda, sorta looking like yet another race themed drama with a White protagonist in the leading role serving as some sort of savior figure to the noble yet perpetually helpless Black person...i.e. akin to what we have already seen in purportedly well meaning films like Tate Taylor's "The Help" (2011) and definitely, John Lee Hancock's "Me And My Pet Negro"...oops, I mean, "The Blind Side" (2009). 

And yet, I did indeed venture to my theater to finally regard Peter Farrelly's critically acclaimed and Oscar nominated "Green Book," a film whose trailer certainly did seem to possibly evoke the very kind of film that I had been fearing to see. While the end result is indeed one designed to attain more of a commercial, mass appeal film-going experience, I was indeed extremely surprised and  undeniably moved by what Farrelly achieved...especially as I never thought that one half of the Writing /Directing team of the likes of "Dumb And  Dumber" (1994), "Kingpin" (1996), and "There's Something About Mary" (1998) even remotely had something this nuanced, thoughtful and hopeful in him.

Set in 1962, "Green Book" stars an excellent Viggo Mortensen as Tony "Tony Lip" Vallelonga, an Italian-American New York City nightclub bouncer searching for new job opportunities after the establishment at which he is employed is closed down for renovations.

Tony is soon invited to meet Dr. Don Shirley (a wondrous Mahershala Ali), an African-American classical pianist, housed in a lavish abode directly above Carnegie Hall, who offers Tony employment as  his personal driver through the Midwest and deep South for an eight week concert tour, with plans to return to New York City by Christmas Eve. After some hesitation, due to his own racist prejudices, Tony accepts the job and is given a copy of author Victor Hugo Green's The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook for Black motorists displaying the locations of motels and restaurants that will provide service.

On their shared journey, Tony and Dr. Shirley clash with each other as Tony is intimidated and irritated by Dr. Shirley's affluence and refinement and in turn, Dr. Shirley is disturbed by Tony's coarseness, crass manners, and propensity for violence. And unquestionably for both men, racial stereotypes, prejudices and self-perceptions prove to be the most difficult road map to navigate as their experiences tentatively, gradually, hopefully deliver a greater understanding and respect of each other as well as themselves.

On the surface, Peter Farrelly's "Green Book" may indeed exist as precisely the kind of racial harmony crowd pleaser that I loathe. The kind of disingenuous race relations movie that only exists to make White liberals feel great about themselves for proclaiming themselves to being liberal. At its worst, the film could have been nothing more than Bruce Beresford's Best Picture Oscar winner "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989) in reverse...and in the year of both "Black Panther" and undeniably, "BlacKKKlansman," a film like that would be inexcusable!

Thankfully, not only did Peter Farrelly seem to understand the potential obstacles for a film such as this one, I think he even cleverly played into and then upended the "Driving Miss Daily" comparisons and conceits by ensuring the truth of the characters' humanity remained at the forefront, regardless of the film's lighter tonality. In essence, I think that Farrelly knows his strengths and understands that he is not the Spike Lee kind of filmmaker and storyteller, so to speak. Yet that being said, I do believe that he played directly towards his own considerable filmmaking and storytelling strengths, and in the process, revealed a greater nuance and depth that I, and I would assume you as well, never knew that he possessed.

As you look back at the filmography of Peter Farrelly and his brother Bobby Farrelly, in addition to creating over the top, audaciously vulgar hard R rated comedies, each of their films did indeed feel to champion some sort of outsider figure be it a sad sack one-handed bowler and an ingenue Amish man in the aforementioned "Kingpin," a state trooper afflicted with personality disorder in "Me, Myself & Irene" (2000), and even conjoined twins in "Stuck On You" (2003), for instance.

For "Green Book," Peter Farrelly has turned towards that similar attention towards those subjected to the societal sidelines in an obviously more dramatic, and therefore, socio-political fashion as the issues of race, racism, identity politics and the prejudices we hold are indeed the engine driving this film as our two main protagonists drive throughout the deep South.

Essentially, Farrelly has fashioned a film that could work as a companion traveling piece to both John Hughes' "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (1987) and Alexander Payne's "Sideways" (2004), two superior road movies that served a comedy of manners surrounded by darker themed character studies of men all reaching personal crossroads. For "Green Book," his attention to story, character, and period detail are all entirely on point but where the film finds its power is through Farrelly's exceedingly difficult navigation of, again, the proper tone where comedic elements do not diffuse the inherent drama and overall honesty of the piece or that the drama does not grow to be too heavy for the comedy to be unsustainable.

And yet, there is the very rightful questioning and even criticism towards the film that the lightness of its tone trivializes the subject matter and the real people and situations upon which this film has been based and inspired by. A healthy debate about this very issue is necessary without question and it was, in part, the cause of my trepidation for even seeing the movie in the first place. On the other hand, not every film can be "BlacKKKlansman," and not very film needs to be or even should be, for there are many roads up the same mountain and different people can be reached with the same message presented in different ways. To that end, there is a delicate balance at work to remain honest to the characters, their emotions and the environment and time period in which they all exist when creating a film experience designed for mass audiences. Now that I have seen the film, I can say for my sense and sensibilities, Peter Farrelly's "Green Book" accomplished its goals handsomely because, regardless of the tone, the film felt true.

Yes, "Green Book" contains more than its share of character driven humor in the vein of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple (1965), two mismatched individuals thrown together irritating each other tremendously yet tentatively learning from and about each other, eventually building towards a greater understanding. Farrelly has great fun playing Dr. Shirley's highly educated polish off of Tony's working class roughness. But all the while, he never loses sight of that racial component that fuels precisely who and why they are who they are. Unlike a film like "The Help," I deeply appreciated how Peter Farrelly did not feel afraid of his subject matter as he remained resolute with presenting a film that is about racism, therefore not shying away from the ugliness, the very images and feelings that should make us all feel dangerously uncomfortable.

I think of an early scene in the film when Tony's wife Dolores (a warm Linda Cardellini) is present when two Black repairmen are working in their home. Not only are several of Tony and Dolores' extended family members also on-site, presumably to deter those sexually voracious Black men from potentially raping Dolores, Farrelly even further has Tony take the two glasses that both Black men have used to drink the water that Dolores has graciously given, and tossed them into the kitchen garbage can--for why would, and how could his pure White lips touch the same glasses that have been "contaminated" by the lips of Black people.

In this brief scene, Farrelly demonstrated to me that he was ready and willing to deliver racism's painful sting, while also delivering the absurdity and possibly, the shame one may be able to feel once they see racism for its unrepentant cruelty, especially if it is how they themselves once housed the same Tony.

Of course, this brings us to what could be another debatable criticism concerning "Green Book," and that is of the White Savior/Magic Negro conceit, where the White character exists to save the helpless Black protagonist and conversely, the Black character is solely served as a plot device to aid the White protagonist, never existing as a three dimensional character at all. With t his film, a debate of this sort is necessary but again, I felt that Farrelly smartly overstepped those conceptual pitfalls, by ensuring both men were presented as realistic human beings.

For Tony, I felt that we were subjected to an exploration of a man's awakening, to his own racial prejudices, to the insidious nature of racism itself and his own sense of White privilege, as well as newfound understandings of loyalty, friendship, family, romance and communication. With regards to his attitudes towards race, Tony has spent his entire life inside of a community where racial epithets are bandied around carelessly, and attitudes towards anyone different are clearly born more from  ignorance than legitimate fear, completely suggesting that everything Tony has ever known in the only neighborhood and community he has ever known (and will most likely never leave), has exclusively been taught, handed down and accepted blindly. And so, with Tony Lip, we are experiencing one character isolated from everything outside of his very small window to the world.

Yes, Tony houses racist attitudes but is he definitely a racist? I would think that a full fledged racist would have immediately walked out of the door upon simply meeting Dr. Don Shirley, and he certainly would never have accepted employment that placed him in a position of servitude to a Black man.

Yet, he does accept and the further the film travels and the darker the film becomes as the two men extend deeper into the South, where issues of racism are more overt--including an unfortunate altercation with police during an unfortunate detour into a "Sundown Town" and a powerful sequence where the high society establishment at which Dr. Shirley is scheduled to perform refuses to seat him for dinner in their own restaurant--it does not take terribly much for Tony to take Dr. Shirley's side...yes first, it is because it is his job, but soon and crucially, it is because it is the human thing to do.

That being said, Tony is forced to confront his own prejudices in subtler ways, especially when he is a figure who claims to hate Black people while loving Black culture, which then fuels his stereotypes about Black people, all of which are torn apart by the existence of Dr. Don Shirley, who doesn't fit into any conceivable box Tony wishes to place him.

In all of the ways Tony appreciates Shirley's elegance--most notably in his coaching and re-writes of the love letters Tony sends home to Dolores (a very sweet touch)--Tony's own sense of inferiority rises its ugliest head when he challenges Shirley's "Blackness" regarding "Black" foods Shirley doesn't eat and the Black musicians he doesn't listen to. "I'm Blacker than YOU!!" he admonishes towards Dr. Shirley.

Think about this for a moment or two. To possess the audacity, arrogance, and misguided sense of privilege to feel righteous enough to define the existence of another person. Indeed during moments like this one in "Green Book," we are witness to Tony's own sense of White privilege as he inflicts it upon Dr. Don Shirley as well as an unveiling of his own dark insecurities about what kind of a human being he is to proclaim such knowledge over another he knows he knows NOTHING about.

As with every performance that I have witnessed from Viggo Mortensen, his work as Tony is rich, complete and one that exists only within the cinematic universe that surrounds him, ensuring that any past performances, and our memories of them, never creep into our "Green Book" viewing experience.

As terrific as Viggo Mortensen is, Mahershala Ali's performance as Dr. Don Shirley is mesmerizing in its depth, dignity, sorrow, pain, empathy and grace. Certainly this portrayal could have easily existed as nothing more than a persnickety caricature, an updated version of the cruel stereotype of the "uppity Negro." But no.

As we have already seen in films such as Justin Tipping's "Kicks" (2016) and his Oscar winning performance in Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight" (2016), Ali has more than proven himself to being the caliber of actor to immerse himself into the full histories of his characters, regardless of how much screen time he owns. And in doing so, he completely upends all aspects of whatever stereotypes and prejudices viewers may house towards the characters he portrays. He opens his mouth, you regard his eyes and with a sublime immediacy, all you ultimately witness is the content of character, the power of soul.

With regards to the criticism of this character essentially serving no other purpose than to exist as the "Magic Negro," I vehemently disagree with that assessment as Mahershala Ali's performance is beautifully nuanced and multi-layered. For the role of the affluent, highly educated, eclectic, artistic, proud and dignified Dr. Don Shirley, Mahershala Ali is indeed presenting a form of superior Black excellence, a miracle unto itself considering the time period.

But, most importantly, Ali is also delivering a truly lived in, and often deeply painful character study of a soul in isolation as his wealth, talent, education, choice of music he performs, diction and elocution run in contrast to what both Blacks and Whites believe Black people are and can only exist as, a brutal quandary for countless people of color...including myself. In addition to race, there is also the aspect of Shirley's homosexuality, briefly presented in the film but a crucial characteristic that only serves to enhance his sense of disconnect from his own race, other races and sadly, even his own brother, from whom he is essentially estranged.

It woud be more than enough for Shirley to undergo a concert tour of high White society enduring a variety of forms of racism the entire way--including the reality of having to travel via Green Book in the first place--while still possessing the wherewithal to perform at the eight of his artistic powers and also maintaining a sense of dignity and integrity in a world that refuses to view him as human. But, there is always more to endure when one is a Black man in a White world, especially one like Dr. Don Shirley. And for that matter, there is always more to endure when existing as a Black man in a Black world, when the Black man in question  who nurses his pain with alcohol nightly.

With Tony Lip and Dr. Don Shirley, the journey of "Green Book" is literal, emotional and cerebral as the film simply presents the conceit of how much we could actually learn about each other if we just took the time to talk to each other, to sit and listen, to regard and to actually be honest with ourselves enough to admit to our own prejudices and when we do not understand something or someone who is foreign to ourselves, especially now as we are all so entrenched within our own societal camps 

I do realize that does sound more than a little naive. And I guess that it is. Additionally, the film does veer towards a bit of the formulaic and some elements of its road movie structure are a tad predictable. But, in all honesty, these are minor quibbles for a film this well intentioned and executed. Peter Farrelly's "Green Book" is a quietly powerful humanistic vision of possibility and wouldn't the possibilities that can occur when we value each other's differences while discovering the similarities between ourselves in the process make for a better world?


Friday, February 1, 2019


There he is!!! My favorite dragon ever...Toothless!! And this month, we shall be witnessing him and his adventures with Hiccup for the final time.
Yes dear readers, this month, Director Dean DeBlois' "How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World," the third and now final installment will be released and I am simultaneously excited and apprehensive about it as the previous two chapters elicited some powerfully charged and fully unexpected emotions through their beautifully rich storytelling and characterizations. Here is hoping the very best has been saved for last...I'll be sure to have Kleenex handy for myself.
Now of course, on February 24th, I'll be ready for the 91st annual Academy Awards telecast and to prepare, I will unveil my annual Savage Scorecard series, which details my favorite and least favorite films of 2018.

Again, lots to write and also as always, wish me luck...and oh yes, I'll see you when the house lights go down!!!!