“JACK AND JILL” Review (Zero Stars)

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

Poopsie-whoopsie! Why did you make a floopsie-doo-dooski?

It should be illegal to make movies as terrible as Jack and Jill. This isn’t the usual sort of terrible where the cast and crew are merely incompetent at making a good movie  it’s the sort of terrible where they fully understand how to make a bad movie and are aggressively committed to making it as asinine, annoying, and offensive on the senses as possible. Well if Jack and Jill’s goal was to make one of the worst movies ever made, then they succeeded. May they never succeed at anything ever again.

Jack and Jill stars Adam Sandler as identical twins Jack and Jill, with the latter sibling being portrayed with drag and a wig that’s so fake-looking that I’m wondering which mannequin he took it from. The story follows the dreadful duo on a series of absurd adventures, some of which include inviting homeless people to Thanksgiving dinner, appearing on a game show, crushing a helpless horse under Jill’s weight, going to a Lakers game, and being stalked by Al Pacino. And when I say that, no, I’m not saying that it’s a character played by Al Pacino: I mean the actual, real, Academy Award-winner Al Pacino is in love with Adam Sandler in drag and is stalking her/him.

I don’t know what’s more disturbing; watching Al Pacino sexually harass Adam Sandler or knowing that both men willingly agreed to this.

Where do I start with this movie? What’s the worst part? Do I start with the screenplay, which is so childish and immature that fifth graders would be offended? Do I start with the performances, all of which are so obnoxious and distasteful that it makes The Room look artful by comparison? Or do I elaborate on its technical failings, all of which are so basic and amateurish that it makes The Hallmark Channel seem watchable?

Let’s start with the premise itself, in which the idea to have Adam Sandler playing gender-swapping roles is gimmicky at best and downright repugnant at its worst. For some comedic actors, they’re able to successfully play both masculine and feminine characters with finesse and flair, among my favorites being Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, and Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire.

Adam Sandler is not one of those actors. Simply put, he doesn’t have the training or the ability to act much beyond his own generic self. That’s why when Jack puts on a dress later in the movie and pretends to be Jill, there’s literally no discernible difference between Jill and the disguised Jack. It’s the same God-awful performance either way.

And seeing Adam Sandler dressed as a woman is truly an unpleasant sight to suffer through. While other gender-swapping roles put its actors through extensive makeup and costuming to make them look believable as women, Sandler just slaps on whatever outfit he bought from GAP and the lipstick and eyelashes he got from Ulta Beauty and calls it a transformation. It’s easily one of the laziest makeup and costuming jobs I’ve ever seen, and I’ve suffered through White Chicks.

But it isn’t just how Adam Sandler looks: his dialogue is just as insufferable and grotesque as the rest of his appearance is. Jill is disgusting, foul, whiny, and loud-mouthed to the point where you need earplugs to even attempt to listen to her. Sandler’s voice as Jill is so high-pitched and screechy that I’m shocked no windows in the theater broke every time Jill talked. Why Sandler chose this particular voice for Jill I have no idea. All I know is that I had to check my ears at the end of the screening to make sure they weren’t bleeding from all of the grated squealing they suffered through.

This begs a question that I, unfortunately, do not have an answer to: why was this movie made? Who was this movie made for? What purpose does it serve other than to test my patience and sanity? I cannot rationalize this movie for any reason whatsoever under any spectrum of thought. If it was supposed to be funny, why didn’t I laugh? If it was supposed to be endearing, why was I enraged the entire time while watching it? If it was supposed to be heartfelt, why did I drive my hands into my skull every time one of the characters spoke? If it was supposed to be sincere, why did the film reek of contrivance and laziness? And if it was supposed to be entertaining, why did I spend all 90 minutes fantasizing about strangling every single person I saw in the film?

While he was once known for starring in cheeky and amusing comedies like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Wedding Singer, Adam Sandler has been making one string of bad decisions after another, whether it’s with the cheap and juvenile Grown Ups or the dull and uninspired Just Go With It. Jack and Jill confirms his downward spiral of insanity. For his own safety and well-being, he needs to be checked into a psychological ward as soon as humanly possible, and then his unfortunate viewers should seek counseling to process Jack and Jill in a healthy way.

After watching a trailer where he’s promoting Dunkin’ Donuts’ new Dunkaccino (hardee-har-har), Al Pacino demands that Jack burn all copies of it, warning him “This must never be seen by anyone.” He should have warned Jack and Jill’s producers instead and saved us all from the embarrassment.

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“THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

What you can’t see can hurt you. 

An invisible threat haunts Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss) at the beginning of The Invisible Man – and despite what you might expect, it isn’t the film’s titular villain. Instead, the invisible threat that looms over Kass is the same one that has followed Kelly McGillis, Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd, Kesha, Taylor Swift, E. Jean Carroll, Christine Blasey Ford, and several other women: abuse.

We see how it’s affected Kass early on in the film; how she fears sleeping next to her boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and how she quietly and meticulously creeps around the house so as not to wake him. She’s lucky enough to escape from her abusive relationship and stay at her friend James’ (Aldis Hodge) place as she recovers and picks up the broken pieces of her shattered life. Then one day she receives news that brings her a sigh of relief: Adrian killed himself shortly after Kass left him.

At least, that’s what Kass is told at first. But then she starts noticing strange things around the house. She finds an old pill bottle in her bathroom that she left behind at Adrian’s place when she left. Her belongings keep getting shifted around, moved from one place to another, and sometimes disappearing altogether. And despite being told over and over again that Adrian is dead, Kass can’t help but feel that he’s still around, always watching her close by.

I didn’t have high hopes for The Invisible Man prior to seeing this movie. Why would I? For one thing, it’s a remake of the 1940s Invisible Man movies by Universal, and horror remakes go over just about as well as Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho. It’s a February release, and spring movies tend to be among the worst films released on any given year. And to top it all off, The Invisible Man was originally planned to be an inclusion in Universal’s Dark Universe franchise  and if you want to know how bad of a start that franchise got off to, go watch Tom Cruise’s Mummy remake.

So I had no expectations of this movie being any good, let alone even remotely entertaining. Yet The Invisible Man blew away all of my expectations, immersing me in a harrowing, haunting, and nerve-wracking experience that doesn’t fail to send chills down your spine or stick the hairs up on your neck.

One of the many ways that this film succeeds in doing that is in its clever and carefully-crafted cinematography, which evokes a sense of dread and angst throughout the whole picture. Director Leigh Whannell and longtime collaborator Stefan Duscio smartly frame each shot slightly off-center, leaving plenty of white space between its characters and their environments. If this were any other film, you might think the shot was simply framed sloppily and the crew was just too lazy to readjust it. Instead the framing is used for artistic effect, creating the uneasy presence of another character despite never being able to see him. You feel like somebody is always watching Kass, and therefore, somebody is always watching you.

Elizabeth Moss is especially convincing in portraying a traumatized survivor still haunted by her seemingly dead boyfriend. We already knew that she was a skilled and talented actress in television shows like “Mad Men” and “The Handmaiden’s Tale,” but here she demonstrates another layer of expression that feels especially raw and vulnerable. If you removed Elizabeth Moss completely from this movie and put her into another movie where its protagonist was dealing with PTSD from an abusive relationship, it would still work very well. That’s because she isn’t portraying a stock final girl archetype you usually find in many of these horror movies: she’s playing a fleshed out and fully-realized character dealing with her own unique problems and isolation. That depth and complexion adds a lot of emotional weight to this seemingly simple horror movie, establishing a strong connection to its main character and making us root for her throughout the picture.

All of this contributes to Leigh Whannell’s exemplary ability to elevate this picture beyond its original expectations. While the movie is all sorts of exciting and riveting on its own, Whannell uses the thrills and jump scares to tell a deeper narrative about the mistreatment of women and how we respond to them speaking their truth. We’ve seen this in a few other movies now where they use their blockbuster appeal to share something deeper and more compelling, such as the topic of racism in Get Out, mental health and well-being in Joker, wealth inequality in Parasite, and artificial intelligence in Leigh Whannell’s own Upgrade. Here, Whannell is utilizing a classic premise to pioneer a powerful pro-feminist anthem, not unlike other blockbusters such as Alien or Mad Max: Fury Road.

Of course, the movie is not without its flaws. The first act specifically uses a lot of time for setup and drags in terms of pacing. With this being a horror movie, you’re bound to get at least one or two groan-inducing moments where characters seem to be begging to get killed through one stupid mistake or another. And there’s one scene in particular where the invisible man is slaughtering a whole hallway full of guards, all while the security cameras capture the whole scene. You’d think people would see that footage and believe Kass’ outlandish claims, yet the moment is dropped as quickly as it is brought up and is never revisited again.

None of this changes how ingenious and unsettling The Invisible Man is in its eerie premise: how brilliant it is in guiding its audience through one jaw-dropping scare after another and how even more brilliant it is in weaving deeper feminist themes into its narrative. I wondered before going into this movie why its planned sequel was titled The Invisible Woman. Now I know why.

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Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’ Delayed Indefinitely

Tenet: a word that will open the right doors, some of the wrong ones.

Well, in this case, it closed one.

Thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Christopher Nolan’s highly-anticipated science-fiction thriller Tenet has been delayed indefinitely. Originally slated for a July release this summer, Tenet was rescheduled for August before coronavirus cases escalated yet again. As positive cases continue to climb towards the four million mark in the United States, Warner Bros. has recently removed Tenet from its 2020 release calendar altogether, stating that it will announce a new release date “imminently.”

To quote Commissioner Gordon from The Dark Knight Rises, that basically means “We’re on our own.” Tenet is not the first movie to be delayed due to the coronavirus. James Bond’s No Time To Die, Wonder Woman 1984, Black Widow, and A Quiet Place Part II all got pushed back from their original release dates earlier this year, effectively eliminating 2020’s summer movie season. But after Tenet was wiped from the 2020 calendar altogether, that means other movies could quite possibly follow suit, leaving many to wonder when the movie theaters will reopen this year if at all.

And movie theaters are already in a tough spot due to the coronavirus. AMC Theatres, the largest movie theater chain in the United States, posted a $2.4 billion loss in its first quarter this year, and the industry as a whole has lost over $10 billion as of May, according to Forbes. CNBC reported that the box office is at a 20-year low, facing its worst year since 1998. How much worse it can get and for how long is only a matter of time.

Will Tenet be released directly to at-home streaming? I seriously doubt it. Christopher Nolan’s movies have always been in high demand, from The Dark Knight trilogy to Inception to Dunkirk. Throwing it onto TV screens at home feels like a throwaway, and definitely something Nolan himself wouldn’t agree to.

Whether other franchises like James Bond or Wonder Woman ultimately go that route remains to be seen. But at the moment, it seems like we’re going to have to wait until 2021 to watch Christopher Nolan’s newest feature.

– David Dunn

SOURCES: Forbes, CNBC

Ennio Morricone Dies At 91

Another Hollywood legend has passed away. 

For over 50 years, Italian composer Ennio Morricone has provided ingenious, captivating scores that defined the very films they were featured in. He wrote music for unnerving horror movies like The Exorcist Part II and The Thing, gangster dramas like Bugsy and The Untouchables, and most popularly spaghetti westerns like For A Few Dollars More and Once Upon A Time In America. His iconic theme for The Good, The Bad and the Ugly inspired the tension and the unease that several other western films would emulate for years afterwards.  

But of all of the soundtracks he’s produced, the music behind Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight proved to be the most eerie, unsettling, and haunting. It brought together all of the dramatic and thematic elements of all of his previous musical scores and also successful underscored the buildup he featured in his other westerns. He won a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and an Academy Award from his work on the film, and no one was going to argue against it.

On Monday morning, the award-winning composer died from complications from falling and sustaining an injury. At 91 years old, Ennio lived a full life filled with wonderful music and imagination, inspiring other artists such as Gnarls Barkley, Metallica, David Guetta, Radiohead, and even Hans Zimmer. His legacy will live on forever, but we will miss him and his music dearly. 

Requiescat in pace, maestro Morricone. Che la tua musica ti guidi nei cieli. 

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The New York Times, NPR

“MALCOLM X” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

Liberate your mind. 

If history has taught us anything, it was that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. had starkly different methods to fighting racism in America. Yet they were so similar in so many other ways despite all of their differences. For instance, both men have experienced firsthand the boot and lashes of white America. Both were men of faith that were compelled to action because of what they believed. Both fought fiercely and passionately for the day that black men would be free from persecution and hatred. And both were shot and killed at 39 years old before they would ever see that day realized.

But of course, Malcolm X is not remembered by many for marching for the same causes that Martin Luther King Jr. did. Malcolm is not remembered for advocating for his fellow black men, for his fight against the evils of racism, and for his rousing speeches and words burning with passion and fire. Instead, he’s remembered because his words were filled with contention and confrontation, not the piety and the hope as Dr. King’s speeches were. Regardless of which ideology you do or don’t agree with, there’s no denying the one truth that both men share: they understood all too well of what it meant to be a black man in America.

In Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, Denzel Washington portrays the Muslim minister in an epic encapsulation of his whole life. The movie covers everything from his traumatic childhood where his family was hunted by white supremacists, to his robbery days as “Detroit Red,” to his discovery of Islam during his time in prison, to his emergence in the civil rights movement, all the way to his last days ministering before he was ruthlessly gunned down by Thomas Hagan and his crew.

Seeing Malcolm’s life play out like this gives perspective into who he was, where he came from, and what happened in his life to shape him into the leader he’s widely recognized as today. Writer-director Spike Lee illustrates Malcolm’s life story with intensity and conviction, fully committed to showing you who he was and who he wasn’t. Lee stylizes his scenes with flair and pizzazz, with Malcolm and his buddies dressed in colorful outfits, shucking and jiving down the streets in Boston while the smoke and police sirens linger in the background. But Lee’s film design isn’t gimmicky or exploitative of Malcolm X. Like Lee’s earlier films Do The Right Thing and Mo’ Better Blues, they speak to the era they’re representing and add authenticity to Malcolm’s story.

The scenes that deal with Malcolm’s faith are especially moving and touching. When he’s first introduced to Islam in his prison cell, it’s an emotionally-stirring moment where Malcolm faces who he is and how he needs to make a change in his life. When he later confronts the hypocrisies of the Nation of Islam, he becomes disillusioned to what message he’s been preaching and what his faith really represents. And when he later travels to Mecca and encounters Muslims of all ethnicities and cultures, Malcolm experiences a spiritual revival of Islam and what it means to him. It’s a poignant redemption arc that shows how he grew from Malcolm Little to becoming Malcolm X.

I can’t talk about Malcolm X without mentioning the man who plays him. Denzel Washington is simply stunning as the civil rights activist. Whether he’s portraying him in high school trying to pick up white women, running a numbers game as a gangster, or standing against oppression in the streets as an outspoken civil rights advocate, Denzel portrays each chapter of Malcolm’s life with vigor and authenticity. He isn’t playing one character so much as he is playing several characters and their many transformations throughout their lives, and he fully commits himself to every single aspect of those characters. I find it fascinating that in the really captivating moments where he was preaching to crowds and protestors, I never once thought it was Denzel reciting someone else’s words. I only saw Malcolm X.

This leads to the film’s greatest strength, and that is its honesty. With a figure as controversial as Malcolm X, it would have been too easy to shy away from the hard conversations Malcolm X forced us to have and sanitize his story for the comfort of neutral moviegoers. But Spike Lee doesn’t do that. Instead, he lays out the entirety of Malcolm X’s legacy, and he doesn’t shy away from its highs or lows. It’s no secret that Malcolm X made many disparaging remarks to many individuals throughout his life, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President John F. Kennedy, and white America as a whole.

Yet the movie doesn’t virtue signal as to whether Malcolm was right or wrong in the statements he’s made: it just shows it the way it was and lets the audience decide for themselves. I’m not going to comment much on it myself, because my job as a film critic is to review the movie, not the person it’s portraying. I will say that if Malcolm X’s words bother you more than the lynchings, the police brutality, the white nationalism, and the racist institutions he was fighting against, then you need to evaluate whether it’s the words that bother you so much or the cause behind them.

Whatever conclusions you come to about his life, Malcolm X is a powerful film: dramatic, well-acted, and faithfully executed. The film forces you to face uncomfortable questions regarding America’s racist history, and many people may not like facing those truths. My view of it is that if Malcolm X couldn’t shy away from it, neither can we. We could all learn something from those that we don’t see eye-to-eye with. Perhaps we could start with Malcolm X.

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Zack Snyder’s Cut Of ‘Justice League’ Will Be Released Next Year

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Never underestimate the power of the internet.

Ever since Justice League was released in 2017 to mixed reviews and lackluster box office earnings, fans have been demanding for a director’s cut of Zack Snyder’s original vision for the film. For those of you that don’t remember, Zack Snyder left production for the film earlier in the year due to a personal tragedy he and his wife Deborah were dealing with. That was when The Avengers writer-director Joss Whedon stepped in to handle reshoots and post-production for the film. The result was a campy, cliché, tonally inconsistent picture that switched between being serious and melodramatic to downright silly and in-cheek.

Whatever you thought of the Justice League movie, it’s clear it wasn’t Zack Snyder’s original vision for the film. Maybe his version would have been better than the theatrical cut – maybe it would have been worse. After all, he did release Batman V. Superman before the film’s release. Regardless, some fans were flustered by the inconsistencies of the theatrical cut and wanted to see Zack Snyder’s version of Justice League. Thus, the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement was born.

For a long time, the Snyder cut seemed like a pipe dream: a hashtag that celebrities like Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, and Ray Fisher could post about and get a few retweets out of. But after he streamed a live watch party of his 2013 hit Man of Steel, Zack made the groundbreaking announcement that the Snyder cut would be released on HBO Max next year. The Snyder cut of Justice League suddenly switched from being a distant impossibility to a very tangible reality.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the project will cost approximately $20-30 million to finish the editing, musical scoring and visual effects for the finalized cut. It would also be released either as a massive four-hour feature-length movie or as a six-part miniseries.

Regardless, fans are finally getting to see their Snyder cut, and Zack Snyder will finally complete his version of Justice League that he’s always dreamed about.

“I always thought it was a thing that in 20 years, maybe somebody would do a documentary and I could lend them the footage, little snippets of a cut no one has ever seen,” Zack told The Hollywood Reporter. “As a family, as a couple, I think we have grown in a way that has made us stronger. We’re doing our best. You really can’t hope for more.”

You can watch Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League on HBO Max in 2021.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Variety

“SONIC THE HEDGEHOG” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Paramount Pictures

Go, go, go blue hedgehog. 

To anyone and everyone attempting to make a video game movie in the future: this is how you do it. This is exactly how you do it. When Paramount dropped the first trailer for Sonic The Hedgehog last year and unveiled that God-awful-looking abomination that was supposed to be a blue hedgehog, the Sonic community rightfully ripped it apart and begged Paramount to fix the design. At that moment, Paramount did the smartest thing they could have possibly done in that situation: they listened to the fans.

It’s funny because in a day and age where viewers have criticized how ridiculous other cinematic characters have looked (see Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four or Doomsday in Batman V. Superman), it would have been way too easy for Paramount to simply write the fans off and go about making the movie. But in listening to the fans, Paramount demonstrated that constructive criticism can, in fact, be a very good thing. Can you imagine how quickly all of this might have been resolved if they just brought fans in on day one and simply showed them that horrific-looking rodent they debuted in the first trailer?

In either case, we have our first live-action Sonic the Hedgehog movie after waiting for over 30 years. In this big-screen adaptation, Sonic (Ben Schwartz) is a speedy blue hedgehog endowed with lightning-fast reflexes, and he uses it to jet around in what is aptly described as a blue blur. He lives hidden in a small community in Green Hills, Montana, which is also home to Sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter), who Sonic affectionately refers to as “Donut Lord” and “Pretzel Lady” (take a few guesses as to why).

One day, Sonic releases an electromagnetic pulse while running that knocks out all the power in town, alerting the authorities to his presence. Unsure of what they’re dealing with, the military enlists in the help of Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey), a genius megalomaniac who has thousands of egg robots at his disposal, to find and kill Sonic. Now literally on the run from the government and a psycho robot genius, Sonic has to escape before his powers are used for more nefarious purposes.

One of the immediate elements you catch about this movie is its energy. Like its speedy blue devil, Sonic The Hedgehog is fast-paced, funny, and spontaneous, kicking things off at a quick rate and only barely slowing down to catch its breath. The video games run at a similar pace, with Sonic running through hills, pipes, bridges, and loop-de-loops crazier than a pinball machine. In a rare display, the movie matches the attitude behind Sonic the Hedgehog almost perfectly, with his wild antics and adventures feeling like a crazy level you’re whizzing past in one of those classic Sega arcade games.

The key reason for this is because the movie simply nails the Sonic character. Director Jeff Fowler, who was nominated for an Academy Award in 2004 for an animated short film called “Gopher Broke,” rightfully envisions Sonic as a hotwired little kid; impatient, impulsive, and running wherever life takes him. Ben Schwartz especially does a great job voicing the blue speedster. Whether he’s uttering a clever quip or spouting a long-winded thought excitedly, Sonic feels like a sugar-induced teenager that just wants to pack everything into his day and won’t stop until he fills out his bucket list. Of course, we look forward to the scenes where Sonic is running up buildings and fighting robots, but even in the slower moments, Sonic is still a wildly entertaining character. His exhilarating personality kept the movie moving even when everything else was slowing down around him.

Jim Carrey’s Robotnik also serves as a nice contrast to Ben Schwartz’s Sonic, especially when he incorporates his trademark wackiness into the character. Carrey is admittedly quite different from his video game counterpart: while Eggman in the video games is noticeably chubby and bald, Carry’s Robotnik is thin and has a head full of hair. Yet you don’t mind the differences that much because his performance is just that infectious. Jim Carrey huffs and haws at the less-intelligent beings beneath him and offers no shortage of condescending remarks, like bullets aimed towards the film’s unfortunate victims. He pulls off Robotnik’s haughtiness with the same charisma and pizzazz as his other villainous roles, including the Grinch, the Riddler, and Count Olaf. It’s so nice to see Carrey return to the spotlight yet again to take on a villainous role that really lets his more animated qualities shine on screen. This role could serve as a viable comeback for Carrey, and it would be a very welcomed one if he’s going to consistently deliver this quality of performance.

The story, while basic and predictable, is simple enough to be enjoyable and surprisingly even has a few emotional punches that paint Sonic as a more sympathetic character. James Marsden and Tika Sumpter are functional albeit forgettable in the movie, with Carrey easily outshining them and the rest of the cast. And the movie is visually a delight, with Sonic’s quick-witted and lightning-fast reflexes providing for some fun, exciting, and speedy-filled action that’s akin to the Quicksilver and Flash scenes from the X-Men and Justice League movies (with even a few fun references thrown into the mix as well).

Sonic The Hedgehog further demonstrates the potential for the modern video game movie adaptation. This is the second time where a recent video game movie captured the spirit of the source material with charm and vision, with the first being last year’s Detective Pikachu. What other possibilities are there and where does the genre go from here? I can’t say for sure, but wherever it goes, at least it’s bound to be better than that original anorexic Sonic design. I can almost look forward to a new Super Mario Bros. movie. Almost.

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May The Fourth Be With You.

SOURCE: Lucasfilm

This video was a hard one to do. Not just because of all the filming, editing, and effort that usually goes into long-form content like this, but more of the emotional story behind it that kept pushing this video out weeks after weeks after weeks.

I was originally supposed to publish this video ranking all of the Star Wars movies at the tail end of 2019, around the same time when Rise of Skywalker came out. But for those that know me, I was dealing with a lot at the time that prevented this video’s release. For one thing, I lost my Grandmother, or “Ducky Schwartz,” to respiratory complications. I still miss her dearly, though I am glad she doesn’t have to go through this pandemic at the very least. I lost my best friend. And to top it all off, I got into a car accident that wrecked me financially.

The holiday season passed (quite possibly the worst one I’ve ever experienced). January rolled around and I just got back on my feet. I was ready to film this video albeit a month later, but at least I was making progress. Then at the end of my recording session, all of the video footage got corrupted and wasn’t usable. So I had to reset and film the whole thing all over again.

A string of health problems prevented filming until March, and then I finally had all of my video clips and was ready to import the footage. Only problem was, for some inexplicable reason, my computer wouldn’t download all of the video clips. I have no idea why. But I had to pull out my other computer and download the rest of the footage from there. Halfway through downloading, my computer crashed and wouldn’t turn back on. I was so emotionally exhausted and frustrated that I couldn’t contain myself. I had a meltdown and completely broke down in my living room. I just felt so powerless. After dealing with one traumatic incident after another, all I wanted to do was shoot and edit a damn video, just to get my mind off of things. But I couldn’t even do that.

I was eventually able to restart my computer and download the rest of the footage several days later, but by then I couldn’t care less. I was so emotionally drained from the experience that I just shut out my computer and put the project on the back burner, focusing instead on my work and mental and emotional health. These videos haven’t done a damn thing for me, I thought. Why would I waste any more of my time and effort on them?

Fast forward to April, where we’re in the heat of dealing with this pandemic. Finally locked into my room with my own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and videos, I finally found the strength to return to my project and finish what I started. Video editing is not easy, and for those that are unfamiliar, it typically takes an average of one hour to edit one minute of footage. So I decided to take my time and just bite off one piece at a time. Two weeks later, I finally realized my vision for my ranking of the Star Wars series.

And yet, technical mishaps would strike yet again and try to stop me one last time. I finalized my remaining graphics and was ready to export my video. Only one problem: my computer wouldn’t boot up. I tried everything that Apple support suggested, but despite exhausting all options, the computer remained inaccessible, making a weekend’s worth of editing completely pointless.

So I pivoted, fired up my other computer, edited the video from a backup, implemented the graphics, and finally published my video against all odds. Suck it, Apple. Your shoddy hardware couldn’t stop me from sharing my love of Star Wars. 

Why am I sharing all of this? Because out of all the videos I’ve produced, this is the one I’m most proud of by far. Every conceivable obstacle was thrown into my path for this video, from personal to physical to technical. And despite all of those roadblocks, I was able to persevere and do what I love most: talk about movies.

I don’t know how much more I’ll resume video work after this. The experience has been so emotionally taxing on me that I question how much longer I want to do this, if I even want to keep doing this at all. I still want to publish roundups for the decade as well as the Oscars, though now I’m questioning whether I want to do those in alternative formats to avoid further stress and frustration.

But I’ll leave those questions for tomorrow. For now, I’m proud of what I’ve produced, and I’m proud I got to share my love of Star Wars and the movies with you once again.

Thank you all for continuing to support me and watch my videos. I genuinely appreciate it, and it has kept me going in these very difficult past few months.

Anyhow, enjoy my ranking of the Star Wars movies. Happy Star Wars Day, and of course, May The Fourth Be With You.

– David Dunn

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AMC Theatres Bans Universal Pictures

Out of all of the public spats to have surfaced in the face of the coronavirus, no one could have predicted that one of the most controversial came from two of the most prominent entertainment companies in the industry.

After movie theaters shut down worldwide last month due to the coronavirus, many movie studios had to pivot to streaming their films on demand in order to make a profit. One of the more popular studios to have found success in this format was Universal Studios. Its most recent films The Hunt and The Invisible Man were among the first releases to be made available on VUDU, while Robert Downey Jr.’s Dolittle was released later on down the road. But one of the most successful rentals is, oddly enough, Trolls World Tour, which set the record for the most streams in a weekend release, surpassing even Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s streaming numbers, according to Deadline.

“The results for ‘Trolls World Tour’ have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of [premium video on demand],” NBC Universal CEO Jeff Shell said to The Wall Street Journal. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

Well, that interview ended up being the worst possible thing Jeff could have done, because after that, AMC Theatres declared that it would no longer screen any of Universal’s movies in its 1,000 theaters across the globe. 

In a strongly-worded letter, AMC Entertainment President and CEO Adam Aron wrote to Universal conveying the company’s disappointment, expressing explicit frustration over Shell’s “release movies on both formats” comment. 

AMC believes that with this proposed action to go to the home and theatres simultaneously, Universal is breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies,” Adam writes. “It assumes that we will meekly accept a reshaped view of how studios and exhibitors should interact, with zero concern on Universal’s part as to how its actions affect us. It also presumes that Universal, in fact, can have its cake and eat it too, that Universal film product can be released to the home and theatres at the same time, without modification to the current economic arrangements between us. It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice.”

What does this mean for Universal? Going forward, you can expect any film with a Universal logo on it to not be playing at any AMC or Regal theater, including the upcoming Fast & Furious 9, animated Illumination movies such as Despicable Me and Minions, and future sequels to the Jurassic Park franchise. At the moment, you could still watch Universal movies from Cinemark or Harkins theaters, but that’s assuming if they don’t pull out later on like AMC or Regal Cinemas did. With AMC and Regal being the largest movie theater chains by far, you can expect Universal to be absent from over 18,000 screens across the world.

I get AMC’s frustrations with Universal. In his letter, Adam says they accepted Universal to originally stream Trolls World Tour to homes as an exception due to “unprecedented times.” He even says that they were willing to sit down with Universal and discuss different strategies and economic models that would benefit both companies, especially in the face of this pandemic.

So when Jeff completely disregards all of those conversations and investors and unilaterally decides this is the “new normal,” I can understand why AMC is more than peeved at his comments to the press. Yet, I can’t help but feel this might be a slight overreaction on AMC’s part. As part of Hollywood’s “Big Five” studios, Universal holds 11% of the market share, slightly behind Sony Pictures’ 12.1% and more than double of Paramount’s 5%. Universal’s movies have consistently placed among the year’s highest grosses, competing against Columbia Pictures, TriStar, 20th Century Fox, New Line Cinema, and even Warner Bros. Saying that a big chunk of movies would be missing from movie theaters is a severe understatement, and with that, a large chunk of the market as well.

“We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary,” Univeral wrote in a response statement to AMC. “As we stated earlier, going forward, we expect to release future films directly to theaters, as well as on [premium video on demand] when that distribution outlet makes sense. We look forward to having additional private conversations with our exhibition partners.”

What do you guys think? Do you feel this is an overreaction on AMC’s part, or do you think they’re right to shut out all future Universal releases? Comment below, let me know. I’ll see y’all when the theaters reopen. 

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Wall Street Journal, Deadline

“ROMA” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Netflix

La belleza es donde la encuentras.

For some reason, the Madonna song “Vogue” came to mind while I was watching Roma, which is Alfonso Cuaron’s first Spanish film in 17 years since directing 2001’s Y Tu Mama Tambien. It’s the lyrics that specifically stick out to me, and despite Madonna’s jazzy disco groove and upbeat tempo, there’s a sadder story lying in the song about a woman trying to escape from life’s troubles. Everywhere she turns is heartache, she wants to escape the pain of life that she knows, and there’s a longing to be something better than what she is. And, perhaps most important, she learns that beauty is where you find it.

Alfonso Cuaron illustrates this sentiment early on in Roma. Whereas most movies work so hard to set up groundbreaking establishing shots that set the tone for the movie, Roma opens up on the black-and-white tile floor of a middle-class family in La Roma, Mexico City. The image itself is so plain and ordinary, and at first seems like an unusual opening shot for a family drama. But it’s what Cuaron does with the shot that makes it so compelling. Off-screen, we hear a maid throw soapy suds onto the tile floor, and the reflection raises a mesmerizing pattern of a broken yet beautiful city. Brick rooftops surround the image like a picture frame. Clouds break up the gray sky like cotton candy on a canvas. And far into the distance, a plane flies overhead, carrying its passengers into a new tomorrow.

The whole movie is like that, with Alfonso Cuaron finding captivation and interest in every frame, every pan, every close-up, every wide shot, and every sweeping capture of the scenery and sensation that’s on display. The cinematography never looks or feels forced, awkward, pretentious, or unearned. It is intimate and vivid, like a long-lost memory that has suddenly resurfaced back into your mind.

Roma is based on Alfonso Cuaron’s own childhood while growing up in La Roma with his parents and two brothers, as well as the caretakers that looked after them. Although much of the movie is based on Cuaron’s youth, the movie never makes it clear which character he’s supposed to be. In fact, I’m not even confident any singular one of the children in this movie is him. Any one of them could be him, or two of them, or even all of them.

The movie never specifies which is which, and it’s just as well. After all, Roma isn’t even about Alfonso. Instead it’s about his housemaid, played here by Yalitza Aparicio in her theatrical debut. While Roma does follow her everyday routine caring for the family and their children, the movie is about so much more than her work as a housemaid. It’s about her navigating life in 1970’s Mexico City during a period of political tension and upheaval. It’s about looking for love and finding heartbreak instead. It’s about finding balance and peace in a time where there is nothing but calamity and disturbance. It’s about searching for family and a home to belong to.

You can tell that Alfonso Cuaron comes from a very personal place in writing, directing, and shooting this small-scale epic, because the storytelling feels so honest. Cuaron himself is no stranger to making cinematic epics. He directed the third and arguably the best Harry Potter movie Prisoner of Azkaban, while the films Children of Men and Gravity were among the most thrilling science-fiction movies released in their respective decades. But Cuaron is coming from a much more intimate and vulnerable place with Roma, from the life experiences he’s portraying to the culture he’s paying homage to. The movie finds its heart in its most soft-spoken moments, like a mother whispering a lullaby to her child.

And newcomer Yalitza Aparicio is especially vital to making this movie resonate with us emotionally. Originally studying to be a preschool teacher, Yalitza stumbled onto this film when her sister encouraged her to audition. So much of her performance feels so natural and genuine, mostly because it is natural and genuine. Cuaron notably shot this film in sequence and would provide pages to the script days, sometimes even hours before shooting was supposed to begin so that the actors could more believably react to what they were experiencing. This leads to the most authentic and honest performance Cuaron could have pulled from Yalitza. She didn’t feel like an actress trying to mimic the part of a middle-class housemaid. She felt like she really was a young woman trying to navigate Mexico’s turmoils all by herself, and that wrapped you up in her journey all the more because of it.

Roma is a masterpiece. Go and see it. Movies come and go, but few capture your attention, your intrigue, your emotions, and your imagination as raptly as this picture does. Who would have dreamed years ago that when one humble woman accepted the job as a family’s housemaid that her life story would one day be told on the big screen? Imagine what stories Alfonso Cuaron’s children will tell of their father when he grows old.

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