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Psycho Goreman (2020) Review

Psycho Goreman (2020) Review

I have always been a fan of B movies, horror, and Saturday morning shows like Power Rangers. They are all guilty pleasures that — even now, being in my mid-thirties — I still have a deep fondness for and will even revisit on occasion. So when I heard the pitch for Steven Kostanski’s new movie Psycho Goreman, I was excited to see what nonsense could be brought to the screen. Mixing various genres and bringing a sense of fun to the proceedings, Psycho Goreman is B-horror schlock that will have you grinning from ear to ear. 

Psycho Goreman wastes no time drawing the audience into its nonsense world, using the convention of a text crawl to quickly give the backstory. While most movies would be happy to focus on the heroes of the universe, Steven Kostanski instead tells the tale of the “Archduke of Nightmares”, a villain who reigns over planet Gigax with an iron fist and chaotic powers. When a group of “good” heroes band together, they manage to defeat him and finally free everyone from his evil grip, banishing him to the far away planet known as “Earth.”

PG: Psycho Goreman (2020) Review 1
Psycho Goreman (2020)

It is here the story starts, and where brother and sister duo Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and Luke (Owen Myre) discover an ancient amulet while playing a game of Crazyball (think Dodgeball with chaotic rules). When they accidentally resurrect the Archduke (Matthew Ninaber), Mimi thinks this is the perfect addition to their family, despite the numerous red flags, and the misgivings of her brother. As the duo try to integrate the Archduke — who they dub Psycho Goreman (PG for short) — the story proper takes shape, with childish hijinks, family bonds tightening, and enough gore and blood to paint their small town red many times over.

What makes Psycho Goreman so fun is the mix of disparaging elements that on paper should not work, but through the magic of practical effects — and a dash of great characters — all come together in an absurdist mesh of shock and joy. It takes the best elements of a family film — and the camp cinema we all know and love — and builds something memorable.

PG: Psycho Goreman (2020) Review 2
Psycho Goreman (2020)

Psycho Goreman works to not only poke fun at the core elements, such as suburbia, selfish children and lazy adults and blends it with the self serious world of science fiction epics. From the character designs to the way the town is thrown into total chaos by the antics of these children and their intergalactic overlord, it is wondrous to watch. It pushes the limits on what can be expected, and shows the talents of everyone involved — especially director and writer Steven Kostanski. This being his third solo feature film, the talents on display are staggering, especially for the budget they all had to work with.

Besides the great performances by the full cast — especially the wonderfully deranged portrayal of Mimi by Nita-Josee Hanna — the real centerpiece of Psycho Goreman has to be the effects. Calling back to shows like Power Rangers, the rubber suit style monsters manage a fun balance of shock, gore and pure amazement with the practical work making the shenanigans feel more grounded, at the same time bringing the feeling of schlock cinema we all know and love. While The Void demonstrated the terror that could be brought out with the creations Steven Kostanski designed, Psycho Goreman proves just how fun these sorts of effects can be in the right hands, with the right story. 

PG: Psycho Goreman (2020) Review 3
Psycho Goreman (2020)

The story of Psycho Goreman felt fresh, if not a bit disjointed at times. While the basic concept of the world was laid out well, the focus got a bit confused as the film moved into the final act. It was often hard to know who to root for, especially in the epic final battle between PG and the forces of “good”. It felt fun and enjoyable, but there was no clear direction on what would happen if either won in the end. But thanks to the dry humour of Psycho Goreman, mixed with the chaos of Mimi and her view on the world, these minor gripes take little away from the overall experience. 

Psycho Goreman is a wonderful journey into a blood soaked Saturday morning I never knew I needed. What could have been a mess in lesser hands, Steven Kostanski has managed to craft a B-Horror film masterpiece that is as heartfelt as it is blood soaked. For anyone that loves the classic schlock horror that used to play during late night movie marathons, jump on your favourite VOD provider and give Psycho Goreman a try, you won’t be disappointed. 

Pieces of a Woman (2020) Review 5

Pieces of a Woman (2020) Review

After watching Marriage Story (and Blue Valentine for that matter), I feel like one could be ready for anything a relationship drama throws at them. Pieces of a Woman — much like life itself — proves that there’s always something you can’t account for.

Vanessa Kirby has always been a sort of sleeping giant in terms of talent, and has been privy to higher profile but underutilized “gravitas action” roles. But The Crown really helped put her on the map, and she’s able to really show her chops in Pieces of a Woman, as the film’s namesake.

Pieces of a Woman (2020) Review 3
Pieces of a Woman

After an explosive opening act in which Kirby’s character loses her newborn, we get a slow burn of drama involving pretty much every facet of her life. The camera frequently focuses on Kirby, letting others talk while we get to linger on her reactions. She’s subtle when she needs to be, never overacting, and working with the material as best as she can. She’s also not domineering, as several other players have plenty to say on top of her brooding and mostly justified pangs of anger and despair.

Quiet pain is truly the crux of Pieces of a Woman. The script has some decent small talk peppered in, driving home how painful ignoring grief can be. Where the film starts to falter is the lengthy two hour long runtime, that doesn’t necessarily justify itself. Disparity and competition can be a dangerous game in certain relationships, and the Kirby/LaBeouf duo are wonderful at letting it show. They are the rock that holds it all together, with Kirby at the forefront.

Pieces of a Woman (2020) Review 4
Pieces of a Woman

It’s the supporting cast that often gets in the way, alongside some of the very contrived drama that is thrown at them. A few family members (Kirby’s mother) are mere caricatures that bring things down to a soapy level (or the depths below). Several could have been cut out entirely and the film would have been better for it. A handful of scenes are groan or cringeworthy, but then get back on track. Even still, amid several forced interactions and twists, Pieces of a Woman mostly gets it right and doesn’t stray too far from the overall message of healing; and how different people heal. Think of it like a stage play a la August: Osage County, albeit without the bloated star-studded cast. As a more intimate character study, Pieces of a Woman carves out a niche for itself.

Lupin III: The First (2019) Review

Lupin III: The First (2019) Review

Lupin III has been an anime fixture for decades.

Somehow, someway, that lovable thief keeps popping up in films and TV series nearly every year. While you could make the argument that famed Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki made him famous in the west, the fact is, Lupin has an enduring energy about him that ensures that he’ll always be noticed. That includes this most recent, and potentially risky, foray into computer animation.

Lupin III: The First (2020) Review 1
Lupin III: The First

While traditional hand-drawn techniques have always been a surefire way to translate the characteristics of the original Monkey Punch designers (read: Monkey Punch was an artist named Kazuhiko Katō, not a company name); Toshiya Umeda and his animation team managed to somehow nail this transition, despite the move to 3DCG.

Characters are still very much fluid, perhaps more so than a lot of similar western studios (even Pixar), but the core designs also never betray the originals. Lupin is still wide-eyed and goofy; Jigen still plays it cool, and so on. These are the gentleman thieves you fell in love with originally no matter where you started in the history of Lupin media; or they’re the cast you will fall in love with after watching “The First.”

Lupin III: The First (2020) Review 2
Lupin III: The First

That said, the film itself has issues, most notably with its pacing and narrative. We’re given plenty of time to linger with Lupin himself and his new cohort Laetitia (who is embroiled in a familial secret that also involves the Nazis attempting to rise to power in the ‘60s, it’s wild!), a few of the side characters aren’t really focused on enough. Somehow, the hour and a half runtime both feels too short and overly long, in the sense that I wish certain characters had more meaningful moments and the plot was more pushed to the side.

It’s strange, because despite my problems with some of the journey, I had a smile on my face nearly the entire time. Lupin is still timelessly hilarious, and should appeal to pretty much anyone who’s looking for a character to really dig into. The animation style helps tremendously, including his signature “swimming through the air” sequence that works while hand-drawn and translates here. I can’t stress enough how much credit should go to the team, as several other CG efforts in the past few decades have looked stiff and wooden by comparison.

Lupin III: The First (2020) Review 3
Lupin III: The First

Like most Lupin III: The First films, the latest adventure is self-contained, so it’s a good way to really acclimate yourself to this world. Be prepared to check your watch a few times when it gets especially sluggish; but the juice is worth the squeeze as you’ll be laughing again in no time.

Hunted (2020) Review 4

Hunted (2020) Review

Fairy tales, grim and otherwise, make for the perfect campfire fodder. For a mother and son on a trip through the woods, the tales of men and wolves take center stage. Opening Hunted with her spooky tale, the mother warns, “the company of wolves is better than that of men.” Therein the direction of where the film will take us, a fairy tale homage that gives us men as the villain, not of the big eared and sharped toothed canine.

Eve (Lucie Debay) is a stressed-out working woman with a frustrating boss. On a business trip, after the relatable experience of work-related strain, she decides to take herself out for a cocktail. On her excursion, she’s approached by the typical relentless bar star, a man unwilling to take no for an answer. But soon, she meets a white knight, an unnamed man (Arieh Worthalter) who shoos the other away and brings fun to her dwindling evening. But this man, like the one before him, also doesn’t like being told what he can and can’t do. After inviting her to his car to make out, he locks Eve in with his accomplice (Ciaran O’Brien) and takes her on a ride. After some attempted escapes and moments that feel like she might have a shot, Eve is back on route to her supposed demise. A car accident gives her the opportunity to flea into the woods, setting off a hunt, the two men trying to get the woman in a red raincoat. Then it turns into a deranged tale of a woman refusing to be prey that bleeds from every orifice. 

Hunted (2020) Review 2
Hunted (2020)

Looking like a grown Red Riding Hood, Eve makes her way through the woods on an aimless journey for safety, while her attackers remain in desperate pursuit. What writer/director, Vincent Paronnaud, most known for his comic art, does so successfully is keep a cat-and-mouse game engaging the whole way through. There are twists, turns, and bumps in the road hard to see coming that make room for new characters to crop up and join the game. Eve, herself, becomes one with the woods in a way she’d never be expected to. Every moment she learns to eat and drink in the woods paints her as a woman of intuition and ability. Meanwhile, the hunter is being kicked out of the woods by every branch. He trips and gets scathed, spending more time watching his old snuff videos than trying to use the woods to his own benefit. The dueling performances keep it all together, Debay selling the otherwise average woman forced into becoming a feral predator, Worthalter as the over-the-top villain who buries natural rugged charm under the mask of a maniac.

Where the film leaps towards its themes of “men being the real predators” in its adult take on Red Riding Hood, it loses itself a bit in the comedy of subject matter. Sure, it’s intentionally reflecting reality by having men hunting women, but the hammering in of sexual violence makes it more difficult to enjoy the hammy performance and depravity. In one sense, that’s the point, a woman on the run from vile men, in another, its gratuitous sexual violence in a film that might have been a full-blown midnight blast if it was just about bloody carnage. It does well enough to equate “not taking no for an answer” with the violence that comes with it, but the dialogue gets confused with its associating sex with violence and doesn’t always land perfectly.

Hunted (2020) Review 3
Hunted (2020)

Taking place in an unnamed European country with a collection of accents among the characters, Hunted creates a fun take on the spooky European horror that is just a bit scented with French extremity. It’s really effective and sets the tone that works with the themes and visuals.

Hunted is a grown-up homage to an old fairy tale favourite that drives home the real villains and monsters hiding under our beds. It looks like everyone involved had an absolute blast with what they made, I am just not sure if I did.

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) Review 5

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) Review

I still can’t believe that Warner Bros is continuing along with the DC Extended Universe. It’s had its ups and downs (quality-wise and financially), but Wonder Woman was the lightning rod for fans to flock to for both parameters. It did well, and was generally well received. What could go wrong? Well, too much creative freedom, it turns out.

Director and lead Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot reunite once again for the sequel, which is set in 1984. Continuing the story of Diana Price (Wonder Woman), a mysterious artifact (which grants wishes, with a price) is set to wreak havoc on the world. Enter two antagonists, oh, and a magical return of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine): her companion from the original film. Confused yet?

What ensues over the next two and a half hours can only be described as a confused, but somewhat spirited trek across DC and various parts of the world. There isn’t a lot of action (what is present is a strange amalgamation of CGI), which is going to turn off some people immediately. Motivations and decisions aren’t very clearly portrayed; as several characters are wrestling with their own inner demons. But I couldn’t look away!

Wonder Woman 1984

Gadot has been hit with some criticism over her portrayal of Wonder Woman, but she’s been consistently fantastic at nailing the role. Her stoicism fits her acting style just fine, and I actually like her reserved take on the character: it makes sense that Diana Prince would want to maintain a relatively low profile in alter-ego form (despite some of the outlandish absurdity in this movie that isn’t directly her fault). Although the excuse to bring him back is tenuous at best, seeing Chris Pine again is fun, and Pedro Pascal knocks it out of the park as the egomaniac Maxwell Lord.

Now onto the gripes: here’s a minor one. Why did this need to be set in the ‘80s at all? There are very few scenes that actually justify the time period, and outside of one very funny moment with Chris Pine’s character (in which he manages to make a fanny pack look cool), there’s almost no reason why this tale could be set in any other time period. Although (I’m being vague here) nuclear weapons vaguely play a role, any sort of “big weapon” or threat of nuclear war would have worked during many decades.

Wonder Woman 1984

It’s also mind-boggling, as the trailer had that great orchestral mix of Blue Monday. Where was the new wave?  Instead, we got an extremely bland and serviceable/safe soundtrack from Hans Zimmer that could fit in any superhero movie. I promise, it’s still a minor gripe! We’re moving to the major ones now. Tonally the film is very strange, too, as Pascal does his best to maintain a very campy, but ultimately captivating villain; which Gal Gadot, at times, feels like she’s acting in a different, more grimdark movie altogether. Jenkins occasionally embraces the cheese, but then pivots right back to utter seriousness on a moment’s notice. It’s jarring, even if both tones do work on occasion.

Whatever you may think of the various character motivations, twists, or turns, the script remains one of the biggest mysteries. It’s bloated, not-all-there, and doesn’t bother to answer a few lingering questions. By the time the credits rolled, I found myself wondering how the world managed to “sort itself out,” as every loose end is neatly tied up far too swiftly.

Wonder Woman 1984

Funneling right back into that same issue, the runtime of this film is over two and a half hours and it absolutely has no right to be. There was plenty of time to edit it; which begs the question, was there even any editing? What could they possibly have even cut, as well? While we’ve seen plenty of cases of studio meddling with Warner Bros and the DC extended universe, this feels like an instance of no one telling Patty Jenkins and company “no.” It’s interesting that Jenkins co-wrote the script this time around with two others: juxtaposed to the more pinpoint single screenwriting credit from 2017’s Wonder Woman production. “Too many cooks,” as they say.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a strange case of WB still not understanding how to capture the essence of the myriad classic characters that they have the rights to. While Gal Gadot is still Wonder Woman to me, this wasn’t a very good vessel to continue her story.

Sofia Alexander Brings South American Myth to new Series Onyx Equinox

Sofia Alexander Brings South American Myth to new Series Onyx Equinox

Crunchyroll has been making some major moves with original programming. But with shows like The God of High School, In/Spectre, and FreakAngels, they have shown a drive to bring unique and exciting content to the screen. One of the more interesting shows to come out on the platform is Onyx Equinox, a dark animated show about the many gods and cultures that exist in ancient Mexico.

Created by Sofia Alexander, Onyx Equinox takes the classic myths and ledges, and gives it a new twist. The show follows an Aztec boy named Izel as he is chosen by the god Quetzalcoatl to close five gates to the underworld and save humanity from potential doom. Sofia Alexander is no stranger to the world of animation, having worked on Infinity Train, Invader ZIM, and The Powerpuff Girls. But Onyx Equinox is a much more personal story, built on the legends and myths she has followed since she was a child. CGMagazine recently had the chance to chat with Sofia on a call, to discuss the show, culture, and how Anime had a strong impact on the culture and childhood within Mexico and South America.

CGMagazine: First I want to just get off with, how did this Onyx Equinox come together, and how did it make its way to Crunchyroll and become a full-fledged series?

Sofia Alexander: Well, it began as a college assignment back in my freshman year. Back then it was just Nelli, Izel, and Yaotl who are still in the series. And from that freshman year, I kept using these characters and developing a story. As I went through my college career up until my senior year, that is when I finally had the characters more fleshed out including the story and, of course, all the things that have changed. But for the most part, the characters are still the same. I had the story always on the back burner. I forgot about it a couple of times; came back to redesign and I used it a lot in my portfolios.

Onyx Equinox

Originally, I wanted it to be a comic book. And when I got the opportunity to sell it, well, I don’t want to say who ― I don’t want to put them in that kind of spotlight ― but I was going to sell it. And I don’t know if something in my gut told me to wait and because I wanted to tell the story in a different medium, and I felt that the characters were not there yet. I wanted to grow more with them as an artist; as a person. And finally, like I said I had this idea ― I’ve had it for 13 years now. So they have changed, they have grown. And the story has been shaped by my personal experiences as well as those of the writers of the artists.

And for me, starting off being a storyboard artist, telling stories, I thought maybe I can make this into animation, an animated show. And I was lucky to pitch it to Marissa. It was serendipitous. It was like being there at the right time with the right person and being ready. It’s those three. I don’t think people understand that it takes those three elements for you to be able to sell an idea because there are so many other wonderful ideas out there that don’t see the light of day because one of those things was not right. But I was just really lucky to have had Marissa there to hear my story, and for her to go, you know what, this doesn’t suck.

CGMagazine: I would love to talk about the myths and ledges used for Onyx Equinox. Why the choice of ancient Mesoamerican setting, and do you think it allows for more freedom in telling stories for the series?

Sofia: Well, the reason why it was a Mesoamerican setting is that I grew up in Cancun, and It’s a heavily archaeological site area, Maya specifically. And my grandfather is proud of our heritage. And he wanted us to appreciate the beauty of Mesoamerican and see it in a different light than what history has painted it as unfairly, even media, depicting Mesoamerican as savages and needs of colonization. From a very young age, I learned to appreciate the cultures and being an artist, I just kind of; stood in the middle of, like, the archaeological site, and I was like, how did they live? Where were their houses? What was this like? And I’m sure a lot of people ask themselves these questions but being an artist, I kind of like having the opportunity to truly let this story bloom surrounded by this very beautiful rich culture.

Onyx Equinox

And we will see more than just the Aztec and the Maya. And so I’m very excited about that because all these cultures are not well known. And to this day, we still have people that identify as Aztecs. We still have Maya people. We still have all these other different beautiful cultures.  They don’t get the media attention because usually, it’s Aztec or the Mayan. And the reason for it being a Mesoamerican setting for the story is just because I wanted to share the beauty of Mexico. And because I grew up watching movies about Greek gods or Arthurian legends and all these epics, Lord of the Rings, I thought why can’t we have the same, but set in Mesoamerican in our history, our culture? I never saw Mesoamerican being depicted how I wanted it to be.            

And being a huge anime fan I thought I wanted to make it into a cool epic anime-inspired fantasy action, adventure, tragedy. All the good stuff that I like personally. So that was the reason why. Saying choosing to do Mesoamerican-inspired cartoons, I don’t know if I would call it choosing because I feel like it was meant to be. I’ve always had this yearning of telling this story of a kid, a Mesoamerican kid. So, I don’t know saying that I chose it. It doesn’t feel right for some reason that sounds weird. But something that tells me like this is how it was always meant to be.

CGMagazine: Okay. On that note, as you mentioned, it is such a rich culture and such filled with a story. How did you sort out what to take from the myth, what to elaborate on and where did myth stop, and your ideas and visions take hold?

Sofia: That’s a good question. And for me, the important part first and foremost is what services the story and the character development. It can be any setting. That’s why it was nothing stopping me from it being a Mesoamerican but you do have to take into consideration, well, if there’s going to be monsters, what kind of monsters do we want to use ― real mythological monsters? And why would it serve the story? Would it move the plot forward?  If it were up to me, I would add everything that I know about Mesoamerican mythology. Like there’re so many cool creatures and monsters and gods. But again, it is one of those things like, if you go to a bakery, you can only eat so much. For me, one thing in order to show these beautiful legends and myths and figures of history, I just had to really reel back ― like really back in ― and be like, okay, for the story to advance, we’ll need this plot device, this kind of character, this kind of villain.

Onyx Equinox

But I don’t think it was a challenge on where to draw the line, but rather when to know it’s too much or when to know that like, look, you can’t use that because it wouldn’t make sense. Does that answer your question? It’s just about servicing the plot and the characters’ development. And yes, because it takes place in a setting where we’re talking about various cultures, and we only certain god’s people will question why I chose certain gods overall but it is just for the story and what services.

CGMagazine: How did you, or did you not tackle a subject that might not fit modern sensibilities, and how did you make it cohesive with the myths that do exist?

Sofia: What was important was to have a clear motive, and from what I understood from the myths, from what I learned from what the anthropologist helped us do research on. I chose those gods based on the kind of temperament I needed for these characters. And I don’t change the history of these gods. I just take who they are, and I put them into my story. So, I don’t deviate from their legend. Because I’m not telling their story; it would be cool because I have a bunch of ideas. But yeah, it’s just for me the, what you said, modern sensibilities. It is a very different culture. It’s a very different idea that’s for sure that we have not been exposed to. But for me, what is relatable is who the characters are.

Onyx Equinox

And once you relate to a person or a thing or characters in a story, then nothing else matters. Everything else kind of just buy-in. Otherwise, why would anyone read Lord of the Rings and feel connected to Frodo and his journey, the ring barrier? You connect with him because he was someone who was not equipped to carry such a big burden, and maybe that’s why he was chosen and how he grows. And you feel for these characters. So, for me, it was more important to make sure that these characters are relatable, and then everything else falls in place.

CGMagazine: I just have one last follow-up question, just because you did mention the fact that anime was such a big part of your childhood, and I’ve heard that from many people from South America. Why is it that you believe, or in your opinion that anime has and has for a long time taken such a hold on South America? What is it about the story that is told in anime that resonates in that culture?

Sofia: Actually, that’s a good question because of the history behind that in Mexico, we don’t have the means to create our cartoons, our media to promote, or anything. And American cartoons, some of them were too expensive for us to buy, and Japan needed to sell cartoons.  And the US wasn’t buying because they were creating their content. So, Mexico is like, hey, we need content, and we need it cheap and Japan sold it to us. And it just kind of became, like, big consumers of it. And so, it’s kind of been there, I guess. So, for me growing up with Anime because we had a demand for content that we could not create ourselves. Maybe that would have been different if we had been able to create our content.

But I don’t know like I think for me it was storytelling. I’m a fan of Dexter’s Lab. And you know, I had a lot of cartoons that are American that are episodic that I loved but for me, I connected with the characters a lot more when they had overarching stories of a season of a series of a much bigger plot. And it just felt like an epic you always want to tune in and see Goku has been able to achieve this Super Saiyan mode or, I don’t know. For me, that was what made me a fan of anime. I cannot speak for anyone else because maybe it’s because they like the style. But yeah, for me, it was more of a format.

CGMagazine: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time.

Sofia: Thank you. I appreciate these questions were awesome.

Pick up Issue #40 of CGMagazine to read the full interview with Sofia Alexander

Soul (2020) Review 1

Soul (2020) Review

Pixar has been all over the place since the release of Cars. Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles: all hits or beloved classics. But once you veer into 2006 with Cars,  things get murkier.

It’s not like Pixar lost its spark entirely. The year after they released the fan-favorite Ratatouille, followed by Wall-E: the latter of which is arguably one of their best films. But since the point of no return with Cars, they’ve been an up and down studio,  marred by sometimes inelegant sequels and franchise-chasing. Soul reminds me of why I fell in love with Pixar in the first place.

It’s really hard to talk about Soul’s narrative in detail without spoiling it: and you really should go in blind if at all possible. The gist is that Joe (Jamie Foxx), a middle school music instructor, is unsatisfied with his life. He should have made it big as a jazz musician! But now he’s “stuck” being a teacher. Once he gets his full-time notice at the start of the film (which should be a joyous occasion), a feeling of unfulfillment washes over him.

Soul (2020) – Pixar/Disney

Very early on, after a quick and unexpected death (!), he meets his literal kindred spirit, “22,” (Tiny Fey) a soul that should have made its way into the Earth to begin its life: but is instead wandering aimlessly in “The Great Before.” It’s here that Soul really starts to open up, touching all sorts of topics like what it means to be alive, and what makes you…well, you.

What I really love about Soul is how pointed it is. A trend I’ve noticed in Pixar films in the last decade or so is that they are unbelievably busy and move from place to place to place or character to character to character. Inside Out, one of Pixar’s darlings, hits critical mass for me when it comes to this principle: its message is muddled when it constantly shifts between the emotional world and the real one, between Riley and any number of unimportant side characters.

But with Soul, Joe and 22 are the film; the literal soul of the story. We see both realms (the metaphysical and the physical) through their eyes. Joe has to acclimate to The Great Before, 22 deals with the trials and tribulations of Earth. It’s moving, poignant, and adorable. That isn’t to say that the rest of the cast is just there, because everyone impacts the heart of Soul in their own way and leaves their mark.

Soul (2020) – Pixar/Disney

Soul also has a unique feel to it, with its jazz-influenced soundtrack and thematic movements echoed throughout. This is the Pixar I want to see more often. The hungry studio that’s creating all-new worlds that completely draw you in and give you something you haven’t quite seen before. Soul delivers on many of these fronts (sometimes overly comically so) with a fairly unpredictable plot that bobs and weaves like an interpretative jam session.

Go see Soul. Even if you’ve lost faith in Pixar over the years, it’ll remind you why animation is one of the most adaptive and beautiful mediums we have. If you still love Pixar, you’re going to see it anyway: and you’ll probably enjoy it.

The Prom (2020) Review 1

The Prom (2020) Review

Ryan Murphy has had a hell of a career since Glee. He’s dipped his toes in everything from full on high concept soap operas to gripping dramas; to everything in-between. Naturally it makes sense to tap him for a musical with tons of star power, though in the case of The Prom, not everything translates tonally.

Based on the Broadway original, The Prom’s spotlight is centered on a high schooler named Emma, who was denied access to her prom for being gay. As soon as four washed-up stars (a star-studded lineup of Meryl Streep, James Cordon, Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells) hear about it in the news, they seize the opportunity for good publicity.

The Prom (2020)

What commences from then on is an over-two-hour (and slightly too long) romp of loving, laughing, and understanding. You can pretty much see where the framework of the narrative is going around 15 minutes in, but it isn’t any less fun getting there. That fun, mind, is impeded a bit by bloat. This is Ryan Murphy we’re talking about: who infamously lets stories go on for far longer than they should, much to the chagrin of any sane editor. There are plenty of moments that could be cut with no consequence; but perhaps Murphy courts so many stars because they know all of their material will make it in the final cut.

With that in mind, one thing I really like about The Prom is that just about every character is given their moment in the sun. Quite frequently, even for ham-fisted reasons, the cast will break apart and get their own solo act. For cast members like Streep, Kidman, and Rannells, it’s a hoot to see them shine. And like Hairspray before it, there’s plenty of gag songs that are nearly as effective in live-action form as they are on the stage.

The Prom (2020)

The songs are rooted in Broadway classics, and for the most part, stick in your mind later that day; either due to the catchy tune or the laugh-out-loud lyrics. Seeing a few of these acted out before my eyes added a little something extra that a soundtrack couldn’t match: but conversely, a several didn’t match up to the raw energy of the original cast. It’s par for the course for musical adaptations, but an issue Murphy doesn’t skirt here.

The Prom isn’t for everyone. It’s saccharine. It’s camp. It also demands a reverence for the theater and for musicals that a lot of people simply do not have. But it’s also a ton of fun, and the songs mostly carry over from the original with some clever film-upgraded set pieces. If you’re already a musical lover, you’ll find something to like here.

Promising Young Woman (2020) Review 2

Promising Young Woman (2020) Review

Promising Young Woman opens with a slow-motion montage of men dancing. They’re drunk, grinding ass up, shown crotch first, and they’re spilling their bar rail drinks. Immediately, the movie telling us it’s going to be subversive. But try as it might, some of the attempted subversion purposefully fails here, because in these moments, none of these dancing men are being criticized and none of them appear to be in any danger.

Cassie (Carey Mulligan) is just a girl living in her world. She pulls shifts at the indie coffee shop, loves a long blonde braid, and spends her Saturday evenings hunting men. No, she doesn’t kill them. Cassie dresses herself up as their prey, a drunk and vulnerable woman, and waits for them to pounce. Just when things get too far, Cassie reveals herself to be sober, scaring the pants back on them. A dangerous game, she throws herself into the lion’s den not just for revenge, but out of a sense of duty to do right by her friend who fell victim to a horrible assault.

Promising Young Woman (2020)

Cassie manages to catch and release batches of “nice guys” after letting herself be placed into dangerous situations. She isn’t falling prey to the masked attacker in a back alley, Cassie is seeking out the more familiar sexual assault perpetrator, the regular guy who sees a drunk party girl as an opportunity.

As her vengeance fueled rampage treads on, Cassie slowly learns to trust and love Ryan (Bo Burnham), a former classmate who charms her by popping into her workplace and continuing to ask for her attention. As her romance with Ryan treads on, Cassie learns to make peace with the inciting incident involving her best friend, Nina. But the demons created by sexual assault don’t disappear that easily, at least not for their victims, and Cassie can’t hide from them for long. And if she can’t hide from them, she won’t let the perpetrators hide from them either. Cassie’s trajectory flips with a twist you’ll see coming a thousand miles away, but you’ll beg it not to arrive. Writer and director, Emerald Fennell’s, movie isn’t a “not all men” love story, it’s subverted rape revenge.

Cassie’s story stands out from the other giants in the genre because it’s not her own. She is struggling to ensure the story of her late friend is heard, is taken seriously, and has consequences. This movie isn’t about Nina, Cassie’s ill fated best friend, which could be taken as an error but reads as ruthlessly intentional. Nina was made into vapour by what happened to her. Her entire self was washed away, so much so that the audience will leave the theater not knowing what Nina looks or sounds like. At times, it’s not even Cassie’s story, but the story of the men in her peripheral, another marker that the film is rubbing in our faces how quickly victims are erased and forgotten after their trauma.

Promising Young Woman (2020)

Fennell manages to accomplish this fresh take on rape revenge atop a steady stream of beautiful tableau. Her use of colour is stunning and creates a perfect aesthetic within the film universe. It’s bright, sunny, and doused in baby pink save for pops of red that blast through as Cassie licks up strawberry syrup dripping down her arms after slaying a beast. The hyper-femininity is intentional, co-existing with the seemingly deranged vengeance of a cute blonde gal. The bubble-gum pink pop music soundtrack laying beside Anthony Willis’s score further mirrors the bleakness of the pretty horror comedy.

Cassie has dedicated her entire self to attempting to dismantle a system by chipping away at it. It’s a near impossible feat that reads as the desperate and unstable actions of a woman scorned. And they are. Promising Young Woman changes the scope of what is seen as violent and does so in a way that subverts rape revenge by not purporting to heal Cassie at any point, and always ensuring it feels like she is in danger. Fennell has created the most powerful movie of the year, and one of the most important versions of a common story that effectively shatters what we’ve seen by making us see what we know. The audacity of the final act is so admirable, and will no doubt divide audiences, but from the perspective of this critic, it’s exactly where it had to go to make sure the punch landed as hard as it was thrown.

Hilbilly Elegy (2020) Review 1

Hillbilly Elegy (2020) Review

Family dramas often walk a real fine line. Too much sap, it trips and falls into the soapy pits of despair. Too little, and it’s hard to really relate and care about any of the characters. Hillbilly Elegy really, really tries to balance the two, but ends up falling squarely into the former camp; despite the star talent involved.

I won’t beat around the bush: frankly, I’m kind of surprised this was helmed by Ron Howard, was penned by an award-winning screenwriter, and has two very respectable stars in it. I was completely dumbfounded fairly early on when the out-of-place voiceover started to sink in; wondering if I had accidentally started an early ‘90s made-for-TV film instead.

While you could argue the crux of the film is generational pain between Amy Adams and Glenn Close (who plays her mother, “Mamaw”), much of the screen time is actually centered around Adams’ on-screen son, J.D. That’s in part due to the source material (penned by the actual J.D. Vance), and it’s absolutely to this film’s detriment.

Hilbilly Elegy (2020)

Whenever J.D. is on-screen, the pacing and emotion grinds to a halt. That happens pretty much throughout the film actually, fairly consistently, but the combination of poorly written and delivered voiceovers alongside of J.D.’s issues make for one of the dullest stories of 2020. Pretty much every other decision, from the soundtrack choices to the editing, is questionable and Lifetime movie-esque. How Howard and company blew $45 million on this project is beyond me.

When Close, and to a lesser extent, Adams are on-screen, it can work. They do have a connection at times during the more explosive moments of the tale, even if some of them are so bombastic and absurd that they feel out of place with the rest of the tone. But as soon as the narrative shifts to college-age J.D., things grind to a halt.

 It’s completely all over the place, jumping to and fro between timelines with flashbacks like it was nothing; all to deliver heavy-handed faux emotional undertones or a ton of exposition. It’s messy and it’s unfortunate. The whole thing needed to be completely redone from top to bottom to truly fit as an adaptation, perhaps farther removed from Vance’s (frankly problematic) source material.

I bet when Hillbilly Elegy was being filmed, the cast probably had a good feeling about it. With tighter editing and a different lead (say Robert Pattinson), it could have been something great. As it stands, it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.