Dark Horse

Director: Louise Osmond
Sony Pictures Classics
In Theaters: 06.17

Who doesn’t love a rags-to-riches story, especially when that unbelievable tale didn’t come out of the mind of some writer in Hollywood but was, in fact, true? Such is the case with barmaid Jan Voxes and her wild idea to convince a group of locals, later known as The Alliance Partnership, to invest in breeding a championship racing horse. With the coalition in agreement, they set in motion the procurement of their potential equestrian moneymaker, Dream Alliance. While the initial bouts were not promising, the stallion proved to have as much heart as he did might. As the company makes astonishing accomplishments, they are soon challenged with a horrific tragedy, and only the strongest of fighters comes out on top. You can’t help but smile as these “village idiots” invade the sophisticated “sport of kings” and bring all us yahoo audience members along for the ride. The sheer joy and passion that Voxes has for her horse forces onlookers to shed a tear of sadness and joy in one blink. There are few films that jolt to the core and force us to stand up and cheer, but Osmond’s feel-good account is pure perfection that’ll have you not only on your feet but jumping up and down as well. To witness some investors who have spent millions (no joke, MILLIONS) of dollars into this sport and come out with nothing but a frown on their face, and then to see the common man take one lucky shot for all the marbles and actually come out on top, is absolutely priceless. Dark Horse was released two years ago at the Sundance Film Festival, and as I’ve said in the past, if that festival has proven anything, they know a well-crafted documentary more than anyone else in the business. –Jimmy Martin

The Nice Guys

Director: Shane Black
Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 05.20

First off, can we please sincerely thank writer/director Shane Black for reigniting Robert Downey Jr.’s career with 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? I just wanted to get that off my chest. When I heard that Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling were pairing up for a 1970s detective caper, I was intrigued. When I heard that Black was writing and directing said caper, I was excited. Black is one of the most talented writers working in Hollywood today. His cheeky one-liners are to die for. Don’t believe me? Watch The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Good Night and get back to me. The man has a gift. In this venture, Jackson Healy (Crowe) and Holland March (Gosling) form a unique and unusual team of private detectives. They are forced to work together and find a missing woman who may be the target of a murderous plot led by the government. Once again, Black proves his unique wittiness with clever lines of dialogue delivered brilliantly by the two leads. On the other hand, The Nice Guys stumbles quite a bit on deciding what type of genre it actually is attempting to be. Is it a buffoon comedy spoofing on the 1970s or a cold-hearted drama depicting actual consequences of our actions? Someone needs to tighten the shoelaces of this endeavor and make a decision. Simple editing could solve the issue. The chemistry between Crowe and Gosling is wonderful and is a pairing I never would have thought to even try. However, even with two of Hollywood’s biggest names leading the charge, the brightest star comes in the form of the cinematography, set design and costume coordinator. Thanks to these accomplished individuals, audiences truly feel as though they are watching a film shot in the 1970s. It’s an incredible feat to witness. –Jimmy Martin

X-Men: Apocalypse

Director: Bryan Singer
20th Century Fox
In Theaters: 05.27

After igniting the comic book movie genre in 2000 and delivering the most solid X-Men film to date in 2003, fans were excited to have director Bryan Singer return to the franchise two years ago for Days of Future Past. While his resurface was greeted with cheers, it may be time for the filmmaker to go dark for another decade. The plot is simple. The first mutant known to our world, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), is revived and disgusted that regular humans are in control, so everyone must die. That’s it. Obviously, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his superhuman students don’t want that to happen, so the mother of all fights must commence. The reasoning for my declaration for Singer’s departure is due to the fact that this entire production feels eerily too familiar to his last venture. All of the beats are the same, and the project feels stagnant. When Quicksilver (Evan Peters) steals the show and is once again the best scene (with a similar bit), there’s an issue there. Sure, I laughed. It’s a funny gag, but you can’t go back to the same well, back to back, without being called out for laziness. Singer actually tries to call out Brett Ratner, the director of X-Men: The Last Stand, with a line of dialogue that states that the third chapter in all film trilogies is the worst. Singer may want to speak those words to a mirror. As much as it sounds like I despised this movie, the opposite is the case. For the most part, I enjoyed it, but the franchise needs another overhaul or Singer needs to bow out and let new blood enjoy these characters. There’s possibility for great storytelling in this franchise, so let’s find someone to unearth. I think I’m just ready for an R-rated Old Man Logan tale. –Jimmy Martin

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Director: James Bobin
Disney
In Theaters: 05.27

Six years ago, I found it quite surprising that this film’s predecessor made more than a billion dollars at the box office. Granted, 67 percent of that was from foreign countries, but it still made me cock my head to the side and ponder. Director Tim Burton revealed a mesmerizing landscape, but, in the fashion of George Lucas and the Prequels, focused on technology rather than storytelling. This time around, director James Bobin attempts to rectify the issue with a time traveling tale that puts Alice (Mia Wasikowska) at the center of attention again as she attempts to save the Mad Hatter’s (Johnny Depp) life by changing the course of history that made the Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter) who she is today. I’ll put the honesty cards on the table and admit that any movie dabbling in time travel gets my juices flowing. There’s a flux capacitor tattooed on my leg, and I don’t mind watching Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Timecop every now and then. With that out in the open, I actually prefer Bobin’s journey to the original. Burton’s original landscape is still present, and there are some crafty effects offered with Sacha Baron Cohen’s character, Time. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Some strands of time feel clunky and unnecessary. With a running time of 113 minutes, Alice Through the Looking Glass could be easily brought down to 90–100 minutes and none would be the wiser. If you’re hoping for another elongated journey with Depp’s Hatter, don’t get your hopes up. The actor mainly lies in bed looking at death’s door rather than bobbling around, reminiscent of the original adventure. Once again, Carter is fantastic as the heartless member of the royal family, and Anne Hathaway is the perfect choice as her opposite-behaving sister. Do you think they’re acting, or does it just come naturally? –Jimmy Martin

The Curse of La Llorona | Michael Chaves | Warner Bros.

The Curse of La Llorona
Director: Michael Chaves

Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 04.19

It seems that while one section of Hollywood continues to create ever-expanding, massive blockbusters with gargantuan budgets, another portion is focusing on delivering a thrilling experience without breaking the piggy bank. With The Curse of La Llorona set in the Conjuring universe, this real or “real” (however you want to acknowledge it) urban legend based in Mexican culture is the focal point of director Michael Chaves’ attempt to make you spill your popcorn or grip your date’s arm with unanticipated strength.

The Curse of La Llorona is set in the 1970s, with Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) and her two children doing their best to move forward in life after the death their husband/father. Anna works in child-protection services, and when a known client appears to be abusing her children, they are taken away—only to be mortally taken away by the demon known as La Llorona. As items move unexpectedly on their own and shadows shift in the background, Chaves primarily uses standard jump scares to keep the audience engaged in this mild-mannered endeavor. While La Llorona continues her escapades to lure children into water one way or another (i.e., pools, bathtubs, streams, etc. …), Anna secures the assistance of rogue shaman Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz) in order to cleanse her house of evil and keep her children breathing.

Many parents ask about whether or not their children can see particular movies. I don’t have children, so I take an educated guess. While The Curse of La Llorona is rated R, it seems low-key with respect to the absence of the ultra-violence and gore we are used to nowadays with this genre. Chaves does his best in trying to connect it to the universe’s other  films, but nothing truly sticks when it comes to the slight references. It’s refreshing to witness a spooky tale in the ’70s, which was a time already typified by unsettlement, but the lack of technology makes for a slightly unnerving adventure. Will young audiences see similarly aged kids in peril? Absolutely, but it could teach them a life lesson. After all, that’s why this entire story exists—to get children to behave. So, on that note, take your offspring to see a mediocre haunt, and maybe they’ll walk away better for it—or maybe they’ll have the desire to see a truly scary horror flick. –Jimmy Martin

Longshot | Jonathon Levine | Lionsgate

Long Shot
Director: Jonathan Levine

Lionsgate
In Theaters: 05.03

It appears that whenever Seth Rogen’s name is mentioned in the cast of an upcoming film, one could easily predict that the contents will embody numerous crude jokes and an abundance of drug humor. Such is the case with director Jonathan Levine’s latest romantic comedy, Long Shot, but the aforementioned characteristics are not the only elements driving this production.

Rogen stars as Fred Flarsky, a committed journalist with a sharp wit and whose company was recently purchased by a conservative conglomerate, thus sabotaging his career path. On the other side of town, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) epitomizes success in the world of politics as the youngest Secretary of State and is among the most powerful women on the planet. When the opportunity to run for President arises, Charlotte must discover the best way to please the masses, but her lack of humor has become a noticeable hurdle. In a chance encounter, our two leads cross paths and reconnect via the fact that she used babysit him and he always had a crush on her. Charlotte hires Fred as her speech writer, but, as the two stroll down memory lane and reignite their passions for their crafts, another layer of passion brings them together even closer.

As stated earlier, Long Shot does feature the archetypical drug-infused shenanigans that come along with Rogen’s presence, but Levine, adding a much-needed sense of authenticity, puts an enormous spotlight on the realities of the ways in which women in the public eye are treated differently than men. During multiple scenes, conservative news anchors are shown being overly offensive, but the sad part about the representation is that is not a far cry from the truth.

As for the chemistry between Rogen and Theron, they surprisingly work quite well with each other. It’s a breath of fresh air to see Rogen take on a more serious character, and as for Theron (when is she ever bad?), she takes advantage of the chance to showcase her comedic abilities. Long Shot is an endearing tale that will leave you with a grin. Both of them have my vote. Lastly, if you need a local reason to get to the theater, the soundtrack incorporates Utah’s own Thunderfist, as the film opens with their song “Smoke ‘Em While You Can.” Can’t go wrong with that. –Jimmy Martin

Captain Marvel | Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck | Disney

Captain Marvel
Directors: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck

Disney
In Theaters: 03.08

It saddens and sickens me that in the year 2019, popular criticism sites had to change their policies about users posting negative comments about a film that has not been released in theaters yet. What are people afraid of witnessing? Why does the idea of a female-led superhero adventure in the Marvel cinematic universe terrify so many? When it was a revealed Oscar winner Brie Larson would take on the role of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel and she would also be the most powerful being in that collection of films, I was waiting with a bated breath and full of excitement.

Captain Marvel initially reveals Larson as Vers, a human being on an alien planet with a forgotten past and no idea about her origins. During a rescue mission to uncover secrets about her planet’s enemies, The Skrulls, and led by her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), our protagonist is captured and eventually makes her way back to Earth. Clearly, a super-powered visitor in a space suit is going to attract government officials, and that is the cue for a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and young Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) from S.H.I.E.L.D. to attempt to assess the situation and discover the truth.

The greatest aspect of Captain Marvel is young girls now have another superhero they can look up to and identify with, which can only lead to a positive outcome. Danvers upholds strong morals and refuses to let the negative individuals in her life keep her from accomplishing her goals. As for the film’s setting, the time trip back to the 1990s is quite delightful. Watching our heroine crash land into a Blockbuster Video conjured up so many fond memories. Larson is a perfect choice, and she is wonderfully assisted by an incredible ensemble cast. The only actor who gives Larson a run for her money for pulling focus is the wildly hilarious Ben Mendelsohn as the film’s villain.

The action, while entertaining with shape-shifting aliens, could use a touch-up on the cinematography and choreography. The ’90s greatest-hits soundtrack will certainly send many viewers back to their childhoods, but in some instances, it pulls audiences out of the film—just like a Stan Lee cameo (R.I.P.). All in all, Captain Marvel is a great setup of things to come, and it would not surprise me if Ms. Danvers takes the helm in future endeavors and leads the Avengers. –Jimmy Martin


More on SLUGMag.com:
Film Review: Kong: Skull Island
June 2015 DVD Reviews

Aquaman
Director: James Wan

Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 12.21.18

It hard to believe that we live in a world where millions upon millions of dollars are spent on large-scale superhero productions that now include a shrinking criminal who maintains his human strength, a high-school student with the ability to climb walls and, now, a burly drunkard who can communicate with the creatures of the sea. The idea of an Aquaman feature has been tossed around for years. The Geek Show Podcast, which I’m a panelist on, has been joking about a comedic interpretation starring Danny McBride as The King of the Seven Seas. It was even a large plot point in HBO’s series Entourage with James Cameron helming the fictitious project.

Well, fast-forward 13 years later, and a different James, James Wan (Furious 7, The Conjuring), has brought the outrageous concept to fruition. We’ve already met Jason Momoa’s interpretation of Arthur Curry in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and 2017’s Justice League. Now, the robust hero gets his own adventure as he battles his half-brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson), for the seat at the throne with help from Mera (Amber Heard), a conflicted princess of Atlantis. In order to take command of the waters, a lost trident must be unearthed, all while avoiding the violent attacks of Black Manta.

To a certain degree, DC has managed to pull off what Marvel did in 2015 with Ant-Man and develop an entertaining adventure with absolutely ridiculous characters and absurd storylines. Aquaman is fun, but as I’ve said in the past, you have to modify your brain to sleep mode and enjoy the silliness, as it can be preposterously idiotic at others. No one walking into the theater should expect anything more than underwater soldiers riding sharks, seahorses and whales while engaged in heavy combat.

As in the other productions, Momoa stands before the camera, muscles and all, and does his damnedest to deliver his lines seriously. It doesn’t always work. If you saunter into this summer blockbuster (that for some reason was released in December) knowing that this outlandishness that will soon be projected before your retinas, then you will experience superhero nonsense to the fullest extent—nothing more, nothing less. The floodgates are now open to allow any character in the history of comic books to grace the silver screen, and this geek will be there with welcoming arms. –Jimmy Martin

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

Roma
Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Netflix
Online: 12.14

For those who don’t know, director Alfonso Cuarón is known for multiple large-scale Hollywood blockbusters, including Gravity, Children of Men and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but with his latest project, he is minimizing the production level and developing a more personal and grounded expedition. As an experiment in memory and storytelling, Cuarón recalls his childhood and the major events that shaped his world as a youngster in early 1970s Mexico.

While the story focuses on a middle-class family and the trials and tribulations that the parents endure with separation and infidelity, the majority of the film follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the family’s housekeeper, as she copes with an unplanned pregnancy and a boyfriend who wants nothing to do with the situation. All while these personal events are occurring, major political and social happenings are exploding across the country.

Once again, Cuarón proves that he is one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. Whether it’s a grand-scale production like Gravity or a fly-on-the-wall observatory project like Roma, the creativity and passion that flows on the screen is undeniable. The raw emotion packs a punch that’ll leave audiences with something to ponder on the drive home. Trust me, there are visuals embedded on the celluloid that cannot be unseen, but it’s reality— and sometimes reality needs to be seen. Speaking of visuals, Cuarón also offers an assortment of fantastic cinematography. For a first-time feature-length acting experience, Aparicio demonstrates her talents from harshly dramatic to genuinely sweet. Roma will definitely be a contender in the Foreign Language category this award season, and it would not be surprising for it to earn more than one accolade. This is definitely proof that Netflix is prepared to enter the arena of original films, and the rest of Hollywood should be primed for their arrival. –Jimmy Martin