Archive for the ‘movie reviews’ Category

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Movie Reviews: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, The Farewell

August 14, 2019

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) – I’m shocked at the critical reaction to this one: it’s sitting at 81% on Rotten Tomatoes right now. I thought it was extremely dull. I read and enjoyed the book this film is adapted from when I was in elementary school, but I didn’t experience much nostalgia while watching the movie because I only remembered one of the stories (“The Red Spot”). None of the characters or actors were particularly interesting and I didn’t find the movie even slightly scary. The overall narrative put together to connect the stories was fine, but I didn’t feel any emotional connection to anything happening on screen. I was mostly bored watching this and was looking forward to it being over. For comparison’s sake, I gave Crawl a 5/10 a few weeks ago, but that film was substantially more enjoyable than Scary Movies.

4/10 (Forgettable)

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019) – I’ve seen people say they hated it and I’ve seen critics call it Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece. I don’t really get either reaction. Usually I am giddy watching QT’s films and find them overwhelmingly enjoyable, but similarly to The Hateful Eight, this one didn’t fill me with pure joy either. I was actually pretty confused about my feelings on the movie the whole time I was watching it and even hours after seeing it, I still wasn’t sure. I know it’s not one of my favorite Tarantino flicks, but I also know I didn’t dislike it because… there’s so many good things happening on screen. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are amazing in it. The set pieces and art direction are meticulously put together and bring late 1960s Hollywood to vivid life. It’s plenty funny. On the other hand, the multiple plots seem to meander along without any real meaning before uniting in a strange and nonsensical climax. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. Still, I’d be happy to watch it again… like right now. I feel like that speaks to the film’s potential to grow on me over time.

6/10 (Recommended)

The Farewell (2019) – Since most people will probably be unfamiliar with The Farewell, let me tell you a bit about the story: rapper/actor Awkwafina stars as a Chinese girl named Billi living in America that learns her grandmother is terminally ill and her family is planning a faux wedding for a cousin in order to go back to China and say goodbye one last time. Billi is being left behind because she is highly emotional and the family is worried she will tell the grandma that she is dying. Obviously, Billi ends up going to China anyway. I mean… this is great stuff. It’s one of the more personal films I’ve seen this year and the emotional impact is pretty high. I thought Awkwafina was a ton of fun in Crazy Rich Asians last year, but she proves she’s capable of being more than comedic relief by carrying this film on her shoulders and taking on a serious role. I’ve listened to her music and, well, she is waaaaaaaaaaaay better at acting. This is a touching film with plenty of charm and humor in it. There was a bit of a quirky Wes Anderson vibe to it and some of the slow motion shots of the family walking together as a group seemed out of place, but overall The Farewell is one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Batman: Hush (2019) – It seems hard to mess up one of Batman’s best graphic novels, but DC Animation continues to do just that. This is better than the abysmal adaptation of The Killing Joke, but the writers take some interesting and questionable liberties with the story here and the end result is incredibly unsatisfying. I’m honestly not sure what they were thinking. Is it so hard to just do a faithful adaptation and not try to put a personal stamp on a well known story? I guess the main objective was to take a story that was written in the early 2000s and make it part of DC Animation’s current continuity of films, so this film takes place after the events of Son of Batman and Batman vs. Robin, even though the character of Damian Wayne wasn’t created until 2006 and thus didn’t exist in the original Hush graphic novel. The coolest thing about Hush was always that it involved so many key players in Batman lore and they all show up here and that’s a lot of fun. I’ve always thought Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute) is an odd choice to voice Lex Luthor and that continues to feel weird here. This movie was enjoyable, but I hate the big changes they made to the core story. HATE THEM. DC has announced they are making a movie out of my favorite Batman story: The Long Halloween. Here’s to hoping they don’t mess that up too.

5/10 (Decent)

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Movie Reviews: Midsommar, Toy Story 4, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Crawl, Child’s Play

July 26, 2019

Midsommar (2019) – This definitely won’t be for everyone. It’s director Ari Aster’s follow up to last year’s awesome Hereditary and it is every bit as unsettling and quite a bit weirder. Florence Pugh gives another top notch performance and already has two roles this year that could earn her some Oscar consideration. For the first half of this movie, I was enthralled, thinking it was one of the best of the year, but as it moved into its last act, I couldn’t tell if I was losing interest or if I was just shocked numb. I definitely preferred Hereditary, but Midsommar gets high marks for its gorgeous cinematography, crazy setting, over-the-top gore and a great acting job from Pugh. I recommend, but be warned.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable… sort of)

Toy Story 4 (2019) – Somehow Pixar keeps pumping out extremely good sequels to their first franchise. For me, Toy Story 3 was the best film of the series and a perfect conclusion to this saga and one of my favorite films of the past couple decades, but when Disney can print a billion dollars with every new entry, you knew it wouldn’t be too long before we got another movie… and this probably won’t be the last one either. I really enjoyed Toy Story 4. The story meanders differently than previous installments and Forky is an amazing addition. The animation looks as good as ever and while the movie didn’t quite meet my expectations of being mind-blowingly good, I can’t say I was disappointed either. I am looking forward to watching it again and seeing if I can find a more magical appreciation of it.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) – I really enjoyed this. It’s consistently funny, has some awesome action sequences, and the cast is great. Jake Gyllenhall is a nice addition as Mysterio and I liked the way that character was handled. This movie was extremely pleasing but I did like Homecoming more, mostly because of Michael Keaton and the amazing scene between Peter and Vulture before the dance. Far From Home doesn’t have a sequence like that and for a hero known as “the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man,” this version of Spidey has seemed to spend very little time in New York.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Crawl (2019) – If this movie doesn’t make you want to pack up your belongings and relocate to Florida, then I don’t know what will. This is basically Jaws in a crawl space with big ‘ole gators instead of a great white, so it’s not exactly breaking new ground, but it was pretty much exactly what I wanted and that made it entertaining enough.

5/10 (Decent)

Child’s Play (2019) – I was primed to hate this movie. How disrespectful is it to reboot a franchise when the original continuity is still producing new content? Series creator Don Mancini directed Cult of Chucky in 2017 and the original cast and crew are currently working on a T.V. series that continues the story of the first seven movies. So what the hell is this? Chucky is a just a highly capable A.I. doll that a disgruntled factory worker decided to flip the “bad” switch on? Eww. But somehow, some way, this movie works. It’s funny, it’s gruesome, and it’s pretty damn good. I’d… watch a sequel. *gasp*

6/10 (Recommended)

Bladerunner 2049 (2017) – There’s a lot to love about this movie – the cinematography and sound are unreal, Denis Villeneuve is a genius, Ryan Gosling is great, and the concept is really cool – but I just don’t get the Blade Runner series. I’ve heard plenty of people talk about the original like it’s an all-time classic and I’ve seen it twice now and both times I came away feeling underwhelmed. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. I felt the same way about this sequel. It was good – fantastic from a technical standpoint – but the stories in both films didn’t move me at all. Maybe I just need to keep watching them until something clicks? The Blade Runner movies are really good, but I don’t think either of them are great.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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Avengers: Endgame (2019)

May 9, 2019

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Director: The Russo Brothers (Avengers: Infinity War, Captain America: Civil War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Starring: The whole squad

Anticipation Level: Epic

How Was It? This was execution at its finest. I absolutely loved it and you really have to admire what Marvel has accomplished, not just in this film, but in what they’ve created with their entire cinematic universe. It is truly unprecedented in the history of movies. Not every film has been great, or even good, but they’ve landed far more hits than misses and Endgame is a perfect conclusion to it all. It is pure fan service and a total crowd pleaser with many laugh-out-loud, surprising, and fist-pumping moments. Thor was a total scene-stealer; Chris Hemsworth is a riot in this movie. Even at an incredibly steep 3+ hour run time, it zipped by and I was thoroughly entertained all the way.

Prior to this movie, I was starting to feel that superhero fatigue. I didn’t like Ant-Man and The Wasp and I was lukewarm on Shazam!, Aquaman, and Captain Marvel as well, so I was really happy Endgame knocked it out of the park. I think the Russo Brothers get it. You take a look at their directorial credits and all their movies are in the upper tiers of the MCU, with The Winter Soldier possibly being my favorite.

I think Marvel did a great job with the roll out of this movie. I loved the trailer. Well, the one that I saw anyway. It gave away nothing. They knew the movie would crush no matter what and didn’t have to spoil anything to get people in the seats. I mean… how much cooler would it have been if we didn’t all know beforehand that The Hulk was going to show up in Ragnarok? I had no clue the direction Endgame was going to go and I have to admit I was shocked by a lot of it, particularly the whole first act.

I won’t say Endgame is one of those superhero movies that transcends the genre – like The Dark Knight – but it’s one of the best movies in the MCU and considering the scope of it all, it’s an immensely impressive achievement. I’ve already seen it twice and I’d probably enjoy a third viewing as soon as tomorrow, so it should hold up well over time. Endgame was about as good as I could have hoped for, managing to wrap up a 22-film arc, with plenty of laughs and maybe a few tears.

Replay Value: For a three hour movie, the replay value is insane.

Sequel Potential: They will probably still be making movies based on these characters a hundred years from now.

Oscar Potential: Infinity War got a nomination for Best Visual Effects, so consider that a lock for Endgame. I suppose there’s some outside chance this could get a Best Picture nomination, but it’s more popcorn film/blockbuster awesome than Oscar worthy storytelling.

8/10 (Must See)

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Movie Reviews: Pet Sematary (2019), Leave No Trace (2018), Tag (2018)

April 25, 2019

Pet Sematary (2019)
Director: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer (Holidays, Starry Eyes)
Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jete Laurence

Anticipation Level: Medium

How Was It? I hated it. It’s the first movie I’ve seen in 2019 that I thought about walking out of. Not that I would… but I did think about it. I can’t really compare it to Stephen King’s book (because I never read it) or the original film (because I don’t remember it), but on its own, I thought this movie was brutal… and not in the good kind of way that horror movies can be brutal. It just sucks. Jason Clarke is an actor I’ve identified as someone I’ve never liked in a single role (to be fair though, I’ve never seen Zero Dark Thirty or Mudbound, two critically acclaimed films he’s had roles in). Pet Sematary has a backstory involving the mom and her deformed sister that kept popping up and it is plenty disturbing, but in the “wait, why are we watching this” kind of way. I’ve heard these flashbacks play a critical role in King’s book, but I didn’t understand their relevance in the film. She’s scared of mangled human monsters? I mean… who isn’t? I know this was a remake so a lot of us know what is going to happen, but could they be any less subtle about the huge trucks whizzing past the driveway? And having been startled by semis speeding past multiple times already, what kind of shitty parents are letting their kids play anywhere near that road unsupervised? Come on. Massive kudos to the film editing crew for putting together a trailer that made this shit show look watchable.

Replay Value: None.

Sequel Potential: The original got a sequel even though there is only one book and this movie has already grossed double its budget in the U.S. alone, so there’s definitely potential.

Oscar Potential: None.

3/10 (Bad)

Gauva Island (2019)
Director: Hiro Murai (Atlanta, Barry)
Starring: Donald Glover, Rhianna, Letitia Wright, Nonso Anozie

Anticipation Level: Medium

How Was It? Uh, I guess it’s a cool showcase for previously released Childish Gambino music? Donald Glover works “This Is America” and both songs from last year’s Summer Pack set of singles into the script and it all fits just fine, but if you tuned in to this movie looking for fresh material from one of the most talented entertainers alive (like I did), you might wind up a bit disappointed. I didn’t find the story too compelling and Rhianna’s contribution was pretty minimal. It seemed like any random actress could have played that role. Guava Island is basically a 60 minute music video for songs we’ve already heard. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not what I was hoping for.

Replay Value: Not too much.

Sequel Potential: Shouldn’t be any.

Oscar Potential: Does this qualify for the Short Film category? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an short film nominee and I’ll go out on a limb and say I still haven’t.

5/10 (Decent)

Leave No Trace (2018)
Director: Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone)
Starring: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie

Anticipation Level: Strong

How Was It? Very good. Leave No Trace is about a war vet that finds solace living completely off the grid, in the woods of a park in Portland, Oregon, with his teenage daughter. This is their way of life and it seems like his daughter has never known any other way of living. This film is shot entirely in the Pacific Northwest (my home) and showcases how beautiful this part of the country is. I really enjoyed taking this journey with the two main characters, as they are plucked out of their routine and forced to live a “normal” life – you know, with housing, showers, electronic communication, and *shudders* responsibilities – and how each of them react to their new environment. Leave No Trace is a powerful film about survival, family, and how not everyone is wired the same way. Debra Granik is also responsible for directing the excellent Winter Bone that made Jennifer Lawrence a star and I’ve now thoroughly enjoyed both films I’ve seen from her, making her a name to keep an eye on.

Replay Value: I’d be happy to watch this again.

Sequel Potential: None.

Oscar Potential: This film got basically zero awards attention and that makes it one of the most underrated films of 2018.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Tag (2018)
Director: Jeff Tomsic
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress

Anticipation Level: Low

How Was It? Perfect! I mean… I go see a movie in theaters most weeks and I skipped this one, so I obviously wasn’t expecting much from it. Actually, I expected it to suck and found it to be quite entertaining. It’s not a high level comedy, but it was funny enough and this group of guys make for a good team. In fact, this world needs more Jon Hamm in comedic roles. I’m not sure what it is about him – maybe it’s the fact that he looks like someone that should only be in serious roles – but he is naturally hilarious. Jeremy Renner is also great in this, basically channelling his Hawkeye character for this game of adult tag. I was ready to poke holes in the plot but the script kept finding ways to plug them. It’s not a great film, but it’s a fun and mindless comedy.

Replay Value: Comedies always play best the first time around.

Sequel Potential: This is a story that could keep on going.

Oscar Potential: None

6/10 (Recommended)

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Shazam! (2019)

April 10, 2019

Shazam! (2019)

Director: David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation, Lights Out)

Starring: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer

Anticipation Level: Strong

How Was It? Eh. The critics have been very kind to Shazam! and I don’t get it. I thought the trailer looked great and the tone of the film looked like a lot of fun, but I wound up thinking it was a bit too corny and some of the jokes really didn’t land for me – I’m looking at you, Santa Claus.

There was a lot of potential in a story where a kid suddenly gets the powers and physique of a Superman-like superhero, but I felt like Shazam! left a lot of that potential untapped. Imagine you’re a teenage boy that can turn into Superman whenever you want. Are you going to spend your time charging people’s phones with your lighting fingers and taking selfies for money… or… doing literally anything else?

Also, while I thought the individual performances of Zachary Levi and Asher Angel were pretty entertaining as the child and superhero versions of Billy Batson, they didn’t seem congruent at all. Angel plays the teenage Billy with quite a bit of gravity and a sprinkle of comedy while Levi is in full-blown, over-the-top little kid in a candy shop mode. Entertaining? Sure. I just wasn’t buying the separate performances as the same character.

The villain in this movie is some dude that ends up housing the seven deadly sins in his body and the sins emerge as smoke monsters to help him wreak havoc. Do I need to say how dumb that is?

Jack Dylan Grazer and young Faithe Herman give really fun performances in supporting roles as fellow foster kids.

Overall, I was disappointed with Shazam! because it looked pretty good to me and it wound up leaving me cringing more often than it genuinely entertained me. It wasn’t terrible though. It definitely has funny moments and it was at least watchable. I’m sure lots of people will like it.

Replay Value: I’d probably watch it again just because, but I might wind up actually hating it.

Sequel Potential: Well duh.

Oscar Potential: None.

5/10 (Decent)

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Us (2019)

April 3, 2019

Us (2019)
Director: Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex

Anticipation Level: Epic

How Was It? Us was easily my most anticipated film in the first quarter of 2019 as I couldn’t wait to see what Jordan Peele had in store after shocking the world with his superb Get Out in 2017. Plus, the trailer for this one was awesome.

I very much enjoyed my first viewing of Us, but for a horror movie there’s a lot going on and the ending was a bit of a head scratcher, so I left the theater unsure of how I really felt about it. I thought it was probably good, but I was a little confused. So I saw it again.

And I still very much enjoyed watching it. I guess that means Jordan Peele did it again, if not quite on the elite level that he achieved with Get Out. The 94% rating on RottenTomatoes and the hyperbole of some critic calling Us “the greatest horror movie of all-time” is a bit misleading, but I definitely thought there was a lot to like here. Peele certainly knows how to craft a horror movie. He’s quite good at creating a tense atmosphere while blending in plenty of laughs without ruining the mood. I didn’t think Us was particularly scary, but it is plenty creepy and the story is far more layered than your typical film in the genre. It’s a movie where every detail is worth noting and warrants multiple viewings. Us is a difficult movie to discuss without getting too spoilery.

I can say that I thought Lupita Nyong’o is extremely good in this movie. Of course, any movie that allows an actor to play multiple roles (or versions of their character) is an opportunity to showcase their acting chops and Nyong’o certainly rises to the occasion. She has been good in everything I’ve seen from her so far. I also really enjoyed the daughter in the movie, especially in doppleganger form. Winston Duke is enjoyable too, but mostly for his comic relief.

Us is another solid film from Jordan Peele and I’m a bit bewildered by some of the mixed reactions from audiences. I was hoping for another near masterpiece as well, but I can’t say I’m too disappointed with what this film is. I liked it a lot – both times I saw it – and I give it a strong recommendation, but it does fall a little bit short of being a must watch movie.

Replay Value: A second viewing made me appreciate it more and helped clear up some questions.

Sequel Potential: By the time it’s box office run is over, Us should be in the top 3 R-rated horror movies of all-time so… plenty of potential for a sequel, but Jordan Peele strikes me as the kind of guy that wants to do different things.

Oscar Potential: It’s hard to say. Us has been so well received by critics, that it certainly seems possible to get some Oscar attention. I’ll wager on the no though. This is not as good as Get Out, so I don’t see a Best Pic nom come next year. Lupita Nyong’o and Florence Pugh (in Fighting With My Family) have given the best performances of the year so far, but there’s a lot of time and movies to come. Let’s call her a long shot for now. Us gets strong grades in the Score, Sound, and Editing categories as well.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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Movie Reviews: Captain Marvel, Leaving Neverland, Alita, Bird Box and More

April 2, 2019

Captain Marvel (2019) – This was not one of Marvel’s stronger films. I really like Brie Larson, even in this movie, but she was pretty much the only shining point. It was sort of funny and mildly entertaining, but that’s about it. There is a lot of hoopla about this being a female-led superhero movie and while I’m all for diversity in films, it doesn’t mean that Captain Marvel is actually good. Marvel has some history of producing forgettable villains and this movie adds to that list. I can’t even remember the villain’s name or what they were trying to do. Pretty forgettable, but probably still worth watching if you’ve made it this far and plan on seeing Avengers: End Game later this month. 5/10 (Decent)

Leaving Neverland (2019) – I have been a staunch Michael Jackson supporter ever since I read his biography by J. Randy Taraborrelli back in 2013. I did some other digging on top of that and I came away from all that convinced that he was a misguided and naive Man-Child that was likely innocent of all the accusations against him. This documentary definitively changed my mind. There is just no way Michael Jackson is innocent. He sexually abused multiple little boys. I don’t see any reason to doubt that. The two men revealing their stories here are incredibly convincing and their motives for both hiding the truth for so long and for speaking out now make total sense to me. At this point, the testimony is overwhelming, the circumstances are undeniably questionable and always have been, and in 2019, there is no excuse for shielding a monster just because he’s one of the most iconic musicians of all-time. This is an absolute must watch, especially for anyone that still thinks Michael Jackson was an innocent dude. 8/10 (Must Watch)

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) – I gave the first two movies a 7 and a 5, respectively, and this sequel was more in line with the quality of the second movie. Somewhat enjoyable, but mostly forgettable. 5/10 (Decent)

Alita: Battle Angel (2019) – Visually, this movie is pretty awesome, with some really good character design, and there were elements in place to make this a great underdog story, but it falls a little flat. There are some good action sequences and some fun highlights, but I wasn’t emotionally invested in the movie and I wanted to be. Rosa Salazar is fine in the lead role, but I thought a lot of the cast was phoning it in. Not that long ago, I considered Christoph Waltz for my top 5 actors list and I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve seen anything I’ve liked from him. Alita was a bit hokey and sort of bombed at the domestic box office, but I liked it enough that I’d at least watch a sequel. 5/10 (Decent)

First Reformed (2018) – This is one I’m pretty unsure about. Here’s what I know: it is powerful, Ethan Hawke is great in it, and it is a bit hard to swallow. Faith, terrorism, and mental illness are all big themes tackled in the movie and each one of those topics can be controversial, so there could definitely be some outrage while watching this one. First Reformed does a lot of things really well and I mostly enjoyed it quite a bit, even if I thought it all got a bit bizarre. I give it a recommendation, but with a warning that it could ruffle some feathers. 6/10 (Recommended)

Bird Box (2018) – Initially, I thought it was okay. I didn’t hate the experience of watching it, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more ridiculous I’ve realized this movie is. Basically, anyone that is saying Bird Box is awesome (and there are many) is either incredibly forgiving or very easy to please. This is a film that basically answers none of the questions it raises. It’s like if “Lost” only had one season… and that one season wasn’t good. Plus, Bird Box doesn’t make much sense. Apparently, some presence has arrived on earth that causes people to commit suicide if they look at it, but we never get any sort of idea what this presence looks like or where it comes from? Does that matter? Honestly, yes, I think so. Maybe a movie like A Quiet Place doesn’t answer some of these questions either, but at least it ratcheted the suspense and tension up by like a 100%. 3/10 (Bad)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) – A wonderful documentary about the story of Fred Rogers, a man better known as Mister Rogers and for his show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers was an incredible person and his level of genuine compassion for other people, and especially kids, is unmatched by any human I’m aware of. I’ve only seen two 2018 documentaries, but I’m surprised this didn’t get an Oscar nomination. If you were ever a fan of the man or the show, this is an obvious must watch. 8/10 (Must See)

The Wife (2018) – I thought this might be a must watch based on the strength of Glenn Close’s performance when it looked like she was a lock to win Best Actress, but Olivia Colman ended up winning, and deservedly so – she was better (and so was Lady Gaga). Still, Close is great in this movie, if not quite jaw-droppingly amazing. Unfortunately, while Close’s performance carries the film, it doesn’t elevate the movie to high levels of enjoyment. The story rubbed me the wrong way. Sure, maybe there are women out there that will stand by while their womanizing husband takes all the credit for their hard work and talent. And maybe they will do so for decades. Are we supposed to feel sorry or root for such a woman? Actually, there aren’t any likable people in this film. Close doesn’t get much support from the rest of her cast either. The guys that play the High Sparrow and Viserys Targarean on Game of Thrones combine forces to play the douchebag husband here and I couldn’t stand watching either of them on screen and not in the enjoyable way you can hate a character, like a Joffrey Baratheon or a Ramsey Bolton. This movie is basically one stellar performance away from being horrible. 3/10 (Bad)

The Invitation (2015) – Intense and enthralling, this was a very good slow burn thriller. Between this and last year’s Upgrade, Logan Marshall-Green has been the star of two awesome, but under-the-radar movies in the suspense/horror genre. 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)