REVIEW: Boss Level [2021]

Yesterday was months ago. Add another entry to the time loop directory with Joe Carnahan‘s Boss Level arriving as this month’s installment of what feels like a monthly ritual these days. It’s not socially relevant like The Obituary of Tunde Johnson, emotionally poignant like Before I Fall, genre-bending like Happy Death Day, or irreverently subversive like Palm Springs, but it is entertaining. This is especially true for fans (like me) of the director’s Smokin’ Aces since that’s the title this latest work most closely resembles whether by way of its…

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REVIEW: Raya and the Last Dragon [2021]

Who’s hungry? As Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) states during her expository prologue to Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada‘s Raya and the Last Dragon (written by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim), events that should unite us often end up doing the opposite. For the Asiatic world of Kumandra, this phenomenon occurs in the aftermath of their most dire moment once the plague known as druun (a virus-like creature that multiplies with every attack, turning living creatures into stone) is finally annihilated thanks to the bravery of a dragon named Sisu…

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REVIEW: Us Again [2021]

The jazzy notes of Pinar Toprak‘s score act as a living soundtrack to the world of Zach Parrish‘s short film Us Again with everyone inside it dancing as though they are characters in a musical. The unbridled energy and excitement are infectious with smiles from ear to ear on everyone’s faces until the camera moves into an apartment housing a grumpy old man in a recliner who can’t even be bothered to stand-up when slamming his window shut to prevent the notes outside from reaching his ears. We see from…

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REVIEW: Boogie [2021]

Love will melt the sharpest sword. As writer/director Eddie Huang‘s fortune teller states, when a dragon and a dog come together, they create a snake. That’s what Alfred ‘Boogie’ Chin (Taylor Takahashi) is: temperamental like his father (Perry Yung), culturally respectful like his mother (Pamelyn Chee), and intuitive enough to realize he’s been trapped between them without a voice of his own. Both parents see him as the answer to their financial woes, but Mr. Chin plays the long game while Mrs. Chin seeks a quick payday. Neither negates Boogie’s…

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REVIEW: Lucky [2021]

Make a plan and try to stay calm. It’s easy to get caught up in your own privilege to the point where you don’t even recognize it exists. I can’t recall how the conversation started, but I do remember the topic shifting to using a gas station in the middle of the night. I was talking with my father and mentioned how doing so was a solution to some problem regarding my older sister and him responding, “Well it’s different for her.” I’m in my teens and suddenly racking my…

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BERLINALE21 REVIEW: Tabija [The White Fortress] [2021]

Something always comes up. The line between fairy tale and horror proves a thin one in Igor Drljaca‘s Tabija [The White Fortress] thanks to the differing perspectives of young love in Sarajevo. Whether Faruk (Pavle Cemerikic) and Mona (Sumeja Dardagan) believe a life together may yet be possible for them despite coming from opposite social and economic worlds doesn’t factor in because they’re just teenagers buckling under the pressure of outside forces that refuse to let them be free. So while the idea of a happily ever after is nice…

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REVIEW: Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry [2021]

They’re not my friends. They’re part of me. Whether you enjoy her music or not, it’s tough to deny that there’s a story that needs to be told around Grammy-winning artist Billie Eilish. She and her brother Finneas O’Connell uploaded “Ocean Eyes” to SoundCloud when she was thirteen. They recorded their first full-length album in his bedroom when she was sixteen. And they’ve become worldwide sensations performing at the Oscars and writing the latest James Bond theme song all in the matter of about five years—the last two being a…

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BERLINALE21 REVIEW: La Mif [The Fam] [2021]

We’re a fam now. The big draw to Fred Baillif‘s fictional look inside a residential care facility housing teenage girls is the fact that he refuses to pretend his setting is anything more than a “safe space.” It’s a place to find separation from whatever heinous environment they’ve left and begin the healing process. Some will inevitably be sent back to the place they sought to escape. Some will remain until their eighteenth birthday and suddenly have to figure out what it means to live alone. And no matter how…

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REVIEW: The Vigil [2021]

It wants your pain. After spending his entire life within the Orthodox Jewish community, Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) recently decided to leave its insular environment and make his way amongst the freer and more modern society away from its borders. It’s hardly an easy transition, though, when you consider how little he and his fellow defectors know about the world they’re entering. Yakov himself can’t stop marveling about his new smartphone because it has a flashlight let alone access to the internet, so it’s no surprise that he’d fail to…

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REVIEW: Blithe Spirit [2021]

Divine intervention. Charles Condomine (Dan Stevens) is plagued by writer’s block—so much so that his wife Ruth (Isla Fisher) talked her film producer father (Simon Kunz‘s Henry Mackintosh) into paying him to adapt his best-selling detective novel debut into a screenplay. The hope is that an easy task without the need for new ideas will get the creative (and sexual) juices flowing again so that they can push their beds together and maybe even cross the Atlantic to Hollywood. No matter how supportive Ruth has been, however, Charles still can’t…

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REVIEW: Flora & Ulysses [2021]

Maybe it’s okay to hope. The magic Kate DiCamillo imbues within the pages of Flora & Ulysses is infectious. Not only is her book a smart and witty adventure that refuses to shy from the struggles with loneliness everyone faces (young and old), but it also seeks to use wordplay and vocabulary in a fun Phantom Tollbooth kind of way that entertains and educates in equal measure. My worry with Disney’s live-action adaptation was therefore whether or not it could do the material justice since the absurdly hyperbolic nature of…

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