Ticket to Paradise

Two divorced parents, David and Georgia Cotton, travel to Bali after learning that their daughter, Lily, is planning to marry a man named Gede, whom she has just met. They decide to work together to sabotage the wedding to prevent Lily from making the same mistake they made twenty-five years ago.

Ticket to Paradise is a welcome reunion for two legendary stars, George Clooney and Julia Roberts, years after they worked on the Ocean’s films, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Money Monster together. They elevate a film that occasionally threatens to fall into generic territory by breathing fun and charm into the film, even when they’re ripping each other to bits with insults. Clooney’s performance is certainly the glue here, as he embraces his comedic chops and his character often pokes fun at himself while being grumpy and over-the-top. Speaking of reunions, fans of Booksmart will love to see Kaitlyn Dever and Billie Lourd sharing the screen again — Dever is great as their daughter Lily, and Billie Lourd is a scene-stealer as her best friend Wren, a character that the plot maybe could’ve done without but when Lourd is so entertaining, the movie suddenly feels infinitely more upbeat with her in it.

The movie can sometimes fall into cheesy territory especially with some obviously scripted lines and an exaggerated ending, as well as some unclear themes about who is more right about what, but it never sinks the film’s heart and sweetness. It’s a film that means to charm and show the nature of flawed parents getting over their own immaturities while loving their daughter, and when the parents are played by two of the most charismatic people in the world, you’ve got yourself a winning film. Though it’s nothing you’ll be urged to watch more than once, or even the best comedy out right now, given how much more memorable and hysterical Bros is, Ticket to Paradise is certainly a harmless and heartfelt good time, especially for today’s rom-com standards, with laughs, vacation-y settings, and charming performances.

Bros

Bobby Lieber (Billy Eichner), a podcast host and museum curator creating the world’s first LGBTQ museum, attempts a relationship with lawyer Aaron — but they must overcome their commitment problems first.

Not only is it celebratory for a major studio to release a gay rom-com, but it’s a breath of fresh air to see a movie about the LGBTQ community that isn’t gloomy or traumatizing but rather entertaining and optimistic. Through through the museum Lieber is creating, the movie is very much about embracing the queer community and undoing the centuries of history that’s been erased. Though Bros rejects the idea that gay and straight relationships are exactly the same by having its lead character claim that “Love is not love!”, as gay male relationships have their own nuances and issues, the romance will be gripping for all audience. But just as important as its representation is the fact that it’s fun, uplifting and hysterical.

Billy Eichner is a fantastic leading man who’s loving yet stubborn nature comes off as warm as it does occasionally frustrating to see him stumble and figure out his way. Eichner, who also co-wrote the movie with director Nicholas Stoller, gives even the side characters their place to shine and make the audience laugh. There’s some incredibly funny moments that will stick with you and come to mind whenever you think of this movie, and lines that are too good to spoil but are worth the laughs in a theater with an audience. Luke Macfarlane is also a breakout star and is endearing as the more “macho” gay man as opposed to Eichner’s “flamboyant”-labeled character, but as the movie mentions, the queer community is not a monolith and the film embraces lesbian, gay. bisexual, and trans characters, including those of color, in its supporting cast. Though the plot occasionally lacks direction, and it may be a few minutes too long, it’s the dialogue and humor that keeps the audience engaged, and the romance that more than gets the audience to root for the leads that grounds the whole film.

As a comedy, Bros will give you stomach-inducing laughs, and as a romance, it’s more than sweet. It’s the positive celebration of diversity that audiences, both queer and straight, will feel uplifted by, and enjoy the sweetness, silliness, and raunchiness the film has to offer.

The Woman King

The Woman King historical epic inspired by the true events that happened in The Kingdom of Dahomey, one of the most powerful states of Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries. Viola Davis makes every performance of hers seem effortless, and her role as General Nanisca of the Agoije, the Dahomey’s all-female group of warriors who defend the Kingdom, is no exception. Davis portrays the titular character as a fighter with a tough exterior who eventually peels back layers to reveal pain she must defend herself from through physical and emotional strength. Thuso Mbedu and Lashana Lynch are both outstanding, Mbedu as a new recruit who must grow into a courageous fighter, and Lynch as a commander who gives it her all into the role physically and makes you care so much about her character.

The action is staged very well and is surprisingly strong for a PG-13 rating, but it’s never distractingly holding back from showing violence either, though nothing is disturbing here. The grandeur of the costumes and sets makes the atmosphere work so well, and the film benefits from a spectacular score from Terence Blanchard, who should at least get nominated for an Oscar. Though the film does occasionally slow down between the powerful moments, the last act especially is the most exciting, investing and empowering and elevates the entire movie. It’s a great popcorn action film but also a showcase of amazing production and performances that’s built for the big screen.

Three Thousand Years of Longing

A lonely scholar, on a trip to Istanbul, discovers a Djinn who offers her three wishes in exchange for his freedom.

George Miller’s first film since Mad Max: Fury Road allows him to let loose as expected, but doesn’t feel as rewarding as it could have. Tilda Swinton shines in a more fun, likable role than some of her more “chameleon”-like performances, and Idris Elba is great as a Djinn tasked with most of the film’s dialogue and monologues. The production design is also very noteworthy as is the score by Tom Holkenberg, easily his best music for a film since Fury Road. However, the CGI doesn’t look as grand or convincing as it attempts to be and could’ve used some more work.

Though Swinton and Elba’s conversations about how all the ways wishes could go wrong are interesting, the stories Elba tells about his past don’t feel as powerful or intricate as the film wants you to believe. The third act feels an abrupt turn of events and certainly drags, in a way feeling anticlimactic. Upon digging, Miller has a lot of interesting things to say, whether it be about longing, imagination, or love, but he doesn’t explore them deeply enough to deliver that unexpected blow of catharsis and fulfillment that the ending wants you to experience. Perhaps this is one film that constitutes a rewatch, but only certain parts feel inviting to revisit, while others, I feel I’d simply skip over if I ever saw this film again. It’s certainly bold and like nothing that’s come out this year, and its ambition is worth commending, but for most, this isn’t worth rushing to theaters to watch.

Nope

OJ and Emerald Haywood are siblings who own a ranch in a lonely gulch of inland California, where they train and handle horses for movie and TV productions. Soon, they bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery. 

To call Jordan Peele a unique filmmaker of our time would be an understatement — he’s blended genres and used them to incorporate thoughtful social commentary into the most mainstream popcorn entertainment, all while giving audiences films that can satisfy, challenge, and entertain. Nope is no different. It’s a science fiction-horror-thriller-comedy with a modern infusion of likable characters and borderline surrealist world-building, and Peele’s filmmaking is at the level of the most respected auteurs like Stanley Kubrick. It’s got moments of shock, laughter, brutality, and terrifying humanity that adds so much astonishment to a film that starts with what could’ve been an overused premise in anyone’s else hands. Daniel Kaluuya has evolved into a modern film star of his generation — though he’s starred in Black Panther and won an Oscar for Judas and the Black Messiah, it was Peele’s debut Get Out that guaranteed his stardom. He’s a master at being funny but showing a character confront with real and inner “demons” in a silent way but always being a fun character too. Keke Palmer has a contagious, bubbly energy and I’m sure the entire cast and crew had plenty of laughs due to her fantastic delivery of her lines that often sneaks up on you in hysterical ways. But she’s also a genuine hero, not to mention Steven Yeun and Brandon Perea who are scene stealers.

Peele’s style always challenges genre, structure, and how the audience expects to react to things. His stylistic energy in Nope invokes eyes staring in awe, jaws dropping, and mouths smiling all at once. Due to this, Nope transcends accessibility for fans of horror, and is a top-notch film for all fans of big-screen spectacle, because it never settles for just being a horror movie. In it’s own way, Nope is a piece of art, that’s not meant to give you easy answers or leave you comfortable. Like Peele’s last movie Us, there’s so much to debunk as the thematic elements often drive the filmmaking in his movies. This one addresses many things, but among it, humanity’s flocking to images chaos and danger, and our obsession with getting as close to death and trauma as we can while wanting to arrogantly cheat the effects they may have on us, should our endeavors to harness danger go wrong. The movie is also a tribute to filmmakers and crew members in positions we don’t often acknowledge, and the achievements of black contributions to cinema that aren’t always celebrated. In a way, Peele uses this movie to celebrate the invention of cinema but also warn about our roles as audience members and monetizers of content that’s both real and adapted from truth. With it, he creates the most daring and awe-inspiring summer blockbuster possible that I’m sure will inspire many to create and challenge the world of films the way he has.

Bullet Train

Assassin Ladybug finds himself on a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto in order to grab a briefcase of money, but the task reveals itself not so simple as Ladybug discovers he’s not the only assassin on the train looking for the briefcase.

Bullet Train is everything I’ve wanted from an original action movie for a long time — bold, unpredictable, brutal, and irreverent. David Leitch colors the titular train with a lively style and makes the action unhinged and genuinely thrilling. Brad Pitt is no less an action badass than in the days of Fight Club, Troy and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. He gives the character a lot of humor in that he’s an assassin trying to find inner peace and avoid violence — guess how well that works out for him. But it’s hard to call a single character weak or overshadowed by Pitt. Joey King delivers her best ever turn as a deceitful young assassin, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson gives the film some excellent quips. His screen time with Brian Tyree Henry, who’s the film’s highlight, is the most heartfelt aspect of a film in which hitmen are all trying to kill each other. Henry’s talent radiates a special hysterical charm and will make you laugh and smile the most out of all the characters, not to mention he’s one of the most exciting actors these days. Even Bad Bunny, in his acting debut, does a solid job, and Zazie Beetz kills it in a minor role, and in my opinion the most underutilized performer of the film, considering she’s one of the best actresses in the film’s cast. Not to mention a lot of familiar faces that I was surprised were even in the movie, so stay away from the cast list before you see this one.

Bullet Train‘s script feels reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s most uncompromising films, like Snatch, RocknRolla and The Gentlemen, in which you have to choose your alliances among a cast of criminal characters and anyone could bite the dust. Not to mention the script never takes itself seriously for a second, incorporating flashbacks, a vibrant soundtrack, and unexpected laugh-out-loud humor. The editing is where the film both shines and sometimes falters, as there are a few moments of unnecessarily aggressive cuts during scenes where there’s either action that could’ve used more wide shots, or explanations for events you’ve already seen play out. There’s also an exposition monologue at the end that’s easily the low point of the film and some character placements that don’t flow as smoothly in the third act or have no reason to be there. But in the end, only a filmmaker as bold as Leitch could get away with making something so much fresher than any other $100 million action movie you’ll see on the big screen today that’s not a sequel. Bullet Train has so much going twistiness, vulgarity and blood going for it, yet it’s the cheeky wit, exuberant performances, and relentless style that makes this ride such a welcome one.

Thor: Love and Thunder

Thor enlists the help of Valkyrie, Korg and ex-girlfriend Jane Foster to fight Gorr the God Butcher, who intends to make the gods extinct.

Taika Waititi brings his signature laugh out loud humor and energetic storytelling style to Love and Thunder, as well as playing the lovable rock giant Korg who’s become Thor’s sidekick of sorts. Chris Hemsworth is as always having lots of fun, and Natalie Portman returns as his old flame Jane, who accompanies him along with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson kills it as always though her character doesn’t get as personal as Thor and Jane do) on the film’s journey. Russell Crowe is also quite funny as Zeus, and expect some great celebrity cameos as well. The standout though is definitely Christian Bale as the villain. He gets to go all out with his performance as Gorr the God Butcher, and his motivations make sense as well as his weapons and planets seeming cool, though I would’ve added a little more screentime with the character because in a way he’s still underutilized compared to the heroes. But also worth mentioning is the memorable soundtrack that gives the film a lot of life — and Guns N Roses hits.

Though Waititi’s style now feels synonymous with Thor’s solo journey, it also feels like the saving grace of the movie that Taika’s at the director’s chair. Since Thor’s already gone through most of his meaningful development from his first movie unto Endgame, there isn’t much left to develop with him and the movie is best enjoyed as a Waititi adventure comedy as a result. It’s also not as smooth or funny as Ragnarok, and the director’s weakest film yet. The script feels rushed and slowed down in the wrong places and certain nuances feel underdeveloped — a few more minutes of runtime wouldn’t have hurt. The final battle is also visually uninteresting though conceptually fun, the location and lighting of the action feels anything but exciting. Thor and Jane’s romantic chemistry is sweet but also nowhere near as natural of a pairing as Tom Holland and Zendaya in Spider-Man or Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow in the Iron Man movies. It also feels like Thor’s journey concluded more naturally with Endgame, and as an epilogue to his story it serves the character fine, but I think Marvel should close his arc here because it feels like all of Thor’s most memorable moments and growths are in the past.

Thor: Love and Thunder is a solid 2 hours of fun visuals and laughs, though it feels like the character’s story is being stretched a little past its breaking point, go for the enjoyment and cast, especially Christian Bale’s villanous performance.

Elvis

Elvis provides a look into the life and career of the King of Rock and Roll and his relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Austin Butler’s immersive performance stuns as he brings the singer back to life with so much energy and character, that you’d believe it was really him in every shot he’s in. The costume design is accurate to Elvis’ real wardrobe and overall gives the film a spectacular visual side to it. The musical sequences are by far the most entertaining, impressive, and even emotional aspects of the film. If that’s enough for you, this movie is worth a watch, but this movie is brought down by Baz Luhrmann’s pretentious style (director of Moulin Rouge!, Romeo + Juliet and The Great Gatsby). The editing is very flashy and fast in an attempt to immerse you into the vivid world of Elvis’ music and journey, but as a result, any sort of intimacy or room to breathe feels gone. Butler’s performance is terrific but the only times we get to interact with Elvis as a real person (and not just as the musical legend he was) are when the movie uses incredibly cliche beats we’ve seen in plenty of other music biopics like Walk the Line, Rocketman, Respect, Straight Outta Compton, and so on. Moments such as Elvis getting his love for music, dealing with loss, rising to stardom and creating his greatest hits feel lost in the prestige Baz feels so insistent on — it’s a tiring assault on the senses with some questionable decisions, like including music by Doja Cat in a scene that’s set in 1950s Memphis? Some of the CGI and green-screen also feel unrealistic and break the illusion of an old-fashioned look.

Tom Hanks is still my favorite movie actor, but his character in this movie is such an odd, one-note character and showing lots of the film from his perspective just makes us feel farther from Elvis’ humanity. The movie is also very long and gets too boring before it makes a real emotional point. What’s really interesting to see from a story perspective is how Elvis brought black music to white audiences and forced the system to reckon with the integration of cultures. Though this aspect is really eye-opening, it’s a shame that it isn’t focused on for the latter parts of the movie as well. The film decides to simply throw everything at you that you don’t get enough to appreciate the moments that are beautiful, or feel that you’re with Elvis for enough time because of the film’s montage-like editing fashion.

Though Austin Butler is a powerhouse and perfectly captures the stage presence and livelihood of Presley, and the musical sequences are exciting and breathtakingly brought to life, Elvis is brought down by its surface-level character writing as well as its poor and overwhelming editing. Luhrmann cares very much about making his movies a spectacle, but how much is too much? If you’re an Elvis fan, watch it at home, but if I ever end up watching Elvis again, you’ll probably find me skipping right away to the music scenes and that’s it.

Lightyear

Lightyear imagines what the movie would’ve been that got kids like Andy excited to get the toy of him in Toy Story. In this universe, Buzz Lightyear is a space ranger tasked with a difficult mission and must learn to make new friends and approaches to his mission — and his purpose as an astronaut and a man — on the way.

Lightyear dazzles as an animated Star Trek of sorts, with some of the best animation I’ve seen in years. The designs of spaceships, suits, weapons and settings, as well as the concept of flight and hyperspace travel, are designed so beautifully that you forget you’re watching something completely animated and get immersed in the visual adventure. The intergalactic settings let Pixar’s animators explore their incredible skills and make something that looks gorgeous. Chris Evans is perfectly cast as Buzz Lightyear, not just because he does the Lightyear voice well but because his character parallels Captain America so well in that they both are willing to give whatever it takes for the greater good but must find their own identity and life for themselves. Keke Palmer is also great as Lightyear’s new companion, and Taika Waititi is as always hysterical as another “rookie” that takes on a deadly mission with Buzz. A highlight though, is Sox, a robotic cat voiced by Peter Sohn whose destined to be a fan favorite Pixar character and steals the screen. The script always finds inventive ways to bring in conflicts and there’s some signature humor and heart Pixar is known to have mastered. Although there’s a twist at the end that may have not had the thematic resonance it was trying to get at, it’s still an exciting movie throughout and could please action/sci-fi movie fans of all ages. Though it’s not as great as the last two Toy Story movies per say, Lightyear has likely Pixar’s most stunning animation since Soul and is a blast for the whole family, with a top-notch Chris Evans voice performance and lovable supporting cast.

Jurassic World Dominion

Dinosaurs now live — and hunt — alongside humans all over the world. This fragile balance will reshape the future and determine, once and for all, whether human beings are to remain the apex predators on a planet they now share with history’s most fearsome creatures.

With promising groundwork to set up what could’ve been an exciting conclusion to the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World Dominion instead does little with the potential its given and messes up almost every chance it gets to deliver. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are solid action stars but their characters get no development besides looking cool and facing off against dinosaurs. Speaking of the dinosaurs, they themselves barely feel like characters in the story anymore, and the two leads are no longer seen exercising their heroic compassion towards the creatures which felt out of character for them. The conflicts with the dinosaurs feel so rushed and hard to be invested in because the proper explanation and stakes simply aren’t there. A genetic engineering storyline takes up a lot of the film’s screen time, as well as Campbell Scott’s lackluster performance, which is a bummer considering the ideas about whether humans and dinosaurs can coexist go undeveloped as a result. The film spends a lot of time with uninteresting supporting characters, whether bad actors like Scott Haze and Justice Smith or good actors like Omar Sy who simply don’t contribute anything. DeWanda Wise and Mamoudou Athie are great as far as the newcomers go, but the original trio from Jurassic Park add a lot to the movie. Laura Dern gives the movie lots of grace and empathy, and Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum are charismatic, with Goldblum bringing his lovable and hilarious chops as always.

Because there’s no proper motives or conflict in the storytelling, the journey and stakes are too boring and confusing to feel invested in. The writer and director don’t trust enough in the audience and put in a 2-minute exposition sequence at the beginning instead of bringing in ideas through visual storytelling. There’s also loads of plot armor that results in predictability because characters can get away from any danger depending on their importance to the story. Despite the franchise being beloved, the concepts being wondrous and the action being gigantic, this movie doesn’t feel thrilling or even sensical. Although I was looking forward to seeing how the trilogy would resolve and conclude, I felt no excitement during this movie unless it was seeing the two generations of the franchise’s stars interact with each other. Not to mention the CGI dinosaurs help expand the scale but no longer feel consequential or visually stunning the way the practical dinosaurs first did all the way back in 1993.