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Sunday, January 10, 2021



While travelling with top-secret documents on a B-17 Flying Fortress, a female WWII pilot encounters an evil presence on board.

Director: Roseanne Liang

Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Taylor John Smith, Nick Robinson, Beulah Koale, Callan Mulvey

Release Date: January 1, 2021

Genre: Action, Horror, War

Rated R for language throughout, sexual references and violence

Runtime: 1 h 23 min


There’s a clear point in Roseanne Liang gonzo Shadow in the Cloud where you’ll either check out or go all in with the nuttiness on screen.  Its first half is deliberately paced serving as a wonderful showcase for Chloë Grace Moretz talents.  She’s always been an engaging actress whose deserving of a bigger spotlight, this film isn’t nearly good enough to give her a solid boost.  The film itself is a hodgepodge of ideas mashed up into a strange B-Movie where Moretz’s character battles sexual stereotypes, gremlins, the Japanese and motherhood.   Once the film decides to go all in with it’s insanity, it’s best to throw any semblance of logic out the window because the film doesn’t care if any of what you see makes any sense.  You get the sense that in the hands of a better filmmaker there might be a better film in there somewhere.  Unfortunately Roseanne Liang, who heavily rewrote Max Landis’s original screenplay, just isn’t that talented as a filmmaker.  The 2nd half is clunky on various levels which leaves the movie feeling more like one of the nameless direct to video movies that pepper streaming services.  At the very least, Chloë Grace Moretz makes Shadow in the Cloud far more watchable than it deserves to be.


Sunday, January 3, 2021

My 10 Favorite Films of 2020


2020 was a strange year on many levels but for movie lovers it was a particularly strange one.  This year was probably the first time I didn’t lurk the halls of my beloved theaters for months at a time.  Still there were plenty of films that stood out, since I’m terrible at making and sticking with a top 10 ranking, here are my 10 favorite films of the year in no particular order. 

Birds of Prey

Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey was one of the early victims of the Covid Pandemic which is a shame since the film is one of the comic book films that truly found its own voice.  Birds of Prey never feels formulaic or cookie cutter as we see Margot Robbie’s Harley evolve into her own. 

Gretel & Hansel

Oz Perkin’s film went under the radar but those looking for a striking horror film will find plenty to like with the mind bending remaining of the classic fairy tale.  Sophia Lillis continues to rack up impressive performances, films like this should make her big break feel like inevitable. 

The Invisible Man

Leigh Whannell’s remake of The Invisible Man seemed ready made for forgettable horror fodder.  What Leigh Whannel and Elisabeth Moss were able to accomplish is quite an impressive feat.  They take a fascinating angle on the concept which made it fresh and timely, paired with a stellar turn from Moss turned this retread into a taut thriller. 

Wonder Woman 1984

Patty Jenkin’s follow up is a overstuffed and unfocused but that doesn’t keep her film from being fun and trying for something meaningful.  Even if she didn’t quite stick the landing you have to respect Jenkin’s attempt to create a 80s superhero film in tone as opposed to just placing it in the 80s.  Gadot was born to play Diana but Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal both put in memorable turns.

Promising Young Woman

There are some films that just stick with you long after you’ve left the theater.  Emerald Fennell’s meticulously crafted debut film fits the bill in spades.  Carey Mulligan delivers a career best performance playing against type as the tragic protagonist.    

Palm Springs

Andy Samberg & Cristin Milioti time loop rom/com seemed tailor made for 2020.  The concept has been done plenty of times before but there’s a sweetness and reflective insight that makes this love story work. 

Sound of Metal

Riz Ahmed has built up a solid resume of strong performances but Sound of Metal might be his best.  Ahmed’s work here is a raw, gritty and authentic, so much so that he’s sure to earn best actor nods come award season. 


Pixar has tackled some big concepts over the years but Soul feels like another step up.  While the candy colored film still has the hallmarks of a kids movie this is the first one that feels like it’s aimed more at the parents than the kids. 


Christopher Landon’s third film continues to show how much a horror fan he is while showing that it’s ok to have fun with some of the concepts.  Freaky’s body swap concept works because Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton both go all in with the concept to great effect.


David Fincher’s labor of love is sure to get plenty of awards nods when the season comes simply because Hollywood loves Hollywood.  Still Fincher’s film is a loving homage to the golden era of Hollywood led by strong performance from Gary Oldman who could make these kinds of films for the rest of his career as far as I’m concerned. 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Cindy Prascik's Top Ten Movies of 2020


Ahhh...2020. Count me among the many who are delighted to say goodbye to you (goodbye to you-oo, goodbye to you)!

2020 was the weirdest of movie years, with most major releases opting to punt to the hopefully safer months of 2021, and many pictures that elected to test the "direct to home viewing" strategy feeling hurried, unpolished, and much like old TV movies of the week. Even with lockdowns and a hybrid work schedule that had me home more than I'm used to, I watched fewer films that I have in any other year in recent memory. Still, my dear reader(s), I feel like I owe you a list, and a list you shall have.

The usual disclaimers:

There were some noteworthy titles this year on which I deliberately took a pass. It seemed like horror was the genre that best comported itself in these new, strange times, but horror just does not interest me. My horror-loving friends report that I missed some quality offerings there. Some subject matter was just too contentious for me, given the times, such as the Trial of the Chicago Seven. I'm accustomed to seeing movies on opening weekend at the cinema, and I don't always get to streaming offerings as quickly as others, so I had advance warning to steer clear of others, like the Prom, which meant too much to too many people to have been bungled as badly as it was. In other words, the pool from which I drew these ten titles is perhaps even more shallow than it had to be.

Also, as in previous years, a movie's original Weasley score may have little bearing on its year-end placement. Some movies age well, and some do not.

Without further ado, my top ten movies of 2020.

10. Mank

As noted in my original review, Mank is a good movie that I didn't enjoy much at all. It is, however, the only place I saw Gary Oldman in 2020, and that earns it its place here. Mank features masterful dialogue and a peek behind the curtain that undoubtedly makes it an instant favorite for students of film history. And for the record, Gary is brilliant...but of course you already knew that. 

9. The Last Full Measure

The Last Full Measure is a bit pedestrian and, thus, isn't the movie it could have been, but it earns a spot in my year-end top ten for a couple reasons: First, its emotional wallop is enormous, and I felt it strongly among the veterans with whom I shared a cinema the day I saw it. Secondly, it represents a decent role for Sebastian Stan, who consistently punches below his weight with Marvel and other parts that don't half tax his enormous talent. More of this for Sebastian, please.

8. Hamilton

Does the filmed version of the Broadway musical Hamilton count as a movie? In the interest of filling ten spots, it sure does! Hamilton is a once-in-a-generation event, and that the original company was captured for posterity and shared so freely is pretty monumental. This recorded version mostly captures the spirit of the show, and hopefully engages many who otherwise might not have access to the theatre in general and a show of this caliber in particular.

7. Jingle-Jangle: A Christmas Journey

Jingle-Jangle: A Christmas Journey is an instant classic filled with festive settings, bright costumes, and bouncy tunes. A top-notch cast makes this Netflix original a holiday home run. Be sure to make time for Jingle-Jangle: A Christmas Journey, as the Twelve Days of Christmas wind down!

6. Tenet

Christopher Nolan serves up another mind- and time-bending adventure that represents one of 2020's few truly epic pictures. John David Washington and Robert Pattinson shine in an exciting movie you'll be thinking about long after you leave the cinema.

5. The Go-Gos

The first of three music documentaries to make this year's list, the Go-Gos chronicles the career of the first (and, so far, only) all-female band to achieve a number-one album with songs written by the band members themselves. From early punk roots through a meteoric rise to fame, substance abuse issues, and recent reunion, the Go-Gos is a remarkable story filled with great music. Get these ladies into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame NOW, please.

4. The Gentlemen

I was lucky to see the Gentlemen at my cinema twice before the world went sideways back in the spring. It is very much the type of movie I most enjoy: testosterone heavy, with lots of violence and swearing. (I'm a simple creature, I like simple things.) In my opinion, it also represents Charlie Hunnam's best role to date. Colin Farrell steals the show, as he is wont to do, but, really, the entire cast is just brilliant, and the story takes many turns before tying itself up in a neat little bow. Probably the most fun movie I saw all year.

3. The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart

The second of three music documentaries in this year's list is How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, which relates the incredible and sometimes tragic story of the Brothers Gibb. The movie maintains a positive vibe without skirting difficult issues, but primarily it's a wonderful trip down memory lane guided by hit after hit, great song after great song. The Bee Gees have a story worth telling, and director Frank Marshall was smart enough to let their music tell it. A must see!

2. Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind

My top music documentary and second-favorite film of 2020 is Gordon Lightfoot: If  You Could Read My Mind. Like the Bee Gees documentary, this film leans heavily on the subject's exceptional catalogue, with frank commentary from Lightfoot himself, who offers fascinating and often surprising insights. This one is also a can't-miss, for fans and not-yet-fans alike. 

1. Bill & Ted Face the Music

Bill & Ted Face the Music is the final installment in this time-traveling trilogy, and what a finish it is! Bill & Ted 3 is a sweet, funny, nostalgic adventure with a positive and hopeful message. It may not be a perfect movie, but it is definitely the perfect movie for 2020, and, thus, it earns the number-one spot on my year-end list.

2021 is here, and with it hope for better days ahead. The first and best way for all of us to help make that happen is to, as Bill and Ted say, "Be excellent to each other."

Until next time...

Wednesday, December 30, 2020



A heavy-metal drummer's life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing.

Director: Darius Marder

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric

Release Date: December 4, 2020

Genre: Drama, Music 

Rated R for language throughout and brief nude images 

Runtime: 2 h 10 min


Sound of Metal, Darius Marder's directorial debut, is a evocative, gritty drama that's simplistic on it's surface but emotionally dense.  It's conceit is fairly simple and Marder's approach gives the film an lived in almost documentary feel to it.  The pacing is leisurely but intense at the same time with Riz Ahmed's performance pulling you into his character's pain instantly.  Ahmed displays a simmering frustration and anger especially in the early portion of the film but subtly softens it as the story moves along.  He's able to emote so much via gestures or looks that you feel everything his character is going through as he learns to live with his situation.  This is a film that doesn't have a lot of large movements to the story but Marder uses sounds to put us in the main character's head, its a deft move that brings a tangible connection to his situation.  There's a sense of melancholy that permeates the entire film that makes it feel more authentic as we follow Ruben's journey of self realization.  As such, we feel those highs and lows he experiences throughout the story.  In lesser hands this kind of story might have felt too Hollywoodish or artificial but Marder and Ahmed deliver something meaningful and impactful.  


Tuesday, December 29, 2020



Joe is a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn't quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is jazz -- and he's good. But when he travels to another realm to help someone find their passion, he soon discovers what it means to have soul.

Director: Pete Docter

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, Angela Bassett

Release Date: December 25, 2020

Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy 

Rated PG for thematic elements and some language

Runtime: 1 h 40 min


Pixar's latest Soul pushes the boundaries of abstraction and metaphysical meditation especially for what's considered a kids movie.  Pete Docter, who directed the equally abstract Inside Out, delivers a beautiful film, each frame is visually dense and detailed whether it occurs in the real world or on the astral plane.  The story's meditation on what makes life worth living is an interesting subject to tackle for a children's film and the story never dumbs it down.  As such, a bevy of references will fly right over smaller children's heads but the candy colored afterlife which is populated by abstract Picasso like overseers and adorable newborn souls puffs will offer plenty to keeps kids interested.  Throw in a fun bit of body swapping comedy in the middle act which should give them lots to enjoy even if the larger themes seemed aimed at their middle aged parents.  Those themes are handled with great care and consideration which the film brings to a thoughtful conclusion.  The voice cast is excellent across the board with Jamie Foxx & Tina Fey doing the largest part of the heavy lifting. They share a good rapport together which shines throughout the film.  The supporting cast of is made up of excellent actors and actress such Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett which each leaving their mark with their distinctive tenors.  Soul is a heady film that will probably linger with the adults longer than the children they see it with, it's a testament to the kind of storytelling that Pixar can pull off as they continue to push the envelope as to what these type "kids" movies can be.   


Monday, December 28, 2020

Cindy Prascik’s Reviews of The Midnight Sky, Wonder Woman 1984, Soul, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom & The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart

 Four Movies That Aren't What They Could Have Been...and One That Is Perfect

My dear reader(s): December has finally slowed to a pace that allows for catching up on movies. Sadly, that does not mean the cinema for me right now, but there are some promising titles available for home viewing. Herein I shall offer brief (for me) opinions on a few.

Spoiler level here will be mild, nothing you wouldn't know from the trailers or if you're familiar with actual events and/or the source material where applicable.

First on my Holiday Catch-Up Docket: The Midnight Sky.

Resigned to riding out the end of the world at his arctic outpost, Scientist!Clooney tries to keep a crew of astronauts from returning to a planet that's beyond saving.

The Midnight Sky is one of those movies that passes muster in 2020, but that might have been a more epic product in a normal year. With George Clooney at the helm (both starring and directing), and featuring decorated co-stars like Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo, I have to think somewhere along the line it was meant to be more than it is. What it is, is...fine, I guess? Clooney et al. are more than up to the challenges of their somewhat thinly painted roles. The story has been told before and undoubtedly will be told again and again as panic about the state of our planet sets firmly at the front of people's minds. It's not a new or different tale, but it's respectably told and not as dull as I expected from things I'd seen online before watching it. Neither is the movie's message as overtly heavy-handed as I anticipated, but sketchy effects, too many wasted minutes, and hokey ending make this a slow film without much impact.

The Midnight Sky clocks in at 118 minutes and is rated PG13 for "some bloody images and brief strong language."

If the daily news isn't satisfying your appetite for apocalyptic stories, and you like George Clooney, the Midnight Sky makes a decent bit of holiday viewing. Of a possible nine Weasleys, the Midnight Sky gets five and a half.

The Midnight Sky is now streaming on Netflix.

Next up, the week's big release: Wonder Woman 1984.

Diana Prince battles 80's fashion and a dangerous megalomaniac.

Regular reader(s) will know, I'm a DC girl. Wonder Woman gave us DC folks real hope that DC was getting back on track after a disastrous skid. Wonder Woman 1984 derails that hope almost entirely. A boring, repetitive opening sequence sets the tone by eating up far more time than it earns. The subsequent story is pointless, goofy, and all over the place. Most performances are cringe-worthy. There's even a full-on Macavity moment towards the end that channels last year's Christmas tragedy, Cats. The Wonder Woman brand is well-loved enough that many fans will find something to like here. For those people, I am happy. Me, I was more annoyed with each minute I wasted on this. Only the combined charm of Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, a rousing score by Hans Zimmer, and a delightful mid-credits scene keep Wonder Woman 1984 from being a total loss.

Wonder Woman 1984 runs a bloated 151 minutes and is rated PG13 for "sequences of action and violence."

Wonder Woman 1984 represents yet another missed opportunity for DC. Of a possible nine Weasleys, Wonder Woman 1984 gets four.

Wonder Woman 1984 is now playing in cinemas, and streaming through mid-January on HBO Max.

The middle slot on my holiday catch-up is occupied by the Disney/Pixar offering Soul.

During a near-death experience, a man obsessed with jazz music tries to find his way back, and ends up helping a young soul along the way.

Soul is a solid movie that (lightly) ticks all the Disney/Pixar boxes, though it's missing the qualities that distinguish their truly special pictures. The diverse cast, led by Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, is terrific. The focus on music is welcome. The art and animation are gorgeous. The story is engaging enough to teach its lessons organically. Still...I had a hard time figuring out exactly where Soul was aiming. Its premise seems too scary for kids, especially younger ones, but it never seems quite enough for anyone older. It's not as pretty as Finding Nemo. It's not as smart as WALL-E. It doesn't tug the heartstrings nearly as effectively as Coco. Ultimately, it's a good movie that just suffers by comparison to its predecessors.

Soul runs 100 minutes and is rated PG for "thematic elements and some language."

Soul is a heartwarming bit of family entertainment that deserves a spot in your 2020 holiday planner, even if it never quite finds its spark. Of a possible nine Weasleys, Soul gets six and a half.

Fangirl points: Graham Norton and Richard Ayoade!

Soul is now playing in theaters and streaming on Disney+.

My penultimate picture this weekend was the Netflix Original Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

In the sweltering Chicago summer of 1927, tensions run high during a recording session with the "Mother of the Blues," Ma Rainey.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom features exceptional performances by Viola Davis and (in his final role) Chadwick Boseman. When I say Davis is exactly as good as you'd expect, know that I mean you'd always expect her to be the best, and she is nothing less. Boseman, posthumously, is sure to earn some of the awards he's deserved since starring in 42. For a year that specialized in kicks to the gut, 2020 has given none more devastating than the loss of Chadwick Boseman. The story packs an emotional wallop — mostly due to the characters' efforts to buck a system designed to confine them — but the movie never really takes off, due, in my opinion, to its failure to focus on Ma Rainey's music. We're told Ma Rainey is the "Mother of the Blues." We're told many legends found their influence in her. Yet we don't hear much of the music that earned her this lofty status. What that leaves is an hour and a half of sweaty people yelling at each other. Good acting, though. Very good acting.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom clocks in at 94 minutes and is rated R for "language, some sexual content, and brief violence."

While Ma Rainey's Black Bottom isn't the movie it could have been, two of the year's best performances make it worth a look. Of a possible nine Weasleys, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom gets six and a half.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is now streaming on Netflix.

With no small bit of personal bias, I saved the best for last in my Holiday Picture Show: the Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.

This documentary from director Frank Marshall serves not only to tell the story of the Brothers Gibb, but to justify and underscore their status in the pop music stratosphere. 

The film starts reflectively, with a pensive Barry Gibb noting that he is the only one left, the last surviving Gibb brother. It doesn't take long to shake off the melancholy mood with fantastic pictures and video clips of the very young brothers, and relies on such photos, film snippets, and interviews with the Gibbs and assorted spouses and associates to tell a mostly linear story of the trio's early days, rise to fame, meteoric success in the Saturday Night Fever era, fall from popular favor during the disco backlash of the early 80s, and subsequent success as songwriters and collaborators with other artists. It touches on difficulties with drink and drugs, but never wallows in misery or self-pity. The movie succeeds, not chiefly because this is a great story (though it is), but because it focuses on music, music, and more music. The genesis of songs. The backstory of songs. The creative process used in fashioning songs. So. Many. Great. Songs. Testimonials from artists — all kinds of artists, from every era in the Gibb brothers' musical lifetime — who felt and feel their influence to this day. The movie notes the passing of, and pays tribute to, Andy, Maurice, and Robin Gibb, coming full circle with Barry musing that he would "rather have them all back here and no hits at all." In between a somber start and finish, How Can You Mend a Broken Heart offers a joyful celebration of one of the greatest catalogues in music history, a special trip down memory lane for fans, and a timely reminder that being against anything will never matter as much as being for something. Oh, and To Love Somebody is legitimately one of the greatest songs ever written by anyone, anywhere. Don't forget that.

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart runs 111 minutes and is rated TVMA.

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart tells the story of the Brothers Gibb, focusing on their extraordinary musical legacy and unbreakable brotherly bond. Current Bee Gees fans and not-yet Bee Gees fans should consider it the year's must-watch documentary. Of a possible nine Weasleys, How Can You Mend a Broken Heart gets all nine.

Fangirl points: the Beatles and Ed Sheeran both turn up in this. Yay!

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart is now streaming on HBO Max.

Until next time...

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