The Whale   R 1h 57m

Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is a morbidly obese man who has become a shut-in. He’s clearly suffering physically and emotionally. He teaches online classes, where he keeps his image on the computer screen blacked out. He wants very much to reconnect with his daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink), who hasn’t seen him for seven years. He tells best friend and caretaker, Liz (Hong Chau), that he wants to see Ellie again. Liz thinks it’s a bad idea, but Charlie pursues it anyway. When Ellie visits Charlie, she is a caustic con artist of a teenager looking to get anything she can from him. Eventually, there’s a confrontation between Ellie’s mother Mary (Samantha Morton), Liz, and Charlie about Ellie. There’s a very poignant conversation between Mary and Charlie where we learn what happened to their marriage.

Director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, 2008; Black Swan, 2010) likes films about broken characters, and this one is no exception. They are always seeking to make peace with their brokenness, by either redeeming themselves or surrendering to it. This movie is just as raw and powerful as either of those aforementioned films. You shouldn’t miss Brendan Fraser’s Academy Award®-winning (Best Actor) performance in this. The film was nominated for three awards and won two, one for Fraser and one for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling. Hong Chau was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Who ever thought the Encino Man would win an Academy Award®?

MUST SEE for a devastating performance from Fraser.

All Quiet on the Western Front    R 2h 28m

We follow young Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) as he lies about his age to join WW I with two other young men from his hometown, Albert (Aaron Hilmer) and Moritz (Franz Müller). They’re thrilled to join the fighting. We follow the boys a bit through their training and as they travel to the front. They remain excited… until Moritz is killed on their first day of fighting and Albert and Paul are separated for the rest of the war.

The movie is meant to show the horror and capriciousness of that particularly brutal war, like the original film from 1930. But despite nine Academy Award® nominations and four wins, this one doesn’t live up to the original. It’s beautifully shot and has an authentic look, but the first half is very disjointed and just jumps from scene to scene. We never get to know or become invested in the characters. In addition, the German actors are all dubbed with British voices, so we never even get the authenticity of German accents. The original and this remake are meant to be tragic, to break your heart, and make you cry for the brutality of the men’s sacrifices. Unlike the original however, which left me sobbing at the end, I only felt a little sad; the film and story didn’t live up to the hype.


John Wick 4    R 2h 49m

I’m guessing John Wick (Keanu Reeves) IS back. Wick is still looking for a way to defeat The High Table. The fallout from his last attempt to defeat The Table is currently being taken out on all those who helped him. The film opens with the Osaka Continental Hotel being taken over by assassins hired by The High Table’s new henchman, The Marquis (Bill Skarsgård). Wick and the hotel owner’s daughter barely manage to fight their way out of the hotel. After Wick’s escape, The High Table increases the bounty on his head again. In NYC, where John is headed, Winston (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick) are forced to watch the destruction of The Continental Hotel, and one of them pays with his life for helping Wick. Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) is there for John again and they come up with a new plan to defeat The Table.

This film was nonstop action for almost three hours. I never thought I’d say this, but I almost got bored of all the fighting. I wanted John to do anything but fight, just to catch my breath. But you only get a few minutes before the killfest starts again. Stay after the complete credits for an extra scene.

MUST SEE for the amazing action/fight choreography!

Three-sentence movie reviews:

Alice, Darling   1h 29m

Alice (Anna Kendrick in an excellent performance) is frighteningly trapped in an abusive relationship with a narcissist. While on a weekend getaway with her two besties, Alice begins to find herself again. The tension in the movie is palpable and the acting is good, but this character study is incredibly intense and probably not for everyone.

Babylon   R 3h 09m

What can you say about an ambitious, bloated movie about Hollywood’s transition from silent to sound films? It might have been great if they’d kept the focus on one or two characters, like Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) or Nellie (Margot Robbie), instead of trying to follow five characters. The opening scene at a decadent Hollywood party is dynamite but the rest of the movie is a very sloppy and very long mess.

Empire of Light   R 1h 55m

This movie has all the pieces to make a wonderful film: an excellent lead in Olivia Coleman, an excellent supporting cast of Michael Ward and Colin Firth, and an excellent writer/director in Sam Mendes (American Beauty, 1999; Road to Perdition, 2002; 1917, 2019). It’s the 1980s, and Hilary (Olivia Coleman) returns to work as a movie theater manager after a stint in a psychiatric hospital. But except for Coleman’s performance, what should have been a powerful story about finding community in a local movie theater falls flat; somehow this light just doesn’t shine.

M3gan   PG-13 1h 42m

Did we really need another ‘psycho doll’/‘AI will kill us all’ movie? Apparently we did. This movie is exactly what you think it is, so proceed accordingly.

Women Talking   PG-13 1h 44m

It’s an Academy Award®-winning (Best Adapted Screenplay winner and Best Picture Nominee) piece of filmmaking. The film hits the ground running with razor-sharp dialogue, deft handling of an unsettling subject, and outstanding performances all around from the excellent cast. Because of the subject matter, this movie is not for the faint of heart.

Alanna Smithee is a former employee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and a lifelong movie fan.