Film Review: The Call of the Wild (2020)

Dir: Chris Sanders
Starring: Harrison Ford, Terry Notary, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, and more.
Rating: PG
Runtime: 1hr 40min
Spoiler Level: Light! Book spoilers are noted.

As a self-admitted former wolf girl, one of my favorite books growing up was The Call of the Wild by Jack London. However, my introduction to the legendary tale of a dog named Buck was actually through the Great Illustrated Classics version, which are “softer” adaptations of classic novels. Much later, in high school, my love for the story was reignited when I finally read the original and was able to better appreciate the sharper edges of London’s story.

download (1)When I saw the trailer for the new film, I was skeptical – and not only because the CGI was a little sketch upon first viewing, and the rating for the film was not indicative of the novel’s contents. And yet, I felt that pull – that inner, long-dormant wolf girl instinct – to see it. So I was there on opening night, in a totally full theater, and, inevitably, I was in tears by the end.

The Call of the Wild tells the story of Buck (Notary, via motion capture), a massive St. Bernard / Scotch Collie mix who is abducted from his pampered life in California, taken to the frigid Yukon, and sold as a sled dog at the height of the 1890’s Klondike Gold Rush. Thrust into a new world much harsher than the one he’s known, Buck must adapt to life in the unrelenting north as he grapples with his wild instincts, establishes himself as a powerful leader, and forges a life-changing bond with a lonely, troubled man named John Thornton (Ford.)

Buck’s adventure is a thrilling one, as audiences watch him go from the spoiled pet of a respected judge, to a broken, lonely outcast, to a defiant and capable leader, and a stalwart, beloved companion. The supporting characters – mainly the human ones – come and go from his life at various intervals, and each teaches Buck unique lessons. He learns the “law of the club,” from his captors, teamwork and duty from postal workers Francois and Perrault, folly and greed from Hal, Mercedes, and Charles, and asserting dominance from his husky rival Spitz, who, I realized upon watching, is literally Steel from Balto. But amidst these lessons are over-arcing themes, many of which are rooted in London’s original novel, such as the brutality of nature, grief and loss, and survival against the odds. And, of course, there are familiar cliches and predictable moments, but it’s a family film, so that’s no surprise.

This film truly shines when it features Buck’s growing relationship with John Thornton – the most notable and important friendship that Buck forms. Buoyed by an evocative performance by Harrison Ford, it is clear from the first harmonica exchange that the bond between grizzled man and dog is going to be special. Thornton and Buck come together at a vital stage in each of their respective journeys, at the exact time when they need one another the most, as Thornton is inspired by Buck’s resilient spirit, and Buck is drawn in by Thornton’s genuine kindness and companionship. Watching their stories combine, and seeing their love for one another grow, is peak “man and his dog” goodness and delivers, if I may, “all the feels.” I didn’t think Harrison Ford and a CGI dog would pull on my heartstrings as much as it did, but boy, it did.

I felt the tears spilling down my cheeks as the film drew to a close – against my expectations, I had formed an attachment to the characters in the film, boosted by my already existing love for the story. The finale, the vital moment where Buck answers that call and embraces the instincts that have been subtly guiding him toward his ultimate journey’s end, is wholly satisfying, if bittersweet.

The visual effects for the dogs are a little cartoony – as is Dan Stevens as the mustachioed, villainous Hal, who also entirely shoulders the villain role in the stead of minor novel characters, but that’s not the fault of effects – which will certainly bother some viewers. I appreciated Buck’s overall “look,” as he didn’t look like a wolf, which is the erroneous direction other adaptations have taken. I didn’t find myself distracted by the effects too much, as I was fully engaged in the story, and impressed by the beautiful environments and backdrops. But I also sat through the entirety of Cats, so take from that what you will. Additionally, the score by John Powell is exceptional and is already on my playlist.

Fans of Jack London’s original work will, of course, note the obvious omissions from the source material. This film is not what I would call a “faithful” adaptation. Much of the violence – and the brutal, if realistic view of “survival of the fittest” – has been toned down, likely to appeal to families and younger audiences. Not to spoil a 100+ year old story, but particularly grisly elements (***SPOILER ALERT*** such as Buck killing Spitz, Francois taking an ax to a rabid dog’s head, an entire team of sled dogs drowning after falling under breaking ice, and a negative representation of Native Americans ***END SPOILER***) are either completely absent, or have been “softened” to suit a PG rating. And while I love London’s stark portrayal of the life of a dog in the cold, cold north, and I respect the era in which it was written, I personally didn’t mind the changes in this version. Many of the original themes – nature versus nurture, the enduring relationship between man and dog, and the pull of primordial instincts, etc. – remain important touchstones to the story, even if they are shown in a different way.

Sometimes, The Great Illustrated Classics version of a story – or the PG film version – can open the gateway for a young reader or film-watcher to someday experience the original work, and glean an entirely separate appreciation from it when the time comes. For that reason, this tamer version of The Call of the Wild has earned my full admiration.

Overall rating: 8/10

2020 Oscar Snubs

I didn’t have time to write out my Best Picture Countdown this year (just know that my top 3 were Little Women, JoJo Rabbit, and Parasite, not necessarily in that order, and The Irishman is last) so here’s my list of Oscar Snubs instead.

The Peanut Butter Falcon / Shia LeBeouf
It’s almost heartbreaking that this movie didn’t receive any buzz at all during the awards season. A film about a young man with Down syndrome’s quest to become a wrestler and the conflicted fisherman who reluctantly helps him, it preaches a familiar lesson about following your dreams and learning to forgive in a fresh, and utterly poignant way. LeBeouf’s performance was award worthy, and to see him excluded is a shame.

The Lighthouse / Willem Dafoe / Robert Pattinson
So, The Lighthouse is f*cking weird. I know that. But, as artsy fartsy as it is, it deserved more than a lone cinematography nod, although it’s my favorite to win. This is the type of film the Academy should be slavering over. Dafoe is unrecognizable in it and R-Pattz delivers another solid performance. Should have at least gotten a nod for both of them. But yeah, the movie’s f*cking weird.

Wild Rose / Jessie Buckley / “Glasgow (No Place Like Home)”
Buckely’s performance in this film – about a young woman who battles her checkered past in order to chase her dreams of country singer stardom, even if it means neglecting her two children – is electrifying, and the film itself is incredible. If nothing else, the song “Glasgow (No Place Like Home,” should have gotten some Oscar buzz. If this film flew past your attention in 2019, I highly suggest you check it out!

Hustlers / Jennifer Lopez
This movie was fantastic, and J-Lo’s performance as Ramona should have gotten a nod.

Ad Astra
Though I do believe Brad Pitt got his nomination for the more deserving performance in OUaTiH, Ad Astra was visually captivating and has a narrative that actually achieves, in a  significantly more succinct manner, what Interstellar tried to do in 2014. Would have liked to see at least a visual effects or cinematography nod.

The Mustang / Matthias Shoenaerts 
A definite dark horse (ha) and underdog in the race, especially since it came out so early in the year, it seems this film – about a convict and the horse he trains as part of a prison rehabilitation program – has flown completely under the radar, which is a massive shame. Shoenaerts’ performance is brilliant, carried by simmering emotion and silent intensity, and it pains me to see that he and the film are not being mentioned in the award buzz at all.

Midsommar / Pawel Pogorzelski
Cinematography. Cinematography. Cinematography. This movie wouldn’t be as terrifying as it is without the combo of Ari Aster’s direction and Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography.

Rocketman / Taron Edgerton / Dexter Fletcher
Not only was Edgerton snubbed for a Best Actor nod – which, although I don’t think he would have won, I do think he should have at least been nominated – Rocketman only received a nomination for Best Original Song. I may be in the minority, but I actually think Fletcher did a fantastic job directing this one and would have liked to see a nom for him also.

Booksmart
This movie is phenomenal, and to see it ignored is A CRIME. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is a unique coming-of-age tale about two girls who fear they’ve missed out on typical “teenage” experiences, and seek one last wild night on the eve of their high school graduation. It’s equal parts hilarious and poignant, and I think it definitely deserved a Best Picture nod.

Adam Sandler
Sandler’s performance in Uncut Gems is, quite possibly, a career best, and he didn’t get a nod.

Greta Gerwig
I don’t think I need to explain myself for this one.

Christian Bale
I am, admittedly, a Christian Bale fangirl, but I do think his performance as Ken Miles in Ford V Ferrari deserved a nomination.

One Shot: Fantasia (1940)

Perhaps one of the most revered – and, simultaneously, the most forgotten – Disney titles of all time is the 1940 symphonic masterpiece, Fantasia. Featuring some of the most gorgeous, frightening, and imaginative animated sequences ever to come from the studio, and heavily influenced by some of the most incredible classical music pieces of all time, Fantasia is a unique film whose imagery lingers in the mind long after watching it. I often watched this film as a kid, and I still remember the vivid scenes of centaurs, hippos dancing with alligators, leaves spiraling through the air, and the bone-chilling terror of the Night on Bald Mountain segment, with the mountain-dwelling demon Chernabog and a horde of spectral ghosts and ghouls wreaking havoc on a small town.

But the most iconic segment of the film is probably The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, starring Disney’s main mouse, Mickey – and it features the definitive image of the film as a whole.

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In the sequence, apprentice Mickey dons the hat of his master, Yen Sid, and begins to cast magic that he is not quite prepared to handle… and, as magic tends to, matters swiftly go awry. There’s brooms and flooding involved. Even if you’ve never seen the full film, you are probably familiar with this image and know a bit of the story behind it.

This image is what Fantasia means. It’s magic, wonder – and a lesson to be learned. By putting that hat on, Mickey discovers how it feels to create, to be masterful, to have power beyond trudging up stairs carrying water pails. But he neglects the fact that he is not ready to wield that power, and faces the consequences of those actions as he loses control. Just by looking at this image, a viewer can see what Mickey is doing – and knows that an ominous undercurrent weaves beneath the magical glow of that starry cap. He is not big enough to sit in his master’s chair, his robe is too large for his tiny body, and darkness creeps all around him as he does something forbidden… and yet, there remains the shining allure of that magical hat, which he can’t keep his eyes off of. The viewer knows, after seeing this single shot, that they are about to witness a story to remember, and that Disney magic is about to be born, even if our favorite mouse must suffer a bit in order to learn what it means to wrestle with power you aren’t ready for.

Fantasia is a film with animated sequences that evoke feeling without any words – aided only by the sumptuous, classical soundtrack – and this single image is the impetus of a magical journey about to begin. For all the films that have been locked away in the vault, this one shall remain timeless, and should never be forgotten.

I’ve Got Plans

Hours at my job vary depending on a multitude of circumstances. Some days I can (allegedly) trek home after 9 hours, which is the standard length of a shift for a salaried executive at my workplace. Though, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve worked a 9 hour shift since I started, and the other day I pulled a 6AM to 9:30PM, then Sheetz forgot to put tater tots in my made-to-order burrito I bought on my way home, which really capped off a wonderful day, but I digress…

Last Friday, I went to work at 6AM and aimed to leave by 5:30 at the latest because I had plans. I’d mentioned it in passing to my coworker, who also had plans, so we both vowed to leave “on time.” The day wore on, hitting the same type of beats they always do, maybe a couple of snags, until the sun went down and reinforcements arrived, allowing us to wrap up and prepare to head off into a nice weekend off.

As we were preparing to leave, my coworker asked me, “So, what movie are you going to see?”

I was about to answer, but paused. When I’d mentioned having plans, it had been only a brief thought – I’d not divulged any details. So I furrowed my brow and asked, “How did you know I was going to see a movie?”

She laughed, and said something to the effect of, “Well, no offense, but what else would you be doing?”

I took no offense at all – because she was 100% right, and I was meeting my parents for an opening-night screening of 1917. My actions may be predictable, but it’s a comfortable sort of predictability, one that I can happily accept as a part of my identity. Movie-going, and film-watching, is my thing. In my circle, it’s what I have come to be known for, and I like that. When I say, “I’ve got plans,” those who know me can say with about 90% certainty (sometimes I just go to dinner) what exactly that means.

The Star Wars “Problem”

*** WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER AND THE ENTIRE SKYWALKER SAGA. PROCEED WITH CAUTION. ***

Back in 2015, as the lights dimmed in the theater and those iconic words lit up the screen, and John Williams’ fantastic score transported the audience into the vast reaches of a faraway galaxy, I had tears in my eyes knowing I would finally get to experience a Star Wars film on the big screen. The Force Awakens reignited my interest in the revived, freshly Disney-purchased Lucasfilm franchise, just as it inspired a ton of new fans, including the little girl I saw in line at the theater this past Sunday, clutching her Rey doll in her hand and bouncing on her heels in excitement while waiting for her popcorn. Things like that warm my jaded, cold heart and make me earnestly believe that films are made in order to legitimately inspire others, not just to make money.

The Force Awakens was, in more than one way, an awakening. An awakening of new fans, of a new chapter in the franchise, of new cash flow for the House of Mouse, of new beginnings… and of an onslaught of criticism, backlash, and controversy, not entirely undeserved, which has culminated in a massive divide in fan reaction of the last release in the Skywalker saga, 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker.

Full disclosure: I’m not a lifelong Star Wars fan. I didn’t deep dive into the books or the extended universe, but I love the original films, I tolerate the prequels, and I liked all of the sequel films. I liked The Force Awakens. I liked The Last Jedi. And I liked The Rise of Skywalker. But I will say, as a whole, that the sequel films do not feel like a completely cohesive trilogy – and that is likely due to different approaches in directing and storytelling creating an over-arcing plot that stuttered when it could have truly shone, which probably has something to do with Disney’s overlords, too. No disrespect to the Mouse, of course. Y’all have plenty of my money, don’t worry.

Of course, my appreciation for the newest cinematic adventures long ago in a galaxy far, far away, and my defense of their merit is not to say that all three sequel films were without problems. Do I think certain things could have been different? Of course. TFA could have been less derivative. TLJ could have retained more elements of TFA to make them feel more connected. And TRoS could have felt less crammed, done less backtracking, and could have handled characters/stories better. And that’s the short list.

I don’t read reviews and try to avoid reactions for Star Wars films until after I see the films myself. When it comes to toxic fandoms, Star Wars is near the top of the list – as is expected with fandoms that are also highly passionate – so I like to steer clear of the horde yammering about “so and so should have happened” and “so and so should have done this” and “my theory was wrong and now I’m going to whine about it on the internet” and “well, in the lore they did this” until I can form an opinion on my own, untainted by the interpretation of others.

Many complained that The Force Awakens was too much like A New Hope – and it certainly does follow extremely similar story beats. A new hero rises to prominence and must go on an adventure with some recruited droids/friends and a reluctant mentor, there’s a conflicted bad dude in a mask, Rey witnesses Han’s death the same way Luke sees Obi-Wan’s, big spherical evil base gets destroyed, etc, etc.

So, when Rian Johnson took the helm for The Last Jedi, he abandoned many threads introduced in TFA and defied story tropes by claiming that our heroine, Rey, was actually “no one,” and thus an incredible Force user without strong blood-ties to a prominent family, by having Kylo Ren kill the “Big Bad” Snoke, by showing a divisive side of Luke Skywalker, and introducing the first female POC major character in the films, Rose Tico – and it sparked a volatile reaction among the fandom, despite critical praise. Toxic fans went after Kelly Marie Tran because they didn’t like her character, fans rebelled against the idea that Luke Skywalker would just “walk away” from being a Jedi, and many hated the idea that Rey was not related to anyone from the original films. Not invalid complaints by any means, but complaints nonetheless.

Perhaps due to the backlash kicked up by TLJ, J.J. Abrams took the reins back for The Rise of Skywalker, and, predictably, he picked up some of the ideas that Johnson had abandoned. Palpatine is back – or, rather, he was there all along. The Knights of Ren are back. Rey is revealed to be a Palpatine, thus explaining her strong connection to the Force. Kylo Ren – the “villain” – is redeemed, and his name of Ben Solo restored. Easter Eggs, fan service, and callbacks to the original films and other Star Wars media everywhere you look. And, yet again, fans and critics are calling it the worst film in the entire series. That is a bold claim after Phantom Menace (I kid, I kid… maybe).

I understand a lot of the criticism surrounding the newest release. Palpatine being the big bad regurgitates another villain. Rose Tico / Kelly Marie Tran – and her 76 seconds of screen time – certainly deserved better. Introducing Zorii Bliss as some old flame of Poe’s felt forced, though her character is cool. Jannah feels similarly short-changed, and I hope we see more of her in the future. We have no idea what Finn is going to do next. It was difficult to watch Ben Solo earn his redemption and take his name back only to give up his life force to save Rey, although it makes narrative sense. I mean, I loved Driver’s emotionally-charged portrayal in all 3 films and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is my favorite character in the new trilogy with the exception of General Hux, but that’s due to my crush on Domnhall Gleeson. A HEA between Ben and Rey might have worked and part of me would have loved it due to their incredible onscreen chemistry and their almost palpable bond, but it’s hard to just forget how many times over the series he gaslit and manipulated Rey to try and convince her to his way of thinking, including the whole “the only way you get to Exegol is with me” moment, which is a big no no in a relationship, but that’s also besides the point and I won’t drone on about it. I know he was basically a puppet and manipulated into becoming a villain from the start, and he was extremely conflicted about his evil deeds, and he did reject the Sith in the end, but that doesn’t entirely absolve him of things like killing his dad, even if Han forgave him. Would have at least liked to have seen him as a Force Ghost at the end, if not be permitted to take further steps on Redemption Road. The whole “Rey Skywalker” thing is… meh. I get it, but I also think she could have owned her Palpatine name instead of burying it. In all, TRoS is predictable entertainment, and it retreats into familiarity instead of breaking new ground… but as the finale to a trilogy of trilogies, one that must conclude a nine film saga, that is to be expected.

Basically… both TLJ and TRoS (and Johnson and Abrams, respectively) made an effort to undo what their predecessor did – one by taking daring new steps in a progressive direction, the other by sticking to a proven formula that honors tradition, and, at times, “caves” to the toxicity of the fandom. And the effect is certainly… jarring. TLJ feels the most out of place in both tone and plot – I’m not saying that’s bad, because it’s not, and the film certainly hearkens back to ESB the way that TFA does to ANH – and it’s sandwiched between two Abrams-directed films, which, as a result, makes the trilogy feel disjointed, and contributes to much of the dissatisfaction with the conclusion. TFA was too derivative, so TLJ made some changes, and TRoS undid those changes. I mean…. I’m not going to say it was a directorial pissing contest, but maybe it was – I’m not sure what went on behind the scenes. Then again, I also don’t know how much either director knew about what the endgame was, or how much overall plot was worked out beforehand, so I can’t criticize their decision-making too much. Point is, a lot of valuable plot time was probably wasted – especially in TRoS – trying to “fix” ideas from the previous film that fans and critics took issues with.

It’s easy to say what should have happened in retrospect, but I truly believe the films would have benefited from having the same director for all three. This one probably should have been Abrams, only because he started it off with TFA. I would have liked to see what he could have done if he had been behind the camera for the second film, as much as I appreciated TLJ – which features one of the absolute greatest scenes in the entire series in the Kylo Ren/Rey fight against the Praetorian guards. Like, imagine if The Two Towers was directed by… Michael Bay, instead of Peter Jackson. That’s an extreme and not totally equivalent example, but you get the point – it does make a difference. Cohesion is so, so important to a story. And when directors aren’t on the same page – and producers most likely aren’t helping matters by meddling, which did not help Solo or Rogue One either – you fail to achieve balance, and it will be noticeable in the final product.

That’s also why I hope Johnson gets his shot at a new trilogy or film, if he’s still on board for making one and if producers butt the eff out. If nothing else, moviegoers should check out his other work as well. Knives Out, which he directed and which is still playing in theaters – is one of the best films of the year, by far. He didn’t deserve the backlash he got for TLJ, and I, for one, would love to see what he could do with the Star Wars universe if given a totally clean slate. His ideas are compelling – and he could make some serious galactic magic.

As a fan, I was satisfied, but not blown away by the conclusion of the Skywalker saga. I have fallen in love with new characters, new worlds, and new droids – here’s looking at you, D-0. Do I think things could have been different, and perhaps better? Sure – they always could, no matter how great films are or how much we like them. But perhaps the biggest, baddest enemy in the Star Wars universe is not Emperor Palpatine… but the franchise itself, bogged down by it’s own nostalgia and strict adherence to tradition and the familiar. Listening to fans is not always the best policy. I can only hope that small sparks – like Solo, Rogue One, and The Mandalorian, which are of a more standalone nature – shall lead to a bright future and continued success for one of the greatest franchises of all time.

Film Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

Dir: André Øvredal
Starring: Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint
Runtime: 1hr 47min
Spoiler Level: Light!

When my class had library periods in elementary school, back in the late nineties/early 2000’s, there was one book series that had a waiting list – the Scary Stories books by Alvin Schwartz. Whispers of the terrifying stories and the even more petrifying illustrations (by Stephen Gammel) rippled rampantly through my peers, with many claiming that they had trouble sleeping at night after reading such creepy tales.

When I finally got my hands on the books they did not disappoint, and many of the stories – and legendary artwork – have stuck in my mind and sent shivers down my spine years and years afterward. So when I heard there was going to be a film adaptation, produced by Guillermo del Toro, I was hoping to see the monsters from my childhood come to life.

Scary_Stories_to_Tell_in_the_Dark_film_logoSet in a small Pennsylvania town in the fall of 1968, Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark follows a group of teenagers who accidentally incur the wrath of the spectral Sarah Bellows after removing her book of “scary stories” from the basement of a haunted house on Halloween night. They must find a way to appease Sarah, or become the stars of their own scary stories…with less than pleasant endings.

Since the original books are more or less anthologies featuring ghost stories, cautionary tales, and folklore, the film isn’t a straight-up adaptation. Instead, references are peppered throughout an over-arcing narrative that has been constructed for the film, and many of the most memorable “monsters” and stories make appearances with clear inspiration from Gammel’s original artwork. It’s a decision that works well, because fans of the books get to see characters like “Harold” and experience some of the best tales, with some fresh twists, while the unfamiliar can follow along without feeling lost.

The film employs familiar tropes connected to the horror genre – jump scares, a jarring neck snap or two, straw-spewing, the usual – but it manages to balance telling a well-paced story for the uninitiated while also aiming to please fans of the books. The music builds tension where it needs to without being overwhelming, which can be difficult in films where sound is so critical to the atmosphere. 

The plot – a group of teens aiming to appease a vengeful spirit of sorts or face untimely or maybe even slightly comical deaths – isn’t unfamiliar, but it works, mainly because it never tries to break the boundary and veer into “too much” territory. The cast function like a slightly more sinister version of the Scooby Doo crew, and though some receive more development than others, it’s easy to feel and empathize with the characters as their lives spiral into chaos and their friends start dropping like flies. Sure, the film doesn’t do anything revolutionary in terms of horror. It’s not Hereditary, or Get Out, or A Quiet Place. But it doesn’t have to be – and it’s easy, while watching it, to forget that certain features and characters are gleaned from a series of books intended for children.

Overall, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is not super scary, earning a PG-13 rating. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t jump in my seat a few times, and I’m not easily swayed by the genre, so even if it is a bit tamer than horror films with a higher rating, it can definitely frighten children and might lead to some sleepless nights, though fans of the books may be more affected by the scares than others. Seriously… The Pale Lady was terrifying in the book, and she’s just as scary onscreen, especially knowing that she was created using practical effects. 

If a spooky night at the theater is what you’re after, then Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a solid choice – not too scary, not too long, and not too much.

Overall rating: 8/10

My Week in Movies

So my internet is terrible and I had to write all of this on my phone, please excuse any typos. But this week I managed to get to the theater four times, so I thought I’d post some mini reviews…

Avengers: Endgame (Reissue): The sequel to last year’s massive Marvel hit Infinity War and the end of a cibematic era was reissued last weekend with some bonus features tacked onto the end, including a wonderful Stan Lee tribute. I also got an awesome free poster to add to my collection. It’s worth seeing if you’re a die-hard fan or have only seen Endgame once or twice, but if you miss out, it’s not the end of the world… or the game, I guess. I had only seen it once, on premiere night, so I was happy to watch again.

Yesterday: A quirky rom-com set in a world where a massive electrical surge inexplicably causes the entire world (save a select few) to forget about the Beatles, thus launching down-on-his-luck singer Jack Malick to international fame as he performs their iconic songs as his own. This film offers up a few surprises and makes a unique spin on a genre that’s been explored a thousand times, and the two leads (Himesh Patel and Lily James) deliver performances full of charm and humor. Totally worth seeing if you’re a music fan or a rom-com fan or both, even though it is hard to imagine a world where the Beatles never existed. And thanks to Himesh Patel, I have a new addition to my celebrity crush list…

Spider-Man: Far From Home: Just as Ant-Man and the Wasp was the perfect follow up to Infinity War, this filn is a great follow up to the dramatic and emotionally-heavy Endgame. Tom Holland continues to prove himself worthy of the role of the famous web-slinger as he grapples both teen angst and personal doubt in the wake of losing his mentor, Tony Stark. The boy just wants a a European vacation – and to impress MJ, of course – but the appearance of Mysterio (an excellent Jake Gyllenhaal) and some otherwordly threats throw a wrench in his plans. It’s hard to be a teen super hero, but our beloved Peter Parker is a joy to watch as he fights with bad guys and feelings. I don’t want to toss out spoilers, but this movie also has BOMBSHELL post credits scenes that will make your jaw drop. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Midsommar: Ari Aster’s feature film debut Hereditary made a big splash last year and made it on my personal top 10 list for 2018. This folk-horror outing – in which a young woman recovering from tragedy, her distant boyfriend, and their friends travel to a secluded Swedish commune for a festival – is similar in tone to Hereditary, as it is a slow (maybe, at two hours and 27 minutes, a bit too slow) burn to an explosive conclusion and has creepy twists that will keep the viewer on the edge of their seats. Florence Pugh is fantastic, the cinematography and direction are stunning, and the film is easily set apart from other films in the genre that rely on cheap scares and gimmicks. Aster’s “artsy-horror” style won’t be for everyone, but I look forward to seeing even more in the future.