Sam Mendes’ first solo screenplay, Empire of Light, stars Olivia Colman, Colin Firth, and Micheal Ward. Set somewhere in the 1980s in an English seaside town, two movie theater employees, Hilary (Colman) and Stephen (Ward) begin a romantic relationship despite their age difference. While they find out more about each other, we realize they were never meant to last - Stephen hoping for better than their small town and Hilary grappling with mental illness.
At first, I’m vexed with what Mendes is hoping to convey with Empire of Light. Is it a love letter to film and cinema? Is he saying love has no age barrier (Hilary and Stephen have a large age gap)? Is he revisiting the race riots in England in the early 80s through an interacial relationship?
From the trailer, I wanted it to be a love letter to cinema. Remembering a time when we weren’t making ‘another comic book movie’ or remaking a Disney movie to live-action. Instead, we watch the budding of an improbable romantic relationship, all the while experiencing the eventual downfall of Hilary with a mental breakdown peppered in. For the cherry on top, we view a contrived trauma porn scene as Stephen is beaten by skinheads. Had the story tackled one single topic, this review could be dramatically different. Instead, the story lacks a focal point and gets muddied jumping from one narrative to another.
Despite the screenplay, the cinematography and performances are brilliant. The grandiose-ness of the theater, the Empire, reminds me of when people dressed up to see films, the likeness of the Orpheum Theater or Gammage Auditorium. The mundane task of opening a theater is done with such grace as you watch Hilary go about her daily duties akin to that of a dancer. Olivia Coleman and Micheal Ward are incredible together, having intimate and realistic conversations in which you forget you're watching a movie. There’s a beautiful scene with the Empire’s projectionist, played by Toby Jones, as he intricately weaves the film into the bulky, clunky projector machine of that time era. At one point, Coleman is alone in the theater late at night, watching a film from the best seat in the house. Her laughter and tears reminded me of the emotions I felt watching some of the dearest movies of my life. That’s what a film should do. Unfortunately, Empire of Light does not.
Score: 2 shots
Does Lightyear go boldly were no Disney-Pixar film has gone before? Not really. But the film is leaving critics and fans divided, including us. Chris Evans voices Buzz instead of Tim Allen. The movie is not exactly tied to the Toy Story universe. But it does boast a new slate of characters that are very memorable – including one sweet robo-cat.
Find out why Lightyear is creating a buzz in this review.
After more than 30 years of service as one of the Navy's top aviators, Pete Mitchell, aka Maverick, á la Tom Cruise, is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him.
But then he is pulled into duty as a Top Gun instructor. His mission, (should he choose to accept it!) is to train the best of the best for a dire mission unlike anything these pilots have seen before.
Diehard fans of the original might be surprised at just how good Top Gun: Maverick is. Dare we say it's better than the original?
Take a listen to find out!
Jurassic World Dominion is the third and final film in the rebooted Jurassic Park franchise. This time the original cast is thrown in with the new cast and the dinosaurs are literally all over the world. Is this film the epic conclusion it's touted to be? Or more like T. Rex fodder?
And just how did host Kaely Monahan convince her editors to allow a full podcast on Arizona's dinosaurs?
Find out in this episode of Whiskey and Popcorn!
Curious about Arizona's dinosaurs? Take a listen to Kaely's Valley 101 episode on which dinos dominated prehistoric Arizona.
Watch the trailer!
The Belcher's are on the big screen serving up their biggest adventure to date. Literally. The family is faced with possible closure by their bank and landlord if they don't manage to pay up in time. To make matters worse a sink hole opens right in front of their door.
What's a family to do?
For the Belcher's they keep on carrying on!
Fans of the TV show will be charmed by this movie, if have strong opinions on it, and those who haven't watched it will find it a great introduction.
Take a listen to our review of "The Bob's Burgers Movie'
Nicholas Cage takes on his greatest performance yet as...himself. In 'The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent' Cage is playing a fictionalized version of himself. As a washed up, overhyped, actor, he struggles to find work in a town that is no longer interested in him. On top of that, his relationship with his ex-wife and daughter are on the rocks.
Then comes a chance to earn some money by traveling to Spain to visit a super fan. Turns out, this fan is part of the Spanish mafia. But this doesn't stop Cage and his new buddy from forming a bond closer than brothers.
This movie became an instant favorite for us. Listen to our review to find out why.
The "Fantastic Beasts" franchise feels more like a wounded animal at this point. While highly anticipated, "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" earned 31% less than its predecessor "Crimes of Grindelwald."
While there was nothing particularly faulty with the film, the franchise feels boring and tired.
Take a listen to our review to find out why.
As I write this, Democrats are working to push the $3.5 trillion economic plan. If passed, the plan would invest enormous amounts of federal money into child care, climate change programs, and immigration.
This package was floating in the back of my mind as I watched Justin Chon’s Blue Bayou. It tells the story of Antonio (played by Chon), a Korean-American adoptee who’s lived in Louisiana since he was 3 years old. But he faces deportation due to an error in his adoption papers.
When we meet Antonio, he is working hard to turn his life around. He’s married, his wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander), is expecting her second child, Antonio’s first. He is also helping to raise Kathy’s first daughter, Jessie (Sydney Kowalske), who has become firmly attached to him.
Feeling the pressure to provide for his family, Antonio makes the decision to steal motorcycles to flip for money with his old gang. This is something he already has a criminal record for. He gets away with it briefly but a confrontation with Kathy’s ex partner leads to an altercation with police. And with that encounter, Antonio finds out that he is not a true American citizen and is sent to a detention center to await deportation.
Desperate to find a way to stay, Antonio and Kathy meet with an immigration lawyer. And despite all their efforts Antonio’s status in the U.S. looks grim.
Chon not only directed and acted in this film but he wrote it as well. Blue Bayou is deeply affecting. Chon, who we know from Sundance 2019’s Ms. Purple, continues to explore the lives of middle-class Koreans in the United States with a sharp and critical lens in this movie. He highlights the injustices the community faces but also does not exclude the other people who are affected by devastating situations.
But what made this movie truly shine was the beautiful exploration of relationships, be they a married couple, a step parent and child, or a citizen to the state. There are many layers to thumb through that would make you want to watch this film over and over again.
Blue Bayou is also cinematically gorgeous. Each shot is full of depth and emotion. Chon plays a lot with tone and color in this film, ranging from warm bright tones for joyful moments, to cool, ghostly ones for sorrow and memories.
Ultimately what makes this film stand out is the subject at the center of the film: adopted Americans. At the end of the film, a postscript describes the alarming number of Americans who thought they had citizenship when they were adopted but are now facing deportation or who have been forced out of the U.S. to a birth country they never knew.
And it brings me back to what Congress is hashing out now; an economic plan that would aid immigrants in this country. But will it help those who grew up American but on paper are not?
Blue Bayou is definitely in my top 5 must-see films for 2021, and it will remain with me for a very long time.
See Blue Bayou in theaters now.
Kaely's grade: 5 Shots 🥃🥃🥃🥃🥃
"We are all running from something" is the tagline line for this Maine-made movie. Downeast takes the noir genre and gives it a 2021 update. Lobsterer Tommy lives in a small fishing town that is under the thumb of a gangster. Emma is the sister of his now deceased friend Mikey. The need for answers and closure drive Emma to return to the town. But secrets lie around every lobster trap, and a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins.
Hear our full review here.
12 Months of Kai
It's 2025. Kyoka works as a web director in Tokyo. She's still grieving a breakup that tears at her heart. Lonely she decides to purchase a personal care humanoid, a PCH. He arrives and she names him Kai. Able to simulate 60% of human behavior, Kyoka quickly develops feelings for Kai.
But things take a creepier twist when she suddenly discovers she's pregnant. Something that should be impossible.
12 Months of Kai takes the concept of artificial intelligence a step further than most films of the same concept. Beautifully directed with riveting acting, it's no wonder this movie won the 2021 Phoenix Film Festival Best SciFi Feature.
Click here to hear our review.