Review: Glass

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Review: Cold War

Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski

Review: Close

Starring Noomi Rapace and Sophie Nelisse

Review: The Upside

Starring Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston

Review: Destroyer

Starring Nicole Kidman


‘The Punisher’ Season 2 Review: Frank’s Back For A Whole Lotta Shooting… And Yelling

Most of the Marvel Netflix shows, while “street level” still deal in the world of the extraordinary.  Daredevil has super senses even though blind.  Both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage have super strength.  Iron Fist has the, well, iron first power.  So, they all could compete with the Avengers on some sort of level if they ever got bumped up to the big leagues.  That isn’t the case with Frank Castle though, who’s superpowers seem to be rage, and a capacity to kill bad guys with extreme prejudice.  The Punisher has been a tough character to crack.  After all, he’s pretty much Dirty Harry, just a little more Dirty Harrier.  Leave it up to Netflix to be able to crack the code and give us a very authentic version of Frank Castle in The Punisher.

The first season was pretty good.  It did retcon his origin story first introduced in Daredevil Season 2, but the sheer alpha-ness of Jon Bernthal helped deliver a strong first season.  By the end of it, Castle had embraced being The Punisher, was a vigilante operating in the shadows, and we finally got a good origin story and creation of famed Punisher villain, Jigsaw.  Even though many Netflix shows are getting a production level version of the “Thanos Snap,” fans were optimistic for the second season of The Punisher to hit streaming services.

The season begins with Frank still on the run after having brokered a deal with Homeland Security (to avoid egg on their face), to be given a pass for dismembering former friend Billy Russo’s face, and is now trying to keep a low profile in the Midwest as a grifter named “Pete Castiglione” going from town to town.  All that changes for him when he comes to a smalltown bar for a drink and meets two different women.  The first, a bartender who he showed some chivalry too, and the second, a small teenage girl who clearly is having some problems.  As that night continues into the next day, circumstances surrounding his interactions with both women bring out his Punisher persona as he tries to do the right thing and help them out, only to have the beast unleashed once again.  The teenage girl, Amy has found herself in some trouble with some extremely unsavory characters, specifically dangerous religious assassin John Pilgrim.  Castle, not wanting to see a young woman be hurt (and reminds him of his daughter), takes it upon himself to be her lethal protector.

Meanwhile, in New York, Billy Russo has somehow managed to survive his hellish fight with Frank at the end of last season.  However, he’s no longer the smooth-talking military grunt-turned-private-security contractor-executive he was, he’s a shell of himself.  He doesn’t remember anything of his past life, he only has frightening dreams of being attacked by a skull (the logo on Frank’s Punisher costume), and his once pretty face is now scarred, so to feel at home, he wears a Halloween mask.  Agent Madani, who somehow managed to survive being shot in the head by Barnes in last season’s finale, is now obsessed with Russo.  She goes to his hospital room every day, and despite being told he’s a completely changed person, she’s convinced that he’s faking it and biding his time to escape.

Slowly but surely, everyone’s paths meet up as Frank and Amy meet up with Madani and Russo in New York City and all mayhem breaks loose.  Pilgrim, still tracking Amy and Frank also follows them to New York as well.  From there on, we get some good old fashion punisher as then show moves 1,000 miles a minute full of blood, guns, and guts.  Part of the mystery this season is trying to find out why Pilgrim and his employers are after Amy.  As each episode builds, the reasons, and twists and turns continue to grow and we learn just how high up this weird conspiracy grows.

Performance-wise, everyone brings their A-game.  Jon Bernthal can now play Frank in his sleep.  No longer is he just a ramped-up Shane from Walking Dead, but he now has fully embraced his character completely and made it his own.  Bernthal does elevate the material in every scene he is in this season.  In addition to Bernthal, another standout is Jason R. Moore, who plays Curtis, a fellow vet who runs a support group.  Curtis in parallel to Amy, try to be the moral voice for Frank and try to stop him from pushing himself over the edge.  This season while helping Frank, Curtis also crosses some lines he thought he would never cross as the season progresses.  Another standout is stress Floriana Lima, who plays Doctor Dumont, Russo’s therapist, who crosses her own ethical line when it comes to trying to “save” her patient throughout the series.

This being a Netflix show, the villains always get their chance to shine.  Actor Josh Stewart, who plays John Pilgrim is a very interesting character.  He’s a dedicated religious person, who has no qualms about picking up a machine gun and murdering innocent people.  New reports about his character have been overly exaggerated.  He was first talked of as a member of the “Alt-Right,” which made many people excited to see The Punisher going toe to toe with a Richard Spencer type of person.  Pilgrim is more of a reformed Nazi who turned to God, but still has his killer instincts.  His past is brushed by as he meets some of his former “brothers” in one scene, but most of his character development is based on him knowing he (like Frank) has to unleash his wild side to complete his mission, and all he wants to do is get back to his Christian family.  If anything, he shows how Organized Crime, and Organized Religion can blend rather easily.  Russo returns and gets a chance to be a very dynamic villain.  Last season, he was calm and in control, a master manipulator.  The events of the first season really messed with his mind as we see his character go through several rounds of PTSD in the aftermath of his fight against Frank at the end of season 1.  Last season showed Curtis to help Frank and other vets deal with their PTSD problems, through Russo, we get to see how his crumbling mind works.  While he still is evil, he is very sympathetic at times.

That being said, the show is not without fault.  Like most Netflix shows, it’s a few episodes too long.  The season takes place over 13 episodes when it could have taken probably 8-10 episodes.  A few things are inconsistent as well.  Russo goes from an afraid blabbering psychopath to a criminal mastermind with ease.  While Madani believed he was faking it the entire time, it’s proven that he is a broken person and not faking it.  Speaking of Russo, he doesn’t have the “Jigsaw” look from the comics.  The Jigsaw that purists know and love is horrible-looking as his face is literally a jigsaw.  On the show, having an actor as handsome as Ben Barnes under layers of prosthetics probably wasn’t going to fly, so they let him show his pretty face (after he stops feeling shame and takes off the Halloween mask), and the cut makeup is rather tame.  The show does have the dreaded Marvel/Netflix “two villain” problem as we juggle our time between Pilgrim and Russo.  While The Punisher season two manages it better than other shows have (meaning they don’t kill a character halfway through to introduce another), it’s still a juggling act as while both villains have to interact with Frank as two separate storylines that don’t intersect.

That being said, The Punisher is still a fun ride.  While just about every other show has been canceled (cross your fingers for this one), that doesn’t mean that we don’t see a few people from all the Marvel Netflix shows.  Seargent Brett Mahoney makes his presence as he has on Daredevil and Jessica Jones as he is both hunting Frank, and also trying to figure out everything going on with Pilgrim and Russo.  Karen Page also makes a brief cameo to provide some moral (and clandestine) support for Frank.  Of course, a Marvel/Netflix show wouldn’t be complete without Turk Barrett!  The show manages to give you everything you expect from it with some strong performances throughout the show, and the action rarely lets up!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

'Nancy Drew And The Hidden Staircase' Trailer: 'It' Breakout Sophia Lillis Stars As The Teen Sleuth

On the heels of her head-turning performance in It, Sophia Lillis picked up a number of high-profile projects. One of those was HBO's Sharp Objects, but she also was chosen to headline her own potential franchise as teen sleuth, Nancy Drew, the heroine of the long-running series of novels by author Carolyn Keen. And now with the first official trailer for Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, I think we're seeing why this particular story was chosen because it's giving off a series Stranger Things vibe.

Directed by Katt Shea, who is perhaps best known for the Drew Barrymore flick Poison Ivy, this particular Nancy Drew episode includes a supernatural aspect as she investigates a haunted house.  The tone of this one is obviously very light-hearted and geared towards kids, which is fine I'm just not sure this is the movie for me. It's all a little too squeaky-clean for me. That said, I'm a big fan of Lillis and hope this movie succeeds in at least helping to forget the 2007 Nancy Drew with Emma Roberts which was pretty terrible.

Joining Lillis in the cast are Sam Trammell (True Blood), as Nancy's father; Zoe Renee and Mackenzie Graham as her best friends George and Bess, and Laura Slade Wiggins as her rival Helen who helps solve the haunted house mystery.

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase opens March 15th.


Review: Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Cold War' Is Hauntingly Beautiful But Slight

Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski is only just beginning to get his due, and it's come with a reconnect to his home country. Having spent much of his career living in the U.K., Pawlikowski returned to Poland for his Oscar-winning drama, Ida, which followed a young Polish girl on the verge of becoming a Catholic nun. His latest, Cold War, takes a hauntingly beautiful look at post-war Poland to follow the tumultuous romance between two people who are driven together and apart by forces beyond their control.

Much like Ida, the film is shot in gorgeous black & white by cinematographer Lukasz Zal, giving the feel you're watching some piece of history passed on across generations. And in a way that's true. Pawlikowski loosely based the story of music conductor Viktor (Tomasz Kot) and salt-of-the-earth singer Zula (Joanna Kulig) on his own parents, which explains why it feels like such a personal story being told. Viktor and Zula are from two different worlds; he is trying to find something redeeming in Poland by putting together a musical show featuring performances by regular, everyday Polish people. Zula is one of them, but there's something different about her. The desperation we sense in her isn't like the others; it's raw and cutthroat, rather than sad. We witness it first hand as she manipulates her way into the spotlight, not only catching Viktor's eye but becoming the act's star performer.

The cold war of the title is more the tense hostilities that have gripped much of the world. While Viktor and Zula fall in love and for a while seem inseparable, there's a fundamental schism in the way they view Poland. She has found something in Poland that she never had before, fame and appreciation. As the Polish government reins in greater control over the show, with acts performed in East Berlin in honor of Stalin and other communist leaders, Viktor feels he must escape. He sets his eyes towards Paris, asking Zula to meet him so they can go together. When she doesn't show, it tears their relationship in two, and yet they just can't quit one another entirely.

Cold War is more ambitious than its slight 88-minute frame can handle, so Pawlikowski only fills in the blanks when absolutely necessary. On the one hand, he trust his audience to understand the pressures of the outside world on this mismatched pair, expecting that we will figure out what they are going through by the nature of their circumstances. While that's appreciated to avoid a lengthy and unnecessary history lesson, it also keeps us at an emotional distance from Viktor and Zula as their repeated encounters of a 15-year stretch grow increasingly dire. He moves to Paris and struggles as a club pianist, while she grows more famous in Poland. A visit to France only creates tension between the two of them. Zula is nothing there, while she is somebody back home. She leaves accusing Viktor of being a different man than he used to be. Their situations evolve over subsequent encounters until they finally meet a grim intersection, which leads to a heartbreaking final act and the time when Cold War strikes its most affecting moment.

Part of my issue with Cold War may be that I never bought into Viktor and Zula's relationship, mainly because Kot's performance leaves much to be desired. It's not necessarily bad, but it fails to measure up to Kulig's captivating presence that makes us want to follow Zula's chaotic journey more than Viktor's dull Paris life.

Pawlikowski invests a lot into making Cold War as authentic as personal, from the tremendous musical numbers to the period details. If only Pawlikowski had given this story that means so much to him more room to maneuver it would have more of a lasting impact.

Rating: 3 out of 5

DC Readers: Attend A Free Early Screening Of 'Miss Bala' Starring Gina Rodriguez

We're happy to offer our DC readers the chance to attend a free early screening of Miss Bala, starring Gina Rodriguez and directed by Catherine Hardwicke.

SYNOPSIS: Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) finds a power she never knew she had when she is drawn into a dangerous world of cross-border crime.  Surviving will require all of her cunning, inventiveness, and strength.

The screening takes place on Wednesday, January 30th at 7:00pm at Regal Majestic in Silver Spring. If you'd like to attend, go to the Sony Pictures ticketing site here and download one Admit-Two pass. Please remember that all screenings are first come first served and you will need to arrive early to ensure receiving a seat. Enjoy the show!

Miss Bala opens on February 1st!

Richard Linklater's 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' Bumped To Summer

Richard Linklater's Where'd You Go, Bernadette is answering its own titular question because the Cate Blanchett-led film is headed to summer. TheWrap reports Annapurna Pictures has decided to move the film from March 22nd to August 9th, citing that month as better for female-skewing flicks.

According to an Annapurna spokesperson, moving the film to August is due to that being a great time for female-led movies, as  "Crazy Rich Asians and Florence Foster Jenkins have shown. After a summer full of action films and sequels, opening this film in August will be a refreshing change."

It's a solid point, especially with March having the queen of all female flicks on the way with Captain Marvel. I can see why Annapurna would see it as smart to get some distance. There's also Jordan Peele's Us, Dumbo, and Captive State taking up a lot of space.  A film like Where'd You Go, Bernadette could get lost in the mix, or perhaps serve as effective counter-programming? I lean towards the latter, but then I don't get paid to figure shit like this out. 

It's a gamble, really, because August is pretty packed, too. New Mutants, Hobbs & Shaw, plus Artemis Fowl are going to close this summer out with a band rather than a whimper, so maybe it would be smart to move Bernadette closer to awards season? 

'Lords Of Chaos' Trailer: Black Metal's Mayhem Descends Into Madness And Murder

Norwegian Black Metal is hardly my jam, but even I've heard the crazy story of Mayhem. The band's notoriously dark history will get the big screen treatment in Lords of Chaos, a film that has already been earning some stellar buzz on the festival circuit.

Directed by Jonas Akerlund (of Mads Mikkelsen's upcoming action film Polar) and starring Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, Sky Ferreira, Valter Skarsgard, Anthony De La Torre, and Jack Kilmer, the story follows Euronymous, a founder of the Norwegian Black Metal movement. He also founded the influential band, Mayhem, which became synonymous with anarchy, suicide, and murder.

Lords of Chaos opens on February 8th, then hits VOD on February 22nd.

'The Hummingbird Project' Trailer: Jesse Eisenberg And Alexander Skarsgard Trade On A Crazy Dream

When the most interesting thing about a trailer is Alexander Skarsgard's balding head, that's a problem. The Hummingbird Project stars Skarsgard and Jesse Eisenberg as eccentric cousins, involved in the rapid-fire world of High-Frequency Trading. Sometimes winning can come down to milliseconds, but the duo have come up with a way to cut down on that time even further if only Salma Hayek would get out of their way.

Written and directed by Kim Nguyen (War Witch), the story centers on the cousins' dream to build a fiber-optic cable straight to the New York Stock Exchange to cut down on trading time, netting them hundreds of millions of dollars.  Of course, this unusual but sorta brilliant plan runs into its share of hurdles, mostly because of the eccentric pair's antics, but also because of their scheming ex-boss who refuses to let them beat her.

Other than Skarsgard's weirdo dance number I'm not really feeling this, and I don't remember it getting much buzz after its TIFF premiere. Tough to deny the casting, though, and Nguyen is a proven filmmaker with good instincts.

The Hummingbird Project opens March 15th.

Review: ‘Close,’ Noomi Rapace's Action Thriller Should Be Kept At A Distance

Noomi Rapace returns to Netflix as a badass protagonist in the new bodyguard film Close. Close follows Sam (Noomi Rapace) who works for an agency that designates her to different protection assignments. When Eric Tanner, the CFO of a large company passes away, he shuns his wife Rima (Indira Varma) and leaves all his shares in the company to his daughter Zoe (Sophie Nélisse). Rima is Zoe’s stepmother and they already have a very tumultuous relationship that is only strained further by this perceived slight by Zoe’s father. Zoe is a wild child – she drinks, uses drugs, is very promiscuous, spoiled, and doesn’t have much regard for her own wellbeing. This promiscuity leads to her sleeping with her current body guard, which Rima immediately removes, and demands a female replacement. Sam happens to get the call and accepts the responsibility of protecting Zoe.  The assignment is to safely transfer Zoe to a summer house that is pretty much a giant mansion in the middle of the desert that she despises.

Sam knows that Zoe has a large target on her head and warns her of the kidnappings of rich children that has become more and more prevalent in recent years. Sure enough, that very night the security system gets hacked into and disarmed as a group of men that are heavily armed with tactical equipment come for Zoe. Sam manages to get her out of the house and into police custody. It is quickly apparent that whoever is after Zoe has deep connections and that these Police officers are not what they seem. Sam and Zoe escape, and upon realizing that there is no one they can trust, Sam vows to get Zoe out of the country.

Close had potential and after What Happened to Monday, I was excited to see Noomi Rapace back at kicking some ass, but unfortunately the film falls flat. Close seems to get in its own way, adding twists and turns that really did not need to be there, causing it to become too convoluted and confusing. There is a distinct moment deep in the film when many of the main characters repeatedly ask, “what is going on!?” as I was thinking the exact same thing. Close would have been much more successful as a cut and dry action film, highlighting Rapace in the same vein that John Wick or The Equalizer focuses on their leads. Instead writer/director Vicky Jewson and writer Rupert Whitake try and pack in too many side stories including a bidding war that the company is in to secure a major land deal, Rima struggling with weighing her company and her stepdaughter, and issues from Sam’s past. That being said, there is still something great about the way that Rapace manages to somehow act robotic and stoic, as if she cares about nothing, but still have the audience embrace her characters. As much as Close didn’t click for me, I cannot wait for the next Rapace action film to hit Netflix.

Rating: 2 out of 5

James Wan And Zack Snyder Worked Together To Undo Joss Whedon's Version Of Aquaman

When Joss Whedon took over Justice League from Zack Snyder, most people saw it as a trade up, and for very good reason. Whedon must've thought so, too, because he made wholesale changes to Snyder's vision, including to the characters themselves. And that includes Jason Momoa's Aquaman, who is very different in his solo movie than he was in Justice League.

Apparently, Snyder and Aquaman director James Wan had a pow-wow on the best way to get Arthur Curry as far from Whedon's version as possible. Damn, Joss.   Here's the claim made by actor Neil Daly, who oversaw test screenings of both Justice League and Aquaman...

"We could have gotten a whole movie about Aquaman basically fawning over Mera the whole time and making all kinds of dirty jokes and things like that and they really had to get away from that, which is all what Whedon had done, so Snyder had a little bit of an influence on Aquaman. James Wan was showing Zack Snyder - against the studio's wishes - cuts of the movie and early test screenings and storyboards to make sure that they're on the same page with what he originally wanted and Snyder gave his blessing of approval, bringing it back to what he wanted all along."

Damn. Is that like the final insult for Joss Whedon, or what? I know dude has taken some hits lately, but this has to sting. James Wan asked Zack Snyder for help in undoing his work. Ooof.

I imagine this will only add fuel to the fiery fans demanding a "Snyder Cut" of Justice League. It's never gonna happen, but you keep doin' you, folks.  Whatever process Wan had to go through to make Aquaman as cool as it was, I'm happy he did it. More of that, please.

'X-Force' To Precede 'Deadpool 3', Assuming Both Films Happen

The fate of Fox's X-Universe is still up in the air once the rights move over to Disney, but the popular opinion is that the Deadpool side of things will be left untouched. If that ends up being true, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick say an X-Force movie would be next, followed by Deadpool 3, thus confirming they are actually two separate movies and not the same thing.

Reese tells Screenrant...

"According to the chronology that we’ve established, X-Force will be next, before Deadpool 3. It’s a bit of the ‘Iron Man 1, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3’ model, in that sense. X-Force isn’t being written by us. It’s being written and directed by Drew Goddard, or at least that’s the plan right now. We’re not involved with that one."

Reese continued with, "We do anticipate there will be a Deadpool 3 at some point, but it’s just a little premature, because it will definitely take a backseat to X-Force for the time being."

Wernick chimes in, adding "We’re constantly in touch with Ryan, and we’re always throwing ideas back and forth via text and phone conversations. So, it’s always at the front of our minds. We’ll get there when the time is right, but as of right now, X-Force is next up."

It's not that Reese and Wernick won't have enough to do in the meantime. They're working with Ruben Fleischer on a Zombieland sequel and will write the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the first without Johnny Depp.  They're also acting as showrunners on the YouTube Premium series, Wayne.

At this point, anything involving the future of Fox's X-Men franchise is uncertain, but if all goes according to plan there are at least two more Deadpool movies coming at some point. We'll see if Disney/Marvel decide to let that happen. They may decide it makes more sense to simply do Deadpool 3, and maybe integrate some of the X-Force concepts into that.