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Movie Review: “Dear Evan Hansen” Plays a Powerful Song

“Dear Evan Hansen” is the Tony Award winning Broadway musical that’s been adored by millions. But for some reason, the film adaption doesn’t seem to be translating to audiences.

Sadly, I have yet to see this musical on Broadway, but look forward to one day hearing the soundtrack performed live. I am clearly in the minority of my colleagues, but I enjoyed this movie. I went in completely blind. I didn’t know the storyline or a single song beforehand; maybe that’s why it was easy for me to fall for this film.

For those who also might not know anything about this premise, “Dear Evan Hansen” follows Evan (Ben Platt) – a socially awkward High School senior with an absentee father, a loving mom (Julianne Moore) who is constantly working, and not a single friend to sign the cast on his broken arm. In an effort to help with his anxiety, Evan’s therapist suggests he write a letter to himself, encouraging himself throughout the day.

On a random day at school, the brooding at times hostile student, Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) decides to sign Evan’s cast. The sweet moment is short lived because he finds one of Evan’s letters in where it mentions Connor’s sister, Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever) – Evan’s crush. He angrily pushes Evan, steals the letter, and keeps it in his coat. The next day, Evan is called to the principal’s office where Connor’s parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) are waiting for him. Connor has committed suicide. The only note he had on him was Evan’s letter, which they believe Connor wrote for him. The letter paired with his signature on Evan’s cast convinces his parents that this was his one true friend. In that moment, Evan can’t help but go along with the lie. He has good intentions, but the events that follow can be tough to watch.

I’ll admit, when this film gets going and the talented cast is pouring their heart into a heavy conversation about depression, suicide, or internal struggles, it can take you out of the moment when one someone suddenly burst into song. Most of the time you forget this film is a musical until the singing starts again. However, once the music begins, and you’re actually listening to the lyrics, you’re pulled back in by the powerful message the songs have to tell. And I guess there’s backlash for Platt playing the role of a high schooler at age 27, but I’m not sure why? Adults have played High School teens for years in film and television. Platt looks the age and embodies the high anxiety, awkward character, not to mention, his voice is incredible. It’s a true gift for fans of the Broadway show to see Platt reprise this role.

The majority of the high-profile cast do a wonderful job. But praise should be given to Kaitlyn Dever who plays the role of Zoe so effortlessly. She excels in her delivery and emotion as a sister who struggles to grieve the brother that was so cruel to her.

The runtime of 2 hours and 17 minutes is a bit long, but I’m not sure what to cut out. Every scene felt vital to the story. It’s understanding not everyone will be able to bare the length of this somber tale, but the film does end on an uplifting note.

“Dear Evan Hansen” may not be a smooth track, but it provides a compelling message that is still relevant to teens today: be kind and make efforts to those kids in school who are closed off and have difficulty building relationships. I remember those students. At times I even felt like those students.

Though it won’t appeal to everyone, “Dear Evan Hansen” is an emotional and heartwarming musical.

Rating: B-

Movie Review: “The Night House” Gives Thrills & Chills


I’ll admit, I scare easily. Films that aren’t even scary (Boo! A Madea Halloween) make me jump. But when I watch a truly, good horror film, I am on the edge of my seat, holding my breath during the entirety of the film. The only breather breaks are my screams. In David Bruckner’s new horror, “The Night House”, I screamed three times. 

After her husband, Owen’s (Evan Jonigkeit) unexpected suicide, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is left alone in their large lake house, and suddenly haunted by a mysterious spirit. Beth heads down a dangerous rabbit hole as this leads her to digging into her husband’s dark secrets. 

What Bruckner captures here is a very real and painful portrayal grief and depression. It’s not an easy subject matter to tackle, but it’s handled so well here. From Beth’s drinking, re-watching old videos of her husband, to how she interacts with her colleagues and people around her. Owen’s death has consumed Beth and is affecting her daily life and personal relationships. 

If you saw Hall in the underrated drama, “Christine”, you already know how well she can portray a woman on the edge struggling with depression. So, it comes as no surprise that Hall’s performance as a grief-stricken widow is incredibly powerful. Your heart absolutely breaks for Beth as she asks the questions one would probably have if their husband chose to end their life: Why? Was he that unhappy? How was he so good at hiding it? Did I really know him at all? Was he a monster and I had no idea? These are just a few of the questions the film will answer. 

“The Night House” is shot and edited beautifully. Paired with Kathrin Eder’s unsettling production design and the eerie music by Ben Lovett, the film makes for an engaging and terrifying experience. 

Where the film falls short, is that it’s slightly over ambitious. Though questions are answered for the most part, there might be some confusion at the end, and there are a few small plot holes. But if you can piece together a narrative that satisfies you, then this may not be an issue. 

“The Night House” is a creative story with gripping visuals and captivating performances.  

Rating: B +

Movie Review: “Old” Shrivels Up a Talented Cast

At this point, we know walking into any M. Night Shyamalan (Writer/Director) film is a gamble. You’re either going to get a quality movie like “Split”, or you could get the dragged-out disaster that came after, “Glass”. Regardless, we take that risk every time because we know Shyamalan is capable of greatness (i.e. “Unbreakable” and “The Sixth Sense”). Unfortunately, Shyamalan’s newest mystery thriller is far from great. 

The premise of “Old” is incredibly intriguing. A family on a tropical vacation visit a beach that somehow causes you to age nearly a lifetime in a single day!  Sounds good, but it seems the preview alluded to a more satisfying script. 

From the get-go we are introduced to Guy (Gael Garcia Bernel), his wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps), their 11-year-old daughter, Maddox (Alexa Swinton), and 6-year-old son, Trent (Nolan River). The parents want to have one last trip together as a family before they announce their separation and reveal Prisca’s illness. Not so coincidentally, the family is offered a ride to a secluded beach for the day. Why anyone would trust a secluded anything in the middle of a shady beach, I’ll never understand. But, this family is not alone in their stupidity. They are joined by another family of 4, a married couple, and a famous rap star?  Sure, why not?

It does not take long for this bunch to figure out something is wrong with the beach. People are dying, and there is no way to get back to their drop off point.

Again, the plot of the film is actually good. It’s original, and you have no idea how it’s going to end or why it’s happening. I can appreciate Shyamalan’s creativity. The man can come up with the most thought-provoking ideas. But sometimes it’s just poorly executed.

The dialogue in “Old” is painful. From the start of the movie to the very end, it’s as if the story was written for toddlers.  Everything is spoon fed to the audience, and so many lines are forced. I’m not certain if many of the actors were bad, or they just didn’t believe in what they are saying.  Either way, it makes for a slow and difficult watch.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least shine a light on the two glimmers of light, Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff, who play teenage versions of Maddox and Trent. These two give their all in their performances and are committed to that script. If anything, “Old” will further launch these two talented actors.

I wouldn’t be so harsh if I didn’t know Shyamalan’s skills. “Old” is a great idea that deserved a better screenplay, and maybe a better secondary cast. The premise pulls you in, but ultimately, the film leaves you out to dry.

Rating: C-

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Movie Review: “Zola” Fascinating and Disturbing Tale

At first glance, “Zola” might have you wondering; “What in the world am I watching?” Some may even want to stop the film all together. If you power through, you will treat yourself to a captivating story and some intoxicating performances. 

“Zola” is based on the viral 148 tweets by the A’Ziah “Zola” King. In the film, Zola (Taylour Paige) plays a Detroit waitress who meets a stripper, Stefani. (Riley Keough) Stefani lures her on a road trip to Florida with her boyfriend (Nicholas Braun) and “roommate” (Coleman Domingo) under false pretenses. What she thinks will be an opportunity to strip from some quick cash turns into a terrifying sequence of events.

The best way I can describe “Zola” is like watching a really bad, but visually satisfying car accident unfold. You just can’t look away even though part of you might want to. And when it’s over, those images will forever haunt you.

What happily stays with you are the incredible performances by entire cast. Paige and Keough carry the film with their cringe-worthy, odd friendship. Stefani is unbelievably offensive and shows no self-awareness, while Zola is the voice of reason that will keep audiences sane. Another polarizing stand out is Coleman Domingo, who plays Stefani’s “roommate” aka her pimp. He is both humorous and frightening. Domingo creates a powerful presence anytime he is on screen.

“Zola” is meant to make audiences feel uncomfortable and pull you into the world of the two leads; where they are trapped and forced into unwanted sexual encounters. Director/Writer Janicza Bravo wants you to feel the same fear that these young girls are feeling.

Some will find “Zola” to be a smart, stylish, summer joyride. While others will see it as a dirty, annoying movie that gets under their skin. Either way you view it, the film is absolutely hypnotizing. And after it was done, Bravo had me under her trance.

Rating: B-

“Zola” is currently playing in theaters and coming soon on VOD.

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Movie Review: F9 is a Ridiculous Ride

Before the screening of this film started our theater was greeted with some wise words, “leave all logic at the door.” I had to continuously remind myself of this thought during the entire two and a half hours of non-sense that is “F9”.

I was pleasantly surprised with the premise of “The Fate of the Furious”, so it’s upsetting that “F9” didn’t deliver the same quality to their storyline. In “F9” Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are living in a secluded home with Dom’s son, little Brian. Their quiet life is interrupted by some old friends who have been sent an SOS from intelligence operative Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). His plane, which was holding captured cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) and part of some “dangerous” weapon, was brought down somewhere in Central America. We quickly find out the person responsible is Dom’s brother, Jakob (John Cena), who he has never mentioned until now!? What happened to not turning your back on family, Dom?

The mystery behind these brothers’ past is revealed in flashback sequences featuring teenage Dom (Vinnie Bennett) and Jakob (Finn Cole). These scenes were actually the best parts of the film. Bennett and Cole show promising talent, and the older setting took us back to the roots of the franchise with simple street races. Man, I miss those. Less used to be more in the first, “Fast and Furious”.

As we are sporadically informed why Jakob and Dom no longer speak, we are taken on an insane, wild ride. Just when you think you’ve seen it all and it can’t get any crazier, it does! It’s literally out of this world. I could give further explanation of the plot, but why bother? It’s forgettable and not important.

Thankfully, the film is self-aware of it’s lunacy. Tyrese Gibson’s character, Roman, even suggests the crew might be some sort of super soldiers with invincibility. But everyone else thinks the thought of this theory is comical.

If the point of these films is purely to entertain with action, cars, explosions and some humor, then I guess “F9” did its job.

I understand these films aren’t looking to win Oscars. I don’t mind these characters dodging bullets, or Dom having superhuman strength; or even cars in space. In fact, I can appreciate the originality. But, does the script have to be so irresponsible and cheesy? It doesn’t have to be realistic, but the franchise is capable of a more coherent screenplay; i.e. films 1, 5, 6, and 8. That being said, we’re still going to watch the 10th and however many more they make, because we’re invested in these characters and their story.

“F9” sparks laughter, excitement, confusion, and eye rolls. Familiar faces from previous Furious films make surprising cameos and John Cena makes a great addition to the cast. Fans of the saga will be satisfied and somehow still want more.

Rating: C

“F9” opens in theaters June 25, 201.

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Movie Review: “In The Earth”

The new horror film “In The Earth” is the mystifying tale of a devastating virus and what it will take to stop it.

Watch my full ICTN review in the video below and see if the film strikes enough fear to make it worth your time.

“In The Earth” opens in select theaters April 16, 2021.

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Movie Review: “Nobody” – A Familiar But Fun Action-Comedy

Writer Derek Kolstad has graced us with the amazing “John Wick” movies; and for that I am forever grateful. If you don’t already know, John Wick is the badass who got ultimate revenge on those who murdered the dog his late wife left him. Each film has been an exciting thrill ride that leaves us wanting more. However, the same may not be said about Kolstad’s newest film, which feels almost too familiar.

Universal Pictures’ “Nobody” follows Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk), a middle-aged family man who barely has any life left in him. His marriage is stale, his son thinks he’s a wuss, but his daughter seems to actually like him. 

His repetitive, mundane routine is shaken up when two intruders break into his home and trigger a surprising rage in Hutch. We come to find out that Hutch is not just some mild-mannered man. He has a violent past and bears the skills of a trained assassin. He has sworn a life of normalcy, so he takes the high road and lets the intruders leave. But when he goes on a mission to take back what they stole from him, he witnesses a group of drunk men harassing a young woman on a bus. He channels all his pent up anger on them and goes full “Wick”. Unfortunately, those men have powerful ties that are now looking to get revenge on Hutch and his family.

Director Ilya Naishuller does a fine job with this movie overall, but the film has it’s flaws. The obvious being you are continuously comparing it to “John Wick”. Aside from that, there is a slow start. The action doesn’t really come into play until nearly halfway. Even the break-in scene is underwhelming for what is essentially the catalyst to Hutch getting back into his “old ways”. It doesn’t even come close to the feeling you have watching John Wick’s innocent puppy get killed by those monsters. (I wanted them all to pay!). In this movie they almost make you have empathy for the intruders. Which makes the later scene of him attacking the harassers on the bus feel a bit forced. Don’t get me wrong, it’s entertaining and fun to see the fight not take itself so seriously. But the entire time you’re watching, you’re wondering did these men really deserve such a blood bath?

However, it’s such a delight seeing Odenkirk in this role. He proves he is just as much of a badass as Keanu Reeves, Bruce Willis, and Denzel Washington. In fact, he’s the most realistic one. His minor injuries and reactions to pain makes him more human than the typical action star. The guy is a likeable character, which is more than I can say about his family.  With the exception of his father played by the great and hilarious Christopher Lloyd.

“Nobody” is short and sweet. There’s lots of value in it’s simplicity. It’s just hard to label the film as a stand out, because films like “John Wick” and “Equalizer” have done this story better. That being said, Odenkirk’s performance alone is enough to make this film worth watching.

Rating: 3/5

“Nobody” opens in theaters March 26, 2021

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Movie Review: “Raya and the Last Dragon”

“Raya and the Last Dragon” follows a warrior named Raya, whose on a mission to find the last dragon and save her world from the monsters that destroyed it. Watch the video below to see my full review of the movie.

“Raya and the Last Dragon” opens in theaters March 5 and available on Disney Plus Premier Access.

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Movie Review: “Bliss”

Amazon Studios new sci-fi thriller, “Bliss” is a mind-bending headscratcher. The film follows Greg (Owen Wilson) who, after losing his job and recent divorce, discovers he’s been living a computer simulated world. Susan Stephens shares her thoughts on the film along with suggestions of two romances to watch during this Valentine’s Day weekend.

“Bliss” is available to stream on Amazon Prime February 5, 2021.

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Interview: Carlson Young talks “The Blazing World”

“The Blazing World” premieres at Sundance this weekend. I spoke with Director, Writer, and star of the film, Carlson Young to discuss production, the meaning behind the movie, and fun facts about the actor/filmmaker.

“The Blazing World” will be screening indoors at the Texas Theatre on Sunday, January 31, at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased through thetexastheatre.com. Or, if you would like to watch the film at home for the same price, you can buy tickets through tickets.festival.sundance.org.

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