Rocketman

Paramount Pictures

There really is no way to talk about the new movie Rocketman without bringing up last year’s smash hit Bohemian Rhapsody. Not only are both movies musical bio-pics about larger-than-life, flamboyant and queer musical icons from the ‘70s and ‘80s, but both movies are directed by the same man, Dexter Fletcher. Yes, I realize that Fletcher isn’t officially listed as the director of Bohemian Rhapsody, but he is the one the studio brought in to finish that picture after the firing of Bryan Singer, so I consider him the director (because I don’t really want to acknowledge Singer).

Bohemian Rhapsody, the story of the rock group Queen, with singer Freddie Mercury at the center, exploded into theatres, amassing huge box office numbers and critical acclaim, closing out the year with several Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture and a Best Actor win for Rami Malek, whose Mercury will certainly go down as one of the best rock star performances in movie history. So yes, Rocketman, the musical bio-pic about legendary singer/songwriter Elton John, had a lot to live up to. Coming less than a year after Bohemian Rhapsody’s success, it was sure to face one of two possible outcomes: ride on the coattails of Bohemian Rhapsody because that movie fostered a renewed interest in the nostalgia for the music of that era, or die a slow death because people will feel they’ve been there, done that and are ready to move on. Only time will tell how Rocketman will be received, both financially and critically, but, no matter what, it had its work cut out for it before a single frame was shot.

Read moreRocketman

Aladdin

Disney

I’m having a hard time sorting through my feelings about Disney’s Aladdin, the live-action remake of the beloved 1992 animated classic, so bear with me as I work this out.

Let’s start with the good. The two actors who play Aladdin and Jasmine, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott, are fantastic. Massoud moves well and is energetic and breezy as Aladdin. Scott is similarly charming and charismatic. They look great and have great chemistry together and their performances are exactly what you want and need for this movie—they each have star power for days.

But it’s Nasim Pedrad that delivers the best performance in the movie, as Jasmine’s handmaiden, a new character who wasn’t in the animated version. Pedrad’s extensive comedy background allowed her to seem the most comfortable with the comedic bits, when everyone else is a bit stiff (yes, even Will Smith). She is a natural and every time I see her, I continue to be shocked that she’s not starring in her own movies.

The production elements are beyond belief. Disney has spared no cost, understandably so, and you can see every penny on the screen. The special effects that bring animals strikingly to life (a monkey is an adorable and effective supporting character) are phenomenally seamless and well done, and the names Michael Wilkinson and Gemma Jackson should be remembered during awards seasons for costumes and a production design that are immaculate, gorgeous and alone make this movie worthwhile. Disney movies always look great and this one looks absolutely luscious.

Read moreAladdin

Booksmart

Annapurna

If there’s one thing we never seem to run out of, it’s teen comedies. I grew up in the John Hughes era, so I was spoiled by mainstream movies that aimed at teenage angst, awkwardness, insecurities and hormones. But while the ‘80s may seem to have been the heyday for teen comedies, the genre has seen a real re-emergence in the last decade. Films like Superbad, Clueless, Mean Girls, Easy A, Election and Love, Simon all proved that, when done right, the teen comedy can be well done AND popular. And maybe that’s just the problem. Of all the movie genres, it just might be the one (other than superhero movies) that feels saturated. It’s almost gotten to the point where you feel as if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. It takes something really special to set one apart from all the others.

Last year, we saw Love, Simon break a mold by being the first gay high school rom-com. Superbad, from 2007, set itself apart by being shameless, raunchy and crude. And now comes Booksmart, a movie that mines a little bit of both Love, Simon and Superbad (not to mention Election and Mean Girls) but finds a way to cover all the same ground in a completely unique way.

Directed, produced, written by and starring women, Booksmart feels like so much more than just another teen comedy because it is. The writing is fresh, the performances are fearless and the direction is fierce and bold. Who would have ever seen this from actress Olivia Wilde, who makes her directorial debut. Wilde proves that, much like Greta Gerwig, who made her directorial debut with the brilliant Lady Bird in 2017, if you give women actors as many chances to write and direct as you do men, the new approaches, breadth of stories and fresh perspectives just may lead to some pretty amazing results.

Read moreBooksmart

Catch-22

Hulu

The absurdity of war has been explored in countless ways by Hollywood, from the dark comedy of M*A*S*H to the insanity of Apocalypse Now to the violence of The Deer Hunter to the psychosis of Full Metal Jacket to the satire of Dr. Strangelove, the many angles of the lunacy of sending men into battle has been covered, and then some. So now imagine all of those movies jumbled together into one narrative piece. The result would be Catch-22, a 6-part limited series on Hulu, premiering May 17.

The mini-series, based on the classic novel by Joseph Heller, is executive produced by a team led by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, who won Oscars for producing Argo in 2012. Clooney and Heslov also share directing duties (and both have small roles), along with Ellen Kuras, each of them directing two installments. Writers Luke Davies and David Michod have adapted Heller’s book with precision and inspiration, as they have focused the story on World War II bombardier John Yossarian (played by Christopher Abbott) and his experiences while being stationed in Italy. Yasarian, known as Yo Yo to his buddies, is all about finding a way out of the war. But he soon comes to realize that he is simply a cog in the giant war machine that is unforgiving, relentless, heartless and cruel. Sanity is a precious commodity in war and we watch as Yo Yo desperately tries to hold onto his through a multitude of encounters, actions and circumstances that range from the absurd to the tragic.

Read moreCatch-22

Long Shot

Point Grey Pictures

It’s already been a pretty strange few months for odd combos, from Cate Blanchett starring in an Eli Roth movie to Kate Beckinsale dating Pete Davidson, so the pairing of Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron doesn’t surprise me as much as I thought it would. After all, Theron is an actress who is far from shy about playing against her perceived type. Since winning her (first of hopefully more) Oscar playing a grimy and ugly serial killer in Monster, she has played a corporate villain in Prometheus, a wicked queen in Snow White and the Huntsman and apocalyptic badass Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, all roles that gleefully break from her beautiful leading lady pedigree. While Theron has played her share of girlfriend and pretty girl roles, her ability and willingness to play a variety of roles in different genres has proven her to be one of Hollywood’s most versatile stars. What’s even more appealing is Theron’s ability to do comedy too, from her goofy guest-starring role in Arrested Development to her darkly comic performance in Young Adult to Seth MacFarlane’s not-so-dark comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West, Theron has proven she’s got comedy chops as strong as her dramatic ones.

All that being said, however, it does still feel and look a little strange to see her starring in a romantic comedy with Seth Rogen. Theron is famous for being beautiful, talented and Oscar-winning, and Rogen is famous for pot jokes, pissing off a dictator and helping the world to see the weird side of James Franco. To be fair, he was really good in serious roles in Steve Jobs and Take this Waltz, but, other than that, Rogen is known for his raunchy and rude comedies like Superbad, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, and This is the End. So I was both intrigued and a bit scared to see Long Shot, the new movie which pairs Theron and Rogen as a presidential candidate and her speechwriter who fall in love. With no aliens, special effects, action sequences or pot jokes to hide behind (for the most part), these actors would be fully exposed, relying on just their acting skills, their charm and their chemistry to carry the movie. And let me just say, it’s a good thing these two performers are who they are, because their charm is pretty much all this movie has.

Read moreLong Shot