Cobra Kai season 2 review

Viewers who were hoping to see Daniel-San crane kicking through Miyagi-do in the first season of Cobra Kai may have been disappointed. The YouTube original series from Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald wisely saved their most crowd-pleasing moments for the beginning of Season Two, after viewers were already in the bag. Season One of the Karate Kid sequel, set 34 years after the original film, focused instead on Daniel’s rival Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) as he climbs out of a decades-long run of bad luck and worse decisions and re-opens the infamous Cobra Kai dojo. On the other side of the San Fernando Valley, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) is a happy husband and father and owner of a very successful car sales empire. But the season ends with Daniel’s determination to open a dojo of his own to combat Cobra Kai’s dominance – and just in time for the return of Johnny’s bad-news sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove).

It’s a clever move. After having earned accolades on the strength of its original story in the first season, Cobra Kai finally makes with the crane kicks in the opening episodes of Season Two, picking that low-hanging fruit and giving fans what they’ve been clamoring for since the beginning. The first two episodes of the sophomore season are such a good time, tossing around entertaining melodrama and heartwarming Miyagi nods in equal measure. Read More »

Stuber review

This isn’t quite a review, because what we saw at last night’s SXSW screening of Stuber wasn’t quite a finished film. But the work-in-progress print of Michael Dowse’s action buddy comedy felt finished enough to establish that stars Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani have the best possible comedic chemistry. Listen up, Oscars 2020. Read More »

(Welcome to The SXSW Diaries, where we will be chronicling every single movie we see at the Austin-based film festival.)

Welcome to SXSW 2019 day five. In this edition: Villains recalls the best of the early Coen brothers, Olympic Dreams is a standard story set in an extraordinary location, and The Peanut Butter Falcon is a quirky but winning blend of comedy and drama.

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The Highwaymen Review

John Lee Hancock’s The Highwaymen is a poster child for Netflix Originals when it comes to noting how “unparalleled creative freedom” isn’t always beneficial. Cinematography paints an early 1900s Texas frontier where Wild West lawlessness gets a Tommy Gun upgrade, and performances are as prolific as the names attached, but oh how dusty a biographical drama that cannot sustain over 120 minutes. Breathless prairies with Dust Bowl destitution become repetitive; characters over explained after we’ve already established persona, motivation, and presence. Hancock’s dramatic retelling is a slow, sluggish boar without a leash, inching closer and closer to known finality. A less-than-exciting homage despite scenic reverence paid in listless, contemplative stares that mull the distressing fame of Bonnie Parker (Emily Brobst) and Clyde Barrow (Edward Bossert).

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The Art of Self-Defense Review

“I want to be what intimidates me.”

Riley Stearns (Faults) returns to SXSW with a super dark, incisive comedy that asks at what point in the process of toughening up and besting our bullies do we become precisely what we fear. The Art of Self-Defense follows Casey (Jesse Eisenberg), a nervous little accountant who tiptoes through life trying not to offend anyone. He’s the kind of unobjectionable wimp who passes his free time by listening to French lesson books on tape and jerking it to photocopied pictures of boobs (The Art of Self-Defense appears to be very low-key set in a pre-Internet and pre-Audible age, though it’s never too showy about its period setting). But when Casey is randomly, brutally attacked by a group of motorcyclists, he takes up karate in order to feel safe and strong.

There are some impossible to ignore plot comparisons to Fight Club here: the dojo is led by an enigmatic Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) and populated with worshipful men who hang onto his every word. Casey finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the culture of the dojo, irrevocably affecting every other aspect of his life. And then there’s Imogen Poots’ Anna, the dojo’s one daunting woman, who represents Casey’s inauguration, foil and redeemer in this macho new life.

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Good Boys review

There is, despite countless American Pie and Road Trip spin-offs arguing otherwise, an art to shaping R-rated comedies. Rawdog raunchiness and “F-bombs” alone don’t equate to laugh-a-minute genius.

Take a movie like Good Boys. Gene Stupnitsky’s hilarious adolescent comicality boasts heart, message, and humor in the precisely right places. Lesser creators would’ve leaned heavily on cursing “tweens” thinking with their pre-pubescent naughty parts, yet Stupnitsky and co-writer Lee Eisenberg dare to focus on a heartwarming story about coming of age with sixth-grade understanding, and then fill in the anecdotal kinky playthings and pornography gags. Read More »

SXSW Day 4 Recap

Welcome to The SXSW Diaries, where we will be chronicling every single movie we see at the Austin-based film festival.)

Welcome to SXSW 2019 day four. In this edition: Extra Ordinary humorously explores the mundanity of the supernatural, NOS4A2 brings Joe Hill‘s novel to chilling life, and Good Boys is a perfectly innocent but somehow totally filthy comedy.

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Girl on the Third Floor review

When grandma stitched you that decorative “Home Is Where The Heart Is” pillow, she didn’t mean it literally (a physical, beating organ), but Travis StevensGirl On The Third Floor is architectural horror that ponders otherwise. If these walls could talk, what secrets they’d spill – or better yet, imprison. Stevens’ haunting deconstruction splits no hairs between sins of the past and sins of today, as some desecrated buildings have endured too much tragedy worth keeping quiet. It’s a homeowner’s worst reality, temptress’ playground, and spooky-scary ghost story isolated inside a barren, yet active, fixer-upper.

It’s not The Witch In The Windowtier “latched souls” terrorization, but Stevens’ directorial debut is nonetheless a hair-raising plea for atonement once momentum snowballs. Read More »

Snatchers review

Which is more terrifying: keeping up your high school status, or childbirth? Directors/writers Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman honor both painstaking enterprises in their furiously entertaining hor(ror)monal romp, Snatchers. Initial parallels to 2007’s Teeth fade quickly as the film splices Mean Girls DNA with Critters or Gremlins, or most appropriately, Slither. This is the kind of maternal midnighter that uproariously decapitates a gynecologist and coins the phrase “vag-cannon” while doomsday rages onward. It deals with single parenthood, safe sexual practices, and feisty gender “free pass” commentaries, all while nasty uterine buggers spatter Madre Vista bloody red. Read More »

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David Makes Man Review

Series creator Tarell Alvin McCraney spoke to the audience about his show’s protagonist David during the Q&A at the premiere of OWN’s David Makes Man“I said to myself, ‘This is the job,'” he said. “Not to change him into somebody else, to take his gifts outside of the community. But to make the community greater by giving all that he’s got back to it.”

Like Moonlight before it, the drama series’ source material comes from McCraney’s own personal life, specifically the experience of being told he was gifted. For many black students, being deemed “gifted” comes the pressure and expectation that you will be separated from peers that look like you.  The warring concept of the community that made you who you are being a deterrent to your gifts is explored in the first episode – which makes for a promising and stylistically start to the series. Read More »