Netflix’s The OA seemingly came out of nowhere when its first season dropped in December 2016 with little in the way of promotional pageantry save for some questionable last-minute tweets. Created by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij — the duo behind the films Sound of My Voice and The East — the show almost literally became an overnight sensation thanks to its same-day release of eight easily binge-able episodes. Bizarre yet absorbing, perhaps earnest to a fault, it wore its aspirations on its sleeve, probing the mystery of near-death experiences and leading viewers on a merry chase through a garden of forking narrative paths.

Now The OA is back with a second season (“Part II”) that doubles down on all the eccentricity of the first and sees it joining the ranks of dimension-hopping shows with elaborate mythologies, such as Twin Peaks, Lost, The Leftovers, Legion, and Castle Rock. If you thought the sight of basement prisoners and cafeteria kids engaging in synchronized, choreographed “movements” (don’t call it interpretative dancing) was wacky and woefully ill-advised, The OA: Part II wants you to know that you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Have you been practicing the movements in front of the mirror at home for the last two-plus years? Has The OA: Part II left you scratching your head this week with its telepathic octopus digressions and yet another contentious, downright bonkers season finale? Fear not, recovering cult TV show watchers: we’ve got your exit counseling (with heavy spoilers) right here.

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dumbo trailer

Some stories are best left as they are. This is a fairly unavoidable takeaway from Tim Burton’s unnecessary live-action/CG remake of the Disney animated classic Dumbo. Though not remotely as noxious and garish as his 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland, Burton has not solved the puzzle of figuring out a halfway decent creative reason for this film to exist. An A-list cast, high budget, and all the other trappings of a modern blockbuster can’t get this thing off the ground.

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shazam review

There’s a moment for every superhero movie fan where something clicks. Whether it’s when we pick up a comic book, flip to a superhero TV show, or watch a superhero movie for the first time, it’s the magic of experiencing something greater, weirder, and just generally more than us. The entirety of Shazam! is like that magical moment.

A raucous, charming kid adventure that is a delight to behold from start to finish, Shazam! feels like a throwback both to ’80s comedies and to the superhero movies of the early 2000s, with abundant callbacks to both genres. But rather than playing like an appeal to nostalgia, Shazam! is more of a spiritual throwback that captures the sincerity and silliness inherent in the superhero genre, while delivering a heartfelt story about the power of found families.

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dragged across concrete review

S. Craig Zahler has made a name for himself through chaotic nihilism. He specializes in what he has personally described as “hybrid movies” – films that blend several different genres into bloody, angry, sometimes funny stories that defy traditional classification. With Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, Zahler has already developed a cult following. Fans who are willing to subscribe to his particular brand of madness. I can’t say I’m one of them.

Up until now, I’ve found Zahler’s work too unappealing to latch onto. Even when he’s going full schlock, as he did with his script for Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, he never quite sticks the landing in my mind. But with his latest brutalist opus, Dragged Across Concrete, the writer and director may have finally hit his stride. Here is a nasty, nihilistic nightmare deliberately designed to provoke. It does its job – and then some.

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Sabrina is talking to someone on the phone in the first scene of Jezebel. She’s hard at work as a phone sex operator, moaning in her husky voice to really sell her performance. What makes the scene jarring is realizing her younger sister Tiffany is wide awake nearby, hearing everything.

Thus begins a film that explores financial independence and sex work from the lens of a young Black woman to great effect.

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Mike Ahern and Edna Loughman’s Extra Ordinary comes together as the tonal lovechild of Jared Hess and Taika Waititi, playfully mocking horror beats instead of unleashing them. It’s more a cutesy rom-com with expelled ectoplasm goo than completionist horror dive into Drag Me To Hell territory, but when subdued haunting gags land, laughs project with ease. Expect dry Irish wit, flamboyant musicians selling their souls for another hit record, and home appliances that wave at you. Quite a motley assembly of descriptors, yet together, they make for one uniquely lighthearted horror comedy that’s a cut above ordinary.

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While on the phone with her coach, Winter Olympics athlete Penelope (Alexi Pappas) rambles about her training and her hopes for the competition. “I hope that I really feel like an olympian when I’m done,” she says with nervous energy.

That’s the theme of Olympic Dreams in a nutshell: feeling like an olympian means going for the gold, by any means necessary. In both Penelope and Ezra’s (Nick Kroll) case, it’s their friendship that makes them evaluate what the gold/goal is for them – and how far are they willing to get it. Directed by Jeremy Teicher, the film’s exploration of limited time well-spent makes for an unsure, but real, love story.

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pet sematary review

The best Stephen King adaptations do not adhere rigidly to the author’s text but rather remain true to the general spirit of the work. Think The Shining. Think Misery. Think even the 2017 adaptation of It. These works bear a strong resemblance to the words King used, but also forge their own identities, and tell their own stories – while maintaining the atmosphere King created. Pet Sematary, the latest King adaptation, fits in perfectly with these titles. Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer take the terror that King forged, and mold it into something fresh, and exciting, and downright horrifying. Pet Sematary is one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever.

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The Curse of La Llorona opens in Mexico in 1673, as we meet the weeping woman of the title in her, shall we say, better days. The film introduces us to the Latin American legend, in which a scorned woman drowns her children in a river and then becomes overtaken by grief and guilt. It’s an affecting way to begin a movie. It’s also the last time The Curse of La Llorona works on almost any level.

We jump forward 300 years to Los Angeles in 1973, and you might be asking yourself why this movie is set in the ’70s. There’s no real thematic reason for it, and it’s so stylistically bland as to take minimal advantage of such an aesthetically interesting decade. No, The Curse of La Llorona is set in 1973 merely so we can have one throwaway scene connecting this film to the Conjuring universe in the most perfunctory way possible. Tony Amendola’s Father Perez shows up for a hot minute, reminisces about a doll, we get a black-and-white flashback to Annabelle, and BOOM, you’ve got yourself a Conjuring movie.

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Adopt a Highway review

Actor Logan Marshall-Green’s directorial debut Adopt A Highway feels tailor-made for Austin’s South by Southwest Film Festival. It has nothing to do with horror, mind you, despite Blumhouse’s production banner. What could double as an acoustic country ballad whispers a nomad folk tale about one simple task: getting by. Indie bloodlines run through Marshall-Green’s jailhouse poetry without overly romanticized narratives, more appropriately about passing moments than revelations. It’s about muttered dialogue, directionless trajectories, and a most relatable assessment of life not going as expected.

In other words, humanity as we know it. Read More »