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Bad Times at the El Royale

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Nick Offerman, and Chris Hemsworth
Directed by: Drew Goddard
Screenplay by: Drew Goddard

    At first, this is a film that feels like it's going to be another one of those classic "who done it?" murder mysteries.  The kind where a band of misfits has to figure out together who killed someone in the party.  If you look at the run time of Bad Times (a whopping 2 hrs and 20 minutes), you might think there's no way a murder mystery could last that long on screen.  But you just have to keep watching.  It's not what you think...
    A group of people who don't know each other appear to have all come together at the El Royale hotel; a small, but once glamorous establishment that straddles the border of California and Nevada not far from Lake Tahoe.  They have nothing to do with each other, but all are hiding something.  The vacuum salesman (Jon Hamm) doesn't seem to be exactly who h…
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First Man

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, and Corey Stoll
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Screenplay by: Josh Singer
Based on the book by James R. Hansen

     Yes, this is the same director who did La La Land from a few years ago.  But this is a true story this time, and not necessarily a feel good one.
     Many of us know about Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.  First Man is not simply the story of the moon landing, but the story about Armstrong and what led him to be the first man in history to walk on the moon.  It's a story about making huge sacrifices for himself, and his family, in order to accomplish such a goal, as well as overcoming a great deal of grief. 
     The film focuses almost entirely on Neil (Ryan Gosling).  The film opens up on him as one of the premiere pilots in the military, piloting the X-15; a plane that was capable of flying over 100,000 feet altitude.  He is portrayed as a very s…

Palm Springs International Short Film Festival 2018

Yet again, I find myself at another film festival.  This time it's in the heat of the desert at the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival.  I attended this festival for the first time last year, but was only there for one day.  This year, I'm here for more than that so I can see many more films.  Here are my highlights:

Emergency, directed by Carey Williams
      A group of black and Latino college-aged men come back to their house to find a girl nobody knows lying on the floor unconscious.  Is she high?  Is she drunk?  Did she overdose?  It isn't clear exactly what happened to this young woman, but they know they have to do something about her.  Do they call the police?  One says yes, the other thinks they need to handle it themselves.  They debate back and forth, and even bring in some other friends to figure out what they should do.  They know the risks involved with calling the police.  One of these young men knows exactly what happens to some unarmed bl…

Avengers: Infinity War

Starring: Everyone in the Marvel universe basically
Directed by: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

    I remember back in 2012, when the first Avengers movie came out, thinking that there would never again be a movie with that much A-list talent in it, especially another superhero movie like that.  Well, it's 2018 and Marvel has once again raised the bar.  This time however, the stakes have become much higher for all the characters in the story.
    Over the course of the past 10 years of Marvel films, we have been introduced to the concept of the infinity stones, each one of the six stones representing different aspects of the universe.  Whoever possesses all of the infinity stones will become the most powerful being in the universe, capable of bringing destruction and genocide on an unimaginable scale.  We also in past films have been introduced to Thanos (Josh Brolin), a big purple being who looks to be about the size of the Hulk…

Palm Springs Jewish Film Festival 2018

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the Palm Springs Jewish Film Festival.  This was a festival I had heard about purely by accident.  I was waiting in line to go into a screening at the Palm Springs International Film Festival back in January when I heard about the Jewish Film Festival happening in March.  I decided immediately that I would put it in my calendar and make sure I could go.  This is the first Jewish film festival I have attended, and while I may have been the youngest person perhaps in attendance the day I went, the festival did not disappoint.  I saw three feature films, all of which highlight different aspects of the Jewish experience in today's complex world.  Being Jewish myself, I felt like I had a particular appreciation for these films.

    The first film was a documentary called Germans and Jews.  The film highlights the Jewish experience in modern day Berlin, which has one of the fastest growing Jewish populations in the world today.  …

Pasadena International Film Festival 2018

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the 5th annual Pasadena International Film Festival in Pasadena, California.  This is the only film festival I have attended more than once since I began writing about festivals for this blog last year.  Similar to last year, I got to see many great short films and one feature length documentary.  These films all covered a variety of topics, some of which happen to be quite relevant to themes in the news today.  They also take viewers through a wide array of emotions throughout the screening blocks.  Here are some of my highlights:

     The first short film I saw was Bella Donna, a story of a husband and wife who don't see eye to eye on their ideas of perfection.  The film opens up and we see the wife only from the neck down as she prepares a dinner and sets a table for what is sure to be a beautiful date night.  She is faithful to her husband and has prepared a delicious dinner for him.  But when he walks in and sits down, …

Annihilation

Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson, Benedict Wong, and Oscar Isaac
Directed by: Alex Garland
Screenplay by: Alex Garland
Based on the novel by James VanderMeer

    I walked out of the theater after this movie and I had two reactions to it.  The first was, wow this is totally amazing.  The second, which came some time after I left and had digested some of what I had seen was, well this is a weird movie.  In any sense, this is a film shrouded in mystery.  Don't expect to receive many answers from all the questions you might have about the story.
    The film opens up with Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist being interrogated by a man named Lomax (Benedict Wong).  He and all of the spectators (of which there seem to be many) of this interrogation wear hazmat suits, yet Lena does not.  It becomes clear that she has survived something that may have been catastrophic and it appears she is the only one who has survived.  Lomax …