The past few weeks have been a bit hectic, and some films reviews have fallen by the wayside. So to make up for it, I figured why not cover some of them in smaller, truncated reviews.

Raya and the Last Dragon

de facto film reviews 3 stars

Visually lush and filled with energy, Disney animation’s latest, Raya and the Last Dragon, effectively balances both the old and the new in terms of Disney magic. A simple enough story about a loner, Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran), who goes on a journey to find the last dragon from an ancient civilization, blends rich mythology with vibrant characters and a compelling heroine for a new generation of viewers. 

Directors Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada aren’t particularly shaking things up with their storytelling, but they are efficiently exploring fresh ideas and exciting new worlds. The authenticity in the films depiction of Asian culture gives Raya and the Last Dragon a distinctive personality that helps separate itself from other recent Disney films.

Kelly Marie Tran embodies the ferocity and charisma of Raya with an excellent vocal performance. Awkwafina and Gemma Chan both give standout performances as well, breathing life into some memorable characters. The films messages of unity and prosperity are well-woven into the screenplay that echoes the scale of Raiders of the Lost Ark. While the plotting is fairly routine, Raya and the Last Dragon is an exciting adventure that fits nicely among the higher echelon of Disney. 



de facto film reviews 1.5 stars

There’s no sugar-coating it, the Russo brothers latest film, Cherry, their first feature post-record setting Avengers Endgame, is a colossal misfire. An overcooked, manic and soulless chronicle of a young man that spirals from PTSD, to heroin addiction, and eventually leads to a string of bank robberies. 

Joe and Anthony Russo paint quite the canvass for Cherry, finely inhabited by Tom Holland. However, their first major misstep comes from a lack of who Cherry even is. Tom Holland gives a multi-dimensional turn in his most demanding role to date, but the film never establishes just who this character is. Never saying the character’s name is clearly an artistic choice, but the Russo’s never back up any of their motivations. A sweeping long takes from Cherry’s time in Iraq (that distractingly shifts into a 1:50:1 aspect ratio) are certainly impressive, but never justifies itself beyond looking accomplished. Henry Jackman’s score is effective and Ciara Bravo does solid work as Cherry’s partner. Her chemistry with Holland later becomes the glue that holds the film somewhat together. Cherry attempts to wrap itself around many themes, but the Russo’s overt style detracts from the maturity needed for such material.

The Vigil     

de facto film reviews 3.5 stars

Drenched in sorrow and the unsettling despair that lingers over our lead hero, Yakov (Dave Davis), who spends the night hours as a shomer (shy-mer) in Keith Thomas’s exquisitely creepy directorial debut, The Vigil.

Utilizing a claustrophobic, single-location setting that establishes a strong visual language, Keith Thomas effectively showcases his knack for insurmountable tension and chilling imagery. Despite a handful of requisite jump scares, Thomas allows the tension and atmosphere to slowly build over the 89 minute runtime. The captivating final act shows Thomas’s striking ability to mix emotional catharsis with unsettling horror imagery, not to mention one of the better cinematic depictions of an exorcism. Led by an all-encompassing performance from Dave Davis, The Vigil is a haunting, nuanced genre exercise that offers a new revelatory voice in writer/director Keith Thomas.