Buena Vista Distribution Company, Netflix, Walt Disney Pictures

(Photo by Buena Vista Distribution Company, Netflix, Walt Disney Pictures)

Since becoming a Tomatometer-approved critic in 2018, Robert Daniels has written for some of the most popular film- and culture-centric sites out there. No matter where he’s writing – RogerEbert.com, Polygon, his own site (812filmreviews), or Rotten Tomatoes, where he recently traced Ben Affleck’s career and deemed him one of the best actors of his generation – Daniels’ voice consistently resonates as both approachable and incisive. Reading his work feels like having a conversation with an exceptionally witty, thoughtful friend, one who seems to have read and watched just about everything out there.

“I’m lucky, I write pretty fast,” Roberts said in an interview with Rotten Tomatoes. “Usually the first draft is basically the draft.”

But it’s not for lack of effort. He goes in cold to screenings so that his opinions are fresh, jots down minimal notes to keep his eyes on the screen – unless he’s not enamored of what he sees (“I can always tell when I don’t like a film because I will actually long hand write my reviews while I’m watching,” he said) – and does all his background research before sitting down to write.

“It’s not something that you can just fall out of bed and do,” Roberts said of writing reviews. “Things are easiest when you feel like you have all the answers around you and you just have to order all the elements together in a cohesive way.”

Robert Daniels is a freelance film critic based in Chicago, IL. Find him on Twitter: @812filmreviews.


What have you been watching during quarantine?

It’s been a mixed bag. I’ve been heavy on Criterion Channel. They had a lot of noirs, so I watched a film called The Sniper, if I remember correctly. I’ve been watching a lot of new releases, like The Old Guard, The Beach House, Relic, some of the recent stuff. I rewatched First Cow for the first time in a while. I loved that film so much. I saw it at the New York Film Festival and I was waiting for it to come out so everyone else could see it – I love Kelly Reichardt‘s work.

What do you think makes a good movie?

I don’t think I can give an answer to that. I know what I personally like, but I don’t equate personal evaluation with universal, with greatness, anything. Some films that I hold dear to my heart – Cats, Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending – those are movies that probably a good number of people wouldn’t call “great.”

I personally gravitate toward creatives who take risks; even if they don’t stick the landing, I love the ambition. So, I know what makes a great movie for me. Great movies always arise from the unlikeliest of places.


Criterion Collection

(Photo by Criterion Collection)

What do you consider required viewing?

The Passion of Joan of Arc, the silent film version, that’s always an oldie but a goodie. I think when people watch silent films, they automatically think that silent films are lesser than current sound films, whether visually or narratively. But that film, just every portion of it, it’s a study in editing. It’s a study of pathos and empathy and the narrative just works. It’s classic. The story of Joan of Arc, I don’t think has ever been done better than that film, which – all these decades later – is saying something.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

I wasn’t really one of those kids who watched the films growing up and thought, “Oh, I’m going to be involved with that one day.” Movies weren’t really a big part of my childhood, whether going to them or owning them on VHS because my parents just didn’t have the disposable income for that. So, the only escapism I had was really books from the library.

In my childhood, I bounced around from my grandmother to my aunt’s house and for a time, I was homeless and we didn’t really have enough money to buy stuff like movies. I knew of Siskel and Ebert – they were Chicago institutions. But the idea that I, a Black kid from the west side of Chicago who’s probably partly destitute… The idea that I could become a critic never entered my mind.

And so, when I got to high school, I did a lot of catching up to fill blank spots with films that people had grown up with, but I hadn’t. And so, it took years before I had the confidence to undo any intellectual shortcomings I told myself that I had, because I didn’t vacation in whatever country. I didn’t have whatever major experience and see such-and-such movie title. That seed of inadequacy never leaves you. So, every day you feel like you have to prove yourself. I think that’s why I love movies so much today, because I didn’t have them when I was growing up.

The fact that I’m even doing this is what I’m proud of.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about critics?

That our reviews and the pieces that we write are born out of an ether. I think in the purest sense, we’re always providing our opinion, and opinions can be made up of internalized values with regards to quality and interest. But, I think we couple that prior knowledge with research.

I always find it interesting that when someone comments on one of my reviews, they’ll be like, “Did you look up this? Did you look up that? It’d be really helpful if you read this.” And it’s like, well, I did my research before I wrote it. I didn’t just jump off a trampoline.


Universal Pictures

(Photo by Universal Pictures)

Do you have a favorite book-to-film adaptation?

That’s easy: Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. I love the adaptive work for that film mostly because he throws the book out. Because of fanbases today, there is this fear that you have to show some fidelity to the original work. And, I think some of the most interesting adaptations are the ones that throw away everything and go down a different road.

Who is an under-the-radar director or screenwriter that you think more people should know about?

Sarah Gavron. She did Suffragette, and her first film was This Little Life. I watched her newest film Rocks, which hasn’t been released yet, but it played at TIFF this past year. Her stories are just so specific, but they’re built out in a way that they’re entities, intimate worlds that are separate from our own experiences and yet they feel universal.

What is the hardest review that you’ve ever written?

That’s hard because so many things have different valuations. My first thought would be, I did a listicle about the top 20 black director films of the decade for Consequence of Sound. I would say listicles are harder than they seem because if you do them right, you have to do rewatches. You have to do research. You have to have introspection and put them in the context, everything like that. And they can actually be, if you do it right, they could be difficult.

Any personal cultural piece that I write based around race is always difficult just because those pieces tend to either deal with Black Lives Matter or they deal in trauma. I’m always happy that I can write about those kinds of subjects and give them a wider voice. They take a lot out of me, mostly because it’s confronting things that are buried and they’re buried for a reason.

Writing about trauma, it’s not like rolling out of bed. There are some days when even rolling out of bed is a difficult act. I don’t know, it’s difficult because you feel like you have to speak for a community. At least, I feel like I have to speak for a community. And, that’s a dangerous trap to fall into when you feel like you’re speaking for more than yourself. When I’m writing these pieces, the tight rope always feels higher and the fall feels bigger and that’s a terrible place to write from. Words should begin with their importance to you.

The John Boyega Star Wars piece for Polygon was pretty challenging. I had one of the best editors with Matt Patches, and he was just fantastic. And, I kept trying to run away from giving definitions or from taking things down to their simplest terms because I was afraid what those definitions would say. But Matt, to his credit, pushed me – and through all of his queries, the piece ended up with what I wanted to say and not the easy way I wanted to say it.

Honestly, when that piece got released, I thought, “Oh my God, the Star Wars fandom is really toxic. I’m going to get ripped apart.” And then, I woke up and then I saw John Boyega was doing the protest through the streets of London. And I was like, “Oh my God, perfect timing.” It was phenomenal timing.


Buena Vista Distribution Company

(Photo by Buena Vista Distribution Company)

What’s a Rotten film you love?

Oh, Reign of Fire. I love Reign of Fire. I love mythology. That’s not like a mythological movie, but it does have a mythological beast with dragons. It’s over the top and it’s Matthew McConaughey at his peak – shirtless Matthew McConaughey era – and Christian Bale in his grumpy cat era. I love every component of it. It’s a film that I definitely don’t think got a fair shake on its first time out.

Is there an actor or a director or screenwriter whose work you always love?

The first person who pops in my mind is Barry Jenkins. I love all of his work from Medicine for Melancholy, to Moonlight, to If Beale Street Could Talk – all those works. He just does them from such a personal place and you would think something so personal wouldn’t feel universal, and yet it does. Not only does it feel universal, but it feels personal to me watching it and his eye and his taste for colors and the way that he films Black skin. He’s just amazing. That’s probably not the most inventive answer, because I’m pretty sure a lot of people say Barry Jenkins, but it’s the best answer I can give.

What’s your favorite classic film?

8 1/2 by Federico Fellini. I think that was probably the moment where I realized that I am very much into ambitious directors and Federico Fellini very much obviously sticks the landing. The amount of surrealist stuff that he does in there… I watched it when I was a freshman in college and that was probably the first movie where I looked at it and I thought, “Oh, that’s what auteur theory is. That’s what it means to have a singular vision and to translate it to the screen. That’s what it means to take risks.”

Who are three people that you think everyone should follow on Twitter?

Soraya McDonald (@SorayaMcDonald). More than great movies, I love great writing. And her style – the way she expresses historical inequities and the way she puts it in such a compact style that breathes very easy, the knowledge and context comes across incredibly swiftly – I’m always amazed by it.

Joi Childs is another critic (@jumpedforjoi). Her interviews for The Hollywood Reporter are – they just all read incredibly. They’re all approachable and she accesses a personal side to celebrities that’s hard for most people. I usually envy her for that skill.

Roxana Hadadi (@roxana_hadadi). I can’t understand how she finds so many angles and new approaches to recent and past films that I would struggle to think of. Being frank: I just love the way her mind works.

Is there a non-critic in your life whose opinion you admire?

My mom, she is the universal barometer. If a movie plays well with her, then I know it plays well with anybody. Usually, if my mom really, really, really likes something – even if it’s something I think I’ll hate – I’ll take a look at it.


Robert Daniels is a freelance film critic based in Chicago, IL. His reviews have appeared at RogerEbert.com, The Playlist, Consequence of Sound, Polygon, and Mediaversity Reviews, among others. Find him on Twitter: @812filmreviews.

This week on streaming, we’ve got the Wachowskis’ groundbreaking sci-fi series starring Keanu Reeves, a pitch black comedy of bad manners, and a feelgood road movie from Jon Favreau to kick things off. Then we’ve got a number of indie horror flicks, underseen gems from the past year, a few fan favorites, and more.


New on Netflix

 

The Devil's Candy (2015) 92%

This horror film follows a struggling artist who moves into a new home in the countryside, only to experience disturbing events and encounter a former resident with a dark past.

Available now on: Netflix


The Incredible Jessica James (2017) 89%

Jessica Williams and Chris O’Dowd star in this Netflix original comedy about an aspiring playwright who bonds with a man as they both attempt to deal with painful breakups.

Available now on: Netflix


The Matrix (1999) 88%

– Trilogy

All three movies — two of which are Certified Fresh — of the Wachowskis’ groundbreaking sci-fi action series starring Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne come to Netflix this week.

Available now on Netflix: The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions


Jackie Brown (1997) 86%

Pam Grier and Robert Forster lead an all-star cast in Quentin Tarantino’s crime drama about an airline stewardess who gets busted for transporting dirty cash and pits the ATF against her arms dealer boss.

Available now on: Netflix


Handsome Devil (2016) 84%

This Irish coming-of-age film set in a boarding school centers on an outcast and a popular athlete forced to room together who are encouraged to get along by their English teacher.

Available now on: Netflix


Innerspace (1987) 82%

Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, and Meg Ryan star in Joe Dante’s sci-fi comedy about a nervous hypochondriac who is injected with a serum that contains a miniaturized Navy pilot on an experimental mission.

Available now on: Netflix


Bad Santa (2003) 78%

Billy Bob Thornton and Bernie Mac star in this riotous, vulgar yuletide comedy about a misanthropic, alcoholic shopping mall Santa.

Available now on: Netflix


Sleepy Hollow (1999) 70%

Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, and Christopher Walken star in Tim Burton’s take on the classic tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman.

Available now on: Netflix


Cloud Atlas (2012) 66%

Tom Hanks and Halle Berry lead an ensemble cast in this time-skipping sci-fi fantasy helmed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, following several interconnected stories that take place over centuries.

Available now on: Netflix


From a House on Willow Street (2016) 50%

Sharni Vinson stars in this horror film about a kidnapping gone wrong when the victim turns out to be possessed by a demon.

Available now on: Netflix


Lord of War (2005) 61%

Nicolas Cage and Jared Leto star in this dark comedy about a pair of brothers who stumble into the illegal arms business at the end of the Cold War.

Available now on: Netflix


The Addams Family (1991) 65%

Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston headline this hit adaptation of the popular 1960s TV sitcom — itself based on a series of cartoons — about a lovingly devoted but undeniably creepy family.

Available now on: Netflix


New on Amazon Prime

 

Chef (2014) 87%

Jon Favreau directs and stars in this inspirational drama about a struggling chef whose ex-wife convinces him to open a food truck, where he rediscovers his passion for food.

Available now on: Amazon Prime


Holy Blood (1989) 86%

This peculiar horror film from cult maestro Alejandro Jodorowsky follows a young man raised in the circus and confined to an insane asylum who is convinced by his mother to commit acts of murder.

Available now on: Amazon Prime


 

Our Kind of Traitor (2016) 72%

Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris star in this thriller about a British couple who stumble into an international plot when they encounter a Russian mobster while vacationing in Morocco.

Available now on: Amazon Prime


New on FandangoNOW

 

Alien: Covenant (2017) 65%

Michael Fassbender and Katherine Waterston star in Ridley Scott’s follow-up to Prometheus, charting the journey of a new space crew that discovers what appears to be an uncharted paradise… until they encounter a terrifying threat.

Available now on: FandangoNOW


Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (2017) 18%

This fourth installment of the Wimpy Kid franchise finds the Heffley’s attending their Meemaw’s 90th birthday party, but the kids have an ulterior motive for the road trip in mind.

Available now on: FandangoNOW


Everything, Everything (2017) 45%

Based on a young adult novel by Nicola Yoon, this drama centers on a young woman living with severe combined immunodeficiency who is unable to leave her house, but begins to fall in love with the boy next door.

Available now on: FandangoNOW


How to Be a Latin Lover (2017) 39%

Eugenio Derbez and Salma Hayek star in this comedy about an aging gigolo who is forced to move in with his sister and attempts to woo a wealthy older widow.

Available now on: FandangoNOW

To celebrate the release of Tom Hanks’ social technothriller The Circle we pulled some celebratory movie review quotes (along with a few stingers) from his storied Hollywood career. So give T.Hanks by matching the quote to the corresponding movie!

This week on home video, we’ve only got a few choices to talk about, and only one of them seems really worthy of any discussion. That one is Cloud Atlas, a big movie with big ideas that may or may not have succeeded in conveying its heavy message. Then we’ve got a quirky little something from Roman Coppola, and the latest attempt to revitalize a classic horror franchise. See below for the full list.

Cloud Atlas

66%

What happens when the makers of The Matrix get together with the director of Run Lola Run? You get an epic, sprawling tale (adapted from an eponymous 2004 novel) that spans centuries, utilizing a talented cast to assume multiple roles across time periods ranging from the Victorian era to a distant, post-apocalyptic future. In other words, you get Cloud Atlas, which stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, and many more in a complex story ostensibly about fate and interconnectedness. The plot, as it were, is difficult to summarize, as it jumps forwards and backwards in time, slowly revealing elements of a grand mystery involving a forgotten piece of orchestral music, a nuclear conspiracy, a rebellion fueled by the systematic genocide of genetically engineered clones, and a desperate mission to contact an Earth colony on another planet. Yeah, it’s pretty wild. Critics found Cloud Atlas ambitious and visually impressive, though they conceded its length (three hours) and unconventional narrative might be a bit much for general audiences to swallow. Still, it’s Fresh at 68% on the Tomatometer, so it might make for an interesting viewing.

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

16%

The Coppola family tree has yielded some prolific and successful fruit (Nicolas Cage, Sofia Coppola, lots of wine), but fame and fortune continue to elude Roman Coppola, brother to Sofia and son to Francis Ford, at least as a director (he co-wrote Moonrise Kingdom). His first film, 2001’s CQ, received fairly positive reviews, but his latest, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, impressed far fewer critics. Charlie Sheen stars as the title character, a 1970s graphic designer who is unexpectedly dumped by his girlfriend and struggles to put his life back together in the aftermath. With help from family and friends, Charles suffers through bizarre fantasies and nightmares of his past in hopes of bouncing back. The cast here, which includes supporting turns from Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and Patricia Arquette, among others, is up to the task, but most critics found the film too indulgent, saying it felt more like an excuse for Coppola to hang out with his famous buddies. At 16% on the Tomatometer, Charles Swan is a bit of a turkey, but you can check it out if you’re curious.

Texas Chainsaw 3D

19%

After two attempts at rebooting and revitalizing the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, Platinum Dunes gave up the rights, and Lions Gate swooped in to keep it going. The film they decided to make, however, was not another reboot, but a direct sequel to Tobe Hooper’s original 1979 horror classic. It was a risky move, and unfortunately, according to most critics, Texas Chainsaw 3D failed to breathe adequate new life into the series. The story centers on Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario), a young woman with ties to the original Sawyer family who receives notice that she’s come into an inheritance and travels back to Newt, Texas with some friends to collect. Grisly deaths ensue, of course. The majority of critics who saw Texas Chainsaw 3D weren’t fooled by its loose ties to the original film; despite its efforts to add some depth to Leatherface, the film is largely another by-the-numbers slasher with little new to offer, and at a meager 19%, it’s likely only to satisfy die hard fans.

Also available this week:

  • Two Glenn Ford westerns emerge from the Criterion Collection’s closet: The original 1957 3:10 to Yuma (95%), co-starring Van Heflin; and 1956’s Jubal, co-starring Rod Steiger and Ernest Borgnine.
  • Beware of Mr. Baker (97%), a documentary about Ginger Baker, legendary drummer of Cream.

This week in streaming, we’ve got the latest Wachowskis’ flick, a few Certified Fresh movies from the 1990s — including cult classics like Groundhog Day and the Oscar-winning Pulp Fiction — a Best Foreign Film nominee and more. Read on to find out what’s available to watch right now.

Cloud Atlas

66%

The Wachowskis’ latest is a series of interconnected vignettes that follows a variety of characters (played by, among others, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Jim Broadbent) across centuries, as seemingly small actions and events have monumental repercussions.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu

One False Move

94%

Bill Paxton, Cynda Williams, and Billy Bob Thornton star in this neo-noir about a group of drug dealers who hide out in a small Arkansas town after committing a grisly murder.

Available now on: Crackle

Groundhog Day

97%

Harold Ramis’ classic romantic comedy stars Bill Murray as a misanthropic weatherman who’s doomed to repeat the same day over and over until he gets it right.

Available now on: Crackle

Crumb

95%

Terry Zwigoff’s funny, haunting, brilliant documentary about underground cartoonist Robert Crumb is a fascinating portrait of a cranky, influential artist and his deeply dysfunctional family.

Available now on: Crackle

American Movie

94%

Chris Smith’s documentary about a Wisconsin based horror director is a hilarious, poignant, and inspiring story about the against-all-odds spirit of indie filmmaking.

Available now on: Crackle

Tommy

71%

Ken Russell directs the granddaddy of all rock operas, the story of a deaf, dumb, and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball; joining The Who are Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Tina Turner, Elton John, and Jack Nicholson.

Available now on: Crackle

Living in Oblivion

86%

Tom DiCillo’s send-up of low-budget moviemaking stars Steve Buscemi as a put-upon director who struggles with his emotionally distraught crew and exasperating cast.

Available now on: Crackle

Godzilla vs. Mothra

78%

The title says it all.

Available now on: Crackle

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

75%

Michael Cera and Kat Dennings star as two music loving-teens who meet-cute and go on an all-night quest for a secret show by one of their favorite bands.

Available now on: Crackle

Pulp Fiction

92%

One of the best films of the 1990s, Quentin Tarantino’s second movie stars John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel and many more in a series of vingettes about various criminals in Los Angeles.

Available now on: Netflix

A Royal Affair

90%

Mads Mikkelsen stars in this Best Foreign Film nominee, a period drama about a doctor who seduces the soon-to-be queen of Denmark.

Available now on: Netflix

Beowulf

71%

In Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of the epic poem, Beowulf (Ray Winstone) tangling with mead hall-crashing beast Grendel (Crispin Glover) and his vengeful, seductive mom (Angelina Jolie, much more attractive than her fictional progeny would indicate).

Available now on: Netflix

This week at the movies, we’ve got time-spanning connectedness (Cloud Atlas, starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry); a Halloween escapade (Fun Size, starring Victoria Justice and Chelsea Handler); a legendary surfer (Chasing Mavericks, starring Jonny Weston and Gerard Butler); and a demonic town (Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, starring Adelaide Clemens and Sean Bean). What do the critics have to say?

Cloud Atlas

66%

The Wachowskis have never been short on ambition; they’ve been blowing minds (or trying to) ever since The Matrix put them on the map. Now they’re back with Cloud Atlas, and critics are divided — some say it’s an awe-inspiring work of visual and emotional daring, while others say it’s muddled, pretentious, and overlong. It’s a series of interconnected vignettes that follows a variety of characters (played by, among others, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Jim Broadbent) across centuries, as seemingly small actions and events have monumental repercussions. The pundits agree that Cloud Atlas is a singular film, but while some are thrilled by its monumental scope and big ideas, others say it’s too undisciplined and disjointed to realize its outsized aims. (Check out this week’s Total recall, in which we count down Hanks’ best-reviewed films, as well as our 24 Frames gallery of epic sci-fi movies.)

Fun Size

25%

Most Halloween releases feature mad slashers and teens in distress, so it’s refreshing that Fun Size offers a more mirthful take on All Hallows Eve. Unfortunately, critics say the movie is a slight, middling romp that’s breezily likable but mostly forgettable. Victoria Justice stars as Wren, a high school senior tasked with watching her little brother Albert on Halloween. However, the little guy gets lost while trick-or-treating, and Wren must round up a posse to track him down; hilarity ensues. The pundits say Fun Size is pleasant but innocuous, decent teen fare with a few laughs and a lot of predictability.

Chasing Mavericks

33%

Chasing Mavericks doesn’t stray too far from the inspirational sports movie playbook: it’s got a talented kid, a wise mentor, and a big obstacle to overcome. And that’s part of the problem, critics say: while the film features some remarkable images and strong performances, it can’t quite muster the strength to break free from formula. Jonny Weston stars as real-life surfing star Jay Moriarity who discovers that a legendary wave can be found close to his home. In order to gain the skills necessary to ride such a dangerous patch of water, Jay teams up with Frosty (Gerard Butler), an experienced surfer who acts as both a coach and father figure for the wave-riding prodigy. The pundits say Chasing Mavericks‘ surfing scenes feel authentic, and Weston and Butler share an easy chemistry, but the film’s devotion to sports movie cliches and inspirational platitudes sap it of its power.

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

8%

It appears the folks behind Silent Hill: Revelation 3D were afraid their film wouldn’t be worth a trip, since it wasn’t screened prior to release. After a series of vivid nightmares, Heather Mason (Adelaide Clemens) finds herself bedeviled across dimensions by the inhabitants of Silent Hill. Hey everyone, put down your game controllers and guess the Tomatometer!

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • The Revisionaries, a documentary about ideological battles over science education, is at 88 percent.
  • The Loneliest Planet, starring Gael García Bernal in a drama about a young couple whose vacation takes a shattering turn, is at 86 percent.
  • Sleep Tight, a thriller about a Barcelona doorman obsessed with wrecking the life of an unsuspecting woman, is at 86 percent.
  • The Other Son, a drama about an Israeli and a Palestinian child switched at birth, is at 71 percent.
  • Pusher, a remake of Nicolas Winding Refn‘s thriller about a drug dealer pursued by a crime boss after a botched deal, is at 53 percent.
  • The Black Tulip, a drama about an Afghan family that opens a café and encourages free expression, is at 40 percent.
  • Dinotasia, featuring CGI dinosaurs going about their daily business, is at 33 percent.