words on the internet

i'm will dennis. these are my movie reviews and thoughts. i don't proofread before publishing so forgive the editing or lack thereof


Delightful and even a tear jerker.

An excellent dive into a relationship that rests on the foundation of two charismatic start (Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan) and excellent directing.

Very very dialogue heavy but it maintains enough momentum to keep it entertaining. Crystal borders on annoying, especially earlier in the film as a pontificating younger man but luckily he reels it in as the film progresses.

The middle of the film begins to stretch the suspension of disbelief during the period when they’re friends but haven’t slept together yet. Just as you’re screaming to yourself “C’mon you guys are perfect for each other just get it over with!!” they finally do, which leads to more complications and issues for the pair to navigate.

Without checking too closely it seems to follow the classic ‘Saved By The Cat’ formula with Crystal giving the film’s message (Men and Women can’t be friends), the false victory when they sleep together, and the dark night of the soul on New Years.

There were some legitimately lough out loud moments – which surprisingly included the ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ line. Surprising because I knew it was coming, but the timing and delivery were just too good.

Really makes me appreciate the directing of Rob Reiner, because so much of this story is told through glances, looks, pregnant pauses, and characters turning away from each other. Some of it is on the page of the screenplay I’m sure but really delivering it is a whole other beast. He matches and conflicts the external dialogue and internal emotions of the characters brilliantly.

The film is very conscious of its medium as well. Charming interstitials with old couples describing their ‘how they met stories’ serve for charming breaks of the Crystal-Ryan heavy dialogue (and of course the end of the film is Crystal and Ryan describing how they met). The use of the older couples is a nice reference to the pervasiveness of love and the depth of stories around love – each relationship has a story. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY is just one.

Another note on the medium, Reiner uses split screen a few times very effectively. The first when the leads are in bed on the phone with each other – effectively putting them in the same bed. Great visual foreshadowing and insinuation – while the characters weren’t in a physical relationship at this point, they were involved in something more intimate – pillow talk and nighttime comforting.

Another great split screen was following their first night of making love. They both call their friends and have two simultaneous conversations while the couple their calling share a bed. It’s hilarious, well done, underscores the single vs coupled lifestyles, and is brilliant in one take. So well timed.

The supporting characters do a great job of mirroring the leads and their transition from single to coupled further highlights and stresses the leads state as single.

It’s a relatively tight cast – 4 characters really, and while not low budget, makes me optimistic you could pull off a emotional similar feat for low budget. Keep the locations outdoors and varied and the cast charismatic.

The balance of sentiment and humor – without ever dipping below into sad (Meg Ryan comically pulling tissues as she cries comes to mind) – is expertly navigated.

Gold standard for romantic comedy, most definitely.



Seven (I think it was seven) short vignettes about people living normal lives and getting pushed to their limits. Each story is unrelated but thematically linked.

What I love about this story telling structure is it more directly allows you to explore an idea around the broader human condition without being tied to its expression through one or a few central characters’ arcs. Here we ditch the protagonist in exchange for the same premise acted out in different ways.

It seems like a potentially dry, redundant effort however it couldn’t be farther from the case. So why does it work, dramatically? It’s all about setting the framework. The framework is two main pieces: the first is that anything can happen. We see this with the plane crash at the beginning – it’s so absurd and extreme that were brought into a filmmakers word where anything is possible. The second piece of the framework is that each story will escalate to some sort of absurdity. This creates almost the same viewing experience as watching a flash forward first (like traction). It makes the viewer have an idea of where we’re headed but now most interested in how we’re getting there. It’s the famous movie promise of ‘give people what they want in a way they don’t expect.’

The uncertainty of what and how the conflict will unfold leads to an entertaining tension that holds up for the duration of the film.

The final segment ends on an upbeat rather than the general emotional downbeats of the majority of the shorts. Perhaps the thesis is “most conflict is absurd and damaging, but in certain cases it brings the parties involved closer together.

The camera work and directing were amazing as well. I was especially appreciative of how deliberate the shots were and how well choreographed the blocking was. Most shots are very clearly conveying a message without being heavy handed. There are also several long takes where actors move in out and around the frame, closer and farther from camera, to further the plot. It results in a feeling of intentionality, control, and inevitability that lends itself to the themes of the film: in certain ways the characters seem to be less making they’re own decisions and simply are in a sort of escalating bad dream they can’t get out of – the fluid and intricate moves lend themselves to a certain omniscient energy – almost as if karma came back for its full revenge all at once.

Tired so going to sleep – but this is great storytelling and filmmaking that also pushes the format. Hard to ask for more. It gives you what you want in a way you don’t expect.


Stylish quirky dark fun. Rich in story, concept, and execution. Loved the composition and use of static shots and long takes. The acting and dialogue was good enough to make the restrained edition work and be entertaining.

The universe was compelling and unique and well revealed over the course of the film without ever feeling confusing or expository – a hard line to walk but one they did well.

The dramatization of finding a partner was really well executed and gives tons of material for exploration – loners and partners and “things in common” and “being suitable” for each other and faking connection to be accepted in a relationship. Literally creating a social institution of the hotel as a place for finding and enforcing partnership and later marriage is brilliant. And having loners live in the woods – with other benefits and drawbacks. And within the city you have officers that patrol trying to catch single people. So fun.

Humor is rampant – mostly expressed through juxtaposition and absurdity.

Really really loved the way it expressed ideas about modern love through building a universe – what good art does well.

The performances were restrained and almost robotic but fit the idea of the film where it’s less about individuals expressing their choices and more about how were all living in a bigger system and just trying to fit in. Get want you want, sure, but you must play along.

An inspiring movie to watch from a filmmaking perspective and a provocative one to watch from an emotional perspective. Is it better to be partnered or alone? And to what extent are you willing to change or sacrifice to fit in either way. What would you do for love? Amazing questions that are always worth exploring. THE LOBSTER does so in a fresh and amazing way. Great great movie.

ZOOLANDER 2 (2016)

Plane movie!

Not great and I suppose not surprising. Feels like they got together, riffed, then put it together in editing. Lots of shot reverse shots that not only make the comedic timing suffer but make it feel constructed as well. 

Some solid jokes but overall the story is weak and the movie as a whole is forgettable. It’s more callbacks to ZOOLANDER than establishing new comedy ground. 

Was watching on a small seat-back screen, but a lot of the cinematography seemed overblown, cheesy, and cgi heavy. 

More pop culture cameos than possible to count. The novelty and the humor with them run out quick. 

Will Ferrel delivers the best energy of the movie and he shows up way too late. Penelope Cruz adds little and Derek seems especially stiff. Most of his punchlines are miss-saying phrases (i.e. kkk instead of aka) but there aren’t a lot of well thought out gags. 

Derek’s son in the film seems to overact and doesn’t provide the comedy that could have been. 

Overall it felt overbudgeted, sliced and diced, and lazy. Too bad because so much great comedic talent and brand. Would have preferred to see them leave the old story in the dust and start fresh, all the callbacks make me just wish I had watched the first again. 


Plane movie!
Not a fan. Omniscient perspective but highly limiting the amount of info given to the audience. How long can you watch a situation unfold and wonder what’s happening? It turns from mysterious to annoying to boring – frustrating viewing. 

I suppose there’s a rational to let viewers “observe” a story as it unfolds with no handholding but I think it’s weaker storytelling. It’s hard to empathize with characters and understand the importance of certain moments without context. It’s find to keep the situation and world building unexplained and mysterious for the first 10-15 but then help us get on board with the characters and their mission. We can’t if we’re asking “what the fuck is going on.”

The worst part of the limited explanation in MIDNIGHT EXPRESS is that when the pieces come together they’re not in some masterful way – it’s just, like, ok he’s an alien and I guess this is all a metaphor for letting your kids grow up and move on?

There was a lot of promise initially with the cult and FBI and the parents and Alton, but it doesn’t really pay off. 

You realize Alton can listen to invisible waveforms which eventually leads to him going home to live with his invisible type residents. 

It’s an interesting idea – the same way there’s light waves or sound waves we can’t see there could be people or beings living amongst us we don’t see. But if that was the goal the execution could have been better than a boy and his father on the run trying to get to some set of coordinates. 

Why or how they needed to get to that location was never fully revealed so the duration of the film you’re watching them rather than feeling like you’re with them. 

Adam Driver is always a great watch. The main character (the Dad) is good but a little dense and not emotive enough for my taste – especially when the story isn’t explicit. A subtle actor coupled with an under-told story leaves you with a bunch of moments of “Huh I wonder what he’s feeling right now.” Kirsten Dunst was also a surprise to see – and I thought distracting. 

My favorite moment was when they were stuck in traffic and roll up to the empty pick up – signaling that Alton was captured. 

I would have been interested in another telling that focuses on the dad’s friend who’s the state trooper and has only been with Alton for 3 days – tell the story from his perspective and let us take that ride. 

The omniscient perspective does little if you’re simply using it to build unsatisfied mystery. Furthermore, it’s annoying and I find disrespectful to the watcher. Impress us with story, not by making us figure out what is a very simple story for ourselves. It’s putting the form before the story. 

Also had some beef with the set decoration and style – did this take place in the 90s? There were pay phones and no cell phones. Why did it take place then? 

Felt like one of those times when too clever came off as not clever at all. 


Plane movie!
Loved it. What makes it work is maintaining a limited perspective so that you only know what Michelle knows. As soon as the car wreck happens, you discover her predicament and the world as she does. 
Coupled with a few good twists – when we actually see a woman infected and trying to get in flips the story on its head, then back when we realize Howard likely kidnapped and killed a girl, when Howard kills the other guy, and when it turns out to actually be aliens – it makes for a super fun ride. 

It never comes off as too clever or “gotcha” because it’s just slowly revealing information – done expertly. 

It reminds me of SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED in that the end reveals that the films universe is the most fantastical of all the options. In both we assume we’re in some sort of familiar reality based on our world and the climax says in fact this is a scifi universe. In theory it seems manipulative but in practice it feels spectacular and satisfying – instead of having some super complex logic for explaining the circumstances, it’s revealed that the circumstances themselves are extraordinary. In that way I think the audience feels respected and not like they’re watching a film that’s a magic trick than then explains itself. 

The climax of this had me so wrapped up. From the point where Howard shoots the other guy until the end it was flawless. What I loved is that it wasn’t just the climax and resolution but it was also continuing and revealing more story information – so it was gripping on multiple levels. “Will she get away!?” “Oh shit it’s aliens!?”

I’m not sure if there’s any relation to CLOVERFIELD – another alien movie. Or if this was its spiritual prequel. If no relation the title seems like a strange choice. 

I love Howard’s arc of going from crazy to not crazy back to crazy then to extra crazy and dangerous. 

Some nice character development too that doesn’t feel heavy handed – Michelle at the end decides to stay and fight instead of run away, which is what she always did in the past. 

I forget how much fun a great thriller can be. 


Plane movie!

An ensemble cast of charming white twenty somethings that tries to do a bit too much and ends up doing too little. 

An attempt of exploring the time between relationships when self discovery and self definition is supposed to happen, but it ends up feeling like a string of character arcs that while charming at times, are a veneer that never really dig into the the issues. 

Every character is standing in their own way, but in such a self evident way that it comes off a bit ludicrous and “gee whiz poor me”. There’s little character backstory or development so while time passes in the film world and things change, the change seems more circumstantial than personal to the characters. 

The cast is charming which I think makes it work, with a few legitimate chuckles and lot of improv-banter that feels familiar to the point of stale. 

While it attempts to highlight some of the difficulties and complexities of modern dating, everything is a bit too surreal and studio-driven to have any of the comments land or be taken seriously. 

It has the vibe of a chopped and diced production, with scattered scenes and loosely overlapping character arcs where at times it’s unclear if they’re all friends even though they’re at the same party. 

It’s also not great I imagine for there to be two writing teams credited, with one of them being the producer. 

On plot: the passing of time was very poorly handled. It’s such a crucial element to relationships and break ups that to have it clumsily addressed (we know it went from summer to winter then to spring, I suppose) and aside from one “3 months later” title card we’re given very little. 

If you’re inviting an ex of 4 years to your Christmas party with a new girlfriend you moved in with within 6 months everyone in the equation is a sociopath. 

As the above example points out there were some moments that felt a bit too Hollywood and the suspension of disbelief for what should be a very relatable experience didn’t hold up. I more grounded telling with more nuanced and dynamic characters was needed for buy in and would have heightened the comedy. 

FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL does a great job of taking you through the relationship, and break up and getting into the absurd realities of what loneliness feels like. HOW TO BE SINGLE is too heavy handed and plot driven to resonate in the same way – comedically or emotionally. 

Give us real situations and real characters because a fun movie can only be so fun if you fee like you’re watching a shell of a person rather than whiny shallow archetypes. 

NARCOS – EPISODES 5-10 (2015)

Great season. Had me invested and excited pretty consistently throughout.

Only comment the last episode is it felt like it could have been 2-3 episodes or started 1-2 episodes earlier.

Steve was kidnapped, there was a falling out with his partner, the vice minister went to Pablo’s prison to try to cut a deal, and the prison was raided. A lot of compelling plots lines that get introduced and tied up in this episode – a bit hastily I think.

The run time was 45 minutes so even adding another 10-15 minutes of screen time may have done the trick. While I love the action and movement, the episode could have emphasized the stress and anxiety of the situation by slowing things down.

The way the kidnapping was presented seemed sloppy as well – we see Steve kidnapped then 15 minutes later in the episode we see him at the embassy and he recounts the story in flashback. It doesn’t maximize the drama or the gravity of the situation. I think by not addressing it it’s supposed to be more dramatic, but I don’t think it worked.

The final episode sets itself up for another season – all out war between Pablo and the Columbian government. If there was a season two I’d tune in, but I don’t think it could possibly touch as many dynamic stories as season one, which handles the genesis, rise, and fall of Pablo.


Plane movie!

Some films are just great cultural capsules of a time and place you’d never see or have access too. This is one of those. The disco subculture mixed with the Brooklyn subculture provides entertainment value in and of itself. 

Wasn’t really sure what to expect before watching it, but was very pleasantly surprised. Travolta was tremendously charismatic (reminds me of Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights) and had the bright eyes and confidence of a young star on the rise. He also had some great lines. 

The overall arc of the story was what most stuck out to me – tonally starting as carefree coming of age tale but progressively became more nuanced. It raised a lot of questions about passion versus money, what being young and in love can feel like, how confusing it is to find your path in the world and find a lover, and that every person is out for their own success. 

It well captures the very poignant transition from your first social circle to where you decide you’ve either grown apart or what something else. 

Similar to the way SWINGERS captures the post break up “moment”, SNF captures the moment when you realize it’s time to grow up and make some hard choices: separate from the people you grew up with and follow your own path. 

The other male characters seem to provide the classic “alternate realities” for Tony. His brother who followed a passion then became disillusioned, the other paint store clerks who’ve been there for years, his dad with a family but out of work, or his dead beat friends who get girls pregnant, die, or get beat up. He could even open a dance studio and be a womanizer. 

At the end you get the sense that he’ll aspire for bigger things and try to break himself out of the simple uneducated life, following in Stephanie’s footsteps. As much as a facade as it is, she really embraces the fake-it-until-you-make-it approach. Perhaps highlighting that this is necessary to get out of the trap of low expectations. The only way to improve your life from a bad upbringing is to fake like you belong at the higher social class. 

And of course the music and dancing was all classic. 

TOY STORY 3 (2010)

Plane movie!

Pretty delightful and tightly wound. I like how the use of an early coincidence that complicates the protagonists journey (the little girl finding woody in the tree as he tries to escape sinusoids and return home) but serves as a means of resolution at the end (when woody writes a note to get Andy to give the toys to the girl). 

Overall less “high-low” humor in this than I expected (jokes that appeal to adults while the full meaning isn’t grasped by kids but still makes sense to them). 

Watching this was also a reminder with how animated films can get away with raw unashamed awe and earnesty – while live action tends to tip toe around it in the best produced pictures. Maybe because we as humans know that in real live nothing is ever that pure, maybe it’s too much of a burden on actors to pull off well, but animation manages to do it – I think there’s an additional element of suspension of disbelief in animation that allows you to go sappier without the same level of eye-roll that a live action might receive. Perhaps it’s also the audiences expectation of the genre so there’s more leniency on the receiving end. 

The exploration of the trash and daycare setting was fun and of course the personification of classic toys is always good ammo for visual and situational humor. 

Great when sequels to blue chip franchises are solid. Along with DIE HARD I’ve heard this referenced as a really strong script and it makes sense – pacing, tone, and resolution were all unexpected but satisfying: “Give them what they want in a way they don’t expect.”

Comparatively to ZOOTOPIA, TOY STORY 3 wasn’t as preachy thematically and was more focused on story. ZOOTOPIA’s story seemed to be thinner as a result of overly catering to the theme perhaps. In contrast, TOY STORY 3 was lighter thematically (loyalty, growing up, responsibility, forgiveness) but I think a stronger telling. Perhaps just some of the inherent trade offs in storytelling and proof that favoring either can work well.