Note to readers: I currently am not willing to risk my health (I’m 62 and an asthmatic) by visiting a theatre. All films that I have seen for review have been screened in my home. I am not going to tell you whether or not to attend a theatre. Just be aware of the risks, do your research, and follow the instructions to the letter.
My View: The Marksman (2021) PG-13 An Arizona rancher, Jim (Liam Neeson), finds a young Mexican boy on his land near the border fleeing the Cartel, and the assassins sent to find him. Jim decides to take the boy to his family in Chicago with the Cartel’s men in hot pursuit. Liam Neeson plays a rancher who is recently widowed with a bank about to auction his ranch off because of the doctor bills due to his wife dying of cancer. Jim is a patriot, flying the Stars and Stripes over his ranch and calling the border patrol anytime he sees people on his land. Then a Mexican boy’s mother's dying wish is that the boy be taken away from the Cartel and to his relatives in Chicago. Along the way, Jim and his trusty rifle and dog learn that he and the boy can bond after a few tense days. If this sounds like a Clint Eastwood movie, you would be right, since the director and co-writer of the film is Robert Lorenz, long-time partner, and producer for Clint Eastwood. You get exactly what you expect from this film, from the standard plot to the outcry of the working man being screwed by the big banks, to a sexy Border Patrol agent (Katheryn Winnick) who seems to have the same powers as an FBI agent, to a bad guy so evil he kills everyone he meets. Nothing new here with this film, just more of Neeson shooting bad guys and acting tough but vulnerable. My Rating: Cable The Marksman Website Now playing in select theatres.
My View: Outside the Wire (2021) R In the not so distant future, a disgraced drone pilot, Lt. Harp (Damson Idris), goes on a classified mission with Capt. Leo (Anthony Mackie) an android soldier. Their mission to locate a doomsday device before the insurgents do. While he has a ton of hours flying a drone, Harp is a young kid who doesn’t know what it is like to be in combat in person. We know this because he: one, eats gummy bears while killing people from the air, and two, he does the right thing, saving 38 soldiers but disobeys the Marine code of never leaving a man behind. He gets assigned to help Capt. Leo, a maverick soldier who is part man, part robot (no spoiler alert, it's in the first 30 seconds of the trailer). It turns out that Harp has been picked for this mission because his commanding officers hope he dies to make up for his mistake and because he is a human MapQuest. The film tries to have a message that we are on a dangerous path to making war less human (not only are drones used, but robot warriors are used on both sides of the conflict) and that robots/cyborgs/androids/whatever are evil. There are plenty of action sequences, lots of things blowing up, but those robots don’t seem to be any better at war than we do, and the plot, right from the start, gets really complicated with so many twists and turns that you will need a whiteboard to keep track of all the changes. I kept wondering while watching Outside the Wire if the writers/director would come up with an ending that was complete and satisfying, and all I can say is, they didn’t. My Rating: Cable Outside the Wire Website Now available on the Netflix platform.
Indiefest: The Dig (2021) PG-13 In the days before the outbreak of WWII, a professional excavator Ralph Fiennes) of historical sites begins a dig on the land of Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan). The excavation becomes one of the most important archaeological finds in English history. Having been on a few digs and having a degree in Archaeology myself, I had high hopes for this film, especially with the likes of the two leads. Unfortunately, unless you are looking for the Holy Grail, it’s hard to make Archeology interesting, as it is a slow and time-consuming process, and even with the impending doom of WWII literally flying over the character's heads, the storyline tends to lag a bit at times. The film tries to add a bit of drama with Cary Mulligan’s character sickly and a mother, a heavy-handed government official trying to take over the dig, and an affair from an unhappily married archaeologist (Lily James) with a dashing amateur photographer (Johnny Flynn). The film has some beautiful cinematography, and both Mulligan and Fiennes give outstanding performances, but the film lacks a spark that it needs to make it fully work. It’s like being on a dig and only finding a few small arrowheads as your reward. Sure, you found something but was it worth the effort? My Rating: Bargain Matinee The Dig Website Currently playing in select theatres including Landmark Midtown Art Cinema and available soon on the Netflix platform.
My View: The Ultimate Playlist of Noise (2021) After learning that surgery to remove a tumor in his brain will render him deaf, Marcus (Keean Johnson), an audio-obsessed high-school student, decides to take a road trip across America to record a bucket list of all his favorite sounds. He encounters along the way, Wendy (Madeline Brewer), a struggling musician who is on her way to New York for her big break. They decide to go on this massive adventure together. I enjoyed this film, which is very reminiscent of the road trip romantic comedies of the 80s and 90s. Johnson and Brewer have a light, playful chemistry that makes their relationship work between two people that both have rough patches in their lives to mend. This is a sweet, funny movie whose message is to treasure the little things in life because life is fragile and fleeting; those little things can be milestones. Yeah, there are times when the film lays on the plot a little thick, with Marcus, a shy teen who is kidded for never having a girlfriend, who is losing his hearing and getting involved with a singer who is slightly older and more experienced in life. But that’s ok. It's a fun time with the two as they travel on Marcus's quest to find sounds to record before he goes deaf. You will need a tissue or two, but that’s just another reason to appreciate the little things in life, like a cry during a movie. My Rating: Full Price The Ultimate Playlist of Noise Website Available on the Hulu Platform.
Indiefest: Rock Camp: The Movie (2021) This is a documentary on the legendary summer camp that, for 25 years, has brought together ordinary people who want to learn how to rock like ‘rock stars’ from their music heroes like Meat Loaf, Sebastian Bach, and Gene Simmons. The campers spend four days jamming, and the camp concludes with a live performance at a legendary venue. The film follows four campers as they pursue their dreams (at least for four days) to become rock stars. I loved this film because it shows just how much the camp counselors (i.e., rock stars) get out of the camp as the campers themselves. It reminds the most grizzled rock veterans of the 70s, 80s and 90s how much fun playing music can be when you are with people who love the music. You will be surprised by some of the rock stars that have participated and how seriously they take their teaching. The film spends a little too much time on the man who started the camp, super-agent David Fishof, but it is able to give us behind-the-scenes footage of the campers working with their mentors (counselors), and the impact that this camp has on everyone involved. And yes, there are some pretty bad musicians in the camp, but also, there are some great ones, including a guitar wiz teenager Blake, who has autism and lets his talking come from his guitar. It's a fun look at a camp many of us can’t afford but would love to attend. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Rock Camp: The Movie Website The film is available to rent on participating on-demand services.
Indiefest: The White Tiger (2021) Bairam (Adarsh Gourav) has been trained by society to be a servant since he was a little kid. Now Bairam has worked his way into becoming the driver for Ashok ( Rajkummar Rao) and Pinky (Priyanka Chopra-Jonas), a wealthy couple who have recently returned from America. Bairam makes himself indispensable until one fateful night changes everything. I imagine that many reviews of this film are going to compare it to Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, and while both take place in India and both are rags to riches plot lines, that is where the similarities stop. The White Tiger is a biting look at India's caste system, where literally you are born in servitude. Bairam, a young man, who is constantly questioning his own behavior and always plotting how to escape his poverty, looks at life with the idea that the freedom that he seeks will not come at a cheap price. What I found fascinating is that the film doesn’t go where you think it will go. This is a pull that goes on with Bairam, between what society has always told him his lot is in life and what his guts tell him to do to get out of this trap. The film slows down a bit in the middle, taking too long for Bairam to make his next move, one that will change his life and how both he and the audience look at Bairam himself. My Rating: Full Price The White Tiger Website Currently playing in select theatres including Landmark Midtown Art Cinema and available Jan. 22nd on the Netflix platform.
Indiefest: MLK/FBI (2020) Documentary based on newly declassified files that detail the US government’s surveillance and harassment of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The film looks at what is described in the movie as a dark period for the FBI. The man running the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, was convinced that the Communist Party was targeting Blacks and that MLK threatens the government. What started as a look into King’s possible ties to communism soon turned into how the Bureau could blackmail King and his supporters with information on MLK’s personal life. The FBI went as far as sending threatening anonymous letters and recordings to King and his wife. The film shows us just how heroic and strong Martin Luther King, Jr. was, who kept fighting for civil rights through nonviolence even though horrible tactics were being used to fight against him. My Rating: Full Price MLK/FBI Website Currently playing in select theatres including Landmark Midtown Art Cinema and available to rent on participating on-demand services.
Forgotten Film: The Queen of Versailles (2012) In this day and age of mic-mansions, I think a lot about this documentary profiling the Siegel’s, a billionaire couple who build the largest private house in the United States - a 90,000 square foot mansion inspired by Versailles. The economic downturn, however, and the banking crisis in 2008 may crush their dreams. This is a fascinating film that shows how out of touch the super-rich are with ordinary America, and the movie is full of great contrasts, such as when they go pick up McDonald's takeout in a stretch limo. What really makes this an interesting film is that Jackie isn't your normal trophy wife. She once worked as a computer engineer at IBM, so you begin to wonder what sort of life she would have had if she had stayed at IBM instead of pursuing a modeling career and later meeting her now-husband at a beauty pageant. The Queen of Versailles is one of those documentaries where you are continually changing your opinion about the film's subjects. My Rating: Full Price The Queen of Versailles Info
Weird Credits: From the credits of The Ultimate Playlist of Noise: Paperwork PA’s
Coming Soon to a Screen Near You: Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) R The story of the Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaiuuya), and his betrayal by FBI informant William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield). I am hearing great things about this film that has a cast that includes Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Martin Sheen, and Ashton Sanders. Judas and the Black Messiah Website
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