Note to readers: I have started going to movies in the theaters, having received my two shots and passed the two-week standby period, wearing a mask at all times and following social distancing. Most of the films I am reviewing are still movies that I watched at home, but I will note in the review if I saw them in a theatre. 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: Old (2021) PG-13 A family is out on a tropical holiday, then they discover after spending a few hours on the beach that something is causing them to age by the hour. If this keeps going, they will be dead by the end of the day. M. Night Shyamalan has always been such a hit (Sixth Sense, Split) or miss (The Last Airbender, After Earth) filmmaker for me. This isn’t a hit or a miss, sort of just sitting in the middle. Could it have been a better film? Maybe. Could it have been worse? Oh, yes. The story is pretty simple. A group of people on vacation are sent to a remote beach and then start growing older as the day goes along. I think maybe this would have been better if it had been shorter, perhaps part of a TV series like the reboot of The Twilight Zone, instead of a feature film as it takes too long for things to happen and then even when they do happen, there is a lot of time before something else happens. I will warn you that some of the scenes in the film are downright gruesome to watch, and other than the kids, there aren’t a lot of likable characters to root for. It helps that there is an ending that does explain a good bit of why and what happened, and that helped me a lot with how I felt about this film. Is it worth rushing down to the theatre to Old (I saw it at home on my computer)? Quite frankly, no, but it’s better than some of his horrible misses. My Rating; Bargain Matinee Old Website Now playing in theatres.
My View: Joe Bell (2020) R After his son is tormented in high school for being gay, Joe (Mark Wahlberg), a working-class father from a small town, sets to walk across America to crusade against bullying. The film is written by the Oscar-winning writing team of Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana (Brokeback Mountain (2005)), so I had high hopes for this film, but it falls flat almost right from the start. We see Joe out on his trek with his son, Jaden (Reid Miller), as they talk about life, and Jaden playfully kids his father about knowing lyrics to a pop song. This is one of those films you want to love because its heart is in the right place, but it is so poorly executed that it makes the film feel like it moves at a snail's pace. The film moves back and forth between the present of Joe’s trek and the past as we see how difficult it was to be openly gay in a small-town high school. I think the film is hurt by this back and forth; we keep going to the present where Jaden is slowly guiding Joe to understand what went on in the psst, and then we see that past, and it messes with the message. The focus is too much on Joe and not enough on Jaden, and by going back and forth, it undermines the power of Jaden’s story. It also doesn’t help that the twist in the story is evident right from the start of the film, making the present scenes feel uncomfortable and not honest. I am sorry that Joe Bell is the last work that the late writer Larry McMurtry did. I will choose to remember his better works like The Last Picture Show and Lonesome Dove instead. My Rating: Cable Joe Bell Website Now playing in theatres.
My View: The Last Letter from Your Lover (2021) An ambitious young journalist, Ellie (Felicity Jones), comes across a series of letters and is determined to solve the mystery of a forbidden love affair in London in the mid-60s between Jennifer Stirling (Shailene Woodley), the wife of a wealthy industrialist, and Anthony O[Hare (Callum Turner), a journalist assigned to do a story on Jennifer’s husband. This is a good old-fashioned star-crossed lover’s story with all the pitfalls that you would expect. The story is pretty predictable, especially the secondary love story between the Felicity Jones journalist, who doesn’t want to be in a relationship, and the co-worker she slowly falls for (played by Nabhaan Rizwan). Most of the story centers on Jennifer, played by the lovely Shailene Woodley, an American who too quickly got swept off her feet and is now in a loveless marriage of a man who mostly ignores her. Soon she starts flirting with the journalist assigned to do a story about her husband, and soon their affair starts up. As we all know, the affair is doomed, even though the two are perfect together, and a series of events conspire to keep the two lovers apart. The question is, will Ellie’s investigation of the two lovers story let us know what happened, and did the two lovers ever find each other again? My Rating: Bargain Matinee The Last Letter from Your Lover Website Now playing on the Netflix platform.
Indiefest: Val (2021) R Documentary on legendary actor Val Kilmer, who played iconic parts throughout his career, including Ice in Top Gun (1986), Jim Morrison in The Doors (1991), and Batman in Batman Forever (1995). Val Kilmer has always been known as a talented but eccentric actor. Kilmer was known for confronting his directors and sometimes his fellow actors over his ideas on how his characters should act and feel. Kilmer was an early adopter of video cameras and has videotaped his life from almost the start of his career (so much footage that he has a warehouse full of the stuff from his life). A few years ago, Kilmer got throat cancer, and they had to install a tube to allow him to breathe. Because of this tube, his speaking voice has drastically changed to a hard to understand gravely speaking voice. His son, Jack, does most of the narration in the film, and most of the time, you forget that it’s not Val himself. The film is filled with behind-the-scenes footage, including some footage from the legendary Top Gun shoot and some extraordinary footage showing just how nuts the making of the horrible The Island of Dr. Moreau was, including a scene with a very fat Marlon Brando wanting to pushed while he laid in a hammock. Now, this is Val telling his own story, so it’s a bit one sided; we don’t get a lot from other people talking about working with him, and other than the Dr. Moreau footage, not muxh about his tantrums and walkouts on the sets of so many movies. Still, Val is a fascinating look at a career that burned bright very early on and then never quite reached that height again. My Rating: Full Price Val website Now playing in theatres.
Familyfaire: Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans (2021) Jim, the first human Trollhunter, must lead his band of friends into a battle to take over the world. Troll Titans have been awakened, and if they converge, it will plunge the world into chaos. This film is the conclusion to a series of TV shows and specials, all of which I have not seen, so I was a little lost right from the start. This film brings all the characters from the past into a super-group formed to try and stop some evil Trolls from ending the world. The story's main hero, Jim, has lost his power to fight the evil trolls and must lead the gang into the fight severely limited on what he can do. That is the basis of the story's message that you can be a leader without having to do everything, that you need to have faith in both yourself and your team. The film is fun to watch, and I did get into the storyline once I figured out the characters in the group and their relationships. I think fans of the shows will get more out of this film than someone like me because you already know all the backstories and have your favorites. I will warn parents; there are a few of the heroes that do die (nothing too ghastly but still shocking), so be preprepared, some of which I became fond of in the short time of watching this film, so I can imagine fans will be hurting at their deaths. Overall, the film's message is good, the action sequences are well done, and the ending is well thought out and compelling. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans Website Now playing on the Netflix platform.
Indiefest: Settlers (2021) Remmy (Brooklynn Prince), her mother IIsa (Sofia Boutella), and her father Reza (Jonny Lee Miller) are some of mankind’s earliest settlers on the Martian planet, who do what they must to survive the cosmic elements and each other. This film gives you many questions to ask and few answers in return, and that’s ok because the emphasis of the film is not how we got here but how we are dealing with the present. The film centers on Remmy, a smart young girl who lives in isolation with her father and mother. It is never said what is out there beyond the hills that has the three so scared, but it makes the film full of tension right from the start. The movie is scary at times, and you never quite know what is going on; we just know that everyone is fighting for survival in rough conditions. There is a sense of fear and bad things coming around every corner, and the film never lets you relax, keeping the tension going throughout the film. Settlers is a slow burn of a movie, with stakes that are high throughout, and they never let up. My Rating: Full Price Settlers Website Now playing in select theatres.
Indiefest: Akilla’s Escape (2021) Akilla (Saul Williams) has spent his life trying to forget his past, but in one night, it all comes roaring back as he is the victim of a robbery gone wrong. Excellent crime drama anchored by an outstanding performance from Saul Williams. Akila is a man who just wants to leave the world of crime behind. Even though his successful pot business is going legit, he wants to get out. On what should have been his last night, he is held up by a gang of teenagers, who make off with all the cash from the operation. Akila then takes an injured robber to find out where the cash is and get it back. But Akilla knows if he gives up the robber to his boss, that robber will lose his life, so Akilla decides to get the cash back on his own. The film does a beautiful job of getting inside Akilla’s head, and we flashback to a scene when he was a teenager and was being taught how to be a gangster by his father. We come to understand why Akilla would risk everything, including his life, to try to save the teenage robber. The film is full of tension that keeps building until the end, and Williams is riveting as the troubled Akilla, who wants nothing more than for everything to be over with. I am sorry I missed Akilla's Escape when it played at the Atlanta Film Festival, but I am glad it is now out for everyone to go on a thrilling ride with Akilla in his quest to right some wrongs from the past. My Rating: Full Price Akilla's Escape Website Now playing in select theatres.
Indiefest: How it Ends (2021) R The world is about to come to an end, so Liza (Zoe Lister-Jones) goes on a journey through LA one last time in hopes of making it to a party before everything closes down. The world is going to come to an end due to an asteroid that will hit the earth. Liza decides to set out to talk to people that mean the most to her and get everything out in the open, hoping to mend old wounds and right some wrongs. Shot during the early portion of the pandemic last year, the streets of LA are vacant (no one had any place to go), and it gives the film an eerie feeling to it that the world is coming to an end. You can also see the pandemic in the fact that most of the people that Liza encounters on her walk stay at least 6 feet away from her. Along the way, Liza and her younger self (Cailee Spaeny), with who she constantly interacts, encounter a whole host of characters that Liza has conversations with. You can tell a lot of these encounters are done with a whole lot of improvising. An encounter with a character played by Fred Armisen is particularly funny. Along the way, Liza explores her life, her mistakes, and her regrets of a life that was filled with interesting characters that filled her life. How it Ends is a fun film to watch, mostly due to how talented a comedic actor Zoe Lister-Jones is and the great chemistry she has with Cailee Spacey, who plays her younger, brash self. My Rating: Full Price How it Ends Info Now available for rent on online platforms including Amazon.
Forgotten Film; A Tiger’s Tale (1987) R Bubber (C. Thomas Howell) is a high-school-student with a nice but slightly daffy girlfriend, Shirley (Kelly Preston). Shirley’s mom, Rose (Ann-Margret), is also a little strange, likes to drink a little too much and flirt. Bubber soon becomes infatuated with Rose, and much to his surprise, Rose is open to it, if only for a little while. Then things get complicated. This isnâ’t a great movie as the 80s like to make these type of films, where young people get into sexual relationships way over their head. Most of the characters seem right out of a bad 40s B movie, the plot is incredibly thin, but it has Ann-Margret, who was and still is a massive crush of mine. She absolutely radiates in this film, and you can see why any young man would want to sleep with her. The film has two beautiful scenes in it, one where Rose, Bubber, and a tiger (yeah, I know) sit on a hill and watch a drive-in movie. The other scene is late at night, where Rose runs naked through a field with the Tiger. Heck, maybe you should just fast forward through anything that Ann-Margret doesnâ’t appear in. My Rating: Bargain Matinee A Tiger's Tale Info
Weird Credits: From the credits of Settlers: Spark
Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You: The Suicide Squad (2021) R The squad of misfit criminals is back on another mission that is bound to get them killed. Margot Robbie returns as the beautiful but mad Harley Quinn, and a cast that looks like it will be so much fun to watch, including John Cena, Taika Waititi, Idris Elba, Michael Rooker, Nathan Fillon, Jai Courtney, and Viola Davis. The last film was kind of a bore, but this one is written and directed by James Gunn, who gave us The Guardians of the Galaxy, so I am hopeful this one will be a winner. The Suicide Squad Website