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: Respect (2021) PG-13 The life story of Aretha Franklin (Jennifer Hudson), who went from singing in her father’s church to one of the world’s greatest singers, the ‘Queen of Soul.’ With most bio-pics based on singers, I usually complain that they don’t contain enough songs, are with the 2020 film David Bowie bio-pic Stardust, none at all. This isn’t one of those films. In fact, I could have used a few fewer songs to cut down this film’s almost two and a half hour running time. Now, don’t get me wrong, Jennifer Hudson does an incredible job of recreating Aretha’s voice, matching the late singer’s power and range. You can see why Franklin handpicked Hudson for the role, and she doesn’t disappoint. I just wish the writing matched the talent of Hudson, but sadly, she and the rest of the cast is let down by a storyline that constantly goes too far into becoming a melodramatic mess. The film concentrates on Franklin’s childhood and first marriage to a shady music producer/hustler played by Marlon Wayans. Wayans is fine in the role, and at times, I didn’t even recognize him due to a much deeper voice than he usually uses. The film drags quite a bit, only picking up when we get to Aretha finding her voice when she goes to record with the Muscle Shoals session group. I loved the recording sessions that let us see just how the session guys blended their style with what Aretha was trying to do. Unfortunately, we get too much of Aretha interacting with her father, played by Forest Whitaker, who attempted to control Aretha for as long as he could. There is a wonderful scene at the end of the film during the credits, when we get to see Aretha perform at the Kennedy Center for Carole King, singing the legendary song ‘A Natural Woman.’ I might suggest that you should just buy the soundtrack and skip all the melodrama, plus you won’t have someone singing along to all of Aretha’s hits like the person next to me did in the theater. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Respect Website Now playing in theatres nationwide.
Indiefest: CODA (2021) PG-13 Ruby (Emilia Jones) is a gifted seventeen-year-old girl with a talent for singing, with a voice that her family has never heard because she is the sole hearing member of a deaf family: a CODA, Child of Deaf Adults. Her life revolves around working on her family's fishing boat after school, and now she must choose between two things she loves, her family and her music. Go right now and see this film in a theatre! You won’t be disappointed, though you need to be warned that you will need a box of tissues and a few spare bucks to buy the soundtrack. This is one of those rare films that comes along that you know how it will end, but you want it to keep going because you are enjoying every moment. The cast is brilliant, let by Emilia Jones as the daughter who finds out that she loves something as much as she loves her family, singing. Inspired by a caring music teacher, played perfectly by Eugenio Derbez, Ruby figures out that her future just might give her a chance to do something different than work on her family’s fishing boat. Jones has a beautiful singing voice, and the film lets her showcase it, whether singing on the boat or in a duet with her potential love interest, played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (who we all loved from Sing Street). CODA pulls all the right heartstrings and makes this a movie that might replace In the Heights as the ‘feel good’ film of the summer. Just remember to have that tissue box handy. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again CODA Website Now playing in select theatres including Landmark Midtown Art in Atlanta and on the Apple + platform.
My View: The Kissing Booth 3 (2021) It’s the summer before Elle (Joey King) heads off to college, and she wants to spend every minute having fun. She and her BFF Lee (Joel Courtney) have a ‘Beach Bucket List’ that they put together when they were kids, and they are determined to fill it out. However, Elle has a tough decision to make, does she go to the college that her dreamy boyfriend Noah (Jacob Elordi) is attending or not break her promise to go to college with her best friend Lee. Whose heart will Elle break at the end of the summer? I enjoyed the first Kissing Booth movie, mainly on the strength of how much you like the character of Elle and the actress, Joey King. It fit the bill of a good romantic film where the girl gets the guy at the end. The second pushed the limits a little too much with the introduction of a rival of Elle’s affections, Marco (Taylor Zakhar-Perez). Well, Marco is back for this third installment of the series to mess things up again. The film feels a little too slapped together, with the bucket list primarily done in front of a ‘green screen’ and a plot that tries too hard to created problems for Elle in her quest to figure out where to go to college. Elle must be a ‘super student' for two prominent colleges to keep her spot open for so long before the fall semester, but that’s just one plot point of many that stretches reality beyond believability. I am sure that fans of the series will enjoy all the high jinks that Elle and the gang do, but for the rest of us, it’s just one long movie of Elle trying to decide who to disappoint. It turns out Elle disappoints us the most of all. My Rating: Cable The Kissing Booth 3 Website Now playing on the Netflix platform.
Indiefest: Buckley’s Chance (2021) A year after the loss of his father, Ridley (Milan Burch) and his mother (Victoria Hill), move from New York City to Australia to live with Ridley’s estranged grandfather (Bill Nighy). After fighting with both his grandfather and his mother, Ridley becomes lost in the Outback and makes an unlikely friend, a wild dingo he names Buckley. Can Buckley help Ridley survive in the wilderness and find his way back home? This is an earnest film about a young boy who misses his father and needs to learn how to grow up. The film is hampered a bit by the lead, Milan Burch, who has trouble with the dramatic scenes and is asked to carry a movie that he isn’t equipped to do. But any movie is greatly helped by Bill Nighy’s appearance, and while not asked to do a whole heck of a lot, Nighy still gives us a few moments to savor as the tough but heart in the right place rancher who has never gotten over the fact that his son couldn’t wait to leave the ranch and his family. The film tries too hard to pull on the emotional strings that never quite connect. Young children may enjoy the movie, especially when the Dingo shows up to become Ridley’s companion, but the rest of us will want more of Bill Nighy and less of Ridley. My Rating : Cable Buckley's Chance Website Now playing in select theatres including Studio Movie Grill in Atlanta.
Indiefest: The Meaning of Hitler (2020) This documentary explores the decades of cultural fascination with the Nazi leader and how this continued fascination impacts present-day politics. This is a fascinating and insightful film that explores the continued cult of Hitler and how today's politics have continued to carry on, in one way or another, his platform. The film goes on a travelogue of places that Hitler lived at or visited during his lifetime. I loved how the film uses a camera mounted on a Mercedes Benz hood, as the trademark hood ornament becomes almost a gun sight for the movie as the filmmakers go across Europe to visit Hitler’s points of interest. The film allows everyone from a cultural anthropologist to legendary Nazi hunters to talk about Hitler and how to combat or expose the continuing influence that the man still has to this day, so many years after his death. Sometimes amused, other times horrified, the filmmakers try to look at every aspect of Hitler’s influence while attempting to dispel some of the myths behind the legend. I was hooked from the start, and The Meaning of Hitler makes a great point of talking about the idea that maybe Hollywood and TV should do less to prop up the legend (just look at how many ‘documentaries’ on done on Hitler and the Nazis on TV) and more to expose the real man behind the myth. My Rating: Full Price The Meaning of Hitler Website Now playing in select theatres and available to rent on available online platforms.
My View: Beckett 2021) R Following a horrific traffic accident in Greece, American tourist Beckett (John David Washington) becomes a target of a manhunt. Beckett is forced to go on the run, desperate to get to the American Embassy before the police close in, and the country becomes enveloped in political unrest. I liked the start of this film, but it feels a little strained by the third act. Beckett is primarily a film about a man on the run, trying to piece together why someone wants him dead, all the while trying to go across a foreign country to the safety of the embassy. Washington has the star power to carry the film and make you want for him to succeed and get back home, but the third act feels very messy and has an ending that doesn’t deliver the needed impact. In the tradition of chase films of the past, this one doesn’t have the main evil guy who we can fixate on, instead of a possible shady group of political activists that never quite instill the fear we need to create the tension in the film so that it can succeed fully. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Beckett Website Available on the Netflix platform.
My View: Free Guy (2021) PG-13 Guy (Ryan Reynolds) happily lives as a bank teller until he becomes self-aware and discovers that he is a ‘non-player inside of a video game. With the help of Millie (Jodie Comer), a program developer, he decides to become a super-hero and save the world he lives in before the game’s owners can shut it down. I had a blast watching this film, and I don’t play video games. Reynolds is hilarious and has the I’m good looking, but I’m also everyman feel about him, making this film work. Sure it’s a little over the top and a bit too long, but Reynolds has excellent chemistry with Jodie Comer, and she has just the right amount of spunk to make her character work. There are some out-and-out hilarious moments in this film and some great cameos (be sure to listen for a few that are just appearing through voice work). The action is fun and exciting, and the plot is creative. There is a joy and almost innocence to this film that makes the film seem sweet while having a few things to say about our reliance on technology. I found this film great fun and loved its view of the world, whether it is the make-believe one or the real one. My Rating: Full Price Free Guy Website Now playing in theatres.
Forgotten Film: Coogan’s Bluff (1968) R Arizona Deputy Sheriff, Coogan (Clint Eastwood,) is sent to New York City to escort an escaped fugitive back for trial, but there are a lot of people who don’t want Coogan to get out of New York alive. Eastwood, hot off his Italian western hits like For a Few Dollars More, plays the stoic cowboy character, this time on the side of the law. The movie poster even makes him look like his 'man with no name' character from the Italian westerns. Coogan's Bluff is an old-fashioned ‘fish out of water' tale of a man whose code of honor is stronger than anything put in his way. The film is helped by an outstanding supporting cast, including the brilliant Lee J. Cobb and Susan Clark. The film was the basis for the long-running TV series McCloud starring Dennis Weaver and is well worth seeing Mr. Eastwood in is prime. My Rating: Full Price Coogan's Bluff Info
Weird Credits: From the credits of Respect: Background Tailor
Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You: Cry Macho (2021) PG-13 A washed-up rodeo star (Clint Eastwood) takes a job to transport a young man’s son home and away from his alcoholic mother. It will be a journey where the cowboy and the kid learn about each other and about what it takes to be a man. Eastwood, as a director, has been very hit and miss, but I feel that he knows this subject matter so well, it has a great chance to be a good film. Cry Macho Website