Friday, September 24, 2021

Dear Evan Hansen

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:   Dear Evan Hansen (2021)  PG-13   Following the suicide of a fellow classmate, Conor, Evan Hansen (Ben Platt), a high-school-senior with Social Anxiety disorder, goes on a journey to find acceptance and self-discovery. A letter Evan has written will change not only his life but will touch so many more. It’s always hard to translate the power of a Broadway theatre experience to the screen. Dear Evan Hansen’s production on the stage was a Tony-winning phenomenon, but  that feeling and power of a live performance doesn’t translate to the screen in this adaptation. The songs are still there, and that is what saves this film, as the songs, including a few new ones, make this film watchable. Unfortunately, the film's storyline is a bit of a mess, and its message, so meaningful on the stage, seems lost in an attempt to add a bit of flash to the production, trying but not succeed in making this film not feel predictable. I enjoyed Ben Platt’s voice, but his performance on the screen feels a bit too stagy. A lot has been made on social media about Platt’s appearance (he is playing a high-school student while he is 28), but it never bothered me. Amy Adam's part is small, and her lovely singing voice is rarely used. I did enjoy the performance of Kaitlyn Dever, who plays Conor’s long set upon sister, who Evan secretly loves from afar. A couple of the musical numbers, where the cast has also to dance, are a bit painful to watch, so maybe just buy the soundtrack or see the musical the next time your local theatre group puts it on.    My Rating: Bargain Matinee   Dear Evan Hansen Website  Now playing in theatres nationwide.

My View: The Guilty   (2021)  R   It’s an ordinary day for 911 operator Joe Bayler (Jake Gyllenhaal), as he gets his standard calls of people asking for help, but this morning will be different. As a wildfire threatens the city and grounds air support, Joe receives a call from a woman in a car and is being held against her will. Now it's a race against time as Joe tries to trace down the woman whose last words on the call are ‘I’m going to die.’ This is a remake of a Dutch film of the same name that I really liked a couple of years ago. Unlike a lot of remakes that Hollywood does of foreign films, this one works with Jake Gyllenhaal giving an outstanding performance as the troubled cop with anger issues that is trying to find a woman who has been abducted. Gyllenhaal gives us a complex hero that you are probably not going to like very much. Gyllenhaal gives Joe an intensity that is constantly blowing over. Joe can’t seem to control his anger and outrage as his character becomes increasingly frustrated that he can’t just get out on the street and find this woman himself. The Guilty is an intense character study of a man whose world is crashing down around him as he tries to make a difference one more time and save a life.   My Rating: Full Price    The Guilty Website  Now playing in select theatres and available on the Netflix platform on Oct. 1st.

Indiefest:  Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan  (2020)    Documentary on pioneering artist Jim Denevan, who started out creating giant works of art on beaches and then started combining his art with a radical alternative to conventional dining. This is one of those documentaries where you would probably not want to be Jim’s friend or even co-worker, but boy, oh boy, will you ever want to be part of his dining productions. The film does an unbelievable job of giving you an insight into a highly complex man who creates artwork on beaches and other areas that will only be visible for a short time and have to been seen from the air (or at least a hilltop) to fully appreciate the art in all its glory. Fortunately for us, Jim also is a chef (his journey to become one is equally impressive), and he creates these one-of-a-kind dining events that combine his love of nature, art, and cooking to new heights. You will be astounded by his artwork and jealous of the people that have sat at his long, long dining table. His dining events are a tough ticket to get, so watching this film is probably about as close as most of us will get, but at least we have this film to watch a fantastic artist work his magic.    My Rating: Full Price    Man in the Field Website   Now playing in select theatres and On Demand including the Apple TV+ platform.

My View:  This is the Year  (2021)   Pining away for a girl, Zoey(Alyssa Jirrels) he believes is way out of his league, Josh (Lorenzo James Henrie), a high-school senior, decides to enlist his friends to go on a road trip, promising Zoey he can get her into the biggest concert of the year. It seems this is the year for revisiting the old 80s teen films, but this movie has a bit of a change of pace; Josh wants his life to be like his favorite 80s teen movie, a movie he has watched over and over since he was a kid, right down to the girl choosing him over the hunk that she is with. Add to the fact that his best friend, Molly (played by the always impressive and energetic Vanessa Marano), is his ‘wing-woman’ who has her own 80s movie fantasy of having her first kiss be full of magic and fireworks. This is the Year is the classic teen road trip with a crazy group of kids that trouble seems to find them just as they think they have hit the promised land of music and good times. The film even throws in the funny high school teacher (played by Jeff Garlin), who is cool, witty, and has a final paper that Josh must write in order to graduate. This allows our lead character (like in The Breakfast Club and a few other classic 80s teen films) to sum up his experiences at the end of the film. This is the Year is a fun, feel-good film that plays on those 80s teen films and gives them a push into the 21st century with a cast that makes you want them to succeed. Somehow you know that they will always prevail, and everyone we want to end up together will. I mean, isn’t that how all those 80s films ended? Of course, with the exception to the rule, Pretty in Pink…Duckie rules! Am I right?!  My Rating: Bargain Matinee    This is the Year Website  Now playing in select theatres.

My View: Hudson (2019) R After his mother’s death, Hudson (David Neal Levin) enlists his distant cousin, Ryan (Gregory Lay), on a road trip to scatter her ashes in a family favorite gathering place. Along the way, they meet an unusual hitchhiker named Sunshine (Mary Catherine Greenawalt), and the three go on a journey that will involve a broken-down Volvo, haiku's, mini-golf, and self-discovery. This is one of those films you discover at a film festival and fall in love with. It’s predictable, and not a lot happens on this small road trip, but the characters are so adorable that you won’t mind that the journey isn’t for long. Hudson, the character played by David Neal Levin, is a droll, dry little man who has a one-track mind, a man who lives for retelling stories from the past about himself and his cousin Ryan. Sunshine, who they pick up at a gas station after she fixes their car, becomes their travel guide and a welcome buffer between the troubled Ryan, who is going through some sort of meltdown, and the grieving Hudson, who steadfastly must scatter his mother's ashes at a place that the family used to picnic at. So spend an afternoon on the road with this strange trio as they have a few laughs, get lost in a corn maze, and eat pretend ice cream at 7 in the morning. You will be glad you were along for the ride.  My Rating: Bargain Matinee    Hudson Info  Now playing in select theatres.

Indiefest:  Lady of the Manor (2021)   Hannah (Melanie Lynskey) is a hot mess who would rather smoke pot than get a regular job. When forced to work, Hannah gets a job as a tour guide, portraying Lady Wadsworth at the historical home, Wadsworth Manor. Work isn’t going great when she meets the ghost of Lady Wadsworth (Judy Greer), who tells her if Hannah doesn’t change her wild ways, she will haunt her until she does. I am a massive fan of both Judy Greer and Melanie Lynskey, and I am a regular listener to Justin Long’s podcast, but this film that Long wrote and directed with his brother Christian is just painful to watch. The jokes fall flat, Greer is given nothing to work within her character of stuffy Lady Wadsworth, and Lynskey’s comedic talents are wasted in a role that is so beneath her acting level. The film also wants you to believe that Justin Long’s character, a history professor, would be interested in Lynskey’s character, who, frankly, is an idiot who has trouble finding her way in a building that is clearly marked and keeps assuming that the professor is having affairs with his students. I had high hopes for Lady of the Manor due to its cast, but I’ve seen better student productions at local film festivals than this film.    My Rating: You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again    Lady of the Manor Website  The film is playing in select theatres and  is available On Demand. 

Forgotten Film: Period of Adjustment (1962)   It was 1962, and Hollywood had no idea what to do with Henry Fonda’s daughter Jane. So they gave her a ridiculous hairdo, a bad southern accent, and outfits to make her look like Marilyn Monroe, and you have Fond’s performance in this comedy. Add to the fact that it is based on a Tennessee Williams play and directed by George Roy Hill (Oscar winner for The Sting and nominated for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), and you get a strange comedy that is fun to watch. A newlywed couple (Fonda, Jim Hutton) has their honeymoon interrupted by the troubles of a married couple (Anthony Franciosa, Lois Nettleton). The film has an outstanding supporting cast, including veteran character actor John McGiver, and a young-looking Jack Albertson. Look quick, and you will see a wet behind the ears John Astin. The film doesn’t always work, but it’s fun to watch Jane Fonda in a role that she would soon leave behind for much better fare.    My Rating: Bargain Matinee     Period of Adjustment Info

Weird Credits: From the credits of Dear Evan Hansen: COVID-19 Secretary

Coming Soon to Screen Near You: Finch  (2021)  PG-13  In a devastated world full of sandstorms, incredible heat, and no water, Finch (Tom Hanks) decides he has to move on because of a coming storm. Finch will now take his new family, a dog and a talking robot, on an adventure in a dangerous and ravaged world. Tom Hanks and a talking robot is enough but add in a dog as your companion, and you’ve got me.    Finch Website

Until Next Time!

Friday, September 17, 2021

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

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:  The Eyes of Tammy Faye  (2021) PG-13    The rise and fall of Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain), who went from very humble beginnings to create the world’s largest religious broadcasting network (including a theme park) with her husband, televangelist Jim Bakker. Her downfall was trusting in her husband, who, through financial improprieties, scheming rivals, and scandal, toppled their empire. Though hit with everything life could throw at her, Tammy Faye had a spirit that wouldn’t let all the hurt bring her down for long. First, the good news; Jessica Chastain is fantastic in the role of Tammy Faye, going from Tammy’s days as a college beauty who wanted to change the world through God’s love to the extreme, raccoon eyes makeup, and horrible singing voice of the PTL leader who we all became obsessed with when Jim and Tammy Faye’s kingdom came crashing down. It’s a brilliant performance that overshadows a movie that doesn’t give us much more than the high and low lights of her life. My problem is I never could figure out if this film was a drama, a comedy, or a satire, as it seems to have aspects of each. The film wants you to love Tammy and feel that she wasn’t in on the scam that PTL was during the Jim Baker times, but its' a hard act to swallow. The Eyes of Tammy Faye doesn't give us the redemption of the main character that the film needs and we want. Like Tammy Faye herself, the film stays way too long, making us feel a bit uncomfortable at the end, tired of watching the train wreck keep plugging along.  My Rating: Bargain Matinee    The Eyes of Tammy Faye Website  Now playing in select theatres. 

My View:  Cry Macho     (2021) PG-13     A washed-up rodeo star, Mike (Clint Eastwood), takes a job transporting a former boss's son, Rafa (Eduardo Minett), 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. For the first time in his career, Eastwood is playing who he is, an old man, damaged by time, who has seen better years. While I liked this character, a cowboy whose glory days are long gone, I didn’t like the movie, primarily due to a script that feels it is written for a first-time director and not a four-time Oscar winner. With cringe-worthy dialogue and a plot that takes forever to develop, the film feels amateurish. Combine that with a bad guy who is so inept, all it takes is a punch from a 90-year-old man and a horrible car chase that ends almost as bad as the movie itself. The relationship between Mike and Rafa seems forced, and their interaction never feels real; instead, it feels right out of those 60s TV westerns that Eastwood used to be on, with a storyline that concludes with all the loose ends tied up like a horse to a hitching post. Cry Macho sure feels like Eastwood's swan song, but I hope it isn’t. The actor, the director, and the man himself, all deserve a better sendoff.   My Rating:  Cable     Cry Macho Website   Now playing in theatres nationwide and on the HBO Max platform. 

My View:  Copshop   (2021)   R   Con artist Teddy (Frank Grillo) is on the run, and hitmen are hot on his trail. He figures out a way to avoid the hitman, Bob (Gerard Butler), who is just one step away, getting himself arrested. Teddy sucker punches local rookie officer Valerie Young (Alexis Louder) and lands in jail. The problem is Bob schemes his way into the lockup himself and is biding his time in a nearby cell until he can complete his mission. Mayhem ensues when a competing assassin (Toby Huss) shows up, and now officer Young must deal with two killers who want to finish what they came for. I enjoyed this film from the Quentin Tarantino school of filmmaking. Plenty of great one-liners, insane situations that get more crazy by the minute, and lots of confrontations with a bit of a puzzle thrown in make Copshop a fun ride. The cast has a blast with their roles with Toby Huss, as the crazy hitman, chewing up scenery with gusto, singing as he ruthlessly blows away anyone in the way of his mission. The film also has a great hero in Alexis Louder, whose character is too intelligent to be in this podunk town and too skilled with her six-shooter to lose in a gunfight. Both Butler as the cool, collected hitman and Grillo as the smarmy con-man are excellent in their roles, but it’s Huss and Louder that make this film worth seeing. I would love to see what happens next to these crazy characters.   My Rating: Full Price    Copshop Website  Now playing in theatres nationwide.

Indiefest:  Blue Bayou   (2021)   Antonio LeBlanc (Justin Cho) is married to the love of his life, Kathy (Alicia Vikander), and is a great step-dad to their daughter Jessie (Sydney Kowalske). When arrested on an incident with Kathy’s ex, a cop, Antonio is shocked when confronted by the ghosts of his past, discovering that he could be deported from the only country he has ever called home. I want to first point out the extraordinary, deep, and complex performance that Sydney Kowalske gives as the stepdaughter to Antonio. It’s a great role that Kowalske gives us as a young girl who has had her heart broken by a parent and doesn’t believe that the world  Antonio has created with her will last. Justin Cho, who also wrote and directed the film, gives us a man trying to make up for the sins of his past but is stuck between a government that doesn’t forget, and a wife that he loves but hasn’t fully let into his dark past. I loved Alicia Vikander’s performance of Kathy, a woman who is trying to raise her daughter with a man she loves but is being pulled by outside forces, including the father of her daughter, a cop (Mark O’Brien), and her mother (Geraldine Singer), both of whom think Antonio is the source of all of Kathy’s problems. Blue Bayou is a moving film, enhanced by beautiful cinematography (made even better when I saw it in a theatre) that will make you get out the tissues plenty of times, so keep them handy. However, it is hurt by an unnecessary subplot involving a woman who comes into Antonio’s tattoo parlor and an ending that feels too contrived to pull at your heartstrings. Still, the film hits a lot of the right notes, and the performances by Cho, Vikander, and Sydney Kowalske make this a movie to see and maybe, just maybe, incite you to action.   My Rating: Full Price   Blue Bayou Website  Now playing in select theaters. 

Indiefest: The Starling   (2021)  PG-13   After suffering a devastating loss, Lily (Melissa McCarthy) goes on a journey to expel a combative Starling bird that takes next besides her quiet home. The grief-stricken woman is about to find her will to live and capacity for love through a strange little bird. There is a good story in this film somewhere, but the filmmakers didn’t find it, and an able cast is weaker for it. Both McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd give their roles everything they have, but it’s not enough to save a script that, from almost the start, tries to bring a tear from your eye. O’Dowd is in a psychiatric hospital, being visited by his wife once a week on family day. There are attempts at humor throughout this film, but most of the time, those attempts fall flat, even when Lily begins to garden and is attacked on a daily basis by a very territorial bird. This allows Lily to meet a Veterinarian who used to be a psychiatrist (played by Kevin Kline). They begin a strange relationship that allows the combative Lily to seek help without admitting it. The film is not helped by a soundtrack that, like the rest of the film, tries too hard to make the film’s emotional moments work. The Starling never gives McCarthy and O’Dowd a genuine moment to show what they could have done with their parts about a couple trying to move on from the heartbreak of loss.   My Rating; Cable    The Starling Website  Now playing in select theatres including Landmark Midtown Art in Atlanta and available on Sept. 24 on the Netflix platform.

Indiefest: Prisoners of the Ghostland  (2021)   In the frontier city of Samurai Town, a ruthless bank robber (Nicolas Cage) is taken out of jail by a wealthy warlord called The Governor (Bill Moseley) and has been given a task. Find The Governor’s adopted granddaughter (Sofia Boutella) and bring her back, or the leather suit our ‘Hero' has been outfitted with will blow up. Ok, Nic Cage (I only call him Nicolas when he does serious work like the recent beautiful film Pig) has done some nutty and insane movies. Some films are meant to be seen at midnight at a film festival, while others can be seen in more traditional settings. This film, instead, should be seen at around 2 am after a few drinks, and that’s not a bad thing, just setting it up for you. The plot makes almost no sense, Cage is allowed to go full-throttle Cage, and the ending is just as weird as the rest of the film. That being said, if you can get by with a paper-thin plot, the overacting, and the gore, you just might have an enjoyable time watching this film. Visually, this film can be stunning at times, and the opening sequences of this film are beautiful and highly imaginative. The problem is that Prisoners of the Ghostland keeps going on and on with a plot that is too razor-thin to keep us in the game. I became bored with the movie about three quarters in and just wanted it to end. I will say this, anytime there is Nic Cage and samurai blades flying around, it can’t be all bad.    My Rating: Bargain Matinee    Prisoners of the Ghostland Info  Now playing in select theatres including the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta.

Indiefest: My Name is Pauli Murray (2021)  Documentary that looks at the life and works of Pauli Murray, a non-binary Black lawyer who influenced both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall. Pauli Murray was more than a lawyer. Pauli was a force of nature that should be better known. This is a beautiful and inspirational film about a ground breaker that most of us don’t know about. Pauli was a remarkable, driven person that was ahead of her time. It seems that everything Pauli did was ten to fifteen years before other people were doing that same thing and getting credit for it. From riding on a bus and refusing to move to the back once that bus crossed the Mason-Dixon to attempting to get into universities that didn’t allow Pauli in because of either of her race or her gender. Pauli was constantly pushing boundaries, all the while suffering because she didn’t fit into what society wanted Pauli to become to conform to. I learned so much from watching My Name is Pauli Murray, a film about an incredible person who made a difference in how we see people today, even if she didn’t get credit for those changes until this film.   My Rating: Full Price   My Name is Pauli Murray Website  Now playing in select theatres and will be available on the Amazon Prime platform on Oct. 1st.

Indiefest:  Best Sellers  (2021)   Lucy (Aubrey Plaza) has inherited her family’s failing boutique publishing house. In a last-ditch effort to save the business, Lucy goes on a book tour with the bitter, booze-addled author, Harris Shaw (Michael Caine), who put the publishing house on the map decades ago. This is an enjoyable film, primarily due to Michael Caine’s performance as an author who has been hiding behind the cloak of a first novel that made both his career and his publishers. Now a cranky man who would rather stay in his home than face the public, Harris is forced out on a book tour when Lucy discovers that Harris owes the publishing house another book, one which Harris has just finished. The film has some great performances by Caine and Plaza but has a plot that seems to get lost in trying to bring the publishing world into the electronic age by a storyline that just gets too confusing on why Harris’s new book suddenly becomes a success and ending to the film that feels too much like the filmmakers wanted to wrap everything up in a nice, pleasing ending. Still, any movie with Caine pissing openly in a bar while shouting out a British obscenity is a film to see.   My Rating: Bargain Matinee   Best Sellers Website  Now playing in select theatres.

Forgotten Film: Popi  (1969) G   A widower, Popi (Alan Arkin) from Puerto Rico, is trying to raise two sons in NYC and give them a better life. This is a film that I am going to tell you to turn off about halfway through it. The problem is that the film turns from being a well-constructed drama about dealing with life in a run-down neighborhood in New York to a comedy about a plan to have his kids appear to wash up ashore on the beach as Cuban immigrants. I love Alan Arkin, and I think the first half of this film shows him at his best; the second half is at his worst as he tries to milk the comedy bits too much to be even halfway funny. The film also has Rita Moreno as Arkin’s love interest, and any movie with Rita makes that film better. Just don’t watch it all the way through.   My Rating: Bargain Matinee     Popi Info

Weird Credits: From the credits of Copshop: Groomer

Coming Soon to a Screen Near You:  West Side Story   (2021) PG-13   The classic story of two young people (Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler) who fall in love, around the hostilities that grow between the two rival gangs of the Jets and the Sharks. Directed by Steven Spielberg is enough to see this film, but a brilliant trailer combined with the recent documentaries on Broadway and Rita Moreno (who won an Oscar for her role in the 1961 film) makes me want to see this film as soon as possible.      West Side Story Website

Until Next Time!

Friday, September 10, 2021

The Card Counter

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:  The Card Counter  (2021) R   William Tell (Oscar Isaac) is a card counter, making a living going from casino to casino, playing in small stakes card games. He meets Cirk (Tye Sheridan), a young man, at a security convention, and they form a bond over a tortured past. This is one of those films that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre. First, let’s just state that Oscar Isaac has become one of our greatest actors in cinema today. His low-key, understated performance is a wonder to watch, creating a man who we know is troubled and could erupt at any moment but uses the pattern of his life in gambling to keep himself sane. We know we are following William down a rocky road, but we have no idea just how rocky that journey will be. Add in a moving performance by Tye Sheridan, playing a troubled soul that William sees a lot of himself in. William makes it his life mission to save Cirk from both himself and their shared  past. Add in a fun and flirty performance by Tiffany Haddish, playing a woman who looks to recruit William to become part of her gambling stable, and you have a movie that hits its mark on all aspects. Be warned that William’s troubled past is horrific and brutal to watch, but that makes William's journey even more remarkable. The Card Counter is that rare film that I had high expectations for, and it exceeded those expectations by leaps and bounds. This film is destined to be on my top ten list for the year.   My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again  The Card Counter Website  Now playing in theatres nationwide.

Indiefest:  Small Engine Repair   (2021)   R  Three lifelong friends, Frank (John Pollono), Swaino (Jon Bernthal), and Mackie (Shea Wigham), love the Red Sox, bars (rowdier the better), and Frank’s teenage daughter Crystal (Ciara Bravo). Their friendship will be changed when after a night of drinking, they are asked to do a favor for Crystal. At times, this film feels like the stage play it is based on, with a lot of dialogue that feels very stagey and static. We spend a lot of time with each of the characters telling stories, sometimes shown in flashbacks, as each character tries to top each other's tales of conquests and debauchery. Of the three, Jon Bernthal, who plays Swaino, a motorcycle-riding lothario, who loves to flirt with women as much as he loves bragging about his relationships with them. Playing Frank’s brash and clever daughter, Ciara Bravo, brings an energy that the film sorely lacks when she isn’t on the screen. Small Engine Repair has an ending that I didn’t see coming but brilliantly ties the film together and creates a tension that we start feeling about two-thirds of the way through and doesn’t let up until the conclusion.   My Rating: Full Price    Small Engine Repair Website  Now playing in select theatres.

Indiefest:  Language Lessons  (2021)   Adam (Mark Duplass) is given a gift of 100 Spanish lessons by his husband Will (Desean Terry), to be taught remotely by Cariño (Natalie Morales). This starts a friendship that neither one expected. I really like this film about two people who, just through casual conversation, begin a friendship that becomes deeper as time goes on. The film is helped by how real both characters feel, enhaned by the winning performances and the chemistry that they create. Language Lessons is a film that lets us know each character, though Adam is far more open about his life than Cariño is, who is very slow to let us know anything about her life. This is a film about friendship and how we need those friends when things become challenging and tricky. So watch Language Lessons and become friends with Adam and Cariño. You won’t be disappointed, and you just might learn a bit of Spanish also.   My Rating: Full Price   Language Lessons Website  Now playing in select theatres.

My View:  Kate  (2021) R   Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is one of the world’s greatest assassins. After a night on the town, Kate realizes that she has been poisoned and has only 24 hours to find and kill the person responsible for her soon-to-be death. Along the way, she will need the help of her operative (Woody Harrelson) and a young teen, Ani (Miku Patricia Martineau), who is the daughter of one of Kate’s past hits. Okay, I will admit that I have had a bit of a crush on Mary Elizabeth Winstead since her role as Sophia on the weird and wonderful TV show Wolf Lake, so I am a bit of a fan of hers. There is nothing new to this film; in fact, it is one of many films in the past few years where a woman has been groomed from childhood to become a lethal assassin, and this doesn’t bring anything fresh to the genre. However, it is fun to see Winstead kicking butt with reckless abandonment. The storyline is pretty easy to figure out, with the big twist being one that we could see from almost the film's start. Still, I had fun with this film that was shot on location in Tokyo and had plenty of fights to please any action fan.  My Rating: Bargain Matinee    Kate Website  Now playing on the Netflix platform.

My View:  On Broadway  (2019)   Documentary on the inside story of theatre on Broadway, from the crime-infested days of the 70’s to the revival of the legendary center of theatre in New York City in the 90s and on to present day, where Broadway has become one of the top tourist destinations in the world. I have a theatre lover, having grown up in and around the theatre, so any documentary about Broadway is going right to my sweet spot, and this film did not disappoint. With extraordinary footage from classic Broadway productions, along with incredible interviews, this film is a theatre buff's dream. This is a film that explores the history of Broadway in modern times, from the lean years in the ’60s to current hits like Hamilton (we get to see the legendary performance Lin-Manuel Miranda gave the Obama’s when Hamilton was just an idea for an album and not a full-blown musical). On Broadway gives us insight into some of the greatest works that Broadway has seen, including fantastic and discerning looks back at the creation of classics like A Chorus Line and Cats, to a look behind the scenes of a new play that hit Broadway in 2018 before the pandemic shut down everything.    My Rating:  Full Price    On Broadway Website  Now playing in select theatres.  

My View:  Blood Brothers: Malcolm X & Muhammad Ali  (2021)  PG-13   Documentary about the relationship of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, from a chance meeting to a historic and tragic fallout. It was a bond of two men that fell under the weight of distrust, shifting ideals, and how important the two men were in that time and now. This is a fascinating film about two men who shook the world with their actions and their words. The film gives you excellent background information on how their early lives were shaped by the hardships and prejudice they faced. I loved the fact that when they first met, Malcolm had no idea who the then named Cassius Clay was, but Clay was starstruck by the presence of Malcolm. This meeting and their friendship seemed like it was destined, as the film goes back and forth, telling the two men’s story through pictures, news footage, and interviews with both men’s families. Two of the best interviews are with one of Malcolm X’s daughters, who reads passages from her father’s historic autobiography, and Muhammad Ali’s brother, who at times breaks down re-telling stories about his famous and much-loved sibling. The fact that their friendship was shockingly very brief, due to Malcolm’s break from Elijah Muhammad and his untimely death, but that friendship developed a bond that the two men felt in their hearts and souls, and the film makes that very apparent. Blood Brothers: Malcolm X & Muhammad Ali is an important film not only about the struggles for freedom that these men fought for but about two friends and the personal growth they gained from each other that influenced generations long after they had stopped speaking. My Rating: Full Price   Blood Brothers Website  Now playing on the Netflix platform. 

My View: The Alpinist  (2021)  PG-13  Marc-Andre Leclerc is a man who likes to be alone. He doesn’t own a car or a phone and always climbs solo, testing his limits with no one around. Filmmaker Peter Mortimer sets out to understand what drives Leclerc and to try to convince him to let the filmmakers shoot him as he sets off on his most dangerous solo climb ever. This is one of those films that at one moment you are saying ‘how did they get that shot’ and the next you are saying ‘how did that guy just do that.’ The Alpinist is not a film for someone afraid of heights because this young man hasn’t seen a mountain he doesn’t think he can’t climb, but that being said, I wish I had seen the film in a theatre so that the climbs had more of an impact. To say that Marc-Andre is a man who is a free spirit would be an understatement. In fact, he probably wasn’t the best choice for being the main subject of a film because the man doesn’t care about publicity or recognition. Instead, Marc-Andre is a man who climbs, not because of the danger, but because he loves to climb and loves the challenge. At one point, after doing a climb that many fellow alpinists thought was impossible, Marc-Andre is asked if he was ever scared during the climb, and he says ‘no.’ Well, watching The Alpinist, Marc-Andre, we were all scared for you and marveled on how effortlessly you tackled a climb that few would dare to even dream about, much less do.    My Rating: Full Price   The Alpinist Website  Now playing in select theatres.

Indiefest:  Come From Away  (2021)    7,000 passengers are stranded after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and their planes land in a remote, small town in Newfoundland. What is a tiny town to do with 7,000 people? How about make them feel wanted and loved. This film was originally going to be a full-fledged feature film that would have been shot on location in Canada, but then the pandemic happened. Instead, we get one of the first productions done on Broadway since the pandemic shut it down for almost a year and a half. While we get the stage musical in place of a more movie look, I can safely say that this film might be better for it. It is a wonder that this cast of 12 portrays two or even three roles each that brilliantly bring life and wonder to this production. The film lets you experience what theatergoers have been going crazy over, a beautifully felt production with incredible performances and songs that will move and, at times, uplift you. This is a film that you will want to experience as its message of the goodness of humanity in the face of such a tragic loss makes you want to stand up and cheer. I loved all the performances but Jenn Colella, playing an American Airlines pilot (among other roles), is outstanding, with a couple of powerful songs that bring the audience to their feet. While not all of us can make it to Broadway, this is the next-best thing, and it will bring a smile to your face along with maybe a few tears. By the way, Come From Away is based on real people and their real-life experiences, making this film and its message even more powerful.   My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again  Come From Away Info  Now playing on the Apple TV+ platform. 

Indiefest:  Everybody’s Talking About Jamie  (2021)   Jamie (Max Harwood) is a 16-year-old who lives in Sheffield, England, and dreams of being a drag queen. With the help of his best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel) and his mentor, Hugo (Richard E. Grant), Jamie just might make his dreams come true. This film is a joy to watch with some fun and sometimes outrageous performances (I’m looking at you, Richard E. Grant, who is having way too much fun in his role) and songs that are catchy and having a bit of a Broadway look to them. The film is full of acceptance and joy, and even though the movie feels a little simple in its storytelling, it is so optimistic that you can’t fall for Jamie and his gang. I enjoyed the performance of Laurne Patel, who plays Jamie’s best friend and sidekick, who seems to have a bit of a crush on Jamie. Patel has a couple of lovely numbers that help the film overcome its tendency, like Jamie himself, of being a bit too flashy and over the top with its production. Still, Everybody's Talking About Jamie is a fun romp into the world of Jamie and his journey of fulfilling his destiny of becoming a drag queen.   My Rating: Bargain Matinee    Everybody's Talking About Jamie Website  Now playing in select theatres and available on the Amazon Prime platform on Sept. 17th. 

My View:  Malignant  (2021) R   Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is having horrible nightmares, visions of grisly murders. Maison discovers that these visions, this nightmare are just from her dreams but, in fact, are becoming true. I don’t want to give too much about this horror film from James Wan so I don’t ruin all the surprises in this film. Kudos to the team that made the movie trailer because, unlike many other horror trailers out there, this one didn’t give anything away. The film has plenty of scares, and I wish I had seen it in a theatre with an audience (for some reason, the film was not screened for critics) because it would have been fun to hear the audience react. The plot is well-conceived, though I will say the first portion of the film can be a little confusing, especially since two of the characters look very similar. The storyline is creative, the scary bad guy is creepy as heck, and I enjoyed the supporting cast, including Maddie Hanson, who plays Madison’s younger sister. There is a great side character that plays off all the investigative cop shows you have seen on TV that is a lot of fun to watch. Overall, I had a good time watching this scary film with a bad guy who is sure to be seen in cosplay at horror conventions from now on.    My Rating: Bargain Matinee   Malignant Website  Now playing in select theaters and on the HBO Max platform.

Forgotten Film: Household Saints (1993)  R  The story of three generations of Italian-American women living in New York’s Little Italy post-World War II. In a high-stakes poker game, Joseph (Vincent D’Onofrio) wins the right to wed Catherine (Tracey Ullman). Both are struggling to find their way in the world, but it doesn’t help that Joseph’s mother, Carmela (Judith Malina), lives with them, making it impossible for Catherine to have her house her own until Carmela dies. They have a daughter, Teresa (Lili Taylor), who is convinced that she is destined to become a nun and believes that someday, somehow, she will become a saint. Household Saints is a powerful and sometimes funny story of how life became different for women post-WWII, as they rebelled against the traditional family and how important religion is to some, but not others. Lili Taylor gives another outstanding performance that makes you fall in love with Teresa, even if you question if she is off her rocker. The film raises some questions near the end about religious fervor, and you have to decide for yourself, is Teresa mad or is she filled with the spirit of God.   My Rating: Full Price     Household Saints Info

Weird Credits: From the credits of The Card Counter: Cardistry Consultant to Mr. Isaac

Coming Soon to a Screen Near YouThe Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) PG-13  The rise and fall of Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain), who went from very humble beginnings to create the world’s largest religious broadcasting network (including a theme park) with her husband, televangelist Jim Bakker. Her downfall was trusting in her husband, who, through financial improprieties, scheming rivals, and scandal, toppled their religious empire. Though down, Tammy Faye had a spirit that wouldn’t let all the hurt bring her down for long. The fact that Jessica Chastain does her own singing of Tammy Faye’s songs is enough to see this film. Adding in Vincent D’Onofrio playing the Rev. Jerry Falwell is just icing on the cake.    The Eyes of Tammy Faye Website

Until Next Time!

Friday, September 3, 2021

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

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:  Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings  (2021)  PG-13   Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) was trained from childhood to be a master of Kung Fu until he ran away from his father (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung), who wanted him to become a killer for his Ten Rings organization. Now living in America and going by the name of Shaun, he works as a valet with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Shaun is about to confront his past and go on a journey with Katy and his long-lost sister (Fala Chen) to stop his father from taking over the world. I liked this film, and it has a cool hero, good but not great fight sequences and an interesting plot-line, but the reason to see this film is not the main character but his sidekick, Katy, played by the brilliant and always hilarious Awkwafina. She gives the film a need boost anytime the action or the plot starts to falter a bit, as Shaun’s loyal friend who decides to go with him on his adventures. The film is setting up some of the subsequent films in the Marvel Universe, and there are a few characters from other Marvel movies that show up to help move the plot along. I saw this film in a theatre, and I think it will lose some of its impact on a smaller screen, especially the fight scene that takes place on a subway train. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings gets a little too complicated during the last third of the film, with a bit of an overload with the special effects/CGI, but they have introduced a new hero to the Universe, and as long as Awkwafina’s character is by Shaun’s side, I’m going to watch. Oh, and as usual with Marvel, there is a bonus scene in the credits that sets up the next film or two.   My Rating: Full Price   Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Website  Now playing in theatres everywhere.

My View:  Cinderella  (2021) PG  Cinderella (Camila Cabello) lives in the basement of her evil stepmother Vivian (Idina Menzel) and her two daughters (Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer). Cinderella dreams of being a dressmaker and owning her own shop when she meets Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine), and love fills the air. This musical is a strange mixture of a classic fairy tale with a modern touch, including a bizarre mash-up of pop songs from some current hits with songs from Queen and Madonna. I liked Camila Cabello’s singing in this film, as her voice has a unique and bewitching quality to it, but unfortunately, she has trouble with the acting part, and this film requires her to be in almost every scene. The film is helped, of course, by the always fabulous Idina Menzel, who has a couple of outstanding songs to sing and a brilliant performance by Billy Porter as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother who brings the house down with a fantastic musical number. The film is full of ‘girl power’ messages and a prince (Nicholas Galitzine) who is the most supportive prince in fairy tales of all time. Much has been made lately on the Internet of James Corden and his stopping of traffic with his pelvic thrusting, but I am happy to tell you that he has a small part (mostly comic relief) as one of the mice that turn into Cinderella’s coachmen. I wish the film had more original songs and less of the clash of pop standards that seem weird and sometimes out of place for such a modern take of a classic story. Oh, and maybe an actress that can do more than sing.    My Rating; Cable    Cinderella Website  Now playing on the Amazon Prime platform.

Indiefest:   The Lost Leonardo  (2021)  PG-13   Documentary about the mystery surrounding the Salvator Mundi, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci that was the first painting in more than a century to be discovered and then mysteriously disappearing. The painting has a fascinating history; bought for 1,175 dollars at a New Orleans auction house, a restorer discovers Leonardo’s painting underneath the heavy varnish of a cheap restoration. The film was sold for a record 450 million dollars and then disappeared. The Lost Leonardo is a fascinating film that touches so much about what is wrong with the high stakes, big money of the art world. First, you have the mystery of whether this painting is really Leonardo’s (they always call him by his first name in this film) or more of a creation by the restorer. Next, we have the trail of how the painting was bought and sold (more than a few times), each purchase brought the price up, finally selling for a record price that didn’t just break the record for a single painting at auction, it blew it away. Then you get into the world of the rich and how artwork is now being bought by the rich, stored in high-security vaults, and being used as collateral for other money-making ventures. And add all the high-stakes politics that go on about this painting, and making it one film that continues to cause your jaw drop and shake your head. The Lost Leonardo is a story worthy of all those ‘true-crime’ podcasts that we all love to listen to because an actual crime has occurred, but by the end of the film, you won’t know exactly what crime has occurred.   My Rating: Full Price    The Lost Leonardo Website  Now playing in select theatres.

Indiefest: The Gateway  (2021) R   Parker (Shea Whigham) is a down on is luck social worker assigned to the care of the daughter of a single mother (Olivia Munn) when the dad returns from prison who is convinced the mother knows where his priceless stash is hidden. This is a hard film to like, with a main character in Parker, whose heart is in the right place but keeps making one stupid mistake after another, a mother (Olivia Munn) whose choices in men are right up there with Parker’s mistakes, and a cast of other characters that are equally unlikable. The film wants you to root for Parker, but we get a ton of side stories (mostly that take place in a bar Parker frequents) that don’t contribute anything to the plot but make Parker seem even more annoying. Like its hero, The Gateway is too flawed to like. The only satisfying thing about this film is that the ending means that a sequel is highly unlikely.   My Rating: Cable   The Gateway Website  Now playing On-demand and digital.

Indiefest:  Wild Indian  (2021)   Michael (Michael Greyeyes) has tried to leave his trouble behind and is living off the reservation. Michael has a successful life that he has built from the ground up with a loving wife (Kate Bosworth) and the undying support of his boss (Jesse Eisenberg). However, everything that Michael has built is being threatened by a man from his past. This film is one full of surprises and twists that make it a compelling movie to watch, bolstered by a powerful performance by Michael Greyeyes, a man whose past is a weight that he can’t escape. Michael is a character that seems closed off, even to those close to him, but it's the guilt of his childhood and the scars it created that he tries to hide. Michael is alwys trying to become something he thinks is successful but is always unfulling. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but it’s a storyline that creates a world where children don’t always turn out to be the adults you think they will be.   My Rating: Full Price     Wild Indian Info  Now playing in select theatres and available to rent online.

My View: Worth  (2020) PG-13   An attorney, Ken (Michael Keaton), is assigned the seemingly impossible task of determining how to compensate the families who lost loved ones in the attacks on 9/11. The story starts with a man who is deeply moved by the 9/11 attack and decides it’s his duty to take on the task no one else wants, but he soon learns that what has worked in the past, spreadsheets of stats, negotiation, and hard work, won’t satisfy a group of people whose lives were destroyed by a terrorist attack. Based on a true story, this is a journey of a man who learns to open up his thinking, doing away with the statistics and graphs that have worked in the past, letting his humanity govern what he and his team need to do, not to make things right, but to make the victims feel heard. Worth is bolstered by solid performances by Keaton, who does some of the best work of his career in this film, as he slowly gives us insight into a man who has built his career on being able to find what a life is worth, moneywise. Add a cast that includes the marvelously understated Amy Ryan (playing his second in command) and Stanley Tucci, who plays a widower who fights for the little guy with a website and a moral guidepost, making the film full of characters that seem real. Worth is a film that explores the politics of a grieving nation but is being pulled by many outside factors, including an economy that could collapse if a settlement isn’t reached. The film does an outstanding job of giving us insight into the people left behind, with so many stories to be told about their loved ones that have left them without a chance to say goodby. Worth is a forceful film that lets the survivors tell their stories with love and compassion.    My Rating: Full Price   Worth Website  Now playing on the Netflix platform. 

Indiefest: Yakuza Princess  (2021) R   Set in the large Japanese community in San Paulo, Brazil, Akemi (MASUMI) is an ordinary shop girl who trains at night in the martial arts. She is attacked by three hoodlums and is rescued by a stranger (Rhys Meyers) who doesn’t remember who he is. Little does Akemi realize that this is fate, with an ancient sword that has bonded them together and a past that she must confront. I am a huge fan of samurai films, loving the comparisons between the classic Japanese films and the westerns of Hollywood. I enjoyed the swordplay of this film, and it’s created a very cool hero in Akemi, a woman whose past is unknown to her, and yet that past is tied up in her fate. The film has a cool look, with some incredible shots of the Japanese section of San Paulo and a very artful confrontation at a remote cemetery. Unfortunately, the film forgets the fascinating fact that San Paulo has the largest population of Japanese descendants in the world outside of Japan itself. This is lost on the filmmakers, and this fact gets so lost in the storytelling that it could take place in any big city. The plot slows down at times, trying to fill in the pieces of Akemi’s past, making the film start and stop too many times. Yakuza Princess is a film with a lot of style but needed more substance to make it work. My Rating: Bargain Matinee    Yakuza Princess Website  Now playing in select theatres and available for rent online.

Forgotten Film: Class   (1983) R   I will tell you right off the bat that this film isn’t a great film. Heck, it isn’t really a good film, but it was part of a group of films in the mid-80s where the plot revolved around a younger man having an affair with an older woman. The thin plot is about a young man, Jonathan (Andrew McCarthy), who gets a scholarship to a prep school. He feels out of place until he finally makes friends with his roommate, Skip (Rob Lowe). Skip decides the problem is that Jonathan needs to get laid and sends him off to the big city (Chicago) with a mission. There he meets Ellen (Jacqueline Bisset) at a bar, and she is charmed by his goofiness (and the fact that he looks like Andrew McCarthy), and they start up an affair. The plot thickens when Jonathan goes home for a weekend to Skip's home and finds out that he has been sleeping with Skip’s mom. The film kind of falls apart right there, but that’s not the reason to see the film. First, Jacqueline Bisset, who I have loved since she played Steve McQueen’s girlfriend in Bullitt (1969), is fun to watch playing with/seducing Jonathan. And the supporting cast is full of soon-to-be stars, including Alan Ruck, John Cusack, and Virginia Madsen.   My Rating: Bargain Matinee (barely)   Class Info

Weird Credits: From the credits of Shan-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Iron Head Painter

Coming Soon to a Screen Near You: Dune (2021)  PG-13   A son ( Timothée Chalamet) of a noble family is destined to become the leader of a planet that contains the most vital element in the galaxy. As a kid, Dune by Fran Herbert was one of the first Sci-Fi books I read and made me fall in love with the genre. I was horribly disappointed with the 1984 movie that is now mostly known for a couple of scenes with a bare-chested Sting and a madman flying around inhaling a drug. I have hopes that this film will capture the magic of the book, and at least they aren’t trying to pack the whole book into one two-hour movie. The cast includes Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Oscar Isaac, and Zendaya.     Dune Website

Until Next Time!