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!

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