Month: September 2019

Movie Review – Willow

Category : Movie Review

Director: Ron Howard

Starring: Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley

Year: 1988

Ron Howard, George Lucas, James Horner; that’s quite a team, and Willow is quite a movie.  People in the 80s loved fantasy films, and that’s something I fully support; what’s a little stranger is that they also loved casting little people in those films, which I support as well I guess, as long as they weren’t being used as gimmicks, but as actors.  Willow, Legend, Masters of the Universe; I’m sure there are more, those might just be the ones I can think of that also featured Billy Barty, but you get the point.  Looking back, some of these genre flicks don’t hold up, they’re very silly, we just liked them because we didn’t know better, but not Willow, it’s special.  It’s a movie of pure magic and grand adventure, with comedy & heart in tandem, and something you can watch while young, while old, once, or over & over & over again.

Willow is a simple Nelwyn (dwarf) who lives quietly in his village and wants nothing more than to be a sorcerer’s apprentice.  But when his family finds a Daikini (human) baby, Willow finds himself a part of a war he didn’t even know was taking place, but which now involves him all the same.  The baby is Elora Danan, a future princess who heralds the end of the nightmarish reign of Queen Bavmorda.  The Queen’s daughter and her general have been searching for the child, who is now in Willow’s care, with the hopes of capturing and banishing her to a realm in which she can do their evil empire no harm.  Now it’s up to Willow and a few key allies to deliver the baby to those we can raise an army around her, which will be the true adventure, since the fate of the world rests on the fate of Elora and her guardian, who makes up for his size with the bravery in his heart.

Warwick Davis was Wicket in the Star Wars and Ewok movies; I was obsessed with his character as a kid.  And so I was also obsessed with Willow; I had the movie, the book, and even a comic book version.  It was one of my favorite fantasy films, and is now one of my favorite 80s era throwbacks, a movie I could watch a thousand times and enjoy each one.  The Nelwyn village, those viscous dogs, the Crossroads, Madmartigan, Sorsha, trolls and monsters and magic acorns; it’s epic, let me tell you.  There is magic and adventure in turn, there are battles, it’s so much fun, and behind it all is the cutest baby you’ll ever see and some real tenderness toward her character that you can really feel and connect with.  The music is great, the sets are incredible, the effects are cool for their time; there’s a lot to love about Willow, and a ton of reasons to watch it right now.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Downton Abbey

Category : Movie Review

Director: Michael Engler

Starring: Michelle Dockery, Allen Leech, Robert James-Collier

Year: 2019

Downton Abbey is the best drama television has ever gifted us, six seasons of touching storyline that I will never, ever forget.  I can remember the first time I sat down to watch, how drawn in I was immediately, how affected I was by each up & down, how much I never wanted it to end.  But nothing gold can stay, and Downton didn’t wear out its welcome, leaving us wanting more, like any good entertainer knows to do.  And now we’ve been rewarded with the bonus material we didn’t even know we deserved, a film version of the show and a final chapter in the book of the Crawley family, and those downstairs who keep their daily lives spinning. This is fan service at its very best, its most pure, a hand-wrapped gift to devotees that won’t be understood by anyone else, a movie that’s somehow more than that, and a perfect way to say goodbye.

Five years since the last time we looked in on them, the Crawleys and their servants continue their routines at Downton Abbey, while navigating the bumpy road of modernity and inevitable change.  Mary added a daughter to her family, Edith is the lady of an important household, Barrow is the butler in charge; everyone is growing up so fast.  And an unexpected event is about to come to their doorstep, keeping all on their toes even more diligently; the King & Queen are on their way for a visit.  That’s right, royalty at Downton, and the entire house is in a bustle over the historic event.  Tom has a special role to play in helping things go off without a hitch, Robert might be cut out of an inheritance, Granny has some news to share, the staff plot a mini-rebellion; never a dull moment in Yorkshire, not at Downton, where high drama is always in fashion.

There’s no explaining it; if you don’t love the show you won’t get the movie, and if you haven’t even watched the show I don’t know how to convince you that it’s the best you’ll ever see.  There have been some amazing and groundbreaking comedies: Friends and The Office come to mind.  But never has an episodic drama made this big an impact while also holding to this high a standard.  It’s a quality show, tremendously so, and it watches like an unfolding of real life, a story of people you already care for and want to watch succeed.  The deaths and downfalls are tragic, the weddings and bright moments are magic; Downton Abbey is something that everyone should experience.  And now we get more than we bargained for; a film version of the show that was created to make a quick buck, I’m sure, but was also constructed well-enough to stand alone as lovely fan fiction against which I have no complaints.

It really is like a special episode, like a season or series finale, and fans will appreciate the continuity in plot, even while audiences coming in blind will feel lost.  This film wasn’t made to pique interest, it was made for those who already watched, and in that way I fully appreciate the bows they tied on some of my favorite storylines.  But it’s also a solid stand-alone movie, from the acting to the costumes, from the music to the delivery of each scene; Julian Fellowes’ talent is on full display here, with Engler as a partner and the cast as pillars holding up what has deservedly become a theatrical institution.  The fan service element hit all the marks, gave me all the feels, and I couldn’t have left happier; I would have liked to have seen Rose, but I’m sure she’s off doing amazing things.  The extra characters are strong, the run time is perfect, it ended so well, and I could watch both the entire series & the film send off again right now without a moment of boredom.  Again, watch the show, fall in love, and then come back to the movie, because otherwise you won’t appreciate what you’re seeing.  But when you do all that, you’re welcome to join the club and sing Downton‘s praises; it surely deserves them.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Sports – NFL Picks 2019, Week 4

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 4 Picks

(10-6 last week, 28-19-1 for the season)

Bye teams: Jets, 49ers


Phi @ GB

Ten @ Atl

Was @ NYG

LAC @ Mia

Oak @ Ind

Car @ Hou

KC @ Det

Cle @ Bal

NE @ Buf


Sea @ Ari

Min @ Chi

Jax @ Den

Dal @ NO

Cin @ Pit

Movie Trailer – Dark Waters

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Todd Haynes

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Bill Pullman, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins

Release: November 22nd, 2019

Spotlight meets Erin Brockovich, and that’s fine, that’s watchable, but I hope there’s more beyond that to make Dark Waters a truly special film, because the story being told here is one that deserves our attention.  This is happening, this is real, this is life for so many people, and it needs to change; films like this don’t tilt the world on its axis, but they can at least bring attention, and that’s a start.  Other than Carol, I don’t like Haynes much, and I don’t expect this narrative to fit into his typical style, but we know that Mark Ruffalo can pull off a role like this, he’s an excellent professional, so I trust him to do the plot justice.  Everything taken into account, I expect this film to be solid, and I want to support its message, because it’s something people need to hear.

Movie Trailer – Uncut Gems

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: The Safdie Brothers

Starring: Adam Sandler, Idina Menzel, LaKeith Stanfield

Release: December 25th, 2019

People are acting like they’re surprised by how good this movie looks, but why?  Sandler has proven that he can be literally be the best actor in any room (Punch-Drunk Love, Meyerowitz Stories) and the Safdie Bros. have proven that they know what they’re doing (Good Time), AND A24 is an amazing studio, so it just makes sense that this film would look this amazing and could seriously be in the Oscar conversation in a few short months.

Movie Review – Harry and the Hendersons

Category : Movie Review

Director: William Dear

Starring: John Lithgow, Kevin Peter Hall, Melinda Dillon

Year: 1987

The actor who played Harry Henderson, Kevin Peter Hall, also played The Predator after Jean-Claude Van Damme was deemed not big & intimidating enough.  Hall was over 7 feet tall, a basketball player in college and overseas, until he moved to L.A. to try out acting professionally, where he met his wife and had two kids.  Tragically, he died at the age of 35 as a result of AIDS, and a beloved character actor was gone just like that.  I’ve always loved Harry and the Hendersons, grew up with it as a standard, but never learned much about ‘Harry’ himself, so it’s been nice to put a little research behind the film.  And it was even nicer to watch it once more, this wonderful, feel-good, family comedy that has a heart-warming message to share, and that holds up very well, even over 30 years later.

George Henderson is a hunter & a sportsman, teaching his son to be one too by taking the family on camping trips, buying him a gun, proudly displaying his mounted heads in the family living room.  But when George hits a large animal with his station wagon, he meets a humanoid creature who might just be worth saving.  The Hendersons name the animal Harry, and are pretty sure that’s he’s the legendary Bigfoot, Sasquatch, the Missing Link, and he seems to have almost-human intelligence.  The family soon falls in love with Harry, but their two worlds don’t always coexist, and soon Harry is loose in Seattle, with the whole city hunting him.  The Hendersons will have to put their life on hold, find their friend, and take him to a place where he’ll be safe, because he isn’t just some dumb animal, he’s what’s been missing from their hearts this whole time.

What a lovely little movie, and I’m glad I revisited it with my own family; my kids got a big kick out of it.  I had forgotten how 80s & 90s movies thought it was so funny for kids to curse, their parents to yell at them, then the parents to curse, and the kids to throw it in their faces; that was a standard joke and it’s pretty juvenile, which might be the only negative thing I can say about this film.  Not a big deal, but it bothered me a bit; other than that, pure family entertainment, and a great message to boot.  John Lithgow is great, Hall is so wonderful as Harry, the side characters are fun, the family dog Little Bob, Don Ameche is such a pillar, and everything fits nicely together in a succinct, pleasurable package.  This is a movie for the home shelf; it stands up & revisits well, it’s clever, it’s funny, a real winner of the genre & the time, and something for the whole clan to come together around.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Never Look Away

Category : Movie Review

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Starring: Tom Schilling, Paula Beer, Sebastian Koch

Year: 2018

Had I seen Never Look Away last year when it was released, I would have stumped for it to not only be nominated for Best Foreign Film, but for Best Picture as well.  As it is, the film was nominated for Foreign and for Cinematography, both incredibly deserved, and it’s now on my list of the best of 2018, regardless that I saw it one year too late.  It’s an incredible mix of German cinema that has come before, while also being an amazing individual accomplishment.  Think Black Book, Frantz, and The Lives of Others to have some idea of what to expect, and if you haven’t seen those movies I recommend that you remedy that.  A touch of Nazi-era, some romance, the Berlin Wall, a few subtle thrills, Russian socialism, art school; it’s a mix of styles, genres, moods, time periods, and emotions, but somehow it all makes sense as a final product, if audiences are able to step back and allow themselves to be wowed.

During Nazi dominance, a boy’s beloved young aunt is institutionalized and later killed, as part of the genetic cleansing supervised by a professor and doctor named Carl Seeband.  After the fall of Hitler and the installment of Soviet rule, Seeband is at first imprisoned and then protected, this murderous but brilliant gynecologist and obstetrician.  Years later, the boy, named Kurt, has grown up and inherited his aunt’s love of art and feel for the true beauty of life.  He falls in love with a fellow student named Ellie, who is Seeband’s daughter, and the pair quickly become inseparable.  Although their connection is unknown, and even more secrets lie beneath the surface, Heir Seeband dislikes young Kurt, and plots to break up the happy couple.  Meanwhile, Kurt’s artistic flow is blocked, both by the overbearing East Berlin occupation and by his own inability to connect with the truth of the past, setting up an eventual breakthrough that will be neither quick nor painless.

Donnersmarck has directed three films: The Lives of Others, The Tourist, and Never Look Away.  His first was excellent, a look at East Berlin in the 80s that was taut with tension, and it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.  His second was terrible, a move to Hollywood and to established American stars, which did not succeed in any way.  His third is a return to what worked, and boy does it work.  We head back to post-WWII, socialist, Soviet Germany and all that entails, but we also get a bonus; a story that begins during the Third Reich and carries its drama over a span of twenty-five years, affecting everyone it touches along the way.  Donnersmarck layers the drama thinly, but the weight is inexorable, and audiences will feel it eventually over the three-hour length of the film, which might sound daunting, but is exquisitely balanced and never feels unjustified.

There are too many elements to give full credit to any one aspect; this film is assuredly one that thrives on its many parts and their interactions, its many moods and all the twists along the road to the final climax.  It really is a display of numerous styles and times, weaved together to create something over-arcingly magnificent.  Schilling is so captivating, his eyes and his smile, a lovely leading man who shows that looks can go a long, positive way, without taking anything away from acting prowess; sometimes appearances are simply beneficial.  Beer is probably the better actor, though her part is smaller, but she still makes her mark.  And Koch is such a wonderfully despicable villain, especially is this role, he plays the part so well, and you’ll loathe him by the end.  The film is about art, about freedom, about expression, about love, but it also tells a seldom-heard tale of groups and lives the Nazis destroyed that might not be as widely-known, so hats off for capping off what is essentially a war-torn romance with serious historical context.  Don’t Look Away is part drama, part thriller, inspired by a true story, as well-rounded as you are ever likely to see, and should have made more noise one year ago; I’m just glad I finally heard the call.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – High Life

Category : Movie Review

Director: Claire Denis

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Mia Goth, Juliette Binoche

Year: 2018

A bonkers space drama starring Robert Pattinson sounds like exactly what I signed up to be a film critic for, because these are the styles and actors that push boundaries, and that’s what fuels our love of the cinema.  I don’t mean to be over-dramatic, and ultimately I really liked more than really loved this movie, but I want to make that clear; not only is this my jam, but I think it ought to appeal to more audiences than it, in reality, does, because filmmakers and ideas like what are exhibited nicely here are the engines that turn the machine we so enjoy.  OK, enough of that, you’ll either appreciate it or you won’t, and god knows it’s not for everyone, but I hope enough notice the positives underlying what is basically an extremely bizarre two hours, rather than focusing on how unfocused the plot is, because that surely is not the point.

Monte lives in an ever-advancing space shuttle with a baby named Willow, but how they came to be there is a story that can’t be told easily.  It begins with a crime, or many separate crimes, leading to a sort of voluntary experiment for those whose lives are forfeit anyway.  They are rocketed away from Earth on a mission to reach a black hole, to send back data about possible energy uses, but never to return themselves.  Their secondary mission, spearheaded by the insane and murderous Doctor Dibs, is to further experimentation in artificial insemination, and to attempt to create the perfect child.  But the entire crew of the ship is criminal, knowledge that they’ll never see land again cracks their minds further, and playing God among the stars has dire consequences, no matter how far away from normalcy you might have strayed.

A couple years ago it seemed that every grand film of the season has lost its damned mind, had gone incredibly bonkers, but blew us away anyway; High Life would have fit very well with that group.  As it stands, it might be one of the strangest movies of this year, and also one of the strongest, coming around the corner in a surprising way, but holding viewers’ attention in a manner that doesn’t happen all that often.  Robert Pattinson is a tremendous actor, I hope that’s widely-known by now, and can pull off any role, even an odd space-murderer turned kind care-giver.  The film is as wacky as it sounds, and there’s some weird sexual content, but it all makes sense as a big picture, once you get past the peculiar details.  It’s also a strong metaphor for the “human condition”, as trite as that may sound; doesn’t make it untrue though.  It’ll surprise you with its casual violence, its inhuman dispassion, and then warm your heart with its unorthodox tenderness; it’s that sort of ride, from start to finish, one that can’t be easily explained or contained, but rather demands your time and effort and focus.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Category : Movie Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett

Year: 2008

I hesitate to even review this movie, since it’s such an awful, cheap, and insulting ploy to play off fandom and make a quick buck, but here goes anyway.  The original trilogy (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade) is legendary, even if the middle of the three is ridiculous, and I’m disappointed that Spielberg thought he needed cash bad enough to add on to what didn’t need adding on to, especially with this caliber of movie.  Crystal Skull is even worse than I remember from watching it in the theatre, an absolute waste of space that should embarrass anyone involved.  And it gets fairly decent critics ratings, Robert Ebert gave it an 8/10; did we watch the same movie, people?!  This film sucks, it just sucks, from the acting to the action, from the story to the CGI, it’s one giant ‘oops’ that ought never to have been made, and it’s insane to believe otherwise.

Twenty years after the heart of his adventuring days, Dr. Jones is still a professor, and still finding himself in the middle of battles he didn’t start but is oddly equipped to fight.  He did his duty for his country in WWII, was a spy of sorts, and now a group of Russian paranormalists want what’s inside his head.  They use Indy to help them find a mysterious box at Area 51, which is tied to a greater treasure they hope to find deep within the jungles south of the border.  Supposedly El Dorado is real and can give great power, as well as gold, so the Russians want their hands on it, which is something Indy can’t allow.  Along with a young greaser named Mutt, who is tied up in all this through his mother and his mentor, who were both kidnapped, Indy attempts to solve a mystery involving little green men, ancient crystal cabezas, and God knows what else; it’s not easy being an infamous adventurer.

I’ll defend the over-dramatic qualities of the original trilogy; that’s how they were made, it’s pulpy, it’s fun, if you didn’t get it then you won’t get it now, so leave the franchise to those who enjoy it.  That said, I think most people appreciate the franchise, and sure it’s a little silly when you watch them back, but I still say they hold up, as long as you loved them when they were made to be loved, and understanding that #2 is fairly terrible, if still pure entertainment.  But the fourth is pointless, painful, and downright insulting, with a juvenile feel that clashes with the action-packed story, and with so many nonsensical moments I’d feel concerned for anyone who could watch and enjoy.  The plot is stupid, the graphics are abysmal, the acting is ludicrous, and not even a solid cast could fix any of the problems: Ford, LaBeouf, Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Karen Allen.  Blanchett’s role was idiotic, Allen can’t act, the moment Shia started swinging through the trees with monkeys I lost all potential respect, and the ending is simply dumb.  They made this movie for money and it shows; it doesn’t have any reason to exist and doesn’t offer anything to audiences except poor taste.  Spielberg is making one more, and I say screw that; the guy hasn’t directed anything special since Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can anyway, so it might be time for him to retire, for us to ignore his projects, and for Indy to finally die in peace.

My rating: ☆ ☆



Sports – NFL Picks 2019, Week 3

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 3 Picks

(9-7 last week, 18-13-1 for the season)

Bye teams: none


Ten @ Jax

Cin @ Buf

Det @ Phi


Oak @ Min

Bal @ KC

Atl @ Ind

Den @ GB

Mia @ Dal


Car @ Ari

Pit @ SF

NO @ Sea

Hou @ LAC

LAR @ Cle

Chi @ Was