Month: November 2019

Movie Review – Frozen II

Category : Movie Review

Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Starring: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad

Year: 2019

For the record, I was wrong about Frozen.  First, I was wrong about it being a flash in the pan; I thought it was much too Glee and not enough Brave, that it wouldn’t be more than a temporary pop sensation, never becoming a long-standing Disney Princess flick like Tangled or Princess and the Frog.  Secondly, I was wrong about my own rating; I ended up moving it from 5/10 to 7/10 after watching it again, because I thought it earned that much for being so damned catchy.  Frozen really is an icon we’ll look back on, and the music has stuck with me through the years, so I’m willing to admit that I judged it harshly.  At the same time, I think it’s imperfect, very specifically flawed, and my opinion on that won’t be modified.  Sitting down to see Frozen II, I attempted to open my mind, acknowledging my prior mistake, and I’m pleased to announce that I quite enjoyed it.  The sequel is pretty much as good as the original, if problematic in the exact same ways, leading me to like, but not love, this Disney moneymaker extraordinaire.

The Sisters Arendelle are happy now, back at their castle with the gates open and their hearts free, having put all their struggles behind them.  Anna is with Kristoff, Elsa is no longer an icy island, Olaf is his usually bubbly self; things couldn’t be better.  But the history of the kingdom and a long-held secret are about to come back to haunt this idyllic scene, starting with a mysterious voice which seems to call to Elsa.  The old gang is back on another adventure, this time together, as they attempt to find the strange voice, reveal the secret of a generation ago, and answer all the riddles, which are somehow tied to Elsa’s magical powers.  Traveling north, they discover a fog-enshrouded realm where nature was once at peace, but has been unbalanced for years, thanks to a betrayal many years before.  Elsa will have to realize her full potential, Anna will be the one to let go this time, Kristoff had better find his courage, and Olaf should probably have stayed home, but there’s no going back now, as problems this big must be faced and fought united.

The problem I had with Frozen was that it started great and ended sloppy.  The beginning was full of music, characters, beauty, I was hooked, and then the entire last hour was too much Olaf, too much dialogue, and too little intrigue.  The problem I have with Frozen II is the exact same, but also the exact opposite.  The beginning was awful, muddled, the songs were flippant, and I was just wasn’t interested in what they seemed to be making up on the spot like some sort of animated skit.  But the ending, the last half really, was the film’s saving grace, and got me to walk back all the bad stuff I was building up to say as soon as the credits rolled.  I just wish Disney could get it right with this franchise over the course of an hour and a half; how hard is that?  Spread out the high points, keep the goofiness to a minimum, and, if there’s ever a Frozen III, learn from your mistakes, people.

But back to the second half of the movie, which was awesome, and is what I’ll ultimately remember when it’s all said and done.  When the characters were separated they really came into their own; Kristoff with a real song, Anna with a dangerous journey, Elsa with internal work she had to do alone.  And my god were the Elsa scenes fabulous, taking what we’d seen before from her and moving it up many levels.  Her songs and her scenes were magic, from fighting water itself to discovering the breadth of her own power, it was all very special, and should be what becomes the focus of what went well for this flick.  Olaf was kinda hilarious, I hate to admit, especially in his retelling of the original story arc, and as I said, Kristoff had his own song, which was so boss in a Peter Cetera ‘Glory of Love’ kind of way.  I liked the end to the tale, it felt final and well-wrapped, I liked the northern kingdom, I liked the power/magic/nature that resided there, I thought there was a ton being said beneath the surface about relevant, important issues; it all felt like a great and laudable success when the curtain came down.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Sports – NFL Picks 2019, Week 13

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 13 Picks

(11-3 last week, 107-68-1 for the season)

Bye teams: none


Chi @ Det

Buf @ Dal

NO @ Atl

Ten @ Ind

NYJ @ Cin

Was @ Car

SF @ Bal

TB @ Jax

Cle @ Pit


Phi @ Mia

LAR @ Ari

LAD @ Den

Oak @ KC

NE @ Hou

Min @ Sea


Movie Review – Abominable

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jill Culton

Starring: Chloe Bennet, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Albert Tsai

Year: 2019

Apparently giant friendly creatures coming to the rescue to comfort kids who’ve lost their loved ones is an animated sub-genre, especially if those big lugs come with their own problems, get the kids in trouble, but at the same time help them with their anger issues.  Most recently Big Hero 6 and Next Gen have fit this mold, and now we have Abominable, which used to be called Everest, doesn’t have an original bone in its cinematic body, but somehow still comes across as heartwarming all the same.  It’s not your old school after school special, we’ve moved on from that, and the graphics have become impressive on their own, so I’m not warning you to stay away from a Hallmark special.  But this movie is nothing new, it’s the same fuzzy feeling we’ve had before; I guess the question is, do you want to feel it again?

Yi lives in Shanghai with her mother and grandmother, consumed by grief and the desire to break free from the cage that’s falling around her, ever since her father died and his love disappeared from her life.  She fills her time doing odd jobs, saving up money to go on an epic road trip, a journey her dad would have wanted her to embark upon, which, to Yi, means that it has to happen.  But she is sacrificing time spent with those still in her life who still want to connect with her, she just can’t see how important that is.  And things are about to get even more busy for Yi, when she finds a giant Yeti living on her roof.  Yes, that’s right, a Yeti, and although he’s very nice he’s also very large.  He wants to go back to Mt. Everest, and with Yi’s help, along with two kids she wrangles in named Jin & Peng, he might just make it, despite being hunted by an evil corporate billionaire who may not have the best intentions.

The plot of this film is disappointing similar to too many others; the sad kid, the big lovable, the evil rich guy, the escape, the chase, the ultimate tears and life lessons.  It’s not new, except that it’s set in China, but weren’t the ones I mentioned before also influenced by Asian culture and technology?  It’s a thing, I’m telling you, it’s a genre of its own now, and that’s fine, I kinda like it, and so do my kids, it just puts a ceiling on how much we can possibly applaud, since we’ve been there done that.  And the animation isn’t quite as good this time around as it has been before; very computer-y and not too expensive looking.  The backgrounds they created were beautiful though, the magic they centered the story around was cool, the music was nice, and the whole feel was pleasant, that’s for sure, I ended up with a smile on my face, which I guess is applause of its own, in a way.  Don’t expect Abominable to be the most amazing animated feature of the year and you’ll leave happy, maybe even emotional, and your kids will have a great time with the humor and the characters.  And when it’s all over, you can rest assured knowing we’ll soon be seeing another one just the same.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Brightburn

Category : Movie Review

Director: David Yarovesky

Starring: Elizabeth Banks, Jackson A. Dunn, David Denman

Year: 2019

Brightburn attempted to be the anti-story to Superman, but instead ended up the antithesis of cinema, failing to match genre standards, failing to hire talented actors, and failing, generally, to be at all watchable.  A complete failure from the first scene to the last, the film isn’t comic book, action, sci-fi, drama, or horror; it’s, rather, a rancid bubbling cauldron of styles as ingredients that burns a hole through its own base and fouls the floor beneath.  I would be embarrassed if I were at all involved in this picture, I found myself cringing the entire way through, and I could never be sure if that was because I didn’t like what I was seeing or didn’t like what I was supporting just by watching.

Think Clark Kent, but backward, but the same.  Now, that’s Bizarro supposedly, Superman’s opposite, but the character we are about to meet isn’t exactly the flip side of the famous hero, instead he’s what was born of bad intentions instead of good.  Brandon Breyer was found in the forest by his adoptive parents, simple farm folk from Brightburn, Kansas.  They knew he was special (smart, strong, fast, invincible), but they kept the truth of his arrival secret, hoping that some day he would be great things.  Well, he’s about to do things alright, but they aren’t exactly great, and they aren’t exactly nice; meet the world’s newest superhuman psychopath.

It’s the Superman origin story all the way, but, instead of good, Brandon was brought here by some power for evil, and so we see the genesis of a villain from a classic hero story perspective.  Pretty clever idea, I dig it, the script written by a pair of brothers from St. Louis who don’t have much else to their credit so far.  So the idea is solid, but the execution is, unfortunately, the opposite, and Brightburn easily becomes the absolute worst movie of the year.  Instead of innovation it’s cliched, instead of cool it’s disgusting, and instead of hype we get crap, and that’s being nice.  The acting is so bad it’s sad; Banks needs to rethink her profession, and Denman will never not be Roy from The Office.  The stupid townsfolk, the unnecessary gore, the vapid way the parents seemed like they just got their kid in the mail yesterday instead of raising him the past dozen years; it’s a shock to the system how god-awful this film is.  I knew I was done when Elizabeth Banks, being the hippie farm mom she is, started painting purple splotches over a picture of a cow like she was doing some form of art; I wonder what was going through someone’s mind when they allowed that scene to make the final cut.  Really, you could say that about any part of this movie; it all belonged on the cutting room floor.

My rating: ☆



Movie Review – Light of My Life

Category : Movie Review

Director: Casey Affleck

Starring: Casey Affleck, Anna Pniowsky

Year: 2019

Light of My Life is simply Leave No Trace combined with The Road with the stakes raised, and the resulting magnificence shouldn’t surprise anyone.  The Road showed us what to do, Leave No Trace took our emotions further, and Light of My Life brought the genre home, succeeding as both a story of personal tragedy and an essay on the failings of mankind.  The fact that Affleck wrote, directed, and starred in this movie should only heighten the sense of accomplishment; he was able to create something special from all angles, one of the best films of the year.  Affleck also bet on himself more than on his young star (think Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jennifer Lawrence, Thomasin McKenzie), which I think was the key decision; actors of his talent don’t grow on celluloid trees.  No gimmicks needed, no celebrity cameos necessary; Light of My Life speaks for itself and for its creator, and wow does it speak loudly.

The world has moved on, but instead of revolving around a Dark Tower, America has plunged into the Dark Ages, or nearly so.  A virus of unknown specificity has wiped out almost the entire female half of the world population, and society has unraveled as a result.  Foraging and living on the fringe have become commonplace, with small villages serving as Wild West boom towns wherever enough people show up enough of the time to warrant a market or a general store.  For Rag, an 11-year-old, this partial existence on the edge of a real life is all that’s ever existed, since the decade since the downfall of order has never offered anything more.  Rag’s father keeps them hidden, separate, and safe, since the secret they carry with them is only growing more dangerous with the passing of time, and death would appear swiftly at their door if it was every revealed.

Full disclosure; I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic movies and for Casey Affleck’s acting.  I know there are concerns about him personally, but I can’t speak to that, all I can do is watch what is before me and try my best to judge it, and what I’ve seen over the years, what I saw recently in Manchester by the Sea specifically, has made be a fan.  He’s phenomenal, and although I loved what Viggo Mortensen and Ben Foster brought to similar roles, there’s no one I can imagine who could do a better job with such a complex character living in an insane world.  And then there’s the directing and the writing; the guy did everything, this is his film, and I honestly didn’t expect it to check off as many boxes as it did, to shoot up to the top of my yearly list so easily and so readily, to be, in general, this damned good.  The music is perfection, almost Interstellar-esque, the action is played out so finely, without cheese or cliche, the ending I can fully support, the small moments I could watch for days, the over-arcing story one that I was emotionally affected by; I can’t sing this film’s praises enough.  Although I doubt we hear much from it come Oscar time, Light of My Life is nevertheless a grand bit of cinema, and an example of excellent, precise, simplistic, still-waters-run-deep filmmaking that I hope we see more often and more of.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Ford v Ferrari

Category : Movie Review

Director: James Mangold

Starring: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Noah Jupe

Year: 2019

Ford v Ferrari is most likely the best racing movie ever made, Days of Thunder meets The Fighter, sports meet Oscars, and will most likely be nominated for Best Picture, among other awards.  Much of the movie’s success is based on its broad appeal; it’s something you can watch with your boomer dad but also with an eye toward artistic performances around every corner.  We *kinda* had that with Green Book, minus the racist issues both on screen and behind the camera, which I guess you can’t completely eliminate from the narrative since they do exist, so moving on.  FvF is that kind of “everyone let’s go to the movies” type of film, but played much safer and closer to the vest, which will propel it toward general & significant praise.  But that same reluctance to push the boundaries is what will also keep it, in my book, from reaching the rarefied air achieved by some others of this year that are stronger, braver, more original, and simply better, features that went the extra mile to become something especially brilliant.

While Henry Ford II pumped out cars from his Detroit factory and made countless millions giving Americans something to drive, the world changed around him, leaving the love of the assembly line behind for a desire for something better, sleeker, faster, sexier; the baby boomer generation of the 1960s didn’t want their fathers’ Fairlanes any more.  So Ford went into racing, first through stock cars down in Winston-Salem, and then pushing into the European competitions, specifically at Le Mans.  Ferrari was the automaker to beat, they won the 24-hour race every single year, but Ford thought they could do it better, could make a car go faster, and they desperately needed attention drawn to their new endeavor, the Mustang.  The man hired to kickstart the racing program was none other than Carroll Shelby, the maker of the Cobra, and once a Le Mans winner himself.  He hired driver Ken Miles to head the team, and together they took the Ford GT40 to France to show the world that Ferrari and Porsche weren’t the only manufactures with killer instinct, that Ford was here to compete & to win.

Americans were bred to love Ford v Ferrari, and the film’s lead actors were born to play these parts.  It really is shocking how perfectly all the pieces fell into place, and that’s after audiences were conditioned since childhood to love stories exactly like this; underdogs working together to create something new, facing so many challenges along the way, all set against a backdrop of U.S. ingenuity and teamwork.  It’s like Apollo 13 but with cars, a film that has no chance of failing to impress us with its tale or immerse us into its narrative.  I’m just another Joe Schmoe along for the ride here; I was captivated from the first sound of an engine roar onward.  To see these cars created, to watch the men who created them struggle forward, to sit pitside for a world famous race; it’s funny to think that we only pay $10 or however much to be given this sort of experience.  This movie is worth much more than that, it’s a gift to the senses and to our love of our own history, and that’s why it’ll be right up there at the front when it comes time to hand out awards.

If you were waiting for the other shoe to drop, you’ll have to wait a minute longer, because I have more good things to say before I turn to why I don’t think FvF is one of the Top 5 films of the year, maybe just Top 20.  It’s the acting that really sucked me in, since it’s the acting that I look to first and foremost when I’m judging a feature.  And really, how could you possibly have gone wrong with this cast: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Noah Jupe, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Jon Bernthal, Ray McKinnon, or even Josh Lucas, who is in no way a good actor but played the heal rather spectacularly, and by spectacularly I mean detestably.  Everyone filled in the gaps between the lines, the race became the focus, you could feel the car under your seat, I walked out pumped, and I can’t imagine there were many who didn’t feel that same way.  My only real reservations are that I felt the film sticking to the same ol’ script too much, clinging to the cliches because they knew they could and still win big, passing on opportunities to venture out because they really didn’t need to.  That timidity will keep this film from the absolute top of my year end list, but I completely understand why they didn’t feel the need to break the mold; when the mold is this good and you’re filling it with such talent, risk might become unrewarding, and success might just fall in your lap.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆




Sports – NFL Picks 2019, Week 12

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 12 Picks

(1o-4 last week, 96-65-1 for the season)

Bye teams: Cardinals, Chiefs, Chargers, Vikings


Ind @ Hou

Den @ Buf

NYG @ Chi

Pit @ Cin

Mia @ Cle

TB @ Atl

Car @ NO

Sea @ Phi

Det @ Was

Oak @ NYJ

Jax @ Ten

Dal @ NE


Bal @ LAR


Movie Review – Earthquake Bird

Category : Movie Review

Director: Wash Westmoreland

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Naoki Kobayashi, Riley Keough

Year: 2019

Westmoreland’s only shining moment is Still Alice, which is actually Julianne Moore’s shining moment, so I guess the dude is still looking for his, and it won’t come with Earthquake Bird, mostly because it’s awful.  Netflix has definitely had its moments, its successes, its “see that building” films, but its latest thriller? drama? romance? isn’t one of them.  In fact, it’s one of the worst features I’ve had the displeasure of seeing all year, right down there with Aftermath and Polar, which are two flicks whose love child Earthquake Bird bares a passing resemblance to, a mix of the grandiose and the absurd, which can work sometimes I guess, but doesn’t here.  And believe me, no one is more disappointed, because I wanted to love this film, it’s just not worth it, which is mean to say about a person but fine to say about a movie, right?

Born in Sweden but having traveled the world, Lucy now considers herself a native of Tokyo, the land in which she chose to put down roots, learning the language by setting her mind to the task and whisking away from a troubled past life as soon as she was old enough to leave.  She works as a translator, plays classical music, loves Japanese culture, and mostly keeps to herself in a semi-strange and awkward bubble that shows signs of the personal problems hidden deep within.  The first person to get through that protective layer is Teiji, an odd yet alluring photography, who makes Lucy feel seen.  Second is an American named Lily, who is a free spirit and needs a friend who speaks the language.  The trio becomes close, but that’s sure to end badly, as jealousy rears its ugly head and one by one characters wind up dead.

If you really wanted to, you could dive into this story and try to work out all the metaphors, try to unravel all the twists and possible meanings.  Are Lily & Lucy representations of the same person, does Teiji stand for something inside Lily, is the violence just internal struggle, what does it all mean?!  And that can be fun, I’ve found myself picking apart the allusions within great films, that can be part of the enjoyment, going deeper, but Earthquake Bird doesn’t deserve that; it’s too poorly done on the surface to warrant a closer look.  There might be potential unearthings, but I can’t be bothered, no one did their job well enough to suck me in and make me care, which is the whole purpose of making movies, IMHO.  I love Vikander, Keough is cool, but their characters were so cliched, as were all the details of the film, from the love triangle to the murder mysteries, just one big “yeah maybe you’ve seen it all before but I don’t care hey come watch this throwaway Netflick.”  It really did seem that flippant and under-rehearsed, like no on involved cared, and so neither, ultimately, did I.

My rating: ☆ ☆


Movie Review – Little Woods

Category : Movie Review

Director: Nia DaCosta

Starring: Tessa Thompson, Lily James, James Badge Dale

Year: 2018

Too many sites refer to Little Woods as a Western; the only thing Western about it is that it happens in the west.  That’s not enough to be considered a neo-Western, there are certain plot elements that need to be present, you can’t just call it that because there’s some mountains and some crime.  That might seem like an unimportant point, but I wonder how DaCosta would describe her own movie; I doubt she’d call it a Western.  It’s more Winter’s Bone than Hell or High Water, showing desperation and sacrifice in the face of insurmountable odds, but definitely lacking the cowboy/girl feel that accompanies those that actually fit in the genre.  Anyway, I just think this film is a drama, having very little to do with the crimes committed within in, having more to say about the characters and their situations, which is enough for one sitting.  Little Woods has some power, but lacks refined edges; not surprising coming from a first time director, but one from whom I think we might be able to predict good things.

In a North Dakota fracking city, life trembles on the edge of poverty, depression, and drug addition, leaning toward happiness far too infrequently.  For Ollie, whose foster mother has just died, and who is nearly off probation after moving prescription pills over the Canadian border, there’s a real chance of starting fresh somewhere else, assuming she can keep her shit together just a little longer.  But staying out of the hustle game isn’t easy, with bill collectors breathing down your neck, drug dealers wanting to use your skill, and the void of hopelessness staring up at you everywhere you go within your crappy home town.  When Deb, the fuckup sister, gets pregnant and kicked out of her trailer, the ice beneath Ollie’s feet begins to crack faster, and desperation might push her into making bad, dangerous choices.

You can tell that DaCosta is an amateur, and that’s OK, everyone starts somewhere, and you could start at a lot worse places that Little Woods, a compelling drama that’s succinct, real, honest, and moving, without, unfortunately, ever becoming something special.  You’d swear the filmmaker grew up in a place like this, it feels so personal, but she’s from Brooklyn and went to film school, so hey, you got me believing, nice work.  She’s still green, there are pacing problems here, but nothing spectacularly egregious, which is to her credit.  It helped that she had two dynamic actors to work with; I really like Thompson but I’m absolutely in love with James.  She is a generational superstar in my book, although her role here was more supporting than I would have liked; I’d rather she had been the driving force.  Not much really happens in the course of the plot, though much is threatened, and I was left feeling a little deflated, when I wanted to be utterly invested.  The timing is a little off, everything could have been more crisp, there are small issues, this isn’t a top tier movie, but there’s definitely potential here, so let’s keep our fingers crossed for what might come next.

My rating:  ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – The Nightingale

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jennifer Kent

Starring: Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr, Sam Claflin

Year: 2018

I hope to god that this becomes a genre; Irish convicts in Tasmania seeking revenge against evil British officers, with the aid of heroic Aborigines.  I would watch every single addition to that fledgling style, and if anyone knows some that already exist, I want to hear about them.  The amount that I was on board for this film from the very start as soon as I heard all their accents and saw the frontier that they lived on cannot be measured, and I think it’s safe to say I died a little inside when the fullness of my impossible dreams weren’t realized by the end.  In all seriousness, I loved the beginning of this film so much that I knew I would be let down eventually, my excitement was too high, and the director was much too amateur to take a phenomenal idea of this caliber to the finish line without running out of breath at least a little.  Even so, The Nightingale is one of the best of the year, flaws and all, and we can only hope that Kent keeps producing pictures, because they are bound to only get better.

The British Empire used Australia and its surrounding islands as penal colonies after claiming the Eastern half of the continent in the late 1700s, continuing colonial expansion when gold and other mining opportunities were discovered, completely disregarding the native people who had lived there for thousands of years.  In an English outpost in Tasmania, with Irish convicts working off their sentences and “black fellas” attacking from the surrounding forests, Lieutenant Hawkins chafes at being kept in the wilderness instead of being promoted to a higher position.  He and two of his men rape a local woman, kill her husband, and murder her baby, running away from the scene and leaving Clare for dead.  But they underestimated her rage; she hires a captured slave turned scout named Billy, who has never forgotten his own family’s deaths at the hands of the British, and follows the Lieutenant into the bush to enact her righteous vengeance.

I liked but didn’t love The Babadook, Kent’s first feature, mostly critiquing it for the same reason I will here as well; it started spectacularly but couldn’t keep up that pace.  Babadook devolved into just another scary movie, after introducing us to a plot that could have been so much more; the exact same thing happened in Nightingale, the start was too good to be true, and the rest just never lived up to the story’s potential.  Maybe Kent still needs some seasoning, but she’s definitely shown signs of intense talent, and I for one am willing to watch, be patient, and applaud when her day finally comes.  It’s not far off; this movie was still excellent, despite its excessive length and meandering middle.  The protagonists were wonderful, the villains were vomitous, the landscape was breathtaking, the Aboriginal plot was very important, and I was always invested, small critiques aside.  I do think the dream sequences were unnecessary, I do think we went a little Revenant too often, and perhaps that the film as a whole needed trimmed/edited a bit more, but, again, those are picky points, I generally think Nightingale was a success.  It’s brutal, it’s sickening, don’t watch without that warning, but it’s just as savage as it needed to be to tell a tale that you hope could never have been true but are sure happened far too often.  What might have been a Top 5 of the year with perfect execution perhaps ended up a Top 20 instead, but that’s hardly a huge knock or a reason to not to watch.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆