Monthly Archives: June 2021

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Movie Review – In the Heights

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jon Chu

Starring: Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz

Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Gregory Diaz, Jimmy Smits

Year: 2021

In the Heights is a bad play made into a bad movie, and early opinions otherwise have a very strong Emperor’s-New-Clothes smell about them.  Lin-Manuel Miranda created Heights early in his career, and it won some accolades, moving from off-Broadway to Broadway, picking up some awards, and traveling around.  It wasn’t until Hamilton that he struck gold and became a household name, but Heights was his stepping stone, and for that it deserves respect.  But that doesn’t make it quality theatre, and any slightly discerning observer should be able to pick out its problems with ease.  That critics were gushing about the film version as soon as the embargo lifted and they were allowed to do so felt funny at the time, but makes sense now; no one wanted to be the first one to shout out that the king of modern musicals had embarrassed himself.

Usnavi runs a bodega in New York City, in his neighborhood of Washington Heights.  He dreams of someday going back to the country his family came from, opening up a shop there, and beginning a better life.  But when he thinks about what he has in NYC, he knows he will miss the music of the streets and the smiling faces of its people: Sonny the boy he employs and protects, Vanessa the girl he secretly loves, Benny his best friend, Nina the smart girl who carries the hopes of the whole neighborhood on her shoulders, Abuela Claudia the grandmother who is a mother to them all.  There’s a rhythm to the city that’s amazing, a color that’s so vibrant, made up of all the immigrant families who have made this city their home and have carved out a piece of ground for their children, and it will be hard for Usnavi to give that up for a chance at something else.

I am grumpy about Hamilton, I will admit that out front.  I’m not trying to be a nonconformist or a contrarian, I simply don’t think it’s amazing.  I like it, it’s good, it’s smart, but it’s no masterpiece, no Sondheim, and no so many other musicals that came before and are so much better.  People who spend hundreds of dollars on Hamilton tickets but have never seen a Broadway Across America production make me physically angry, and I guess some of that ire gets directed at Miranda, who is in no way a master.  His only other shows are In the Heights and Bring It On: The Musical, and they simply aren’t good, you can quickly see that for yourself if you aren’t blinded by the unique qualities of Hamilton.  Even those seemingly original pieces can be heard in Heights, an experiment that took him where he wanted to go, which, I guess, is a reason to give it credit, but not to pretend that it’s quality.

In the Heights, the movie version, is simply a mess of scenes, songs, and sundry, a musical that’s almost not a musical since you literally can’t repeat any single song after you stop watching the film; they all disappear into the thin air they were born from.  Not only are the songs weak and unsupported, but they are scattered at random, placed into the action at random, are sometimes sung, sometimes spoken, sometimes rapped, until audiences aren’t sure what kind of show they’re watching, or if it’s even a show underneath all the color of the story arc.  You will like the main character, he is designed that way, and you will like the beauty of the moments described; Miranda at least has a talent for awing us when he puts his mind to it.  But this movie doesn’t offer much else; the acting is awful, the pace is slow, the progression seems unedited, the side plots are overwhelming, the love stories feel fake, and it’s simply a slog to get through, making two and a half hours seem like a lifetime.  I may not like Hamilton as much as the rest of you, but I promise I was open to liking Heights; it just didn’t deserve it.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Lifeforce

Category : Movie Review

Director: Tobe Hooper

Starring: Steve Railsback, Mathilda May, Peter Firth

Year: 1985

Lifeforce is a surprisingly good piece of sci-fi camp, with so many different genres thrown together it’s hard to decide which one comes out on top.  It’s science fiction, it’s horror, it’s vampires, it’s zombies, it’s gothic, it’s modern; it’s a little bit of everything all rolled into one wild time, and I guess that’s what makes it unique enough to have stood the test of time.  It’s still a film aficionados reference & adore, and it’s definitely one that I didn’t “get” the first time I watched it, but one that I thoroughly & gladly appreciate now.

A space shuttle called Churchhill, under command of British & American governments, embarks on a mission to investigate Halley’s Comet, where they make a strange discovery; a starship hidden in the tail of the phenomenon.  In the ship are alien animal bodies, all dead, except for three nude humans, frozen in time, which the crew of the Churchhill take on board.  Somewhere on the journey back to Earth, something goes terribly wrong, because all that reaches home is an empty vessel, but for the three seemingly lifeless bodies.  Well, they have a life alright, it’s just biding its time, and when they awake mthe city of London is turned into a war zone, as these monsters from space try to steal our souls from our very bodies, and as the fate the planet teeters on a razor’s edge.

It’s a space movie with a space mission, it’s a vampire flick with deadly, beautiful creatures, it’s a zombie movie with a raging disease, it’s a horror film with tons of terror, it’s a creature feature with physical effects; Lifeforce is a little bit of so much, and that’s probably what makes it so good.  It might plod along a bit, the story might be silly, and the human element is suspect, as these actors aren’t incredible (except for a cameo by Patrick Stewart), but the way you feel immersed within this film is a sign of something special, and the way you feel the plot so physically is fairly unique.  Naked vampires, desiccated corpses, evil exorcisms; it’s a pretty wild ride, and maybe it would help if you could laugh at the more ridiculous parts when they pop up, but generally Lifeforce is a powerhouse of its genre (whichever genre that is) and a movie to study with interest.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


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Movie Review – The Outlaw Josey Wales

Category : Movie Review

Director: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Clint Eastwood

Year: 1976

Josey Wales is the quintessential Western, and what’s more it has a back story, which is so often forgotten in the genre.  Usually it’s just a town, a man, a family, a cabin, a journey, a bounty, something of that nature, but Josey Wales adds all elements together, but not before introducing us to the main character in a way that’s not often exhibited.  That’s what makes this such a special Western; the time taken to teach us about this flawed hero, to progress him through a personal history, then to submerge him in the guns-blazing action we’re accustomed to.  This is the definition of a classic, and it doesn’t seem to age at all.

As the Civil War comes to an end, guerilla warfare still rages along the border states, and Missourian Josey Wales sees his house destroyed, his wife & son murdered, and his life altered by a a group of Union soldiers who Confederates see as nothing more than savages & pillagers.  With nothing else to live for, Josey chooses revenge, and joins up with a Rebel band who take the unruly fight to the North.  But the war ends, even Josey’s unit is forced to surrender, and he becomes an outlaw, a hunted man on the run from foe & former friend.  He finds himself on an adventure across the United States, meeting a variety of folks, as he violently tries to escape the horrors of the past.

You could make a case that, especially knowing what we know about Eastwood now, this film is a little “South apologetic”, a little “the good ol’ boys just wanted to be left alone”, and that’s problematic.  But, also, this is fiction, this is a character, if he was pushed toward killing, if he’s a flawed hero, if he fought for the South, those are all just elements of something made up, and looking at it from that point of view helps you see a Western done right, even if it may also be a Western done Right.  I remember this movie from my younger days, I loved it then for what it did correctly, and I appreciate it now for the same reason; it didn’t change, age, or spring leaks.  Josey Wales is a great example of its genre, but even better than most, with more story, more character, more movement, and with an epic story well-told.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Luca

Category : Movie Review

Director: Enrico Casarosa

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman

Year: 2021

Luca is enchanting, delightful, and fun; it may not be Inside Out or Coco, but, then again, what is?  Just because it isn’t the best thing Pixar has ever made does not mean it’s the worst, far from it, and our standards must be getting ridiculously high if this is what we call “bottom tier”.  I agree that many recent films, stifled by the pandemic, have come out flat and/or unpolished, but I don’t think we should quickly kick Luca into that group, simply because it isn’t WALL-E.  What it does have to offer is enough energy to sufficiently stimulate most audiences, and also enough heart to carry three animated films to the finish line, let alone one.

Luca is a sea monster who lives off the coast of an Italian village and who longs to see what’s topside.  His family strictly forbids it, but he’s curious as to what’s up there; human world, human stuff, humans themselves.  “Helped” by a fellow sea creature named Alberto, Luca reaches the surface, where his kind instantly take on human form, at least until they are covered by water again.  He discovers that all his dreams were realities, that Earth has so much beauty to offer.  Luca & Alberto soon become fast friends, but jealousy will rear its ugly head when a girl named Giulia makes the duo a trio.  True friendship isn’t easy to keep alive, it takes sacrifice & care, and sometimes cheering on an opportunity that might take your friend out of your life.

Call me a softy, but Luca touched my heart, with its story of friendship, sacrifice, and doing what’s right.  It’s a great & simple tale, easy to watch, easy to love, and not demanding of its audiences; I guess there are times when I would critique a film for being too basic and not forcing us to think, but I honestly didn’t feel that same vibe here, I took Luca as a chance to simply feel.  The backdrop, the music, the mood, the ease; it was so lovely to watch, such an enveloping presence of emotion and passion.  I could have done without Luca’s parents, they were pretty unnecessary, and even perhaps the “villain”, but I loved his friends and their partly-complicated relationship, the trio was strong enough that I was invested in how they would solve their problems and they became all I really cared about.  Ultimately, it’s a story about being different, but how that’s OK, because those who accept you for who you are will become those who matter, and those who don’t can go kiss a fish.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ⭐︎

 


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Book Review – To Kill a Mockingbird

Category : Book Review

Author: Harper Lee

Year: 1960

This summer, as a companion to walking our puppy, my daughter & I decided to read a book while we trotted around the neighborhood.  She’s older than my son, so I wanted it to be something a little more mature, something she would like but perhaps he wasn’t ready for, something I could explain when it got heavy, and To Kill A Mockingbird was the perfect choice.  It’s a timeless story than not only transports the reader to a geographic area & a historic period, but also pushes us to answer some awful questions & face some ugly truths.  As relevant today as it was in the 60s when it was published or in the 30s when it was set, it’s a tale of community & of color, of one girl’s growing up, and of an entire nation’s radioactive racism.

Scout & Jem Finch live with their father in Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression.  He is a lawyer, they are school children, they love their tiny town, and they age among its simple folks, its old traditions, and its hidden hates.  The Finch children, along with a new friend named Dill, dream of spotting a reclusive neighbor called Boo Radley, and attempt to get him to come out of his house, all while the real world revolves around them.  Their father, Atticus, takes on a very important case, defending a black man accused by a white man of raping his daughter.  The case becomes a microcosm of the racial injustices of the South, and the inherent evil that lies under the mild- & well-mannered country folk who either know not what they do or simply do not care.

What a great read and a great opportunity to talk about these themes with my daughter, to read aloud to her a wonderful piece of fiction but one that also has so much real to say.  Growing up with Scout is a one-of-a-kind experience, but seeing the South through her eyes is special too, and hearing her father’s words is a blessing, learning that to kill a mockingbird is the greatest sin, because destroying something weaker than yourself, something that only wants to be loved, is a terrible crime.  That idea ties in with Boo Radley perfectly, and is rounded out by Atticus’ case, all the story arcs coming together to form one beautiful mosaic.  My daughter absolutely loved the book, I adored it all over again, and can’t wait to revisit it when my son gets a little older.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

 


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Movie Review – Blast from the Past

Category : Movie Review

Director: Hugh Wilson

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Dave Foley

Year: 1999

Blast from the Past; or, more appropriately titled, The Movie That Alicia Silverstone Ruined.  Because 90s Brendan Fraser was actually pretty fun, and 2000-y Brendan Fraser was actually kinda good, The Mummy and Bedazzled being quiet favorites of mine.  Blast from the Past should have worked because of Fraser and because it was funny; double, single, men on base, ready to smack a homer and drive them in …except along comes Alicia Silverstone.  Hollywood quickly realized that she wasn’t an actor, she was a child who men fantasized over, and when that bubble burst, the 6-year dream window was over.  Not her fault, but also not fun for those of us just trying to watch a movie that could have been great but was royally screwed by her lack of ability.

In the 60s, in the heart of the Cold War, Americans were preparing for a nuclear battle with Russia, with Cuba, with anyone, and it seemed only a matter of when, not if.  Some, Calvin Weber included, built his family a fallout shelter in case of emergency, and his paranoia pushed him to make it fairly …extensive.  This underground bunker was like a second home, and could be sealed off for years, which it was one night when he & his wife went down, convinced that a bomb was just dropped on their house.  Turns out it was just a downed plane, but they didn’t know that, and 35 years later they are ready to emerge.  Well, actually, they send their son Adam, who was born in the bunker and knows nothing about life topside.  But he’s about to find out, and he’s about to fall in love to boot, which will be an experience he certainly isn’t ready for.

The beginning of this movie is incredible.  The set up, the shelter, the 60s charm, the impending years of lockdown, the processes Calvin put in place, the boredom his wife dreads, the aging of their son, and the young man he becomes.  It’s all great, pretty funny, very lovable, and even the emerging is entertaining, when Adam sees the world for the first time.  Fraser is a pro, his parents are Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek, it all just works in a late-90s kind of way, and I laughed out loud numerous times.  But then, enter Alicia, who is problematic at best.  She burst onto the Hollywood scene because she was beautiful, became an icon, got in some Aerosmith videos, and then people realized that, oops, she couldn’t act.  This would be her last big thing, the only film she ever did well was Clueless, and the world would move on.  But meanwhile, she would take the time to ruin Blast from the Past.  She is beyond awful, doesn’t work, can’t mesh, and just messes it up, destroying what could have been a classic comedy and making it forgettable instead.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ⭐︎ ⭐︎

 


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Movie Review – Batman & Robin

Category : Movie Review

Director: Joel Schumacher

Starring: George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone

Year: 1997

As Batman Returns is better than Batman, Batman & Robin is better than Batman Forever, if across much less of a chasm.  #2 blew #1 out of the water, not even close, Tim Burton fixed his own flaws, but Joel Schumacher was able to conjure up much less magic, making #4 an improvement over #3, but not nearly enough of one.  No, Batman & Robin is still stupid & stupefying, but at least it’s a little bit fun along the way, not just noise like its immediate predecessor.  That said, it still sucks, and hard, which makes you thank Christopher Nolan all the more for stepping in eight years later and fixing the superhero we want to love.

Batman and his new buddy Robin are facing off against the sinister Mr. Freeze, who wants to put the world on ice, although he’s not really, truly evil; his story centers around a love that he’s desperately trying to hold on to.  But he’s still not being nice to Gotham, so he’s gotta go down, but, at the same time, the Dynamic Duo will have to face another foe, the clever Poison Ivy.  She wants to kill all humans so that plants can dominate, and she’s got the muscle, a dude named Bane, to back her up.  Luckily, along comes a girl named Barbara who might just help our heroes at exactly the right time, making the duo a trio in the process.

So, it’s still not good, Schumacher still doesn’t know what he’s doing, but at least this time around the action is a little silly in a good way, poking fun of itself as much as anything.  And Clooney is a better actor than Kilmer by far, obviously, so that helps as well.  Still, O’Donnell is the worst actor ever, Silverstone isn’t much better, Arnold can only bellow, and Uma Thurman is asked to do too much; she can’t go it alone.  But at least there were a ton of characters, a ton of fight scenes, a lot of ups & downs, that’s something, and it does make the movie at least watchable.

My rating: ★ ★ ⭐︎ ⭐︎ ⭐︎

 


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Movie Review – Batman Forever

Category : Movie Review

Director: Joel Schumacher

Starring: Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Nicole Kidman

Year: 1995

And I thought the first Batman was bad.  Batman Returns was a huge step up, Tim Burton solved all his problems from the original, but he didn’t sign on five year later to make the third installment; that gig went to Joel Schumacher.  Apparently directing St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, and Flatliners doesn’t prepare you to competently make a superhero flick; go figure.  Because Batman Forever is a far cry from competent; it’s a stupid, bloated, ridiculous, clownish, choppy bundle of bad taste and bad acting served to us like it’s something we ought to want.  No thank you, no forgiveness, and good day to you, sir.

Batman has two new villains to wrangle in Gotham; Two Face & The Riddler.  Two Face used to be a DA, until he was disfigured, and now he’s basically two people, ever at odds with each other, flipping a coin to see which side wins out.  Riddler was once a scientist & inventor named Edward Nygma who worked for Bruce Wayne, before he began using his contraptions for evil, manipulating the minds of citizens for his own benefit.  At the same time, Batman meets the possible love of his life in Chase Meridian and a potential crime-fighting partner in Dick Grayson.  So many balls to juggle, so little time.

What a disaster.  This was supposed to be a resurgence of the franchise; a new Batman for a new time.  Kilmer steps in, does no worse than Keaton, but can’t do anything with the character except make it even less believable, and wow was he failed by his fellow cast mates.  Carrey & Jones were jumping the shark at every opportunity, the scenes with Kidman were as stale as year old bread, and the addition of Chris O’Donnell as Robin, though mercifully small, was gigantically awful.  His scenes were embarrassing, I can’t believe they were in an actual film, and it’s really hard to understand how this movie ever made it to theatres at all.

My rating: ★ ⭐︎ ⭐︎ ⭐︎ ⭐︎

 


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Movie Review – Cliffhanger

Category : Movie Review

Director: Renny Harlin

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Michael Rooker, John Lithgow

Year: 1993

Cliffhanger is a movie so bad you’ll lose track of why you’re watching, like, 40 minutes in you pause the movie, get a confused expression on your face, and say to yourself, “what am I even watching, what in the world is happening, and do I know these people from somewhere?”  That last is fun, playing name-that-actor, but the rest is a more than a snooze fest, it’s your mind shutting down to protect itself from danger, mainly the danger of becoming so dumb that it implodes.  This is less a film and more an endurance test; can you watch it to the end despite every instinct telling you not to, and, if you do, will you come out the other side changed for the worse?

In a freak accident, Rocky Mountain Rescue workers Gabe & Hal find themselves watching Hal’s girlfriend fall 4,000 feet to her death.  Gabe can’t recover and quits the job, while Hal carries the anger around inside him like a bomb.  Months later, a radio call is placed by a group in trouble in the mountains, in need of rescue before a storm blows in.  Hal first, with Gabe behind him, head up the peak, but the message is bogus, and the party in the mountain are not what they seem.  Millions of dollars have just been stolen, but lost in the snow during the robbery, and now the bandits need the rescue workers to help them find the loot.  But they’ve got more than they bargained for on their hands, because these men are survivors, despite the death that still clouds their friendship.

That summary was hard to write, because this movie is hard to watch.  Cliffhanger is less a film and more a series of random events, sometimes in the snow, that give Sly Stallone excuses to grimace, flex, and yell.  I mean, it’s not like I’ve never enjoyed other movies where he does just (and only) that, but this time around is seems especially stupid.  You lose yourself after a while, like, what the hell is going on and what are these people doing, and no one does anything sensible and everyone just jumps or dies in slow motion, like it’s the most dramatic event since the mountains themselves were belched from the crust of the world.  God the acting is bad, Lithgow’s accent is worse, and of course neither leading man can really lead, because they aren’t at all talented.  I still probably couldn’t tell you exactly what happened to all the characters; suffice it to say they mostly died in weird ways because they were dumb, and someone ends up with some money at the end, but it doesn’t really matter who, because you’ll have lost all sense of reality and your taste level will have been significantly, sadly, and strongly reduced.

 My rating: ★ ⭐︎ ⭐︎ ⭐︎ ⭐︎

 


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Movie Review – Locked Down

Category : Movie Review

Director: Doug Liman

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anne Hathaway

Year: 2021

Locked Down was made during the lock down, and it still feels wrong to be a making a movie reflecting on the lock down.  It also isn’t a very good movie, so that doesn’t help, but one of its major, unsolvable problems it that it covers a subject (being stressed out during quarantine) that we simply don’t want to see covered.  Will we ever?  I doubt it, because even those of us who coped quite well and were lucky health-wise might never want to revisit this time, especially to check in on randos to see how they were dealing with it.  Locked Down isn’t awful, it’s just awfully ill-conceived, and then, yeah, you know, sometimes it is actually just a little bit awful.

Paxton and Linda were preparing to break up when Covid came, and now they’re stuck with each other, at least until the lock down is lifted in London, which, God knows when that will be.  Setting aside the more morbid and terrible side of the virus, it’s hard on people to spend all their time with the same other people every day, all day, especially when you were planning on splitting from them anyway.   Linda is a big time corporate stooge who hates how her job murders her morals, and Paxton is an intelligent & sensitive van driver, who can’t get ahead career-wise because he has a criminal record.  That will come into play when, as fate would have it, Paxton is hired to drive the security van for Linda’s company’s transport of a super-expensive diamond, one that could very easily go missing and no one would ever be the wiser, in a time when the world is confused, isolated, and just trying to figure out what the hell is going on; yeah, sounds familiar.

This isn’t really a comedy, a crime drama, or a romance; it’s more a Zoom experiment and a film school skit.  It’s not funny, adventurous, or heart-warming, it’s almost nothing, no genre at all, which I understand would make for an unusual label, but that really would be more accurate.  Locked Down is something that happened because a lot of people were bored, and that doesn’t make it bad specifically, but it does make it something that really, probably, honestly shouldn’t have happened.  It’s about the pandemic, but it’s also just about the human experience, but done in a way that’s incredible boring, and its 2-hour run time was way too long for such lack of filler.  The movie could have been 40 minutes shorter, should have been 5x more exciting, and perhaps tried a little more convention; sometimes audiences want a little normalcy.  Hathaway & Ejiofor were fine, the side cast was fun, the story could have succeeded, but the director missed the point, instead making a pet project that I can’t see anyone really enjoying.

My rating: ★ ★ ⭐︎ ⭐︎ ⭐︎