78/52

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This documentary was quite engaging as it deals with perhaps the most famous scene in movie history and its effects on the film world in general.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was a departure for the acclaimed director and it caused plenty of shock and disbelief.  Much of the reason for that reaction was a scene about a third of the way through the movie where the star of the movie, Vivian Leigh, is murdered while taking a shower.

People did not see it coming.  The beginning of Psycho focused on Marian Crane, the character Leigh played, but it was all a red herring…a joke (as Hitchcock himself put it) on the audience, bringing the true story of Psycho to the forefront.

This documentary by Alexandre O. Philippe really hits its stride when it is dealing with the specifics on how the scene was shot and why Hitchcock did certain things and what they were meant to show.  Many big name stars appear in the documentary to espouse their own personal feelings about the scene.  These celebs include Jamie Lee Curtis, Peter Bogdanovich, Elijah Wood, Guillermo del Toro, and Eli Roth.

The title of the film is a reference to the 78 camera set-ups and 52 edits over the course of 3 minutes it took to finish the scene.  If you are someone who enjoys the process it takes to create a movie scene, or someone interested in breaking down the parts of an iconic film scene, then this documentary is for you.  Being a fan of Hitchcock, I enjoyed the film and I also appreciated the allusions to other Hitchcock films in comparison.

4 stars

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

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Don’t be fooled. There is little to do with DC Comics and EYG Hall of Famer Wonder Woman in the new biopic, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.  Instead, it is a look at the controversial creator of Princess Diana and the reputed three-way relationship that was on display in his life.

William Moulton Marston not only created Wonder Woman, but also invented the lie detector, along with his wife, Elizabeth Marston.  The film tells the story of the arrival of the young and beautiful assistant Olive and how this new addition threw the married couple’s relationship into a whole new world.

William (Luke Evans) and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) were looking for assistance on a human behavior research when they hired Olive (Bella Heathcote).  It is not long before these three people are professing their love for one another and engaging in a threesome that would turn into more than just a momentary indiscretion.

The fact that the greatest female hero of all time has an origin that comes from bondage and an attempt to subvert society with ideas of dominance and ‘sexual perversity” is an amazing thought.  I did not know anything about this as a background for Diana.  This film spends more time on the relationship between the three main characters than it does with our favorite Amazon.  I found it interesting how the film used a hearing, headed up by Josette Frank (Connie Britton), by the National Organization for Decent Literature to frame the film.  In sense, these scenes with Luke Evans and Connie Britton are not that important to most of the film.

The relationship between Marston, Elizabeth and Olive is certainly the heart of this movie and if it did not work, this film would falter.  For me, it worked somewhat, but it did, especially early, felt too choppy.  It jumped around too much for my taste.  One minute, they were saying and doing one thing and then the next scene, they were doing just the opposite.

However, the relationship became more fascinating after they started to live together and they had to deal with some challenge of awkwardness among the culture of the time.

The film felt long at times and could have trimmed some of it down.  I found parts of the movie a little dull, but the relationship was intriguing at least.  The story was fascinating about the origin of Wonder Woman, but I could have used for more of that.  I heard a lot of positives about this one, but I did not like it as much as some.  Still, it is an interesting biopic.

3.3 stars

The Foreigner

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Jackie Chan has returned to the big screen in the new action thriller, The Foreigner that has a part of it that is a revenge movie and another part that is political thriller.  Unfortunately, the parts do not seem to merge very well.

Quan Ngoc Minh (Jackie Chan), a man with a spotted past, lost his daughter in a terrorist bombing in London and he goes on a quest to discover the names of the people responsible.  This led him to former IRA member and current British government official Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), whom Quan believed could provide him the information.

Jackie Chan was really good in this movie.  In fact, some of the early scenes in the film were more than just Jackie doing his action stunts.  He showed some serious emotional acting chops as well in the scenes where he was dealing with the death of his daughter.  However, there really is little to his character besides the loss of his daughter.  The film depends on you wanting to root for Jackie Chan, and does not give you another reason to cheer for him.  Later in the film, the character has some layers peeled away, but by that point, I had lost the interest in any back story.

I found much of the film dull.  The fight scenes with Chan were well done and exciting.  Some of the scenes with Pierce Brosnan were solid as well, but I found much of the remainder needlessly convoluted and unnecessary.

I don’t have much else to say about this one, honestly.  There are redeeming qualities about it, but not enough to make this a recommendation.

2.6 stars

Happy Death Day

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We have seen this type of film before.  Everybody (including the film itself) is comparing this to Groundhog’s Day, the classic Bill Murray/Harold Ramis comedy and the action/adventure film Edge of Tomorrow.  Fact is, Happy Death Day cannot be positively compared to either of those films.

That does not make this a bad movie.  On contrary, I found myself really enjoying this horror/comedy/slasher film mash up.

We meet our leading lady, Tree (Jessica Rothe), waking up in a dorm room after what was implied to be a one-night stand.  Carter (Israel Broussard) is there waiting for her to awaken.  Tree storms from the dorm room and goes about the day, her birthday, being one grade A bitch.

However, near the end of the day, Tree is stalked and murdered by a baby-mask wearing killer.  Instead of dying, Tree wakes up again, back in the dorm room, and the day starts to repeat.  Eventually, she decides that the only way to stop this from happening is to figure out who her killer really is.

So…yes the film has many of the same ideas, beats and concepts as Groundhog’s Day.  There are many cliche things that happen to the character.  The fact that she is one of the “mean girls” at first, the conflicts with the other girls, the love interest with the professor, the estranged relationship with the father, none of these are particularly original.  However, what the film does with most of these cliches is interesting and enjoyable.

I have to say that those people who are just criticizing the movie because it is a “Groundhog’s Day” rip off are not giving this film a chance.

Truthfully, the movie is not that much of a horror movie. It is a slasher movie, but the killer is not the focus.  Instead, it is the victim that gets the spotlight.  Happy Death Day is not very scary either, so those looking for tremendous frights might feel disappointment.  Happy Death Day is much more of a comedy and a mystery story than it is a horror movie.

I was engaged in trying to figure out the killer.  I am usually pretty good at that, but I will admit that I did not have it solved.  I was looking for clues in the scenes and running ideas through my head as I watched the film, proving that the soon-to-be-repeated murder mystery had me hooked.

Jessica Rothe is excellent as our lead character of Tree (the name is weird).  She was very compelling, attractive and filled up the screen with her presence.  She also had a very easy chemistry with Israel Broussard, making it very comfortable to root for them as a couple.  Broussard’s character was a really nice guy and I found myself liking him a lot.

There are some very clever moments in the film as well, plot-wise.  The film is played in a very meta manner, almost with an acknowledgement that the film is silly fun and that the actors and creators know that and embrace that.

Director Christopher Landon directed Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, a silly little film that I enjoyed way more than I thought I would, and he wrote several of the Paranormal Activity movies.  He brings that very style to this film in a very effective manner.  The film is well directed and each shot is blocked with an appropriate eye.  The pacing is strong and the performances are engaging.

In the end, this movie should not be compared to these other movies because they are truly different, even if they have used the same plot device. Perhaps we can create a genre of “Repeating the day” movies and then we can look at them all together.  Until that day comes, I am going to look at individual movies at a time without a preconceived judgment.  And with that, Happy Death Day is a winner.

3.85 stars

Victoria & Abdul

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The film claims that this is a true story…”mostly,” which immediately begs the question of how much of this story was made up for the big screen.

The film tells of the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria of England (Judi Dench) and an Indian man Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal)whom started as a servant for her and ended her “Munshi” (teacher), and the hullabaloo this relationship brought about among the royal family and the other servants of the Royal family.

The film is, once again, a master class performance from the wonderful Judi Dench.  She so much to the historical figure of Queen Victoria in a simple, yet impressively complex way.  In just a few scenes, I understood completely why she became so platonicly smitten with the Indian clerk and why his arrival took her from someone who had to be helped from bed in the morning to someone who was figuratively embracing life with both hands.   The power of her subtle performance was amazing to watch and it reminds you of how great this woman truly is.

Ali Fazal was a good scene partner, but, to be honest, he did not reach the same level of excellence as Dench did.  Part of the reason stems from the character of Abdul not being as fully fleshed out as Victoria.  I was never quite sure why he was so loyal to the Queen or why he was willing to do everything that he did for her.

Because of that lack of a second side, I found the film fairly fluffy.  Instead of taking a potentially powerful story and going for it, the film seemed to play it safe with the controversial relationship and made much of the tone of the film comedic.  Deeper ideas were touch upon but were never supported or expanded upon.

And that is not a bad thing.  The film is completely watchable and enjoyable as is.  It did not need to be a deeper film and it absolutely can exist as a saccharine film.  I just felt as if there were opportunities to take this and explore some of the racial issues of the time in a deeper manner than which the film did.  I mean, it is there, but the context is very subtle.

Victoria & Abdul is a lightweight biopic featured around a relationship that the Royal Family had attempted to hide from the world after the death of the Queen.  Some information was found in one of Victoria’s summer homes over 100 years later and that led to a book entitled, Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant to be written.  Judi Dench brings everything to this film and her second portrayal of Queen Victoria is worth seeing.  Unfortunately, this is a generally forgettable film.

3.4 stars

Blade Runner 2049

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Denis Villeneuve has become one of our top new directors over the last few years as he has had some tremendous successes with Sicario, Prisoners and Arrival.  There couldn’t be a better director to step into the shoes of Ridley Scott and create the long-awaited sequel to his sci-fi classic Blade Runner.

I have only ever seen Blade Runner once, and, to be honest, I found it a little slow.  I had really wanted to re-watch the original prior to seeing the new film, but, unfortunately, I could not find the time.  I did not know how that might affect my enjoyment of the new film.

Happily, I did not feel the need to have seen the first film as I watched Blade Runner 2049.

The new Blade Runner movie is very complex.  It is long and, at times, very plodding, but in a very good way.  The story has just enough familiar beats to it to make you understand that you are existing in the Blade Runner universe created back in 1982, but also has plenty of originality of its own.

Multiple-time Oscar nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins is absolutely at the top of his game as this film is a piece of visual art.  The cinematography is unbelievably tremendous and should end that losing streak Deakins has had in the Oscar race.

The cinematography is really aided by the sound of this movie.  The music and the sound effects are amazing and blend together seamlessly.

There are many top notch performances in Blade Runner 2049, especially from Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford.  Both of these actors bring the goods here.  Ford has not been this good in quite a while.  They have an easy relationship and chemistry and the film pops when they are both on screen.

Sylvia Hoeks as Luv is the standout villain in the film.  She steals just about every scene she is in and she kicks some mighty butt in her action scenes.  She has some great moments with Robin Wright as well.

Dave Bautista was another great performance, although a short one.  Bautista has really been solid in his roles, and this one sets the standard for what we would see.

I am avoiding any recaps to prevent any spoilers because I think going into the film with just the barest knowledge of what was going to happen really helped the film.

There is a major drawback to the film though and it is the role of Jared Leto.  Leto is barely in the film and his character, Niander Wallace, is a major disappointment.  Luv blows Wallace away with intensity, energy and development.  Leto could easily be removed from this film without there being any loss in story, plot or characterization.  That is a serious failure for a great actor.

Spectacular in scope and cinema, Blade Runner 2049 has a lot to offer to fans of sci-fi.  It is a long movie and it might be a challenging watch for the typical movie going audience, but the film is worth the time it takes.

4.2 stars

Gerald’s Game

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I am unsettled.

I did not know this was a Stephen King adaptation until after I finished the movie.  I also did not know that this was directed by Mike Flanagan, who was responsible for some great horror/thriller films the last few years including Hush, Oculus and the surprisingly entertaining sequel Ouija:  Origin of Evil.

Perhaps if I knew any of this, I would have had higher expectations for Gerald’s Game on Netflix.  However, I did not know, so when I heard Chris Stuckmann say he had a review coming on this film (during his review on Flatliners), I thought I would check it out as well.

And I am unsettled.

Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and Jesse (Carla Gugino) are a married couple who head to an isolated house for some role play in an attempt to spice up their marriage.  After having both hands handcuffed to the best posts, Jesse watches in horror as Gerald has a heart attack, falls off the bed, strikes his head and dies.

Worse yet, there is a hungry stray dog that has found his way into the house and has begun to pull the meat off of the corpse to eat.

At this point, it becomes a survival story for Jesse, who begins to hallucinate conversations with Gerald and with herself.  She also starts to remember something horrible that happened to her as a young girl.

Did I mention that I was unsettled?

Carla Gugino was amazing in this role.  She brought all kinds of tension and suspense into the situation and you really feel for her.  You believe that she is in a panic to try to find a way to free herself while she still could and you can see how she is slowly losing it.

And I really hated that dog.

Then, thanks to those flashbacks, the film became, dare I say it, creepier.  I think I felt my skin crawl several times.  Henry Thomas (yes, Elliott from ET) is just as horrendous as any character in any film this year.  Thomas does a magnificent job.  I hated him more than the dog.

As the film continued, it only got tougher to watch.  I could feel the stress with each worse moment that would happen to Jesse.

Then, when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, a weird character shows up and brings that level of tension even higher.  You don’t know if he is just a figment of her dehydrated imagination or something even more sinister.

There are a lot of emotions that the viewer of this film goes through and they are well earned.  There are several moments when I have to turn my head away because it was just too brutal to watch.  I cared for this character and I wanted things to work out for her.

This is a great Stephen King film that really works you over.  This is a tough watch, but I truly respected the journey. This is a character study and there is no jump scares.  The scares are well earned.

And be ready to be unsettled.

4.5 stars

 

Flatliners (2017)

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Sometimes a film can get by with an interesting concept but not much else.

This is not one of those times.

The new remake of the 1990 film Flatliners arrived in theaters this weekend already D.O.A. and no amount of resuscitation would help this film’s heart to keep beating.

I am sure that I am not the only movie reviewer to start off their review of Flatliners with some bad puns, because that is about what this remake is worth.  Originally, there had been some rumors that, because we saw that Kiefer Sutherland, who appeared in the original film, was in this as well, it was actually a sequel to the first film.  You can put that rumor to rest.  Flatlines is not a sequel but a lukewarm and, at many times, dull remake of the Kiefer Sutherland-Julia Roberts film.

The idea is sound.  A group of medical students get together to try and discover the secrets of the afterlife by having the others stop their hearts  so their brain responses to the “near-death experience” could be recorded and studied.  Courtney (Ellen Page) started the experiments and recruited other interns Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) and Jamie (James Norton) to help.  When it appeared as if Courtney was not going to be revived from her trip into death, they called on the help of Ray (Diego Luna) and Marlo (Nina Dobreva).  When Courtney returned to the world of the living, she seemed to have re-wired her brain and she could do many new and sparkly things and the others wanted their turn.

Little did they know that there was something dark and sinister waiting for them when they returned.

So much of this new version of Flatliners makes no sense and there are characters who do certain actions that are, simply put, stupid choices that only are made to further the plot.  No normal human being would make some of the decisions that these obviously stupid reason-for-malpractice-insurance group of doctors would make.

Let’s look at Ray, whom I actually did like.  At first when he found out about the experiment, he was all “you can’ do that” and then he joined them again.  After that he was partying with them, doing shots, but he was still not sure if this was anything but silliness.  Still, he was right there with the group each time.  He was flip-flopping all over the place taking away any credibility the character may have had.

The film starts with a really dumb car crash that is supposed to provide Courtney with a motive to pursue this experiment, but it does not sufficiently provide said motivation.  In fact, it is only meant to be more confusing.

The dialogue was terrible, bordering on laughable.  No human beings speak like that.  It joins in with the weakness in story, plot and conclusion.  The ending is totally a joke.  We never really understand what the dark force that was trying to kill these flatliners was… except it went away fairly easily.   There was an interesting possible story here, but the film seemed to do anything it could to avoid telling it.

The characters were all unlikable, except perhaps for Courtney because she was being played by the strong actress Ellen Page.  The rest of the crew were average to below average.

Worse yet, the film makers tried to throw a bunch of jump scares into the movie to ratchet up the intensity level, but none of them were anything but your typical, low-budget horror movie jump scares that you see a hundred times during a year.  There was nothing special about these scares.

I do not remember much about the original Flatliners movie.  I do believe I saw it, but it did not stick with me much.  Perhaps I should revisit it to see how much better it is than this film.  It has to be better than this film.  The new version of Flatliners was a bad movie.

1.2 stars

Stronger

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Jake Gyllenhaal is truly one of the best actors we have today.  He is consistently performing at high levels no matter what the film or how meaty a role.

Well, in the new biopic Stronger, Gyllenhaal has a real meaty role as Jeff Bauman, one of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.  Bauman lost both of his legs in the terror attack, but he still was able to provide police with a description of the bomber, helping to bring the killers to justice.  Because of his actions despite his tragic loss, Bauman became an inspiration to many people, particularly in Boston where he was referred to as “Boston Strong.”

This was one of the problems.

In the film, we see Bauman struggling not only with the loss of his legs, which was certainly enough of a challenge, but also struggling with the concept of people looking up to him or being inspired by him.  Bauman could not understand why these people were turning him into a hero and felt confused as to the reasoning.  This was one of the most intriguing aspects of this film because it was something that we hadn’t seen before.

Gyllenhaal was again spectacular in this role.  He has a remarkable skill of being able to lose himself in a role.  Most big stars, even in good performances, are basically that star.  Every time you see a Tom Cruise movie, Tom Cruise is basically playing a version of himself (yes, there are exceptions, but you get the idea).  Gyllenhaal, on the other hand, is like a chameleon in a way because I never once looked at this movie and thought to myself, “hey, it is Jake Gyllenhaal acting.”  Instead, he was the character he was playing.  Nightcrawler is another brilliant example of a time when Jake becomes more than his star.

Tatiana Maslany, from Orphan Black fame, played Bauman’s girlfriend Erin and she does a magnificent job as well.  The movie does a fantastic job of not only showing how this injury affected Bauman, but also how it affected the people in his life, especially Erin.  This relationship felt real and was another strength of this movie.

The story is very powerful and can hit hard many times.  There are a lot of emotional blows throughout the film that do not feel exploitative.

The film is also very much a love letter to Boston.  Boston Strong is a huge theme moving through the movie and the background actors are very realistic in their Boston behaviors.

Stronger is a really great film with a fantastic pair of performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany.  It is an emotional ride in a serious and troubling manner.  It might be a little too long and there may have been too much of Bauman’s family involved in the story, but the film wisely takes its time to develop the characters that we really need to see.  Jeff Bauman did not feel comfortable being the symbol of hope to the people of Boston and it nearly destroyed him.

4 stars

Battle of the Sexes

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One of the most infamous moments in sports history of the 1970s is being analyzed in the new film, Battle of the Sexes, starring Steve Carell and Emma Stone.

Of course the moment I am talking about is the tennis match between Women’s tennis star Billie Jean King and senior tour and former tennis legend Bobby Riggs.  The match between these two was at the center point of the argument of equality of the sexes in sports and in society, an argument that we are still having today.

Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) has become a hustler, someone using his great skills in tennis to con his friends out of money.  A obsessive gambler, Riggs was always looking to find that next big money making opportunity.  When a dispute between Billie Jean King and Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) led to King pulling out of the tennis organization to create another one, Riggs saw an opportunity.  He challenge King to a one-on-one battle of the sexes.

King refused and continued on with her career, but when Women Tennis #1 player in the world Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) accepted and was defeated by Riggs, Billie Jean felt as if she had no choice but to defend women tennis players everywhere from the self-referred “chauvinist pig” in Riggs.

The film features much more than just the match though.  It deals with both individual characters and their lives in great deal, especially the struggle of Billie Jean King trying to deal with her sexual status.  Though married, King had an affair with a hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) and she found herself distracted and confused.

Riggs, on the other hand, had to deal with his gambling that took a toll on his own family, in particular, his crumbling marriage to his wife Priscilla (Elizabeth Shue).  Riggs is portrayed very interestingly here as he seemed to be a showman, and I even thought for part of the time that he did not actually believe the garbage that he was spewing.

One of the most fascinating parts of this film was the historical setting that the film took place within as the attitude of men when dealing with women at the time was astounding.  Someone like Jack Kramer is out and out a chauvinist and he said things that were shockingly rude, and yet was typical of the time.  We even heard words of condescension from Howard Cosell, who actually called the match for ABC.  Though there are still many issues when dealing with women’s rights and the equality of the sexes, seeing how the world was at this time was a real eye opener.

I did find that the film dragged a little bit during the middle of the film and I am not sure that I ever truly bought the relationship between King and Marilyn as portrayed here.

The true strength of this movie is the performances of its two lead actors.  Steve Carell and Emma Stone are wonderful here and I would have liked to see even more of the interactions between them.  I think Carell in particular brought the charismatic and enigmatic Bobby Riggs to life on the screen and you find yourself rooting for him.  He was not just the misogynistic villain of the film, but instead a real person that you can’t help but like.

The tennis scenes at the end of the movie are tremendous and really put a strong mark on the film itself.

Battle of the Sexes shines a light on a really amazing time in the world of sports as Billie Jean King took a huge stand against the tennis establishment and brought along with her an entire generation of women libbers.

3.7 stars

American Made

If it did not say right there on the movie poster that this is based on a true story, then there would be no way that I would believe that the ridiculous situations portrayed in American Made could be something that actually happened.  Truthfully, I still have my doubts.

However, there is no doubt that American Made, the new movie from the teaming of Tom Cruise and Doug Limon (the last being Edge of Tomorrow) is an entertaining romp delivering a healthy dose of late 70’s-early 80’s world fun and questionable choices.

Tom Cruise plays Barry Seal, a skilled pilot who is going through the motions in TWA until he is recruited by ‘Schafer’ (Domhnall Gleeson) to fly reconnaissance missions for the CIA, photographing high end targets in Central America.  From there, Seal winds up transporting everything from cocaine for Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía), guns for the US Government and Contra soldiers into the US.  Along the way, Seal was making enough money that he was literally not sure what to do with it all.

Tom Cruise is entertaining here, despite there not being too much depth to Barry Seal.  He is an amazing pilot, but he never comes off as too bright and certainly comes off as morally bankrupt.  Any time someone offered him a job for a bag full of cash, he would do it, without concern for what he was doing.  Calling Seal an anti-hero is quite a stretch.  He is a criminal.

The film does show Seal as a loving husband and father, which is meant to show the redeeming side to him and it does partially work, especially with the star caliber of Tom Cruise behind it.  However, you have to wonder why Seal was such a danger junkie or why he was so money obsessed and the film does not truly give us any insight into the character.

The film does play for laughs many times and it works much more than it doesn’t.  Unfortunately, the tone set by the film does detract from some of the more serious scenes and the scene at the very end does not feel as if it fit with this movie at all.

Bigger questions here are exactly how corrupt is the governments of the world and what do they do just because they can.  This film takes place in the build up to the Iran-Contra Affair that causes all kinds of controversy in the later years of the 20th Century.

I enjoyed the style and format the film presented itself in, with Barry Seal providing the voice of the narrator on old tapes of him speaking.  Some of the exposition is shown in creative imagery with animation or almost 4th wall breaking style.  These moments worked well for the most part, though a couple of them were distracting.

The pace of the film felt off as when the film progressed from one year to another.  It seemed as if the timeline was too off.  It did feel like a long film, but there were times that it felt like no time had passed, but it was actually a year or two.

I found several problems with the film, but yet it was entertaining enough and downright absurd enough to recommend.  Cruise is good here and the way the different government agencies worked here was a fascinating look at a time in our history when even the good people were doing downright crooked things.  The film does feel a little fluff for the situation (and the ending was way out of left field), but I enjoyed it none the less.

3.3 stars

The Hero

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Here is another indie gem from iTunes.

I have to say, I like iTunes and other type of streaming services that have allowed me the chance to see movies like this one that do not find their way to the theaters near me, and I can enjoy them in the comforts of my own home.  Not that I would want to forego the movie going experience, but this gives me a chance to see a great performance by a great actor instead of missing it.

Sam Elliott gives a great performance in the role of Lee Hayden, an aging actor who once was a Western star, but who now is just hoping for one last role.  Problem is that the diagnosis has come back.  Cancer.  So now, can the one time Western hero with the great voice straighten his life out?

He also has started a quirky relationship with stand up comedienne Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a woman over thirty years younger.  I really liked the relationship between Lee and Charlotte because it was such an original concept and it felt very real.  Laura Prepon from Orange is the New Black is really good playing opposite Elliott and they make me believe that this May-December relationship was totally realistic.

Sam Elliott is just fantastic here.  The story itself might feel a little thin, but the fact is that Elliott can make even thin scripts better.

The film leaves us off where we begin, uncertain of what resolution the story will have.  This feels like a solid indie and it is an easy watch.

Krysten Ritter has a role in The Hero as well, appearing as Lee’s daughter Lucy.  The star of Jessica Jones does not have a lot to do here, but she is always a welcome sight to me.  Nick Offerman plays the drug dealer, a former co-star with Lee, and they spend most of their time together now a days smoking weed.  Offerman is very good here too.

The film was entertaining and well worth the rental.  If you are a Sam Elliott fan, you should certainly check this one out.

3.7 stars

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

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I went into this sequel really holding my breath because I really enjoyed the original film, Kingsman: The Secret Service, a lot.  It was original and unexpected with a couple of scenes that will always be remembered (church and exploding heads). However, the trailers for the follow up had me concerned because they had not grabbed by interest.  Because of this, I intentionally avoided reviews and Rotten Tomato scores until I saw the film myself.

And it was fine.

It is nowhere near as great at the first Kingsmen film was, but there are entertaining moments with some good characters, engaging actors and decent action to make the trip to the theater passable.  It will not be remembered as fondly as the first one was, but it did not have to be.

We returned to the world of the Kingsmen with Eggsy (Taron Egerton) being attacked and pursued by former Kingsmen-wannabe Charlie (Edward Holcroft).  The action immediately ramps up and we see some exciting action from Eggsy before he shakes Charlie off.  However, Charlie is able to track Eggsy to the Kingsman headquarters and this led to a missile attack taking out almost the entire Kingsman force.

The missiles were launched by super-villainess Poppy (Julianne Moore), who is trying to get illegal drugs legalized so she can become an even bigger-than-life business person than she already is.  She lives in a compound in the jungles of South America where she has set up a nostalgic little world of the fifties with diners and theaters.  SPOILER: She has also kidnapped Elton John, in the film’s big cameo (which is probably my favorite part of the whole thing).   END OF SPOILER

Her plan is to taint the illegal drugs she sells with a poison that gives everyone who uses them a terrible disease that will eventually kill them, and she will only release the antidote if the world bows down to her demands.

Meanwhile, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) followed a lead to Kentucky where they find the American cousins of the Kingsmen, The Statesmen.  The Statesmen are agents using a whiskey company to hide their activities, much like the Kingsman organization runs from out of a suit shop.

The Statesmen we meet include Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), Champ (Jeff Bridges) and Ginger (Halle Berry).  I enjoyed what little we got of the Statesmen in this movie and I would have liked more.  With the exception of Pascal, we only get a little bit of the others, which, considering the film really promoted the fact that the film featured Channing Tatum, could be considered a bait and switch.  Tatum is in about 10 minutes of the film with Bridges appearing even less.  When they are there though, they are solid additions to the cast.

Taron Egerton is once again very excellent here as the more out-there James Bond.  There are some good scenes with Eggsy and his girlfriend, Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström) and, of course, there are great scenes with Egerton and Colin Firth.

So lets address that.  Colin Firth is in this movie despite being killed off in dramatic and seemingly final fashion in the original.  We saw this in the trailers that he would be back as Harry Hart and how the film brought him back to the land of the living would be important.  Without spoiling it, I have to say the way the film did it was pretty disappointing and not up to the level I expected.  Some might even go as far as to say that the return of Harry Hart cheapens the original movie because it took a lot of the film’s emotional beats away by not having the character remain dead.  I am not sure it was necessary to have Harry brought back.  In fact, I think his return from the dead kept me from having an emotional response later near the end of the film when something else happened that should have had a greater impact than it did.

Not only was the actual way of saving his life pretty eye-rolling, but why Harry had not returned to the Kingsman was also addressed and it is very soap opera-like.  In the end, this part of the film was a definite weak point.

Julianne Moore as your over-the-top villain was also a hit and miss.  While she was great as the crazy villain, many of the things she did felt very cartoony.  Though I liked her as an actress, her character was lacking in many ways.

And the movie itself really seemed as if it was trying to outdo itself from the ending of the first film.  The violence was too implausible, almost being too comic book like for the film.  Sure the film owes its inspiration from a comic book, but it was always more of a spy film than a super hero one, but some of the fights make you wonder.  Trying to top the original was something that it should have thought twice about.

There are still many moments of good humor and solid performances from the actors here.  I liked what I got of the Statesmen and much of the action was fast paced and good.  While no where near as great as the first one, this film was okay.

3.3 stars

The Lego Ninjago Movie

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Okay, so the Lego Movie phase for me ended with this one.

I loved The Lego Movie and I may have loved The Lego Batman Movie even more.  However, I was bored almost immediately with The Lego Ninjago Movie and found myself waiting very impatiently for it to end.

Perhaps this is one that kids will love.  I, unfortunately, did not.

Apparently Lego Ninjago is one of Lego’s biggest sets that do not include a licenses that they have received from another I.P. such as Star Wars, Batman etc.  There apparently is some kind of show and movie already in existence with this, including a large mythology.  I have no idea about any of that so I will not be using that as a comparison or a positive/negative.

Jackie Chan shows up to narrate a tale about Lego character Lloyd (Dave Franco), the son of the infamous super villain Garmadon (Justin Theroux).  Garmadon deserted his son when he was just a baby and it has ruined Lloyd’s life.  In response, Lloyd is the leader of the town’s super hero Ninja squad that keeps preventing Garmadon from taking over Ninjago.  Despite his heroic nature as the Green Ninja, Lloyd is hated and despised by the real world because of his connection to his father.

Lloyd still desires a relationship with his father and this is one of the reasons why he struggled to finally stop the villain, despite the Ninjas continued success in preventing him from taking over the city.  Lloyd’s uncle, Master Wu (Jackie Chan) is your stereotypical ancient wise man who is trying to help the Ninjas find their true path.

To say that these Ninjas are a rip off of the Power Rangers would not be a stretch.  They each have a different color armor, with powers provided by different elements.  They even pilot giant robots, though they avoid calling them Zords.  However, none of the other members of the Ninja team is even slightly developed as characters.  Lloyd, who is the Green Ranger Ninja, is the only one of them that has any significance at all.

So, in the film, an even worse force is unleashed, causing terrible damage to Ninjago and Lloyd and his father are forced to team up to try and find an even greater weapon to overcome the first one.  And, of course you know what happens next.  Father and son find moments to bond and work through their issues.

I was so bored by this.

There was nothing truly original (outside of an appearance of a cat) and the story was nothing that we haven’t seen before in Lego movies and done better.  The father-son dynamic was done better in both previous Lego movies than it was here.  In The Lego Ninjago Movie, the father-son story was cliched and typical.

The Lego blocks themselves were poorly used as well, as we had very few effective scenes of anyone building anything worthwhile.  The humor was lacking through much of the story, which is sad considering that Lego Batman is still one of the funniest movies of the year.

Being such a big fan of the first two Lego movies really made the failure of this one disappointing.  Your young children may enjoy this because there is very little that requires anything more than the basic attention.

2.3 stars

Friend Request

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The lesson I learned from this film couldn’t be more clear— if you are the popular hot girl, never, ever try and make friends with the loner loser girl with no friends because she will turn evil and stalk you on social media, even after she dies.

We’ve had some great horror movies this year.

This isn’t one of them.

Attractive and popular girl Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is in a loving relationship with a doctor-in-training Tyler (William Moseley), had lots of friends (including like over 800 on Facebook), and seems to have a great life in progress.  However, she started seeing Marina (Liesl Ahlers) around campus and the girl is sad and lonely.  So much so, when looking at her Facebook page, Laura sees that Marina has no friends.  Some of the dark imagery on the page intrigued Laura, so she became the sole friend.

Unfortunately and predictably, Marina becomes obsessed with Laura, stalking her, sending her message after message, and creeping the heck out of Laura and her friends.  When Laura lies to Marina about a birthday party, everything starts to unravel.  Finally, Laura unfriends Marina.  Then, Marina commits suicide and posts the video on Facebook for the world to see.

Suddenly, more posts start popping up on Laura’s feed that she did not post, showing some horrific situations.  And when Laura’s friends start becoming victims, these videos continue to show up somehow, under Laura’s name.

No one seems to be able to delete the videos and Laura seems unable to delete her account, which apparently does not trip the curiosity of the two stupid local cops involved in the investigation of these deaths and who think Laura has something that she is hiding.  These two brainiacs are just one of the things wrong with this movie.

So many characters here wind up doing stupid things that I find myself rolling my eyes constantly.  Very few of them make reasonable and normal choices about what to do.  It just makes no sense.

Because there is an opportunity here to tell a story about cyberbullying or about the cruelty of casting aside a girl just because of popularity or the trouble of social media and what it can bring or even a real consideration about mental illness and what can come from that.  Instead, the girl is an evil witch and can somehow cause pain and death via Facebook.

The only attempts at a scare in this movie is by jump scare.  The music wells up and blasts really loudly and there is a horrific image.  Jump scare.  There is nothing else scary or creepy here, and there is potentially so much to mine here.

In fact, at first, I thought we might get something different than I was expecting because the first video we see on Marina’s page is a cool, black and white animated image that filled the screen and made me sit up and take notice… for all of about 45 seconds.  And then the film retreated right back to the dull and idiotic horror tropes that every other bad horror movies uses.

The acting is average to poor.  The characters take actions that went against what the film had led us to believe they wanted in the first place.  These were not real life characters.  They were poorly developed cardboard cut outs doing what was needed for the plot to advance.

If you want a good horror movie this weekend, go back and watch It again.  Do not accept this friend request.

1.5 stars