National Champions (2021)

June 30th, Movies 31

The June Swoon comes to a close today with the final film in the binge. The choice I made was a football movie featuring J.K. Simmons and Stephan James called National Champions. Truth is the film is less about football and more about the system of college football and how the NCAA makes billions of dollars while the student-athletes get nothing.

In National Champions, two football teams are preparing for the college championship game when the star quarterback LeMarcus James (Stephan James) and his friend, another player Emmett Sunday (Alexander Ludwig) announced that they were going to boycott the game unless the NCAA changed their system and began paying and providing benefits to the players that the NCAA was building their brand upon.

LeMarcus and Emmett went around to players on the team trying to build up support, others to join in on the boycott. Meanwhile, Coach James Lazor (J.K. Simmons) was trying to hold his team together before the big game and met up with the officials of the NCAA trying to break down the boycott.

The fact that the NCAA is a billion dollar business that absolutely takes advantage of the young men to make that money, and then the athletes are not allowed to benefit for it. The small percentage that go on to the NFL may benefit from their college games, but the vast majority of the players will not play any more. Many of them find themselves back in poverty or in financial difficulties and facing injuries or pain from their playing days.

The film really did a great job of building tension as they approached the game and what the individuals involved would do in order to get the game played. JK Simmons was fantastic as always, but so was Stephan James. These performances were what this film depended on.

I do believe that the storyline involving Coach Lazor’s wife Baily (Kristin Chenoweth) and a professor at the college Elliott Schmidt (Timothy Olyphant) was too far, and, in the end, was a strange twist. This actually hurt the story and distracted from the overall story. It is a shame because I do love Timothy Olyphant.

The film’s message is one that is absolutely a problem that needs to be addressed and the movie does a great job of showing the troubles with the NCAA and college football. It is able to present the message while still being entertaining.

Father of the Bride (2022)

How many times can this movie be remade? Father of the Bride has been made three times, 1950 and 1991 and now in 2022. The 1950 version had a sequel while the 1991 film had two sequels as well. So why do we need yet another version of this film?

The reason we need another remake is because they were able to come up with a undeniably entertaining and robust take on the formula that is funny, totally engaging story with some of the most likeable characters you would find.

Billy (Andy Garcia) and Ingrid (Gloria Estefan) are having major problems with their marriage and even therapy was not working. They finally decided that they were going to get a divorce. With their daughter Sofia (Adeia Arjona) coming back to Miami, they planned on telling her and their other daughter Cora (Isabela Merced) about their divorce.

However, Sofia beat them to the announcement drop when she told them that she was engaged to be married to a young man named Adan (Diego Boneta) and they were looking to get married within a month.

There are so many great moments that really work in the movie. Plenty of them are your typical issues that pop up, but the cast is so strong that any cliché melts away. Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan have great chemistry and you feel everything that Andy Garcia throw out there. You get mad at him when he is being stubborn and your heart melts when he is in pain.

Other cast members that I have not yet mentioned include Ruben Rabasa, Chloe Fineman, Pedro Damián, Ana Fabrega, Sean Patrick Dawson, Enrique Murciano, Ho-Kwan Tse, Macarena Achaga, Laura Harring, and Casey Thomas Brown.

Father of the Bride is streaming on HBO Max and it may be somewhat predictable, but it is engaging and fun and worth the watch.

3.9 stars

Beckett (2021)

June 29th, Movie 30

The penultimate day of the June Swoon was filled with the Netflix film Beckett, starring John David Washington.

According to IMDB: “While vacationing in Greece, American tourist Beckett (John David Washington) becomes the target of a manhunt after a devastating accident. Forced to run for his life and desperate to get across the country to the American embassy to clear his name, tensions escalate as the authorities close in, political unrest mounts, and Beckett falls even deeper into a dangerous web of conspiracy

Washington was solid in this man-on-the-run story. He made a good every man struggling to do whatever he has to do to survive. Are there things that Beckett does that he probably should not be able to do. Still, most of the action works well.

The story was convoluted. I liked the mystery of what was happening, but it never really felt like it came together well and some of the twists were hard to buy. Still, I liked the way it worked itself out and ended up.

Beckett may not be the greatest film ever but it is a fairly fun time and has an enjoyable lead character who battled to survive against the villains. It is not a deep film, but I liked watching it.

Best Sellers (2021)

June 28th, Movie 29

As the June Swoon moves into its final few days, I have been having some troubles finding movies from 2021 that I wanted to watch. I have a list of films still, but a lot of them are films that just do not appeal for me. The DailyView was easier considering the number of years available, but, even then, I had stretches that it was tough to find what I was in the mood for.

Yesterday, I watched the Billy Crystal film Here Today which has been on my Amazon Prime for quite awhile and now I am getting to another longtime film on the “My Stuff” queue, Michael Caine’s Best Sellers.

Harris Shaw (Michael Caine) was a ill-manner, cranky retired author who was approached by Lucy (Aubrey Plaza) the daughter of his friend and editor. She was now in charge of her father’s publishing company and she wanted him to fulfill a contract he had signed years ago for another book.

Harris was anything but helpful and Lucy was nearing her breaking point. She had an offer to purchase the publishing company, but when Harris arrived with a new manuscript, she was ecstatic. She wanted him to go on a book tour, but he was unhappy with that idea. He eventually agreed but his bad behavior was not helping the book sales.

Michael Caine was his typically excellent self and he and Aubrey Plaza made a strong team. Much like Crystal and Tiffany Haddish in Here Today, Caine and Plaza were the best part of this movie.

The story was filled with clichés though: the alcoholic author, the lost wife, the sentimental home. The film does take a few of the clichés in a different direction, including the shocking moment near the end of the film in a book store.

A lot of what happened required some suspension of disbelief. I am not sure that social media would work the way this film indicated that it worked, but all of that could be dismissed if you connect to the two main characters.

Best Sellers had some good moments and a strong pair of leads. Again, it is not perfect, but it is interesting enough.

Here Today (2021)

June 27th, Movie 28

Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish starred in a film called Here Today, a story about a successful long time comedy writer who was suffering though the onset of dementia and who met a much younger singer who helped him face the troubles of his life.

The film’s strength was easily the pair of Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish. They had an easy chemistry and a platonic charm that carried most of the film. The intimacies that they shared was much greater than sexual and they worked extremely well.

There are some definite laughs in the film, much through the dialogue and banter with Crystal. Crystal, who played Charlie, worked on a SNL-type sketch show as a comedy writer, and a mentor to some of the others on the writing staff. Though this was a secondary plotline, I really enjoyed this piece of the movie. It brought the strength of Billy Crystal to the forefront.

However, the film is too sentimental and emotionally manipulative through much of the dementia storyline. Parts of it worked very well, but other parts of it felt as if it was being included to pull on the heart strings. I think some of the dementia sections of the film needed some tightening up.

These sections were intertwined with the story of Charlie’s wife, who had died in a car wreck. These were mostly well done and the flashbacks were used effectively.

Here Today had been on my list at Amazon Prime for quite awhile and I am happy that I finally got around to watching it. It is not a perfect movie, but it has enough entertainment value to watch.

Home Sweet Home Alone (2021)

June 26th, Movie 27

This is garbage. I don’t know why they are trying to remake the classics. They’re never as good as the originals.” — Jeff McKenzie (Rob Delaney), Home Sweet Home Alone.

You know, this is never a good sign when a movie makes a meta reference about how bad films that try to remake classics are, when that is exactly what your film is trying to do.

I did not watch this last year when Home Sweet Home Alone came out on Disney +, but, if I had, this atrocious film would have been atop the Top 30 Worst Films of the Year, over taking Tom and Jerry.

We know the general story. Little kid, this time named Max (Archie Yates), gets left behind by his family who are on their way for vacation over seas (this time to Japan) and he has to defend his house against two intruders.

Now, most of the time we have seen this concept, the intruders are criminals looking to rob the house, or to get revenge on the kid. This time however is a little different.

The intruders are a married couple Jeff and Pam McKenzie (Rob Delaney and Ellie Kemper) who are trying to retrieve a rare doll they think Max has stolen. Instead of being reasonable and, I don’t know, calling the police, they decide to break into the house to find the doll. This leads to a series of non-creative yet violent assaults on the McKenzies.

It is completely full of crap and a horrendous movie.

I do want to say that I do not blame the kid, Archie Yates. Archie was great in Jo Jo Rabbit and he has plenty of upsides to his career. He just should fire those people who got him this script and had him star in this movie. They do not have your back.

Home Sweet Home Alone is a mess. If you have some kind of morbid curiosity about it, it is on Disney + but otherwise, stay away.

Men in Black II (2002)

Do Over: EYG Sunday Morning Revisit Week 9

Sequel time this week on the Do Over and we head into the early 2000s with Men in Black 2. I remember being a big fan of the original Men in Black and also of Twin Peaks and The Practice, where our main villain of this film, Lara Flynn Boyle, appeared. It couldn’t have failed. However…

I disliked the sequel quite a bit the first time I watched this. Will my opinion hold up?

Spoiler alert: Yes, it does.

A new intergalactic threat arrived on earth in the tentacled form of Lara Flynn Boyle and she was in search of a new MacGuffin called The Light of Zartha. Coincidentally, only the neuralyzed K (Tommy Lee Jones) knows where it is so his old partner J (Will Smith) had to retrieve K. help him get his memories back before the The Light of Zartha explodes (apparently in the next couple of days) and destroys the earth. All the while avoiding the dangerous alien Lara Flynn Boyle. Oh, Johnny Knoxville is here too, with two heads as if one isn’t bad enough.

The plot on this is just ridiculous coincidental. There is no way everything falls into place perfectly for this movie to have taken place. Everything dealing with this story is just poorly written and lacks any comprehensive story design.

There was a ton of CGI and special effects in Men in Black II as well and most of it is clearly at a lower level than we are used to. I would go as far as to say that it was not up to par for a film in 2002 either.

Then, a lot of the same jokes and beats from the original are reused in the sequel. That is not an uncommon thing, but there are really a lot of them. Everything from K now being the person unfamiliar with the real world and having to take hints from J to blowing the head off of Tony Shalhoub so it can grow back. No matter how much I loved Tony Shalhoub, I think that is the only reason to include this character in this movie.

There are some good jokes scattered throughout and, of course, the chemistry between K and J shined like a light through the mess around them. Jones and Smith are easily the best part of this movie and anything that was enjoyable about it was directly from them.

Although did enjoy Rosario Dawson too, though her part was underwritten and I wanted more from her even if her part of the plot was perhaps the biggest eye-rolling section of the film.

In the end, there is enough here to not hate myself for re-watching it, but it is not a good movie and my original opinion looks to be right on the money.

House of Gucci (2021)

June 25th, Movie 26

House of Gucci was one of the films that I did not get to in the theater, that was nominated for Oscars but one that I planned on doing during the June Swoon.

I have now watched House of Gucci, and I have to say that I did not get into it at all. I found it uninteresting and dull and I just could not get into it.

There are some positive things. I did like the soundtrack. There were some great songs included. Both Lady Gaga and Adam Driver play their characters well and deserved the praise that they received.

There was an impressive cast of actors in the film including such notables as Al Pacino, Selma Hayek, Jeremey Irons, Jack Huston, Camille Cottin and Florence Andrews.

Jared Leto is here too, but the less spoken about his performance, the better.

I thought it was too long and meandered through Lady Gaga and Adam Driver’s relationship.

It was just not a movie for me.

Watcher

Watcher is a new film that just arrived on Vudu recently and I rented to give it a watch. The topic of the film intrigued me and I had seen it in the theaters for a few weeks before coming on Vudu.

The film is a psychological thriller directed by Chloe Okuno based on an original screenplay by Zack Ford.

Julia (Maika Monroe) and her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) moved to Bucharest for his job. They seemed to have a happy marriage and their apartment was very nice. However, it was not long after they moved in that Julia began to suspect that a neighbor at the building across form theirs had been watching her from his window. When a murder happened in the neighborhood, Julia’s suspicions became all the more intense, bordering on paranoid.

Francis started off as supportive, but he was not seeing the same problems that Julia was. Julia’s next door neighbor Irina (Madalina Anea) gave her some support and comfort, but she did not see any changes in the man watching her. She continued to be afraid of the man and worried about what he might do.

The film has some really strong atmosphere, filled with tension and an uncertainty of what truly was happening. It was nicely shot and set a mood for the film.

I do have to say that the old horror trope of the person who no one believes is overused. Why can’t the husband have just believed Julia about the situation? I mean, he was somewhat supportive, but he still had that aura of thinking that there was another answer to what was happening. There seemed to be better things happen when you just believe your spouse. The film did not give us any real reason to why he wouldn’t have believed what she was saying.

This was a decent horror/thriller that was engaging on a rainy Saturday morning. It may not be the best horror film of the year, but it was solid.

3.5 stars

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It (2021)

June 24th, Movie 25

An absolute icon.

West Side Story. Electric Company. The Rockford Files. The Muppet Show. Oz. E.G.O.T. winner. Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Rita Moreno was always a personal favorite of mine. I loved Electric Company and a child and I am sure that is where I got to know hoer so well.

This documentary on Netflix was a great trip down memory lane of one of the greatest performers in my lifetime. Spoken directly in Rita’s own words, as well as several others including Morgan Freeman and Linn-Manuel Miranda, the documentary talked about all aspects of her life, not only the high points of her career, but the way she was treated early on, and the sexual assaults that she had to handle. It spoke about a 19-year marriage that appeared to be perfect on the outside, but was far from it on the inside.

This documentary was paced quickly and involved a lot of humor and music, even when dealing with the terribly serious subjects. Everything came together to make her Rita Moreno.

This is an amazing woman who never lost the energy and never gave up on becoming more than what anyone expected. A Latina role model to be sure.

Elvis

That’s all right, Mama.

The biopic of Elvis is is the most Baz Luhrmann-film that I have seen in years, probably since Moulin Rouge. The film has so much style and such great music that you almost get swept away by that.

However, there are at least two brilliant performances at the center of this movie as well. Austin Butler as the King of Rock ‘N Roll, Elvis Presley and Tom Hanks as the slimy Col. Tom Parker.

Anyone who says that Tom Hanks is just to much of an American beloved figure to ever play a bad guy has no leg to stand on any longer. Tom Hanks made this character so slimy, so unlikable that I wanted him to get his comeuppance the entire time.

But I do not want to blow past Austin Butler because this young man gave us a performance of a lifetime as Elvis. He was absolutely stunning in every minute that he was on screen. He was not doing an imitation of Elvis, he was tapping in the essence of the character. I believe that Butler is destined to be nominated for an Oscar for this role.

There was a lot about Elvis Presley and his relationships (especially with Col. Parker) that I did not know, and it was fascinating to watch things develop. How much Colonel Parker took advantage of “his kid” Elvis was just obnoxious.

Now, I do think that the movie is too long. It could have done with being 20 minutes or so shorter. There were a couple of moments that I would have liked to have had more depth, but the middle of the film could have been tightened up some.

However, that is a small issue because I enjoyed so much of the film. I enjoyed the stylish version of the story, the great performances and the music. It is a long film, but it is worth the time.

4.3 stars

The Black Phone

Scott Derrickson, director of Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Doctor Strange, returned to Blumhouse with a new horror/thriller film called The Black Phone, based on a short story pf the same name by Joe Hill.

It is 1978 in a suburban town near Denver, Colorado and the town was being terrorized by a child kidnapper that had been dubbed “The Grabber” (Ethan Hawke). After five kids had been taken, Finney (Mason Thames), a soft-spoken, timid teen with a sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), became the next kid abducted.

Gwen had been having some dreams that, at times, came true, but this was something that her abusive father (Jeremy Davies, Faraday from LOST) was very angry about. However, the police were interested in how Gwen knew some details from the case that had not been released to the public. Gwen was not the soft-spoken member of the family and she showed off her serious spunk.

Finney wound up in a basement with the Grabber, who wore a changing devil mask, not knowing what was going to happen. There was a disconnected black phone on the wall that kept ringing and Finney eventually discovered that the phone was a way to communicate with the Grabber’s previous victims. The other kids tried to give Finney ways to escape before it was too late.

This movie was just full of tension and thrilling moments. Scott Derrickson did an outstanding job of creating such an atmosphere of anxiety that you were desperate to have Finney survive his encounter or for Gwen to be able to make sense out of her visions. The scene between Madeleine McGaw and Jeremy Davies early in the film was so uncomfortable it made you just feel it.

The first act of this movie truly was mostly character situations as we saw a couple of other kids get taken before Finney was and this section of the film helped us understand our protagonist and the people in his orbit.

Speaking of our protagonist, this film is almost completely placed on the backs of Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw, and these two young actors absolutely dominated their roles. They provided us with distinct personalities that were easy to root for and showed us the strength of both of them. Gwen may have stolen every scene she was in in the first half of the movie when she exhibited the passion inside the young lady.

We got a great character arc for Finney too as he has to develop from a punching bag into someone who would not take it any more.

I have gone this far without talking about Ethan Hawke and that is wrong, because he is brilliant as the antagonist of the movie. The Grabber shows several sides to his personality as he is interacting with Finney and he wears different masks with different facial expressions depending on his emotional states. It is an amazing character detail, and helps the character out since we do not see Ethan Hawks real face until right at the end of the film.

The film is shot beautifully, especially since the bulk of the movie takes place in a small basement with nondescript walls. So much is done with this setting that the production design is fantastic.

This was an exceptional film with great performances and a huge level of suspense.

4.5 stars

Hustle

If you know me, then you know that I have hated most of the films made by Adam Sandler. I can’t say all of them because he had Uncut Gems a few years ago that was really great. It seemed that when Sandler wants to make a movie for an adult instead of for a 13-year old child, he can do good work.

I was still fairly uncertain about Hustle on Netflix. It was released a few weeks ago and I have looked at it several times. I had it on my Netflix queue. I heard some positive word of mouth and yet I was not in a rush to watch it. I just had that sinking feeling.

So when I watched it today on Netflix, I was ready for anything. I am pleased to say that I didn’t just like Hustle, but I found it to be an excellent film.

Stanley Sugarman (Adam Sandler) was a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA, on the road constantly looking for that “next big thing” in players while he desperately wanted to be a coach. Team owner Rex Merrick (Robert Duvall) had a special spot in his heart for Stan and gave him an assistant coach position. Unfortunately, Rex died and his obnoxious son Vince (Ben Foster) took over the running of the team.

Vince wanted Stanley to head back out on the road to find the Sixers the final piece for a championship. Not leaving Stanley much of a choice, Stanley headed back out on the road, heading to Spain to scout a specific player. That player was injured and not playing that night, leaving Stan to float around the city on his own. On his travel, he came across an outdoor basketball game where a tall and noticeably skilled player named Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez) who was hustling other players for money. Stan saw that Bo had amazing abilities and he followed him to his home for a chance to sign him.

Stan had to go through plenty of adversity to try and get someone to notice the talent that Bo had.

The film is a lot of fun. Adam Sandler gives a extremely mature performance in a role that kept tossing challenges in his way. He had some great chemistry with, not only Juancho Hernangomez, but also with his on-screen wife, Queen Latifah.

Then, as if I wasn’t already enjoying the film, they trotted out “Dr. J” Julius Erving, one of my all-time favorite athletes and the man from where my own nickname came from, in the film a couple of times (Sorry Chris, no Larry Bird).

The film was produced by Sandler and LeBron James and featured a plethora of NBA stars and legends including Charles Barkley, Dirk Nowitzki, Doc Rivers, Mo Cheeks, Anthony Edwards, Seth Curry, Trae Young, Jordan Clarkson, Boban Marjanovic, Luka Doncic, Aaron Gordon, Shaq O’Neal, Tobias Harris, among many others.

If you are an NBA fan, this film is going to be a potpourri of highlights for you. However, you do not have to love the NBA to have this story of the underdog strike you. The film is about redemption. It is about family and how important they are to your life. It is about sticking to it and never giving up something that you love.

My opinion of Adam Sandler would change if he continued making quality entertainment like this.

4.2 stars

Bo Burnham: Inside (2021)

June 23rd, Movie 24

I started to watch this movie/comedy special last year, but I did not get very far into it. It had trouble grabbing my attention when I watched it. My mind must not have been in the proper state to watch it then because, when I watched Bo Burnham: Inside from Netflix for the June Swoon today, I thought it was outstanding.

Bo Burnham spent a year recording his comedy special with no crew or audience and what he came up with was an amazing time capsule of the thoughts and feelings the world faced when confined to their houses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The special contained comedy and comedic songs detailing the frustrations, the depressive states, the mental anguish, and the boredom of life during the isolation of the pandemic.

Burnham also skewered internet culture and phenomenon that came into the zeitgeist during the pandemic such as video reactions and playing along with video games.

Music was, at the same time, catchy and depressing, but no matter the feeling the music elicited from the viewers, the overall concept was that it was funny. Really funny. Undeniably relatable funny.

One of my favorite visual gags was Bo drawing a Venn diagram of Malcom X and Weird Al with “ME” at the intersection. That felt like the perfect cross of worlds for this special.

I do not know for sure why when I tried to watch this special last year it just did not grab my attention. Perhaps I wasn’t ready for it yet. Bo Burnham: Inside certainly grabbed my attention today. It is a spectacular Netflix comedy special/film that takes one of the most difficult eras of our lives and satires it while embracing the mental state it placed many of us in. It is not just inside the house, but inside the mind.

Old Henry (2021)

June 22nd, Movie 23

Today, for the June Swoon, we jump into the Western genre with a film called Old Henry which was written and directed by Potsy Ponciroli.

Henry (Tim Blake Nelson) was a widower raising his teenage son Wyatt (Gavin Lewis) on a normal farm, living the peaceful life of a farmer. When Henry comes across an injured man named Curry(Scott Haze) with a satchel of money and a gunshot wound, a posse of men arrived, claiming to be the law. Henry did not know whom to trust, but, as things became more violent, a secret from his past was revealed changing the balance of the situation.

There may be some familiar moments in this movie, but it is extremely impressive in the way it carries itself off. Tim Blake Nelson is outstanding in the lead role as he reveals the darkness behind his squint. You can see that Henry wanted to be a good man for his son, but the situation pressed him too far.
I did not even begin to guess the surprise twist in the third act and I absolutely loved it.

The relationship between Henry and Wyatt was believable and understandable, especially after you learn the truth at the movie’s end. Both Nelson and Lewis do a great job of interacting, Nelson trying to protect the boy and Lewis looking to be allowed to be a man.

There is a solid cast along with Nelson, Wyatt and Haze. Other actors appearing in the movie included Trace Adkins, Stephen Dorff, Richard Speight, Jr., Max Arciniega, and Brad Carter.

Nicely paced with some wonderful shots, Old Henry takes the typical Western genre film and peppered it with great performances and a great reveal. If you are a fan of Westerns, you should give Old Henry a shot.