The Dirt

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Mötley Crüe is the next band to receive the biopic treatment, this time on Netflix, and the film certainly highlights the band’s misbehavior over their long career in music.

The film did not shy away from the negative aspects of these men’s lives, as the drugs, the sex and the faltering relationships took center stage.  After watching this, it is amazing to know that Mötley Crüe was ever able to take the stage and perform on a nightly basis.

The film was narrated by the band itself, breaking the fourth wall several times to address the audience.  They also recorded voice overs for their individual sections.  I thought this technique worked effectively here.

The acting was solid.  Machine Gun Kelly was engaging as drummer Tommy Lee.  Daniel Webber stole the show as Vince Neil, especially in scenes with his little daughter.  Douglas Booth brought a humanity to Nikki Sixx that you did not think that he could have.

Having said this, these characters spend a lot of time in this movie being unlikable and downright jerks.   This is a true story, but it would have been nice to have a reason to cheer for them more than what the film gave me.  It also felt as if the movie brushed through the biggest parts of their lives to go back to showing the bad behavior.  It seemed as if they had more drama available to the filmmakers who passed it up for some more comedic scenes.

I could have lived my entire life without seeing the Ozzy Osbourne (Tony Cavalero) scene by the pool.

This is certainly an adult film.  There are a lot of scenes of sex and drug abuse that are detailed and disturbing.  Still, you get the feeling that this is exactly what the life was like for Mötley Crüe.

I was very interested in the story surrounding guitarist Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon) and the disease that he had that was leading to spinal problems.  I could have used more about that aspect of Mötley Crüe’s world, because watching him grimace throughout the film just made me wonder why he continued to rock on so hard.  The film touches on this theme, but does not dive into much depth.  It touched on it just so you know it is there, but not enough for you to understand what is driving the man.

The music is fun and rocks hard.  The rock star lifestyle is shown here, and we see some of the consequences of that choice, but perhaps not as much as we should have seen.

Still, as a Netflix film, this is a good watch and kept me entertained for the run time.  It even stirred some emotions watching it, in particular, near the end.  I was never a huge fan of Mötley Crüe, but you do not have to love them to enjoy this movie.

3.7 stars

Shazam

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I got the opportunity, thanks to Fandango, to see the new DC movie, Shazam two weeks prior to its release.  I was very excited about the later afternoon showing and I have been looking forward to it.  DC seems to be starting down this path as I also saw Aquaman early.

At this point, after only seeing Shazam once, I am preparing to make a serious claim.  That claim is that Shazam is my favorite DCEU movie to date, moving past Wonder Woman for the top spot.

Separated from his mother as a child, Billy Batson(Asher Angel) spent years in foster homes and running away from foster homes, still hoping to find his birth mother.  After a run in with the police, Billy wound up going to a new foster home with a large new foster family.  It was during this time when Billy was discovered by a wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who gave Billy his powers so he could become his new champion.

Meanwhile, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) was desperately trying to find the wizard once again.  Sivana had met the wizard as a child, but failed to prove his worthiness to become his champion.  Driven by power and revenge, Sivana took in the power of the Seven Deadly Sins.  He wanted more power …he wanted the power of Shazam.  You can understand why Sivana does what he does after seeing his back story and this helped create a well rounded villain.

This movie is really fun, has an amazing sense of humor and has more heart than any DC film prior to it.  There is more happening here at a smaller level, a level of family, that we have not seen yet in a DC super hero movie.  There is not the large, grandiose must-save-the-world type situation in Shazam.  It is more of a personal, smaller story, though at times it felt like more than a character story.

Asher Angel was fantastic as Billy Batson, but the film was in danger of being stolen by Jack Dylan Grazer.  Grazer, who played Eddie in the remake of It, played Freddy, one of the foster kids at the new home, and he is tremendous.  Freddy is not only the comedic sidekick to the super hero, but he is also the voice of the audience.  He also has an extremely emotional arc all his own to handle during the movie.  Grazer delivers everything he is asked to do wonderfully and really shows that he is one of the most solid young actors working today.

The entire crew at the foster home were good.  It was cool to see Jerry from the Walking Dead, Cooper Andrews in the film as the “father” of the foster home. Marta Milans did great as Victor’s wife Rosa in a limited amount of screen time.  Faithe Herman was the other major standout in the foster kids as Darla, who you just love immediately.

So much of this movie really works as the “Big Red Cheese,” Shazam (played by Zachary Levi) goes about discovering what he can do and trying to wrap his head around what he has to face.  While Zachary Levi is in the super hero role, Asher Angel gets the bigger dramatic beats in the movie, especially the subplot with his mother.  Angel showed that he is another young star to keep an eye on.

The CGI was great as well.  The villains, which has derailed DC movies before (hello Steppenwolf), look great and have a distinct character about them.  They are frightening and look to really be a threat to our characters.  These are more than just the normal CGI from DC.  Aquaman’s CGI had made distinct improvement and Shazam seems to have taken it a step further.

It was also very funny to hear how the film bounced different names around for the character in the film. Obviously, he can not call himself Shazam, because if he does, he changes form.  They cannot call him Captain Marvel as they used to do so it became a running joke from everything from The Red Cyclone to Captain Sparkle Fingers.

My only gripe with the film is with Zachary Levi.  While parts of the time I liked him as Shazam, I did not like how he yelled all the time.  There are a lot of actors who seem to yell as a fall back point, and I did not like it here.  I would also say that in the Shazam form, Levi did not feel like he was the Billy Batson character in a larger body.  Billy (Asher Angel) seemed way more competent than Levi did.  They felt too different at times.

Other than that, I really enjoyed this movie.  I even enjoyed the third act, which is something that I have never liked in a DC movie.  Even Wonder Woman’s third act was a dramatic downgrade from the rest of the film.  Man of Steel’s third act tanked the whole movie for me.  Shazam, though, had a strong third act that even shook off many of the typical super hero genre cliches that you see in the final battle.  Everything here worked very well.

Shazam had a great deal of themes, but the theme of family was at front and center.  It was powerful to see how both Billy Batson and Thaddeus Sivana had parental issues (surprise, parental issues in a super hero) and how they each dealt with it.

There are several meta moments too, as Shazam exists in the world with other heroes but understands his place.  This is a movie where the kids are front and center and that brought an air of freshness to this film that was welcome.  There is a unbelievably funny homage to Tom Hanks’ movie Big as well that worked on all levels.

Shazam is a heck of a good time and I am excited to have a chance to see it once again.  It is over-the-top in every positive way and has more humor and heart than any DC Comics movie ever before.

4.75 stars 

Us

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Jordan Peele had a huge hit with 2017’s Get Out and Us has been the highly anticipated follow-up for the director.  Jordan Peele has become one of the top directors in Hollywood and the horror film Us cements that for him.

In Us, a family of four head to their summer home for a vacation.  Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) arrived at the house and Gabe wanted to go to the beach.  Adelaide was frightened about something that happened in her childhood when she got lost for 15 minutes and came across a girl in a fun house mirror who looked exactly like her.

Sure enough, after the trip to the beach, Adelaide was starting to freak out.  When a mysterious family showed up at their home at night, the family realized quickly that their was danger facing them.  And when they realized that this family was nearly exact copies of them, the weirdness leveled up.

Lupita Nyong’o was absolutely fantastic here, as she had to play the dual role of Adelaide and Red.  Both characters were the same, but also totally different.  Red’s voice was one of the creepier aspects of the movie.  The rest of the cast was great as well.  Shahadi Wright Joseph was amazing and was totally brutal throughout the movie.  Young Evan Alex had a seriously physically taxing role as Jason and Pluto.  And then there was M’Bako from Black Panther himself, Winston Duke, playing a character much different than the warrior from Wakanda.  The film intentionally creates Duke’s Gabe as a lesser physical threat despite the largeness of the actor.

I realized immediately that this family was very smart.  One of the worst parts of horror movies is how stupid people get as they are in danger.  Not this family.  As I am watching, I am thinking to myself what these characters should be doing and, more times than not, they did either what I was thinking or something that I thought was a great move.  For example, there was a scene with Zora and Jason walking through a house where there had just been a violent murder and she walked past an open door.  She stopped and, before she moved on, she shut the door.  I thought to myself, “That’s a good move.”

I was not as scared as I thought I might be from the film.  It was more of a uncomfortable feeling of tension as scenes developed.  They did not resort to the cheap jump scares.  When the jump scares appeared, they were earned.  The tone was brilliantly set with the darkness of the shots and the wonderful score that created such a nervous wonder.

The biggest problem with the film was the gigantic exposition drop in the third act.  Though delivered exceedingly creepily by Lupita Nyong’o, I feel like it derailed a lot of the suspense and the uncertainty of the plot.  I did not need to know all of these specific details of what was going on.  A little bit of mystery goes a long way.  I would have preferred them to leave a lot of what was included here to the imagination.  The scenes were still effective, but I think it hurt the film overall.

The direction of the movie was pitch perfect, though.  Shot after shot was so well developed and so perfectly placed that it is obvious that Jordan Peele has earned the glowing praise that is being heaped upon him.  This is less of a social commentary than Get Out (although there is a message here too) and more of a straight horror film, but he never loses the exceptional movie making to go for the easy bit.

Without spoiling, the twist at the end is a fascinating idea (that I did consider during the film’s run so the twist does not come out of nowhere) and it actually makes you reconsider some of what we know about the entire family at the center of the movie.

Are there some plot holes?  Sure, there always will be, but there is nothing glaring that will stop me from truly loving this movie.  I do wish they would have kept some of the answers to themselves, but the info is delivered so effectively by a superior actress that it only bothered me for a little bit.  It looks to me that Jordan Peele has another huge hit on his hands and that, if he wants to continue in the horror genre, he could really elevate it to another level.

4.25 stars

Five Feet Apart

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I always enjoyed Cole Sprouse as Riverdale’s Jughead, so I found it intriguing to see him as a co-lead in this Fault in our Stars-esque rip off.

It is not cancer this time that is bringing the two teens together.  It is cystic fibrosis (what they refer to as CF the whole film).  These two are both in the hospital at the same time and they strike up a connection.  Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) is a control freak and can’t stand by while angsty teen Will (Cole Sprouse) refuses his treatment regimens while sketching everything around him.  They spend time together, despite not being allowed to come withing five feet (the film consistently says 6 feet, which was odd considering the movie title) of each other in fear that they would give each other the infection of their type of CF.

The closer they become, the more they are willing to flaunt the rules and place themselves in jeopardy.

While both Richardson and Sprouse are charming and easy to like, the film does not provide much for them outside of the typical cliches found in these dying teenage film genre.  The film does no favor to either of their lead actors as the situations become more unlikely as the film progresses and the plot is not developed past the surface level of manipulative tear-jerker.

I would say that both Richardson and Sprouse are stars in the making.  I was thinking about what Marvel character they could play.  I thought Sprouse would be great as Bobby Drake, aka Iceman in the upcoming X-men-in-the-MCU discussions and I considered Richardson perfect for Kitty Pryde.

You can tell that I was not as invested in the movie’s story since my mind was wandering to the MCU.  It is not a bad movie and there will be a ton of teenage girls who will love this movie, but the melodrama is at a high pitched level for me.  Charismatic young future stars aside, Five Feet Apart is just another forgettable dead teen film.

2.5 stars

Triple Frontier

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A strong cast drew my attention to this new film on Netflix.  When a film can boast a cast including Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam and Pedro Pascal, you know there will be some attention.

Triple Frontier is a heist film, mixed up with a survival tale, with a sprinkle of the Expendables.  Violent and tense, the film does a great job of taking a simple story and making a compelling movie.

Five ex-special forces soldiers reunite to do one final mission which includes stealing millions of dollars from a reputed drug lord in the jungles of South America.  Unfortunately, problems begin happening to the group and suddenly, they begin to question the morality of their actions while trying desperately to survive.

The five characters are played well, and there are concepts that are touched upon, but much of the really deep choices are left out of the script, like bags of money at the bottom of a ravine in the Andes.  I have a feeling that the actors brought much of the character traits to the film themselves and that the script may not have fleshed them out as much as it could have.

However, there is a lot of great action beats here and the group is likable enough to form a rooting interest.  There is a surprise that happened about two-thirds through the film that caught me off guard and really laid out the situation for the group.  I liked the twist, but it did feel that there was not the sufficient pay off for the situation as it should have been.

I enjoyed the film although it is not quite as awesome as it could have been,

3.5 stars

 

Apollo 11

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Wow, this really shows how great a filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was.

Just kidding.  Of course, the conspiratorial rumors of the actual moon landing being faked and filmed on a stage set have been around for years, but I do not know how anyone, even the most conspiracy theorist, could deny the fact of the moon landing after watching the wonderful documentary by director Todd Douglas Miller, that took us where many movie viewers wanted First Man to go… following the lead up and the eventual moon landing of the astronauts of Apollo 11.

This is the 50th anniversary year of the moon landing and this documentary gives you an amazing look at everything as it happened, from the day of the launch right down to the splash down back on earth.

Apollo 11 depends on archival footage, much of it unseen, instead of interviews, recreations and voice overs.  Because of this, this documentary had a feel to it as if you were watching a news account of the event that shaped history for this country at the end of the 1960s.  And none of the visuals used were weak.  It was crisp and clear and made the storytelling that much more effective.

The music in the background of the film was amazing.  It was something that really stood out in most of the scenes in the doc.  The music truly helped audience members feel what was going on in the film, connecting even more than just the nostalgia of the moment in time.

This helps show the three astronauts, Neil Armstrong and pilots Buzz Aldrin & Michael Collins, as the true heroes that they were.  One of the biggest things I noticed was seeing how much of a celebrity these men were at the time and how big of a deal this launch was.  The footage of the people coming out to watch the blast off really tells you how important that was.  I could not shake the thought of how much the space program has fallen over the years with the public as any launch over the last 20 years or so was greeted with apathy.  Such a shame.

This documentary does not fail to show you a great story and provide the pride of a country in a race to reach the moon before any other country.  Let’s put the conspiracy theories about the moon landing to rest.

3.85 stars

Wonder Park

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I was not going to go to see this film because the reviews were low and I have been known to skip the poorly reviewed animated movies.  I am not usually their targeted audience.  However, there was an open space of time between Apollo 11 and Captive State so I decided to watch this instead of just sit in the lobby and wait.  I made the right choice.  This film was better than I thought it was going to be, but it was not one of those animated films that will transcend the age of the audience.

June (Brianna Denski) was a creative and active young girl, who was constantly building things for a model of an imaginary theme park called Wonder Park.  Her mother (Jennifer Garner) was very supportive of her child, even when her most recent construction leveled a good chunk of the neighborhood.

However, June’s mother took sick and needed to go away to try and get better, leaving June alone with her somewhat bumbling father (Matthew Broderick).  The angst over her mother’s illness put a halt to her creativity and her imagination as she obsessed with keeping her father healthy.

When she winds up in the woods, something magical overtakes June and she finds herself in the actual Wonder Park, but it was anything but how she knew it.  It was run down, broken and consumed with darkness.  June teams up with the personification of her stuffed animals to try and stop the darkness and return the park to its glory.

The story was painfully predictable, but might not be for the young children in attendance.  There was some nice colors and character designs, the villainous chimpanzombies were cute, and there was some decent voice work, especially from HBO’s John Oliver as a porcupine named Steve.

The story itself though felt extremely rushed and crammed together and, because of that, did not deliver the emotional response most of the time that it was looking for.  Some of the early parts of the story with June and her mother were good and the very ending in the park, while predictable as can be, felt as if it carried a little bit of weight.  Unfortunately, most of the rest of the movie was basically fluff without the depth that could have elevated the idea here into something more than a way to waste 90 minutes with the kiddos at the theater.

While I found this more entertaining than sitting and looking at my phone in the lobby of the theater, Wonder Park is not a great movie by any stretch.  I do think it has some value for the very young movie goers and it flies rapidly through to prevent the parents from being too bored.  Of course, that very rush in storytelling will also make it challenging for the parents to be entertained.

2.6 stars

 

 

Captive State

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I was looking forward to this movie because I had really no knowledge of what it was.  There aren’t too many films that hit the theater where I was uncertain about what it was going to be.

And then I saw this film.

Honestly, I hated this movie.  I was bored within the first ten minutes, I had absolutely no connection to any of the main characters and they kept bringing other people into the film that I had no idea what their purpose was for.  The story was disjointed and confusing and I really was not sure what was going on.  And not in a good way.

John Goodman was here.  He was a Chicago detective after the aliens had arrived and taken over the world.  Chicago was walled off and became a craphole.  There was a resistance inside Chicago, I think, and they were trying to do something.

Vera Farmiga, who I love and never gives a bad performance, is totally wasted in this role.  She has like two throwaway scenes and then ends up in a convoluted climax that tries to tie everything up in a nice little bow so everyone left the theater knowing what was happening.

I came very close to walking out of this movie on several occasions but I made it through to the ending.  The guy snoring loudly in the row behind me made it through as well, but he did not see as much of this travesty as I had to endure (plus, he was with a girlfriend/significant other… can’t you elbow him when he is snoring that loudly?  Geez, you want to snore, go the #@#$ home).

Hated this one.  Skip it.

1 star

The Kid (2019)

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Vincent D’onofrio directed this new Western featuring the legendary encounter between Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan) and Pat Garrett (Ethan Hawke).

This encounter has been shown on film before but this time, the main focus of this film is on a different Kid than Billy.  Rio Cutler (Jake Schur) is a young adolescent boy who shot and killed his father as his father was beating his mother to death.  Running from his vengeful uncle Grant (Chris Pratt), Rio and his sister Sara (Leila George) accidentally come across Billy the Kid and his gang.  Unfortunately for them, this is just prior to Sheriff Pt Garrett’s arrival and capture of Billy.

Spinning a yarn about why they were there, Rio and Sara accompany Garrett as he is on his way to take Billy the Kid back to stand trial and to be hanged.

Along the way, Rio struggled to deal with what he had done, while seeing the two Western icons as potential role models.

The Kid is quite violent and bloody in many spots as the consequences of these bullets are obvious to the audience.  The film does not shy away from the idea that actions have consequences and the main theme of it is important of what you do next is a key one.  There are some strong ideas at play here, some covered better than others.

Dane DeHaan is excellent as Billy the Kid. He is charismatic and likable and, with this portrayal, you can understand why the young outlaw was able to accomplish what he did.  Ethan Hawke is very strong as he always is as Pat Garrett.  Hawke shows his struggles with doing what is right while sticking true to his core values.  The relationship between these two characters is one of the more intriguing parts of the movie.

What did lack at times was the relationship between the two icons and the boy, Rio.  I can see Rio as idolizing them and connecting himself with both of them, but, especially with what occurs, I am not sure that the relationship from the adults really fit well.  And it felt as if it were just a plot contrivance when Rio goes to Garrett to confess.  I am not sure I believed that they had a close enough relationship for Rio to take the chance he did.  Maybe he felt as if he had no other option.

Certainly, Billy the Kid sees himself in Rio and perhaps he wishes that he could be at a place in his life where he could have chosen another path.  Garrett did not seem to have the same connection with Rio outside of a caring adult to a child.

The sister becomes nothing more than a plot point though.  At first, she is the one getting in Rio’s head about telling what happened, and then, after she is taken away, she becomes the MacGuffin for Rio.  On the same weekend as Captain Marvel flies high with female power, The Kid does not have much of its own.

D’onofrio does a great job with the shots of the film, bringing that feeling of an authentic Western to The Kid.  The shootouts are dramatic and filled with tension and the message is strong.  I enjoyed the film for the most parts, though it felt as if there were some connective tissue missing in the plot and between the characters.  It was a decent Western to watch on a rainy afternoon, though.

3.3 stars

Captain Marvel

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There has been a lot of controversy online surrounding Marvel Studios’ new film, Captain Marvel, starring the lovely Brie Larson.  I have heard the hatred of the trolls trying to review bomb Rotten Tomatoes before ever seeing the film.  I heard initial reviews being highly positive, but followed by reviews, from a lot of online reviewers that I respect and listen to, saying the movie ranged between okay and meh.  BY this point, I had no idea what I was getting into.

Sorry haters, but I loved this movie.

Brie Larson, known at first as Vers, is training with Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), friend and mentor with the Kree Empire.  She had no memories of her past, and she pretended as if that did not bother her, but it was affecting her decisions and her ability to grasp the training.  Upon a mission to rescue a Kree spy, Vers and Yon-Rogg, along with a group of Kree warriors, is ambushed by their sworn enemies, the shape shifting Skrulls.  After this conflict, Vers winds up in the Skrulls’ control and finds herself on the way to earth, where, strangely enough, many of her memory flashes seem to be from.

Once on earth, she meets up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the two try to discover the mystery of Vers’ past as Carol Danvers and how she is connected to a scientist named Larson (Annette Bening).

I know some people might claim that the beginning of the film is slow and takes a long time to get going, and I would agree with that assessment.  However, I would disagree that it was a bad thing.  I really liked the slow burn at the beginning of Captain Marvel, and I believe that it was a must.  Marvel Studios threw a lot at us in that opening part and all of the set up needed to be in place for this film to work.  And I really thought all the stuff with the Kree and their planet of Hala worked well.

Oh, and by the way, I had tears in my eyes in the first 20 seconds of the film.  No spoilers, but it was perfect.

The relationship between Nick Fury and Carol was great and Samuel L. Jackson was the best version of Nick Fury we have had since we have met the character.  Before all the horrors of the world brought him into the pessimistic super spy that he was before he was dusted, this version of Nick Fury was funny, quick witted and, certainly, a cat lover.

And speaking of the cat… Goose the Cat is an absolute scene stealer and a huge part of this film.  Look for this character as one of the break out characters of Captain Marvel.

Going back to Samuel L. Jackson, the de-aging technology they used on Jackson was freaking unbelievable.  He was not just in a few scenes.  Sam Jackson was a co-lead.  And never once did I think, oh look… they CGI’ed his face.  It was an astonishing piece of technological marvel.  Unfortunately, Clark Gregg, who played Phil Coulson here, was not as lucky.  Coulson’s de-aging was okay, but nowhere near as perfect as Jackson.  For Coulson, you could tell they had done work on him.  It was still nice to see Phil make his MCU return and to see the connection between him and Fury.

I did not see the story going the way it went, and, even after the story took a turn, I did not know what to think.  There was a point where I thought to myself, “I really don’t know what is going to happen” and that was awesome.  There were some real surprises for me and I was shocked that they chose to go in that direction a couple of times.  I really appreciated those decisions.

I have heard a lot of people complaining about Brie Larson and claiming that she was miscast as Carol Danvers, and I could not disagree more.  I found her to be wonderfully charming and a perfect fit for the character of Carol.  I have always liked Brie Larson, so maybe I was predisposed to liking her in this role, but I truly thought she was the Carol Danvers that I knew from the comics to a tee.

Ben Mendelsohn as the Skrull leader, Talos, was brilliant as well.  I loved this villain and he was such a surprise with a much deeper story arc than I ever believed he would have.

Some of the 90s references were a bit ham-fisted.  It did seem as if the film was trying pretty hard to hit you over the head with the fact that this film was going on in the 1990s.  I am not sure the nostalgia bits of Captain Marvel worked very well.

As I am speaking about the parts that were not my favorite, I must say that I was not a huge fan of the CGI on Captain Marvel in the space scenes that we have seen in the trailer.  The final copy of this was better than in the trailers, but it did not live up to the levels of young Nick Fury in this movie or Avengers: Infinity War Thanos.  She looked too video game-y when she would have the helmet and the Mohawk on.

It also may be a bad thing to make Carol too powerful.  She may have trouble connecting to the normal movie goer if she is too strong.  I mean, who can stand up to Carol and be believable?

And there may be a few too many moments where the movie was explaining why something was as it was in the current day.  Let’s call it the “How Han Solo got his name” effect.  We did not need to see the origin of how Fury came up with the name of the Avengers Initiative.  There were too many of these Easter eggs which stretched the film’s credibility a bit far.

There are two extra scenes.  The mid-credits scene is absolutely amazing and made me all the more excited for the future of this franchise.  The post credit scene is … well, I think it is Marvel just F@#king with us.  It was awesome, mind you, but… they are f@#king with us.  They have to be.

I loved Captain Marvel.  Sure there are a couple of flaws in the production and some of the humor did not necessarily land (although I would say more landed than didn’t), but the story was compelling and the mystery of Carol’s past life kept you guessing.  The acting in top notch and the Skrulls are amazing…as is Goose the Cat.  There is great excitement and the film felt like it flew by for me.  There is wonderful character moments and I loved Brie Larson as the MCU’s big dog.

I cannot wait for Avengers: Endgame.

4.75 stars 

 

Leaving Neverland

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This was tough to watch.

First of all, I am listing this documentary in the Movie Review section because this 4 hour HBO documentary debuted at Sundance Film Festival this year and was aired on HBO March 3rd and 4th.

This documentary told the stories of two men who, as boys, were allegedly sexually abused by Michael Jackson for years.  Wade Robinson was a 7-year old boy from Australia who met Jackson through a dance contest.  James Safechurch was also a young dancer that Jackson helped in his career.  Both men relived graphic sexual encounters that they claim to have had with Jackson and how these encounters shaped their lives from the first moments on.

I have to say that I would have always considered myself a Michael Jackson fan.  I loved much of his music and was impressed with his amazing dance talent.

I remember never believing the accounts in 1993 when Jackson was originally sued for sexual abuse by a young fan (which was settled out of court).  Nor did I believe that Michael Jackson was guilty when he was placed on trial in 2005, when he was acquitted.  I was always seeing this through the eyes of Michael Jackson, unable to accept that he would ever do such a thing.

After watching the documentary, I believe every word that Wade and James said.

This was a painful and emotional roller coaster from the first moments and laid out a picture of a sexual predator who knew just how to take advantage of his celebrity to manipulate and control these children and their families, allowing him to get what he wanted.

The supporters of Jackson claim that these two men are liars (both of them had lied about the abuse for years to everyone, and Wade went as far as to testify for Michael in the court case) and that there was no shred of evidence.  While this may be true, the stories of Wade and James are compelling and their responses are convincing.  Watching the After Neverland documentary special with Oprah Winfrey that followed the documentary, seeing James literally shake and quiver sitting their tells me something had happened.

Both men told their painful stories fully and held back nothing in the documentary and, like many sexual abuse encounters, the only real evidence is the testimony of the victims.  In that case, their stories felt very creditable and totally believable.

Director Dan Reed, when confronted with the accusation that this documentary was one-sided, responded that the doc was really the story of Wade and James and the film would not have been serviced with people on the other side who could only state that Michael Jackson was a good guy and couldn’t have done this.  Truthfully, the only people who could have known what really happened was the boys and Michael and that is where the story was focused.

The Jackson family issued a statement about the documentary that said, in part, “The two accusers testified under oath that these events never occurred. They have provided no independent evidence and absolutely no proof in support of their accusations.”

This documentary changed what I thought about Michael Jackson and about the reputed sickness that he had been rumored to have.  This was a harrowing documentary to watch and difficult to finish.  Everyone, especially parents of little children, should see this film to understand the potential dangers that can come from places that are unexpected.

I’m not rating this documentary as that feels wrong, but I am recommending everyone watch Leaving Neverland and see what you think about the stories of these two men.

Arctic

Arctic Movie Poster

I had heard nothing about this movie. I had not seen one poster, trailer or promotional material.  After seeing it on the Cinemark listing this weekend, I did check out the Rotten Tomatoes score and it was high (in the upper 80s if I remember) so I was excited.  I was hoping to start off the review with the line, “I never heard of this movie, but it is now one of the best movies of the year.”

Unfortunately, I can’t say that.

It was really good, but it did not completely enthrall me as I had hoped it would do.

Don’t mistake me though, Arctic, starring Mads Mikkelsen, is a fabulous movie of survival in the harshest conditions imaginable.  There were many times when I thought to myself, “This guy is doomed.”  That was good storytelling.

Mads Mikkelsen is a character who is never specifically named in the movie, but had the name “H. Overgard” on his coat, so it looked as if that is his name.  Apparently, according to IMDB, the director Joe Pinna had hinted that the name was Hannibal.

Overgard had crashed his plane in the snow and the winds of the Arctic and he had been trying to survive for awhile when we first meet him.  Then, a rescue helicopter was spotted and it seemed like it was going to be a short movie.  However, the copter crashed too and Overgard had to try and help one of the copter pilots, a young woman who we never get named, played by María Thelma Smáradóttir.

The mostly unconscious pilot and Overgard had to face a number of dangers in a desperate attempt to survive.  It gets so tough that you never know what was going to be the next tribulation they had to face.  Of course, we have seen all of these winter survival hazards before, but Mikkelsen make them all feel fresh again.

The film was a beautifully shot film, with amazing scenery with every moment.  It becomes very intense at many times as Overgard tries to save the pilot by going on a trek back to her camp by following a map he found in the wreckage.

Mads Mikkelsen was tremendous in this performance, especially since there was very little dialogue for him to use to get across his thoughts and concerns.  Despite this, you never doubted what Overgard was thinking and the internal struggle was apparent all over his expressive and snow damaged face.  As only one of three credited actors, Mads Mikkelsen carried this film on his shoulders from the first scene.

Unfortunately, I cannot claim this is one of the best movies of the year, but it is a fine film that should keep you on the edge of your seat.  I really have had enough snow this year to last me for a good long while, but this one was worth seeing a little bit more.

3.5 stars

 

Greta

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Very disappointed.

I was looking forward to this movie because I have liked the trailer and I hoped that it would give us something new and different.

Nope.

Chloe Grace Moretz plays Frances, a young and desperately naive girl living in Manhattan.  She finds a handbag left on the subway and she wants to do the right thing so she returns it to the owner, Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert), a sad and lonely older woman.  They strike up a friendship, bonding over shared losses in their lives.  Then Frances discovers that Greta has been duping her and had planted the bag on the subway to try and lure someone into returning it.  At this point, Frances tries to end the relationship, but Greta has a different idea.

The movie started out solid and I had hopes that it would take things in a new direction. It does not.  Honestly, I saw a possibility to take this into a realm where it is Frances’ fault.  She really treats Greta poorly immediately after she discovers about what she had done and ignored the old lady’s pleas for forgiveness.  Had the film gone in a different direction here, I think we could have had something original and even emotionally satisfying.  But it didn’t.  Sure enough, we discover that Greta is considerably more bat-shit crazy than we thought and was more of a predator than was let on to at the beginning.

By this point, Isabelle Huppert stops playing any sort of subtlety to the character and just begins chewing the scenery.  The film turns into a cartoon at this point and things go truly stupid.  I hate when supposedly intelligent characters do STUPID things in a movie just because the plot needs them to do it, and the second half of Greta is one stupid move after another.  I did not understand half of the decisions that Frances makes or fails to do (especially this part because there are things that are obvious and she fails miserably at doing them).  And she is not the only one doing stupid things.  Her roommate (Maika Monroe), who I liked in most of the movie, and Frances’ father (Colm Feore), jump head first into the dumb ass moves as well.

Greta also seems to become super powered as she arrives in places that she shouldn’t be able to do and does things that she couldn’t possibly get away with.  Greta reminds me of Jason Statham in the Fast and the Furious franchise, suddenly appearing right where he needed to be to cause the most trouble. The police are completely incompetent and there is a private investigator that simply is a waste of screen time.

There was a neat use of a dream sequence that kept me off balance near the back half of the movie which I liked a lot.  More of this would have helped to balance out the movie.

While the ending does have some satisfying resolution, it also has some simply ridiculous aspects that you have to stretch credibility to accept.

With the acting talent involved and a well shot film, this had a chance to be something special, but, unfortunately, this became just another film of this type, where a friend is shown to be actually an obsessive crazy person.  There are a ton of these films from the 1990s and Greta falls right in line with those.  There are moments of enjoyment here, especially if you want to pretend like the film was trying to be purposely campy, but the stupidity and implausibility of everything that happens just took me out of the movie and ended with a huge disappointment.

2.2 stars 

What Men Want

What Men Want Movie Poster

I had missed this movie for the last several weeks.  When it came out, it just never fit into the schedule and it was too easy to skip over.  However, I had liked the Mel Gibson original, What Women Want and, with this week being a slow one (and a Madea movie to ignore), I decided to finally go to see this gender swap remake starring Taraji P. Henson.

Meh.  It was okay.

Taraji P. Henson played Ali Davis, an agent working for a big firm who keeps getting passed over for partnership.  Frustrated at her inability to break the glass ceiling into the boys club at the firm, she becomes determined to sign the hot new basketball player, Jamal Barry (Shame Paul McGhie).  In order to sign the young player though, you had to navigate his obnoxious-Lavar Ball-like father, Joe (Tracy Morgan).  Meanwhile, Ali met bartender Will (Aldis Hodge) and they started a relationship.  Unfortunately, as you would expect in this type of a film, her work put their relationship in jeopardy from her poor choices.

This film is quite the mixed bag.  It is remarkably predictable and break little to no new ground, but there are a few moments of sweetness and nice character moments among a lot of mean-spirited comedy.    Every time I was ready to completely write off the film, it would have a scene that brought me back into the moment.

I found Taraji P. Henson to be over-the-top too much.  She was too much of a cartoon for most of the movie.  The dialogue was extremely weak and did not feel realistic.  The humor was awkward at times and downright unfunny at others.  All of the men at the agency were utterly sophomoric and idiotic.  None of them felt real.  They were exaggerated stereotypes that were a waste of time.  There were some moments that were funny, but there were not enough to forgive the faults of this movie.

Shout out to Erykah Badu, who played the tarot card reading psychic named Sister.  She was easily one of the best parts of this film.  She was a hoot and was the most original part of the movie.

What Men Want was not a terrible movie, though it was too long and could have been made better with some removal of several parts.  It is predictable and lacked too much humor, but it did have moments of heart that rescued it from being a complete failure.

2.6 stars

Fighting With My Family

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You do not have to be a fan of pro wrestling to enjoy the wonderful new film Fighting With My Family, a biopic about the rise of WWE female superstar Paige and the drama that that opportunity caused amongst her family.

Now, you may not have to be a wrestling fan, but I am one and because of that, I came into the movie with some background knowledge on Paige.  More on that later.

The movie tells the story of Paige (Florence Pugh), who started wrestling at 13 years old with her father (Nick Frost) and mother (Lena Headey) and older brother Zak (Jack Lowden) in their low brow, independent wrestling company in their hometown of England.  Initially uncertain about what she wanted, as soon as Saraya (Paige’s real name, Paige is her WWE wreslter name) found the thrill of performing in the ring, she was hooked.

After several happy years, she and Zak sent a tape to the World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE, to apply to join.  When the siblings received a tryout, their whole family was excited.  The problem was that Saraya was signed but Zak was sent home.  Because Zak’s dream was dying before him, this event sent a ripple through their family and damaged the close relationship between Saraya and Zak.

This movie is really about the relationships between Saraya and Zak, as well, to a lesser extent, the other members of her family.  It is an underdog story that wisely focuses on the characters involved and Florence Pugh absolutely slays it as Paige.  She brings so much to the role as the WWE star that she dominates every scene she is in.  Jack Lowden is exceptional here too, really playing the hurt and betrayal of having his sister succeed in his dream where he had failed.

The movie, produced by WWE Studios, does a great job of showing the challenges and struggles faced by the men and women attempting to break into the business of professional wrestling,  especially for the WWE.  Vince Vaughn played Hutch, the “coach” at the development territory who pushed the wannabe-superstars to their limits.  While this is a true story, the character of Hutch is an amalgam of different backstage real people in the WWE who helped encourage the real Paige in her dream.

Written and directed by Stephen Merchant, the movie has some very effective humor to go along with the real family drama.  I never felt as if the humor was out of place and I thought it balanced perfectly well.  The character of Paige’s father, Ricky, played by Nick Frost, is a wild man with great humorous traits.  There is a scene at dinner with Ricky and his wife Julia where they tell about how they fell in love and the troubles they faced.  This scene was very touching and showed how wonderful of a connection these two characters had.  It was truly one of the sweetest parts of the story.

The one problem I had with Fighting With My Family was the fact that I am a wrestling fan and that I knew much about Paige prior to seeing the movie.  In particular, SPOILERS…the film built to Paige’s debut on Monday Night RAW.  In the movie, Paige was shown as someone who was not ready for RAW but was able to have an exciting match with Diva Champion AJ Lee (played here by Thea Trinidad, Selena Vega in WWE currently).  However, Paige was already a big deal in NXT, the WWE’s developmental organization, and she was the NXT champion.  Paige had been tearing up the NXT shows and was certainly ready for the main roster.  The film changed that up and, while I can understand why they went the route they went, it was just a tad distracting for me, knowing how it actually went.

Now, I am not saying that a biopic needs to be 100% accurate.  In fact, the way they showed the event in the movie was extremely effective and well done and maintained the general spirit of the RAW segment.  It is just that I knew the way it actually went down and I could not get past it in my head.  It is a minor gripe of mine, but it was going through my head when I was watching the film.

“The Rock” Dwayne Johnson, a producer on the film, came across the story and helped get WWE Studios to produce the film.  Johnson also had a couple of top notch cameos in the movie as himself.

You do not have to love professional wrestling to love Fighting With My Family because it is not just a wrestling movie.  It is, first and foremost, a character study of a family and their personal demons that affect their choices and lives that just happened to involved pro wrestling.  It is remarkably well acted and moves briskly.  Paige was one of my favorite female wrestlers and I loved getting to see the story of her rise to stardom in the WWE.  WWE Studios has not had a ton of critical hits under its banner, but this one is the best film they have ever made.

4.6 stars