The Goldfinch

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You’d think that a novel that won a Pultizer Prize could be adapted into a halfway decent film.  However, in the case of The Goldfinch, you would be wrong.

The Goldfinch is the story of a 13-year old boy named Theo Decker (played as a youth by Oakes Fegley and as an adult by Ansel Elgort), whose mother is killed in an explosion at a museum they were visiting together.  Theo sees a painting of a goldfinch chained to its perch at the site of the attack and sneaked it out of the museum as a way to remember his mother.

The rest of his life was tainted by this moment.  It seemed that things would be okay when he was taken in by the kindly Barbour family, led by Nicole Kidmon, but when Theo’s absent birth father (Luke Wilson) arrived, he had to go with him.

Theo wound up in Vegas where he met Boris (Finn Wolfhard), a Russian (kind of) speaking kid who introduced Theo to drugs and alcohol.

Meanwhile, we flash forward to Theo’s future life with Ansel Elgort where he had reunited with Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), an antiques dealer he knew as a child.  They formed a partnership that gets threatened by the presence of the painting that Theo basically stole from the museum.

This film is such a mess.  Honestly, there is such a lack of narrative progress or story structure that it is amazing that it came from such an award winning novel.  There are several scenes that are included here to set up a certain storyline that are never paid off or returned to as the film progressed.  The flash forward sequences felt completely unneeded and the last act of the film took it in a completely different direction than the entire movie had been going.

The film itself is very long and very boring at many times.  It is amazing that The Goldfinch was as long as it was as I have a hard time thinking about what happened.  There was little memorable in the movie at all.

The performances were good, for the most part.  I liked the performance from Oakes Fegley.  He was one of the best parts of the movie.  Finn Wolfhard was good too despite being saddled with a silly Russian accent.  Luke Wilson and Sarah Paulson felt as if they were in a different movie.  Still, they were decent with what they had to do.

There are some good shots as the film’s cinematography was done by the legendary Roger Deakins, but even his classic eye could not save this wreck.

The Goldfinch had a few parts that were decent, but it failed to bring them together into any sort of competent, understandable narrative.  Good performances and some nice shots were not enough to overcome the failing of the movie.

1.5 stars

Luce

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Luce makes one think, and that is a rare feat these days.

Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr) is a star high school student.  Quite the distance from where the boy lived until he was 7 years old, in the war-torn and violence-ridden Eritrea.   He was adopted by a white family, Amy Edgar (Naomi Watts) and Peter Edgar (Tim Roth).  After years of challenging behaviors, Luce has settled into an existence of a top notch student.

However, with some incidents involving dedicated teacher Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), some doubt begins to rear its ugly head.  When Luce writes a questionable paper, Harriet becomes concerned with the boy’s true thoughts.  A search of his locker makes her even more worried.

The best part of the movie, Luce, is that you are never quite sure if what it seems has happened is what actually happened.  Are Harriet’s suspicions realistic or is she reading too much into it.  Is Luce being misjudged or is he manipulating everything to his liking?  You are fairly certain about a scene, and then something happens and you are not sure once again.  I like that in a script.

The performances are tremendous.  I loved the work of Naomi Watts, Kelvin Harrison and Octavia Spencer especially.  These three actors dominated the scenes that they were in and they were able to create deeply imperfect characters whom you can see as real and flawed.  Tim Roth is just as compelling, though not used as much as the other three.

This is a movie that demands attention and leaves you feeling uncertain and uncomfortable in all the best ways.  I realized after a while in the film that I was not sure what the film was about, and that was all the more intriguing.

Is Luce a hero or a villain?  Is he the next best thing or the dark evil of this generation?  Is it possible that he could be equal parts of both?  And is he being given the proper chance?  There are some powerful ideas flowing through this movie and the performances provide some amazing moments.

I’m not sure this is a movie that I want to see again, but the first viewing experience was strong and stick with you for time.

4 stars

 

 

Brittany Runs a Marathon

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Based on a true story, the film Brittany Runs a Marathon has its moments of humor and good will, but it also has times when I really could not care less for its lead star.

That is not to say that actress Jillian Bell who is very good in this role, but the character bounces from funny to downright obnoxious so much that it was difficult to form any lasting emotional connection to her. In fact, I preferred every secondary character in the movie to Brittany.

Brittany, a plus sized 28-year old in New York, wound up at a doctor’s office and the doctor told her that she needed to lose about 45 pounds.  To do so, Brittany started to do some running and before long decided that she was going to run the New York City Marathon.  The movie was her life as she trained for the event.

However, the more weight she lost, the less likable she became.  She clearly had traumas involving her weight from her past, but many of them did not feel as authentic as I wish they had.

As a heavy person in my own right, I kind of resent the theme here that heavy people are failures and unhappy all the time, and, by the time they bring around someone to counteract that image, it is much too late.  Brittany makes her weight be the issue that has cost her so many plans and that is unrealistic.

As she was such a jerk to all of her friends, I just do not understand why this crew of really nice people would continue to want to be her friends.  She was mean and, downright verbally abusive at times, but these people stuck with her for unknown reasons.

However, I would be lying if I said that I did not feel some emotional tug during the third act and that there was no humor here.  There were many good scenes as well.  I just have trouble with films where I can not like the main character.

Brittany Runs a Marathon is a mixed bag of a dark rom-com that misses the mark at times, but ends with a strong finish.

3.1 stars

The Fanatic

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Sick day.

Not feeling well today, so I stayed home from work and I figured I would go to Vudu and watch what may be the worst movie of the year.

In the Vudu section for the “In theaters now” where they have the smaller, independent features, there was The Fanatic.  I had seen online movie reviewer Chris Stuckmann include this film in his Hilariocity Reviews (of movies that are so bad they are good).  I rented The Fanatic from Vudu and watched it this morning.

It was just terrible.

John Travolta starred in it giving what could be the worst performance of his career.  Travolta played an obsessed fan named Moose who wanted to get an autograph of his favorite action star Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa), but Hunter rebuffed him.  Moose then finds Hunter’s home and begins to stalk him.  However, Moose would become very frustrated and angry if anyone called him on being a stalker.

I really think the movie wants us to relate to and feel sorry for Moose instead of his chosen victim, Hunter Dunbar.  The film goes out of its way to show Dunbar as a jerk, being excessively cruel to Moose.  Moose has friends who tell him what a good person he is.  I really think the film wants us to back Moose.

This is despite the fact that Moose has broken into Dunbar’s house, accidentally killed his maid, eventually tied Dunbar to his bed and tormented him.

I never once felt as if Hunter was too negative towards this guy.  He has probably had to deal with fans before and he had to respond as he did.

The whole film is simplistic and has some of the worst acting, dialogue and plot of the whole year.

I could see this movie being one where RiffTrax would make it more fun.  I can see someone liking this in the way they like The Room or Birdemic.  However, as a feature film, this is atrocious.

0.75 stars

It Chapter Two

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The first It was one of my favorite movies of 2017 so the sequel was one of my most highly anticipated films of 2019.  And it was fine.  Just nowhere near the greatness of the first film which was a disappointment for me coming out of the theater.

Twenty-sever years later, Pennywise, the Dancing Clown returned to Derry, Maine to restart his terror.  The return of the clown brought the, now adult, Losers Club back to their hometown to honor an oath they took to finish off Pennywise should he ever return.

Let’s start with some good things.  Pennywise is amazing once again.  The clown, played brilliantly by Bill Skarsgård, is creepy as can be and he is all over Chapter Two.  Skarsgård does some amazing work as Pennywise and actually provides some humor in the film as well.

The cast as a whole was amazing, especially when you consider that they are representing grown version of the characters that we met in Chapter One.  Each of the actors cast was perfect as an older version of the kid actors.  Jessica Chastain was strong as Beverly and looked just like the only female of the Losers Club should look.  Bill Hader stole the show as the older version of Richie and seemed to be undeniably wonderful as the grown Finn Wolfhard (although as a personal pet peeve, I could have done without the two puke scenes).  Jay Ransone’s Eddie was as troubled and obsessive as Jack Dylan Grazer was.  He looked just like an older version of the young actor.  Isaiah Mustafa’s Mike got to do more in this movie than Chosen Jacobs did as the young Mike.

I will say that I thought James McAvoy, as adult Bill, despite being cast wonderfully, was over-the-top too much and his performance felt forced.  Bill was one of my favorite characters of the first film, but I was not a fan of him here.

I thought this film was more frightening and, perhaps, more disturbing than the first film.  It felt more like Stranger Things with the volume turned up.  This was a much more horror film and it does a solid job of avoiding the cheap jump scares, preferring instead to focus on the atmosphere and the mental anguish.  While some of the scares were diminished some because of some of the failing of the CGI, especially when Pennywise was in other forms than the clown.

I’m not sure how I feel about the ending sequence.  I believe this is the ending that was in Stephen King’s novel too, but, for me, I am not sure if this really works for me.  Of course, the whole third act with the ritual was a bit of a stretch for me and felt too much like a B-movie example.

The part I thought was the weakest was the flashbacks to the scenes that are meant to have occurred in down time during the first movie.  They used de-aging process on the kid actors to make them look as they did two years ago.  The problem was that I thought at three of the kids looked like they were all CGI on their face that did not properly move when they spoke.  I have heard people claim that the de-aging here was undetectable and that made me wonder what movie they were watching because it was painfully apparent that Finn Wolfhard never looked like that.

The film was really long, and it felt as if it were long.  If they had removed most of these flashback scenes, I think it would have helped the flow.  I would have liked to see more with the adult Losers Club instead of so much that makes the first film feel lesser than it was.

There were also a few scenes, including the opening scene of the film, that made no sense and felt shoehorned into the film for no apparent reason.  In fact, I would go to say that some of the scenes held no purpose at all.

I felt that most of the humor was out of place, though some of it struck the proper chord.  I believe that they tried to do too much with the funnies, especially with some of the monsters.

I may see this again before too long and I will be interested if a second viewing helps the film or makes it even longer.  As it is now, a film that could have been amazing, was okay and just nowhere near as epic as the first part was.  Great cast and the iconic Pennywise helped make this movie watchable.

3 stars

 

Don’t Let Go

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The idea of this was intriguing.  The execution of this…not so much.

Police detective Jack Radcliff (David Oyelowo) has a close relationship with his niece Ashley (Storm Reid).  Ashley’s parents have issues and Ashley winds up depending on Jack a lot.  However, she, along with her parents and their dog, end up dead by an apparent bloody murder-suicide.  Jack is shaken to his core when he discovered the bodies of his brother and niece, but he is shaken even more when Ashley called him again on his cell phone…after her death.. from two weeks in the past.  Jack tried to help Ashley solve her own murder to prevent it from happening.

The concept was solid, but the story became so convoluted that it really derailed the film, despite pretty solid performances from David Oyelowo and Storm Reid.  Both of these actors did decent emotional work with what they had been handed, but there were too many negatives to be overcome by just good acting.

I’m not sure the story holds up on any sort of examination of what happened.  The time travel rules do not work and, I think, really mess up the story.  of course, we have absolutely no idea how this happened.  Not that I need a lot of explanation of why this worked, but something would be nice.

Ashley’s dad was played by the wasted Bryan Tyree Henry.  The film also wasted an appearance from Alfred Molina too.  Bubba himself (from Forrest Gump) Mykelti Williamson was here too in a role that made little sense as the movie moved on.

There were some decent moments of the film and, as I said, Oyelowo and Reid were really good together.  A scene in a restaurant in the different time lines was really pretty good, but there was just not enough of that to really recommend this film.  It would not be bad for a TV movie on a lazy weekend day, with the movie playing in the background.  If you think too much, it falls apart quickly.

2.8 stars 

Bennett’s War

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I had no idea what Bennett’s War was about.  When I saw it on the list of films opening at Cinemark this weekend, I was truly flabbergasted because I had not seen anything about this.  Not a trailer.  Not a commercial.  Not anything.

So Friday I went to Rotten Tomatoes just to see a score, but there was no score available.  That’s a bad sign the morning of the film’s release.

But I went in without any expectations to see what this was about.

It was about 93 minutes.

That’s an old joke…and not a very good one, but it matches the level of quality that I got from Bennett’s War.

Marshall Bennett (Michael Roark) was a soldier in Afghanistan in a motorcycle unit.  He and another soldier wound up injured in combat and returned home.  Bennett returned to his wife Sophie (Allison Paige) and their newborn child.  Working in motorcycle repair did not seem to be what he wanted so Bennett decided to give motorcross a try despite his litany of injuries from the military.  He had to score enough points for the ability to turn pro.

Oh, and his dad is Trace Adkins.

Wow, I found this to be really boring, especially in the first act of the movie.  Act number two was a giant montage of the races he needed to place in and act three was his return once again after his motorcycle was sabotaged.

I would say I would not spoil the ending, but if you do not already know who was going to win that final race, then you certainly haven’t been watching any movies in your life.

Sadly predictable, Bennett’s War could still be a plucky crowd-pleaser if these characters had any personality to them at all.  They were all just pretty looking people who have little to no acting skills among them.  While those with some acting chops were given some of the worst dialogue of the year.

Former WWE wrestler Alex Riley (real name Kevin Kiley Jr) was here too in a mostly non-speaking role.  I spent most of the third act trying to remember his wrestling name.  I could remember Riley, but all I could think of was Mark Reilly (who is from the Movie Trivia Schmoedown and Collider Live).

I had no idea that there were this many pretty people involved in motorcross.  Nor did I know that part of being involved in public relations for motorcross to have boobs (not kidding, that was a line).

This was a really bad movie.  I see why there were no critic reviews as of Friday.  Best part of the film…

It was only 93 minutes.

1.4 stars

Angel Has Fallen

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Previously, Olympus and London have both fallen.  Now it is Angel’s turn.

This is the third movie in the series of “…has Fallen” movies starring Gerard Butler as Secret service agent Mike Banning.  Those two previous movies set the bar for what this movie had to be, a high action, silly, popcorn movie.

The President (Morgan Freeman) is fishing when a massive drone attack attempted to assassinate him.  The president was saved by Banning, but, when they were taken to the hospital, the president was in a coma and Banning was being arrested for turning on the president with help from Russia.  Mike escapes custody and goes on the lamb, looking for help from his paranoid father (Nick Nolte).  Mike has to go to extremes to prove that he was framed and that he was still loyal to the president.

A few weeks ago, with Hobbs and Shaw, we saw a movie that was big and dumb, depending on its action and the charisma of its lead actors to carry a weaker plot.  This franchise is very much in the same vein as that.  It is hard not to think of the Fast and the Furious franchise and how much leeway those films get when you are thinking about Angel has Fallen and its other films.

Unfortunately, there was one major drawback for me with this movie and it was the fact that this was DESPERATELY predictable.  There were two different times in the movie that they portrayed a moment as a huge reveal, when it was painfully obvious that EVERYBODY already knew the reveal.  And while predictability is not always a kiss of death, when it is shown as a mystery, you have to have some level of surprise about the reveal.  I literally knew immediately who the first villain was, and then, when we found out that that first villain was working with someone else, I said to myself in the theater, “Please don’t let it be [insert name]” and, of course, it was.  I held out a slight hope that the film was not going to go where it looked like it was going, but it obviously did.  And that was hard to get past for me.

Gerard Butler was fine.  He is never going to blow you away with his performance, but he is a solid action star and he was certainly believable.  You can get behind his relationship with Morgan Freeman, who plays the president.  I liked them together.

The film absolutely had some scenes that were reminiscent of The Fugitive, which was distracting for awhile too.

There were some really good action set pieces, including a pretty solid third act at a hospital.  Yes, much of what happens really should not be possible, but you let that slide because the film is not trying to be 100% realistic.

However, there are some scenes that deal with real life problems affecting Mike Banning from his life as an action hero.  For example, he has concussions and is addicted to pain meds.  He is shown to be slowly breaking down as the years moved along.  This was a fascinating part of the film that, sadly, did not receive enough of screen time.  I would have liked this to be more of the driving conflict of the film.  Especially since his physical troubles never seem to affect him during the fight or action scenes.

Nick Nolte’s scenes were some of the best in the film, despite really being a different tone from the rest of the movie. Speaking of that, this movie has a mid-credit scene that is completely ridiculous and has absolutely nothing to do with anything.  I sat there watching this mid-credit scene thinking “Why?”.

Implausible?  Yes.  Predictable?  Absolutely.  Fun?  Somewhat.  I did not hate Angel Has Fallen, but these problems did weigh it down for me.  Yet, there have been many worse movies than this out this year.

2.7 stars

The Peanut Butter Falcon

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I wonder what Mark Twain would thin about professional wrestling?  I bet he would embrace the fantastical elements of it and write a story of his protagonists floating down the Mississippi to reach a wrestling school.

Or not.  However, the idea has merit as it is shown in the new film The Peanut Butter Falcon.

Zak (Zack Gottsagen) was a young man with Down’s Syndrome was being cared for in a nursing home and watching an old VCR tape of professional wrestling and his hero, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Hayden Church).  Zak decided to take off on a quest to reach the wrestling school, run by the Redneck, and, in order to accomplish this, he had to escape from the nursing home.

After his great escape, Zak comes across Tyler (Shia LaBeouf),a small time crook on the run, and the two of them form a friendship.  Tyler promised Zak that he would get him to the wrestling school.  The are joined by Zak’s caregiver at the nursing home, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), at first unwillingly.

There is a lot of sweetness in the relationship between Tyler and Zak.  It is funny and engaging as the pair continue their voyage, at first by foot and eventually on raft down the river.  There is an absolute feel of Tom Sawyer in this film and Mark Twain is even referenced during the movie.  You can see how the big-hearted Zak wins over Tyler, who originally saw him as a nuisance, but developed real feeling for the kid as they moved on.

Tyler was also refreshingly positive in his message toward Zak.  He was not afraid to even point out to Eleanor how her manner with Zak was sending a negative message.  Tyler and Zak together certainly made the movie.

However, I am not sure I bought the eventual romantic relationship that developed between Eleanor and Tyler.  It felt like something shoehorned into the film because it was expected.  I take nothing away from Dakota Johnson because she played her part beautifully.

The third act of the film was mostly awesome.  We got to see Jake “The Snake” Roberts appear along with Mick Foley, two of my all-time favorite professional wrestlers.  It was great to see them, even though their roles were minor.  The part involving Jake and Mick was such a fantasy that it felt almost dreamlike.

However, I had a big problem with the very end of the movie.  It is hard to talk about it without spoiling the film but let’s just say that the section where they make it look like one thing had happened only to reveal that it had not was too emotionally manipulative for me and left a bit of bad taste in my mouth.

I had a few other issues.  The film started a little slow and it had some conveniences that happened to move the plot forward. These were moments where the really great film took a few steps back for me.  But these were few and far between in an overall excellent movie.

A huge shout out needs to go to Zack Gottsagen who does an exceptional job overall in the role of Zak.  Gottsagen does have Down’s Syndrome and can really be inspirational for anyone who may be inflicted by something that they cannot control.  His performance was the heart of the movie and was very impressive.

On the whole, I really liked this heart-warming movie.  While there are some issues that knocked down the score, The Peanut Butter Falcon provided some great performances and a story that could be inspiring.  It is one of the best Shia LaBeouf performances in a long time.

4.35 stars 

Ready or Not

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I’m torn on this one.

Grace (Samara Weaving) is marrying into one of the richest, most successful families around.  Alex (Mark O’Brien) had been estranged from his family for some time, but he knew that Grace wished for a family that had always eluded her as a child.  So, he brought her back to get married with her family.

However, there was more to this family than what met the eye.  On the wedding night, the family gets together with the new family member and that person draws a card of a game that they will play to induct that person into the family.  All the games are passive unless the person unluckily draws “Hide and Seek.”  Then the family has until dawn to find the person and kill him/her.  Grace, unfortunately, does exactly that.

I would have liked to have come into the movie without knowing exactly what was going to happen, but this is one of those movies that showed me too much in the trailer.  I can’t imagine that there is not a way to avoid the whole family is out to kill me angle of the movie and that could have been a great reveal.

I was not feeling this movie much.  It started trying to be mysterious, but I already knew what was going to happen (because of the trailers) so much of the first act was wasted for me.  There was a ton of exposition in the film and it was really noticeable.

The characters of this family were nothing more than cartoon characters.  I had a hard time buying almost any of them as real people.

The one exception was Alex’s brother Daniel (Adam Brody) who was an alcoholic who did not give two craps about anyone here, except his brother Alex.  Daniel was clearly conflicted and his internal struggle was one of the most fascinating parts of the first half of the movie.

Andy MacDowell, who played Alex and Daniel’s mother, said she was conflicted.  She claimed to like Grace, but I never believe that once.  The rest of the family members were complete caricature.

I did not find the humor to work much in that early part of the movie so these other family members really fell flat for me.

Then something strange happened.  I started to pull for Grace.  The more crazy things got, the more I wanted her to escape and save herself.  I think a big part of that is the actress playing Grace, Samara Weaving, does a great job of making this ridiculous setting work, showing the horror of the moment without underplaying it.  She was easy to root for.  Sure, she did some stupid things, but you could almost forgive her.

And the third act gets so bat-shit crazy that it caught me off guard and turned the movie around.  The strong finish helped wipe away a lot of the concerns I had earlier in the movie.

The movie has plenty to say about the rich and what they will do to maintain their grasp on their position.  Since this is similar to the ideas of “The Most Dangerous Game,” one wonders why this has not been pulled like “The Hunt” was.  Maybe the insistence of old time weapons is what keeps the plug from being poor.  It can’t be because, unlike The Hunt, the rich people in Ready or Not are the ones doing the hunting.  That would be very hypocritical, wouldn’t it?

Avoiding the controversy, Ready or Not was a slow start that I was really starting to dislike until it picked up the pace in the second act and knocked it out of the park with an explosive (and bloody) third act.  Since the ending is what sticks with me the most, I will give this a positive score.

3.5 stars

Blinded by the Light

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While I am, at best, someone who does not mind the music of Bruce Springsteen, I loved the new movie Blinded by the Light, directed by Gurinder Chadha.  Inspired by a true story, this movie is part musical, part rock anthem, part family drama and part coming of age movie all blended together into an engaging mash up of genres.

Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a teen in 1987 England, hoping some day to be a writer, but dragged down by the life around him.  He has a family dominated by a father whose old school ideas come straight from Pakistan.  He has a country that is chanting “Send them back” to Pakistani-English citizens.  The country is in the midst of a terrible job shortage, causing trouble among the people.  This leads to self-doubt, bordering on depression, for Javed.

However, Javed’s life takes a turn when a friend named Roops (Aaron Phagura) introduced him to the music of “The Boss” Bruce Springsteen.  Javed felt as if the lyrics of the songs were speaking directly to him, putting into words the pain and frustrations that he felt as a teen in this world.  The music of Springsteen inspired Javed to look to change his life, despite the push back he received from his father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir).

Malik lost his job and the family had to struggle mightily just to find enough money to pay the bills.  Meanwhile, Javed’s teacher Ms. Clay (Haley Atwell) is continuing to encourage Javed to keep writing, to find his own voice.

Blinded by the Light is a wonderful movie filled with hope, energy and a story of inspiration.  Fact is that the movie is not about Bruce Springsteen.  It is about finding that thing/person who can inspire you to make the change you want in your life.  It is also about the ties of the family and how they can make you who you are, even if that is not who you want to be.  The use of Bruce Springsteen is simply because that was the musician who inspired the real life Javed.

The film uses the music in some exceptional ways.  Many times the songs that Javed are listening to on his Walkman have the lyrics plastered across the screen.  These are moments when the lyrics of these songs echo the situation that Javed found himself in.  Other times, Javed would start to sing along with the cassette tape and suddenly we have a flash mob type situation where the crowd around are getting involved as well. This is when the film transcends into a rock fantasy/rock anthem movie-almost dreamlike, and these times all work.  I sat there watching these scenes with a big smile on my face.

The relationship between Javed and Malik was key to the film too and I had tears in my eyes during the third act when this relationship took front and center.  Add to the normal parent/son troubles with the culture of the Pakistani people and there are fireworks just waiting to explode between them.  Javed’s monologue in the third act is an absolute tear-jerker.

Viveik Kalra was remarkably charming and easy to root for, making Blinded by the Light a joyous film.  Eliza (Nell Williams) was Javed’s love interest in this movie and they had lots of chemistry and the film told a sweet love story for these two.

It might have been a touch too long in certain sections, but, other than that, there really are not much that I can criticize about this movie.

The movie focuses on Javed.  This is not the story of Bruce Springsteen and his music, but the story of Javed and how that music inspired him to be more than what he thought he could be.  The music and the lyrics gave him the belief in himself to face his life straight on and to make the changes he needed to make.  Blinded by the Light is a wonderful movie that I enjoyed thoroughly.

4.75 stars 

 

Fast Color

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What happens when you are a grounded, low key super powers movie released limited one week before the biggest, most massive super hero film of all time gets released?  Yes, you get lost in the shuffle.

So it was gone from theaters super quick.

However, I heard Marc Bernardin, writer and podcaster, speak about the movie on Fatman Beyond, the podcast that he does with Kevin Smith, and he raved about it.  I remember hearing him back when it first came out too, singing Fast Color’s praises.  He called it the best “X-Men movie that you have never seen.”  It intrigued me, so I went to Vudu and looked for it, and, lo and behold, there it was.  So I rented it and got to it tonight.

He was right.  The movie is excellent.

In a world where water has become a scarcity, there was a young woman Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who had discovered that she has some powers.  However, she had trouble controlling them, leading her to leave her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and father Ellis (David Strathairn).  She turned to drugs and alcohol, but nothing helped.  When she gave birth to her daughter, she returned and left the child with her mother to raise.

Pursued by government officials who intend on examining her, Ruth returned to her mother’s farmhouse, sober, and tried to repair the relationship with her and with her daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney).

There is a lot of under the surface things happening here as well.  The film examines the bloodline of this family of females and how these powers wind up being passed along through the generations.  It looks at family and at the relationships and choices people make.

There are some great performances by all actors involved and each one makes their character their own.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a total standout and could easily find a role in a big time franchise.  She carries herself like a star and it will be just a matter of time before she is in something massive.

Saniyya Sidney is exceptional as well.  She brings hope and emotion to the young girl. She hopes that her mother is here for good.  The actress carries a big chunk of the film.  And Lorraine Toussaint (who was Vee in Orange is the New Black) was a powerhouse as Ruth’s mother.

Films like this can be lost in the shuffle against the juggernauts like major studio franchise films so it is important to remember them when they show up on these services.  Or even better, see them in the theater.

4.3 stars

Good Boys

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Sorry my friend (you know who you are)…

The new film Good Boys has been causing a stir across social media and other platforms because they have placed three kids into an R rated, raunchy movie with lots of swearing and sex.  I even read an article online that said that the new movie was sexualizing children and some have even gone as far as to use the “P” word to describe the creators or the potential fans of the movie.  The faux rage from people who had not yet seen the movie, going only by the trailers, has been consistent with other films that seemingly have caused divisiveness in the audience.

As a middle school teacher, I will tell you that the language of these kids in the movie are very much the language of middle schoolers today.  They use curse words and they think and talk about inappropriate topics all the time.  While I would not necessarily claim that Good Boys is a realistic portrayal of pre-teens, the language and thoughts are not far from the truth.  The kids from the movie It spoke like kids speak.

Maybe you are someone who just does not want to hear kids using swear words or talking about sex, and that is perfectly fine.  Maybe you are someone who does not like the type of raunchy movie genre that this film would fall into and that, as well, is fine.  Honestly, I have my moments where I am not a huge fan of raunchy jokes in a movie.  Something like Sausage Party is funny to a point, but gets tiring after a while.  I do not dispute anyone’s right to not watch what they want.

However, you do not have the right to criticize something you have not seen.  You do not have to watch it, but you can’t then form an opinion on the overall movie because you chose to not watch it.  There are many Adam Sandler movies that I chose to skip because I do not like his brand of movies, but I cannot critique, say, his Netflix film with Jennifer Aniston, Murder Mystery, because I have not watched it.  Same thing happens here.

Because I will tell you that the raunchiness of Good Boys is countered with the fact that these three actors (Jacob Trembley, Keith L. Williams, and Brady Noon) are wonderful here and bring a balance of innocence to the proceedings that, while they say these things, make you understand that they do not really understand what is going on.

One of the examples for the sexualizing children crowd was the scene from the trailers with the boys in the sex swing.  This scene is so not sexual in nature and is counterbalanced with how much the boys really did not know that it turns out to be charming.  I wish they had left that out of the trailer because that would have been a big laugh if it was unfamiliar.

Truthfully, the film is not about sex, but, actually, it is about friendship and how some childhood friendships change over the years.  Some friendships grow apart as the kids inside them find that they are becoming different people.  I know this happened to me as a kid.  I had two very close friends through elementary school and we grew apart into junior high and high school while I got another group of friends with more things in common with me.  It did not mean that I did not like my elementary friends any more.  I was just not as close with them as I was before.  Good Boys is more about that than anything else.

Yes, there were several parts that did not work for me.  The whole drug aspect of the film was hard to buy, but it did lead to a ridiculous, but very funny, scene with the boys and a group of college drug suppliers.  The boys’ adventure meant that you had to stretch credibility several times, but I have said before that if something is funny, you are more willing to give leeway than if it is not, and Good Boys is funny.

Honestly, there were a couple of scenes that I laughed really hard at that I felt a little dirty doing it, but it was funny.

The three boys are great.  Jacob Trembley is a fantastic actor and has another really strong performance.  Keith L. Williams, who plays Lucas, is constantly the funniest of the group.  His character is so sweet and heart-felt that you cannot help but like him.  Brady Noon’s Thor is the glue that holds them together.  All three boys are given worries and concerns from their home lives or from school that are realistic and impactful.  They turn these moments into comedic gold.

Some parts of the story were all over the place but the message in the film comes through strong in the end.  The three boys are wonderful and play with such heart.  These really are good boys.  There may be gross out moments in the film with a ton of cursing, but these boys’ goodness shines through.  And the film has a definite idea that it wants to cover about friendship.  The film is truly about more than just sixth graders saying the F-word or talking about sex.

If you are easily offended, you probably do not want to see Good Boys.  If this type of movie is something that you find crude and something that you do not want to see in a movie, that is fine.  That is your right.  I disagree with you, and that is my right.

4.1 stars

47 Meters Down: Uncaged

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I have always enjoyed good shark movie and I might give a bad shark movie more leeway than other movies receive.  I did not like the original 47 Meters Down at all so this one already started off behind the eight ball.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged is better than the original.  There are still lots of issues with the movie, but, in the end, I had a decent time in the theater watching this one.

Step-sisters Sasha (Corinne Foxx) and Mia (Sophie Nélisse) go with some friends scuba diving into a pond that leads into an underground Mayan city.  While there, the girls find themselves cornered by a deadly species of Great White Shark and they struggle to survive and escape before they are eaten or their air runs out.

The best part of the film is the tension created by the sharks.  There are some very strong moments of anxiety built by the sharks.  The four girls are reasonably engaging.  Sasha is played by Jamie Foxx’s daughter Corinne and another of the girls is played by Sly Stallone’s daughter Sistine Rose Stallone.  Nia Long was the fourth of the girls involved.

John Corbett appears in the movie as Mia’s father, who is the head investigator on the underground city and how the girls knew about the city.

There were a couple of surprises too, which was nice for the film.  There were some deaths that I did not expect.

The sharks themselves looked pretty good, but the rest of the filming under the water was not great.  It was really dark and difficult to see anything that was happening.  With the girls in their scuba gear, it was very difficult to know who was in danger at any certain time.  The camera was not very steady either.  The visuals were very dark and unappealing.

And, of course, many of these characters do stupid things, which is a horror film trope that is very annoying.

The ending of the film is both ridiculous and, strangely, stupidly fun.  The film does not pretend to be anything more than this and it works for the most part.

3 stars

The Farewell

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I heard a ton of positive word of mouth on The Farewell as it currently holds a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and some of the online critics I like were raving about it.  I went to it today.  I liked it.  I would not rave about it, but it was definitely good.

Billi (Awkwafina) is a Chinese-American living in New York, struggling to get by.  When she discovered that her beloved grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) was dying of lung cancer.  Her parents were planning on going to China, but Billi was shocked when she discovered that no one in the family intended on telling Nai Nai about the diagnosis.

Apparently, it is tradition in China of family members to keep this type of fatal diagnosis a secret to allow the sick person to enjoy his/her last days worry free.

So, Nai Nai’s family was arriving in China under the pretense of a wedding for Billi’s only cousin Hao Hao (Han Chen) when no such wedding was planned.  It was only an excuse for her family to come and spend time with Nai Nai while she still had time.

At first, Billi was told by her father (Tzi Ma) and mother (Diana Lin) that Billi could not go because she would tell her grandmother the truth, or at least would be unable to hide her feelings from her.  Of course, her father and his brother were just as bad at this, if not considerably worse.

The film was a lot of interrelationship scenes between the people of this family who were continuing to debate whether what they were doing was the right thing or if they should tell Nai Nai the truth to allow her to say her goodbyes.

There is a lot of emotions here, but, honestly, I thought there would be much more than what was presented.  What they did have was a well-written and human story of guilt and grief, tip-toeing around something that none of them wanted to admit.

Awkwafina was excellent as Billi, playing her love for Nai Nai against the pain of knowledge that she had in her own heart.  I thought, as well, that the actress playing Nai Nai, Shuzhen Zhao, was spectacular.  She was funny, sweet and cute as could be.

There were some wonderful scenes detailing some of the cultural aspects of the Chinese and comparing them to those same cultural aspects in America.

This was based on the true story (or as the movie tag line states. “Based on an actual lie”) that happened with the film’s director and writer Lulu Wang.  The role of Billi is based on the real occurrences that happened to Wang’s family in 2013.  So much so that the character of Little Nai Nai (Nai Nai’s sister) was actually played by Wang’s real life Little Nai Nai.

The twist at the very end of the film wraps the whole film up with a perfect bow.  The film is very heartfelt and sweet, and is extremely well acted.  It also provided some depth to the life of people in China.  It is not my favorite film of the year, but it is very good.

3.9 stars