Nightmare Alley

I’m struggling with a review for the new Guillermo Del Toro movie, Nightmare Alley. This is a film that, to me, is as much of a tweener as any movie I have seen recently.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, “When charismatic but down-on-his-luck Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) endears himself to clairvoyant Zeena (Toni Collette) and her has-been mentalist husband Pete (David Strathairn) at a traveling carnival, he crafts a golden ticket to success, using this newly acquired knowledge to grift the wealthy elite of 1940s New York society. With the virtuous Molly (Rooney Mara) loyally by his side, Stanton plots to con a dangerous tycoon (Richard Jenkins) with the aid of a mysterious psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) who might be his most formidable opponent yet

While I found the setting of the traveling carnival to be extremely awesome, I found myself bored for much of the first part of the film. Some of the mentalist tricks and strategies were cool to hear about and see in action, but I feel as if there were too much for the film.

Bradley Cooper is very engaging as Stanton Carlisle, being both someone who you could root for but also someone who is simply a horrible manipulative person. Cooper brought a lot of depth to the role. He has chemistry with most of the characters. There is a deep seeded daddy issues with Stanton that is coloring his choices.

I was more interested in the film later on when they were dealing with Richard Jenkins and the attempt to gaslight him over the death of his love. Watching Bradley Cooper continuing to descend into his pain and his bad behaviors was great.

There is a lot of style to this movie. It had great design and a tremendous look to it. Much like other Guillermo Del Toro films.

I did find myself checking the time within the first hour or so. To me, the second half of the film had a better pace to it.

In the end, this film has a lot of problems for me. It was up and down throughout and it left me uncertain about how I feel about it. It looked good and had some solid performances, but there are problems with pacing and could have been edited down more.

2.95 stars

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spoiler alert: I love this.

Spoiler alert: I knew I was going to love this.

There will be no more spoilers in this review.

The third Spider-Man MCU “Home” trilogy film from director John Watts was released today after a little bit of hype… and the hype is 100% earned in one of the best, most emotional, exciting and creative Spider-Man live action films ever produced.

No Way Home picked up immediately after the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home when Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) revealed to the world that Spider-Man’s real name was Peter Parker (Tom Holland). The chaos and insanity that followed was being ramped up by J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) and his podcast.

Finding that the reveal of his secret identity was causing real life problems for the people in his life, May (Marisa Tomei), MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) especially, Peter looked to his friends and allies for possible help, namely Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Peter wondered if Strange could use his magic to help fix the problem. Unfortunately, something went wrong while Strange was casting the spell, bringing trouble from all ends of the multiverse.

For any of those people who complained that the MCU Peter Parker/Spider-Man was just Iron Man Jr. or that he did not understand the character, you can now be quiet because this is the absolutely perfect version of the character, brought to life brilliantly by Tom Holland. I believe that there now can not be any discussion on who is the best live action Spider-Man, because the answer is Tom Holland.

Holland’s Peter Parker has to face the doubts and uncertainties of the character and has to deal with the weight of the responsibility of his choices and the stakes of the story, stakes that were real and palatable. This Spider-Man needed to follow the path of the previous two MCU films in order to become this hero. It was a process and I am glad that the filmmakers and Marvel Studios chose to take this direction.

There were rumors that Marvel Studios wanted the three villains who had been revealed in trailers (and through interviews) to have stayed secret and they wanted to promote the film as Spider-Man vs. Dr. Strange conflict. I do not know how insane I would have gone if I did not know that Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) was going to show up on that bridge. Same with Electro (Jamie Foxx) and Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe). Would the box office be as potentially crazy for this film if they had not revealed these villains? I don’t know, but I know I would have lost my damn mind if they were a surprise.

The relationship between Peter and MJ is at the center of No Way Home. The chemistry with Holland and Zendaya is absolutely off-the-charts and they make one of the great MCU couples. Every minute with the two of them cemented their status as the It couple. Ned Leeds fit right in with the pair as the proverbial third wheel, but one that was welcome and loved. The trio of kids have built this relationship over the previous two films and it really pays off here.

As epic as it is to see Alfred Molina as Doc Ock again, and how much of an improvement this version of Jamie Foxx’s Electro is, Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn steals the show. Dafoe is utterly terrifying and brings a depth to the character that we may not have had in the Sam Raimi films.

The other two villains we see in the trailer was Sandman and Lizard and there is less of these two than Ock, Goblin and Electro, but that is understandable. Both Sandman and Lizard had their individual moments in the film and are welcome.

This is easily the darkest of the Spider-Man films, but it still has the undeniably funny humor involved as well. The first act had a lot of awkwardness and that felt right because it was shadowing how Peter was feeling during the reveal of his secret identity.

I love how people are using the terms “nostalgia” and “fan service” as bad things. This film certainly has its share of both, but it does it expertly and it is usually in service of the story. I would say that Spider-Man: No Way Home is the perfect amount of both.

Benedict Cumberbatch is outstanding as Dr. Strange yet again. He has been presented in the most effective manner outside of his own solo film. His appearance in Avengers: Infinity War and in this Spider-Man movie show Strange as such an effective character. I liked the movie Doctor Strange, but he has flourished in his supporting roles over the last few years.

Two post credit scenes , so stay through to the end. The first scene was at both times funny and ominous. The second one was unexpected and set up what was coming. Both were amazing.

I have seen many people claim that this was a love letter to the character of Spider-Man and I can absolutely get on board with that idea. This is probably the least surprising score of the entire year for me, but Spider-Man: No way Home hit a home run, nailing every aspect that needed to be in a Spider-Man movie.

To no one’s surprise…

5 stars

The Rescue

What a powerful documentary.

I saw a tweet on Twitter from John Rocha, an online movie reviewer, about a doc on Disney + called The Rescue about the mission to rescue a group of 12 Thai soccer kids and their coach who had been trapped in a flooded cave in Northern Thailand in 2018.

Rocha was absolutely correct. This was riveting.

I must have missed this story when it was happening in 2018, because I knew nothing about the story. Watching this documentary with the people involved in this amazing, daring mission was fulfilling. What the accomplishment of this rescue says about human beings, across several variations of culture and beliefs is just life-affirming.

These cave divers, Rick Stanton, John Volanthen, Richard Harris, along with hundreds of others, accomplished an unbelievable task in the rescue of this group of kids.

With the cameras everywhere at the time and the inclusion of social media, there was all kinds of footage to mix with the personal interviews. It made you feel like you were watching this as it happened. You felt the anguish and the fear. The twists were everywhere from the weather to the loss of oxygen. You could feel the constriction, the claustrophobia.

The ultimate plan they came up with to rescue these kids was insane. Desperation put the insane into possibility.

This National Geographic documentary on Disney + is one that you must see. It is one of the best docs of the year and worth the time investment. It is emotional and wondrous.

5 stars

West Side Story (2021)

A couple of years ago, I attended a Fathom Events showing of the 1961 Best Picture Oscar winning movie West Side Story. That was the first time I had seen the movie starring Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn and the fact was, I just did not enjoy it. I was surprised how much I did not like this iconic classic. Looking back, I found the relationship between Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer to be unrealistic and unbelievable. Those problems tainted the remainder of the film for me.

When I heard that Steven Spielberg was going to remake West Side Story, I was anything but anticipatory about it. However, 2021 has had a series of exceptional musicals, two of which will most likely make my Top 10 of the year, and plenty positive word of mouth floated around the Internet. That made me hopeful that the new version would be one that I could enjoy more than the first one.

Now having seen Spielberg’s version of West Side Story, I can say without doubt that this is yet another outstanding musical from 2021.

Of course, even if you have never seen West Side Story, the film or stage show, you have a general idea of what the story was about. Two rival gangs, the Jets (the poor white kids) battled with the Sharks (the Puerto Ricans) while Tony and Maria pulled their own little version of Romeo and Juliet.

The leads of the remake were Ansel Elgort as Tony and, making her feature film debut, Rachel Zegler as Maria. This film made me feel more of a connection between the two of them and the relationship did not ruin the rest of the film for me. They felt like there was more between them than just infatuation and I could then accept the choices made by Maria after Tony came to her after the ill-fate rumble.

Rachel Zegler is a star in the making. She was utterly tremendous here, not only with her acting, but with an absolutely gorgeous singing voice as well. While Ansel Elgort was not as brilliant in the acting area as Zegler, he was fine and had some really solid scenes. His voice was also great and it worked with Zegler’s voice well.

I loved Rita Moreno. Moreno won an Academy Award for her role in the 1961 version of the film, but now she played a character named Valentina and I thought she was amazing, bringing a depth to her character that may not have been there under a less actresses hands. Moreno was an executive producer on the project as well.

Moreno’s original character, Anita, was now played by Schmigadoon!’s Ariana DeBose, and she does a fabulous job. It could not have been easy for DeBose to play this role with Oscar winner Rita Moreno, who won for this very same role in 1961, on set, yet she brings such a power to the role and every song and dance is epic.

The music continued to be excellent, and Spielberg wisely did not make too many changes to the music of Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by the late Stephen Sondheim. Everybody in the cast could sing and did so beautifully throughout the film. The dance routines and scenes were wonderfully constructed and choreographed.

There were plenty of questions about whether this remake was necessary, but the passion brought to the project by director Steven Spielberg and the impressive ensemble cast answered those questions distinctly. Though a very long film, it did not feel that way and breezed through the 2 hours and 36 minutes like it was nothing. I liked this way more than I liked the original and it continues the renaissance of musicals from 2021.

4.75 stars

The Power of the Dog

One of the debuting films this week on Netflix is a potential Academy Award nominee featuring Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch is a busy man, with several films on the docket this year and his role as Dr. Strange taking up time in the MCU.

This film is a Western called The Power of the Dog, and it is based on a novel of the same name by Thomas Savage and it is directed by Jane Campion.

The story centers around two brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons), cowboys and ranchers. When George brings home a new wife Rose (Kristen Dunst) and her son Peter (Kodi Smith-McPhee), conflict started to appear. Phil resented Rose and targeted Peter for torment.

Rose herself had begun to drink heavily and felt like an outsider. She did not seem to be very happy with the life that she had married into and was on edge around Phil at all times.

Phil, however, appeared to take Peter under his wing and started to teach him some of the skills that was taught to him by Phil’s late mentor, Bronco Henry.

The ending was unexpected and required some thought. I liked how subtle the ending of the film was as I had to stop and wonder if what I thought just happened, actually did.

There are some great performances in the film. Benedict Cumberbatch played the role of Phil perfectly. He was raw and rough and hard to like. Cumberbatch allowed each jagged edge to see the light of day without worrying about how the character might be perceived. Kirsten Dunst was very strong too, but I could have used more with her and more reason for her to have turned to the bottle as quickly as she did.

Kodi Smith-McPhee stands out of the cast as well, creating a mysterious young man who you are never quite sure what he was thinking. He was in the film heavily at the first and then he disappeared for a good chunk. I may have missed them explaining where he had gone (apparently returning from school), but once he came back, things picked up again.

There were some slow moments in the film. It is definitely a slow burn and I would think that some of the middle section could have been trimmed for time.

This is an atypical Western and is much more of a psychological piece than a Western. The performances were all really good and the film looked great. You need to pay attention because a lot of the plot goes by without you knowing it and the conclusion will sneak up on you. Still, The Power of the Dog is a decent watch and a good time on Netflix.

3.2 stars

The Last Duel

Another film appeared on Vudu this weekend that I missed out on seeing while it was having its theatrical run, and that film is Ridley Scott’s new epic, The Last Duel. The Last Duel was based on a novel by Eric Jager entitled The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France.

The film reveals the story behind the last duel that happened in France. Two old friends, Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) and Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) over the accusation that Jacques raped Jean’s wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer). The duel was meant to show God’s Will and the truth of what happened.

The film is split into three chapters, each one showing the perspective of the three main characters, starting with Carrouges, followed by Jacques and ending with Marguerite. Seeing the three different POVs provided some fascinating viewing. How little moments were seen differently by the people involved shows how one’s mind can be affected by the manner in which you approach things. It makes one wonder what exactly truth is to other people.

While the film is placing the two males at the center of the duel, it is the struggles of Marguerite that is the real interest of the picture. The misogynistic society could not be more on display when it was stated that the rape of Marguerite was not a crime against her, but a crime against her husband, and it was he that required reparations. It was also stated clearly that if the duel went against Carrouges, Marguerite would be hanged for the “lies” that she told, despite it being truth.

The finale of the movie was just tremendous, the duel being easily the standout moment of The Last Duel. It was dramatic and exciting and I was not sure what way the film was taking this. The fight between them was cinematically excellent.

Performances were all excellent. Adam Driver was the top performance as it seemed as if he really believed that he had not committed rape, and that, instead, he had succumb to passion that was felt by both of them. The character believed in his statement, even going as far as to confess to adultery only. Matt Damon was a cold man who did not bring much pity upon himself. Ben Affleck played Pierre II d’Alençon, overlord assigned by King Charles VI (Alex Lawther). The cast was strong from top to bottom.

The look of the film was exquisite. It was shot beautifully, with a muffled bit of color. The choreography was great and the design of the historical epic was right on point.

I do think the film was too long, clocking in at over 2 and a half hours. It could have shaved off several minutes and been a more concise tale. The first part of the film did drag on a bit, but the finale certainly picked up.

Overall, The Last Duel was an excellent medieval epic that dealt with serious topics of the way women were treated at the time. The ending was extremely satisfying and helped wrap up the overly long film.

3.75 stars

Belfast

Belfast became available on Vudu this weekend and I was very excited about seeing it. When it came out in theaters recently, I had not been able to see it, though I had heard a lot of positives about it. Writer and director Kenneth Branagh created a film that was awarded the TIFF People’s Choice Award.

It is well deserved. Belfast was a heart-warming, beautiful film of family and the life that comes while living in Belfast, Ireland in the late sixties. This film is considered to be semiautobiographical, taking much of the life of Branagh as a child living in this world and you can absolutely see the experiences he brings to the screen.

Buddy (Jude Hill) is the young boy whose perspective we see in the movie. He is living through the turmoil facing children during this time period, everything from trying to suss his was around his first crush to the dangers of violence exploding in the streets. All the while showing such love for the people in his life, including his parents and grandparents.

Buddy’s parents are played by Jamie Dornan (of the 50 Shades of Gray movies) and Caitriona Balfe and they are sensational. Balfe stands out as a fierce mother who has been tasked with raising Buddy and his brother (Lewis McAskie) very much alone as Dornan had other responsibilities. Jamie Dornan, who had a terrible rep after the 50 Shades films, is also fantastic. His chemistry with Balfe is definitely apparent, and there is a scene in the third act that will show it to you in spades.

The grandparents are played by Dame Judi Dench and the wonderful Ciarán Hinds. I’m so glad that Judi Dench, who I love as an actor, has finally came back to the type of role that is worth her time (not roles in Cats or Artemis Fowl). Dench and Hinds are masterful together and bring a good humor and realism to the film.

Jude Hill does a brilliant job as the main kid in Belfast. He seems to be a natural and that aura comes across to the audience. We feel everything that he does and understand completely all of the struggles and worries that he has, from trying to be noticed by the pretty girl he is crushing on to his desperate feelings about leaving Belfast behind. He has a special connection with his grandparents and it pops in the movie. He brings such a depth to this little boy that is very impressive, especially considering the resumes of the other actors he is acting with.

The film has a more serious JoJo Rabbit vibe to it. It is not as laugh out loud funny as the Taika Waititi film, but it has the same kind of heart.

Belfast is beautifully shot and the direction is great. The film is shot in black and white, with a few moments of color coming through. The visuals were executed in a excellent manner and helped provide the tone of the film.

The music too was exceptional. The music was done by Van Morrison and the songs seemed unlikely to work in the places they put them, but every one was lovely.

I loved this movie. I am so glad that I was able to see it and that I did not miss it.

5 stars

Spencer

Kristen Stewart has come a long way from Bella Swan in the Twilight franchise, all the way to the Princess of Wales.

Stewart’s performance as Princess Diana in this piece of historical fiction, which looks at her decision to end her marriage to Prince Charles is haunting, at times frightening and sad. The fictionalized account places Diana with the rest of the Royal Family at Christmas holiday at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England.

We see a rebellious Diana, going out of her way to not follow instructions from the people around her. We see a depressed Diana, who is clearly saddened and suffering from Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) and his poorly hidden affair. We see a physically challenged Diana who is forcing herself to regurgitate the meals she has eaten. And we see a mentally challenged Diana who is having hallucinations of Anne Boleyn (Amy Manson).

Kristen Stewart brings a realism to all these circumstances as we see the declining star who was Princess Diana. She is so believable as the iconic princess that she carries the entire production.

This is not a biopic so if you are coming into the picture with expectations of learning more about the last years of Diana’s life, you will be disappointed. This is more of a teardown of the way the Royal Family is treated and handled, presenting a challenge for those who have come from outside in. The schedules of everything from exactly what to wear to where you should be to what you are expected to do makes for a very difficult life and one that brought feelings of claustrophobia and isolation to this Diana.

There was a scene in a car at the end of the movie, which I will not spoil, that cause me to roll my eyes, but the rest of Spencer was a powerful portrait of what the demands of a world watching can do to a person, especially when you lack the support or the confidence to do what you have to do.

Kristen Stewart should be remembered around Academy Award nominations as she is exceptional here.

3.8 stars

Encanto

The 60th Disney animated film was released today over the Thanksgiving holiday. The film Encanto featured a Latino presence and a cultural perspective that is unlike any other Disney property. That is a great step in the right direction.

Thing is… I just did not connect with this film. I found it kind of boring.

From Rotten Tomatoes: “The Madrigals are an extraordinary family who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia in a charmed place called the Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift — every child except Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). However, she soon may be the Madrigals last hope when she discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is now in danger.”

Of course, the animation is beautifully rendered and the music from Lin Manuel-Miranda is very catchy and engaging. These two layers of filmmaking is not something that Disney fails at often. Still, I found the story itself to be wanting.

Perhaps it was the introduction of all of these characters that took me out of the film initially, although that did not bother me in Eternals. I had more knowledge of Eternals than I did with this whole new group of characters so perhaps that is part of it. I did not find the hook of the story behind the Madrigals to be engrossing enough to maintain my attention. I found myself checking the time a couple of moments during Encanto.

Since Encanto did not grab my attention immediately, maybe I missed too much of the first act specifics that would have maintained my interest. Maybe this is a film that I should give a second chance to when it arrives eventually on Disney + because, usually, this is a type of film that would be right up my alley.

I am very pleased that the Latino community is receiving the attention of this film which is sadly too late in coming. Hopefully there will be even more diversity in Disney animation moving forward. Unfortunately, I just did not get into this film.

2.8 stars

Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago The Ultimate Director’s Cut

I saw this on Veterans Day, opening night, live in a Fandom Event. I have not written my thoughts about it up until now. Rocky IV was one of my favorite Rocky movies in the franchise. I mean… Rocky defeated Communism. Who would have guessed?

However, Sylvester Stallone was not too happy with the end result of the film. He wanted to make this film more serious. He wanted to bring a different tone. He wanted to limit the 1980s feel. And he wanted to get rid of the robot.

He certainly did all of that.

This director’s cut changes so much about the original. This felt more like an independent film and it had much less 80s tone. Stallone removed a lot of the original content from Rocky IV and added several scenes.

There was more with Apollo. There was more with Drago. There was not much of Paulie and Rocky’s kid did not make most of the cut. They did more with Adrian and we saw more of the funeral of Apollo.

The montages were still in the film, but they had a little different feel to them.

My thoughts are this. I liked this version of the movie, but I did not like it more than the movie we already had. This absolutely felt like a different movie, but there was something original about Rocky IV and its cheese factor. The new version was fine, and I am happy Sly feels as if he had made it better. I would still choose the 1985 version.

3 stars

King Richard

King Richard is a biopic of Venus and Serena Williams by focusing on their father, Richard Williams. That is a strange fact, but absolutely true. This movie tells the story of two of the greatest tennis players in history, but does it through the eyes of Richard.

Richard Williams is played by Will Smith and he does a tremendous job. There are times in the film where you are trying to understand why Richard is doing what he is doing and times when you wish he would get his own comeuppance because of things that he does, but, in the end, the character shows what he had been planning the entire time.

The film looks mainly at Venus Williams (Saniyya Sidney) because she started in training and her career before her sister Serena (Demi Singleton) did. Richard had his plan, and it was shaking up the tennis world, which, at times, did not know what to make of Richard Williams.

Tony Goldwyn (President Fitzgerald Grant from Scandal) played tennis coach Paul Cohen, who had some ideas that were different from Richard. Then, Jon Bernthal joined the movie as Rick Macci, who brought the family to Florida and elevated Venus’s training even further.

Aunjanue Ellis played Venus and Serena’s mother Brandy, who had several strong scenes with Will Smith. She brought some power to the role and was anything but a bystander in her daughters’ lives. There was a scene where Brandy confronted a neighbor and it showed the fire in her.

The film does run almost 2 and a half hours, but I never felt the length. The movie flowed extremely well and transitioned impeccably from each scene. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green does a great job with the shots of the film, especially the tennis action scenes which bring a tension to the film.

While Serena does not get the same attention as her sister, the movie does not allow her to fall into the background. Her own story of becoming one of the best players of all time is planted here and showed her dedication and passion. Both young actors who played the Williams sisters do a wonderful job with their performances and have bright futures in acting ahead of them.

King Richard could have been just another inspirational sports stories on the Hallmark Channel, but Will Smith and the rest of the cast, as well as Reinaldo Marcus Green, would not accept that level. The film tackles some major issues such as racism and overbearing parents without making anything judgy and providing an entertaining biopic. Excellent work all around.

4 stars

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

I remember watching Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker on PTL when I was a kid, watching with my mom. They were a bizarre pair, even at first. This movie focuses heavily on Tammy Faye and her reactions to many of the scandals that happened to the Televangelist and his wife.

Jessica Chastain is imperceivable as Tammy Faye Bakker. I had to look up the actress as the film was underway because I did not know who it was under that excessive make up job. Jim Bakker, however, was easier to tell. This is the second film of the day that I have watched that starred Andrew Garfield, who is having a great year (maybe he’ll wrap up the year appearing in the potentially biggest movie of 2021 in Spider-man: No Way Home). Chastain and Garfield shoulder the weight of this film and their performances are fantastic. Without these, The Eyes of Tammy Faye would not hope to be a success.

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker are followed from youngsters to the point where their TV show, PTL, was being viewed by 20 million people a day. Along the way there were moments of weakness that manifested itself as affairs and redistribution of pledges from fans that show the dangers of the excessive life lived by the Bakkers.

As it was going, Jim and tammy Faye maintained their likability and their charisma, showing how they could bilk their viewers out of so much money and still not consider themselves sinners.

Cherry Jones was great as Tammy Faye’s mother Rachel. Her old time beliefs and expectations somehow helped to create the fiery and unpredictable Tammy Faye, Vincent D’onofrio was another master class in make up as I did not recognize him in the slightest as he played another crooked televangelist, Jerry Falwell, who attempted to take advantage of the Bakker scandals to further his own ministry.

The biggest issue I had was that some of the plot felt like it was not connected well enough. It felt like a series of events with little crossover. I would have liked to have seen more effects of the choices made by Jim and Tammy Faye.

However, the performance are great and someone who did not know the story would consider this a wild ride.

3.5 stars

tick, tick…Boom

Okay, I wasn’t ready for that.

Andrew Garfield is utterly brilliant in the role of real-life music composer Jonathan Larson, who would create one of the great musicals of the last 30 years in Rent.

However, Jon did not explode upon the Broadway scene and take over. He struggled for years on a musical he was writing called Superbia, but he was mere days away from presenting the musical in a showcase for producers. One problem, the musical was missing one key song and Jon was not having success in writing it.

As this is going on, he was having trouble with his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp), pressure from his best friend Michael (Robin de Jesus) and money issues. He was having challenges with his agent Rosa (Judith Light) who was not calling him back. Still, some constructive words from legend Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford) kept Jon’s hopes alive through the wars.

This was based on a musical written by Jonathan Larson and you can feel the passion and the energy throughout the entire two hour run time. The music was catchy and engaging and built into some of the more powerful songs I’ve heard in a musical in awhile.

As I mentioned, Andrew Garfield has to be considered a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination for his performance in this film. He performed the songs himself and he imbued them with such a goofy, but sincere energy that you can not help but love him, which only served the film’s emotional beats well.

Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his feature film directorial debut with tick, tick…Boom and he stands out a he always seems to do. Some of the shots he got during the music were amazing and he was able to move the story along between songs breathlessly. He used Jonathan on stage as a framing devise to help movie the story forward while still being completely entertaining.

Robin de Jesus was given one of the most powerful of scenes and he nailed it. I loved Judith Light’s performance too, avoiding the clichés of the entertainment agent and embracing the realness of the character. Alexandra Shipp is a damn star. You cannot take your eyes off of her while she is on screen. She and Andrew Garfield share remarkable chemistry and it shows.

This is the second amazing musical of 2021 that has had Lin-Manuel Miranda attached to it. In the Heights was a rollicking good time, and I think tick, tick…Boom matches the spark, the vitality of that work.

It’s been a great year to be a musical. This movie is debuting this week on Netflix.

5 stars

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

The 1984 Ghostbusters is one of my favorite films of all time. I remember seeing it in the theater downtown with my friends. My friend Darin made the “They go up” joke about the stairs before Bill Murray did. I’ve rewatched it a ton of times and love it every time.

Now, the sequels and reboots have not been as great, although I do believe that Ghostbusters 2 is better than people remember. It is not up to the first film, for sure, but if you are not comparing it to the original, Ghostbusters 2 is not bad. I also did not hate the 2016 Ghostbuster reboot that received so much hate for the sin of casting a whole team of female Ghostbusters that it barely had a chance. It was okay.

So when the announcement came about a new Ghostbusters movie, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, I was happy, but cautious. Then the pandemic pushed the film back several times and there were moments when it seemed as if we would never see the new film, a sequel to the original films, set in the 1984 universe.

I am happy to announce that Ghostbusters: Afterlife, directed by Jason Reitman, the son of the first two Ghostbusters movies, Ivan Reitman, is a lot of fun and takes the series in a new direction while showing love to the original film and the characters from within it.

Life has been hard for Callie (Carrie Coon), as she is having money problems and faces eviction. She then discovered that her father, who had deserted her when she was but an infant, had passed away and left her an old, spooky house in Oklahoma. Callie packed up her son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and headed for the small town in Oklahoma.

Turned out that Callie’s father was Egon Spengler and he had apparently deserted his friends and family and retreated to this farm where nothing ever grew, a place where people around town called his the Dirt Farmer. Although, as it always was with Egon, there was more to what was happening than we saw, and supernatural occurrences once again began to occur.

Phoebe went to summer school, where she met teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) and they hit it off over the strange happenings of earthquakes in a city where there should not be earthquakes. Gary was also a fan of the 80s Ghostbusters and geeked out over a ghost trap that Phoebe had discovered in her grandpa’s house.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife felt like the Star Wars: The Force Awakens of the Ghostbusters franchise. There are several beats that are similar or homages to the original Ghostbusters movie. tweaked just a little with the new cast of kids that are now involved. There are plenty of returning things/story elements in Afterlife, which I thought might bother me, but honestly felt nicely organic in its uses.

Mckenna Grace absolutely carries the new film on her shoulders. Her Phoebe is a wonderful character, the outcast girl who has trouble making friends but loves the ways of science. She could have easily been a cliché but the film takes it time introducing us to Phoebe, her quirks and her personality. Later in the movie, you totally believe in every minute of her story because you care so much about her.

I also loved her new friend, Podcast (Logan Kim), who is making his feature film debut, and he does a tremendous job. He is very funny and works with Phoebe beautifully.

Finn Wolfhard was fine too, but he was honestly the one who had the least to do as Phoebe’s older brother Trevor. He does maximize his screen time and does what he can to build his character. He has some chemistry with Celeste O’Connor, playing on screen potential girlfriend Lucky. They do not get enough time together to really focus the film around them, but Afterlife does not push them to the forefront.

I loved the Paul Rudd character in the first half of the film, but he becomes a stand in for the Rick Moranis role.

This was an example of the film trying to recreate too much of the same beats as the first film. There are some things that I don’t mind about reusing the ideas, but this almost felt like Paul Rudd doing an imitation of Rick Moranis, and that betrayed the interesting character that he was at the beginning.

The tone of Ghostbusters: Afterlife is somewhat different than the original. This played more serious in many ways, with less straight up comedic bits as the first one did. I did not mind that either, since there were some solid humor involved. And yes, the dad jokes by Phoebe neve failed to get a sincere laugh out of me.

The final half hour or so was utterly fantastic and surprisingly emotional. I never expected to get misty-eyed in a Ghostbusters movie, but I did experience some “feels” in that third act. Something happened in the third act that could have felt desperate, but worked surprisingly well. No spoilers.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife looks great, with some fantastic CGI. It is filled with moments that border on nostalgia for the original Ghostbusters film. It has some wonderful moments of fan service that goes extremely well with the story that they were telling.

At this point, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is my second favorite Ghostbusters movie and I hope that there is more of this to come.

4.2 stars

Red Notice

I love Dwayne Johnson. I really enjoy Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot. There is no way a movie with these three awesome stars could fail to be anything but great, right?

Hm.

Netflix’s new gigantic star-studded cast featuring The Rock, Deadpool and Wonder Woman dropped on the streaming service this weekend and I hate to say it, but it is not a very good movie.

Sure, it has some moments. You have three remarkably charismatic and thoroughly likable actors at the head of the cast so there is no doubt that there were going to be some good scenes. Problem was that there just was not enough scenes to overcome the lack of a story or some of the implausible scenes that passed for action.

FBI agent John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) was in pursuit of one of the greatest art thieves in the world, Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds), by teaming up with another art thief, The Bishop (Gal Gadot). Booth was searching for three golden eggs that once belonged to Cleopatra and Hartley was trying to stop him. Unfortunately, Hartley is double crossed by The Bishop, causing both him and Booth to be arrested and sent to prison. They teamed up to attempt an escape and to hopefully beat The Bishop to the mysterious third egg, an egg that only Booth knows the location for.

There is an Interpol agent too, Inspector Urvashi Das (Ritu Arya), who plays the role of late to the party cop who busts in at either the perfect or worst possible moment. She does it several times during the film and good be considered the worst Deus ex Machina ever.

There was no reason to care about whether the characters were able to steal these Egyptian eggs and, without any stakes, the plot had no connection with the audience. With all the betrayal going on already, what happens in the movie does not pack any punch either. It is so convoluted that when you look back, nothing really fits together or makes any kind of sense.

Yes, Johnson, Reynolds and Gadot are great and have some decent chemistry with one another, but there is just not enough chemistry to overcome the weakness of the plot, the lack of character development outside of a couple of scenes that felt pushed in to the film or the suspension of disbelief.

Sadly, this is a disappointment.

2.5 stars