National Champions (2021)

June 30th, Movies 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beckett (2021)

June 29th, Movie 30

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

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

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

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

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

Best Sellers (2021)

June 28th, Movie 29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here Today (2021)

June 27th, Movie 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Sweet Home Alone (2021)

June 26th, Movie 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is completely full of crap and a horrendous movie.

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

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

House of Gucci (2021)

June 25th, Movie 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was just not a movie for me.

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

June 24th, Movie 25

An absolute icon.

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

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

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

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

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

Bo Burnham: Inside (2021)

June 23rd, Movie 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Henry (2021)

June 22nd, Movie 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice Society: World War II (2021)

June 21st, Movies 22

As I was searching through movies for 2021 that I may have missed, I came across the DC Universe film Justice Society: World War II. I always enjoyed a good JSA story so I thought this would be a good film to include in the June Swoon.

The story kicks off with Barry Allen (Matt Bomer), aka The Flash. He was on a picnic with his girlfriend Iris (Ashleigh LaThrop) when he hears an explosion. He takes off to discover Superman (Darren Criss) fighting with Brainiac (Darin DePaul). During the battle, Flash runs really fast to catch a Kryptonite bullet, but he runs so fast, he transports himself accidentally to a different location.

At first, he thought he time traveled, but eventually, Barry realized that he crossed to a different world. In this world, he finds a group of heroes calling themselves the Justice Society was fighting against Hitler’s forces during World War II. The group was led by Wonder Woman (Stana Katic) and included Hawkman (Omid Abtahi), Hourman (Matthew Mercer), Black Canary (Elysia Rotaru), and Jay Garrick, the Flash (Armen Taylor).

Barry teams up with the JSA and their battle takes them to face off with King of Atlantis, Aquaman (Liam McIntyre).

As always, the DC Animation is very well done and this is no exception. The animation was better than normal, I thought and the characters are used in a wonderful manner. I loved seeing some of the JSA characters (although, I would have been up for a few more extra ones).

I liked the story. It was simple and straightforward. The voice acting was fine.

I do think that some of the story beats were rushed and that this could have been stretched out to a two-parter. I know they have done that before. The use of Dr. Fate was too much of a tease and I wanted way more with him. They had several “Batman Leaps”- which is a term we dubbed to describe a time where someone makes an unlikely, impossible, somewhat illogical inference of a clue (like they would do on the old 1966 Batman series). When Barry Allen met Superman in the “past” and realized that there were some differences, he immediately jumped to “different earth”.

Still, these complaints are nitpicks. I enjoyed the film well. I still think this could have been outstanding of they had done a few extra steps, but it was still a lot of fun.

Encounter (2021)

June 20th, Movie 21

I had two choices this morning. I had dropped down to Encounter or Old Henry. I wound up choosing Encounter, that featured Riz Ahmed and Octavia Spencer, and was directed by Michael Pearce.

Malik (Riz Ahmed), a former Marine suffering from PTSD, showed up in the middle of the night, taking his children, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada) on a late night road trip. Malik was here to protect them from an alien infestation of little parasites that he claimed had taken control of the boys’ mother and step-father.

Malik was taking the boys across the state toward Nevada and the base where he said scientists were working on ways to prevent the bug-like creatures from taking over people.

When he discovered that the boys’ mother was pregnant, Malik called his probation officer Hattie Hayes (Octavia Spencer) to go check on her. Hattie told Malik that he had missed his last meeting and that he was in trouble. This is the first indication that we had that perhaps the idea of parasitic bugs from space may not necessarily be reality.

I was having some initial issues with the story at first, but this switch in tone and direction worked really well for me. They spent a good chunk of the second act of this movie trying to show that the reality could be either direction.

I worried that the film would make us think one way and then throw a wrench into the story at the end and change everything. I definitely wanted one way and I was afraid that if they made that decision, the film would take anything positive and wreck it. Thankfully, it did not go that way.

However, the ending was a little silly and there were some things done by characters that did not make much sense. While the ending was weaker than I had hoped, it did not damage the remainder of the film.

Riz Ahmed is fantastic in Encounter as he always seems to be. Lucian-River Chauhan is excellent playing opposite Ahmed as Jay. Aditya Geddada had a few moments, but the character of Bobby does some things that did not ingratiate himself to the audience. Octavia Spencer was terribly underused and should have played a bigger role than she did.

I was happy to have included Encounter in the June Swoon because I did enjoy most of this movie. There were some flaws here and there, but the relationship with Malik and his to boys was a standout piece of the film and it kept me wondering exactly what was real and what was not.

Red Rocket (2021)

June 19th, Movie 20

Um… okay.

I guess I did not know what to expect with Red Rocket, directed by Sean Baker. For some reason, I thought this was a French speaking film. I am not sure we could get further away from a French speaking film than this.

Former porn star Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) returned to his hometown of Texas City, Texas, to try and get his life back on track. He goes to his ex-wife (although she told him that they were still married) Lexi (Bree Elrod), who was living with her mother Lil (Brenda Deiss), and talked them in to letting him stay, promising to help pay rent.

He struggled to find employment as his porn star reputation got in the way, a reputation that he was actively trying NOT to hide. He winds up selling pot for a neighborhood dealer (Judy Hill) he knew from his days in Texas City.

When the money started coming in, Mike and Lexi started having sex again. However, after a trip to a donut shop, Mike met a seventeen year old girl Strawberry (Suzanna Son) who he fell for quickly and envisioned her as a porn star that he could manage, bringing him back to the top.

Simon Rex is a good actor and has some charm about him, but I so hated the character he played that I could not get past that. Mike is a horrible human being who is selfish, crude, cared only for himself, obnoxious… any sort of negative comment you could male about Mike would fit him well. He does not go on any sort of journey as out main protagonist, unless you consider him only getting worse. Not only is he having sex with the seventeen year old, cheating on his ex-wife, but he is preparing to take Strawberry to Hollywood and get her involved in the porn industry.

The other problem is that there just are not any characters here worth rooting for. Trailer trash, drug dealers, low lives. The only character worth anything turned out to be next door neighbor Lonnie (Ethan Darbone), who worshipped Mike and went out of his way to help him and eventually protect him. Mike did not appreciate poor Lonnie, and just uses the terrible thing that happened to Lonnie as a way to manipulate Strawberry.

The film ended with a scene that almost made me think that Mike would pay for his being such a jerk, but the movie does not take it far enough (although Mike running through the streets at night is pretty hilarious).

The actors all did exceptional jobs with their roles, but I just did not like anyone on the screen. The production of the film was top notch, and even if it is a metaphor for the Trump years, I just did not enjoy the trip. I was hoping it would end throughout the film.

Happily (2021)

June 18th, Movie 19

I was not sure what I was getting into with Happily, and now that I have finished the film for the June Swoon, I am not sure what I watched. I liked it a lot, though.

Happily was seemingly one type of movie and then a few unexpected themes injected themselves into the story which changed what it felt like what the story actually was. The ending was bizarre and left me unsure about what had been happening.

Tom (Joel McHale) and Janet (Kerry Bishé) were the perfect couple, despite coming up on fifteen years together. All of their friends hated them because they were always having sex and could not be more perfect. They hated them so much that they uninvited them to a weekend retreat they had been planning.

However, when a strange man named Goodman (Stephen Root) came to see Tom and Janet, insinuating that they were being forced to take an injection of some mysterious substance that would make them more like a normal married couple and they could not avoid it, things changed. There was suddenly a strange, almost sci-fi, feel that swept over the film. When Janet killed Goodman in a fit of self defense, Tom and Janet disposed of the body.

After suddenly being re-invited to the weekend getaway, Tom and Janet decided that this was, perhaps, a prank perpetrated by one of their friends. They decided to go to the retreat and try and figure out who was behind it. When, on an alcohol run, Janet saw an decidedly not-dead Goodman stalking her, the whole weekend took a definitive change.

I was engage in what was happening in Happily even though I was not sure what it was that was happening. The ending really switched up the movie’s tone and mood as we realized that what had been happening was not what we thought. While the ending left me scratching my head about several specific details, and the film never truly gave us answers, I have never been one who required that everything be explained to us. I can understand that there may be some people who felt that the end of the movie was not satisfying because of that. I appreciated the film giving the viewers something potentially open ended to think about.

The cast was strong. Along with Kerry Bishé, Joel McHale and the always great Stephen Root, there was Al Madrigal, Natalie Zea, Paul Scheer, Jon Daly, Breckin Meyer, Shannon Woodward, Charlyne Yi, Natalie Morales, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste.

I appreciated this movie because I was unsure the style of a film I was watching and I enjoyed seeing how it was going to play out. It was an original idea and nicely acted and designed.

Shiva Baby (2021)

The June Swoon for today brings us to an independent film written and directed by Emma Seligman called Shiva Baby. This is a short, little film that has a lot of humor and some of the most realistic and awkward moments you would ever experience.

Danielle (Rachel Sennott), a college senior, was having sex with her sugar daddy Max (Danny Deferrari). After this, Danielle had to go to a Shiva with her parents Joel (Fred Melamed) and Debbie (Polly Draper). Little did she know that her ex-girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon) and Max, with his wife Kim (Dianna Agron) and baby would also be at the Shiva, creating a ton of uncomfortableness.

This was the basis for the majority of the movie. Poor Danielle was under scrutiny and pressure from all areas of that Shiva: her parents, Max, Maya, other relatives curious about what Danielle was doing with her life.

Rachel Sennott does a really solid job showing how much pressure she was loading on her shoulders. You wished she would just let someone in and let them help her, but you can understand why she does not trust any of the people in her circle. You are never sure exactly what was going to happen next.

The portrayal of the Jewish culture here was well done and made it so that those people who may not be Jewish understand what was going on as well.

The ending was just as awkwardly painful as you could imagine.

Shiva Baby was quick and well done.

The Protégé

June 16th, Movie 17

In the continuing binge of the June Swoon, I went back to Amazon Prime for a movie starring Samuel L. Jackson, Maggie Q, and Michael Keaton called The Protégé.

Samuel L. Jackson and Maggie Q play a pair of assassins for hire. Jackson found Maggie Q as a girl during an attempted hit and brought her along with him. He raised her in his world and she became a protégé of his. When she discovered his dead body, Maggie Q went on a revenge mission to kill those responsible for his death. Michael Keaton was unfortunately tied to those people and so became an unwanted enemy.

There were some decent parts of this movie. Some of the action was really well done and Maggie Q was awesome. Her character was bad ass and the film did a great job of showing that off.

They threw in a romantic tension between Maggie Q and Michael Keaton. That also worked although at times it felt rushed or forced. When they had moments to themselves, you could see the chemistry between them.

However, the third act came along, brought with it the most obvious “twist” ever in a movie, and took a film that was barely holding on the rails and sent it spiraling off the tracks. I can’t really go into it without spoiling it, but it is the immediate thought you have when something specific happened at the beginning of the film and it plays out exactly how you think.

I find Maggie Q to be a charismatic and interesting actor, but I do not think that she has found that role to send her into the next level. This one is not it. I love Michael Keaton, but some of the switches from Keaton to his stunt double were sadly obvious.

Overall, The Protégé was below average with a couple of aspects that were decent. There was a better. less painfully obvious, movie to be made with this cast.