Film Review: “The Rescue”

Directed by: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Rated: PG
Running Time: 107 minutes
National Geographic Documentary Films

A little over three years ago, a junior association football team, made up of 12 boys and one adult, went into the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand before monsoon season. But Mother Nature arrived early, trapping the 13 in the cave. I’m sure you remember this because it was all over the news and around the globe, even as a lot of eyes were glued to FIFA’s crown jewel, the World Cup. Suffice to say, something about humans being trapped underground or lost underground has always fascinated people (the Chilean miners or the boy in the well for example). But what makes this story more impactful, and particularly “The Rescue,” is a reminder that when we come together, miraculous things happen.

Having worked in news during that time period, I remember this story very well. I say that because even “The Rescue” was able to teach me a few things and keep me on the edge of my seat as it peeled back layers to the true story. The tension is palpable for several reasons, first the footage of divers in underwater caves, constantly painting a picture of the bleak scenario they found themselves in; water dark and thick like mud and cave spaces where it was nearly impossible for just one person to squeeze through. The complimentary piece to these visuals is the interviews. The divers discuss some of the bleak thoughts crossing their minds, like how after several days they began to suspect that this would become a body recovery operation instead of a rescue operation or how they emotionally prepared for the possibility of seeing a corpse in the thick unforgiving waters.

It may also be how the documentary paints the operation because there were not a lot of reasons why anyone should have been optimistic about this operation. I even remember thinking no one would have survived when the news crews descended on Thailand. That’s because not only were divers combating blackout rushing water conditions in the cave, but outside thousands of volunteers were attempting to stop more water from pouring into the tiny cave, and sometimes failing. Even the Thai Navy SEALS, who were the first professional organization on the scene, conceded that they were in over their heads, handing the reins to several divers. But one of the more fascinating, humanistic angles of the film is how even the heroes had their flaws, whether it was cultural or emotional.

I knew how the story ended because it wasn’t that long ago. I knew, just like I’m sure you reading this do, that the 12 boys and their coach survived. Unfortunately, a Thai Navy SEAL died, but in a lot of ways, the operation was still a success that millions would have never guessed. I had to see this through even though I knew the twists and turns. Unlike the divers, I wasn’t in the dark about what laid before me. I wasn’t sure if it was the emotional toll of the film or not, but I began to feel like I was watching something that seems so alien now. A movie where people were being people, showing equal amounts of vigor, intelligence, and, but most importantly, compassion. We see how people from around the globe helped in their own way, whether it was flying in to help with the effort or lending advice over the phone, dozens of countries and thousands of people thought about the best way to rescue the lives of 12 children and a man whom they’ve never met. “The Rescue” gives us something we crave, simply because we are human, a little hope and a rescue, against all odds.

 

Film Review: “South of Heaven”

Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Evangeline Lilly and Mike Colter
Directed by: Aharon Keshales
Rated: R
Running Time: 120 minutes
RLJE Films

I don’t really invest much in film synopses for the simple fact that it’s a form of advertising. I’m sure if it was up to the director or writer, they’d want something vague so that the audience could be blissfully unaware of what they will experience. So maybe the director wrote the synopsis for “South of Heaven.” According to IMDb, “Convicted felon Jimmy gets early parole after serving twelve years for armed robbery. Upon his release, he vows to give Annie, his childhood love, now dying from cancer, the best last year of her life – unfortunately it’s not that simple.” Unfortunately, this movie isn’t that simple.

Jimmy (played by Sudeikis with that Midwestern Ted Lasso accent) gets out of the jail at the beginning of the film and we watch as he reunites with his fiance, Annie (Lilly) – so far so good. Unfortunately for Jimmy, who is not only attempting to give the love of his life the best last year of her life, but is also trying to keep his moral compass straight and narrow, his parole office is crooked – so far it’s interesting. And then things just get…peculiar. Actually, that’s too nice of a word. Things get batshit.

I’m not sure how much I should reveal because this movie takes so many different bizarre turns. I went from casually watching to trying to figure out if I should laugh or be frustrated. Director and writer Aharon Keshales did 2013’s “Big Bad Wolves,” a very underrated film that I enjoyed on multiple viewings. I can’t say the same thing for “South of Heaven” because there seems to be this creative idea of monkeying with the criminal simplicities that the story uses. It’s one thing to tinker with the genre formula to craft something unique, but it’s another to grab the wheel and go careening off a cliff into unpredictability. If “South of Heaven” wants to be violently graphic and unpredictable, it should have at least attempted a little class and ingenuity instead of smashing viewer’s faces with a metaphorical hammer. I really wish I could articulate this through examples, but then I’d spoil the batshittery of the film.

In the beginning, the movie establishes a sweet and wholesome relationship between Jimmy and Annie, but as time goes on, you can’t help but wonder if Annie is simply stuck because of her lethal diagnosis. Maybe they’re two odd ducks who are making it work, but watching Jimmy go from a very buttery likable man to an 80s action star in the midst of a rampage is hardly believable or likable. I couldn’t tell if I should be upset that the film wasted everyone’s time or simply wanted us to throw out our sensibilities of wanting to like the character and simply cheer on the wildly unreasonable person Jimmy is or has become. That’s another thing, you never know if Jimmy has always has sociopathic tendencies or if “love” did this to him. I’m going to err on the side of caution though. “South of Heaven” had a loaded gun ready to blow audiences away, but instead it loaded that gun with blanks.

 

Film Review “No Time To Die”

Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes
Distributed by
United Artists Releasing
Running time: 163 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

James Bond has been played by several different actors and has been on 25+ on-screen adventures in the course of nearly 60 years, but it has never once felt like his story had closure. Most of the time, actors come and go from the role because that’s the idea of the character – that the story and adventure never ends. No Time to Die shakes things up a bit by definitively putting a cap on Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond and delivering a true finale for a full circle, five-film arc.

The film opens pretty soon after Spectre, with Bond enjoying retirement with Madeleine Swan (Lea Seydoux) and trying to keep a low profile. But after a riveting action sequence that pulls them back into the action, the film makes a pretty significant time jump that not only seasons Bond even further but makes the world around him change more than he ever expected. The biggest changes are that of the mantle of 007 being taken up by Nomi (Lashana Lynch) and a new villain arising with Safin (Rami Malek) with ties to both James and Madeleine’s past.

I’ve seen every single James Bond film ever produced and particularly have grown up watching Daniel Craig’s ventures since I was pretty young, so perhaps I’m biased when saying that I think he is the quintessential Bond in my eyes. From the genuine grit behind his action to the way he knows not only what to say but how to say it in the most suave way possible – it just doesn’t get better than him, in my opinion; and Craig gives perhaps his best performance as Bond here in his final outing. Yes, he’s delivering one-liners and punching the baddies like there’s no tomorrow, but there’s sincere emotion and nuance in his performance this time around that makes for what is easily the most emotional James Bond movie to date.

Cary Joji Fukunaga takes over directing duties this time around, and it absolutely shows. You can always count on the 007 franchise to deliver top notch action, but Fukunaga goes the extra mile to adding some truly impressive one-shots in there and matches it with absolutely gorgeous cinematography – perhaps the best looking James Bond film, aside from Skyfall? However, it’s evident that the reason why Fukunaga was the guy for the job is how he blends classical spy elements into the story while also balancing really solid character work and a true send off for Bond.

At 163 minutes, No Time to Die spares no expense when it comes to telling its story with various locations and a vast array of characters. While I greatly enjoyed the film, I do think it would have benefitted from a bit of a tighter edit at the end of the day. My only other real gripe here is that I thought Rami Malek’s villain, Savin, was somehow undercooked by the end despite such a long running time. It’s hard to elaborate on why he’s disappointing without diving into spoilers, but it feels like there’s a lot of setup for him and not a ton of payoff for the actual character and his motives.

Even with those gripes in mind, they really feel miniscule when everything is said and done – because what the film needs to get right, it absolutely nails with immense class and bravado for Craig’s final bow. After years of being delayed, the film does not disappoint in the slightest and somehow feels like both the most genuinely big blockbuster we’ve gotten in almost two-years as well as the most ideal and emotional final chapter you could ask for when it comes to that of James Bond.

Film Review: “Puppet Killer”

Starring: Aleks Paunovic, Lee Majdoub and Lisa Durupt
Directed by: Lisa Ovies
Rated: NR
Running Time: 83 minutes
IndustryWorks Studios

After years on the festival circuit, “Puppet Killer” is finally getting a wide release thanks to Regal Cinemas. “Puppet Killer,” which I saw back in 2019 at Panic Fest, has slowly picked up dozens of awards on the festival circuit, most likely delighting audiences like the one I was in attendance with before the pandemic descended on America. It’s zany, silly, dumb and gory. I say dumb with affection because this movie knows what tropes it’s making fun of and leans heavily into them throughout. So, if you’re a fan of the slasher genre, this is a potential gory classic waiting for you to watch.

Jamie (Paunovic) has had a stereotypical horror life. As a baby, he’s gifted a puppet, named Simon (Majdoub), by his horror movie obsessed mother. As he grows older, he and his mom develop a Christmas tradition of watching horrors next to their lit-up Christmas tree; while the puppet becomes a mainstay of their lives. Unfortunately, Jamie’s mom succumbs to cancer and the horror around the holiday’s tradition dies with his step mom who see no need for blood and guts with her Christmas cheer. So predictably, she meets an untimely fate. Cut forward to the present where Jamie, who is now in high school, is about to revisit that home where his stepmom died with five friends who are unknowingly about to meet Simon.

“Puppet Killer” is not an introductory film for horror newbies because so much of the plot, humor and kills rely on horror film knowledge. For instance, if you don’t understand why it’s consistently funny that Jamie and his friends are in high school, whilst the actors are all easily 30+, if not 40+, then you’ll need to load up on slasher films before even getting one of the film’s best running gags. For those curious minds, you’ll either have a stack of horror film homework to watch before attempting a viewing of “Puppet Killer” or your horror film knowledge will help you pass the test with flying colors as you laugh along with the absurdity of the film.

I say this because a huge charm with “Puppet Killer” is self-awareness. Not only does this film know and understand its horror roots, but on a second level it understands it’s indie and leans heavily into the esthetics of a shoestring budget film. Any minor complaints I may have I’ve decided not to bother mentioning because “Puppet Killer” has this low budget charm that’s hard to ignore. I’d love to believe this is a film destined to become a midnight cult classic, but it’s hard to gauge which films have that gusto, or if the idea of a film becoming a cult classic is simply a part of an era that has passed us as we drift closer to more films being streamed. Regardless, horror fans will remember “Puppet Killer” for years if they stumble across this diamond in the rough.

Film Review “Candyman (2021)”

Directed by: Nia DaCosta
Starring: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Tony Todd
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date: August 27, 2021
Running time: 91 minutes

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars

I have been a fan of the original 1992 film “Candyman” since its release on home video likely back in 1993. It was a film that scared me growing up. It was suspenseful and gory and I loved it. When I heard that they were making what turned into the “fourth film” in this franchise, I could have been more excited. Bring on “Get Out”, “Us” writer/director Jordan Peele and I thought we were going to have an instant winner here. The rest of this review could offer some spoilers so if you don’t already know that much about this film, I would steer clear…

Official Premise: For as long as residents can remember, the housing projects of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green neighborhood were terrorized by a word-of-mouth ghost story about a supernatural killer with a hook for a hand, easily summoned by those daring to repeat his name five times into a mirror. In present day, a decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II; HBO’s Watchmen, Us) and his partner, gallery director Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris; If Beale Street Could Talk, The Photograph), move into a luxury loft condo in Cabrini, now gentrified beyond recognition and inhabited by upwardly mobile millennials. With Anthony’s painting career on the brink of stalling, a chance encounter with a Cabrini-Green old-timer (Colman Domingo; HBO’s Euphoria, Assassination Nation) exposes Anthony to the tragically horrific nature of the true story behind Candyman. Anxious to maintain his status in the Chicago art world, Anthony begins to explore these macabre details in his studio as fresh grist for paintings, unknowingly opening a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence that puts him on a collision course with destiny.

I must say that I am definitely a Yahya Abdul-Mateen II fan, but here is my rant, if you going to make him Candyman, then make him Candyman. With this new film they hesitated to announce or reveal who was playing the role of Candyman. But when fans found out that original actor Tony Todd, who played the villain in the first three films, was involved that this was going to be an epic sequel. Maybe the film is too smart for me but I was just left saying “What?” when those credits started. I understand what they were trying to achieve with their ending but after hoping to see Todd reprise his role the whole movie, I got to say, I was left very disappointed. With little scares, less gore than the original, I am perfectly content with the first three films.

Film Review “The Night House”

Directed by: David Bruckner
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Evan Jonigkeit, Stacy Martin, Vondie Curtis-Hall
Distributed by: Searchlight Pictures
Release date: August 20, 2021
Running time: 110 minutes

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The very first time that I saw the poster for “The Night House”, I knew that I wanted to see it. I knew nothing about the movie besides that Rebecca Hall (“Godzilla vs Kong”) was in it and that it was a horror film. The trailer looks good and suspenseful. The movie unfortunately doesn’t deliver the scares and leaves you pondering at the end. Hall really delivers a solid performance basically holding this entire movie on her shoulders. I was really hoping for some solid scares here but every time something was getting scary I feel like it was pulled back leaving me wanting more.

Official Premise: Reeling from the unexpected death of her husband, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is left alone in the lakeside home he built for her. She tries as best she can to keep it together – but then nightmares come. Disturbing visions of a presence in the house calling to her, beckoning her with a ghostly allure. Against the advice of her friends, she begins digging into her husband’s belongings, yearning for answers. What she finds are secrets both strange and disturbing – a mystery she’s determined to unravel

I was a fan of the director David Bruckner who is likely know for his segment “Amateur Night” in 2012’s “V/H/S” as well as 2016’s “Southbound”. He definitely has the horror genre down pat but I just feel like this was played too safe. The ending in particular leaves you with far too many questions and there is not enough answers to make it worth the nearly two hour running time. They could have easily cut back at least 20 minutes from the beginning which dragged a bit getting started. The middle was solid but like I said the ending lost me and didn’t deliver.

I see already that many other critics are getting behind this film calling it a moody film that goes deeper into someone coping with a death of a loved one as well as paranoia. I get that and I see it in the film as well but I feel like it was not fully cashed in on. I did enjoy Ben Lovett’s score, which did create the creepy atmosphere. Lastly I know the film is called “The Night House”, so a lot of the film is dark and takes place at night but a few of the “scares” take place in extremely dark lit scenes that they are almost missed due to the darkness of the scene.

Overall, I am not disappointed that I watched it but it is definitely what I like to call a one-timer. I definitely do not see myself watching this movie again. So if you are looking for some light scares (nothing that will force you to sleep with the lights on though) and a good performance by Hall, you may want to check this out. Otherwise wait till it comes to Netflix.

Film Review – “Stillwater”

STILLWATER

Starring: Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin

Directed by: Tom McCarthy

Rated: R

Running Time: 2 hrs 19 mins

Focus Features

 Matt Damon delivers a performance worthy of being on his career highlight reel as a father trying to free his daughter from a French prison in the controversial drama, “Stillwater.” Directed by American filmmaker Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight,” “Win Win”), “Stillwater” was shot in in the second half of 2019 and was supposed be released in November 2020, but because of the COVID 19 pandemic, it was delayed until this year when it premiered on July 8th at the Cannes Film Festival where it received a standing ovation.

 A small Oklahoma town has been recently demolished by a devastating tornado. Amidst the cleanup effort is laid-off oil worker Bill Baker (Damon) who is also busy trying to pick up the pieces of his family that has been laid waste by tragedy. For the past four years, Bill’s estranged daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin, “Signs”) has been serving time in a French prison for murdering her roommate. It is a heinous crime she says she did not commit, and Bill is steadfast in his belief in her innocence.

 Despite their troubled past, Bill has been flying to France on a regular basis to visit Abigail in her Marseille prison. When we meet them on this trip, Allison asks Bill to hand deliver a note to her French defense attorney. In it, Allison begs to have her case reopened, but the attorney refuses because the new evidence she presents is hearsay. When Bill has it translated it to him by an English-speaking neighbor, Virginie (Camille Cottin, “Allied”), he learns Allison has zero confidence in him. 

Spurred to investigate on his own to free Allison, Bill enlists the aid of Virginie, a single mother and aspiring actress, to help him with getting around and with translations. However, Bill is a fish out of water and his actions end up putting his life in jeopardy. After taking a step back, Bill settles into a new life in Marseilles that includes living with Virginie and her daughter, which provides a chance to redeem himself as a father figure … that is until a “shocking” opportunity presents itself for him to be a screw-up again. 

It is not shocking that “Stillwater” has been compared to the high-profile case of American student Amanda Knox who in 2007 was arrested in Italy and charged, along with her then boyfriend, of murdering her British roommate. Knox was wrongfully convicted and was not completely exonerated until eight years later. Clearly, the Knox case served as an inspiration to some degree for McCarthy’s film. Knox herself has criticized the film for its quasi depiction of her ordeal. At the very least, “Stillwater” comes across as unimaginative and a little predictable. 

What makes “Stillwater” watchable is the stellar performance by Damon who nails his portrayal of a man with a lot of demons who cannot seem to avoid screwing up. Damon manages to infuse him with a sense of likability even though we should probably be as disgusted with him as Bill’s daughter is. His performance captures the old, male blue-collar mentality of not wearing your emotions on your sleeve, which makes the brief moments of tenderness all the more powerful. 

Overall, if you’re a fan of anything Damon is in, then you will probably enjoy “Stillwater.” If not, then “Stillwater” may not be your cup of tea when it comes to looking for over two hours of cinematic entertainment.

Film Review: “Jungle Cruise”

  • JUNGLE CRUISE
  • Starring:  Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt and Paul Giamatti
  • Directed by:  Jaume Collet-Serra
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 7 mins
  • Disney

The tale is told of the Conquistadors that sailed down the vast and dangerous river in search of the petals of a certain plant.  The petals, called “The Tears of the Moon” were said to cure any ailment and reverse any curse.  But of course, it’s just an old tale.  Right?

Full of fun, with another winning performance by Dwayne Johnson – I think if he met me he and I would be best pals immediately – “Jungle Cruise” is the latest Disney attraction to become a feature film and, I must say, it’s pretty darn entertaining.

We are introduced to the Houghton siblings – brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) is every bit the prim and proper Brit he seems to be while his sister, Lily (Blunt) is the adventurer in the family, having spent a good portion of her adult life searching for the mystical petals.  While looking for a boat to take them down river they meet Frank (Johnson) who is currently doing his best to avoid Nilo (Giamatti), the local bad guy.  If you’ve seen “Roadhouse” think of him as the jungle version of Brad Wesley.  A deal is made and the threesome head into the great unknown.

On the plus side, “Jungle Cruise” makes great use of CGI, creating a jungle, and all of its inhabitants, with amazing realism.  Tigers. Spiders. Monkeys.  You name it, they’re there and they look amazingly real.  The cast is in great form, with Johnson happily spouting puns (we call them “dad jokes” today) whenever he gets the chance.  Also well cast is Jesse Plemons, whose character, a former German army officer, is as obsessed with the petals as Lily is.  He’s a little over the top, but in a good way. 

My only major problem with the film is that it seemed about 30 minutes too long.  You can only battle zombie pirates so long before it gets boring.  If I wanted a three hour tour I’d wait for “Gilligan’s Island – the Movie,” which I’m sure will be in theatres soon!

Film Review: “Black Widow” SPOILER FREE!

  • BLACK WIDOW
  • Starring:  Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz
  • Directed by:  Cate Shortland
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 13 mins
  • Disney

The expression is “timing is everything.”  I say this because, while I found “Black Widow” enjoyable, it doesn’t feel as timely to me as other films in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe for those of you who don’t understand fan-speak).

Ohio.  1995.  It’s another sunny day in the local park and Melina (Weisz) is enjoying the time watching her young daughters play.  When they get home mom prepares dinner and they all wait for dad (David Harbour) to get home.  However, the mood changes when dad announces “it’s time.”  On the move again!

Full of non-stop action and some self-depreciating humor, “Black Widow” is an origin story that attempts to inform viewers where Natasha (Johansson) came from and why she defected to the Avengers. 

The majority of the film takes place in 2016, after Theodore Ross (William Hurt) helped the United Nations enforce the Sokovia Accords, which basically made the Avengers outlaws, unable to do their stuff unless requested.  It also requires all “enhanced” people in the United States to not only identify themselves but disclose what their enhancement is.   Currently Ross is on the look for Black Widow and Captain America.  And the hunt is on.

I’m doing my best to make this a SPOILER FREE review, so I won’t be going into too many details.  Suffice it to say that the characters travel literally all over the world, a lot of stuff gets damaged and a lot of people got hurt.  The action scenes are well designed and the script fun.  But still…..

While it’s not the best film in the MCU, it certainly isn’t the worse.  And that’s a good thing.   

Film Review “F9: The Fast Saga”

Directed by: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Michael Rooker, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release date: June 25, 2021
Running time: 145 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

The Fast & Furious franchise titled The Fast Saga has not run out of gas just yet. “F9” is completely over-the-top, action packed and one hell of a blast to watch. Who knew that this franchise would be going here nine films strong. Listen we all know that these things could never happen in real life but they are fun to watch on the big screen. I recently re-watched this franchise from the beginning and it was really fun to see how this series has evolved from street racing to international spy heists…and it has been so much fun to watch. This latest film gives this franchise a kick right into outer space…literally! Where can this franchise possible go next?

Official Premise: “Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto is leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty and his son, little Brian, but they know that danger always lurks just over their peaceful horizon. This time, that threat will force Dom to confront the sins of his past if he’s going to save those he loves most. His crew joins together to stop a world-shattering plot led by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered: a man who also happens to be Dom’s forsaken brother, Jakob (John Cena, the upcoming The Suicide Squad).”

I am personally a big John Cena fan from the WWE and it was awesome getting to see him play the baddie. I felt that the film also gave an extra nod to the ladies of the Fast Saga. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a female only spinoff happen down the line. The visual effects are beyond amazing. There is nothing that looks “too CGI” or anything like that. The Fast Saga is well known for blending actual practical effects with digital effects.

Like I mentioned above, I have no clue where this franchise could go in the future, so the next two films are going to be a big mystery. But from a franchise that started 20 years ago, this week in fact (Happy anniversary), on the streets to literally flying outer space in this film, and while still keeping things fun and existing, I don’t see this franchise having any issues in the future. This movie needs to be seen on a big screen with popcorn and concessions!

Film Review: “A Quiet Place Part II”

  • A QUIET PLACE PART II
  • Starring: Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds
  • Directed by: John Krasinski
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 1 hr 37 mins
  • Paramount Pictures 

Three years ago, “A Quiet Place” became THE breakout film of the year as it grossed over $188 million domestically and landed in many top ten lists. Its long-awaited sequel, “A Quiet Place Part II” picks up right where its predecessor left off and it does not disappoint. From the get-go, we are put on the edge of our seats as this fast-paced, sci-fi/horror flick keeps our hearts racing a million miles per hour. A smart script and superb direction by John Krasinski help make this film the first true “must-see” of the year. 

(If you have somehow not seen the original film yet, then do not read this any further.) When we last saw the Abbott family, the father, Lee (Krasinski) had sacrificed himself so that his family would have a chance to live. Thanks to the subsequent resourcefulness of his deaf daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and the tenacity of his wife, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), not only were they able to survive, but they also found a way to kill the sound sensitive aliens by utilizing Regan’s cochlear implant. 

“Part II” takes us back to Day 1 when a normal afternoon of little league baseball turns into an extinction-level event for humanity. After this brief flashback, we are flung forward to day #474 of the invasion. Evelyn and her three children – Regan, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and her infant son – gather up what possessions they need and make a silent, perilous walk into town. 

As they reach the deserted town’s railroad depot, they accidentally make enough noise to attract an alien. It is at this point they stumble upon Emmett (Cillian Murphy, “Inception”), an old friend of theirs who has lost everyone and everything. He is initially adamant they leave, warning Evelyn there is not anyone left worth saving. However, Regan figures out a way for a much broader application of her cochlear implant and it sets into motion events which put everyone’s lives in serious jeopardy. 

“A Quiet Place Part II’ is a superb work of cinema as it excels in all three major phases – writing, acting, and directing. Good luck in finding a flaw with the script. In fact, you will have a better chance at finding a needle in a haystack first. Blunt delivers a perfect blend of strength and vulnerability as does Simmonds, who again demonstrates with a wonderful range that she is a star in the making. Lastly, Krasinski successfully duplicates the pacing, tension, and thrills of the first film, which earned an Oscar nod for Best Sound Editing. 

Overall, “A Quiet Place Part II” already has a good shot at being on a lot of top ten lists again when 2021 is over.

Film Review: “Cruella”

  • CRUELLA
  • Starring: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson
  • Directed by: Craig Gillespie
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 14 mins
  • Walt Disney 

There is nothing cruel about watching the new Walt Disney prequel “Cruella,” starring former Academy Award winner Emma Stone in a role she absolutely nails. Unlike 1996’s “101 Dalmatians,” in which Glenn Close played Cruella with over-the-top, maniacal behavior, Stone infuses Cruella with emotional complexities that draw us into a character who becomes much more than a punchline. Ultimately, there is an almost Joaquin Phoenix-as-Joker vibe to Stone’s performance, just not nearly as dark. However, do not be worried, “Cruella” is not all doom-and-gloom as there are enough light-hearted and even tender moments to keep it from falling too far down the rabbit hole. 

As a little girl, Cruella goes by Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland, “Krypton”). Raised by her loving mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham, “Daphne”), Estella manages to get into a private boarding school. Her mother warns her, though, to not be rebellious and cruel, but the fashion curious Estella cannot prevent herself from getting into continuous trouble. Eventually, Estella wears out her welcome and is expelled. 

Estella’s expulsion does not turn her world upside down. In fact, she views it as a new adventure complete with a new puppy she finds. However, reality of how cruel the world can be takes place when Catherine dies and Estella becomes homeless in London’s city streets when she encounters two young boys who are always up to no good. 

Flash forward ten years later when the trio of Estella, Jasper (Joel Fry, “Game of Thrones”) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser, “Richard Jewell”) are busy stealing from anyone they can. Yet Estella still has her eyes set on the world of fashion and a series of lucky events puts her into the employment of the most powerful fashion designer in London – The Baroness (Emma Thompson). At the pinnacle of her happiness, Estella learns a dark secret and Cruella begins to take over. 

Stone has all the appearances of being born to play this role in what is an overall terrific origin story. Her portrayal never becomes too unhinged, and she even manages to do the previously unthinkable – make Cruella De Vil a sympathetic character. Of course, she was guided with the steady direction of Craig Gillespie (“I, Tonya”), had a fresh and inventive script to work with, and shared the screen with the equally fantastic Thompson who makes The Baroness about as unsympathetic and diabolical as they come. What should also be mentioned are the film’s fantastic costume designs which will hopefully not be forgotten about when Oscar season rolls again, not that more than 10 or 12 people will be watching it anyway. 

Overall, “Cruella” is probably not for small children. Let them watch the 1961 animated version instead. Otherwise, “Cruella” is a wonderful, two-plus hour escape.

Blu-ray Review: “The Father”

  • THE FATHER
  • Starring:  Anthony Hopkins and Oliva Colman
  • Directed by:  Florian Zeller
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 37mins
  • SONY Pictures Classics

I turned 60 last September and, as I get older, one of my biggest worries is that I’m going to slowly lose my faculties.  As someone that loves to write and communicate, I think that would destroy me.  I preface this review with that statement because that MIGHT be what’s going on in THE FATHER.

Anthony (Hopkins in an Academy Award winning performance) likes to relax in his flat, listening to music and taking occasional glances out the window.  He is looked after by his daughter, Anne (Colman) and things appear to be well.  Until one afternoon when Anne informs him that she will be hiring a caretaker because she is moving to Paris to be with the man she loves.  At least Anthony thinks this is what she told him.  Things get more puzzling when the next moment Anne’s former husband appears, but claims to be her current husband for the past eight years.  What the hell is going on here?

A true psychological thriller, “The Father” is a very non-linear descent into what could either be madness or gas-lighting.   Director Zeller leaves it up to the viewer to decide which it is.

The film is brilliantly acted, with, as noted earlier, Hopkins winning his second Best Actor Oscar for his performance.  Colman, herself an Oscar winner – and a nominee for her work here – matches him beat for beat.  Supporting work by Imogen Poots and Rufus Sewell, among others, carry the story along smoothly.

With theatres opening up to usher in another summer of fast cars and explosions, take a moment to stay home and watch “The Father.”   

Special Features:

  • Homecoming: Making “The Father”
  • Perception Check: Portrait of “The Father”
  • Deleted Scenes

4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray Review: “Last Action Hero” (Steelbook)

  • LAST ACTION HERO
  • Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O’Brien
  • Directed by:  John McTiernan
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 10 mins
  • Columbia Pictures

It was THE movie event of 1993.  A movie starring the world’s biggest action star, directed by the guy who directed “Die Hard,” and featuring an amazing array of celebrity guest stars.  Hell, they even launched a rocket into space with the film’s title on the side.  That film was “Last Action Hero,” and, at a cost of $85 million was one of the most expensive films made at the time.  Even though it made over $134 million world-wide, it was considered a dud by the bean counters in Hollywood and was not met well by critics.  However, as a 32 year old movie theatre manager, I LOVED IT.  Almost 30 years later, I still love it.

Danny (O’Brien) is a young boy who lives with his mother and spends most of his free time at the movies, where he has made friends with the projectionist, Nick (Robert Prosky).  One of the benefits of the friendship is Danny being allowed to screen new films before they open.  This night he is getting set to watch the latest Jack Slater adventure, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Nick give Danny a “magic ticket,” goes into the booth and starts the film.  But tonight is different.  Danny isn’t watching the movie, he’s IN the movie.

A fun buddy comedy (even though there is 30 years age difference between the buddies), “Last Action Hero” is everything it was advertised to be, which made its poor box office in the U.S. surprising (it mad $15 million it’s opening weekend but ended up only making another $35 million before it was out of most theatres).  The fun comes from the fact that Jack Slater (Arnold, of course) has never heard of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He thinks Danny is just some crazy kid who somehow ended up in the back of his car during a high speed chase. 

Jack thinks Danny is delusional.  A trip to the video store features a lobby display for TERMINATOR 2, but this version stars Sylvester Stallone.  Introduced to another cop (F. Murray Abraham), Danny instinctively recognizes him as the guy who killed Mozart in “Amadeus.”  Having never heard of the film, Slater tells the cop that Danny thinks he killed someone named Moe Zart!

The fun continues until the pair chase a baddie (Dance) back into Danny’s world, where Slater learns that you can’t punch a window without cutting yourself and you are no longer magically bulletproof. 

The film is an amazing combination of action and humor and one that doesn’t live up to it’s rep.  Check it out with an open mind and I think you’ll agree with me. 

Both the picture and sound on this release are amazing and the film comes in a special steel case.  This is a fun film I highly recommend. 

Special Features:

Commentary with Director John McTiernan

Deleted & Alternate Scenes

Alternate Ending

“Big Gun” Music Video by AC/DC

Original Behind-the-Scenes Featurette

Theatrical Teaser

4K ULTRA HD/Blu-ray Review: “Big Fish’

  • BIG FISH
  • Starring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney and Billy Curdup
  • Directed by: Tim Burton
  • Rated: PG 13
  • Running time: 2 hrs 5 mins
  • Columbia Pictures

There is simply no film like a Tim Burton film! This visually arresting film also has a great story.

. Ewan McGregor is one of those actors that is interesting in anything he’s in. Here he plays a protagonist in a make-believe world. Or is it make-believe? As I watched this, I was reminded of the character of Forrest Gump, a man having adventures in everything he was involved in. 


The story involves Willll Bloom (Billy Crudup), who seems to harbor animosity against his father, Edward (Albert Finney). Will feels that he really doesn’t know his dad, who is noted for telling great stories which seem too far fetched for reality. As Edward tells one story after another, we flashback to his younger self (played by Ewan McGregor) who seems to have adventures that put him at an advantage to his peers.

Edward longs for Sandra, whom he instantly falls in love with despite her already being engaged. Edward soon finds himself joining the circus, simply because Sandra is also part of the same circus. As Edward tries to woo Sandra for her hand in marriage, he must meet conditions that he can only ask Amos Calloway (Danny DeVito) for, learning one thing about Sandra each month. This is to ensure that he knows all about her in his pursuit. This lasts for three years until it is revealed that Amos is secretly a werewolf (I’ll stop here so I will not ruin the film for the viewer).

This is just one example of how the story weaves and the viewer is treated to breathtaking locales and a very interesting plot.

Visually, as usual, Tim Burton is quite amazing. The man shows extreme creativity and his films hold up very well for repeat viewing. There is much to see in “Big Fish,” and you will do this film an injustice by renting it for one viewing. It has to be bought, taken home and enjoyed over and over.

“Big Fish” is a perfect blend of heartfelt sentimentality and visual splendor. In lesser hands, “Big Fish” would’ve gone off the rails as another goofy drama. In the hands of Burton, with John August’s script and with McGregor as the protagonist, it is the perfect blend of storytelling and fantasy. This film has some very colorful characters but that’s Burton’s recipe for a great film. 


The film is now on HDR 4K Blu Ray, with an impressive transfer by Sony. The film is nearly 20 years old but it holds up well with an HDR10 transfer that doesn’t disappoint. The audio is beautiful with a Dolby Atmos track that definitely increases atmosphere in a film that’s already captivating. “Big Fish” is a big winner that is surely presented with that Tim Burton signature that fans have come to expect and love. It’s a masterpiece!

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