Film Review: “Angel of Mine”

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Yvonne Strahovski, Luke Evans, Richard Roxburgh
Directed by: Kim Farrant
Rated: R
Running Time: 98 minutes
Lionsgate

Angel of Mine, based on the French 2008 film, L’Empreinte de L’ange, sees Noomi Rapace as a woman convinced that her neighbor’s daughter is actually her own long-dead child. It’s a thriller that drew me in with its strong cast but passes too far over into melodrama before the credits roll to warrant much interest. 

Rapace stars as Lizzie who drums up a tenuous relationship with the parents of one of her son’s friends (played by Yvonne Strahovski and Richard Roxburgh) for her own ulterior motives. Turns out the friend’s little sister Lola looks so much like her dead baby daughter to Lizzie that she is desperate to spend as much time around the child as possible. Lizzie’s obsession extends so far as her ingratiating herself with Lola’s parents by pretending to be interested in buying their newly listed house. This connection is already awkward but the film does not help itself by withholding the circumstances around Lizzie’s grief for so long in the film. Revelations over the loss of Lizzie’s daughter earlier in the film to the couple may have won some understandable sympathy points for allowing Lizzie around but as it is, it strains credulity as to why these parents would allow this random woman to have so many one-on-one interactions with their young child. Lizzie’s obsession with Lola is intriguing at first due to Rapace’s haunted intensity but without knowing much about her past, I found myself spinning off many different possibilities for where this could go and the ultimate resolution had me bored. Perhaps that’s on me for wanting something more outlandish or exciting while the film so wants to be grounded. It felt as though since director Kim Farrant wanted so much for Lizzie to be our sympathetic protagonist that they could not inject her obsession with a child with any sort of genuine menace. 

Still more irritating is that so much of the film’s run time is spent with husbands choosing to downplay their wives’ legitimate concerns. This goes for both Luke Evan’s Mike as Lizzie’s ex, shunning her where she clearly needs mental help in her grief, and infuriatingly Richard Roxburgh’s Bernard who is for some reason A-OK with a woman wanting to spend time with his seven year old while his own wife sees red flags all over. Why would he take Lizzie’s word over hers? How their story lines end up in relation to Lizzie and Lola after all this drama rings hollow–and also doesn’t seem legally feasible. 

I had been drawn in by the big name cast Farrant had assembled, particularly Yvonne Strahovski fresh off of her fantastic “Handmaid’s Tale” work (is there such a thing as ‘maternity battle’ typecasting?) but they’re working in service of a basic script that doesn’t throw anything more exciting at them than a Lifetime TV movie. 

Angel of Mine opens in limited release on August 30th

Behind the Screen: Why Does the “Rise of Skywalker” Trailer Make Me Cry?

I have to admit here that I wasn’t as anxious to see “Star Wars” as many of my friends were.  We were 16 when the film came out and I was more than a year into my love affair with “Jaws.”  Like my friends, I wrote away for, and received from 20th Century Fox, a very nice, full color campaign book.  Four decades later, I still have it.  I liked the film the first time I saw it but, as it got closer to edging out “Jaws” as the most successful film of all time, I began to dislike it.  I wanted to see it again but I didn’t want my $2,50 to be the money that put “Star Wars” on top!   Of course, like the rest of the world, I ended up seeing the film several times that summer.  Like “Jaws” it is an important part of my youth.  Something I could, and still can, share with my friends.  So when they first released the trailer for the upcoming ninth episode – “The Rise of Skywalker” – I watched the live stream so I could be among the first to see it.  And a funny thing happened.  When it was over, I noticed that I was crying.  Not sniffling but CRYING!  Maybe there was something in the air.  So I watched it again.  And I cried again.  I just watched it 10 minutes ago – four months after having first seen it – and guess what?  The tears began to flow.  Was there something wrong with me?  Had I hit some point in my advanced age where I couldn’t control my emotions.  Was this payback for bringing Richard Dreyfuss to tears when I moderated his Q & A?  

The Campaign Book

I’ve gone back and tried to analyze this.  I think what sets me off are the words “THE SAGA COMES TO AN END.”  That and the shot of Lando in the Falcon, which proceeds those words, trigger so many great memories for me.  Like the time we drove to Orlando to see “The Empire Strikes Back” in 70 mm.  We were so stoked when we left the theatre that we circled the shopping center and informed all of those waiting in line over the car’s CB/PA system that  (SPOILER ALERT) “Darth Vader is Luke’s father!”  OK, yes, it was a dick move.  But we were kids.  Sue us.  

I have a lot of great “Star Wars” memories.  Chief among them is being asked to moderate a Q & A a few years ago with a panel that included Gary Kurtz, Alan Dean Foster and Charles Lippincott.  I was honored to be asked to host this event and I brought the campaign book I had received in 1977 with me to get autographed.  When I opened it I was surprised to find a letter inside, telling me about how exciting “Star Wars” was going to be.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that the letter had been signed by Mr. Lippincott.  He basically introduced the film to me and now, 40 years later, I’m helping him and the others introduce it to a new generation.  This memory makes me smile.  So why the waterworks?  

I think it’s the shots of Carrie Fisher that  have an effect on me.  Our Princess was taken from us way too soon.  “No one’s ever really gone,” Mark Hamill tells us in the trailer.  But Carrie Fisher is and that will continue to make me sad.  I commented on a friend’s Facebook post about this the other day and it finally hit me.  This film will officially put an end to my childhood.  I still, and always will, have the memories I’ve shared with friends while we sat in the dark and took on the Empire.  Sadly, many of those friends are no longer with us.  But when I leave the theatre after seeing “The Rise of Skywalker” I’m going to imagine that those friends, like Obi-Wan, Yoda, Qui Gon and Annakin, will be standing in the lobby and smiling as our 42 year journey comes to an end.

Film Review: “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”

  • WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE
  • Starring: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup
  • Directed by: Richard Linklater
  • Rated: Rated PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 10 mins
  • United Artists Releasing 

The question that has haunted America for decades now is where did Jimmy Hoffa go? Rumor had it once upon a time that he was buried in the end zone at the New York Giants old football stadium. If it were true, then it’s too bad that the much-delayed comedy/drama “Where’d You Go Bernadette” was not buried with him under a ton a concrete. Based upon the 2012 novel of the same name by American novelist Maria Semple, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” wanders aimlessly for over two hours and establishes no real emotional connection with the audience. Despite a talented cast, and a long list of cameo appearances and small roles by recognizable faces, it’s not enough to save its unremarkable script and direction by Richard Linklater (“A Scanner Darkly”). 

Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) is an agoraphobic mother of a teenage daughter and was once a trailblazing architect in Los Angeles. Since moving to Seattle with her husband and tech entrepreneur Elgie Branch (Billy Crudup), Bernadette has isolated herself in their home, created from an abandoned church, and devoted all her time to their daughter, Bree (Emma Nelson in her feature film debut). Not only does she refuse to make friends with her closest neighbor, the nosey Audrey Griffin (Kristen Wiig), but she also does whatever she can to make Audrey’s life miserable. The only other interaction she has is with an unseen assistant named Manjula to whom she assigns all sorts of tasks via text messaging. 

We eventually learn more about her past successes, which is where cameos by Laurence Fishburne, Steve Zahn and Megan Mullally come into play, but by the time it does we don’t care. The greatest failure of any story is the inability to hook the audience within the first sentence/paragraph of a book or the first couple minutes of a film. If this doesn’t happen then it’s a monumental task indeed to get the audience to ever give two cents. This is exactly the case with “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” which was originally supposed to be released in the spring of last year. There are brief glimmers of something serious going on with Bernadette’s character, and Blanchett is terrific at fleshing them out, but it’s all overwhelmed with one-dimensional characters around her, boring dialogue, and predictable, Disney-like comedy. 

With their marriage on the rocks because of her hatred of all things, including Seattle, and facing near-financial ruin thanks to a scam, Bernadette freaks out and instead of facing her problems flees to Antarctica where they were supposed to take a family trip. The question is – will the experience turn Bernadette back into being a creative force in the architect world, or will she disappear like so many doomed Antarctic explorers at the dawn of the 20th century? Truth be told, the answer doesn’t matter.

 In conclusion, if you want to be scratching your head wondering where this film is going, while also having to listen to needless and distracting voiceover narration by Nelson, then “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is the story for you. I think Mr. Hoffa would agree.

Film Review: “The Art of Racing in the Rain”

  • THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN
  • Starring:  Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried and Kevin Costner
  • Directed by: Simon Curtis
  • Rated:  PG
  • Running time:  1 hr 49 mins
  • 20th Century Fox

There are two kinds of people in this world.  Dog people (guilty) and cat people.  Dog people, please continue reading.

Meet Enzo.  He is an older dog that has lived an amazing life.  And, if you have a couple of hours to spare, he’ll share his story with you.  Enzo (voiced perfectly by Kevin Costner) is chosen as a pup by Denny Swift (Ventimiglia), a race car trainer who aspires to one day drive in Formula One races.  As the years progress, the two are inseparable, sharing adventures both behind the wheel and at home,   Things get complicated when Denny meets Eve (Seyfried) and even more so when they have a daughter, Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong).  Eve’s parents, played by Kathy Baker and Martin Donovan, are well off and not happy with their son-in-law’s profession.  Denny has begun to get some racing gigs, but they take him away from home for prolonged periods.  Things get worse when Eve becomes sick.  Can Enzo save the day?

An entertaining film that’s light on plot points, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” is the kind of film Walt Disney would make in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s (think “The Shaggy Dog”), though without such a dramatic backdrop.  Ventimiglia – in the Disney version Denny would be played by Fred MacMurray – does his best with the material he’s given.  I must admit that I’m really only familiar with Ventimiglia as Rocky, Jr. in “Rocky Balboa” and “Creed II.”  I didn’t watch “Heroes” and, though my wife loves the show, I don’t watch “This is Us.”  Considering a lot of his role is playing off of what Enzo is doing, he does a good job portraying a man who loves both his family and the art of going fast.  Seyfried is fine in a very one-dimensional role, making the best out of what she’s been given.  But the true star here is Costner.  He’s always had the kind of voice that you wish your next “Book on Tape” comes with.  It’s his story and he tells it with panache! 

Film Review: “Angel Has Fallen”

Starring: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman and Jada Pinkett Smith
Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh
Rated: R
Running Time: 120 minutes
Lionsgate

You ever have that moment where you’re surprised that something is popular enough to still be hanging around? You know what I’m talking about. Like when you hear about how “The Simpsons” has been renewed for another season or when Woody Allen released another movie. Much to my surprise, 2013’s “Olympus Has Fallen” has warranted not one, but two sequels. I don’t have to wonder too long about why that’s possible because the third of this franchise, “Angel Has Fallen,” answers that question quickly with mind numbing action.

In the reportedly final installment of this franchise, terrorists are making yet another assassination attempt. This time they’re not only targeting a worldwide figurehead, U.S. President Trumbull (Freeman), but they’re using U.S. Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Butler) as the fall guy for the whole affair. So not only does Agent Banning have to find out who the real perpetrators are, while fighting them, but he also has to deal with various federal government agencies chasing him down. That’s about as simple as I can whittle down the absolute mess that this story is.

While the film’s story is fairly cut and dry, the foundation of the plot crumbles underneath any sight of logic, but this isn’t a franchise or movie that lends itself to being intelligent. Everything about these movies, as well as the newest one, is loud and dumb, like a caveman shouting at the top of his lungs while swinging a big club. The use of graphic blood and violence keeps these films from being too cartoonish, on a level like the “Fast and Furious” franchise. There are several moments of self-awareness, though, that make it seem like the creators are sometimes in on the joke that these movies are silly trash.

That’s why it’s so odd to see so many dramatic elements being wedged in, especially with Banning’s character. The filmmakers start the movie off with breadcrumbs that Banning is dealing with some form of PTSD and work fatigue, even though that plot thread only pays off in one predictable way by the end. We’re also introduced to Banning’s estranged father (Nick Nolte), who’s living in the middle of the West Virginia forests, so that we can add a layer of family drama to the whole shebang. By the end, these components really feel meaningless because of how poorly they’re handled, unless you’ve somehow managed to grow attached to this character over the years.

“Angel Has Fallen” fails only because it strives to be something it’s not, a competent action flick like “Die Hard” or any “Mad Max” film. It earns gold stars for filling numerous scenes with vacuous shootouts, lunkhead fist fighting and earth-rattling explosions. It somehow manages to screw up some of that though, with poorly lit sequences or chase scenes at night that fail to illuminate what’s happening. Fans of these films will get their money’s worth; everyone else will feel too indifferent by the end to ask for their money back.

 

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Film Review: “Ready or Not”

Starring: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody and Mark O’Brien
Directed By: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Rated: R
Running Time: 95 minutes
Fox Searchlight

I guess a film like “The Hunt” was a little bit too on the nose. There were several disappointed horror junkies, back on August 7th, when it was announced the latest Blumhouse film would be shelved after several mass shootings in America, along with some rumored outrage by President Trump. Maybe those disappointed filmgoers, who are going this year without another “Purge” movie as well, can get a cathartic release from “Ready or Not.”

It’s Grace (Weaving) and Daniel Le Lomas’ (Brody) wedding day. The young couple is getting married at the Le Lomas’ mansion, which was built on a card and board game empire. Daniel’s family, which he begrudgingly introduces to Grace, is an eclectic bunch. Which is a nice way of saying they’re a bunch of snobby 1%’s who believe Grace is a gold digger. Whether or not they warm up to Daniel’s love seems to come down to strange family ritual, a game. Grace must draw a playing card from the film’s McGuffin, and play the game that’s printed on that card. She’s told by several other people who’ve married into the family that they simply played a game Chess or a round of Old Maid. She draws Hide and Seek.

You’ll be disappointed if you go into “Ready or Not” expecting a rich satire about politics and class, but if you’re expecting a gory good time you’ll be stuffed. The goal of Hide and Seek, for the Le Lomas’ family, is to hunt down and kill Grace. This isn’t supposed to be for sport, but to maintain an otherworldly pact, which is certainly a dig at the corrupting power of wealth. If you start thinking about some of the film’s inherent flaws, the set-up quickly falls apart and you’ll begin to wonder about things like logic. So don’t think too hard during this one.

The film isn’t short on violent deaths, blood and visually graphic tomfoolery. It’s all played for comedic effect and eye-wincing shock. Some of the more comedic moments are when one of the drugged out members of the Le Lomas family continuously manages to find accidental ways to kill mansion staff, while some of the most visually disturbing scenes include one where a character makes unfortunate use of a gaping wound in their hand. The scenes unfortunately smack audiences at a blistering pace. There’s a lot of downtime for the characters to wordlessly linger from scene-to-scene and discuss inconsequential plot points.

“Ready or Not” promises a fun cat-and-mouse game, but ends up repeating the formula of Grace being captured, but only to escape. This happens about half a dozen times, if not more, including three times in the climax. At least the movie wrings out a strong performance from Weaving, who has the makings of a scream queen. She has a cold icy stare when her character is in vengeance mode, as well as a perfect high-pitched scream during moments of physical agony and mental anguish. Everyone else is casually fine. The problem is that the actors portraying the Le Lomas clan can’t decide whether or not to be cognizant of the absurdity of it all.

“Ready or Not” sits in between the two extremes of horror content in 2019. It’s not a complete misfire like “Ma,” but it isn’t as intricately put together as “Midsommar” or “Us.” It’s a film that’ll satisfy the late night sweet tooth for people wanting to gnaw on a dark comedy and have guilty belly laughs. It’s the kind of genre mash-up that would have developed a cult following in the 80’s.

Film Review: “Blinded by the Light”

  • BLINDED BY THE LIGHT
  • Starring:  Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra
  • Directed by: Gurinder Chadha
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 58 mins
  • Warner Bros.

I was introduced to Bruce Springsteen when I was 15-years old.  And I wasn’t introduced to the Boss by a school friend but rather by my father.  He had been out and seen Springsteen’s face on both the covers of TIME and Newsweek magazines so, intrigued, he bought me the “Born to Run” album.  When he handed it to me he said, “This guy is supposed to be pretty good.”  He was.

England in the 1980s.  As the decade begins we meet Javid and Matt – two young boys with different upbringings.  For his birthday, Matt got a new bicycle.  Javid’s parents got him a Rubik’s Cube.  Learning over fun.  They also share another difference.  Javid is Pakistani while Matt is white.  Their friendship is color-blind.  Sadly, their neighbors are not. 

We meet up with the two lads in 1987 as they prepare for pre-university schooling.  Javid (Kalra) wants to be a writer, though his father finds that occupation frivolous and wishes him to be a doctor.  Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) is now a musician with his own band.  One day, after a day of bullying, Javid meets Roops (Aaron Phagura) a Sikh classmate who hands him a couple of cassettes and tells him that he needs “the Boss.”  After a few listenings he readily agrees.

An uplifting film with a serious back story, “Blinded by the Light,” like this year’s “Yesterday,” is an amazing combination of words and music that tells a story that is just as vital today as it was 30 years ago.  Javid is questioned by his father about why he is so enamored by this American and Jewish singer (for the record, Bruce Springsteen is NOT Jewish), unable to believe that this man’s words can have any meaning in his family’s life.  Yet Springsteen has always been a poet for the people, putting their daily struggles and triumphs into words that resonate with his listeners.

Director Chadha, whose best known film is probably “Bend it Like Beckham,” fills her lens with amazing images, often featuring Springsteen’s lyrics superimposed over the scenes, giving the songs and their message added meaning.  She has also assembled an amazing cast.  Kalra and Chapman have a great chemistry, facing the ups and downs of being friends.  Phagura is energetic as Roops, a young man who has discovered the music that comments on his life and is happy to share it.  Hayley Atwell has a nice turn as Javid’s instructor.  And I must give a proper mention to Kulvinder Ghir, who plays Javid’s father, Malik.  Malik is a proud man who is dealt a few setbacks yet never falters in his love for his family.  He only wants his children to succeed…to do better than he did…though he is reluctant to accept the paths they wish to take.

Even if you’ve never enjoyed the music of Bruce Springsteen (I guess there may be a few people out there that feel this way), you will be swept up in the way that music is celebrated here.  In this writer’s opinion, “Blinded by the Light” is pure inspiration!

 
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DVD Review “Butterbean’s Café”

Nickelodeon’s latest animated hit preschool series, Butterbean’s Café, makes its DVD debut featuring seven episodes from the series’ first season. I liked this show because it showcases not only creative cooking but also features a curriculum with social-emotional lessons that highlight kindness and gratitude, and leadership skills for kids to enjoy and learn. My seven year old really enjoys this show and honestly daddy didn’t mind it either.

The show follows a fairy named Butterbean and her adventures running her own neighborhood café and bakery. Serving up delicious healthy snacks and sweet treats to the residents in their community of Puddlebrook, Butterbean, her fairy friends-Dazzle, Poppy and Jasper-and her little sister Cricket, combine magic and teamwork to make their cafe the most awesome eatery in town.

Along with the seven episodes, this DVD collection also includes a special double-length episode with a guest voice appearance from celebrity chef Carla Hall (“The Chew”, “Top Chef”). There is also some healthy recipe card included with each purchase, which I can see my daughter and I cooking together giving her a chance to cook just like Butterbean and her friends. 

Episodes include are the following:

  • The Grand Opening! (special double-length episode!)
  • The Sweetest Ride
  • Fluttercakes!
  • Friendship Pretzels!
  • Grandma Nana Banana Bread 
  • Wedding Cake Switcheroo 
  • A Grilled Cheese for the Big Cheese!  

Film Review: “Them That Follow”

  • THEM THAT FOLLOW
  • Starring: Alice Englert, Walton Goggins
  • Directed by: Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage
  • Rated: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 38 mins
  • 1091 Media 

If you are anything like Indiana Jones, then the Appalachian-set drama “Them That Follow” will at the very least make you squirm in your seat. The feature film directorial debut by co-directors/writers Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, “Them That Follow” is an interesting yet not too in-depth look into a branch of the Pentecostal faith that believes handling venomous snakes will prove their devotion to God. With a pace that flows like the mountain streams in the film, this relatively short drama contains a standout supporting performance by Academy Award-winning actress Olivia Coleman, but nothing else much is all that memorable. 

A teenage boy named Augie (Thomas Mann, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) is led into the woods by the girl of his affections, Mara Childs (Alice Englert, “Beautiful Creatures”), to a den of poisonous rattle snakes. It is perhaps not the greatest way to spend a date, but it quickly gives us an idea of what the people of an isolated mountain community are like. Snakes or no snakes, troubled times are brewing when we watch Mara steal a pregnancy test from a local convenience store run by Augie’s sour mother, Hope (Coleman). 

This leads into a brief depiction of a church service led by old school pastor, Lemuel Childs (Walton Goggins, “The Hateful Eight”), Mara’s father. Lemuel inspires his small, yet devoted congregation to uplift their arms and wail as he dances about with a rattlesnake in his hands preaching that serpents will not hurt them if they truly believe in God. It all serves to heighten the pressure that Mara feels as she prays for the stain on her soul to be removed thanks to her test turning positive. And while Augie may be the baby’s father, she is squeezed in a vice when she is pressured to marry Garret (Lewis Pullman, “Bad Times at the El Royale”), another local boy infatuated with her but with a seemingly stronger devotion to her father’s church. 

A pregnancy is obviously a difficult thing to hide for long and as such the stakes are raised when Hope discovers her secret as well as her blabber-mouth-of-a-best-friend, Dilly Picket (Kaitlyn Dever, “Booksmart”). The film falters with this storyline to be as tense as it could have been. It feels more like an after-school special on TV with the snakes being more dramatic than most of the actors. Goggins starts off well enough with his performance but his character is soon revealed as merely one dimensional. What could have energized the entire film, and is only barely alluded to, is the cultural struggle between the Pentecosts and the outsiders, especially law enforcement who seems to hound them. 

Colman, fresh off her win for “The Favourite,” is a shining light as she burns up the screen each moment she is in a scene. Her performance ranges from stoic to deeply emotional. Every actor around her is overshadowed by her presence, which is not hard to do as the rest of the cast delivers mundane performances. Overall, “Them That Follow” is predictable fair with nothing to keep our memory of watching it alive for too long.

 
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Film Review: “A Score to Settle”

  • A SCORE TO SETTLE
  • Starring:  Nicolas Cage, Noah Le Gros and Benjamin Bratt
  • Directed by:  Shawn Ku
  • Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 43 mins
  • RLJE Films

Not many people know this, but Nicolas Cage made his film debut 37 years ago in the comedy “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”  He was one of Sean Penn’s stoner pals (along with fellow up and coming actors Eric Stoltz and Anthony Edwards).  He was also billed with his real name, Nicolas Coppola.  I didn’t really pay attention to him until the next year’s film “Valley Girl.”  There was something about him that struck me as interesting.  His career highlights include winning the Oscar for Best Actor in “Leaving Las Vegas” and such action hits as “The Rock” and “Con Air.”  I should also add that, when he was in Baltimore making the film “Guarding Tess” that he often ate at the restaurant my roommate worked at.  I was told he was very nice to talk to and a great tipper!

He hasn’t been in a lot of high profile films lately, but no matter what the film, he’s usually the best thing in it.  He certainly is in the new drama “A Score to Settle.”

Frank (Cage) has been looking forward to this day.  After 19 years he is being released from prison, where he was sentenced for a brutal murder.  On his way out he is informed by the prison doctor that he must do something for his insomnia or risk a life of hallucinations and, eventually, death.  But all Frank wants to do is spend some time with his son, Joey (Le Gros), hoping he can make up the time he lost with him.  Oh, and he also plans to take his revenge out on the people who put him in prison.

An entertaining and well-paced film, “A Score to Settle” is Nicolas Cage at his best – deeply intense with a little bit of crazy mixed in for good measure.  Carrying a duffel bag full of cash, as well as a bunch of prison-made baseball bats, Frank is trying to ease the guilt he feels from not being there for Joey, especially after his wife dies.  However, a fancy hotel, new clothes and even a new car are not what Joey wants.  Complicating things are Frank’s relationship with his former partner in crime, Q (Bratt) and his meeting of a female escort (Karolina Wydra) with her own problems.  As the film progresses it takes a twist that amps up the emotional impact of Frank’s mission. 

A well recommended action/thriller, “A Score to Settle” is currently available with Video on Demand. 

Film Review: “Good Boys”

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon
Directed By: Gene Stupnitsky
Rated: R
Running Time: 89 minutes
Universal Pictures

More than lately, it feels like we’ve been inundated with coming-of-age movies. Just off the top of my head, we’ve had “Lady Bird,” “Eighth Grade,” “Booksmart,” “Call Me By Your Name,” “Love, Simon,” “Blockers,” “Mid90s,” and to some extent, “IT.” Most of those movies are natural extensions of the genre which now include women, the LGBT community, Millennials and Generation Z. So “Good Boys” just feels like a casual dose of more of the same before the arrival of the 2010s.

To say that “Good Boys” has a story, feels a bit disingenuous to the film’s true narrative which feels more like several sketch ideas strung loosely together. To cut straight to the core of what’s happening; Max (Tremblay), Lucas (Williams) and Thor (Noon) have skipped school to fix several spin-off problems caused by Max’s invitation to a party where he and his pals will finally be able to kiss a girl. The problems this invitation have caused involve the destruction of a pricey drone, the theft of drugs, the need to buy drugs, and being chased all around their neighborhood by some angsty high schoolers. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before and several shenanigans feel reminiscent of “Superbad.”

This plot doesn’t really take shape from the get-go. “Good Boys” actually looks and feels amateurish for the first dozen or so minutes, coming off like a string of riffs on preteens being clueless preteens as they navigate a tricky minefield of sex talk, sex toys and dirty jokes. At least the movie is smart enough to recognize that most 12-year-olds talk a big game, but are as clueless as any kid entering a sex education class for the first time when it comes to the actual act of doing it. The inherent comedy of young kids saying four-letter words quickly loses its luster, but it’s the personalities of our three boys that the film actually finds some real comedy in.

Lucas is like Lincoln, he cannot tell a lie. His inability to fib further dooms the trio during their perilous journey or confuses adults because of how blunt he’s being. Thor is a theater geek who’s burying his own passion so he can try and impress other tweens. Unfortunately he’s not privy to the fact that they’ll never like him, no matter how many sips of a beer he’ll take. Max is the only one invested in this adventure, since he was the only one to actually be invited to the kissing party. He actually had to coerce the cool kids into allowing him to bring Lucas and Thor. It sets up the film’s final act fairly well. For a movie that’s as foul-mouthed as “American Pie,” it’s good to see that there’s an actual attempt at teaching a lesson in maturity and growth.

“Good Boys” is a passable entry into the coming-of-age films, but it isn’t unique or funny enough to stand tall with classics in the genre. It also suffers from some of its best jokes being in the trailer and a somewhat scatterbrained story flow that hiccups when it comes time to deliver a wise crack or sight gag. The three child actors manage to elevate a so-so script and they’ll certainly win over the adult crowd that sees this, as well as those young ones that sneak in to see what all the fuss is about.

Film Review: “Ode to Joy”

ODE TO JOY
Starring:  Martin Freeman, Melissa Rauch and Jake Lacy
Directed by:  Jason Winer
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hr 37 mins
IFC Films

We are an emotional people.  The simplest things can set us off.  A puppy can make us smile while a flat tire can make us curse.  Pretty normal.  Unless you’re Charlie (Freeman).  He is one of the people that the term “his emotions really got the best of him” was coined for.  Charlie has cataplexy, and when he feels happy he passes out, which can’t be good for his love life.

A funny and well written film, “Ode to Joy” begins with Charlie serving as Best Man at a friend’s wedding.  Despite trying to keep neutral thoughts, he smiles at his friend’s good fortune and drops like a stone.  Charlie is a librarian – a great job for anyone that doesn’t want to deal with any emotions, since you basically have to stay quiet in a library – and one day meets Francesca (Morena Baccarin), a beautiful woman who has just broken up with her boyfriend.  Intrigued my Charlie, she agrees to go out with him.

Being with Francesca is a good thing for Charlie…until, of course, it becomes a bad thing.  Down he goes again.

Inspired by a true story – yes, cataplexy is very real – from events in co-writer Chris Higgins’ life, “Ode to Joy” is held together by an amazing performance by Freeman.  It would be so easy to play Charlie as another bumbling fool looking for love, but Mr. Freeman gives the character an emotional edge – a true heart that makes your own ache for his problem.  Ms. Baccarin is both funny and beautiful, a deadly combination for anyone.  Supporting work by Melissa Rauch and Jake Lacy is also strong.  And it’s always nice to see Jane Curtin, who should have been declared a National Treasure years ago, on the big screen.

Director Winer, an Emmy winner and frequent producer/director on television’s “Modern Family,” brings a light touch to the material, treating the situation as seriously as possible while still maintaining an undercurrent of humor.  He keeps the story movingbut allows the viewer to pause, when necessary, to assess the situations at hand. 

As summer comes to a close, take a chance on “Ode to Joy.”  And try not to pass out! 

 
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Film Review: “Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood”

  • ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD
  • Starring:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie
  • Directed by:  Quentin Tarantino
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs 41 mins
  • Sony Pictures

THE 9th FILM FROM QUENTIN TARANTINO!! So read the ads for the filmmaker’s latest opus, a love story to old-time Hollywood, with a little Charles Manson thrown in for good measure, called “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.”

1969.  As the New Year begins we find ourselves in the company of former western television star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his constant companion and stunt-double Cliff Booth (Pitt).  Rick’s career has waned since his turn on “Bounty Law.”  After a few action films, Rick has found himself appearing on episodic television, usually as the bad guy.  In fact, as he meets with the producer of an upcoming “Spaghetti” Western (a wasted Al Pacino), he can’t help but brag about his upcoming turn on “The F.B.I.”    Meanwhile Rick’s neighbors,  a pair of young newlyweds, return from Europe and make their way to their canyon home on Cielo Drive.  Their names:  Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate.

A love letter to the Hollywood he grew up watching, “Once Upon a Time…” is quite possibly the least “Tarantino” film the two-time Oscar winner has ever created.  I recently learned that this project was originally intended as a novel, and after watching the film I can understand why.  This is basically two individual stories, slowly woven together, that intersect occasionally before climaxing in a “what-if” explosion of fury and satisfaction. 

Story one is Rick and Cliff.  Their continued bonding, their obvious love (platonic) for each other and the way they each have the other’s back.  DiCaprio and Pitt have great chemistry together, and a bromance I haven’t seen since Paul Newman and Robert Redford worked together in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” which happens to be a film actually released in 1969.

Story two focuses on Sharon Tate (an excellent Robbie), who is portrayed her as a sweet, unassuming young woman whose idea of a good time was going to see one of her films at a theatre and smile at the audience’s acceptance of her work.  We accompany her and Roman as they attend parties with such celebs as Michelle Phillips, Cass Elliott and Steve McQueen. It’s heartbreaking to see the character so full of life, both figuratively and literally, when you know the tragic way that life ended.

The story begins to get intense when Cliff one day meets Pussycat (Margret Qualley), who hitches a ride from Cliff back to her commune, hoping to introduce him to her friend Charlie.  Yes, that Charlie.  The entire Manson family is represented, from wacky future would-be-presidential-assassin Squeaky Fromme (Dakota Fanning) to “Tex” Watson (Austin Butler).  We even get Bruce Dern in senile “old-man” form as Spahn Ranch owner George Spahn.

At more than two and a half hours, the film does have its slow points.  I also had some issues with Tarantino’s use of occasional flashbacks.  At least they seem to be.  A scene where Cliff meets the show stunt coordinator, played by Kurt Russell.  In what appears to be the next moment, we find Cliff taking on Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) in what appears to be on the set of “The Green Hornet,” which left television in 1967.  Moh is solid in this small, but entertaining scene, and once again Tarantino has managed to attract an amazing cast, from regular players like Michael Madsen and Zoe Bell to newcomers like Pacino, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant and the late Luke Perry.  Heck, the cast even includes a group of second generation actors including Rumer Willis (daughter of Bruce), Harley Quinn Smith (daughter of Kevin) and Maya Hawke (daughter of Ethan and Uma Thurman).

Visually the film amazes.  Tarantino fills the screen with reminders of the good old days of Hollywood, from brightly lit marquees to oversize movie posters.  The script has some classic dialogue, though the almost near-absence of the “F” word – and the non-appearance of the “N” word – may surprise some of Tarantino’s fans.

Tarantino is on record as saying he only wanted to make ten films.  This is #9.  I’m curious if he will be true to his word and, if so, what that film would be.  I’ve read he’d like to do a “Star Trek” film, but I can’t imagine one of the most creative and influential filmmakers of all time ending his career as a gun-for-hire.  Whatever he does, it will be the book-end on an amazing career.

Film Review: “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw”

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and Idris Elba
Directed by: David Leitch
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 137 minutes
Universal Pictures

At this point, all that’s missing from the “Fast and the Furious” franchise is a TV show, Saturday morning cartoon, McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and breakfast cereal. The unexpected Universal Pictures franchise has its first spin-off, giving the two men who helped rejuvenate the series their own side adventure. Luke Hobbs’ (Johnson) affable character pairs naturally with the rough around the edges Deckard Shaw (Statham). The two have spent the last two movies at each other’s throats in a jokingly, sometimes serious, manner. So it’s a little disappointing to see them relatively toothless and hollowed out in “Hobbs & Shaw”.

Their characters remain the same, but we spend a little too much time with them, making these godlike characters a bit more human. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but having them play into the long steady “family” trope of this franchise feels disingenuous. The two feel more like ancillary characters that were created to offset the eye-rolling “we’re all family” dynamic that Vin Diesel’s character has yammered on about for years. Seeing Hobbs and Shaw degraded to that level may play to the franchise’s hardcore fanbase, but not for the casual fan like me who enjoys these movies as mindless eye candy. Also, there’s only so many times we can hear Hobbs and Shaw verbally get out the measuring sticks for their manhood.

As for the story, it’s somewhat interesting, building off of “The Fate of the Furious.” The bad guy of this film, Brixton Lore (Elba), works for a secret dark web syndicate known as Etheon. Lore is part man, part android, to the point where I’m glad Hobbs name drops “The Terminator.” Lore is on the hunt for a virus that could be weaponized to eliminate the “weak” parts of the human population, i.e. mass extinction for the betterment of humanity. But before Lore can get his superhuman mitts on it, an MI6 agent injects herself with it so that Etheon can’t obtain it. Of course, who that MI6 agent is, is a twist. I won’t spoil it, but you should be able to figure out who it is before it’s revealed, if you’re operating your brain at a primitive level.

Putting aside my opening salvo, I think this movie is still enjoyable because of how absurd it is, like when Hobbs tackles assailants scaling down the side of skyscraper and landing without a scratch on top of an SUV several stories below. My qualm is that the action pieces never really reach the highs that we’ve seen before in this franchise, specifically when Justin Lin and James Wan were behind the camera. Director David Leitch gives the duo plenty of fun settings to blow-up and chase sequences for audiences to ogle at, but none of them quite have that spectacular oomph that we’ve come to know and love. Even some of the lesser movies of this franchise have that memorable moment of Herculean feats or car acrobatics, but this one didn’t quite land one. Luckily the film stops short of dragging to the two and a half hour mark, so you don’t begin to get sore in your seat from its CGI fireworks. 

“Hobbs & Shaw” delivers enough mindless fun, ludicrous fight and action sequences, and wink-at-the-camera cameos to put a smile on even the curmudgeonliest of viewers. While it sometimes lacks in those aforementioned categories, it never feels unnecessary, especially since it’s a franchise stuffed with preposterous reasoning and farcical realism; Common sense be damned. Just like the rest of the franchise, “Hobbs & Shaw” doesn’t benefit from the viewer attempting to apply any kind of logic. Once you flip that switch on, you can’t unflip it. So setting your brain to cruise control is the optimum way of enjoying “Hobbs and Shaw.” Enjoy it for what it is, big, dumb action porn.

Metallica and The San Francisco Symphony’s “S&M²” Coming to Cinemas Worldwide

TRAFALGAR RELEASING TO BRING METALLICA AND SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY: S&M²  TO CINEMAS WORLDWIDE ON OCTOBER 9

CELEBRATING THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE 1999 PERFORMANCE AND GRAMMY-WINNING S&M ALBUM, METALLICA & SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY REUNITE FOR S&M². 

THE FILM WILL FEATURE THE FIRST LIVE PERFORMANCES OF S&M ARRANGEMENTS IN 20 YEARS PLUS RENDITIONS OF SONGS WRITTEN AND RELEASED SINCE ORIGINAL SHOW.

TICKETS ON SALE FROM AUGUST 7 FROM METALLICA.FILM

Trafalgar Releasing is excited to announce the forthcoming release of Metallica and San Francisco Symphony: S&M² in cinemas worldwide this October 9. Metallica and San Francisco Symphony reunite to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their original S&M (Symphony & Metallica) show with S&M², filmed at San Francisco’s new Chase Center. 

Tickets will be on sale on August 7 from metallica.film. 

The original S&M concerts were performed by Metallica and San Francisco Symphony and conducted by the late Michael Kamen in spring of 1999 at the Berkeley Community Theatre. 2019’s S&M² concert will feature the first live performances of these arrangements in 20 years, plus the first-ever Metallica and San Francisco Symphony renditions of songs written and released since the original concert, with new orchestral charts by Bruce Coughlin. 

Legendary conductor Michael Tilson Thomas completes the first week of his final season as San Francisco Symphony Music Director with a special appearance, conducting a portion of the show. 

Metallica’s first collaboration with San Francisco Symphony was documented by the Grammy-winning live album S&M

Kymberli Frueh, SVP for Programming and Content Acquisitions at Trafalgar Releasing has said: “Trafalgar Releasing is excited to give Metallica fans around the world a chance to celebrate this anniversary concert together in local cinemas in October.

The original collaboration between two San Francisco legends—Metallica and San Francisco Symphony became a true moment in music history two decades ago. Reuniting again to perform S&M² is a salute to the legendary collaboration and creates a special moment for Metallica fans to see this iconic pairing.” 

The event will be screened in cinemas around the world on October 9. More information can be found at metallica.film, where fans can sign up for event alerts including when tickets go on sale.This announcement follows a busy 2019 in music for Trafalgar Releasing with the upcoming release of Roger Waters Us + ThemRush: Cinema StangiatoThe 9th Annual Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Moviescoming to cinemas worldwide for the first time ever and BRING THE SOUL: THE MOVIE, the latest film from K-Pop phenomenon BTS. Recent releases have included Tribeca documentary Between Me and My Mind about Phish front man Trey Anastasio, The Cure – Anniversary 1978-2018 Live in Hyde Park LondonKhalid Free Spirit and The Music Center presents Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration.

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