4K Review: “Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon” (STEELBOOK)

 

The newly released, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, which is an 80’s genre mash-up favorite of mine. I can’t tell you how many times I watched Michael Schultz’ Motown flavored martial arts movie growing up. However, I will tell you that very few films from that time period stuck with me like this one. Was it the action? The music? The awesome over-the-top villain Sho’nuff portrayed by Julius Carry? The sweet scenes between Taimak and Vanity?  I would say it was all-of-the above. The Last Dragon had everything I wanted in a movie and nearly four decades later, it still rocks.

Leroy Green (Taimak) dreams of becoming a great martial artist. He has almost reached the final level of his training. However, Leroy’s master explains to him that the final level, knows as “The Last Dragon” must be found on his own. If Leroy can complete the final level, he will be able to harness the mystical energy that would allow him to physically glow. His master sends Leroy on a spiritual journey through the streets of New York to locate Master Sum Dum Goy, who might be able to teach him how to unlock the great power of “The Glow’.

Of course, Leroy’s journey is not an easy one. Sho’nuff (The Shogun of Harlem) sees Leroy as the only person standing in his way of being the true master. Each time Sho’nuff and his gang challenges Leroy, he refuses to fight. Leroy’s family even pays the price when Sho’nuff demolishes his parent’s pizza shop. Leroy’s journey becomes even more complicated when he rescues music video show host Laura Charles (Vanity), who is being abducted by goons hired by the sleezy video-arcade mogul Eddie Arkadian (Christopher Murney). He wants Laura to play his girlfriend’s music video on her show and he won’t take no for an answer. Aside from searching for Master Sum Dum Goy, Leroy must protect Laura from Arkadian, find a way to deal with Sho’nuff and reach the final level of his training. Leroy also didn’t expect to start falling in love either.

The Last Dragon is silly and there is no denying it, but it’s also so much fun with a great soundtrack. I mean, MOTOWN founder Berry Gordy produced it, so you know the music is gonna be great. The chemistry between Taimak and Vanity really works well here. This is definitely a love-letter to classic martial arts films and even though it is also a comedy, it truly respects the art form and films that inspired it.

The new 4K transfer does not disappoint. It was scanned from the original camera negative and presented with Dolby Vision. The streets of Harlem look incredibly detailed, especially during the daytime shots. Eddie’s office is filled with neon colors that absolutely pop, as-well-as the set of Laura’s video show. Don’t even get me started on how awesome the red and yellow glows look during Leroy’s final fight with Sho’nuff. As for the audio, we get an all-new Dolby Atmos track which is taken full advantage of, especially during the numerous fight sequences. As mentioned before, The Last Dragon has a stellar 80’s soundtrack and the new audio track puts a shine on that.  If you are a fan, I highly recommend picking up this release, which also comes packed in a great looking steelbook. Three out of five stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

Film Review: “Condition of Return”

Starring: AnnaLynne McCord, Dean Cain and Natasha Henstridge
Directed by: Tommy Stovall
Rated: NR
Running Time: 93 minutes
Stonecutter Media

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

If you Google “Condition of Return,” you’ll get the following synopsis: “A churchgoing woman makes a heinous deal with the Devil in order to save her soul.” Honestly, that’s all I needed to watch this film in the hopes of seeing a Satanic horror film. What I got was an unintentional comedy.

The movie opens with Eve (AnnaLynne McCord) walking into a Catholic church during mass and opening fire with an assault rifle, all the while tears well in her eyes as she watches the various attendees scatter in terror. We cut to much later, where Eve is shackled and Dr. Donald Thomas (Dean Cain) has been flown in to interview Eve. His goal, according to the police chief, is to declare that she is sane. That’s so that the state can cross that red tape checkmark off its list and pump Eve full of various drugs until she dies. With a recorder and notepad in hand, Dr. Thomas sits down for the silliest “be careful or you’re going to hell” movie of the 21st century.

Is that previous comment praise for “Condition of Return?” No. But that’s only because I feel like this movie was made in an earnest effort. I say that because throughout I kept checking if maybe I went in with the wrong expectations. After the first few chuckles, I checked the press email I got about the film. Sure enough, it’s listed as a “Faustian drama.” About halfway through, I checked IMDb which listed it as a “mystery.” By the end I had fully succumbed to my MST3K sensibilities and began laughing at the absurdity of it all.

If I had to describe “Condition of Return,” it’s a film with SyFy Creature Feature production values and a religious script that would make Kevin Sorbo drool at the sheer flawed morality of it. Eve’s tale to Dr. Thomas begins with her meeting a random guy at the bar, only to get knocked up, miscarry and marry the loser. Right off the bat, none of it feels real or genuine. Eve also drops the fact that she’s Catholic. A lot. So as her backstory progresses, she tells Dr. Thomas an increasingly bizarre story of her failing marriage which, no joke, leads to an FBI bust, time in prison, and finally searching “how to summon the devil” online where she lands on a website called Blood Knife. I felt like every unrealistic and stupid progression in Eve’s backstory was like a bad joke being delivered in just the right way to elicit an uncomfortable laugh.

It’s weird when you give a film a middling review when you know that some people will watch this and turn it off in the first 15 minutes, whether it’s the bad special effects, the stagnant dialogue or the go nowhere plot. Others though, like me, will relish in the sheer stupidity of it and will find themselves gleefully waiting to see what happens next, in pure morbid fashion. The old cliché phrase of “It’s so bad, it’s good,” applies to all 93 minutes of “Condition of Return.”

 

Film Review: “Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose”

Starring: Simon Pegg, Minnie Driver and Christopher Lloyd
Directed by: Adam Sigal
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 96 minutes
Saban Films

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

At 2021’s San Diego Comic Con, I attended a panel for “Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose.” I had an actual interest in the panel after having recently listened to Last Podcast on the Left doing an episode on the subject. The film is based on a peculiar incident from 1930s Britain about, well, a talking mongoose. While that seems straightforward, the movie isn’t. Honestly, it’s odd attending a panel where everyone has a difficult time articulating what the film is about. It’s even odder watching the film.

While listed as a comedy, I didn’t laugh once during the film, but I’m not sure the film was written and filmed as a comedy. Sure, you have Simon Pegg as Dr. Fodor, who begins the movie explaining a belief in the paranormal as someone who sees something that no one else can see. In fact, most scenes with Dr. Fodor seem to be moments written for dry chuckles. That’s because he’s a natural skeptic whose life has been debunking every psychic phenomenon, every bump in the night and every scare tactic he can get his hands on. It’s beginning to wear him thin as he glides through life one hoax and alcoholic beverage at a time. That’s when a fellow skeptic and professor, played by the delightful Christopher Lloyd, tells him about Gef, the talking mongoose. With his assistant Anne, played by Minnie Driver, in tow, Dr. Fodor is off to the Isle of Man to unravel a mystery that will never be solved.

I had the knowledge going into this film that Gef remains a mystery. Is it the work of bored playful humans? Was Gef an actual talking creature lost to time? Was Gef the culmination of poltergeist activity? There are way more theories than answers and honestly, the film mimics that true to life story. That could genuinely frustrate anyone looking for an engaging story, much less a comedic one. Since the film isn’t necessarily going to give you answers or a laugh, why can’t I flat out not recommend it?

The film is peculiar in that I was never bored. While the characters talk in hushes and whispers while silently thinking about the day’s event (usually over a drink or two…or three), it seems like someone is screaming something at the top of their lungs, just below the surface. Annie is the only one of the main cast that’s genuinely open minded to the possibility of Gef’s existence, at least, outside of the peculiar townsfolk and family side characters that have allegedly heard Gef. It’s almost like Annie, after years of watching Dr. Fodor unmasking mysteries, is beginning to tire of the dog and pony show. Or maybe she’s warming up to the idea of Gef, and life, being a giant question mark, while Dr. Fodor can’t possibly fathom a question without an answer.

So maybe the film is more than a look at this absurd true-life story, but instead an encapsulation of how we shouldn’t let small things bog us down in life. Especially since Dr. Fodor, who has obvious chemistry with Anne, never seems to act on those sparks. Instead he seems miserably content with being single and skeptical of everyone and everything, as long as he has a stiff drink in his hand. But in a way, that’s why I can’t recommend it. Maybe I’m giving too much credit to a poorly written and directed film that wanders aimlessly for 90ish minutes. Maybe that screaming I sensed underneath the surface was the cast demanding any form of direction. Just like Gef, this film is a tonal mystery.

 

 

Film Review: “The Baker”

  • THE BAKER
  • Starring:  Ron Perlman, Emma Ho and Harvey Keitel
  • Directed by:  Jonathan Sobol
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 44 mins
  • Darius Films

 

While sitting in his car in a parking garage a man witnesses a brutal fight between a group of men that ends with everyone dead.  As he begins to call 911 he sees a large canvas bag.  He grabs the bag and runs.  Big mistake.

 

A film that shares a lot of movie DNa with “The History of Violence” and “Nobody,” “The Baker” tells the story of a man who is forced to return to a part of his life he thought he had left behind in order to protect his family.  Here the man (Lan always excellent Perelman) is a simple baker, quietly making rolls in his kitchen when his son unexpectedly drops by.  Also unexpected?  A granddaughter he never knew existed.  The son asks his father to watch the girl for a short while as he takes care of some business.  Reluctant to do so, but understanding the bond of family, the man agrees.  What’s the girl’s name, he asks?  Delphi.

 

Packed with action and bolstered by the performances of the cast, “The Baker” rises above the standard “anything for my family” tropes by exploring both the amotional baggage of the Baker and Delphi (Ho).  We learn that the girl hasn’t spoken since the passing of her mother, silently chronicling all she sees with a small camera.  Even without words, the bond between grandfather and granddaughter grow.

 

I have been a fan of Ron Perelman’s since “Quest for Fire” and he has turned in some fine performances in film as diverse as “The Name of the Rose” and the “Hellboy” series.  As a young boy my son loved watching the television series “Beauty and the Beast,” even though he thought it was called “Beauty and the Priest.”  I once metl Perelman in New York and he signed a photo to my son, writing “the Priest” below his signature after I told him my son’s perception of the title.

 

Also standing out on screen, young Ms. Ho, who conveys more with her eyes then most actors can with an entire monologue.  And it’s always fun to see Harvey Keitel on screen, here chewing scenery as the bad guy behind the film’s opening brutality.

 

As summer winds down, and you are overwhelmed by all of the “Barbieheimer” social media posts, I recommend taking the time to seek out “The Baker.”  It “rises” to the occasion.

 

“The Baker” receives three and a half our of five stars.

Film Review: “The Flash” (Review #2)

 

  • THE FLASH
  • Starring: Ezra Miller and Sasha Calle
  • Directed by: Andy Muschietti
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 24 mins
  • Warner Bros.

 

I find it tragic that the DC Extended Universe is coming to a halt thanks to James Gunn’s takeover and future reboot. In comparison to Marvel Studios, the DCEU’s releases have admittedly been uneven – who can forget “Wonder Woman” but who wants to remember “Birds of Prey”? Yet, the DCEU brand was often darker than the Marvel slate, which gave its own uniqueness. While “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is set for launch in December, it will have a hard time not being anti-climatic after following the absolute thrill ride that is “The Flash.” Overflowing with surprises (this review will be spoiler free), “The Flash” is one of the best DCEU movies ever made with a terrific, dual performance by Ezra Miller and great supporting performances by Sasha Calle as Supergirl and Michael Keaton as Batman.

 

After helping Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) stop a robbery in Gotham City, Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) revisits his childhood home where his beloved mother was murdered. Still grieving her loss and dealing with anger of his father being wrongly imprisoned, Barry accidentally travels back in time using the speed force. He tells Bruce who warns him of the dangers of messing with the past. Of course, Barry ignores it.

 

While attempting to fix his family’s tragedy, Barry is attacked by an unknown assailant and is knocked back to the year 2013 where he encounters an alternate version of himself. When General Zod (Michael Shannon) arrives, the two Barrys try to assemble the Justice League, but it proves futile with one exception. It is at Wayne Manor they find a much older, disheveled Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton).

 

Our Barry and Bruce learn the Russians are holding who Barry thinks is Superman but turns out to be his cousin, Kara Zor-El/Supergirl (Sasha Calle, TV’s “The Young and the Restless”). Their plan is to free her and find a way to stop General Zod, but time and fate have certain rules as our Barry learns.

 

Directed by Andy Muschietti (2017’s “It”), “The Flash” is a thrilling experience full of surprises from start to finish. Some of the special effects may not look so special to some, but that’s more a matter of personal taste to a degree. The storyline has a good deal of emotional depth when it comes to Barry’s history and complexities, which are fleshed out with skill by Miller. It is rare for someone to pull off a good performance at playing a double of themselves and Miller succeeds with flying colors. The most enjoyable aspect, and the one that received the most vocal response from the audience yours truly saw it with, is the appearance of Keaton who has a substantial role in the story. It is a joy to say the least to see him on the silver screen once more as the caped crusader.

 

Is there such a thing as superhero fatigue? Perhaps. I have believed since the original “Blade” that comic movies would become the new Western, a once overly prolific genre. What it boils down to is the writing and an ability to maintain a high creative level that will keep the movie-going public’s interest. “The Flash” may be a victim of that fatigue, which would be disappointing as it is a truly fun summer flick in every sense.

 

“The Flash” receives three-and-a-half stars out of five.

Blu-ray Review: “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves”

 

Roll for charisma, strength, wit, action, adventure, humor, and excitement with “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves!”  Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, and Hugh Grant headline a genuinely fun and wildly entertaining should-have-been-huge blockbuster – and you don’t have to be a “Dungeons and Dragons” fan to enjoy it. One of the most popular franchises of all time in tabletop gaming finally gets a genuine crack at a truly cinematic adaptation. After the disastrously bad 2000 film, the likes of a “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” felt like a long shot. Thankfully as the gaming community has grown exponentially over the last two decades, the time was right for a new take on familiar material with a pair of filmmakers Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley who clearly love the source material but know how to make a film everyone can enjoy.
The film picks up with our clever hero Edgin (Chris Pine) and his warrior friend Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez) pleading their case for clemency having served two years in prison. After making a daring escape, the duo set off on a quest to recover a talisman of resurrection and reunite Edgin with his daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman). Only problem is their old friend Forge (Hugh Grant) has aligned himself with the evil red wizard Sofina (Daisy Head) to enrich his own pockets and keep the talisman for himself and Kira as his daughter. For our thieves to accomplish their mission they’re going to need a little help from the struggling magician Simon (Justice Smith) and the tiefling Doric (Sophia Lillis) to break in, rescue Kira, get the talisman, and maybe make off with Forge’s treasure if there’s time.
Some bad movies make gobs of cash at the box office while great flicks roll short. I don’t get why some movies are hits and others aren’t but “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” deserved a bigger box office take than it managed to conjure up. Granted I am guilty of not seeing this film in theaters. Despite good reviews and word of mouth, I just couldn’t make time and then I was never really sold on the trailers. After watching through I feel the trailers did a pretty pisspoor job of showcasing exactly what this movie was going to be. Suffice it to say, I had a blast with this movie. Honor Among Thieves was far better than the movie the trailers sold. It’s also a damn shame Wizards of the Coast had their issues with D&D that may have influenced some true fans to stay away. Which is a damn shame because this movie is a love letter to gamers of all ages. Top to bottom the cast is great playing their respective roles and character functions with aplomb. It’s a grand fantasy with the scale of Lord of the Rings but the fun and excitement of a heist movie like Ocens11 and with the action of an Indiana Jones movie. My lone complaint really is that the film feels a little long and could have been tightened up a bit, but that’s a small triviality compared to the rest of the show. I do hope this film takes off on streaming and home video, I’m ready to roll again (sequel) with this particular band of heroes.
The Blu Ray is a marvel to behold, though I suspect that the 4K version is even better. Sound is wonderful even though with the Blu Ray, you don’t get a Dolby Atmos track. Still, it will give your speakers a great workout. The surround and front channels get plenty of attention for the biggest and most exciting action sequences – and there are a lot of those. From the opening escape to the dungeon pits to the final battle with Sofina, there are some great channel movement and object-based effects moving and swirling around the front/center, side, and rear channels.
If you’re in need of a damn good time at the movies, “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” delivers.   You don’t need to play the game to feel the love and fun of gathering your best friends and allies for a grand adventure. The cast is great, the action exciting, and the jokes are genuinely funny. This should have been a bigger hit at the box office because we deserve a sequel. If you’re looking to add another disc to the collection, this Blu-ray conjures up a beautiful transfer and an amazing Dolby Surround mix. “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is a winner! 

 

Film Review: “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story

 

  • JAZZ FEST:  A NEW ORLEANS STORY
  • Starring:  Quint Davis, Jimmy Buffet, Verdine White
  • Directed by:  Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 35 mins
  • Sony Pictures Classic
 
They call it the Big Easy.  Home of Mardi Gras and Saints.  But New Orleans is known for one thing above all others…The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival – a celebration of the music, food and culture that has defined the city and surrounding areas for centuries.
In the early 1960s, George Wein, the organizer of the famed Newport Jazz Festival, was asked to bring his talents to New Orleans.  Unfortunately, the climate of the times postponed the first ever New Orleans Jazz Festival until 1971.  “Jazz Fest” is a look inside the event on it’s 50th Anniversary as well as the events that shaped it.
An event that draws 100,000 people a day for many days, the Festival is probably the only place on Earth where you can see everyone from Tom Jones to Pitbull to Bruce Springsteen on the same bill.  Those performers and many more talk about their pride in being asked to perform as well as the profound effect their performances have on not only on the crowd but also the musicians.
The film is full of great performances, both from previous shows and the 50th, including musical numbers by Ellis Marsalis and his sons, Earth Wind and Fire, Katy Perry, B.B. King, Samantha Fish, Al Green, and many others.  Yes, this is called a JAZZ Festival, but all kinds of music, from gospel to soul to folk are well represented and well received.  And a quick detour to the swamps gives viewers a taste of Cajun and Zydeco music.  It is amazing how much of the area’s culture revolves around music, including funerals.  I hope when my time comes that my trip to the cemetery is led by dancers and a big brass section!  Even the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was dealt with musically as musicians like Jimmy Buffet, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen took to the newly built stage to give hope to, as Springsteen sang, the City of Ruin.
Also featured is the amazing food found at the festival, with pretty much everything either fried or made with cream.  I want to find the guy making the pork cracklings.
Due to COVID, the festival skipped two years but came roaring back earlier this year, with more than 7,000 musicians on 14 stages and didn’t skip a beat.  If you can’t make it down in person, this film is a great way to enjoy the show.
“Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” receives five out of five stars.

Film Review: “Amsterdam”

 

  • AMSTERDAM
  • Starring:  Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington
  • Directed by:  David O. Russell
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs 14 mins
  • 20th Century Studios
 
They called it “the War to end all Wars.”  Of course, history will tell us that it wasn’t, but shortly after WW I things were looking up for a couple of former soldiers.  Burt (Bale) was a Park Avenue doctor who married above his station and only went to war when his father-in-law suggested that a man with medals would have some esteem.  Harold (Washington), now a lawyer, was part of the all-Black unit in Europe that Burt was given command of.  When their former commanding general dies suddenly, they are asked to investigate the death.  But they may not like what they find.
Smartly written, with a few odd quirks – the trademark of a David O. Russell film – “Amsterdam” is a who-dunnit with many possible suspects.  The trio of friends – Burt, Harold and Valerie (Robbie) – met shortly after the war, when Burt and Harold were patients in a hospital in which Valerie was the nurse.  Appalled by the treatment Burt and Harold received, Valerie takes them to a couple of bird-watching friends (Mike Myers and Michael Shannon), who treat them.  Because he lost an eye, Burt is given a box of premium glass ones, an item that becomes part of the plot every time Burt is punched – which is often – and they eye falls out.  Bale proves himself a fine master of physical comedy and, based on his work here, would be a great casting choice should they ever make a “Columbo” movie.
The cast is vast and at the top of their games, with fine supporting work by Rami Malek, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldana and Robert DeNiro.  Russell’s script is tight and he keeps the action moving at a nice pace.  You do have to pay attention, as every new twist takes you in a different direction.  That being said, head to the nearest cinema and book a ticket to “Amsterdam.”
“Amsterdam” receives five stars out of five.
 

Film Review: “WEIRD: the Al Yankovic Story’

 

  • WEIRD: THE AL YANKOVIC STORY
  • Starring:  Daniel Radcliffe and Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Directed by: Eric Appel
  • Rated:  TV 14
  • Running time:  1 hr 48 mins
  • Roku

I often hear people talk about the music of their generation.  My dad grew up listening to Frank Sinatra.  My mom, Elvis.  I grew up in the time of the Beatles.  But there is another musician that influenced my life profoundly,  His name is Al Yankovic.

How do you make a film about a man whose stated life ambition is to write funny lyrics to existing songs?  It’s actually quite easy.  Picking various points of the accordion master’s life, it seems that

Al (a very good Daniel Radcliffe) has a talent that must be shared with the world.  Like my friends and I, Al was a fan of late-night radio host Dr. Demento (an unrecognizable Rainn Wilson) and sends him a tape of some of his songs.  Much to his surprise, the Doctor plays his stuff on the air, which leads to Al thinking this could really be the start of something big.

Of course, not everyone thinks Al is a musical genius.  Only after he is challenged by legendary DJ Wolfman Jack (Jack Black) to create, on the spot, a parody of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” that he is able to quiet the naysayers.   Think Eminem at the end of “8 Mile” and you have a good idea of how things go.

The film plays fast and loose with facts, but fans of Al wouldn’t want it any other way.  If you’re a fan of “the Weird one,” then, by all means, give this one a look.

“WEIRD’ receives three and a half stars out of five.

Film Review: “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”

  • GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY
  • Starring: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton
  • Directed by Rian Johnson
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running time: 2 hrs 19 mins
  • Netflix
The recipient of an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” was a critical success while commercially that’s left up in the air since Netflix only gave it a limited, brief theatrical release before streaming it exclusively. For yours truly, “Glass Onion” did not deserve the Oscar nomination like its predecessor did. Writer/director Rian Johnson’s effort is predictable and uninspired. While Daniel Craig is again glorious in his role and the star-studded cast is entertaining, particularly with Edward Norton and Dave Bautista, the story itself lacks the sense of mystery the original had. Many critics often cited all the movie’s star cameos as positive points as to why you should see the film, but even a cameo by the ghost of William Shakespeare doesn’t necessarily mean any given film is good. The overuse of cameos is just lazy filmmaking.
In brief, for those who have perhaps yet to see it, “Glass Onion” takes place during the COVID-19 pandemic on an island retreat off the coast of Greece. Billionaire Alpha technology owner and narcissist Miles Bron (Edward Norton) invites five friends – Alpha head scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), fashion designer and model Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), internet influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), and Alpha co-founder Andi Brand (Janelle Monae) – to enjoy a murder mystery weekend on his island. The great, famous detective Beniot Blanc (Daniel Craig) also joins them even though Miles did not send him an invitation but assumes one of his friends did it as a joke.
Unsurprisingly, Benoit solves Miles’s “mystery” within in a matter of moments. However, Benoit warns Miles that his life is in danger as it is revealed that each person there has a motive to kill him. When one of the guests keels over dead then the real mystery only deepens, unless you the viewer have already figured out who the real evildoer is, and it doesn’t take a world-renowned detective to do so.
I will leave the synopsis at that as I do not want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet. Of course, for those who haven’t I would recommend that you don’t and instead watch the far superior original again, or perhaps for the first time. Yes, Craig is charming, and his character is easily on par with such entertaining detectives as Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. He certainly doesn’t disappoint. It also never ceases to impress me just how good an actor Bautista, who made a name for himself in professional wrestling entertainment, has become. He is a joy to watch. The rest of the cast deliver well enough performances, but they are not memorable. Yes, “Glass Onion” received an Oscar nod, but that doesn’t mean it deserved it, at least in this critic’s humble opinion. Like “Everything, Everywhere All at Once,” it was thoroughly overrated film.
Overall, “Glass Onion” is a one-layer onion that will make you cry over how paper thin it is.
“Glass Onion” receives two stars out of five.

 

 

Film Review: “The Banshees of Inisherin”

 

  • THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN
  • Starring: Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson
  • Directed by Martin McDonagh
  • Rating: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 54 mins
  • Searchlight Pictures
A recipient of nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Director, and Actor, “The Banshees of Inisherin,” currently available on multiple platforms after being released in the United States last September, is a dark comedy/drama with well-crafted lines of dialogue and excellent acting. It also provides some interesting insight into Irish culture. However, while not as high on the overhyped scale as “Everything, Everywhere All at Once,” “Banshees” remains a long-winded affair that has the pacing of molasses that can lead to a feeling of outright boredom.
Set on the fictional Irish island of Inisherin, “Banshees” takes place in 1923 towards the end of the Irish Civil War. We know that fiddler Colm (Brendan Gleeson) and his drinking buddy Pádraic (Colin Farrell), a bit of a dullard, have been lifelong best friends. When we meet them, Colm, without any warning or explanation, has decided he no longer wants anything to do with Pádraic. This turns the latter’s life upside down as he struggles to figure out why his friend has discarded him.
Pádraic repeatedly attempts to understand why Colm has ended their friendship, even though Colm tells him that he wants to be remembered for something and has been wasting time with dull conversations with Pádraic. Eventually, Pádraic’s dogged determination leads to Colm threatening to cut off his own fingers if Pádraic doesn’t leave him alone, which he incredibly follows through with. It’s all a weird series of events that include Pádraic’s sister, Siobhán (Kerry Condon, the voice of Friday from “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame”) leaving for the mainland after getting tired of their senseless feud, something I wanted to do as well while watching it.
English Director Martin McDonagh, who wrote “Banshees” as well as “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” created dialogue that’s masterfully delivered by co-stars Gleeson and Farrell. The accents are not so thick that the actors cannot be understood, but what is not understandable is how overly drawn-out the story is. It’s a one-trick pony that gets old halfway through at the latest as the story leads to nowhere. Essentially, it’s easy to sympathize with Colm.
Great performances and beautiful shots of Irish countryside aside, “Banshees” is an overhyped film that probably require a pint to help get through it.
“The Banshees of Inisherin” receives two-and-a-half stars out of five.

Film Review: “The Whale”

 

 

  • THE WHALE
  • Starring: Brendan Fraser and Hong Chau
  • Directed by Darren Aronofsky
  • Rating: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 27 mins
  • A24
A box office star in the 1990s and into the 2000s, Brendan Fraser seemingly disappeared in recent years even though he continued to find work. Of course, this thread was discussed ad nauseum during the months leading up to the recent Academy Awards where Fraser’s years of hard work paid off with his own golden statue. It was much deserved for Fraser’s memorable role in the depressing drama “The Whale” is not only the best performance of his career but one of the greatest ever captured in cinema.
Now available everywhere, “The Whale,” based upon a 2012 play of the same name, revolves around Charlie (Fraser), a morbidly obese English instructor who teaches online writing courses with the camera turned off. A complete recluse, his only friend and caregiver is a gruff nurse named Liz (Hong Chau, “The Menu”). She repeatedly tries to get Charlie to see a doctor for his congestive heart failure, but it’s clear early on that he wants to die. His reasoning, though, is a mystery until later in the story.
On one random day, he is visited by Thomas (Ty Simpkins, “Iron Man 3,” “Jurassic World”), a young Christian missionary who tries, unsuccessfully, to convince Charlie that his soul needs saving. What Charlie wants to save instead is his relationship with his estranged and moody teenage daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink, “Stranger Things”). She wants nothing to do with him because Charlie had abandoned her and her mother (Samantha Morton) to be with another man.
Knowing that death is coming, something he seems to welcome, Charlie bribes Ellie to start visiting him by promising to help her with schoolwork and the prospect of $120,000 going into her bank account. For her part, Ellie is asked not to tell her mother about her visits. As his health deteriorates more rapidly, Charlie’s desire to salvage his relationship with Ellie intensifies.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky (“The Wrestler,” “Pi”), “The Whale” often feels too much like a stage play and it comes off disjointed at times as a result. Aronofsky gets the most out of his cast, yet the story is a little too blah, which matches the overall feel of the film. All quibbles aside, what must be looked upon with awe is Fraser’s unforgettable performance. Forget about his wearing a 300-pound suit to reflect his character’s obesity. What’s important is how tragically sad and depressed his self-loathing character is. Fraser makes his character’s despair and desires tangible to the viewer, allowing us to easily become emotionally invested into Charlie. Without his towering performance, “The Whale” would have been something long forgotten about by now.
Overall, “The Whale” is watchable because of Fraser’s one-for-the-ages performance.
“The Whale” receives three stars out of five.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is big winner at the 95th Annual Academy Awards

 

Everything Everywhere All at Once went into Oscar night leading the pack with (11) nominations so it should be no surprise that the film took him (7) Academy Awards, including Best Picture, at the 95th Annual Academy Awards.  The film also took home both awards in the Supporting categories, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Film Editing and Best Director.
The other major award of the evening was won by Brendan Fraser, who captured Best Actor for his incredible work in The Whale.  Germany’s All Quiet on the Western Front was named the Best International Feature Film and also scored awards for Original Score, Production Design and Cinematography while Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio was named the year’s Best Animated Feature.  Sarah Polley won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Women Talking.
As someone who has watched the awards religiously since 1975, I can say that for the first time in several years, the show delivered.  The night was full of many pure emotional moments.  From Ke Huy Quan’s moving acceptance speech as he accepted the trophy for Best Supporting Actor to his Everything Everywhere All at Once co-star Jamie Lee Curtis’ tearful tribute to her Oscar-nominated parents, the show had many more high points then in previous years.  The evening was capped off by Quan capturing his former Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom co-star Harrison Ford in a bearhug as the latter awarded Everything Everywhere All at Once the night’s final award, Best Picture.
All in all, an enjoyable night with just enough surprises to keep you interested until the end.
Here is a list of the night’s winners:
BEST PICTURE
Everything Everywhere All at Once
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything Everywhere All at Once
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
All Quiet on the Western Front, Germany
DOCUMENTARY (SHORT)
The Elephant Whisperers
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Navalni
ORIGINAL SONG
“Naatu Naatu” from RRR
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Women Talking
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Everything Everywhere All at Once
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Brendan Fraser, The Whale
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once
DIRECTOR
Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, Everything Everywhere All at Once
PRODUCTION DESIGN
All Quiet on the Western Front
CINEMATOGRAPHY
All Quiet on the Western Front
COSTUME DESIGN
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND
Top Gun: Maverick
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
An Irish Goodbye
ORIGINAL SCORE
All Quiet on the Western Front
VISUAL EFFECTS
Avatar: The Way of Water
FILM EDITING
Everything Everywhere All at Once
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The Whale

Blu-ray Review: “Sniper: Rogue Mission”

 

Probably figuring they could oh-so-subtly cash in on some Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation traffic by sticking “Rogue” and “Mission” in the damn title, the NINTH Sniper movie isn’t really a Sniper movie at all. Which, frankly may work to its advantage by deviating from mundane action movie structures and for the fact that it was probably just damn dumb luck it landed here, toying foolishly with absolute parody vibes. With a score that’s a flip between Desperado and an Ocean’s Movie and almost zero action, as well as a weird comedy edge and the cinematography you’d expect from an enthusiastic teen film student who’d suddenly discovered his iPhone cam zoom, Rogue Mission is insanely low budget trash; an absolutely monumental train wreck of a production that is almost impossible to turn away from for its 90 minute duration. I found myself wanting to switch off the Blu Ray playback but I wanted to see where the film was going and how it will get there.
 
After stumbling onto some sex trafficking thing, former sniper turned terrible CIA agent soon becomes ex CIA agent, so he sits in the kitchen of some rando tech nerd (is there any other kind in movies) with his old enemy Lady Death, and a Homeland Security Agent who clearly isn’t required to do any actual work for a living, for, oh, around 71 minutes until it’s time to spend the remaining $46 of the budget on a ‘showdown’ that also won’t require him to use a sniper rifle (I’m being facetious here). It’s amazingly hard to rate Sniper: Rogue Mission. It’s like a 1/10 movie, but it’s more unintentionally entertaining than a hell of a lot of 5 and 6/10 movies out there. It’s so cheap, and noisy, and bad… that’s it’s actually good. It’s nowhere near a guilty pleasure, absolutely nothing about this film was intentionally good, but the madly misguided enthusiasm thrown at every single aspect of this production makes it wondrously hilarious to watch. It’s almost as if the nobody director behind it shot the film with absolutely no idea what he was handling. No idea of the franchise, the preceding films, the characters, the general plots these features follow, or anything. So much so that he convinced himself he was shooting a low budget heist flick, replete with some imaginative filmmaking techniques and the most ridiculous score of the year. Sniper: Rogue Mission’s ‘high’ points include a spectacularly bad alley fight, which has the score to something like Desperado playing out over it, and drops into John Woo slo-mo upon the explosion of… a thrown rubbish bag. It’s epic in its unintentional humour, with zooms all over the shop, like watching a rip-off of a Sergio Leone standoff at x10 speed. Not enough? Well how about fabled Lady Death – trained to be an assassin from childhood – and some goon having a pistol shootout from behind post boxes on opposing sides of a street. Somebody get this director a copy of Naked Gun! Wait, we’re not supposed to be laughing? See that’s the thing about Sniper: Rogue Mission, it halfway tries to take itself seriously, which only makes it more funny!
 
In the background, returning Sniper series actor Dennis Haysbert, former President Palmer of 24, and veteran from the underrated David Mamet-crafted The Unit TV series, tries his best to almost pull off the movie’s only good scene. A single dialogue-driven confrontation between old spies, across a bar table. It’s almost tense. The silence, the stares, Haysbert’s inimitable tones. Then they drop the needle and a random score kicks in so loud you’re immediately knocked backwards – before the scene is even over – and you’re abruptly reminded that this isn’t even going to get one good scene. But it we do get a whole clutch of terrible ones that are so bad that you’ll be on the floor laughing at them. If you can see it, for free, whilst heavily intoxicated, then that’s a surprisingly recommended way to spend your time.
 
In conclusion, the film is laughably terrible but at the same time, irresistibly ridiculous. Truly one of the worst films I’ve seen. If there’s one redeeming quality of Sniper Rogue Mission, it’s knowing what to expect on my 2nd viewing. Then I can adequately prepare by slamming down a six-pack first. 

Concert Review: Roger Waters: This is Not a Drill

 

 

Roger Waters: This is Not a Drill

T-mobile Center/Kansas City, MO

September 3, 2022

 

IN THE FLESH AND OUTSIDE THE WALL

 

Near the ceiling of the T-Mobile Center, the electronic signs warned patrons not to use offensive language and advised reporting people who engaged in that sort of discourse to management.

 

Thankfully, Roger Waters missed that note before hitting the stage last Saturday night. There were enough F-bombs to flatten Moscow.

 

Throughout his 2½ hour set, the former Pink Floyd bassist, lyricist, singer and driving force made his views on politics explicit. When some Pink Floyd fans lament the activist bent in his more recent music, it’s tempting to wonder if they had simply been using the Floyd for chemical recreation and missed Waters’ agitation in the words for “Us and Them” and the entire George Orwell-inspired album Animals.

 

At 78, Waters may be campaigning for the release of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during his performances, and his set seemed like a refutation of some of the themes he and his former bandmates explored in The Wall.

 

This was for the best.

 

Waters conceived The Wall because he was disturbed by how fame and massive area shows (like the one he was giving when I saw him) had separated Pink Floyd from their audience.

 

Nearly 4½ decades later, Waters seemed sociable. The slender Englishman bounced around the stage. He quoted Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City” and made a point of thanking fans who had held onto their tickets for two years. Covid ruined a lot of plans. He even left the T-Mobile Center marching through the crowd with the band. He repeatedly acknowledged that his shows were for the fans, and they clearly returned the love.

 

For a guy who has written tunes about grief, alienation and even the price of nuclear war, Water came off as contagiously giddy. Even when he briefly tripped over the words to one of his newer songs, Waters’ enthusiasm buoyed the entire night.

 

Opening with “Comfortably Numb,” the performance of the offering from The Wall missed David Gilmour’s soaring and then ominous guitars solos. Nonetheless, it still sounded captivatingly eerie.

 

That song came with unsettling images of bombed out rooftops and people mindlessly waking through lines as the walked through lines mindlessly. The screens would be raised and lowered at strategic moments and supplemented the newer songs to illustrate why Waters had written pointed tunes line “The Powers That Be” and “The Bravery of Being Out of Range.” He ran a slide show of unarmed people across the world who had died in police shootings. The list seemed even more urgent that night because it included Donnie Sanders, who had died here in Kansas City.

 

The screens also enabled Waters to add backstory to songs he was performing from Wish You Were Here. Waters still mourns original Pink Floyd leader Syd Barrett and slides of the band’s early lineup made the tunes even more poignant. Seamus Blake’s passionate sax solos on those tunes and on “Money” and “Us and Them” certainly helped. The rest of the band delivered a solid, tightly rehearsed set. Apart from “Comfortably Numb,” they followed Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright’s original playing on the Floyd songs.

 

The dancing animated pigs on “Money” made of up for any lack of spontaneity.

 

In addition, longtime fans were rewarded with the expected lasers, giant inflatable pigs and sheep and theatrics that recalled Alan Parker’s movie of The Wall.

 

When Waters broke into songs from Amused to Death or Is This the Life We Really Want, the crowd lost none of its enthusiasm. It probably helped that the enormous screens displayed a disclaimer letting anyone who objected to his takes on indigenous rights or police shootings to “f**k off to the bar.”

 

It’s a nod to his newer song “The Bar,” which deals with being able to freely discuss difficult topics. Waters clearly knows how to entertain (who doesn’t love giant, floating pigs?), and much of his outrage is sadly warranted. His songs may have launched a thousand bong hits, but if Bob Dylan, whom he cited in his show, can write “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Waters can warn us about the urgency of addressing nuclear war.

 

I attended the show as a guest of Kansas City Veterans for Peace, Chapter 97. I’m merely a former military contractor (a cubicle jockey) who doesn’t want troops being put into peril for a fool’s errand, and nuclear conflict certainly qualifies. Waters correctly cited Kansas’ Dwight D. Eisenhower, who repeatedly expressed many of the same concerns.

 

That said, I’d like to have a beer with him at a bar sometime. I’m not sure how we’d get along, or if alcohol would be conducive to the topics at hand. I have quibbles about Mr. Assange, but challenging subjects don’t get the attention they need when people simply shut up and sing.

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