Film Reeview: “Potato Dreams of America”

 

 

 

  • POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA
  • Starring:  Dan Lauria, Sara Barbieri and Tyler Bocock
  • Directed by:  Wes Hurley
  • Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 37 mins
  • Darkstar Pictures

 

Potato (Hersh Powers) is a little Soviet-era boy in love with American movies.  He enjoys these films so much that, when his mother Lena (Barbieri) is being beaten by one of her boyfriends, he forms his hands into a viewfinder and watches the incident unfold as if it was on the big screen.  An odd boy, Potato accepts his mother’s current, abusive boyfriend because he has a color television…much nicer then their old black and white model.  Still, he has very few friends.  Unless, that is, you count Jesus Christ (Jonathan Bennett), who drops by often.  It is a very oppressive society that portrays anything different as evil.  Among the presumed evils – homosexuality.  Potato is taught that everyone in the West is a homosexual.  Except Freddie Mercury, who is much too talented.    Wanting to be free of the chains of their country, Potato and his mother are overjoyed when she is chosen by a man in America as a mail order bride.  Soon things will be different in the glorious USA.  Right?

 

 

An unusual film, based on the life of writer/director Hurley (who was born in Russia), “Potato Dreams of America” is almost two different films.  Where the Russian act is very bleak visually, it is filled with some great humor.  Yet when the setting moves to America, things begin to get quite serious.  It’s also unusual in that the main characters are portrayed by different actors during the second act.  Potato is now played by Tyler Bocock while Lena is now portrayed by Marya Sea Kaminski.  All four actors embrace their characters, as does Dan Lauria, the American husband with secrets of his own.

 

 

Hurley’s script is quite funny, especially in the first act, where Potato and Lena do their best to tolerate those who are intolerable among them.  And while the film is not rated, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the second act deals with some very adult subject matter, so be advised.  That being said, “Potato Dreams of America” is a charming film that deserves an audience.

Film Review: “Beautiful Blue Eyes”

 

 

  • BEAUTIFUL BLUE EYES
  • Starring:  Roy Scheider, Scott Cohen and Alexander Newton
  • Directed by:  Joshua Newton
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 30 mins
  • MovieFarm

 

When Roy Scheider passed away on February 10, 2008 he was in the process of completing a film he was working on called “Iron Cross.”  Though the film played some festivals, it was never released.  Earlier this year it was announced that the film, now titled “Beautiful Blue Eyes,” (a title suggested to the producers by Scheider) would finally hit theatres, opening this past weekend. 

 

Joseph (Alexander Newton) is a young man living in Nazi-occupied Poland.  Even though he is Jewish, he has a non-Jewish girlfriend, who he often visits at night.  One morning, after a night with his lover, Joseph returns to his home to find his family being taken away.  He goes with them but, when the opportunity arises, runs off, the sound of his family being executed behind him ringing in his ears.

 

  1. Nuremburg, Germany. Joseph (Scheider) has traveled all the way from New York City in hopes of making amends with his son, Ronnie (Cohen) he hasn’t seen in years.  Recently retired from the NYPD – Scheider excelled at playing cops – he visits the apartment building his son and family live in, where he meets his daughter-in-law, Anna (Calita Rainford) and his young grandson.  When Joseph and his son decide to go out, they pass an elderly man on the stairs.  Joseph is stunned as he is sure the man on the stairs (Berger) was a monster from his past.

 

Where to start?   I know when Scheider passed it was announced that there was still some of “Iron Cross” that needed to be filmed.  I’m not sure if that was ever done, or to what effect those scenes may have had on the finished film.  The film wants to be a thriller but is so jumbled in images and plot points that it is, sadly, sometimes hard to understand.  We have no idea what kind of cop Joseph was.  We get an occasional flash-back to his witnessing atrocities in Poland, only to have a quick cut to what appears to be a similar situation in New York.  But we don’t know if this means that Joseph was a brutal cop or just that occasionally something at work would trigger a memory.

 

Another thing that I really found odd was the entire reason that Joseph and Ronnie were estranged.  Joseph wanted Ronnie to follow in his footsteps as a cop, and Ronnie decided to move to Germany.  However, he is currently an actor PLAYING a cop on a television program so when he decides to help Joseph investigate his neighbor, he is fully trained in the art of surveillance and investigating.  I am a big fan of “NYPD BLUE,” but if I really need a cop, I’m not calling Dennis Franz.

 

Also confusing is the film’s use of subtitles.  Sometimes when the characters are speaking German, their dialogue is accompanied by subtitles.  But sometimes, it isn’t.  And it seems like there is another actor doing some of Scheider’s dialogue, especially in voice overs.  Again, I’m aware that the film as planned was never finished, and I’ve read that “Beautiful Blue Eyes” is approximately 30-minutes shorter then the version of “Iron Cross” that was shown.  Those edits may have helped to continuity of the story and made the film less puzzling.

 

Still, this film gives Scheider’s fans an opportunity to see him on the big screen one more time.  His performance is strong, a testament to the man who once told me that his most important role is the one he is currently working on.  His final performance was no exception.

 

Film Review: “The Day the Music Died – the Story of Don McLean’s AMERICAN PIE”

 

 

  • THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED – THE STORY OF DON McLEAN’S “AMERICAN PIE”
  • Starring:  Don McLean, Garth Brooks and “Weird” Al Yankovic
  • Directed by:  Mark Moorman
  • Rated:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 34 mins
  • Paramount +

 

It’s one of the most popular and recognized songs in the world.  An 8-minute epic about the end of rock of roll, chronicling February 3, 1959.  The day the music died.  That song?  Don McLean’s masterpiece, “American Pie.” 

 

I’ve been in bars all over the world, from the good old USA to Europe, and I’ve never heard this song played without everyone in the place singing along.  The chorus is infective and the verses memorable.  But what was the impetus for the song?  And why is it even more popular today then the day it was released over 50 years ago?

 

“The Day the Music Died” gives an amazing insight into the mind of a songwriter so gifted that he was the inspiration for Roberta Flack’s Grammy Award winning song “Killing Me Softly with His Song.”  As a sidenote, I should mention that the tale of how that song came to be is worthy of a documentary film of its own.  Like many singer/songwriters of the late 1960s, McLean would spend  hours putting pen to paper, trying to put his thoughts to music.  A chance remembering of his time as a paperboy kindled a spark that has yet to be extinguished.  As the verses poured out of his mind, it only took McLean an hour to write the heart of the song, going back – as many songwriters do – to fine tune the verses until they sounded perfect.

 

 

Not only does the film take an inside look at the composition of the song, but also gives a glance back, and a nod to, a simpler time in rock and roll.  The three young musicians whose death registered so strongly with McLean – J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper), Ritchie Valens and McLean’s musical idol, the great Buddy Holly – get their due here, climaxed by McLean’s meeting with Valens’ sister, Connie, whose heartfelt thanks to McLean for helping to immortalize her brother is genuine and moving.

 

I was 11-years old when “American Pie” was released, and I can still remember the local Chicago radio station playing it over and over.  I also remember one Sunday edition of the Chicago “Tribune” that included an in-depth look at the song, line by line, in an attempt to decipher the meaning behind the words.  Who was the Jester?  Was he talking about Vladmir Lenin or John Lennon?  And what exactly was a dirge?  Who knew, but they were being sung in the dark.

 

As I mentioned above, the song was over 8-minutes long (8:42 to be exact) and it was originally released as a two-sided single.  Though radio stations initially played just one side of the 45 rpm disc, listener requests caused them to play the entire song.  If you don’t count streaming sales (sorry Taylor Swift – anyone can download a song from a computer – in my day you had to leave the house and buy the record), “American Pie” remains the longest running song to hit #1 on the Billboard charts.  

 

 

As an added bonus, McLean explains the song’s title.  In the past 50-years I’ve heard all kinds of stories, among them that the plane that crashed, killing Holly and the others, was called “American Pie.”  Incorrect.  To my knowledge, the plane had no name.  In early 1995, famed disc jockey Wolfman Jack was promoting an upcoming appearance in Baltimore and taking listener’s calls.  I got in and asked him if he knew where the song got its title.  He said he did and would reveal the truth at his appearance.  Sadly he passed away before he could – if I’d had my way – whisper it in my ear.  Now I know.  I’d tell you, but then you’d be missing out on one hell of a story!

Film Review: “Bullet Train”

 

  • BULLET TRAIN
  • Starring:  Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron-Taylor Johnson
  • Directed by:  David Leitch
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs 6 mins
  • Columbia Pictures

 

A train rushing through Japan at speeds in excess of 200 mph.  A mysterious briefcase.  Characters with colorful names like “the Wolf,”

“Lemon” and “the Hornet.”  Put them all together and you get a rapid-fire, action packed adventure.

 

Moving at a pace almost faster than the title implies, “Bullet Train” is a mashup of genre’s that can best be described as Guy Ritchie meets “Kill Bill.”

 

The plot revolves around the much desired briefcase and the people who are sent to protect it versus the people who are sent to steal it.  Pitt is one of the thieves, a man with a lot of talent when it comes to killing, but also a lot of issues.  He is in close contact with his handler, Maria (no spoiler here, sorry), whose soothing voice and sound advice keeps him in a mellow mindset. 

 

The other main characters are Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and his “brother,” Tangerine (an un-recognizable Aaron-Taylor Johnson.  Yes, the guy who played Kick Ass and John Lennon).  They spend the majority of their trip dealing with all of the issues that come with trying to protect your boss’ son – and when your boss is known as “White Death” you need to be on your “A” game – and keeping a who’s who of baddies from taking your prized briefcase.

 

The action is pretty much non-stop, with occasional moments of laugh-out-loud humor.  Whether it’s a brutal fight to the death in a designated “QUIET” car – loud noises quickly draw a “shush” from

an elderly passenger – or having to shoot your way around and oversized Anime’ character, the situations are preposterously absurd but amazing to watch unfold.

 

The cast seems to be having fun with their characters, only going over the top when the situation calls for it.  Otherwise things are handled with a deadly seriousness that should be afforded anyone dealing with someone known as “White Death.”

 

The film is beautifully photographed and the musical score helps set whatever mood is needed at any particular time.  This is definitely the“Train” to catch this weekend.    

Film Review: “Prey”

Starring: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers and Dan DiLiegro
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Rated: R
Running Time: 99 minutes
Hulu

Just like the “Alien” franchise, I’m always a little surprised when another “Predator” movie comes out. It’s not that I don’t like the “Predator” franchise, (I’m actually a little bit too forgiving on its weaker elements) but I’ve always struggled to find other people who’ve watched the films or even enjoyed the films. It’s not hard to find people who’ve watched and treasured the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, but now I feel a new generation is about to watch and treasure 2022’s “Prey.”

For “Predator” fans, the first question is going to be: “So is “Prey” a sequel, prequel or what?” The answer is uncertainty. The film takes place in 1717 in the northern Great Plains (Montana? Canada?), about 250 years before Scharzenegger and his crew of macho men gets torn apart by an unseen creature in the jungle. Naru (Midthunder) is an aspiring Comanche hunter, despite the eye rolling done by her fellow tribesmen, hunters and even her Comanche hunter sibling. All that’s about to change with the arrival of an invisible extraterrestrial who’s made Earth its hunting ground.

Just like the first “Predator,” “Prey” spends the first third of the movie building up our hero’s backstory and arc while showing us flashes of the invisible to the naked eye space monster slashing and shooting his way through wildlife. As previous “Predator” films have established, this isn’t just a bloodthirsty creature, it’s a being that enjoys the hunt; much like Naru. So, throughout the film, there is this anticipation and build-up towards these two fighting to the death. Until then, we have some interesting character development…and a lot of blood and gore to get through.

If there’s been one complaint about each film in the franchise, it’s the humans; never the trophy hunting creature. Thankfully the humans aren’t obnoxiously flawed sacks of meat or overstay their welcome, or in the case of 2018’s “The Predator,” has a subplot where autism is a superpower. Naru not only moves and flows with her tribe, but she encounters French fur trappers who are about as likable as a wasp in summer time. So, their deaths are ultimately enjoyable and welcome. In that regard, “Predator” and “Prey” are similar in that the humans we like remain alive while the disposable flesh and blood is given to the least likable of the bunch.

That being said, this is the first time the protagonist has been a woman, but you’d never know it from the way the movie ebbs and flows. Instead of calling attention to itself or virtue signaling, the film uses Predator mythos to explain why Naru is the perfect match for this galaxy traveling warrior. It also helps that she plays into the film trope of, “We can’t believe what the woman/child says or sees, right?” It also helps that she immediately recognizes the danger while each man in the film puffs his chest and charges ahead before being ripped apart, stabbed, shot or any other myriad of horrific ways to die. It reminds me a lot of Linda Hamilton’s work in the “Terminator” films. Not only do Naru and Sarah Connor radiate confidence, but they both prove their intellect and action-movie badassness each time they encounter their foe.

The one thing that’s kind of always fascinated me about the franchise, even in its highs and lows, is how much the directors and writers stay true to the creature itself, rarely rolling the dice on a bizarre character development, but instead attempting new things within the realm of logic for this fictionalized species. Director Dan Trachtenberg proves that he can provide an equal balance of substance and style, hopefully breathing life into a franchise that was nearly left for dead by director/writer Shane Black four years ago. Not only does Trachtenberg give us a neat origin story about the first Predator hunting expedition on Earth, but gives us hope that maybe, for once in this franchise, we’ll start to have a string of decent Predator films.

Film Review: “DC League of Super-Pets”

 

  • DC LEAGUE OF SUPER-PETS
  • Starring the voices of:  Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Keanu Reeves
  • Directed by:  Jared Stern and Sam Levine
  • Rated:  PG
  • Running time:  1 hr 46 mins
  • Warner Bros.

 

It’s a story we all know.  As the Planet Krypton reaches it’s last moment, Jor-El puts his infant son in a ship, hoping to send the boy to safety.  As the ship prepares to take off, a puppy hops into the ship and joins the boy on his amazing journey.  OK, the puppy part you may not have known.  Until now.

 

It’s another day in Metropolis.  Krypto (Johnson) wants to go for a walk.  However, when your master is Superman (John Krasinski), it’s not as easy as it sounds.  Further complicating things for the Super-Dog is Supes on-going relationship with Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde).  Still, compared to what’s going on at the local animal shelter, things aren’t too bad.

 

Well-acted, with a very clever script, “Super-Pets” is a fun adventure with an important message, but one that doesn’t hit you over the head.  In the aforementioned animal shelter, we are introduced to a group of pets longing to be loved.  They are led by Ace (Hart) a hound who keeps his fellow animals feeling positive by promising them that, should any of Ace’s escape plans work, he will take them all to “the farm,” a place where all animals are loved.  Among his pals are PB the Pig (Vanessa Bryer), Chip, an unusually odd squirrel (Diego Luna) and Merton (Natasha Lyonne), an older, and very nearsighted, turtle.   Their lives change when Krypto is brought to their shelter.

 

 

I loved the vocal performances of the cast.  In the past two decades, animated movies are no longer looked at as “just a gig” by actors.  The actors here give strong, layered performances, which lend themselves to the story being told. 

 

The script is full of DC in-jokes, many of them involving Batman (an excellent Reeves),  Whether he is justifying label of “superhero” – he actually has no super powers – or worrying if a toy in his image is actually licensed, the Dark Knight is a hoot.  Other Justice League members show up as well, and you almost hope that the next Justice Leage movie is animated with the same vocal talents.

 

In the end, it’s a story about believing In yourself, and your friends.  Or, in this case, your Super-Friends. 

 

 

Film Review: NOPE

 

  • NOPE
  • Starring:  Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Keith David
  • Directed by:  Jordan Peele
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs 11 mins
  • Universal    

 

There was a time when, if I thought about Jordan Peele, I always thought of Raffi Benitez, the overzealous baseball player who, whenever the opportunity would arise, would smack his teammates on their posteriors while exclaiming “Slap Ass!”  Then he made “Get Out,” an amazing film that earned Peele an Academy Award for his script.  His sophomore film, “Us,” was nothing short of, as I described it, “a new horror masterpiece.”  Needless to say, I was more than excited to see his latest film, “NOPE.”

 

A rancher (David) and his son, OJ – short for Otis Junior (Kaluuya) – are chatting outside a coral when they begin being pelted by objects falling from the sky.  The rancher is knocked off his horse.  What are these mysterious objects?  What’s the story with that weird cloud that’s hovering overhead?  And where did they come from?

 

A white-knuckled adventure into what may really be “out there,” NOPE is a film that has so many things going on you may want to see it multiple times.  As I left my screening, I overheard several people commenting on what they had just watched, or at least thought they had just watched, but not in an “I’m confused” way.  There are so many pieces to the puzzle that is NOPE that a second viewing may be needed to fully get the scope of the plot.

 

Besides OJ and his father, we meet his sister, Emerald (Palmer), a one-time child star – with a tragic past – who now fronts a Wild West show (Steven Yeun), and a couple of filmmakers looking to film the ultimate experience.  Oh, and horses.  Lots of horses.  As Robert Shaw often said in “The Sting”…”ya follow?”

As in his previous films, Peele has assembled an amazing cast, led by his “Get Out” leading man, and Oscar winner, Kaluuya.  He is supported strongly by Palmer and Yeun, whose own stories intertwine with OJ’s.  Peele’s script is full of twists and turns, and the cast maneuver their way through them smoothly.

 

With everything going on the film could appear to drag but, thanks to Peele’s steady direction, the story flows, meshing the past and present day smoothly.  The story is enhanced by a musical score that at times reminds you of “The Magnificent Seven” at one point only to meld into a true suspense score moments later. 

 

Jordan Peele is no longer Raffi Benitez to me.  Now when I hear his name I think about the cinema’s new master of suspense.  If I met him, I’d shake his hand…and “Slap Ass!” 

Film Review: “THOR: Love and Thunder”

 

  • THOR:  LOVE AND THUNDER
  • Starring:  Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Christian Bale
  • Directed by:  Taika Waititi
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 59 mins
  • Walt Disney Pictures

 

I love me some Taika Waititi!  The Oscar-winning filmmaker has a perfect touch when balancing drama and humor.  And that touch is on full display in “THOR: Love and Thunder.”

 

A man (an unrecognizable Bale) wanders in the desert, trying his best to protect his young daughter from the elements.  He comes across a beautiful, lush paradise only to realize that the god he has worshipped has no use for him.  Realizing he has been forsaken, he declares, “All gods must die!”

 

“THOR: Love and Thunder” reintroduces the audience to the “THOR” saga via the fine performers in the local theater in New Asgard.  We learn of his adventures as well as his heartaches, most notably Doctor Jane Foster (Portman), the one true love of Thor’s life.  As word of the “god butcher” spreads, Thor enlists King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to help end the slaughter.  And, thanks to Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir – I finally know who to pronounce it – Jane joins them.  My comic book loving friends are going to hate me but, for lack of a better name, the hammer turns Jane into Lady Thor/She Thor (tho I believe she is just Thor in the comics).  The return of Mjölnir makes Thor (original Thor) happy., but it also causes some friction between Thor and his axe, Stormbreaker, one of the great comic touches in a very dramatic film.

 

As with all of the films in the MCU, the cast here is pitch-perfect.  Hemsworth and Portman have great chemistry, making their romance quite believable.  Christian Bale is tragic as a man whose faith – and life – has been shattered by the gods.  Supporting performances by Thompson, director Waititi and Russell Crowe are just as solid.  The visual effects are, of course, top notch, and the soundtrack cranks up the rock and roll!

 

A powerful and emotional rollercoaster, “THOR: Love and Thunder” is a must see this summer!

Film Review: “Minions: the Rise of Gru”

 

  • MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU
  • Staring the voices of:  Steve Carell, Alan Arkin and Julie Andrews
  • Directed by:  Kyle Balda, Brad, Ableson and Jonathan del Val
  • Rated:  PG
  • Running time:  1 hr 27 mns
  • Universal

 

Ah, the Minions.  Since their debut in “Despicable Me,” they have brought joy to moviegoers all over the world.  They have also multiplied in my inflatable Christmas yard display each year.  But where did they come from?  And how did Gru become such a bad guy – albeit one with a big heart?

 

If you’ve wanted to be an evil genius since you were a boy, who do you admire?  In the case of Gru (Carell), it’s a highly publicized group of villains so popular they have their own toy line.  Of course you have to be evil…correction…EVIL, to even get an invitation to join and Gru, accompanied by Minions Bob, Stuart, Kevin and Otto, will stop at nothing to be recognized.   The prank I personally enjoyed most was setting off a stink bomb during a sold out showing of “Jaws,” causing the theatre to empty and leaving our quintet their choice of seats and refreshments.  When a vacancy opens up on the Villain Squad, Gru feels he’s a shoe-in to fill the seat.  But not all evil is judged the same.

A fun treat for the whole family, “Minions: the Rise of Gru” is another in a string of successful and well made animated films starring these Twinkie-looking oddities and their hook-nosed leader.  It’s great to hear Carell back as Gru, and the film lets us in on how he met some of his closest associates, including Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand).The main Minions are a joy to watch…like a yellow version of the Three Stooges.  If the film has one drawback, it may be that it’s too busy, an unusual feeling from a film that’s under 90 minutes long.

 

Still, the animation is top notch and reason enough to see this film.

Film Review: “Jerry and Marge Go Large”

 

  • JERRY AND MARGE GO LARGE
  • Starring:  Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening
  • Directed by:  David Frankel
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 36 mins
  • Paramount +

 

We have a lottery pool at work but, except for the occasional $4 win or free ticket, we’re pretty much throwing our money away on a chance of winning the big prize.  It’s actually a 1 in 292,331,208 chance but come one, nothing is a sure thing.  Unless you live in a small town in Michigan and your neighbors are Jerry and Marge Selbee.

Based on a true story, “Jerry and Marge Go Large” is a sweet, well-acted tale of two people that figured out – Larry is a math wiz – that the more you played a certain lottery game the better your chances of winning.  But the Selbees aren’t in it for their own gains.  They are trying to raise money for their small community and actually get their neighbors involved in the game.  Things get tough when the game is cancelled in Michigan and the closest place to play is Massachusetts.  While their plan seems foolproof, it is not without sacrifice.  Mostly time.  From their initial purchase of a few thousand dollars worth of tickets, through week’s when they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, each ticket must be printed individually.  This means long days (and nights) standing at the local liquor store and just buying ticket after ticket after ticket after ticket…..you get the picture.

 

This is such a fun film to watch, from the premise to the cast.  Cranston and Bening will go down as two of the best actors of their generation, and it’s a treat to see them play off each other so well.  And it’s always a treat to see Rainn Wilson and Michael McKean on screen.  The script is sharp and the direction well-paced.  This film is an early summer treat for viewers not into dinosaurs and super heroes.

Film Review: ELVIS

 

  • ELVIS
  • Starring: Austin Butler and Tom Hanks
  • Directed b:  Baz Luhrmann
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 29 mins
  • Warner Bros

 

When I was 16 one of my first jobs was valet parking cars at the Hawaiian Village Resort in Tampa, Florida.  As it was close to the old Tampa Stadium, and the Buccaneers had just come to Tampa, I worked every Sunday game day.  One day a large man in an even larger car pulled up.  As he handed me his keys he told me to “put it where you can see it, son.”  I moved an older Volkswagen from the front row directly in front of the Valet stand to the side of the Ramada and put his Cadillac in the vacated spot.   After the game – I don’t have to tell you it was a Buccaneer’s loss since the team lost their first (24) games – he returned to the Valet stand and handed me his ticket.  He seemed please that I really only had to walk across the driveway to retrieve his car.  When he got in he handed me a $5 bill – that was HUGE money in 1976 and got into his car.  Almost as an aside he asked me, “Do you like Elvis, son?”  When I replied that I did, he pulled an envelope out of his glove compartment, reached in and pulled out what appeared to be tickets.  He handed them to me without a word, rolled up his window and drove off.  They were tickets.  Tickets to see Elvis Presley at St. Petersburg’s Bay Front Center on February 14, 1977.   Wow!  Oh, did I mention that my very first concert was the King?

 

In his garish hotel room in Las Vegas, the man known as the Colonel falls to the ground, a victim of his bad heart.  As he hovers between life and death, he begins to tell his tale.  A tale about a young man from Memphis, Tennessee whose love of gospel music led him on a path of success that really has never been duplicated.  That young man?  Elvis Aron Presley.

 

Much has been written about Elvis Presley, from his over-doting mother to his young bride to his weight, but nothing you can find on the page can compare to Baz Luhrmann’s visual achievement ELVIS.  We discover that Elvis’s love for gospel music came at a young age, when he would attend revivals and “let the spirit” take over.  It is also at these revivals where he studied, and mastered, movements that would soon earn him the nickname “the Pelvis.”  It is by chance that Colonel Tom Parker (Hanks), a former carnival barker, happens on Presley during a performance on the radio show “Louisiana Hayride.”  If the Colonel knows anything, he knows what the public wants and his eyes tell him that soon every young woman in America will want Elvis Presley.

 

As played by Butler, Elvis is shy and polite, almost unaware of the impact he is having on the youth of America.  However, when his gyrations threaten to lose him work, and the Colonel implores him to become the new, “nice” Elvis, he rebels, realizing that it’s his entire body, not just his voice, that conveys a song.

As his success grows, the Colonel spreads his client thin:  public appearances, motion pictures and the then un-heard of business of merchandise.  T-shirts, toys, buttons…nothing is too tacky to stick Elvis’ name on.  When he questions the Colonel selling buttons that read “I HATE ELVIS,” he is told not to worry, as he’s getting a piece of that sale as well.  And a piece is really all he got.  It is well documented that the Colonel often took 50% of Elvis’ earnings, feeling that he’d earned them.

 

The film covers most of the major events in Elvis’ life – the rise to fame, his induction into the Army – when I was stationed in Germany I had an occasion or two to eat in the Elvis Presley Mess Hall in Friedberg, – his marriage to Priscilla, the 1968 Comeback Special and his sad, last years.  No matter the moment, Butler does an amazing job of conveying the Presley of the time.  This isn’t the impersonator who entertained at your last holiday party, this is a performance I’d liken to Jamie Foxx in “Ray” or Rami Malek in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  Hanks is equally good, allowing the audience to see behind his dead eyes into the soul of a man with literally no past.

 

You would expect nothing less than the musical numbers to be perfectly staged by the director of “Moulin Rouge” and you would be right here.  Whether it’s the local fairgrounds or the studios of NBC, they jump off the screen with the same energy the room must have felt under Presley’s spell.

 

February 14, 1977.  Among a multitude of screams from the audience, Elvis looks out into the crowd and reminds us that the show isn’t over yet.  “So,” he says, “until we meet again…”  He then performed “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and then the show was over.  Elvis had left the building.  But not really.  Thanks to ELVIS, the King will NEVER leave the building!

Film Review: “Jurassic World Dominion”

  • JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION
  • Starring:  Chris Pratt, Sam Neil and Jeff Goldblum
  • Directed by:  Colin Trevorrow
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 26 mins
  • Universal

REVIEW  by J.R. DEETER

 

IT’S CLASSIC JURASSIC !

 

Jurassic World Dominion (or as I like to call it, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Jurassic World) is the 3rd and supposedly final film of the Jurassic “World” Trilogy.  It’s an All-Star mash up fest of the cast of characters that have driven the storyline for the 6 films in the series.  The JP3,  Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), still digging up bones, and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) the paleobotanist, are back.  Jeff Goldblum returns as the quirky Dr. Ian Malcom. They are joined by the gang from the first two World films, Raptor trainer Owen Grady, played by Chris Pratt, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and BD Wong as OG Dr. Henry Wu.  Isabella Sermon as Maise Lockwood, and Campbell Scott as Dr. Lewis Dodgson, CEO of Biosyn Genetics.

 

The story takes place 30 years after Jurassic Park introduced Dinosaurs back into existence, and as we learned from JW Fallen Kingdom, they now live among humans, mostly in city neighborhood shadows, or for the Big D’s, in wide open spaces and oceans around the World.

There’s a threat to the food chain, kidnappings, and as always, bad elements seek to profit from the science, under the guise of doing good things for humanity, that doesn’t go well, and you know the rest.

 

Full to the brim with exciting chase sequences, touching romantic moments, and those awesome dinosaurs, Jurassic World Dominion is a good summer fun film for the family.  (Some intense scenes maybe a bit much for littles).   Several not so hidden throwbacks are thrown in throughout…keep an eye open.

 

Overall, a fitting end to the franchise…..maybe ?

Film Review 3: Top Gun: Maverick”

 

  • TOP GUN: MAVERICK
  • Starring: Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly
  • Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 11 mins
  • Paramount Pictures
Pure, blissful summertime entertainment. Over thirty years in the making, “Top Gun: Maverick” lives up to all the hype and box office returns it has garnered over the past few days. It is nothing less than an epic thrill ride as Tom Cruise proves that a film does not need costumed heroes, grandiose special effects, or special cameos to be a great movie experience. In that respect, Cruise is a throwback to when a movie could be carried by the weight of the just one star’s name at the top of the movie poster. “Top Gun: Maverick” is moviemaking at its best and is a guaranteed good time at the theater.
Naval aviator Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise), whose insubordination has prevented him from ever rising up the ladder in rank, comes close to being kicked out of the military by Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (Ed Harris) after he crashes an experimental aircraft. Instead of having to return to civilian life, Maverick’s champion, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) gets him transferred to the Top Gun school where he first made a name for himself. It’s not an option to his liking, but Maverick is left with little choice.
When he arrives in San Diego, Maverick is told he is to train an elite group of U.S. Navy aviators for a high-risk mission to knock out an underground uranium enrichment facility in an unnamed, rogue state. Complications abound as he not only has to deal with an antagonistic, clearly jealous superior officer in Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm), but he also has to be the teacher of Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his late wingman, Goose. It’s an estranged relationship and Maverick continues to be haunted by the tragic accident that occurred in the original film.
Of course, the film would not be complete without a bit of a love story, which comes in the form of Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), the bartender of a local drinking establishment. Their relationship is of the on-again, off-again variety and while Penny was not in “Top Gun” she was mentioned by name as being an admiral’s daughter.
Cruise is in top form with a role reprisal that has him dig far deeper into his character than he ever did before. While there is still a reckless abandon about Maverick, Cruise and the script take it to a whole new level. It’s not that he has a death wish, but he is willing to take any risk afforded to him to seemingly fill a void. There is a deep seeded pain in his soul that is nothing less than PTSD from the experience of losing Goose. It haunts him daily and nightly, and the risks appear to be a way to drown it out. Cruise dominates the silver screen with his presence as he pulls off an incredible performance, punctuated in part by a heart-tugging scene with Kilmer.
Director Joseph Kosinski shot some of the greatest fighter jet footage ever put on film. The visuals are jaw droppingly wild with clearly some of the best pilots in the world demonstrating some absolutely insane skills. No greater recruiting film for the U.S. Air Force or Navy has ever been made.
Overall, if you have not seen “Top Gun: Maverick” yet, then why haven’t you?

Film Review: “Firestarter”

 

  • FIRESTARTER (2022)
  • Starring: Zac Efron, Ryan Kiera Armstrong
  • Directed by: Keith Thomas
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 34 mins
  • Universal Pictures
In 1980, one of author Stephen King’s most iconic novels was published – “Firestarter.” The 426-page epic blend of science fiction and horror is just as good of a read now as it was then. As with a lot of King’s works, an inevitable movie adaptation was released in 1984 starring a young Drew Barrymore as the title character with the legendary George C. Scott and Martin Sheen playing her antagonists. While it remained relatively faithful to the book, the film was roundly panned by critics of the day and King himself was dismissive of the effort. Flash forward to present day when someone decided it was a great idea to remake the story with near-total disregard to King’s work. The newest incarnation of “Firestarter,” currently in theaters, is a jaw-droppingly bad film with a bland script, boorish acting and bad direction.
Through an experimental drug known only as Lot 6, college students Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon, “Helstrom”) develop supernatural powers – telepathy for the former and telekinesis for the latter. They prove to be the only ones who survive experiment, or at least the only ones who remain sane. When they went on the run from a company known as DSI is unclear, but we are left to assume it started after the baby they had together began to exhibit pyrokinetic abilities.
After Captain Jane Hollister (played with melodramatic zeal by Gloria Reuben) is notified of their possible location, she reinstates cold-blooded assassin Rainbird (played with one dimensional abandon by Michael Greyeyes, “I Know This Much Is True”), who was also a guinea pig for Lot 6, to retrieve Charlie for study at her secret facility. Initially, he fails in his assignment as Andy and his 11-year-old daughter Charlie elude him. However, their freedom is short-lived when Andy is captured after they become separated. Desperate to return to her father, Charlie works to control her powers, which are numerous, over the course of just a few hours in the woods.
The newest incarnation of “Firestarter” should have never been released in theaters. It is not even worth a direct-to-streaming release. Its final destination should have been the scrap heap of horrible ideas. Ideas that involve someone thinking, “Hey, let’s ignore an already perfectly written story and turn it into a trainwreck.” There is nothing redeemable about this film. Period.
Efron’s performance exhibits the same amount of range as a tone-deaf piece of wood. There’s nothing in it to pulls us in and care about his character. However, this can be said of virtually every other bit of acting in the film. Armstrong is unable to shed tears when needed to and when one tragic event occurs, neither she nor Efron react with any sense of loss.
The pacing is boring, and the lack of suspense is palpable. If King didn’t like the 1984 film, which looks like a classic compared to this one, then he must despise this version ten-fold as it bears almost no resemblance to his book. Overall, stay away from “Firestarter” or you may get burned.

Film Review: “Memory”

 

  • MEMORY
  • Starring: Liam Neeson, Guy Pearce
  • Directed by: Martin Campbell
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 54 mins
  • Open Road Films

 

Liam Neeson’s long career was reinvented in 2008 with the thriller “Taken.” Fifty-six years old at the time of its release, Leeson went on to play in numerous action films including “Cold Pursuit,” “The Grey,” “The Commuter” and, of course, two more “Taken” flicks just to name a few. Now at the age of 69, Neeson stars in yet another action film titled “Memory,” which is about an aging hitman struggling with the onset of dementia. Initially a discombobulated story, “Memory” remains at least interesting throughout simply to watch Neeson navigate his tough guy character through the struggles of a losing war against an unstoppable enemy.
A remake of the 2003 Belgian film “The Memory of a Killer,” “Memory” introduces us to hitman Alex Lewis (Neeson) when he eliminates one of the many targets of his career. Already forgetting small things, which forces him to write notes on his arm as reminders, Alex lets a colleague know that he wants out. Begrudgingly, he accepts a contract that takes him to El Paso, Texas. After he completes his first task, Alex refuses to proceed further when he discovers his second target is a young girl and that she is the victim of a sex trafficking ring. At this point, Alex decides to take justice into his own hands.
Meanwhile, an F.B.I. task force led by Special Agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce) is investigating a sex trafficking operation with the assistance of a law enforcement liaison from Mexico, Det. Hugo Marquez (Harold Torres). Serra’s investigation is upended when a sting goes wrong, but a series of killings by an unknown hitman causes his superior to force him to assist local law enforcement with the case. Somehow, Serra and his team are always one step behind Alex, a man you may recall who has dementia. Needless to say, the F.B.I. and police look like Keystone Cops at times. It all leads to a crescendo of violence and “ah-ha” moments that do not take your breath away.
Director Martin Campbell has a history of either making a hit (“Casino Royale”) or a dud (“Green Lantern”), and “Memory” is more on the dud side of the equation. The story is often like a bunch of jigsaw pieces that have been tossed up in the air, the pacing is all over the place, and more focus should have been placed on Neeson’s character. The script is so poor, that Pearce’s Serra and the other supporting F.B.I. characters are irritating distractions without much substance beyond cliches. James Bond alum Monica Bellucci has proven in the past to have the ability to chew up a scene with her skill, but her antagonist character is so badly developed that her performance is sadly underwhelming.
Overall, while Neeson has some good moments on the screen, “Memory” is a film that you may want to forget about after seeing.