Putting a human face on the plight of asylum-seeking families
"Torn Apart: Separated At the Border" (2019 release; 40 min.) is a documentary about the Trump administration's decision to separate asylum-seeking families (kids taken away from their parents--usually their mom). As the documentary opens, we are in 2018 and we are introduced to two families: one is from Honduras, fleeing the civil war-like conditions ("where people are left dead in the streets"), and upon arrival at the US border Maria and her 10 yr. old son are separated. Then we get to know a family from Guatemala, fleeing severe domestic abuse. Upon arrival at the US border, mom is separated from her 8 yr. old daughter (who happens to be a US citizen resulting from being born in the US).
Couple of comments: this is the latest from well-established documentarian Ellen Goosenberg Kent, providing a glimpse of what it has been like for asylum-seeking families with children upon arrival at the US border. In commenting on this, it is rather difficult to distinguish between the intrinsic artistic quality of the documentary versus the underlying policy decision of the Trump administration to separate children from their parents when applying for asylum. Let me just offer this: regardless of your feelings or political stance on the latter, this documentary puts a human face on desperate asylum seekers who are fleeing impossible conditions in their country of origin. I myself am of the belief that "applicable US law", whatever that is, should be applied. But how is it that asylum approval rates have dropped by 50 percent in just a few years? Has the law changed all of the sudden? The documentary shows how standards are applied seemingly randomly and differently, depending on which state the asylum application is reviewed (with Georgia's asylum approval rate a stunning and truth-defying low 2 percent).
This eye-opening documentary recently premiered on HBO and is now streaming on various platforms. The only reason that I am rating this "only" 8 stars is that the documentary, as good as it is, is simply too short at a mere 40 min, and cries out for further coverage. But other than that, this is must-see and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Better than expected but misleadingly marketed (NOT a space or sci-fi movie)
"Lucy In the Sky" (2019 release; 124 min.) brings the story of Lucy. As the movie opens, Lucy is doing a space walk near the International Space Station, where the Shuttle has brought the astronauts. Lucy is overwhelmed by the experience. Upon returning to earth, we get to know her husband who also works at NASA. It becomes clear very quickly that Lucy is having a hard time readjusting to life on earth, her husband calling it suffering from "rocketlag".Meanwhile Lucy feels a special bond with Mark, who also has flown on the Space Shuttle... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the first feature-length from debut director Noah Hawley, best known for his TV work including "Fargo". Here he brings a story to the screen that is "Inspired by real events", as we are informed at the beginning of the movie. Indeed, the story reminds of the real life story of astronaut Lisa Nowak, who did a space mission with the Shuttle in 2006 (can't tell you more as it would spoil your viewing experience). Let's be clear: "Lucy In the Sky" is NOT a space movie a la the recent "Ad Astra" or "Gravity" a few years ago. In fact, there are only a few scenes set in space, with a total screen time of about 5 minutes. The movie tells us what happens to Lucy AFTER she returns back to earth. In that sense, the movie's marketing campaign and trailer is completely misleading, I'm sorry to say. Natalie Portman as Lucy does the best that she can in what is a challenging script, certainly in the movie's first hour. If you wonder whether the movie contains the Beatles song "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds", it does (covered by Lisa Hannigan). I noticed in the end credits that Reece Witherspoon is one of the producers. One definitive positive is the movie's original score, an orchestral instrumental composed by Jeff Russo, and one I plan on checking out further.
"Lucy In the Sky" premiered to negative criticism at last month's Toronto International Film Festival, and has remained under clouds ever since. After opening in a few cities last weekend, the movie rolled out to more cities this weekend, and opened on 3 screens for all of Greater Cincinnati (population: 2.5 million). The Sunday early evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati turned out to be a private screening, as I was literally the only person in the theater. In short: this movie has bombed completely at the box office, and I can't see it getting a much wider (or longer) theater run. I was aware of the negative reviews and criticisms going into the theater today, and hence my expectations were low, very low indeed. Hence I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't a complete disaster, and the 2 hours flew by pretty quickly. If you are interested in a flawed yet worthwhile character study (and then some), I'd suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (doubtful at this point), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
I recently saw "Rosemary's Baby" in the theater (more on that later). As "Rosemary's Baby" (originally released in 1968; 136 min.) opens, we get to know a young wedded couple, Rosemary and Guy. They are apartment shopping, and are delighted to find a place in the Bramford building. Rosemary gets to know Terry, who lives on the same 7th floor with an elderly couple, Roman and Minnie. Then one day when Rosemary and Guy walk home, there is a commotion in front of their building. Turns out Terry threw herself out of the window to her death... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this film marks the US debut of Polish director Roman Polanski, and what a debut it was. Now more than a half century since its release, and viewed as a timeless classic (it is currently rated 97% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), the movie provides a classic example where less is more ("Jaws" would follow that very same "less is more" approach 7 years later, with equally superb results). I did not see the movie when it came out (I was only 8 years old at that time), but I have seen it a number of times over the years, although I cannot recall how long ago most recently-meaning, it's been very long ago. Other than the crucial scene where Rosemary sees the baby for the first time, I had very little recollection of the movie (for example: the scene where Rosemary gets the book entitled "All of Them Witches" felt brand new to me). My reaction to seeing it again after so many years is that this is a textbook example of outstanding storytelling, aided by a wonderful cast and made cheaply ($23 million production budget in today's dollars, truly peanuts in today's Hollywood). Mia Farrow was a mere 23 when "Rosemary's Baby" came out, yet she easily dominates the screen. What a shock it is when about an hour into the movie Rosemary changes her hairstyle ('Viddal Sassoon!" she notes) completely, and not for the better, I might add. John Cassavetes (as Guy), Ruth Gordon (as Minnie) and Sydney Blackmer (as Roman) are delightful. Keep an eye out for Charles Grodin (as Dr. Hill)!
I recently saw "Rosemary's Baby" in the theater for the very first time, of course the best way to experience any movie. It played three consecutive days at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati as part of the month-long "Spooktober" festival. The Saturday matinee screening where I saw this at was attended just okay (10 people). I myself am very happy that I got to see this again, and in the theater. If you are interested in seeing one of the all-time classics of psychological thrillers, I'd readily suggest you do so (and in a theater if at all possible), and draw your own conclusion.
"Monos" (2019 release from Colombia; 102 min.) brings the story of a squadron of 8 teenage rebels and their American hostage. As the movie opens, we see the 8 teenagers, all aged around 15-16 but armed to the teeth, staying in shape in a remote Colombian mountain area. We find out they are part of "the Organization" and their task is to guard and watch over an American hostage, a woman they call "the doctora". The squadron receive a milk cow from an anonymous contributor but then, in a wild celebration one night, the cow is accidentally shot and killed... At this point we are 15 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this movie is directed/co-written/co-produced by Alejandro Landes, whom I was previously not familiar with, but for whom I have gained immediate respect with this film. One can't help but think that the otherwise unnamed rebel group called the "Organization" stands for the notorious FARC. But that isn't even the main point of the movie (for me anyway). The movie examines how this life of military rebellion affects the lives of 8 teenagers who are tasked with guarding an American hostage (reminding us vaguely of "Lord of the Flies"). The movie is plot-heavy so you'll have to forgive me that I don't provide further plot details. I will say this: the movie is tense from the get-go, and never lets up. In fact, the movie becomes heavier and weirder (in the best possible way) as it goes on, and I found it to be a great viewing experience that couldn't be further from Hollywood's never-ending stream of comic book super heroes adaptations ("Joker" being the latest) and other such prequels and sequels and "reimaginations". "Monos" on the other hand is fresh and original. The movie features for us American viewers a no-name cast that is just outstanding. And wait until you see the vast landscapes of Colombia's mountainous terrains and dense rain forest!
"Monos" premiered at this year's Sundance film festival to immediate critical acclaim and is now making the rounds in limited theater release. "Monos" finally opened at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati this weekend, and I couldn't wait to see it. The Friday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended so-so (9 people, to be exact), but hopefully this movie will find a larger audience as it gets released on additional platforms. There is a reason this movie is currently certified 91% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes! If you are in the mood for a top notch foreign release that is as intense as it is captivating, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (if you still can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Terrific music in a cheesy 80s musical spells G U I L T Y P L E A S U R E !
"Xanadu" (1980 release; 95 min.) brings the story Sonny and Kira. As the movie opens, Sonny is seen as a struggling painter. He tears up his latest bad painting and tosses it out the window, where the wind carries it over a mural depicting the Muses of Olympia. Magically, the muses come to life (as ELO's "I'm Alive" blasts away), and it's not long before Kira encounters Sonny in a nearby park, kisses him, and then leaves him. "Hey, you, wait a minute!", yells Sonny as he chases her... At this point we are less than 10 min. into to movie.
Couple of comments: I saw "Xanadu" upon its release in 1980, when I was 20 years old. Let's be clear: the movie is a super-cheesy attempt to recreate a musical from Hollywood's golden era in the 40s or 50s. For good measure, Gene Kelly gets a major role (his last role ever) to provide some credibility. "Xanadu", coming on the heels of the global mega-success of "Grease" was intended to launch Olivia Newton John as someone who can carry a movie on her own. She was 32 when this came out, and at the peak of her music super-stardom. Alas, the script is very weak and light as a feather. Not to mention that Michael Beck is just plain miscast in the role of Sonny. I guess that production mega-budget of $20 million (a stunning $65 million in today's dollars) simply didn't allow for a better script or actor. All that aside, I quite enjoyed the movie, in particular for its stellar music, half of which was written by John Farr (performed by Olivia) and the other half courtesy of Jeff Lynn (performed by Electric Light Orchestra). It all culminates in the sublime title track (performed jointly by Olivia and ELO). I love how many of the songs actually advance the movie's story line (check: "I'm Alive", "Suspended In Time", etc.). Come for the cheesy fantasy, stay for the stellar music.
Widely panned upon its original release (and a commercial flop), the movie has steadily gained traction in the subsequent decades, culminating in a delightful Broadway adaptation in 2007 (I saw it in 2008, and LOVED it). I don't know when was the last time I saw the movie, I'm guessing at least 15-20 years, and I stumbled upon it on Showtime this past weekend. I just had to watch it again! I found myself humming along all of the music, which I've known by heart for years and years. "Xanadu" will be FORTY years old next year, and like a good wine, is ageing very nicely.
Outstanding documentary from Macedonia on the human condition
"Honeyland" (2019 release from Macedonia; 87 min.) is a documentary about a woman named Hatidze. As the movie opens, Hatidze is walking in the mountains, to a remote beehive, which she carefully and lovingly tends to. When she gets back to her village, we see her taking care of very elderly mom, who looks like she might be 90 or more. Hatidze makes a train trip into Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, to sell jars of honey. Then one day, a large Turkish family moves their mobile trailer next to Hatidze's small house... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie.
Couple of comments: this astonishing film is co-directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov. I've no idea how much time the film makers spent in Hatidze's remote village. I do know this: they came up with some amazing footage. It's not entirely clear how far the village is from Skopje, but it certainly feels like it's a certainly away. Hatidze has no electricity in her house. She makes a very modest living simply by selling honey at the market in Skopje. It there that we learn from Hatidze that she was born in 1964. The film makers bring us a very human portrait of what life is like in one of the poorest and most remote areas of Central Europe. There are several significant events taking place in the documentary, and hence I want to spoil by saying anything further about it. Just watch! As it turns out, Hatidze is a natural before the camera, and while she is of course not "performing", what we see on the big screen is one of to more remarkable characters I have seen in a while.
"Honeyland" premiered at this year's Sundance film festival to immediate critical acclaim. There is a reason this movie is currently 99% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie opened recently at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Sunday matinee screening where I saw this at was attended poorly (only 2 people, including myself). Hopefully this movie will find a bigger audience as the year-end awards start rolling in. I am going on record already that this movie will hand at least one Oscar nomination, and maybe even two (Best Documentary; Best Foreign Language Movie), and that would be its just reward. If you are interested in a deeply moving and human documentary, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Outstanding nature documentary: water is truly a force of nature
"Aquarela" (2018 release from Denmark; 89 min.) is a documentary about water, in its many forms and facets. As the movie opens, we see 3-4 guys walking gingerly on ice, and looking for something. That something turns out to be a car that has sunk into the lake when the ice gave way, and eventually they are able to retrieve the car from the lake. Later on, we see another car partially submerged, and then, incredibly, we see a car driven on the ice, only to be swallowed by the lake. At this point we are 10 min. into the film.
Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from Russian director VIctor Kossakovsky. Here he brings a 90 min. visual spectacle, without any voice-over or any other information, about water. I tried to figure out where the entire opening scene about the guys retrieving cars from the frozen pond took place, but couldn't. There is no overall narrative as such, the film simply focuses on water. The segment about icebergs shedding large sections of ice is fascinating. Not to imply that other segments aren't good, far from it. The movie really brings home the point that water truly is a force of nature. It amazes how noisy and forceful it is. Needless to say, the photography is eye-candy from start to finish. For outsized documentaries like this one, one might expect the original score to play an equally outsized role, but that is not the case here. There isn't much music in the film, and the music that is there is from none other that Finnish instrumental heavy metal band Apocalyptica! Wow.
"Aquarela" premiered at this year's Sundance film festival to good acclaim. It finally showed this weekend at my local art-house theater here in CIncinnati, and I couldn't wait to see it. The Saturday matinee screening where I saw this at was attended dismally (4 people). That's a darn shame if you ask me. If you like a "bigger than life" nature documentary, I'd readily suggest you check out "Aquarela", be it in the theatre (if you still can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Entertaining, if flawed, documentary about the fabled Argentine footballer
"Diego Maradona" (2019 release; 130 min.) is a documentary about the life and times of Maradona, one of the greatest soccer players of all time. As the movie opens, we are in a fast-moving car, flying down the narrow streets of Naples, Italy. It is the day that Maradona joins the (then) lowly-regarded football club, "July 5, 1984" we are reminded. In brief flashbacks, we see Maradona in previous tenures, including his disastrous 2 year stay at Barcelona, one of the world's premier clubs. "I asked for a Ferrari, and instead I got a Fiat", Maradona remarks. "Napoli was literally the only club interested in buying me", he sighs. But it is just the fresh start that he needs... At this point we are 10 min. into the documentary.
Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from Oscar-winning director Asif Kapadia, who previously brought us "Senna" and, even better, "Amy" (about Amy Winehouse). As soon as I heard that Kapadia was attached to making a documentary about Diego Maradona, I was all in. And the documentary, made with cooperation from Maradona and his family, does bring a lot of great moments, including lots of family archive footage never before seen. Maradona is a fascinating figure. Just think of the (in)famous 1986 World Cup clash against England, where he scored with "the hand of God" and how he rationalized it (payback for the Falklands War of a few years before). "A little bit of cheating, and a lot of genius", remarks someone and that really sums it up. Watching the archive footage of the Italian Series A league games from the mid-80s is an eye-opener. Yes, we all know/knew that "catenaccio" football was a grinder, but to see the ugly and vicious tackling (if you can call it that, personal assaults might be more appropriate) just makes your head shake in disgust. Yet despite all that great stuff, I was really surprised that Kapadia skips entirely over several key moments: no mention whatsoever over Maradona's ejection from the 1994 World Cup (due to failing a drug test), or his controversial tenure as manager of the Argentine national team (starting in 2008). It just seems uncharacteristic for Kapadia to make such mistakes, and hence my qualified 3.5 star rating for this documentary.
"Diego Maradona" premiered at this year's Cannes film festival. "Diego Maradona", unlike "Senna" or "Amy" did not have a US theatrical run, another surprise. Perhaps this is because of the subject matter being too far removed from the US public at large, although one could easily say the same thing about F-1 driver Ayrton Senna. Anyway, the documentary started showing earlier this week on HBO, and I couldn't wait to see it. If you are a soccer fan of any kind, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Rollicking and wonderful documentary oozes energy (and great music)
"Hitsville: The Making of Motown" (2019 release; 112 min.) is a documentary about the legendary record label and its music and artists. As the movie opens, we are eavesdropping onto a "Motown Quality Control Meeting", where Berry Gordy is urging his staff "we gotta maintain the highest quality!". We then go back in time, as Gordy talks about his upbringing: "I was a hustler, I wanted to make money!". When his "Berry Gordy's Record Store" closes, he finds work at the Ford assembly line: "I perfected my songwriting skills there", and where he also got the idea of making music "like an assembly line"... At this point we are 10 min. into the documentary.
Couple of comments: this is the latest from documentary makes Benjamin Turner and Gabe Turner, who previously brought us "I Am Bolt". Here they are bringing the beginnings and rise of the Motown sound. Motown of course is irreversibly linked to its founder Berry Gordy. Gordy, along with singer/songwriter/producer/best friend Smokey Robinson, do a lot of the talking, and what is striking is how much laughter fills the interviews. These guys were enjoying themselves then, and still are now. Along the way we get a tour of the original building that house Motown and where all the magic took place, and the building like amazingly small (note to self: next time I'm in Detroit, I just have to visit the Motown Museum). Songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland get plenty of screen time, as do the Funk Brothers (a/k/a the Motown house band). Another striking thing is how so very young all of them were when the label rose in the early 60s: typically in their late teens or early 20s! One surprise talking head is none other than Neil Young, who was in a band called Mynah Birds that was signed for a while to Motown.
This documentary, which premiered on Showtime a few weeks ago, flew by in no time. There isn't really anything revelatory in it, but it's great hearing these stories again, and hearing and seeing these wonderful artists (check out the 1968 footage of Michael Jackson's original audition!). I saw "Motown The Musical" some years back in New York, and thought that was well done too. More amazingly, I saw the Funk Brothers in concert in 2003 in Oakland, CA, opening up for... the Dead! I'm not kidding. Bottom line: if you love Motown, or are curious about this slice of American music history, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
"Rambo: Last Blood" (2019 release; 89 min.) is the continuing story of John Rambo. As the movie opens, we watch Rambo on his Arizona ranch. Taking care of Rambo is ol' faithful Maria, who lives there with her granddaughter Gabriela. Gabriela is about to start college, and Rambo is like a father to her. Then one day, Gabriela tells Maria and Rambo that she has located her real dad in Mexico, and she wants to visit him. Gabriela ignores the warning of both Rambo and Maria, and crosses the border into Mexico... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot (such as it is) would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the fifth Rambo movie, 11 years after the previous one. As you may know, the 5th movie was announced a decade ago and has been in development hell for YEARS. Now that the movie is finally here, it is easy to see why this is by far the weakest in the once (and still?) proud Rambo franchise. We don't bother anymore with Rambo being in Thailand or Birma or Vietnam. All we need to do is to have Gabriela cross the border into Mexico, and trouble is sure to stir up. Yep, that's how weak and underdeveloped the script is. This tired franchise has simply run out of ideas, I'm sorry to say. Sylvester Stallone, now a crisp 73 years young, is the only reason why I'm not rating this movie one or two star instead of three stars. "I know how black one man's heart can be", warns Rambo when Gabriela wants to see her dad. Does she heed the well-intended warning? Nooooooooooo! And that's how we end up with this film... Please note that the North American cut only runs 89 min (and that includes about 10 min. of closing credits, I'm not kidding). In most international markets, the movie runs 101 min., including a 10 min. opening scene that I guess was deemed too "difficult" for the North American market, hence the dumbed-down release for us...
"Rambo: Last Blood" opened last weekend, and I finally saw it in its second weekend. The Saturday matinee screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati in a large theater was attended dismally (3 people in total). As a fan of the earlier Rambo movies, I cannot in good conscience recommend this to anyone, but of course I encourage you to check it out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Outstanding Renee Zellweger sure to get Best Actress Oscar nomination
"Judy" (2019 release; 118 min.) is a bio-pic about Judy Garland. As the movie opens, we are on the set of "The Wizard of Oz", and Judy is getting lectured by creepy ol' studio boss Louis Meyer. We then go to the present (i.e. the late 60s), where Judy can't afford her Hollywood hotel suite and is in essence homeless. Out of sheer desperation, she and her 2 kids end up at Syd, one of her ex-husbands (yes, she has multiple). When a lucrative offer arrives for a series of shows in London, she reluctantly accepts, as her kids are left with her ex... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this movie is a multi-country co-production, and directed by British director Robert Goold, best known for his stage work in London, but he did direct the excellent film "True Story" a few years ago. Here he and the production team are bringing a Hollywood legend's waning years and youth to the big screen, so in certainly isn't covering Garland's entire life. Only 2 eras are covered: when she was 15-16, and her London 'comeback' in early 69. In that sense this is not a traditional bio-pic. Is everything that we see on the big screen an accurate reflection of July's life? I haven't the faintest idea. Most of the film plays out in London, and what we see is a frail woman who is world famous yet ever so lonely. She doesn't know who to trust as people left and right are riding Judy's coattails. And what about her youth at MGM? Even then she was manipulated, intimidated, abused, and taken advantage of (the scenes with Louis Mayer are revealing. Of course, we are watching a movie, with full of performances, and hence it needs to be pointed that Renee Zellweger is absolutely astonishing (and almost not recognizable) in the title role. She IS Judy Garland. Now age 50 (and hence perfectly well place to play the then-47 year old Garland), Zellweger brings a career-defining performance, period. On top of that, she does all of her own singing, and does it quite well. I am gong on record that Zellweger will get a Best Actress Oscar nomination for this, I have no doubt about it.
"Judy" premiered at the recent Telluride film festival to immediate acclaim, and the film opened this weekend on not one but two screens of my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. I couldn't wait to see it. The Friday early evening screening where I saw this at was PACKED, I am happy to report. In some of the more moving scenes of the movie, you could hear a pin drop in the theater. If you have any interest in Judy Garland, or are simply a fan of Renee Zellweger, I would readily recommend that you check this out, be it in the theater, or VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
As "Ad Astra" (2019 release; 124 min.) opens, we are informed it is "The Hear Future", and that "Humanity looks at the stars for hope" (the movie's title is the Latin translation of "at the stars"). We then get to know Major Roy McBride, who is working on the International Space Antenna. He barely survives a fall from the Antenna, which was hit by a mysterious power surge. In a subsequent top secret briefing, he is told that the multiple surges are sourced to the Lima Project, which was spearheaded by Roy's dad Clifford. The Lima Project disappeared years ago, but now it is believed that Clifford may still be alive. Roy accepts the request to travel to Mars to make contact with his dad. At this point we're just over 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from writer-producer-director James Gray ("The Immigrant", "The Lost City of Z"). Here he brings an epic space drama to the big screen. The movie is plot-heavy so the less I say about that, the better. But I will add this: the movie is nothing short of spectacular, and DEMANDS to be seen on the big screen (I saw it in XS, Cinemark's version of IMAX. Brad Pitt stars front and center in this, and just like he did in his other recent movie ("Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"), he oozes confidence without coming across arrogantly. Tommy Lee Jones stars as his dad, and Donald Sutherland has a small role (5 min. of screen time) as an erstwhile colleague and friend of his dad. The photography is pure eye-candy from start to finish. Last but not least, kudos to Max Richter for composing a phenomenal original score.
"Ad Astra" premiered a few weeks ago at the Venice film festival to immediate critical acclaim. There is a reason this movie s currently rated 83% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes! The movie opened wide this weekend. The Sunday early evening screening where I sat this at here in Cincinnati was attended dismally, much to my surprise (maybe 20 people in a huge theater)/ Regardless, if you liked space movies such as "2001", "Gravity", "First Man" etc., I would readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
"Hustlers" (2019 release; 110 min.) is "Inspired By a True Story", we are reminded at the beginning. As the movie opens, it is "2007" and an Asian-American girl named Dorothy is getting ready for work at a strip club. Then a Latina woman named Ramona makes her grand entrance and does a spectacular pole dance as Fiona Apple's "Criminal" blasts from the speakers. Duly impressed, Dorothy reaches out to Ramona for some dancing tips, and the two hit it off. We then go to "2014" where we see Dorothy being interviewed by a journalist... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from writer-director Lorene Scafaria, whose "Seeking a Friend For the End of the World" some years ago was one of my favorite movies of that year. Here she takes a New York magazine article and turns it into a wild, wild movie. Beware: not much is left to the imagination. The grand entrance of Jennifer Lopez in that opening scene's pole dance is nothing short of stunning. In fact, the same can be said about Lopez's overall performance, which should be Oscar nomination-worthy, and certainly is a career-best performance. Lopez turned 50 this year, and looks about 35. She takes control of the movie, and requests, makes that demands, your attention. You are more than happy to give it to her. Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, and Lili Reinhardt round out the primary performers. Check out Cardi B and Lizzo (part of the strip gang). When a movie's principal set is a strip club, you can expect a lot of fist-pumping music, and the movie more than delivers on that level. In addition to the aforementioned Fiona, there are songs from Britney Spears, Janet Jackson ("Control", of course), Fat Joe, Queen She, 50 Cent, and many, many more.
"Hustlers" premiered a few weeks ago at the Toronto International Film Festival to immediate acclaim, and was released wide last weekend (outperforming expectations at the box office). The Saturday matinee screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati in its second weekend of release was attended very nicely (a good 30 people in a small room). If you have an interest in seeing a gritty yet funny stripper drama starring an Oscar nomination-worthy Jennifer Lopez, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
David Crosby documentary is raw and brutally honest
"David Crosby: Remember My Name" (2019 documentary; 95 min.) is a documentary about the life and times of the (in)famous musician, a founding member of both the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young). As the movie opens, Crosby is telling a story from back in the day when they were playing a gig in Chicago. Let's just say, it involves drugs (of course!). Along the way we learn that he is now 76 (when this was filmed in 2017), and that he regrets having wasted so much time "smashed on drugs" (Crosby's words). He is getting ready for another tour (as a solo artist). "I love singing but I hate leaving (home)", Crosby confesses. "Me no music? Never. I NEED to tour." At this point we are less than 10 min. into the movie.
Couple of comments: even though the film is technically directed by a certain A.J. Eaton, Cameron Crowe's fingers are all over this, including as producer and also having interviewed Crosby back in 1974, when he was all of 17 (that interview comes up in this documentary). The basic premise of the film is as simple as it is revealing: let the man talk, and add archive clips where there are available (easier said than done). Crosby turns out to be a master story teller, and he does not mince words, including about himself. "I have been selfish and I've hurt a lot of people", Crosby admits. Byrds band mate Roger McGuinn puts it this way: "Insufferable", wow. Along the way, we get treated to an outstanding amount of audio and video clips of his music. Quite a collection when you line it up like that. I enjoyed this documentary overall, and feel it is a nice companion to the "Echo in the Canyon" documentary from earlier this year.
"David Crosby: Remember My Name" premiered to immediate acclaim at this year's Sundance film festival. It currently has a near-perfect 98% "certified fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I don't think I would rate it quite that high. The documentary opened the weekend before last at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati and I finally had a chance to check it out. The Tuesday evening screening where I saw this at was attended okay (about 10 people). If you are a fan of David Crosby or interested in rock music history, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Another riveting documentary mini-series from Ken Burns & Co.
"Country Music" (2019 mini-series; 8 episodes) is the latest documentary mini-series from Ken Burns. This time around, Burns and his team are bringing us the story of country music. As "Episode One - The Rub (Beginnings - 1933)" opens, we are given some introductory comments from various country celebrities (Kris Kristofferson: "Country is a white man's soul music"), and then we go back to the 1920, when almost in parallel paths, the rise of both radio and the phonograph were instrumental to the exposure of country music to a wider audience. Along the way, we get a country music instruments 101 on the fiddle, the banjo (did you know the banjo was brought over from Africa?), the mandolin and the guitar (mobility of these instruments was key--hence no role in country music for the piano). The second hour of the first episode zeros in on the origins of the Grand Ol' Opry, the Carter family (yes, of June Carter fame), and Jimmie Rodgers.
Couple of comments: "Country Music" aims to achieve what Ken Burns did with the "Jazz" documentary mini-series hoped to achieve. "Country Music" comes in 8 episodes of 2 hours each. That gives Ken Burns and his team a lot of room to explore. I love how the film makers set us up for the detailed account of what happened in the summer of 1927 in Bristol, TN when the Carter family and Jimmie Rodgers are "discovered". In the end, a great documentary is all about great story-telling, and Ken Burns and his team have proven, time and again, that they are masterful at that. Having researched this meticulously (and finding a treasure trove of historical recordings, pictures and footage), only enhances the viewing experience.
"Country Music" premiered last night on PBS, and will continue with new 2 hour episodes this week and next through Thursday the 26th. I absolutely loved Episode 1, and can't wait to spend 7 more evenings watching this unfold. If you like a great documentary or are a fan of music history, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it on TV, on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion. "Country Music" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
*Update 9/17/19* Episode 2 "Hard Times (1933-1945)" aired yesterday evening, and was more of the same (in the best possible way). "Hard times and country music were made for each other" comments someone, and that is very clear as we see the country struggling through the Great Depression, while hillbilly music continues to grow in popularity. Gene Autry gets extensive coverage, as does Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. But the star of this episode is the Grand Ol' Opry, which finally finds a permanent home in the beautiful Ryan Auditorium...
*Update 9/19/19* Episodes 3 ("Hillbilly Shakespeare 1945-1953") and 4 ("I Can't Stop Loving You 1953-1963") are now in the books, marking the half-way point of the mini-series. Episode 3 focuses on Hank Williams a/k/a the Hillbilly Shakespeare although certainly others are highlighted too: Eddy Arnold, Bill Monroe, Earle Scruggs, the Maddox Brothers & Rose, just to name those. Episode 3 feels like it is the very best of the series. Episode 4 focuses on Johnny Cash, when rockabilly almost destroyed "country" music ("country died on the vine", one comments). Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson and Ray Charles are some of the others highlighted in this episode. I get the sense that we have reached crescendo and going forward it will all start to sound quite familiar. Episode 3 marks THE highlight of this documentary mini-series.
A welcome reminder of and tribute to Linda Ronstadt's musical life and times
"Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice" (2019 release; 95 min.) is a documentary about Linda Ronstadt's remarkable trajectory in the music business. As the movie opens, we see her at the peak of her commercial success, performing "You're No Good" in concert as we are reminded the song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, one of just many accomplishments. We then go to "Banamichi, Mexico", where we see Linsa catching a local show. We then go back in time to how her parents met in Tuscon (her dad was Mexican, even if "Ronstadt" doesn't sound Mexican), and how Linda and her siblings grew up surrounded by music (her dad sings the Mexican traditionals, while her mom was more into Sullivan & Gilbert). No wonder then that Linda and a friend started a band, but quickly ran out of challenges in remote Tuscon. It is 1964 and Linda, then just 18, relocates to southern California. At this point we are 10 min, into the documentary.
Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from Oscar-winning co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman ("The Times of Harvey Milk"). Here they examine the music career of Linda Ronstadt. Typically these rockumentaries are best in the first half or first third, as we examine the roots and early successes of an artist. It is remarkable that in this case, the reverse is true: the first half of this documentary recaps Linda's hugely successful "country and rock" phase (up to the early 80s), until Linda decides that she is tried of doing the same songs over and over again, and decides to make a complete break, starting with the "Pirates of Penzance" opera and then the first of the Nelson Riddle albums (doing songs she finds in her mother's album collection). On on and on it went, taking left turns upon left turns (and I don't mean her politics). Along the way, the film makers interview all of the "big names" in the music industry, but in the end it's all about Linda and her voice (sadly she lost her singing range due to Parkinson's a decade ago). This film is a wonderful reminder and tribute to someone who had the courage and urge to go her own way in the music business, and then did it.
"Linda Ronstadt: The Sounds of My Voice" premiered at this year's Tribeca film festival to good acclaim. This weekend it opened at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati and I couldn't wait to see it. The Sunday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended just okay (8 people in total). If you are a fan of music history or simply a Linda Ronstadt fan, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
"Brittany Runs a Marathon" (2019 release; 103 min.) brings the story of Brittany. As the movie opens, it is "Autumn" and we get to know Brittany: she is sleeping in late, she drinks a lot, she parties even more. Then one day at a doctor's appointment, her doctor tells her that as a 28 yr. old, Brittany has "too much body volume" and he orders her to lose 50 pounds. Brittany decides to start running, and before we know it, on a dare, Brittany and several friends decide to train for the New York City marathon... At this point we are 15 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this movie is the feature length debut of writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo. Here he brings, as it turns out, the real life story of Brittany, an overweight 28 yr. old woman who struggles with self-esteem and finding a general purpose in life. It that sense, the movie is very much reminiscent of Amy Schumer's "Trainwreck" a few years ago. Same theme, same context: "getting one's life in order as a young woman in the 21st century". The movie's chance of success live and die with Jillian Bell's title role performance. She is fabulous, and she frankly carries the movie on her shoulders from start to finish. Even though we have seen her in smaller roles in films like "Office Christmas Party" and "Rough Night", playing Brittany truly is a breakout role for her. SNL alum Michaela Watkins plays Brittany's upstairs seemingly "together" neighbor Catherine with just the right amount of compassion and support as Brittany struggles through her daily grind. Utkarsh Ambudkar as Brittany's accidental roommate/potential romantic interest is outright funny and hilarious.
"Brittany Runs a Marathon" premiered at this year's Sunday film festival to positive acclaim and Amazon Studios immediately picked it up for a staggering $14 million. The movie finally made it into US theaters this weekend. The Friday evening screening where I saw this at was not attended all that well (about 10 people). Maybe this will find a wider audience as it is released on other platforms. Regardless, if you are interested in the life and struggles of a 28 yr. old woman in New York as she pursues personal happiness, or simply are a fan of Jillian Bell, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Kiera Knightley's powerful performance carries the movie
"Official Secrets" (2019 release from the UK; 112 minutes) brings the story "based on actual events" we are reminded, of British whisleblower Katharine Gun. As the movie opens, it is "25 February 2004, London", and Gun is appearing in court. "As to the charge regarding the Official Secrets Act, do you please guilty or no guilty?, the court asks her. We then go "One Year Earlier, Cheltenham", as we get to know Gun, as she is watching Tony Blair on TV making the case for the war on Iraq. She works a the Government Communications Headquarters. Gun happens to get some very sensitive information regarding attempts to influence the votes of certain members of the UN Security Council. Gun is very upset and decides to leak the information... At this point we are 15 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see fort yourself how it all p[lays out.
Couple of comments: the movie is directed by veteran South African director (and co-writer) Gavin Hood ("X-Men Origins: Wolverine"). Here he brings the real life story of what happened to Katharine Gun. As we all know at this point, the Bush administration outright lied and manipulated the data so as to make the case for invading Iraq. The Blair administration wasn't much better. The movie is hence on the right side of the truth, but of course that is easy to do with 20/20 hindsight. Apart from the whistleblower case, the movie also brings to the front what happened at the Observer, the British newspaper that published the sensitive data. I quite enjoyed it all, and not only because I couldn't wait to find out how it would all end for Gun. Kiera Knightly plays Katharine Gun, and she plays it with passion and with determination. She is an absolute delight to watch her carry this movie on her shoulders. Ralph Fiennes is equally up to the task (as the non-profit lawyer representing Gun).
"Official Secrets" premiered to positive acclaim at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The movie opened on 2 or 3 screens in all of Greater Cincinnati this weekend. The Saturday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended very nicely (about 25 people). If you have any interest in whisleblower cases or how the US and UK administration misled the public about the war in Iraq, I'd readily suggest you check out "Official Secrets", be it in the theater, on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Stuyvesant HS alumni reflect on what happened on 9/11
This year marks the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and per the usual, there are a number of new documentaries to mark the occasion. One of those is this short documentary, now showing on HBO On Demand.
"In the Shadow of the Towers: Stuyvesant High on 9/11" (2019 release; 31 min.) brings the accounts of a handful of Stuyvesant High School kids (interviewed all these years later) who lived through the events of 9/11. As the documentary opens, we are given a very short introduction to Stuyvesant HS, located just a few blocks south of the World Trade Centers, and how it attracts the best and brightest kids from all over New York, with a particular emphasis on second generation immigrants: kids whose parents came to the US to pursue the American dream. Among the Stuyvesant kids we get to know, their parents hail from Ukraine, Pakistan, India, Korea, and yes, the Bronx (a foreign country--wink, wink--within the New York boroughs),
The first-hand accounts by those high school kids of what happened on 9/11 are gripping: a "swell of emotion" when the second plane hits the Towers, confusion whether it is safer to stay inside the building or to flee, etc. When you combine that with the still unbelievable camera footage of that day, it makes for compelling viewing (check the dust clouds mushrooming over Manhattan after the Towers crumble). "It was life-altering as a person and as a nation", comments one of them (all are now in their early-to-mid 30's). If there is one complaint that I have about this documentary, it is that at a mere half-hour, it easily could've been extended to an hour or even more, as each of the Stuyvesant are interesting to listen to, and I would've enjoyed more of these conversations.
Is Jay Maisel an artist? a genius if reluctant real estate investor? or both?
"Jay Myself" (2018 release; 76 min.) is a documentary about the life and works of Jay Maisel, noted photographer (in particular of all things New York), and reluctant real estate guru. We get to know Maisel through the lens of Stephen Wilkes, who comments that in 1979 he became an apprentice of sorts of Maisel, and had the great fortune of working under him and being mentored. All of this was taking place in "the Bank", a 6 story building in Manhattan's Bowery, and which Maisel had purchased in the mid-60s for next-to-nothing. Now 50 years later, Maisel is selling the Bank for tens of millions of dollars. But it also means he needs to clean up 50 years' worth of art, artifacts and memories... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie.
Couple of comments: this is the feature length documentary debut of Stephen Wilkes, who was for all practical purposes given full access to that amazing building. Along the way we get an up-close assessment of Maisel's output as a photographer, which is nothing short of amazing. Maisel and Wilkes discuss all of this as if among friends (which they probably are). We also get a good sense of the changes that New York, and in particular lower Manhattan, have gone through during these decades. In that sense the movie is a but nostalgic, in the best possible way, as if Maisel took it upon himself to chronicle New York's changing fortunes. But in the end, this movie feels being almost as much about the Bank than it is about Maisel. Please note that this movie is quite short, as in literally less than an hour and 15 min. (if you exclude the credits).
"Jay Myself" opened out of the blue this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. I figure this will not play very long, so I went to see it right away. The Sunday matinee screening where I saw this at was attended dismally (3 people including myself). If you like documentaries, or photography, or New York, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (not very likely), on VOD. or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Is this supposed to be scary? or funny? It's neither
"Ready Or Not" (2019 release; 95 min.) brings the story of Grace and the Le Domas family. As the movie opens, we see two young boys running around in a large mansion, only to see a guy get shot by bow and arrow. Is it real? or just play? We then go to "30 Years Later", and we get to know Grace, who is rehearsing her wedding vows. She is set to marry Alex Le Domas, on of the boys we saw in the opening scene. After the wedding ceremony, Alex informs Grace that according to family tradition, they will play a game starting at midnight. By luck of the draw, Grace gets "Hide and Seek"... At this point we are 10 min, into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this movie is directed by up-and-coming Matt Betinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who previously brought us "Devil's Due". Here they bring what turns out to be a traditional "horror" movie, albeit with a slightly black comedy twist. From the get-go it all appears so straight-forward, and hence I expected a major plot twist or some other significant departure from this tried-and-true genre. Alas, it didn't happen and hence I felt a bit let down: was this supposed to be scary? or funny? Bottom line is that it is neither. The movie benefits significantly from Australian actress Samara Weaving's breakout role as Grace. Surely we have not seen the last of her. Check out Andie McDowell (in the role of Alex's mother), who remains as lovely as ever. But other than that, this movie just felt average to me: not really bad, but nowhere near as good as, say, the similarly themed "Get Out".
"Ready Or Not" was released wide a few weeks ago, and now in its third weekend, I finally went to see it here in Cincinnati. The Saturday matinee screening where I saw this at was not attended well (6 people in total). This movie has been getting great reviews (it's currently rated 87% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), and I must admit that I am a bit dumbfounded by that as for me there really was nothing special about this movie. But if you like horror-with-comedy films, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on COD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Intense drama and social commentary on race and perceptions
"Luce" (2018 release; 109 min.) brings the story of Luce (pronounced "loose"). a HS senior who was adopted a decade ago from war-torn Eritrea by a white couple. As the movie opens, Luce is giving a speech to the school body (students, teachers, parents). Afterwards he is congratulated by everyone. He seems to be the poster boy for racial advances. Then one day, his (African-America) history teacher calls in his mom, as the teacher is concerned about a paper written by Luce that seems to advocate violence, and moreover she found illegal fireworks in Luce's locker... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest film from (African-American) writer-director Julius Onah ("The Cloverfield Paradox"). Here he goes in a very different direction, as we get to know this HS senior who seems to be the perfect student, carefully protected and coached by his parents. But of course not everything seems the way it is. Given the plot-heavy nature of this film, I really don't want to say anything more. The film worked like an onion for me, carefully revealing layer upon layer as you yourself search for answers. The movie benefits enormously for a top-notch ensemble cast, none more so that Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the title role. Harrison brings the Luce character with restraint and a quiet confidence. Naomi Watts as Luce's mother is her usual, and I swear she hasn't aged a day it seems in the last 20 years. Tim Roth is the dad, and Octavia Spencer is the history teacher who may or may not be on to something about Luce. Just a heads up that "Luce" is a slow-moving film (which doesn't bother me in the least, but it might bother some).
"Luce" premiered at this year's Sundance film festival to positive acclaim, and is now getting a limited theater release. The movie opened this weekend at my local art-house there in Cincinnati, and the Sunday matinee screening where I saw this at was attended better than I had expected (about 15 people). This movie is about as far away as you can get from the latest Marvel franchise movie or Disney "re-imagining" or sequel or prequel nonsense. If that sounds like it might appeal to you, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (if you still can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
"The Peanut Butter Falcon" (2019 release; 98 min.) brings the story of Zak and Tyler. As the movie opens, Zak, a 24 yr.old with Down Syndrome, is plotting to escape the facility where the state has put him (we later learn his family abandoned him). Meanwhile Tyler, caught stealing crab traps, is fired from his job and on the run. With the help of another resident, Zak finally manages to escape, in his underwear and without any money or outside help... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this movie is feature-length debut of co-writers and co-directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. The bring us the story of two misfits who somehow end up together on the adventure of a life time. Just as it takes time for these two to warm up to each other, it takes us the viewers also time to warm up to these characters. But as the movie plays out, the bond between the viewer and these characters grows very strong, and we are "all in". It took me a good 40 min. before I realized that the Tyler character is played by Shia LaBeouf, and played brilliantly at that. Ever since leaving the "Transformers" franchise, the guy has blossomed like never before. Dakota Johnson also shies in the side role of Eleanor, a staff member of the facility that Zak escaped and now sent to look for him. But surely the movie's limelight is stolen by Zack Gottsagen, playing Zak. It defies the impression/expectations so many people have about those with Down Syndrome. The movie is set in North Carolina's Outer Banks, and it looks gorgeous (and is filmed with many warm colors). Last but not least, there is a boatload of wonderful music, both as to the original score and other song placements, bringing a mix of bluegrass, folk, spirituals and much more. I will absolutely be seeking out the soundtrack of this film.
"The Peanut Butter Falcon" premiered at this year's SXSW, to immediate acclaim. The movie expanded this weekend into Greater Cincinnati. The Saturday early evening screening where I saw this at was very nicely, I am happy to say. When the end credits started rolling, the audience burst into a spontaneous applause, a rarity these days. But there is a reason that this movie is certified 94% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. If you are tired of the umpteenth Marvel franchise movie or Disney "re-imagining" or sequel or prequel nonsense, and instead are looking for a top-notch ORIGINAL indie movie that happens to be one of the best movies of the year, by all mean I encourage you to check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
"Good Boys" (2018 release; 89 min.) brings the story of 6th graders Max, Lucas and Thor. As the movie opens, Max is looking at things om his computer that he wouldn't want his dad to walk in on. Dad promptly walks in... We then get to know the boys better, as they are hanging out at school and elsewhere, trying to fit in and be cool. Then Max, who has a crush on his classmate Brixlee, snags an unexpected invite to a party, and not just any party, a kissing party, and Brixlee will be there! But max doesn't know how to kiss... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the directorial debut of Gene Stupnitsky, who also co-wrote this with Lee Eisenberg. They are both long-time TV comedy writers ("The Office", etc.). Equally important, Seth Rogen co-produced this and has his fingers all over this one. The plot, such as it is, is merely an excuse to come up with situations where the 6th graders are in way over their heads, and being crude and funny at the same time. So yes, it's a 6th grader sex comedy. I actually found myself laughing at all of it regularly, because it is so over the top and frankly impossible. The three leads are terrific (Brady Noon (as Thor) reminded me of The Wonder Years' Fred Savage. But it must also be said that nothing in this movie will leave a lasting impression, unlike another grade movie, last year's outstanding "Eighth Grade".
"Good Boys" premiered at this year's SXSW, to good acclaim, and opened wide last weekend in line with box office expectations. It is not in its second weekend, and the Friday evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati in a medium-sized theater was attended okay but not great. I think that there is a limited audience for hard R rated comedies like "Good Boys". If you like previous movies like it (think "Superbad" etc. or are a fan of Seth Rogen's comedies, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
"Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" (2019 release; 109 min.) brings the story of Bernadette and her family. As the movie opens, we see Bernadette by herself i a kayak in what we later learn is Antarctica. How and why did Bernadette get there? We then go to "5 Weeks Earlier", and we are in Seattle, where Bernadette is stressing out from a number of things. Not to mention that she is an insomniac. Her daughter Bee is an 8th grader with perfect grades, and she reminds her parents that they had promised her a pony if she kept straight As. Bee has a better idea: a family trip to Antarctica! Even though Bernadette hates traveling, she and her husband Elgin reluctantly agree... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest film from writer-director Richard Linklater, who is my estimation is one THE premier American directors out there. 2014's "Boyhood" and 2016's "Everybody Wants Some!!" are two of the best movies from this decade. (Not to mention his "Before Sunrise"/"Before Sunset"/"Before midnight" franchise.) Here he brings the novel of the same name by Maria Semple to the big screen. Let me be upfront: I'll go see anything directed by Linklater. And with a top-notch leading actress like Cate Blanchett attached to this, this was going to be a slam-dunk, right? Alas, it pains me to tell you that this turned out to be a big disappointment. This film is done strictly by-the-numbers. At no point did I feel emotionally connected to Bernadette. We learn at some point that Bernadette years ago was the "it" woman in the architecture industry. Who knew? and why is it relevant? As the movie takes a decisive turn, you can see a mile away (make that 10 miles away) how this is going to play out, and that is EXACTLY what we get. No surprise, but also no reward, sadly. Blanchett does the best she can with what she is given (which isn't much). Billy Crudup is her husband Elgin, the (fictitious) Microsoft software developer workaholic. Kristin Wiig is Bernadette's neighbor. The best of the lot turns out to be newcomer Emma Nelson as Bee. Surely we have not see the last of her. Bottom line: this is an unexpected and rate letdown from Richard Linklater, who seems to have gone too conventional this time around. Let's keep it weird(er) again the next time around, shall we, Mr. Linklater?
"Where'd You GO, Bernadette?" was released wide this weekend. The Sunday early evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was attended okay but not great (about 15 people). It is reported that the film underwhelmed at the box office in its opening weekend, grossing only $3.5 million. Regardless, if you are a fan of either Richard Linklater or Cate Blachett, I'd suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.