Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton Week of February 28, 2022
The Batman Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material, drug content, strong disturbing content, strong language and strong violent content Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87% In Theaters In the latest major reboot of the Batman franchise, Writer/Director Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) presents Robert Pattinson as a dark, broody billionaire lost soul who acts as a vigilante at night as a means to find solace and seek justice for the murder of his parents. He is the same tough crime fighter basically, but with a more gritty and vulnerable side that we aren’t used to, and a lot fewer cool toys. He’s not a womanizing playboy by day, but rather a sad young man trying to figure himself out. But when a strange new serial killer named The Riddler (Paul Dano) begins to kill prominent leaders in Gotham in order to expose their crimes, he addresses clues to The Batman, shedding light on both current and future crimes. So needless to say, this isn’t your daddy’s Batman. It is a dark noir crime thriller with a mystery slant and a much more organic look and feel to it, rather than the flashier versions we’ve seen until now. Rather than the supervillains we’ve watched in this franchise previously, The Riddler is almost like a more sociopathic-like version of The Peacemaker, a villain who thinks that he is doing the right thing by using extreme violence to thwart the evil-doings of the leaders of Gotham. It’s as if he thinks he is like Batman, with a darker edge. Like he’s trying to possibly team-up somehow. This kind of plot works well and turns out to be a very interesting take on the storyline. And when you add in Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), a cat burglar who is also willing to do what it takes to bring down the mob, you get a memorable version and a worthwhile place to take the franchise. There is honestly a lot to like here with great acting, a strong production and a serviceable script. Sure the score by Oscar Winner Michael Giacchino (Up) sounds like a western version of the Imperial March by John Williams, but when you consider that batman sounds like he is wearing spurs when he mysteriously walks into rooms, it all starts to make sense. What doesn’t make sense is the 3 hour runtime. Some films earn their 3 hours, but this one sadly does not. It is an overly long bladder-buster that could have used a major edit. There is a lot of wasted space in this film and that bloat takes focus off of what could have been a better movie with just less of it there. B+
Studio 666 Rated R for strong bloody violence, gore, sexual content and pervasive language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79% at time of writing In Theaters The Foo Fighters are trying to figure out what to do for their 10th album, hoping that a special retreat might help the magic happen. When their manager suggests a creepy mansion with a violent history, they jump in and start creating. But once in, lead singer Dave Grohl finds himself under the influence of the evil presences in the home, threatening both the album and the lives of his bandmates. Since the Foo Fighters hit the scene almost 30 years ago, they’ve always managed to make the most creative of music videos, collaborating with award-winning filmmakers to tell fun and silly stories set to their loud arena rock. Personally, I’ve been a fan since day one and look forward to every new release and especially every new video. This film basically has the feel of a two hour video, filled with graphic but hilarious violence, sex (also hilarious) and some really, really bad acting that you actually tolerate quite well. It’s not a great film, but it is far more entertaining than you would think it would be. If you aren’t a Foo fan, you probably won’t understand, but since their fans are numerous worldwide – the film has potential to become a cult-classic amongst those who like to fight the foo. B
American Underdog Rated PG for thematic elements and some language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75% On Disc and Streaming Since I’ve never been a pro football fan, I sadly had little concept who Kurt Warner was or what he was famous for. But I must admit, I am quite impressed by the story of this small college quarterback from Iowa who went on to work for minimum wage in a grocery store only to later become one of the most famous football players in the history of the sport. Zachary Levi (Shazam) plays Warner while Anna Paquin (True Blood) plays his wife Brenda in this fairly star-studded faith-based sports flick that chooses to inspire rather than preach, making it far more accessible than most films from the genre. What could have a been a cheeseball Warner worship-fest turns into a pretty compelling story worth watching, and even cheering for. Levi and Paquin are a bit over-the-top at times, and the story gets a little dramatic too often, but that doesn’t make it much less enjoyable and only gives you more to like about the characters. On top of that, it is an incredible family film that should be interesting enough to teach the kids a solid lesson in never giving up on your dreams. B
Death on the Nile Rated PG-13 for violence, some bloody images and sexual material Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68% at time of writing In Theaters From director and star Kenneth Branagh (who just happened to get a full set of Oscar noms for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay this week) comes this sequel to the 2017 Agatha Christie mystery Murder on the Orient Express where the world-famous detective Hercule Poirot finds himself on a boat on the Nile at the same time a gruesome murder takes place. While not quite as A-list star studded as the first film, the cast here is at least very recognizable with Gal Gadot in the lead as a wealthy businesswoman with a new husband and lots of people who seemingly hate each other along for the ride during their honeymoon. The first hour is at times beautiful to look at but still tedious to sit through as you try to figure out the crime before it takes place. But once it does, the plot picks up full steam ahead until the crimes are fatefully solved. I found the last outing to be quite annoying, so I was refreshed that this one was less so, and by then end it even comes off as pretty enjoyable. There are lots of problems with the script and the acting, especially in the first hour, but smoothing things over are the impressive production values, especially the set design, cinematography and a lovely score by Branagh’s long-time friend and collaborator Patrick Doyle. B
Blacklight Rated PG-13 for action, strong violence and language In Theaters Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Liam Neeson plays a government-trained fixer who goes after the men that threaten his daughter’s and granddaughter’s lives. Okay – close enough. You would probably be surprised if it weren’t Neeson in the role. Being that it is directed by Ozark creator Mark Williams, you would expect a surprise here and there with maybe enough twists that you forget its lack of originality. But you’ll only be disappointed by that expectation. Instead, all we get here is a paint by numbers government thriller where the actors are either misdirected, completely phoning in their parts, or probably both. The cardboard characters get zero help from Neeson or his boss/enemy Aidan Quinn, who both throw their talents out the window, along with the forgettable supporting cast. But it’s not all bad – at least I have a solid candidate for worst picture of the year, if I don’t scrub it out of my mind come December. F
Parallel Mothers Rated R for some sexuality Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97% In Theaters In Spanish with English Subtitles Writer/director Pedro Almodovar and actress Penelope Cruz have teamed up for many high profile dramas through the years including All About My Mother, Volver, Broken Embraces and Pain and Glory, all of which are extremely artistic but not always easily accessible. In this newest journey together, though, they tackle a much more universal twisted drama about motherhood, regret and redemption, with a narrative that is convoluted yet riveting in a story you won’t be able to take your eyes off of. In this tale, Cruz plays a middle-aged single woman who gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby. In the hospital she makes friends with a young single soon-to-be mother who gives birth on the same day as herself. After leaving the hospital, everything seems to be going on along fine as she is madly in love with her new baby and she even manages to keep some of her pre-existing career alive. That is until she starts to imagine that the baby she brought home might not actually be hers. I have liked some of Almodovar’s films over the years, but they’ve never been my favorites. I expected this one to be much of the same and was shocked at the turns his story takes, keeping me on the edge of my seat throughout. The plot is a knockout and the superb acting by the talented cast gives the outlandish the authenticity needed to push the story forward. Easily my favorite film by both Almodovar and Cruz, the film is gripping from start to finish and truly one of the best from 2021. A
Ozark: Season 4, Part 1 Rated TV-MA Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92% Streaming on Netflix I don’t binge on a lot of shows, but since the first day Ozark hit Netflix, I have been completely hooked. If you haven’t been watching, you have some catching up to do. The story follows the Byrde family, headed up by Jason Bateman and Laura Linney, who are forced to launder money for a Mexican drug cartel in exchange for their lives. Choosing the Ozarks for their base of operations, they have managed over three seasons to do quite well for themselves, although they are constantly under the threat of being murdered by their boss. In this new season, the cartel leader decides he wants out and he wants the FBI to give him a mulligan in exchange for a bit of cooperation. But his wildcard nephew, who wants to take over the cartel, begins to create chaos as he begins his climb, leaving our heroes to deal with dangers on all ends of their lives. There is a lot to like here in this first part of the final season of the show. I can’t say the car crash at the beginning of the first episode does anything for the narrative, unless it is purely metaphoric, but the drama doesn’t let up and the twists are largely unpredictable. The FBI is the weak link in this latest part of their journey, as they don’t make a lick of sense in their actions or motives, and end up on the frustrating side of the spectrum. The good news is that this is looking to be a bang up series finale when this thing finishes up, hopefully sometime later this year. B+
ScreamRated R for some sexual references, language throughout, and strong bloody violence Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75% In Theaters What is being labeled internally as a “requel,” this fifth chapter in the Scream franchise brings in new teenagers who are all connected to original characters, all being brought in as a new Ghostface killer has started a fresh round of violence. Also coming back are original characters, played by Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette, who aim to put a stop to the new copycat. When Scream came out in 1996, it was a refreshing and fantastic addition to the horror genre which both served as an incredibly fun scare-fest and a primer to understand where horror films are at that moment in time and where they might be headed. With its subsequent sequels started rolling out, the franchise got less and less clever and more and more tedious. With more than 10 years between now and the last film, we’ve had time to forget about how bad things got and we now get to enjoy what we originally loved again, kinda. With the O.G.s back in place and a decent enough group of young bloods, this new addition brings back some of that original cleverness as it tries, with a lot of self-awareness, to thrill. So throughout there are some nice scary moments and some morbid humor to take in. But unfortunately there is more cringe than fun and all the self-awareness is more distracting than I’m sure they intended. I had real problems with the lack of believe-ability, especially for a franchise that tries to point out the problems with horror films and their multitudes of problems, motives, agendas and misfires. By the ending, which I have mixed feelings about, I was more distraught by the filmmakers little errors than the twist, that I couldn’t come close to enjoying the big reveal. So with the poorly executed third act screwing everything up, I can honestly say that I hope we have finally seen Ghostface’s final reincarnation. C+
The Tragedy of Macbeth Rated R for violence Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94% In theaters and on Apple TV+ It seems that every few years we get a new version of Shakespeare’s iconic play Macbeth which follows the story of a man and wife who become king and queen through nefarious actions, followed by the consequences for their evil deeds. With this newest version, we get two of the best actors of our time (Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand) as the Macbeths, but more importantly, we have Joel Coen (No Country for Old Men) as writer and director. This film is as fantastically acted as one can imagine but visually and creatively it is absolutely stunning. Not since 1957’s Throne of Blood by Akira Kurosawa have we seen such a spectacular vision of Shakespeare’s work. I’m in serious doubt that anyone watching won’t be able to appreciate the art on display. But Macbeth isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I completely understand that, as I’m in that camp also. If that’s the case for you, you should still watch it for its sheer force and beauty. This really is a terrific work of art and worthy of the hour and forty-five minutes you have to put into it. And if you aren’t a big Shakespeare fan, this will at least give you a glimpse of why so many are. A
Last year I found myself lamenting 2020 as an overall stinker year for movies, holding out hope that 2021 would deliver on all of the pre-pandemic promises. We are finally coming to the close of the year, movie-wise, and things are looking up at the box office. We are still seeing streaming platforms picking the pockets of the local multiplex, but with films like Spider-Man: No Way Home breaking the pandemic record in huge fashion, the hope is alive and well. That being said, audiences are being much more picky about what they are willing to risk going to theaters for. For example, while Spidey put millions of butts in seats worldwide, the highly regarded West Side Story landed with a thud. This was the case this year with many non-tentpole pictures. Perhaps this is because younger audiences are much more willing to risk getting Covid to see a movie or maybe its because older audiences are more willing to be patient now that the window between theatrical and home releases is shrinking so rapidly. Either way, things are shifting in the way the world is watching movies and so far, fortunately, the quality is still remaining relatively high. I will admit up front that many of the films on this year’s list are movies we were supposed to see in 2020, but were pushed off. I’m sure I’ll be able to say the same next year, but probably not to this extent. But regardless, I’m glad for many of the experiences I had this year and hope that I can say the same next. Without further ado, here is the cream of the crop from another interesting movie year.
1) Don’t Look Up (Streaming on Netflix). It’s been years since we’ve seen a great Hollywood satire along the lines of Dr. Strangelove and Network, and this one by writer/director Adam McKay (The Big Short, Anchorman) will go down as one of the best. With one of the most impressive casts of the year, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett and many more A-listers, McKay takes climate change deniers head-on with this loosely-veiled narrative about a comet that is heading towards Earth and how difficult it is to get people to care. It is incredibly smart but at the same time riotously funny and absolutely terrifying. But more importantly, it doesn’t demean its audience but rather tears apart the leaders and special interests that keep people purposefully in the dark in order to preserve their power and greed. Ultimately, it’s a brilliant comedy with an urgent and important message that I hope is able to get through to its target.
2) West Side Story (In theaters). When Spielberg announced that he would be remaking 1961’s Best Picture-winning West Side Story, the main question most folks had was why? Why would you recraft such a legendary and beloved classic? How can you possibly improve it? Well it turns out that Spielberg’s vision of what West Side Story could be is both stunningly beautiful and relevant. Telling such a complex story with a much more appropriate cast and a deeper dive into the characters and their motives proved to enrich the source material and provide for an amazing theatrical experience for a new generation. Unfortunately that new generation chose not to have that experience (or at least it appears that way so far), but hopefully it will have the home audience it deserves soon.
3) In the Heights (Streaming on HBO Max). I honestly thought that West Side Story and this less tragic but equally impactful musical from Lin Manuel Miranda and directed by Jon M. Chu would be the talk of the town during awards season, but while neither has really performed the way I thought they would, they are both equally important and thrilling to watch. The story follows a group of mostly hispanic characters, living their lives in the Washington Heights area of New York with encroaching gentrification and immigration struggles effecting their daily lives. With some of the best music and equally talented performers delivering the material, In the Heights will still remain a treasure for me, even though it feels like I’m one of the few lucky folks who sat through it.
4) Tick, Tick… Boom! (Streaming on Netflix). Not another musical! Yes another musical. This year it seems to be the category to beat. Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his directorial debut here with this big-screen adaptation of the Off-Broadway autobiographical musical from Jonathan Larson (played here by Andrew Garfield) about his struggles that led up to his Broadway-changing musical Rent and the tragedy that befell the world in the days before its release. The songs aren’t as catchy and memorable as Rent or the above two musicals, but the story and the heart behind the songs make for a remarkable film. But what really makes this movie work is the performance by Andrew Garfield, who should be a major awards contender this year.
5) Dune: Part One (Available on paid streaming and on Disc). Having been a sci-fi geek all of my life, the movie Dune has always held a place of regret and disappointment in my heart. That is until now. As soon as I learned that Arrival director Denis Villeneuve was tackling this massive project, excitement filled me once again. The story, much too complex to do it justice in this column, revolves around a gifted young prince (Timothée Chalamet in just one of his brilliant performances of the year) who is thrust into conflict when his family is put in charge of an important mining operation on a remote and dangerous planet. The differences between this Dune and the disastrous 1984 version are night and day. But mainly what makes this work is the attention to every little detail, ranging from production to actor choice. The only thing disappointing about this creation is that we have to wait two more years to finish the journey.
6) CODA (Streaming on Apple TV+). This surprise hit from Apple follows a young girl (Emilia Jones) who is the only member of her family (played by deaf actors Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durant) who isn’t deaf. If she wanted to be in the fishing business with her family, a job for which they rely greatly on her ability to communicate with the outside world, then she would be fine. But when an aggressive music teacher (Eugenio Derbez) tries to convince her to pursue her singing in college, she must make the decision to follow her dreams with a talent her family could never fully appreciate or stick to her current responsibilities and forget about her future. What could have been a cheesy movie of the week is elevated by great material and even better performances. It is a bit manipulative (at least my tear ducts would tell you that), but its beauty and ability to draw empathy make it rather special.
7) The Worst Person in the World (Available February 4th in theaters). This dark romantic comedy from Norway tells the story of a young woman (Cannes Best Actress winner Renate Reinsve) whose quest for love and fulfillment in the modern world is creatively explored in chapters filled with joy, heartache, laughter and sadness. Structurally reminiscent of When Harry Met Sally, the movie moves around a lot, but with purpose and meaning behind every action. The marvelous performance by Reinsve is my favorite female performance of the year and in it you can see the makings of star.
8) Belfast (Available on paid streaming). Writer/director Kenneth Branagh shares this semi-autobiographical representation of his childhood through the eyes of a young child (Jude Hill) whose family (Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe) must make tough decisions when civil war between Catholics and Protestants begins to wreak havoc upon their community. This beautifully told story is dark yet still pleasant due to Branagh’s clever script which doesn’t allow the material to ever succumb to the darkness it explores. But while the film takes place in the late 60s and is told in black and white, its relevance shines as a warning as to what can happen when people start to allow tribalism, rather than a sense of community, to take over their decisions and actions.
9) Pig (Streaming on Hulu). One of the biggest surprises of the year was this little indie starring Nicolas Cage as a former chef who has become a hermit, with only his truffle-hunting pig to keep him company. But when someone makes a move to steal his pig, he will do anything in his power to get his friend back. It’s such a weird little film, yet memorable and lovely also. The trailer makes it look like a revenge thriller, but it turns out to be quite the opposite, filled with heart and resonating in empathy.
10) King Richard (In theaters and available January 4th on paid streaming). Biopics are so hard to do and are often so poorly delivered that you have to be willing to the mental gymnastics to accept a good performance from a bad film in many cases. But in this project, Will Smith knocks it out of the park in a really good film about the father of Venus and Serena Williams and how he inspired them to tennis greatness in spite of his flaws and lack of resources. This could have been just a feel-good flick that is quickly forgotten, but the talent behind the production just makes Smith even better in this juicy role.
Honorable Mention: Candyman, The French Dispatch, House of Gucci, Licorice Pizza, The Lost Daughter, Mass, No Time to Die, Parallel Mothers, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
The Worst: 1) Tom & Jerry. This mess of an irrelevant film didn’t even have a clever premise to lean on. The live-action actors are phoning it in and the cartoon actors make you wish you didn’t hold some sort of nostalgia for their antics.
2) Cry Macho. This project has been floating around Hollywood for a long time but why Clint Eastwood decided to direct it now is confounding. What is worse is that he so badly miscast himself in it.
3) Space Jam: A New Legacy. When Michael Jordan starred in the first Space Jam 25 years ago, it seemed kind of cool and clever. Unfortunately LeBron can’t fill Michael’s Air Jordans in this cringy sequel.
4) The Woman in the Window. In spite of having one of the best actresses in Hollywood (Amy Adams), best actors (Gary Oldman), best directors (Joe Wright) and best writers (Tracy Letts), this psychological thriller manages to fall apart before it can get going.
5) Eternals. I hope Marvel has better plans for this new group of strange super heroes because their first foray falls flat. It might not wreck Marvel’s newest phase, but it sure does provide quite a big speed bump.
Don’t Look Up Rated R for Language Throughout, Graphic Nudity, Drug Content, and Some Sexual Content Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55% In Theaters Now and on Streaming on Netflix December 24 Writer/Director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, The Big Short) assembles the cast of the year (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett, Timothée Chalamet and many, many other big names) in this dramedy about two astronomers who discover that a comet is going to end life on Earth in 6 months – and no one really cares that much. Meant to be a sarcastic view on how our world has reacted to the climate crisis, the movie only thinly disguises its true mission of trying to get people to think about how we got to where we are and what is the ultimate price our children will pay if don’t pull our heads out. But I digress, if you just take the film at surface level, you might not understand all of the jokes, but you will laugh. This film is downright hilarious and provides for the best comedy we’ve seen this year. To elevate the hilarity, the film has a frenetic and crazy energy, helping you suspend belief enough to imagine there is a real comet coming to kill us, making much of the laughter of the nervous type. It is staggering to believe that McKay has gone from his mindless (but still funny) work on Anchorman to high brow pieces like this and Succession, and honestly, it thrills me that we have such a talented and twisted artist who can make us laugh while also making us think. And with this newest creation, we get what I can only describe as the most entertaining film of the year, full of heart, pain, humor, wit and frustration. It’s a madcap yet meaningful experience handled with chaos and love. Its biggest problem is that due to its perceived political agenda (climate change is in fact not political but has been perverted to that level) the film will probably be adored by 60% of the country and loathed by the other 40. Unfortunately, that is inevitable. But I do believe that it has an honest intent of moving the needle in that regard and convincing the holdouts to at least think about the subject for a couple of hours. A
Nightmare Alley Rated R for Some Sexual Content, Nudity, Language, Strong/Bloody Violence Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84% In Theaters Since I saw my first Guillermo del Toro film years ago at South by Southwest, I’ve always known that he is one of the best at bringing out the darkest parts of your imagination, causing chills and scares like no other in the industry. In this remake of the 1947 film of the same title, Bradley Cooper stars in the Tyrone Power role of a grifter who happens upon a traveling circus, landing a job that helps him develop better skills to help him make a good living ripping off a wealthier clientele once he leaves the circus behind. Setting his sights on a dangerous tycoon (Richard Jenkins), he uses his relationship with a sophisticated therapist (Cate Blanchett) and all the tools at his disposal to try to make a truly big score. There’s a lot to like about this film including a rich and beautiful dark palate with all sorts of interesting characters sewn throughout. The production is classic del Toro with a macabre vibe and a sinister overtone. But what the film lacks is what he is most famous for – the chills and scares. The story is sort of intriguing, but it’s not very frightening and the hair didn’t stand up on my arms one time. By the end it’s just sort of a bland piece of filmmaking, like a nice-looking wagyu steak covered in the wrong seasoning. And most unfortunately, at two-and-a-half hours, it’s a bit of an unexpected bore. C+
West Side Story Rated PG-13 for some strong violence, brief smoking, strong language, suggestive material and thematic content Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95% In Theaters When it was announced several years ago that Steven Spielberg would be re-making the 1961 musical West Side Story for his next picture, I just couldn’t understand why he would do that. It was such a classic and winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture. I figured he could do it, but why would he. This has been looming over the movie for a while now, especially since its release was delayed an entire year due to the pandemic. But after experiencing this new version, I feel like I understand the why, and am glad he did. The story, based on Romeo and Juliet, revolves around post-WWII New York City as a gang of white hooligans named the “Jets” attempt to protect their turf from the ever-growing population of Puerto Ricans by rumbling with their gang, the “Sharks”. But when the former leader of the Jets falls in love with the sister of the Shark’s leader, the violence between the two becomes impossible to control, resulting in inevitable tragedy. While the original more than touched on issues of racism and fear of immigrants, the movie was largely white-washed (with white actors playing some of the lead roles of the Puerto Ricans) and could only go so far with its adult theme. Now, decades later, Spielberg is able to not only put up a fantastically talented race-appropriate cast, but he is much more able to examine the xenophobia from the day, making it even more relevant to today. In addition, Tony-winning screenwriter Tony Kushner changes and enhances many of the elements of the original material in order for their to be more coherence and to add color to the backstories of the well-known characters. And while the songs are largely left the same here, the choreography is much more dynamic and less distracting. Equal to the original are some really terrific performances by a young and vibrant cast. I can easily see a full list of Oscar contenders with Rachel Zegler as Maria, Ariana DeBose as Anita, David Alvarez as Bernardo and Mike Faist as Riff. To make things even more interesting, Rita Moreno won the Oscar as Anita in the original, and it is very possible we might be seeing her name mentioned in the running again in this new version as she replaces the white male shopkeeper and employer of Tony (Ansel Elgort) in a new pivotal role created for her. I won’t go as far as to say that I lost faith in Spielberg after hearing about this project, but I am now certainly glad he did it. I found the movie to be an electrifying experience and am thankful I got to relive it in this fantastic new visionary creation. A+
Being the Ricardos Rated R for language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70% In Theaters December 10 and Streaming on Amazon Prime December 21 From writer/director Aaron Sorkin comes this story about the iconic actress Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman), focusing on how she came to be America’s most loved actress and how she protected herself from the accusations of her being a communist in the 50’s. As an impersonation flick, this succeeds pretty well. Kidman is about as close as we’ll get to Ball in looks and charisma. I was also very impressed with J.K. Simmons who played William Frawley, the actor who played Fred Mertz. Here he has such command over his character as he becomes the most believable and memorable member of the cast. Unfortunately, Javier Bardem is terribly miscast as Desi Arnaz and becomes quite a distraction as the film evolves. As far as the story goes, the material is at times interesting, but the flow is incredibly confusing. There is quite a bit of time travel throughout the movie and it is hardly clear when in time we are watching. And because there are so many narratives going on, the focus of the picture comes across as vague. This ends up being a huge and surprising mistake coming from one of Hollywood’s greatest storytellers. Overall, this might be a film for all of the Lucy fans that are still out there, but for most it will be a forgettable disappointment. C+
House of Gucci Rated R for some sexual content, language, brief nudity and violence Rotten Tomatoes Score: 62% In Theaters House of Gucci tells the story of Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) and how she met, fell in love with, split up from and then hired someone to kill her husband Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). Set in the 70s, 80s and 90s in the world of the Gucci family, we get to witness the drama that came close to bringing down one of the greatest names in the fashion industry. Going in to the movie, I knew nothing of Gucci aside from their name, and I was surprised that the campaign to gain interest for the film depended largely on giving away the ending. I can’t recall a film ever doing that in order to sell itself. But here it is deeply important that that seminal moment looms over the entire picture. But what becomes more important than the actual story are the multiple fantastic performances from its star-studded cast, especially that of Lady Gaga. While you can make a little fun of her accent, you can’t deny that she knocks this one out of the park, just like she did in A Star is Born. Also worth mentioning is Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci, Maurizio’s cousin. Leto is campy as all get out, and apparently not even close to the actual Paolo in character, but he adds a much needed flair to the film, almost as comic relief delivered by a sad, pathetic clown. Ultimately, this is far from a perfect film, but it is very watchable, and at two hours and thirty-seven minutes, it surprisingly doesn’t come off as boring or long-winded. It is a fascinating look at events that might have shook the fashion world, but never really had an impact outside of New York and Italy. And while I still can’t even conceive of spending thousands of dollars for their over-priced leather goods, shelling out ten bucks to watch this over-the-top family implode here is totally worth it, even if it is a fantastical adaptation of the actual events. B+
King Richard Rated PG-13 for brief drug references, a sexual reference, some violence and strong language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90% In Theaters and Streaming on HBO Max In this unconventional biopic, Will Smith plays Richard Williams, the father to Venus and Serena Williams, two of the most celebrated athletes in the sport of tennis. From the moment his daughters could hold a racket, Williams set out to execute on an elaborate plan that he put together to help them achieve success. Although they were a poor, hard-working black family from Compton, he found creative ways to not let their lack of finances get in the way of pushing his daughters to live up to their potential. While I can’t speak to the accuracy of the script, I can tell you that Will Smith is a juggernaut in the role. The story is as compelling as any I’ve seen this year and with his ownership of the character a great synergy is achieved. And while Williams and his methods are definitely flawed at times, he, through Smith’s portrayal, serves as an inspiration to fathers everywhere. With rare exceptions, the film also makes for good family entertainment and should be just as inspirational for kids as it is adults. If there is one fault, it’s the lack of substance in the supporting characters. This is the Will Smith show and everyone else in it is just there to help him along. That being said, I can easily see him winning the Oscar this year for best actor, not only because of the merit of his performance but also because it just might be his turn in the Hollywood popularity contest. A-
The Beatles: Get Back Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92% Streaming on Disney+ In 1969, The Beatles recorded what would be their last album (Let it Be was recorded before Abbey Road but released after) and gave their last live performance at the end of their session. A documentary film (also titled Let it Be) was released in 1970 and showed more of a dark side to the end of the Beatles. Decades later, director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) got his hands on the original material and started to put together a new project based on the 60 hours of video and 150 hours of audio newly discovered. Using the same film restoration techniques his team developed for his WWI documentary ‘They Shall Not Grow Old,’ he was able to narrow the material down to around an eight hour event, airing on three episodes on Disney+. Imagine being a fly on the wall for the weeks the Beatles spent together making Let it Be and you’ll have an idea of what this project is like. Some may just not get it. It’s long and there’s little in the way of a narrative (Jackson apparently started with an 18 hour cut if that makes you feel better). But for those who love The Beatles and want to know them more intimately – there is not a better opportunity than this project. Its is basically a Master Class on The Fab Four and you will hit the credits feeling like you really know them so much better than you ever could have before. It is thrilling and exhilarating and rewarding to the right audience. If you find watching the studio work a little too much, most of us would forgive you, but do yourself a favor and check out the last hour where The Beatles give their final performance on a rooftop concert that will blow you away. Parts of this were featured in the 1970 doc, but not in this way and with this much authenticity. It’s pure electricity. A
Ghostbusters: Afterlife Rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some suggestive references Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67% In Theaters In 2016 Ghostbusters attempted a reboot with a very funny but ultimately failed attempt using a female-led cast. With an apparent attempt to forget about that chapter, Jason Reitman (son of the original director Ivan Reitman) is now attempting another, very different kind of reboot. Taking place in the year 2021 in a small Oklahoma town, the daughter and grandchildren of Dr. Egon Spengler (the now deceased Harold Ramis) have moved into his farm after his demise which was brought on by evil spirits in the opening minutes of the film. As they discover the secrets he left behind, they uncover an apocalypse about to happen as they try to figure out what they can possibly do to prevent it. If you’ve seen the trailer you’ll probably be of the general opinion that this new addition to the franchise is creative and has a slick new vibe. Using kids to be the new Ghostbusters gives the project a Goonies, Stranger Things feel that ultimately works well here. I especially loved Mckenna Grace and Paul Rudd who give the film its much needed flair and humor. Unfortunately they just can’t provide enough humor to overcompensate for the rest of the cast and the rest of the project. What made the original Ghostbusters work so well was how funny and fun it was, and this film sorely needs help in that regard. The movie has some of the right ingredients, but they are not balanced, which gives the constant feeling that something is missing. And while I won’t give away the ending, lets just say that it ends up being a big copout, lacking in creativity and energy. That being said, there is a lot to like here, but a lot to dislike as well. I wouldn’t say the potential completely goes to waste, but it certainly doesn’t evolve into the great picture that it could have been. B
Eternals Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, brief sexuality and some language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 47% In Theaters Based on the Marvel comic and now part of the Marvel’s latest phase of new heroes and stories, Eternals tells the story of a unique group of ancient aliens who were assigned at the dawn of man to protect humans from an evil breed of monsters known as Deviants. But when the plot thickens revealing their true purpose on Earth, they attempt to unite to do what they consider to be the right thing. Or at least that’s what I think the film is about. The least accessible film in the Marvel universe thus far, the movie is a confusing and rather boring cross section of exposition and action that just kind of trods along, daring you to attempt to make sense of it and give it greater meaning. Being that this was such a minor title for Marvel Comics, there really isn’t a lick of familiarity with the characters for most audiences, and there is a lot to learn about them. And by the time we do learn about them, it’s hard to care about them. It feels ambitious at times, but it feels like it’s a stretch at others. This kind of project has worked before for Marvel as Guardians of the Galaxy and Shang Chi were relatively unknown before their movie adaptations. And while Eternals brought in a stellar writer/director (Chloe Zhao just won the Oscar last year for Nomadland), she just couldn’t translate the material well enough to make the film compelling or enjoyable. I’m hoping that in the future all of this material somehow makes sense and we look back at it in fondness, but right now it feels more like a chore that I’m guessing is a necessary step to get to the next chapter of this phase. C-