Grade C –

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan reprise their roles as Ms. Steele and Christian Grey, respectively, in “Fifty Shades Darker.”  After being freaked out by Dornan’s sadist ways in “Fifty Shades Of Grey,” Johnson quickly gets back together with Dornan after setting up a “no rules, no punishment” alteration to their original relationship.  Things seem to go well until a weird, disheveled chick starts appearing intermittently to freak out Johnson; sexual harasser/creepy boss named Jack Hyde (dude, seriously, this is a name that I would come up with back when I was 14-years-old writing short stories, so it kind of gives you a hint as to the writing talents of the screenwriter and/or author of the books) comes on strong to Johnson, which freaks her out; and “Mrs. Robinson” is revealed, giving Johnson advice about she’s not good enough for Dornan and she needs to leave him, which freaks out Johnson.

So with all this stuff going on — and handled badly by the screenwriter/director/editor — what is the spine, or theme of this movie?  If I had to guess, it’s Johnson and Dornan trying to change for each other, trying to find a compromise so that they can continue their relationship.  That’s all good and well; but “Fifty Shades Darker” is less focused and more comedic (not deliberately, I bet) than the first movie, and the first movie was no masterpiece.  I know that most sequels tend to be of a less quality than their predecessors, but in the case of “Fifty Shades Darker,” the difference in quality is really jarring.  It felt as if there were 10 drafts of the movie, and instead of the 10th, polished draft being produced, the 3rd draft got produced.  Moving on…

My most memorable, movie moment of “FSD” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Dornan tells a creepy, former submissive who is flipping out to “kneel,” and she does so instantaneously.  This is probably the best written scene of the movie, as it shows Dornan’s immense power over his former subs; Dornan’s possible, continued need for that kind of pure obedience; and Johnson’s full realization that she can never give that to Dornan.

Bottom line, for those who didn’t understand nor liked the first movie, you’ll definitely hate this one.  But for those who were entertained by the first movie, as I was, you’ll probably want to see “FSD” because you want to see how things turn out, despite the cheesy, corny, ridiculous events and dialogue.  Look, it’s like a two hour soap opera, and if treated as such, and you are the type to get entertained by soap operas and soft core porn, then “Fifty Shades Darker” may be a decent piece of entertainment for a couple of hours.  Of course, if watched with a significant other, the entertainment value of this movie goes up significantly (insert winky face here).

— M

Grade B +

 Based on the true story of Private Desmond Doss who single-handedly saved dozens of U.S. soldiers on Okinawa in a place nicknamed “Hacksaw Ridge”…all without using a weapon.

Andrew Garfield plays Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who has made a vow not to kill nor handle a gun, yet volunteers to join the Army during WW II to serve his country in a way that doesn’t conflict with his religion, i.e. he will be a combat medic and save the lives of his fellow soldiers.  Basic training in the U.S. Army becomes a nightmare for Garfield because his Conscientious Objector status makes his unit think that he is a coward, and that Garfield will just stand by as his comrades get attacked by the enemy.  For his refusal to pick up a weapon during training, Garfield is ostracized, beaten, and court-martialed.   But with Garfield’s faith and inner strength, and the help of his fiancée and his father, Garfield’s C.O. status is upheld and allowed to finish his training.  The bloody battles in Okinawa await.

It is in combat that all soldiers are ultimately tested; and Garfield proves his worth in every way when the bullets fly, charging in when a soldier cries “medic!” despite the dangers all around.  As the men in his company fall from their wounds, Garfield is there to help save their lives; but with only a helmet for protection, how long can Garfield survive the enemy’s onslaught before he is killed?

My most memorable, movie moment of “Hacksaw Ridge” is the scene when Garfield’s Company reaches the Ridge and sees the landscape before them: torn bodies of soldiers everywhere, black sand, sharp rocks, trees splintered by the shelling, and smoke that hides the Japanese soldiers that are waiting for the Americans to walk into the killzone.

Taking second place for my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Vince Vaughn (playing a Sergeant in Garfield’s squad/platoon) addresses the new recruits for the first time.  One recruit is completely naked, but Vaughn ignores him and instead hurls insults at other soldiers who are more presentable.  It’s a fine example of comedic writing.

Director Mel Gibson did an excellent job with “Hacksaw Ridge,” taking his time to tell the background story of Garfield’s character to show us why he believes in what he believes.   And once we are on board with what this humble, C.O. is all about, the second half of the movie throws him into the meat grinder, where the audience will see what the man is truly made of.

— M

Grade B

Ellen DeGeneres reprises her role as Dory in “Finding Dory,” the sequel to “Finding Nemo.”  DeGeneres has flashbacks of being a young fish and having parents, so she decides to find her parents based on the miniscule clues that her limited memory gives.  With the help of little Nemo and Marlin from the previous movie, Degeneres starts a long, dangerous, crazy and fun adventure that may give her closure, or may find her lost forever.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when we first see Hank, the octopus (voiced by Ed O’Neill) do his trick of blending in to the environment.  The character easily steals the show in this movie, being the most interesting and most fun to watch with his stealthy, ninja/secret agent moves and tricks.

I found “Finding Dory” to be almost as good as “Finding Nemo,” with Hank the octopus being the most interesting, animated character I have seen in years.  As usual, Pixar has hit another home run, albeit this one doesn’t go as far as some of their other movies have.

— M

B –

Manny’s Movie Musings: “Firestarter” adapts Stephen King’s book of the same name, and stars Drew Barrymore playing the title role and David Keith as her protective father.  Both father and daughter have super powers (Barrymore can set almost anything on fire) due to a government experiment, and now they are hunted down for more experimentation and ultimate disposal.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Firestarter” is the scene when Barrymore walks out of a burning barn, ready to kill and burn everything and everyone she sees — a little girl with an adorable face but with the power of the devil.  Although “Firestarter” has the feel of a movie of the week and has several shenanigans (e.g., the bad guys make the laughably bad assumption that Keith has lost his powers and therefore doesn’t need that much supervision), overall it is very entertaining (mostly due to Barrymore’s adorable portrayal of her character), and the part when Barrymore goes off on the bad guys is very satisfying.

— M

B+

A terrific start to a fresh take on the “Planet Of The Apes” movies.  Andy Serkis plays the role of Caesar, a chimpanzee with heightened intelligence due to an experimental drug that was developed by his owner (played by James Franco).  Living in the house of Franco, Serkis grows strong and freakishly intelligent.  But he is still basically a chimpanzee; and that inner, savage nature takes the best of him when he escapes from the house to protect a loved one.

Serkis is placed in a “sanctuary” for great apes, which is basically a prison.   Serkis must learn to carefully navigate this madhouse, avoiding the vicious alpha male of the group, and cultivating friends as he plots an escape.  But where can he and his kind escape to?  He doesn’t belong to the human world, and he certainly doesn’t belong in a zoo nor a “sanctuary.”

As Caesar tries to make sense of his situation, Franco creates a stronger version of the virus that made Serkis super intelligent, hoping for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.   But viruses being what they are, Franco risks unleashing a curse instead of a cure.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes” is the scene when Serkis speaks for the first time when he is being mistreated by a human.  He utters one word, a simple word that bullies, tyrants, and dictators fear.  A word that can spark a revolution.

— M

Grade A –

Mostly taking place days before “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” puts us at the tip of the spear of the Rebel Alliance.  Said tip is headed by two rebels (played by Felicity Jones and Diego Luna) who volunteer to infiltrate a heavily defended, Imperial base to steal the plans to the Empire’s dreaded, new weapon, the Death Star.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is the scene when Darth Vader boards a Rebel ship.  Invisible within the dark hallway, his breathing can be heard…then the red light saber ignites.  Vader straight up murders dozens of rebel soldiers within a span twenty seconds, an unstoppable, evil force moving forward as he kills.  It is Darth Vader’s most terrifying moment in all of the “Star Wars” movies.

What makes “Rogue One” more satisfying than the last four “Star Wars” movies (Episodes I, II, III, and VII) is mostly due to a tight screenplay that does not contain many head-scratching moments that put off “SW” fans; and a more brutal depiction of combat where characters that you grow to like may not survive.  The “dogfights” are also faster paced, have better dialogue, and have great choreography.  And last but definitely not least: the numerous characters from Episode IV that are brought back, either through CGI or from unused film footage from the 1977 movie.

My ticket to “Rogue One” was money well spent, and this title will be part of my Blu-Ray library in the near future.

— M

C +

Nichole Bloom and Fabianne Therese play two high school students who fall in love with each other and decide to run away to NYC to escape their extremely horrible lives (i.e. they live in nice houses in nice, safe neighborhoods; have parents who provide for them and care for them (for the most part); go to school where the only bad thing that is shown is a shoving match between Bloom and a bully; and they are given the freedom to go out and stay out late).  Given these horrors that these two girls experience every day, it’s no wonder they seek the comforts of a big city.

Not being completely stupid, Bloom and Therese realize they need money to make their big escape come true.  And that’s where webcam sex comes in.  The money comes in slow but steady, but not fast enough for the teens.  So they decide to prostitute themselves for one really horny guy who can afford it.  And that’s where things go really bad really fast.  **SPOILER ALERT**The surprising thing is — and kudos to the screenwriters on this one specific thing — it’s mostly the girls’ fault that their situation quickly spirals out of control.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Teenage Cocktail” is the scene when the father of Bloom’s character finds out that his daughter does webcam sex for money.  He is shocked, of course; but when he has a chance to confront his daughter, he just shuts up and quietly goes out of his daughter’s room.  This dude needs to go out in the ocean and swim with the jellyfish, because he’s as spineless as they are.

“Teenage Cocktail” has the basic elements that could have turned the movie into a very compelling commentary on some of the dangerous situations teens can get themselves in.  But the script — which felt like it needed a few more drafts to get all the stupidity out — is the weak link of this project, bringing the movie down to the level of mediocrity.

— M

Grade A

Director Ang Lee has a knack for packing a serious, emotional punch in even the most quiet moments of a movie; and he does that again with “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a mostly quiet movie that contemplates the craziness of war: started by the rich; fought by the poor and young; the physical and emotional damage it does to the soldiers and their families; the lies that are told to keep the war effort going; the lip service that most civilians give to the soldiers as life goes on as if there is no war happening, etc.

After his heroic actions during the second Iraqi war are captured on video for all of America to see, Joe Alwyn (who plays the title role) and his infantry squad are paraded throughout the U.S. to be used as living propaganda for America’s war against Iraq.  On the last day of their “vacation” in the U.S. before being shipped back to the war, Alwyn’s experiences in Iraq and his first days of coming home are told in flashbacks.  He clearly suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, and he finds a way out of going back into combat duty thanks to his loving and tenacious sister played by Kristen Stewart.  But he must make a tough decision whether to take care of himself and take the way out, or take care of his squadmates and go back into combat with them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is the scene when a civilian starts making fun of soldiers during a football game.  One of Alwyn’s squadmates puts the loudmouth in a sleeper hold, silencing his big mouth in seconds.

Ang Lee does a great job with “BLLHW,” focusing on Alwyn and allowing the audience to see what this soldier has seen and what he is thinking.  I especially enjoyed the unpredictable nature of this movie, as it could have gone in so many clichéd routes in the third act under the guidance of untalented directors/producers/writers; but the filmmakers chose to take the road less travelled, and produced a relatively quiet ending that is still emotionally powerful.

— M

Grade A

Based on a true story, Madina Nalwanga plays the title role in “Queen Of Katwe,” a young girl in the slums of Uganda who displays amazing skills in chess.  With the support of a tough, hard-working mother (played by Lupita Nyong’o) and a teacher (played by David Oyelowo), Nalwanga’s chess playing abilities opens up a whole new world for her, as well as opportunities that can elevate her and her family from the slums.  But patience and learning how to take losses are two skills Nalwanga needs to learn, or else she’ll risk burning out and quitting before she reaches her goals.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Queen Of Katwe” is the scene when Nalwanga and the other slum, chess students are put against the rich “city boys” of Uganda in a chess tournament.  It’s upper class against lower class; the rich against the poor…but in chess, money and power mean nothing.  It’s how powerful your mind is.

— M

Grade B +

One of the best suspense/thriller movies from 2016, “Don’t Breathe” has three teens (Jane Levy playing the main character of the bunch) breaking into the home of a blind man (played by Stephen Lang) to steal a lot of cash that he supposedly has in the house.

It’s supposed to be an easy job for the teen burglars: Lang lives alone in a Detroit neighborhood where almost every house is abandoned (few witnesses); one of the teens has a master key for the burglar alarm that Lang uses; Lang is old, the teens are young and they outnumber him.  But once inside Lang’s home, the young thieves get much more than they planned for when Lang proves to be a very tough and vicious opponent who also harbors some very dark, nasty secrets.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when the burglars discover a hidden room in Lang’s basement that reveals a shocking secret.

“Don’t Breathe” has a few, minor shenanigans that most viewers will easily forgive because overall, the entire movie works very well.  It is very suspenseful, the pacing is fast, the acting is good, you’ll want to know what happens to each of the four characters, and there are a few surprises thrown in there that seasoned movie fans should be able to foresee.

— M

B+

From the mind of J.K. Rowling comes “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them,” an amazing tale of the adventures of a young wizard (perfectly played by Eddie Redmayne) who goes to NYC in the 1920s in order to retrieve and find homes for fantastic, magical beasts that would otherwise be destroyed by the wizarding community.

Redmayne will face many serious hurdles during his mission: not knowing how to navigate NYC (specifically Manhattan); being unfamiliar with the rules of the wizard community in NY; both wizards and non-wizards fearing the fantastic beasts and wanting them destroyed; and the wizarding community not sanctioning his search, capture, and release (into safe zones) of the beasts.

A larger threat is a powerful force that wreaks destruction and death in NYC, threatening to unveil the wizarding world to the normal humans.  A fantastic, magical beast is blamed; and Redmayne has little time left to prove to the wizards that the cause of the mayhem is some other, supernatural force.  If Redmayne fails at what he must do, a war between normal humans and wizards may erupt; and all the fantastic beasts in Redmayne’s care will be destroyed.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Redmayne and his wizard friend/love interest are sentenced to death, and we see the manner in which the execution is carried out.  The executioners mention that it won’t hurt, but I think it will!

“FBAWTFT” was much better than I anticipated, and it is a very good companion piece to the “Harry Potter” movies.  But it does suffer from two huge plot holes — or shenanigans, as I like to call it — that cannot be easily dismissed.  The wizards have the power to reverse any damage to property, and remove memories of magical experiences by normal humans.  In addition, the wizards can wreak such havoc upon the world and there is very little that the normal humans can do about it.  One wizard can probably destroy a small country in a day.  So why do the wizards fear having their existence revealed, and some possible war against the normal humans happening?

— M

Grade B –

Manny’s Movie Musings: In London, Naomi Watts (playing a nurse) helps a Russian girl give birth…the child lives but the mother dies.  Only a diary written in Russian by the dead mother will shed light as to who the girl was.  So what does Watts do?  Does she go to the police and say “Here you go, do your job?”  Nope, she goes to a Russian restaurant and asks the owner to translate; and wouldn’t you know it, the owner happens to be a big time, Russian mobster who is connected to the dead mother!  Now Watts, her family, and the baby are all in danger.  But Viggo Mortensen (who plays a low-level Russian mobster), may have a way out for Watts.  Is he helping Watts because he is attracted to her, or does Mortensen have his own agenda against his employers?  But for the outrageous shenanigan of **SPOILER ALERT**a mobster easily stealing a baby from a hospital, this engaging drama/suspense/thriller would have received a higher grade.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Eastern Promises” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT**two Chechen mobsters attack Mortensen in a bath house, and Mortensen, while naked, has to fight off the big gorillas as his ding-a-ling happily swings back and forth — it is horrifying and comedic at the same time.

— M

Grade A-

In a “Zootopia” type world, a broke Koala (played by Matthew McConaughey) runs a broken down theater and gets the bright idea to hold a singing contest to generate interest in his failing business.  The prize: $1,000 (mostly in trinkets that comprise McConaughey’s meager possessions).  But his secretary, an old Chameleon (the funniest character in “Sing”), accidentally prints out fliers that says the prize is $100,000, and before the mistake is found, the fliers spread throughout the city of…ummm…the city of “Sing.”

Among the hopeful contestants are: a shy, teenage elephant; a mother of dozens of piglets; a porcupine trying to make it as a solo act; a sleazy mouse (or small rat); and a young gorilla who is looking for another life beyond what his gangster father is offering.  Together, they will endure hardships and craziness that will either bring their lives up or have them crashing back down to their bleak existence.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Sing” is the funny and heartbreaking scene of McConaughey washing cars for money.  Stripping down to his underwear, he soaks up car wash soap into his fur and writhes against a car, removing not only dirt but every ounce of his pride and self-respect.

“Sing” is a movie the entire family will like.  It’s not one of the best animated movies (roughly half of the jokes are a bit lame), but it does offer memorable covers of famous songs and enough fun to be enjoyable.

— M

Grade C+

After the mysterious and gruesome death of his beloved grandfather, Asa Butterfield (playing the lead role) discovers that his grandfather’s tales of children with super powers and the monsters that seek to kill them are all true.

What begins as spiritual healing for Butterfield ends as a wondrous adventure that is also terrifying as he is introduced to Eva Green (who plays the title role) and her home for peculiar children.  Each visit strengthens his bond with Green and her charges, especially for a floating, teen girl.  Happiness that has eluded Butterfield in his own world is finally found in “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children,” but one mistake will jeopardize not only his own life, but the lives of all his new friends and love interest.  Butterfield and the peculiar children must learn to be brave and fight the monsters that have come to kill them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “M.P.H.F.P.C.” is the scene that shows how the monsters came to be, and why they need to kill peculiar children.  It may be a bit too much for little kiddies, so parents beware.

“M.P.H.F.P.C.” gets a mediocre grade because it has too many shenanigans.  Some of the peculiar children have powers that can devastate an enemy quickly, yet they don’t take advantage of them or they wait until the last minute to use them.  Granted, some are little kids and have never been in combat, but the older children could have easily instructed the little ones on how and when to use their deadly powers.  **SPOILER ALERT** One older child (I’m being nice here, because she looks like she is 25-years-old) has the power to generate so much oxygen from her body that she can float a sunken ship, yet she can only put out about 20 seconds of air to pin the lead monster against a wall, after which the monster is free to do more damage?  Get the hell out.

I found the first two acts of this movie to be entertaining, but the last act — where most of the shenanigans take place — left me questioning what the hell the filmmakers were thinking.

— M

Grade B

Manny’s Movie Musings: Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, respectively; a power hungry couple who decide to assassinate their king so that Fassbender will usurp the throne.  The funny thing is…Fassbender knows that his treachery will bring serious blowback to himself, but Cotillard spurs him on.  After their traitorous deeds are done, and Fassbender and Cotillard are king and queen of Scotland, paranoia and madness sets in the mind of Fassbender, leading him to murder men, women, and children so that he may keep his fragile grip on the throne.  But a vengeful husband and father comes with ten thousand soldiers to put an end to Fassbender’s tyranny, and Fassbender will have to answer for all the blood that he has spilled.   “Macbeth” is overly stylish to the point of distraction; but the performances of the main characters are top-notch (although the combination of accent and an ancient way of speaking makes it difficult to understand what is being said).  My most memorable, movie moment of “Macbeth” is the scene when Fassbender burns a woman and her children alive because he believes they will oppose him in the future.

— M

Grade C –

Manny’s Movie Musings: Two young sisters tough out a lengthy power outage in a house deep in the woods.  With supplies dwindling, people becoming more feral and desperate, the sisters must make a decision to either ride out the crisis in the relative safety of their home, or make a long, dangerous journey to a place rumored to have some semblance of civilization.   “Into The Forest” is saved from a failing grade had it not been for the great performances of Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood (playing the sisters); and the fine cinematography by Daniel Grant.  Many of the decisions the sisters make will just leave you going “huh, what the hell?”  For example: Wood dancing every day for months, using up so many calories, calories that cannot easily be replenished as their food supply is decreasing…instead of going into survival mode, she keeps practicing as if the world will be back to normal any day now, despite 4 or 6 months of no power.  Oh, well, not every movie can have a great script.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Into The Forest” is the scene when Wood, after a traumatic event, refuses to take the last aspirin, telling Page to “save it.”  Page insists Wood take the entire tablet, and Wood says she’ll just take half.  It’s a wonderful and painful scene of the love the sisters have for each other, and how much each is willing to sacrifice for the other.

— M

Grade C +

The third movie in the “Fast And The Furious” movies — but chronologically takes place much later in the series — has a teenager (played by Lucas Black) sent to school in Tokyo because he’s been a naughty boy in America and his illegal racing activities will get him sent to prison unless he goes to another country to live with his father.  Huh?  What?  Hey, never mind…this isn’t a movie about logic and realism.  Anyway…

Black is now in Tokyo, gets the hots for a classmate who is dating a gangster (played by Brian Tee), and is introduced to drifting (a controlled, sideways movement of a fast moving car).  Ah!  “Tokyo Drift” you say with a big grin.  Not wanting to look like a punk who can’t drive, Black is taken under the wing of “TFATF” alumni Han (played by Sung Kang) to be taught how to drift so Black can settle all his problems by racing and drifting.  Makes sense?  No?  Well, it’s not supposed to!  This movie is for people who like to drive fast cars and want to see crazy, fast driving in the movies.  I’m one of those people, but I also appreciate a well-written story.  Oh, well, at least I get half of what I want.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Kang is being chased by Tee, and Kang’s car flips over and explodes, killing Kang.  Why is this so memorable to me?  Because the Han character played by Kang is my favorite in all of “TFATF” movies.

Although “Tokyo Drift” is my least favorite movie of this series, it still ties in to the storyline, especially to the later movies, so it’s a must see for “TFATF” fans.

— M

Grade B +

Based on a true story — in Hollywood speak, that means about 25% is true (and I’m being very generous here) —  “War Dogs” is about two young guys from Miami who sold weapons to the U.S. military despite having no business doing so.  Going after the smaller contracts that are peanuts to the Pentagon but worth hundreds of thousands to the young dudes (played by Jonah Hill and Miles Teller), their rocky, sometimes hilarious and dangerous foray into gun running bring riches and a feeling of invincibility, a combination that can be lethal.

Greed and more greed puts Hill and Teller into the dirtiest realms of their business, where they will be in the crosshairs of gangsters, the U.S. government, and each other.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when Hill is trying to buy weed from a bunch of thugs.  After paying, the thugs pretend not to know what Hill is talking about and refuse to give him his drugs.  Hill laughs, calmly walks to his car, removes a submachine-gun from his trunk, and fires off about a dozen rounds in full auto into the air, sending the thugs scurrying away like cockroaches!

“War Dogs” has the same feel as “Pain & Gain” and “The Wolf Of Wall Street.”  The pacing moderately fast, some of the scenes are over the top and outrageous, the tone constantly changes from comedic to serious to scary…overall it has a somewhat hazy, drug-induced, dream quality to it.  This would be a great movie for guys to watch while high on drugs or alcohol.

— M

Grade B

Director Antoine Fuqua teams up again with Denzel Washington to remake “The Magnificent Seven,” a story of farmers and miners who are being forced out by a rich, vicious gold miner (played by Peter Sarsgaard).  Those who take Sarsgaard’s deal are given the short end of the stick; those who refuse the deal will wish they had taken the deal.   But a handful take an alternative route: hire their own gunmen to fight Sarsgaard and his henchmen.

The townspeople end up with seven hired men: a peace officer extremely fast with a pistol; a sneaky gambler who likes to use magic to get the upper hand on his enemies; a notorious killer; a sharpshooter; an Asian who is fast with guns and knives; a legendary tracker; and a Native American deadly with a longbow.  Seven against a hundred.  But the seven have an edge…they have time to fortify the town and set up their defenses; and they have dozens of civilians at their disposal to train and help in the upcoming fight.  The good guys are confident of their chances to win; unfortunately, Sarsgaard has his own surprise for the seven and the rest of the townsfolk.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Magnificent Seven” is the scene when Sargaard brings out a Gatling Gun (an early machine-gun) to bring hell to those who dared oppose him.  This scene gives a major wow factor, and it also gives its biggest shenanigan.  Why did Sarsgaard wait until his men were getting their asses kicked to bring out his special weapon?  Also, at the range the Gatling Gun was used for in this movie, I wonder how effective the bullets would have been once they reach the town.

The Western movie, as far as I know, is an art form originally created in America.  As long as entertaining movies such as “The Magnificent Seven” keep getting made every few years, this American art form will never die.

— M

C +

Manny’s Movie Musings: “Final Destination 3” gives us another set of victims who have cheated death, only to have death come at them one by one to give them worse, cringe inducing deaths.  The movie follows the tried and true formula of the series: the main character sees a vision of her death and those of others, and manages to avoid it; nudity; violent, graphic deaths that are preceded by a strange chain of events; and the futile attempt of the victims to prevent their deaths — no, this is not a spoiler as this is all part of the “FD” package.  Fans come back to this series not to see if the characters die — we all know they will — but to see how they will die.  “FD” movies will never win any award for storytelling; its goal is to provide fun, albeit slightly twisted entertainment on seeing characters die horribly.  My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when the two blonde ditzes die in the tanning salon.  Their deaths are probably the most horrific because of how long it takes them to die.

— M

Grade B

Two brothers (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster) rob banks in order to make the payments on the family ranch that is about to be foreclosed by a bank.  They need to come up with a certain amount, and then they’ll be done and will no longer have to worry about money — the family ranch has been found to contain a tremendous amount of oil that would provide an income to the owners of about $50,000 a month.  Using multiple vehicles to do their illegal transfer of wealth, Pine and Foster attack the banks early in the morning to minimize resistance and witnesses.  But Foster, an ex-con, has a wild streak; and he may be the one to provide the mistake that a Texas Ranger (played by Jeff Bridges) is depending on to get an edge on apprehending the brothers.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Hell Or High Water” is the scene when Pine and Foster are being chased by armed civilians after the brothers robbed a bank — this takes place in Texas, by the way.  Sick of running, Foster stops his vehicle, grabs a fully automatic assault rifle, and just lights up the vigilantes.  It is an awesome display of firepower from just one rifle and one man who knows how to use it.

“Hell Or High Water” is a good drama/action/suspense movie that will have some people rooting for the bad guys.  The constant reminders of unemployment, billboards of “easy” loans and debt relief to those desperate for money, and of course, what we know of the government’s and big banks’ roles in the great financial collapse a few years ago…it’s easy to want Pine to get away with what he is attempting.  Foster’s character, on the other hand, is different animal.

**SPOILER ALERT** I would have given this movie higher marks, but the shenanigan of Pine getting away with everything he’s done is just too much to let go.  The story offers a detailed but unsatisfying explanation as to why Pine remains free at the end, and it just does not ring true.  With so much damage done, no way the law would allow this to be swept away and be happy to pin it all on Foster.

— M

Grade A

Disney has produced another hit with “Moana.”  Playing the title role, Auli’i Cravalho is a princess of a South Pacific island.  Kind, intelligent, brave and adventurous, her desire to see what is beyond her island home is impeded by her father’s warnings of the dangers that are out in the deep ocean and Cravalho’s duty to stay home and learn how to be the next chief of the people.   She reluctantly gives up her dream of sailing into the ocean far from home…until the plant and fish that Cravalho’s people depend on to survive either die off or disappear.

Learning of an ancient tale of a demigod named Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) who stole a precious stone that provided life to the ocean and islands, Cravalho goes on a treacherous journey to find Johnson and force him to put the stone back; and hope that would bring balance, peace, and life back to her world.  There will be many challenges for the young princess: she lacks knowledge of deep ocean sailing; she has a mentally challenged chicken as a stowaway; Johnson does not share Cravalho’s eagerness to return the stone back to where it belongs; a swarm of tiny, coconut-headed pirates roam the ocean; Johnson’s magic hook must be taken from a giant crab who will not give it up so easily; and a fearsome god made of lava guards the entrance to where the stone must be returned.  Yup, it’s going to take a team of brilliant writers to get her through all this!

My most memorable, movie moment of “Moana” is the scene when the princess gets a visit from her grandmother at a time when the princess is at her lowest, ready to give up and go home.  It is a touching scene, especially to viewers who have lost a loved one and believe that our spirits go on, and one day we will see them again.

Fully realized, likeable characters; a great story; positive messages; amazing animation; scenes that are very funny and scenes that put a lump in your throat; catchy songs…these are all present in “Moana.”  Bottom line, it’s a great movie that adults will enjoy with their children because, like most Disney movies, it just makes you feel better about life.

— M

Grade B –

It is the 1980s.  The uneasy peace between mutants and humans will be threatened when a powerful mutant named “Apocalypse” (played by Oscar Isaac) is freed from his prison.  Having the power to amplify the powers of other mutants, Apocalypse recruits and empowers four mutants to protect him (the four horsemen of the Apocalypse — yeah, I know, it’s kind of corny) as he implements his plan to destroy humans and create a new world for mutants.  Standing in the way of Isaac’s nightmarish dream are James McAvoy (who plays mutant Professor X) and his mutant students called X-Men.  It will take all their combined efforts — and maybe a bit of outside help — to defeat Isaac and his four minions.

My most memorable, movie moment of “X-Men: Apocalypse” is **SPOILER ALERT** the sequence that had mutant Quicksilver save all the X-Men in the Westchester mansion from an enormous explosion.  This outstanding display of Quicksilver’s powers makes one wonder how he could not destroy Isaac and his four horsemen by himself.  I find this to be a huge shenanigan that forced me to take a lot of points away from this movie.

Although “X-Men: Apocalypse” is one of the better X-Men movies (the sheer number of mutants going toe to toe is a comic book lover’s dream), it suffers from two huge plot holes (one already mentioned in the previous paragraph).  The second plot hole is this: why doesn’t Isaac just make a general call for any disgruntled mutants to join him from the beginning?  Take over a tv station and make his offer to the world.  With so many mutants being abused throughout the planet, Isaac would have amassed an army of hundreds, if not thousands, of mutants; and he would have been unstoppable.  So why didn’t the movie have this take place?  Probably because the writers were like “Uhhh…we’re not going to deal with that, and hope no one notices.”  Well, we noticed.

— M

Grade B –

Manny’s Movie Musings: based on the novel by Stephen King, “Cujo” is about a rabid Saint Bernard who terrorizes a mother (played by Dee Wallace) and her young son (played by Danny Pintauro).  Trapped in a small, Ford Pinto that doesn’t start, Wallace and Pintauro spend several agonizing days in the heat inside their car, unable to escape with Cujo just waiting for them nearby.  No cell phones, no neighbors…if Wallace doesn’t make a desperate attempt to flee or kill Cujo, she and her son will surely die in the car from heat exhaustion and dehydration.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Cujo” is the scene when Wallace has her car door open and trying to take care of Pintauro, and Cujo appears behind her and goes in for the kill.  Although “Cujo” feels at times like a made for tv movie (most of the director’s work is in tv), it is still a good horror/suspense movie that continues to be relevant today with all the reported dog attacks against humans.

— M

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings: Mila Kunis plays an overburdened and stressed mother/wife who has had it with her bratty kids, lazy and cheating husband, a jerk of a boss, and the de facto leader (played by Christina Applegate) of the school that Kunis’ kids attends.   So one day she decides to no longer put in 100% all day every day, instead being satisfied with just getting by; and laying down the law with all those who have abused her and taken her for granted for so long.   What follows is a revelation that no mom is perfect, and it’s okay as long as one loves their children and teaches them to be good people.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Bad Moms” is the scene when Kristen Bell, who plays a mousy mom, finally stands up to her hubby and yells “And I said, I’m going to the fucking PTA meeting with my fucking friends, so stop being such a goddamn pussy and make it work!”  Oh!  Oh!  Ha ha!  “Bad Moms” is a hilarious movie that isn’t just for women, but for anyone who likes irreverent comedies with a lot of heart.

— M

Grade B +

“Sausage Party” is a raunchy, hilarious (except to those who are very sensitive) animated movie about the secret life of food in a big, grocery store.  Seth Rogen plays a hot dog whose main goal in life is to be united with a hot dog bun played by Kristen Wiig.  They, along with thousands of other foods, live a happy and carefree life in the store, believing that one day, a human will pick them up and take them to food heaven where they will be set free and all will be well.  But when a few food products who managed to escape the carnage that awaits food in the hands of humans comes back to the store and tells of the horrors they experienced, panic quickly spreads, forcing the foods to either deny what their true fate is, or fight the humans in an all out war for survival.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Sausage Party” is the scene when the food products that have been bought by a shopper get a shocking and brutal reality check of what the purpose of food is.

As with most Seth Rogen movies, this is not just about gross-out, crude jokes.   “Sausage Party” does have a heart, too; and makes some commentaries on prejudice and tolerance and acceptance…it just does it in mostly disgusting, but funny, ways.  Bottom line: Seth Rogen fans should not miss this one; non-Rogen fans may want to move on and watch another re-make of another Jane Austin movie.

— M

Grade B –

With more metahumans coming out of the woodwork, the U.S. government creates a secret, task force made up of metahumans to fight other metahumans who do not have the world’s best interests at heart.  Viola Davis, playing a top government agent who creates this metahuman squad, unwisely chooses villains to fill out the group.  Yes, at first this seems like a ludicrous idea…after all, how can you trust these villains to do your bidding?  And the character of Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie…how can this psychopath be expected to follow orders, even under the threat of having her head blown off by implanted, miniature explosives?  The idea of this “Suicide Squad” is so far-fetched, how can the audience blindly accept it and sit back and have fun with the movie?  Well…let me tell you…

The U.S. putting madmen and psychos under payroll and setting them up to acquire a tremendous amount of power is very real, and very common.  Manuel Noriega, Ferdinand Marcos, Osama Bin-Laden, and Saddam Hussein are a few examples.  Soooo…the idea of the U.S. government hiring maniacs to fight other maniacs isn’t that far-fetched after all.

Soon after Davis sets up her squad under threats and/or promises of freedom and extra goodies, a metahuman threat arises.  Ironically, it is a threat that is borne from a squad member!  Will Smith (playing Deadshot) leads the “Suicide Squad” into the fight, and as expected, things do not go smoothly.  How can it?  The squad has never fought as a group before; one is psychotic; another made a promise to himself to not use his powers anymore; two of them just want to escape; and the squad wasn’t given the full story of who they are fighting and how this threat came to be.   Working together and defeating a powerful enemy will take a miracle, and they need that miracle to happen fast because the entire world is about to end.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Suicide Squad” is the scene when Robbie finally puts on her outfit.  ‘Nuff said.

“Suicide Squad” is a reasonably entertaining, somewhat mindless action flick that has two memorable characters: Deadshot and Harley Quinn.   While Robbie killed it as Quinn, Smith seemed miscast for his role as Deadshot.  Add to this a script that needed more polish and focus, and what could have been a great movie is reduced to one that is just okay.

— M

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings:  Mexicans illegally crossing into the United States are hunted and killed by a sadistic American (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his bloodthirsty dog.   Equipped with a scoped, high-powered rifle, an off-road pickup truck, a well trained dog, and plenty of supplies, Morgan seems to be unstoppable in “Desierto”…until he goes up against two illegals played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Alondra Hidalgo.  Although the movie touches on some current topics in the U.S., “Desierto” is predominantly a story of a psycho taking out mostly innocent people.   My most memorable, movie moment of “Desierto” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Morgan comes upon what Bernal did to his dog.  It was the only time I took pity on Morgan — as evil as Morgan was, he loved his dog; and I know what it’s like to see one’s four-legged friend suffer and die.

— M

Grade B

A mother’s secretive past produces an evil entity that haunts not only her, but her two children (played by Teresa Palmer and Gabriel Bateman).

When Bateman’s sleepiness gets him into trouble at school, his big sister, Palmer, who lives on her own, is called in to answer for his condition and to pick him up.  After getting a quick rundown of what’s going on in the house, Palmer suspects that the entity that haunted her as a child — an entity she believed was a figment of her imagination — could be real, and is now coming after little Bateman.

With a bit of research into her mother’s past and her own, first-hand experience, Palmer realizes that her family is up against a powerful spirit that has killed before…a spirit that gains strength in the dark and is weakened in the light.  For Palmer and Bateman to have any hope of stopping the entity, they must conquer their fears and work together, and convince their frightened mother to help them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Lights Out” is the scene when we first see the evil spirit.  It was…very frightening.  I think if that happened to me, I’d crumple up into a ball and start crying.  Not Denzel Washington crying, but Matt Damon crying.

Although this movie is several levels above the typical, horror movie out there, it does suffer from a few shenanigans, such as the main characters voluntarily separating from each other during crisis mode.  The lights have gone out, and you go off on your own to do some investigating?

Bottom line: if you’re going to watch “Lights Out” by yourself at night with the volume turned up in your home theater system, you may want to keep some lights on.

— M

Grade B

Manny’s Movie Musings: Better than I expected, “Be Somebody” is about a famous pop singer (played by Matthew Espinosa) who “escapes” his mom/manager and assorted handlers for a few days and lives the life of a regular teenager in a small town.  He meets a hardworking, talented, down to earth girl (played by Sarah Jeffery); and despite their lives being complete opposites, they hit it off and become friends quickly.   Of course, there is more than a friendly spark between them; but he cannot stay in her world and she cannot be in his world.  If a fine balance isn’t met, then their budding romance is doomed from the start.  “Be Somebody” is not the typical teen movie.  Yes, it has a few cliches; but it also leans toward the melodramatic and serious side, and most of the scenes involve just Espinosa and Jeffery.  This is a movie older teens will appreciate and find refreshing, I think.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Be Somebody” is the scene when Jeffery lets Espinosa in her car so he can avoid a few teen girls who are chasing him.   Completely unbelievable, as she has no idea who he is; and therefore is letting a stranger in her car at night.  Still, it was a cute scene.

— M

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