Grade A

Director Robert Rodgriguez adapts Frank Miller’s comic book into a stylish, entertaining, and engrossing movie that rarely pulls its punches.

“Sin City” intertwines three stories of murder, corruption, greed, gluttony, love and sacrifice: a Detective (played by Bruce Willis) putting his freedom and life on the line for a kidnapped girl; a brutish thug (Mickey Rourke) with some decent qualities goes on a rampage to find the killer of a hooker; and a criminal (Clive Owen) who helps prostitutes fight the police and mob.  All three stories are ultra violent — sometimes to the point of comedy — and the main characters are memorable.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Sin City” is the scene when Willis, near the end of the movie, decides on a course of action that he believes would spare the life of someone he loves.

“Sin City” is a movie that is substantial as it is stylish.  Fans of noir and comics will have a great time with this movie, and will surely watch it again.

— M

 

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Grade A

 

Three brothers (played by Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn, and Henry Thomas) fall in love with the same woman (Julia Ormond), and their passions for her will threaten to destroy their brotherly bonds as World War I erupts in Europe.

The patriarch of the family (Anthony Hopkins), a righteous man who has had his fill of combat in his younger years, takes his three sons to Montana to live a peaceful and quiet life away from the madness.   The years are good to Hopkins and his sons, prosperous and peaceful…until Thomas returns from college with his fiancée, Ormond.   Another twist adds to the family’s troubles: Thomas, Quinn, and Pitt all volunteer to join the Canadian Army to fight in the first World War, each for their own reasons — Pitt’s reason being more poignant.

One tragic event follows another, until familial bonds are shredded almost beyond repair.  But life goes on, people persevere, and wounds sometimes heal.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Legends Of The Fall” is the scene when Pitt comes back to the soldiers’ camp after a night of raiding enemy foxholes.  On a horse, slowly riding forward and slightly slumped, Pitt is a hellish figure, face and body covered in blood, and scalps of his enemies hanging from his body.

“Legends Of The Fall” is an epic romantic / action / drama with an extremely talented cast of actors (Pitt and Ormond and Quinn and Hopkins are superb), and blessed with an expert director (Edward Zwick) and brilliant composer (James Horner).  Some will view this movie as overly melodramatic, and I can see their point; but I happen to like this movie a lot.

Yes, Maximus, I was extremely entertained.

— M

 

C-

 

“Midnight Sun” is about a teen girl (Bella Thorne) who has a disease that forces her to stay away from sunlight.  Her whole world is her house, her dad, and her best friend.  Only at night can she come out of the house, and even then she rarely does that.  One of her favorite things to do is watch a boy (Patrick Schwarzenegger) walk/skate by her house as he goes to school or swim practice.  After years of crushing on him, she finally meets him at night during one of her rare, late night excursions, and a romance slowly blossoms.  Wanting to be treated as a normal girl, Thorne doesn’t tell Schwarzenegger of her affliction, but this proves to be dangerous when both teens lose track of time.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Midnight Sun” is the scene when Thorne prepares her dad for the possibility of a worst case scenario, and she asks him to promise her that he will live a full life and do the things he hasn’t done because he was too busy caring for her.

I nickname this movie “Nicholas Sparks Lite” as it has many elements of a Sparks story, but done not as well.  These movies are emotionally manipulative — as are virtually every story ever told — and melodramatic to the point of being Kraft cheesy, but these things are to be expected of movies of this type (if you swim with sharks you don’t really have the right to complain that your foot got bit off).  My complaints about “Midnight Sun” are: Schwarzenegger’s lackluster acting skills and the dopey dialogue of the “meet cute” scenes.  Had the studio spent more time finding a more  talented actor to fill the role that Schwarzenegger took, and really fine tuning the script to get rid of the corny dialogue and expand the role of the “bitchy” teen girl to add more drama, “Midnight Sun” would have been a much better movie.   As it stands, it remains in the mediocre list.

— M

Grade B-

 

Why do I give this ridiculous movie such a high grade?  I like Bumblebee.

“Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen” throws logic out the window and doesn’t seem to care if you notice it; and of course, lots of fast paced, loud and lengthy action sequences are shoved in your face to shake off those critical thoughts you are trying to formulate.

So…who exactly are “The Fallen?”  It turns out to be a single, high ranking Decepticon, just waiting out in space for the last Prime (Optimus Prime) to be destroyed.   Oh, this Fallen dude is Megatron’s boss, and Megatron will stop at nothing to bring his boss back to power.  But, how is Megatron still alive, you wonder.  Well, the U.S. government, in its infinite wisdom, takes Megatron’s body and dumps it into the deepest part of the ocean.   Why didn’t they just let Optimus Prime tear him into so many pieces that Megatron can never come back?  Why not shoot Megatron with howitzer shells laced with phosphorous?  Why not…never mind.  Anyway, a shard of the allspark thingy from the first movie is used by the evil Decepticon transformers to bring Megatron back to life; and now the Decepticons are racing to the Middle East to activate a device that will destroy the Sun, and the Autobots and a few good humans are there to meet them head on and stop their evil plans.

Okay, I can’t wait anymore to tell you of my biggest gripe: a Decepticon Terminator.   Transformers have the power to scan a machine and take on that form, right?  But in this movie, they can now transform into Size 0 models.  Yup, skin, hair, all that.  How?  It’s not explained.  This is where I hold my hands up and just shake my head.   The revelation of the Decepticon/Terminator woman is my most memorable, movie moment of “Revenge Of The Fallen,” memorable because of how bad this screenplay can get.

Typical of Michael Bay movies, the pacing is fast, there are numerous, poignant scenes that quickly vanish, the action sequences are spectacular, and logic takes a back seat.   If you don’t take it too seriously, this second “Transformers” movie can be very entertaining.  Despite the overall stupidity of the script, it does manage to elevate itself slightly because of the running themes of friendship and loyalty and sacrifice.

— M

Grade B+

 

Loosely based on true events, “Veronica” stars Sandra Escancena as a teen girl who uses a Ouija board with her friends to summon the spirit of her father.  What comes answering her call is a malevolent entity that seeks to destroy Escancena and those closest to her.

There is no build up to the paranormal occurrences as it starts almost immediately, putting Escancena’s life into a fast, downward spiral as she desperately seeks help to end the horror and save the lives of her little sisters and brother.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Veronica” is the scene when a blind nun tells Escancena what she has done and what she is in for.  It is a scene that is masterfully crafted, chilling for the average viewer and thrilling for filmmaking buffs who enjoy watching great techniques of a director.

In many ways “Veronica” is a standard possession/haunting movie; but the fast pacing, the very good acting, and amazing photography puts this movie a few levels above the average horror offerings.

— M

Grade A

 

Good and evil alien robots that have the ability to transform into other mechanical objects come to Earth seeking a powerful artifact that can bring life or destruction.   Shia LaBeouf, who plays a teen who unwittingly owns an object that has a clue to the whereabouts of the valuable artifact, finds himself in the middle of a war between the Autobots (good Transformers) and the Decepticons (evil Transformers) when he buys a used Camaro that turns out to be an Autobot named Bumblebee.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Transformers” is the scene when Megan Fox (the love interest of LaBeouf) asks why Bumblebee, with all his alien robot technology, would transform into an old, piece of crap Camaro.  Bumblebee comes to a sudden halt, throws out LaBeouf and Fox, and speeds off.

There are many who are not fans of Michael Bay.  I think most are in the category of film snobs.   Michael Bay is great at what he does: make fast-paced, action movies that have a dramatic, driving score that accentuates the numerous fleeting but highly dramatic moments.   Realism is not his forte; but when it comes to dramatic spectacle, there are very few who can rival Bay.  He has made “Transformers” not just about robots fighting humans fighting robots; it’s also about a boy’s taste of freedom when he finally gets his first car and the opportunities it opens up with the girls.   With all the outrageous, action sequences and amazing special effects, what really connected me to this movie is the love LaBeouf has for his car —  you really have to be a guy to understand this.

— M

Grade B+

The Guardians Of The Galaxy are back in Vol. 2, which focuses on who and what the father of Chris Pratt (the leader of the “G.O.T.G.”) is.   On the run from petty, golden colored creatures, the Guardians run into a man (played by Kurt Russell) who saves them and explains to them that he is a Celestial being — basically a god, virtually immortal with great powers.  Pratt, always wanting to know who his father was and why he was abandoned, now has an answer to his questions, as well as someone he can yell at for being an absentee father.

It isn’t long before father and son hit it off; but Russell hides a secret that may rip the Guardians apart and destroy the Universe.   As if that wasn’t bad enough, the golden colored creatures and other assorted enemies make their appearances at all the wrong moments.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2” is the scene when a major character makes the ultimate sacrifice to save a loved one.   It almost brought a tear to my eye.

If you loved “Guardians Of The Galaxy,” you will like this sequel.  It comes close to reaching the quality of the first, but comes up a bit short.  The jokes are more numerous but some feel forced and aren’t that funny.  Some of the action sequences also feel too cartoony; but overall I very much enjoyed “G.O.T.G. Vol. 2” with its irreverent humor, nods to the 1980s, and sentiments to family and friendship.

— M

 

Grade C-

“Minutes Past Midnight” is a horror anthology that would have fallen flat on its face and stayed that way had it not been for three stories that redeemed it.  “The Mill At Calder’s End,” “Feeder,” and “Ghost Train” were the best of the bunch, offering very good acting, direction, cinematography, music, and screenplays.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Minutes Past Midnight” is the scene that reveals what happened to the boy who disappeared in “Ghost Train.”

Fans of horror movies should at least watch the three stories I mentioned above; and if you have some time to kill and want to watch a few ridiculous, short movies, then watch the other stories that “Minutes Past Midnight” has to offer.

— M

Grade B+

 

Near the beginning of WWII, hundreds of thousands of British soldiers and their allies were trapped by the German forces on the beaches of Dunkirk.  The ships to rescue the allied forces were few and far between, and those few that were sent were under attack from German bombers and U-boats.  The British, desperate to save at least a small portion of their trapped soldiers, decide to commandeer small, civilian boats to assist in the rescue.  This is the story of “Dunkirk.”

Told from three timelines that eventually intersect, “Dunkirk” will confuse the typical moviegoer who doesn’t fully pay attention.   One timeline starts a week before the civilian rescue; one timeline starts about a day before the civilian rescue; and the third timeline starts about one hour before the civilian rescue.   This is a complicated way of telling the story, but it is effective and absolutely necessary to keep the tension high throughout the movie and to get the audience emotionally invested in the major characters from the beginning.

Timeline one: Tom Hardy plays a British, Spitfire fighter pilot who flies to Dunkirk to engage German bombers and fighters.

Timeline two: Mark Rylance plays a civilian who takes his small boat to Dunkirk to save the soldiers trapped on the beach.

Timeline three: a young, British soldier spends days trying to escape Dunkirk in any way he can.

When I started seeing things that were familiar — the same parts of the movie told from different angles and with either more or less detail — even I was trying to figure out what was going on, but quickly figured out what Director Christopher Nolan was doing, and became very impressed with his choice of storytelling.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Dunkirk” was the scene when Hardy was still flying his plane that ran out of gas, providing air cover for the soldiers below him.

This movie would have been given an A rating had it not been for the confusing ending.  **SPOILER ALERT** Why did Hardy fly so far away from the British soldiers to land his plane, leading to his capture by the Germans?  Why not glide to an open spot on the beach close to the British?  I understand there were still tens of thousands of allied soldiers on the beach and he didn’t want to hit any of them as he landed, but come on!  Are you telling me the soldiers on the beach wouldn’t have gotten out of the way?  I am guessing Nolan wanted a dramatic ending — and it was dramatic — but that drama was ruined because it made no sense to me.  What better way to up the morale of the British and French troops by safely landing on the beach after downing several fighters and bombers despite being low on fuel and actually running out of fuel?  This man’s a hero!  Still killing the enemy with a fighter plane that ran out of fuel!  Still protecting his fellow soldiers as he glides over the beaches and shores!  And then he…keeps gliding far away from the allied troops and lands where the Germans are.   Huh? What?  Are you kidding?  Sorry, Nolan, you made a bad choice.

— M

Grade A

 

Based on the true story of a rugby team and a few family members and friends whose plane crashed into the Andes mountains.  A brief search for the plane and its occupants were made and soon called off when nothing was seen.  Low on food and with no rescue coming, the survivors resorted to eating the dead.  After several weeks of hopelessness and cannibalism, a few of the survivors decide to walk the treacherous grounds for a desperate attempt to reach Chile and send help back to those still by the crash site.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Alive” was the scene when the survivors, after deciding to eat the dead, go out of the broken plane and line up to start taking chunks of flesh from the frozen bodies that were left outside.

“Alive” doesn’t delve much into the details of the cannibalism part of the story, rather it concentrates on the courage of the survivors and the spiritual nature of their struggle and ghastly actions.  What could have easily been an exploitative movie became an uplifting one, showing the audience that people, despite horrific circumstances, can still be hopeful, dignified, and courageous.

— M

 

 

Grade B

 

The second of the Thor movies, “Thor: The Dark World” has the Universe threatened by an evil, elf ruler who wants to use something called the Aether (a powerful, energy source).  As Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) goes from one world to the next to quell wars, as well as sulk because he misses his girlfriend (Natalie Portman), the evil guy and his evil henchmen are on the march to retrieve the Aether and bring destruction to every world he can reach.   Why?  Because he’s evil.

Hemsworth has a plan to destroy the evil elf dude, but it goes against his father’s wishes.   Hemsworth decides to do it anyway with the help of his “brother” Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and a few Earthlings who are in way over their heads.  The plan is risky, and failure means the deaths of gazillions of creatures in many worlds.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Thor: The Dark World” is the scene when ** SPOILER ALERT ** Hiddleston is told that his adopted mother has been killed in combat by the evil elf ruler.   Quiet and calm at first, Hiddleston suddenly destroys his room with his magic.  Earlier in the movie, Hiddleston uttered harsh words toward his adopted mother.

“Thor: The Dark World” was more fun than I thought it would be.  The action sequences were very good, as expected; but the dialogue and how the main characters interacted with each other were done very well, which has become the trademark of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.  Despite the alluring special effects and thrilling action scenes, the characters are the ones we truly connect to.

— M

Grade B+

 

Shakespeare’s “The Taming Of The Shrew” is the basis for “10 Things I Hate About You,” a fun, sweet, romantic-comedy that has a surprising amount of substance.  Julia Stiles plays the “shrew,” a highly intelligent teen who is fiercely independent and speaks her mind at all times.  So what’s the problem?  Well, her sister is a social butterfly who wants to date but isn’t allowed to by the father…unless Stiles also dates.  The father’s idea is that Stiles will never date, and so the other daughter won’t either, and neither of them will do any crazy, sexual things with boys.

But two young men — one of whom is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt — desperately want to date Stiles’ sister; and so both of them work up a scheme to have a fearless, bad boy in their school (played by Heath Ledger) to ask out Stiles.   Typical of a rom-com, the lead romantic couple “meet cute,” they start to really like each other, then a monkey wrench gets tossed into the situation that can potentially mess everything up.

My most memorable, movie moment of “10 Things I Hate About You” is the scene when Stiles gets up in front of her English class and reads a poem that is basically a list of things she hates about Ledger.  It was the most poignant part of the movie as well as showing the wonderful talent of Stiles.

What sets “10 Things I Hate About You” apart from the typical, teen rom-com are: solid, three-dimensional characters of Ledger, Stiles and Gordon-Levitt; very clever dialogue dished out by Stiles; the two lead characters are very likeable; and the great chemistry between Stiles and Ledger.   It took me almost 20 years to finally see this movie, and now I know why it is so popular.

— M

Grade B-

 

Stephen King’s novella of the same title gets a decent adaptation in “The Mist.”  After a strong storm, a large mist quickly surrounds a town, trapping dozens of people in a supermarket.  Terrifying creatures roam within the mist, hunting and killing anyone who ventures outside.  But danger also lurks within the refuge of the supermarket.  As the hours slowly tick by, the people form opinions on what is happening and how to survive it.  Three separate groups start to form, and one will overpower the others, ushering in a new level of violence and bloodshed that will rival the horrors within the mist.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Mist” is the scene when 5 survivors trapped in a vehicle make a shocking decision.  More on this below.

I have read the novella and thought it a brilliant piece of writing.  But the movie version is…far from brilliant.  Two things prevented it from being great.  First: Thomas Jane is completely wrong for the part of the main character.  His superhero looks had no place in this story.  The main character was a regular person forced to do extraordinary things under a tremendous amount of pressure and fear.  Jane was completely out of his element as he wasn’t believable at all when he tried to look afraid.  I was expecting him to suddenly walk around with his Punisher shirt on, blasting the creatures with a large, automatic rifle and saving the whole world.  Second: the ending.   I understand some of the logic that went to the decision that was made in the vehicle; but there was another option.  And the aftermath of that decision?  Depending on your values and point of view, you will either be horrified and stunned, or start to laugh.   And the fact that the ending can produce laughter tells me that it was the wrong ending to put in this movie.

The creatures were great though.

— M

Grade B-

Manny’s Movie Musings: an interesting plot set in The Bronx, NYC, “Babygirl” has Yainis Ynoa playing the title role, plotting to destroy her mom’s relationship with a younger man who has his eyes set on Ynoa from the beginning.  Ynoa’s plan involves using herself as bait; but things get messy when Ynoa develops feelings for her mom’s lover.  At an age somewhere between a woman and a girl, the innocent Ynoa has a difficult time making sense of her feelings and what she wants; and yet she plays a serious game that can destroy her relationships with her mom, her best friend, and a nice boy who likes her.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Babygirl” is the scene when Ynoa and the guy find themselves alone in a hallway late at night, staring at each other.   It is tense and very creepy.   Rosa Arrendondo gives the best performance in this indie movie that is mostly cast with unknowns.

— M

Grade B-

Knowing that more metahumans and assorted superpowered creatures will be coming to Earth with a bad attitude, Batman (played by Ben Affleck), recruits other metahumans (Gal Gadot as Wonderwoman, Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Ezra Miller as the Flash, and Ray Fisher as Cyborg) to form a league to combat all the incoming super bad dudes out there.  Affleck’s problem is that some of the metahumans in his wish list don’t want to join, and they all still have to learn how to fight as a unit.

And then comes Steppenwolf, a super bad guy who has been alive way before the invention of toilet paper, always in a pissy mood and wants to control everything he sees.  He is in search of three special boxes that will give him more power to accomplish his goals.  But the “Justice League” is there to do their best to put a wrench in Steppenwolf’s hostile takeover machine.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Justice League” is the scene when Momoa didn’t know he was sitting on Gadot’s truth lasso, and he just started spewing funny and insulting comments about his League members.   The best joke was on Affleck.

Grade B-…not bad for a movie, right?  Well, for a $300 million movie (plus the costs of advertising and distribution) it’s a failure.  For one thing, there were too many cooks in the kitchen.  With two directors working on this movie at different times, you just know certain things aren’t going to mix well.   Then there was the mandate that the movie should be about two hours long.  Hmmm…a movie that has to tell the origins of Steppenwolf, plus Aquaman, plus Cyborg, plus The Flash, plus show how Affleck gets all his people together, plus that whole thing with raising Superman from the dead and how he was going to deal with it and how the world and the League will deal with him…all that in two hours?   Studio executives…please stop taking cocaine/Vicodin/alcohol when you make decisions about a movie.  Two hours were definitely not enough to tell this story well, and it shows.

Then there are the shenanigans, such as Wonder Woman being fast enough to deflect bullets from an automatic weapon, yet where the hell was all that speed when she fought Steppenwolf?  Then you have The Flash who is supposed to be extremely fast (some sources say about the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second); but he is getting his ass handed to him a few times by the bad guys who have normal speed.  The same with Superman (played by Henry Cavill): he is now extremely fast and should be able to kill Steppenwolf’s minions by the thousands in a few seconds, but can’t.   Suspension of disbelief doesn’t mean the audience will forgive poor screenwriting and numerous logical flaws in the story.

Problems, problems; but $300 million does buy a lot of eye candy.  For those who want to be dazzled and entertained, this movie may do it for you.  Just don’t expect too much substance, or sense.

— M

Grade C-

 

Manny’s Movie Musings: “Detour” is an indie flick about a teen (played by Tye Sheridan) who enlists the help of a young gangster (Emory Cohen) to kill Sheridan’s dad (Stephen Moyer).  The story’s strengths are the talented, young cast (Sheridan and Cohen); and a manipulation of the timeline to produce a clever twist at the beginning of the third act plus a more shocking twist near the end.  “Detour” is weakened by the dialogue Cohen speaks, making the actor seem like a wannabe Tarantino character and the writer/director just a plain, wannabe Tarantino.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Detour” is the revelation of the twist ending that turned this somewhat entertaining movie from a suspense/thriller into a tragedy.

— M

Grade B+

 

Hundreds of years into the future, a transport ship crashes into a desolate planet with no means to send a distress signal.  A captured convict (played by Vin Diesel) on his way back to prison, a bounty hunter (played by an icy Cole Hauser), a co-pilot (played by Radha Mitchell) who is focused on saving her life at the cost of others, and a handful of assorted voyagers are the unlucky ones.

At first, Diesel is considered the biggest threat to the survivors because he is a convicted killer of many and an escape artist; but a quick exploration of the planet with three suns reveals terrifying creatures that lurk underground in the darkness, waiting for the right moment to go above ground…and that moment will come soon when a lengthy eclipse takes place.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Pitch Black” is the scene when Diesel kills a large monster easily, then says “Did not know who he was fucking with.”  Maybe Diesel is the biggest threat on the planet.

“Pitch Black” is a low-budget, sci-fi/horror movie that definitely delivers.   The story, direction, acting, pacing, and special effects are solid.  The three main characters — of Diesel, Mitchell, and Hauser — have enough depth to them to add extra layers of complexity to the story.  There is one bit of shenanigan that I will address: the numerous creatures are starving, and there aren’t enough people to feed on, so they start feeding on each other, and one is so crazed by hunger it doesn’t fly away when light — which hurts the creatures — is shined on its body as it attacks a survivor.   Why didn’t this happen more, especially when the light source of the survivors were weak and few?

— M

Grade B-

Manny’s Movie Musings: Jennifer Aniston plays a single woman whose biological clock is ticking so loudly she decides to use a sperm donor to get pregnant.  Jason Bateman, playing Aniston’s best friend, is horrified at her choice, partly because he is subconsciously in love with her.  During Aniston’s get pregnant ceremony/party, Bateman gets wasted on alcohol and drugs and switches the donor’s sperm for his own.  Aniston moves away to have her baby; and 7 years later, she and her son move back into Bateman’s city.  The boy’s personality is very much that of Bateman, who slowly realizes why that is; and now he has to decide if and when to tell Aniston of his discovery.  My most memorable, movie moment of “The Switch” is the scene when Bateman decides to make the switch because of his drug/alcohol induced accident; and out of desperation, uses an image of Diane Sawyer to help him get his product out.   “The Switch” is a typical, formulaic rom-com, meaning you’ll get exactly what you think, including the ending.  Still, it has its funny moments.

— M

Grade B

 

Adapted from a Stephen King novella, “1922” stars Thomas Jane who plays a farmer who will do whatever it takes to hold on to his farm, his son, and his way of life.  Standing in his way is his wife, played by Molly Parker, who has fallen out of love with Jane and wishes to sell her part of the farm and start a new life in a big city.

The idea of losing all that he loves in this world keeps twisting in Jane’s mind and gut until he becomes twisted enough to manipulate his son into helping him kill Parker.  The murder is slow and violent, and Jane has crafted a story that may keep people from asking too many questions about his wife’s disappearance.  But sometimes, the dead don’t stay dead.

My most memorable, movie moment of “1922” is the scene when Parker’s spirit — covered in blood and showing the wounds she suffered at the hands of her husband and son — first comes to Jane.

“1922” is a well-crafted ghost story, moving slowly and methodically, building up the suspense and horror.  It doesn’t rely on cheap scares.  The horror comes from what people can do to those they love because of greed, and the guilt and damnation that results from the evil that people do.

— M

Grade A

 

The life of one man intersects through several pivotal and troubling moments of American history.  Welcome to the very interesting life of “Forrest Gump.”

Playing the extremely likeable, title character is Tom Hanks.  Born slightly “slow” with a crooked back, he will face many challenges as a boy and as an adult.  Despite the mental and physical handicaps, Hanks is blessed with great strength and speed; and a warm and generous heart that will always lead him to where he needs to be.  His God given talents and the love of his life (played by Robin Wright) will see him through school bullies, the Civil Rights march, college, the Vietnam War and the protest against it, the loss of loved ones, and a floundering business venture.  This simple yet extraordinary man will seek his destiny as he goes through life, not knowing that he already fulfills it time and again since he was a child.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Forrest Gump” is the part when Hanks uses his speed and strength to rescue wounded members of his platoon during an ambush in Vietnam.

“Forrest Gump” deserves its place as one of the movies that should be watched before you kick the bucket.  It is funny, sad, uplifting, and very entertaining.

— M

Grade C+

 

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was a huge disappointment to a long time “Star Wars” fan such as myself.  Okay, here we go.

The rebel Resistance are on the run, hunted down by the evil First Order ruled by the Dark Side.  Daisy Ridley, who plays a young woman strong with The Force, seeks a Jedi master (Mark Hamill) who is in hiding; and begs him to help with the fight against the First Order and maybe train her to be a Jedi — sounds a bit like “The Empire Strikes Back” right?  Why not, as “The Force Awakens” was similar to “A New Hope.”

Then there is the puzzling and badly written (which fits right in with the rest of the movie which revels in its mediocrity and goofball jokes) subplot involving two Resistance fighters going to a casino to find a person who excels in hacking stuff so they can bring him back to the bad guys’ main ship to sneak in unnoticed and destroy some gizmo that allows the bad dudes to track the Resistance fleet — what’s left of it — even in hyperspace.  Destroy the gizmo, and the Resistance can zoom away and escape to fight another day.  But that may not be necessary because the leader of the rebel fleet intends to abandon the main ship and use escape transports to sneak into a planet that has been abandoned but has an old rebel base there.  Oh, the escape transports have a cloaking device to keep the bad guys from seeing them on their monitors…but…you can still see the escape ships!  Yes, the rebel fleet are miles from the bad guys’ ships, but are you telling me there is no one on the bad guys’ bridge with a super duper binocular to get an up close and personal view of what the good guys are doing?  At this point I may as well continue with my beef with this movie.

The opening sequence, which was very good in a menacing way, was completely ruined by jokes.

John Boyega, playing a Resistance fighter and the only black guy with a significant role in this movie, is still a damn clown.

Hamill’s character was handled badly.  The movie tried to make him look like a tragic character, something out of a Shakespeare story; but the writer, who is also the director, mangled the job so badly that Hamill came off as a blubbering fool.  In his first appearance of “The Last Jedi,” Hamill casually tosses his lightsaber behind him like a half eaten apple.  What a great way to start destroying a character that could have added sorely needed darkness and depth to this movie.  I understand that this movie is supposed to demystify the Jedis; but by doing that the writer/director/producers/studios are destroying the essence of “Star Wars.”  On top of that, demystifying the Jedis was done in a half-assed way, so the result is a double whammy.

There was no interesting lightsaber fight.  None.  The one with Ridley inside the Supreme Leader’s throne room looked like something out of a second day rehearsal.  As for the last lightsaber duel, it doesn’t even count — I can’t say why or else I’d spoil a big surprise.  A great lightsaber fight sequence could have saved this movie, but there was none.

There were too many elements stolen from “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return Of The Jedi.”

Ridley’s character is hinted as someone who already knows the way to being a Jedi, and she can continue without Hamill training her and be fine.  Huh? What?  It is established that it takes many years to fully train a Jedi Knight.  As strong as Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) was with The Force, he still needed over a decade of training by Jedi masters.  So…Ridley will be okay and be a Jedi Knight one day because of three lessons Hamill taught her, plus reading the sacred Jedi books that she managed to take from Hamill’s island?

Captain Phasma was next to Boyega when the ship was damaged badly.  Everyone around Boyega was hurt badly or killed, and yet we see Phasma entering the cargo bay hundreds of feet away, unblemished and marching through smoke.  Yes, dramatic, but made no damn sense.

Hamill apparently has a newfound power that wasn’t established in any of the 7 previous “Star Wars” movies (including “Rogue One”).  So, Disney is just going to make s@#t up as they see fit, damn the “Star Wars” bible (the original three movies)?

There are more problems I noticed with this movie, but I don’t want to write a novella here, so…my most memorable, movie moment of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was the scene when Chewbacca was about to eat a cooked and tasty looking Porg as living Porgs gave him the sad eye/horror-stricken look.  This scene was genuinely funny, and it says a lot about this movie that this is my most memorable, movie moment.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” are movies that shouldn’t have been made if they were going to be this disappointing.  I understand Disney sees this franchise as a cash cow.  Fine, but Disney needs to put competent writers to work on this series.  Imagine how much more money can be made if the movie is actually good!

To Hollywood writers/directors/producers/studio executives: please refrain from using alcohol and drugs when making movies.

— M

 

Grade B+

 

Manny’s Movie Musings: Will Smith plays the title role in “Hitch,” a debonair, love guru in Manhattan who helps out men completely lost on how to approach the women of their dreams.  As Smith coaches a lovable klutz (played by Kevin James) into getting his dream girl to take interest in him, Smith meets and becomes very interested in a woman (Evan Mendes) who believes all men are dogs and true love is just a fantasy story.  Although Smith’s experience gives him an edge into breaking Mendes’ mental wall, he will soon discover that the rules he created for himself and his students don’t always apply.  “Hitch” has all the elements of a good romantic-comedy movie: the main characters are likeable and they “meet cute”; things go well until a huge misunderstanding ruins everything; the problems are resolved in a funny and satisfying way by the end of the third act; the secondary characters are adorable and funny to watch; and the main players have great chemistry with each other.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Hitch” is the scene when Smith has an allergic reaction to seafood and his face blows up as if he was stung by a thousand bees!

— M

D+

 

A book titled “Death Note” magically falls from the sky and comes into the possession of a teen-aged boy (played by Nat Wolff) who is sick of the injustices that he experiences.   Flipping through the pages, Wolff reads the rules that are laid out in the book, the main one being the person whose name is written on the Death Note will die.  Wolff doesn’t believe all of this, of course, until the spirit that gives the Death Note power shows up suddenly in a somewhat comical scene.  With a bit of prodding from the spirit, Wolff writes the name of his first victim — a school bully — into the Death Note, along with a general description of how the bully will die.  Seconds later, it happens.  And just like that, Wolff’s descent into vengeance and darkness begins.

Wolff doesn’t go into this Faust-like journey alone.  He reveals what the Death Note can do to his High School crush (played by Margaret Qualley), and she readily tangles herself up in this horror.  Together, Wolff and Qualley write down the names of those whom they think are not fit to live, trying to right the many wrongs in this world.  But power corrupts; and when the law comes close to solving the case of who is doing all these mysterious killings, the true natures of Wolff and Qualley will come out.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Death Note” is the scene when the first victim is killed.  It reminded me of a “Final Destination” style kill — gruesome and fun.

“Death Note” had such potential, all ruined by poor execution on the part of the director and writers.  The movie is plagued by shenanigans.  The lead investigator of the mysterious mass killings has a “theory” that the killer needs a name and a face before he or she kills.  Although his theory is correct, it is never discussed exactly how that theory came to be.  Then we have an abandoned, government black ops site that still contains secret files!  Also, the spirit that gives the Death Note power is sometimes shown in a funny way, ruining scenes that could have been very tense and/or horrifying.  There are more negative things to mention but I’ve wasted enough time on this movie, so I’ll end it with this: “Death Note” is an eh movie that is good to watch if you have seen almost all the new movies out there and you’re desperate to watch a new, sort of horror flick.  Think of it as a granola bar: it won’t satisfy you, but it’ll keep you from starving.

— M

 

Grade B+

 

Gal Gadot plays the title role in this retelling of the super hero’s origins and first encounters with humans.  Raised to be a super warrior on an island of Amazons, fearless Gadot trains with the expectation of one day fighting the god Ares, who is thought by the Amazons to come back one day and kill all the humans and Amazons on the planet.  When a soldier (played by Chris Pine) crashes his plane near the Amazons’ island, his story of a great and terrible war happening all over Earth is interpreted by Gadot that this is the doing of Ares.  Gadot follows Pine into the world of humans where her kind heart will be overwhelmed with the duality of humans (their savage and loving nature).

At first, Pine helps Gadot blend in with the crowd, trying to ease her away from what he considers her insane mission of going to the front line to seek Ares and kill the god of war.  But no one can tame her spirit; and when the innocent are suffering, Gadot’s disguise comes off and Wonder Woman comes out in all her glory.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Wonder Woman” is the scene when Gadot is in the trenches with the soldiers.  Upon hearing of civilians trapped behind enemy lines, she shrugs off her coat and goes into No Man’s Land alone, fully dressed in her Wonder Woman armor.  Beautiful, exciting, and dramatic, she charges forward ready to kick some serious enemy ass.

Stripped down to its basic essence, this is a love story between two very likeable characters.  The awesome special effects and thrilling, action set pieces are just icing to a substantial cake.

— M

Grade B

 

River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Jerry O’Connell, and Corey Feldman play best friends in Stephen King’s coming of age story, “Stand By Me.”  In the 1950s, four boys leave their rural town to search for the body of a missing boy who is rumored to be rotting near train tracks.  Their two day adventure will test their bonds of friendship as they encounter a vicious junkyard dog and his owner, killer trains, wild animals roaming at night, leeches, bullies, and of course, themselves.

My most memorable, movie moment is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Wheaton points a gun at Kiefer Sutherland.  Sutherland asks if Wheaton is going to shoot him and his whole gang.  Wheaton answers “No, Ace, just you.”

Director Rob Reiner does a good job with this non-horror story from King.  Add to this a very young and talented cast with some breakout performances by Phoenix and Sutherland, and the result is a very entertaining movie in a subgenre that is usually boring and predictable.

— M

Grade B

 

A famous writer (played by James Caan) gets into an accident while driving through a blizzard and is rescued by his “number one fan” (chillingly played by Kathy Bates).  With an injured shoulder and badly broken legs, Caan is bedridden and is cared for by Bates, who at first comes off as a guardian angel; but as time passes, she proves herself to be quite the opposite.  Caan utilizes all the imagination of a brilliant writer to find an escape, but it may not be enough to counter Bates’ devious mind.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Misery” was the “hobbling” scene.  No matter how many times I’ve seen it, it still makes me cringe.

Rob Reiner does a good job of directing this Stephen King story.  All the elements of a good suspense tale is here, and Bates’ performance takes this movie to a higher level of quality.

— M

Grade B+

 

Manny’s Movie Musings: “Letters From Iwo Jima” is one half of a two movie set about the World War II battle on the island of Iwo Jima. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the movie focuses on the Japanese soldiers’ perspective; and is based on the letters the commanding officer of Iwo Jima wrote to his family.  “Letters…” shows the hopes, fears, and struggle of the island’s defenders in a way that humanizes them.  Strip away the combat and uniforms, and what you have are mostly young men who love their families and just want to go home and live ordinary lives.  Sounds like most people, right?  My most memorable, movie moment of “Letters From Iwo Jima” is the scene when an officer commands his men to commit suicide, and one by one, each grabs a grenade, pulls the safety pin out, and holds the small bomb close to their chest until it explodes.  This is the rare scene in this movie that shows a drastic difference between American and Japanese soldiers in WW II.

— M

Grade A

 

An engrossing tale filled with tragedy and hope, “Mudbound” takes us back to the mid-1940s Mississippi, where two families (one white, one black) struggle to make a living at farm work.  The black family is at a disadvantage because they are poor; and the color of their skin automatically makes them targets for many angry, prejudiced, white males of the South.  But hope blossoms everywhere, and it comes in the form of two men who come back to Mississippi after World War II is over.

Jason Mitchell plays one of the sons of the black farming family; and Garrett Hedlund plays the brother of the white, farming family patriarch.  Both have seen the grotesque nature of combat, and both have experienced a bigger part of the world — changes that will have the power to bridge the huge gap between white and black, but can also destroy both men and their families.  Customs and certain ways of thinking of an entire region doesn’t easily bend or break to the dreams of a few people.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Mudbound” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Hedlund tries to rescue Mitchell from the KKK.  It is a brutal, indelible part of the story that begs the question “Where does all this hate come from?”

“Mudbound” takes its time to tell its story in the first act, laying the groundwork for what is to come next.  Many scenes are somewhat gothic in nature; and the transitions from one scene to the next can sometimes be jarring and may be construed as incompetent editing by those who are not paying attention.  But to those who give this movie their complete attention, they will see the subtle connections, and appreciate the power in the quieter moments.

— M

Grade B+

 

Lindsay Lohan plays a home schooled teen raised in Africa who is finally going to a regular school.  She will quickly find out that nothing is regular in the High School that she will go to.  The teachers are a bit mentally off; and the students are like a microcosm of the wild animals that Lohan has seen during her African upbringing.   Alone in this teen jungle, Lohan must carefully navigate the numerous cliques of jocks, burnouts, cool Asians, wannabes, nerds, and the powerful “Mean Girls” ruled by Rachel McAdams.

Lohan quickly befriends two outcasts who persuade her to join the mean girls and use whatever secrets they tell Lohan to help bring down the mean girls’ reign of terror.  Lohan reluctantly agrees; but when one wears a mask for a long time, it becomes difficult to distinguish the real face from the mask.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Mean Girls” is the scene when McAdams discovers she has been duped into eating “health” bars that actually makes a person gain weight.  The long scream that came out of her mouth was priceless!

“Mean Girls” flies high above the average teen rom/com/revenge flick because of Tina Fey’s script, Mark Waters’ fine direction, and the good acting of the principal actors.  It’s no wonder this movie has many repeat viewings.

— M

 

Grade C-

The sixth movie of the “Saw” franchise has the usual ingredients that fans of the series enjoy: traps that lead to gory deaths that will make the audience cringe and probably laugh, rapid-fire cuts in editing, a fast pace, and the surprise twists at the end.  Although Jigsaw (played by Tobin Bell) is dead, he makes appearances through flashbacks and causes pain and suffering via his last wishes that is given to his wife and Costas Mandylor, who plays a dirty cop who continues the work of making people suffer and die for not appreciating their lives — apparently, being a smoker or a secretary to an insurance company is enough to put you in one of the traps.  As Mandylor carries on the brutal games, the F.B.I. comes close to revealing who the new Jigsaw is, forcing Mandylor’s hand to prevent this from happening.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw VI” is the scene when Shawnee Smith’s character is revealed to have some connection with what happened to Jigsaw’s unborn child — a connection that will lead to some of the crucial moments of this movie.

Making most of the victims in “Saw VI” health insurance workers was an interesting way to try to get the audience to get more emotionally involved in the story.  After all, isn’t it more fun to see characters you hate suffer?  Despite this and the extra revelations of how some major characters are connected with the others, this series is well past retirement age.  But as long as it is profitable, Hollywood will prop it up on walkers and an oxygen tank and put it to work again.

— M

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