Archives for category: Movies/Criticism/Funny

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings: Part 2 of “The Hobbit” trilogy leaves part 1 in the dust with faster pacing, more interesting characters (Legolas, Galadriel, and Tauriel — played by Evangeline Lilly), more character development, better action sequences, and what we’ve all been waiting for…the dragon Smaug in all his evil and crazed glory.   Whereas “An Unexpected Journey” was like an old man wheezing his last breaths, “The Desolation Of Smaug” felt like a youngster getting his second wind during a race.  My most memorable, movie moment of “The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug” is the scene when Smaug is awakened and his gigantic, fearsome body is fully revealed.   This movie suffers from the usual shenanigan found in the previous four Tolkien movie adaptations: characters who can kill dozens of enemies per battle and never seem to get harmed; they fall from great heights, get hit very hard by giant creatures, and they dust themselves off and keep fighting as if they were made of steel.  Yes, these movies are fantasy, but there is a limit of how much b.s. people are willing to put up with.

— M

Grade B –

Manny’s Movie Musings: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” has a young, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) reluctantly going off on a great adventure with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a bunch of dwarves to reclaim the home and treasure of said dwarves.  The problems: a giant, bodybuilder orc is after the leader of the dwarves, and he isn’t alone; the trek is a long way off and filled with enemies big and small; and the dwarves’ home/treasure are guarded by a dragon that can incinerate armies.  My most memorable, movie moment of this first part of the trilogy: the riddle challenge scene between Bilbo and Gollum.  “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” unexpectedly did not live up to the standards “The Lord Of The Rings” trilogy had established.  The music is good, the special effects are amazing, the scenery is incredible…but the characters are…eh.  Freeman, McKellen…no problems there.  But the majority of the dwarves are forgettable and irritating.  Except for the king dwarf and the old dude dwarf, they were filthy and disgusting creatures, like teeny Klingons.  I really didn’t give a damn whether they lived or died or got their home and treasure back.  To make things worse, most of the dwarves were introduced so fast it’s hard to tell many of them apart, and virtually no time was given to get to know most of them.  If it wasn’t for Freeman and McKellen being part of the group, I would’ve rooted for the dragon to incinerate them all.

— M

Grade B +

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a successful, fresh start to one of the most loved, Marvel Comics character.  Playing a 15-year-old Peter Parker/Spidey is Tom Holland, who is perfect for the role, and better at it than any other actor who played the webslinger in previous movies and tv specials (yes, there were live-action, Spider-Man tv specials a long time ago).  After coming home from his epic battle in Europe (“Captain America: Civil War”), Holland is back in Queens, NYC, itching for a new mission from his mentor, Tony Stark/Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.).  But his dream of another epic fight doesn’t come, and Holland is forced to do street level superhero stuff while juggling the cruelties and confusion of High School.

Then one day, Holland comes upon a weapons deal that leads him to a gang of criminals who deal in modified, alien tech.  A gang that is led by The Vulture.   A gang that will test the teen-aged superhero in every way. With his pleas for assistance from Downey Jr. seemingly going unanswered, Holland takes it upon himself to stop The Vulture from stealing more alien tech that will kill many more lives.  But the cost of saving lives may cost Holland his own.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the final scene of the movie.  I won’t spoil it, but I will say it was shocking and very funny.

Let me address a big problem many fans/moviegoers had with this movie: Spider-Man’s lack of his “spider senses,” which warn him of dangers.  I do believe he does have his spidey senses; but it is done in a very subtle way.  In the comics and cartoons, Spidey says things like “My spider senses are tingling…”  Well, we can’t have that in the movie, because it’ll just sound retarded.  When Spidey is dodging bullets or items being thrown at him, we just have to assume part of him doing that is because of his spidey senses.  And yes, I know Spider-Man gets hit quite often in this movie…that’s not proof of his lack of spidey senses.  In the comics and cartoons, Spider-Man takes hits also, despite having spider senses that warn him of immediate danger.  He’s not perfect, once in a while he gets hit.  Also, remember that in this movie, Spider-Man is 15-years-old, and still adapting to his newly-found powers, powers that sometimes overwhelm his senses.  His suit addresses that sensory overload, but not completely.  So, bottom line, this isn’t an issue for me.  Moving on…

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a very good movie that I think will satisfy most fans of this character.  Tom Holland once again kills it with his portrayal of a teen version of Spider-Man, as does Downey Jr. with his flawless take on Tony Stark.  Add to this lots of huge, action sequences, numerous funny moments, an interesting villain, great special effects…it all adds up to a very memorable, Spider-Man movie.

I do have to mention a huge shenanigan though: a plane full of extremely valuable/dangerous items is flying solo, no guards inside, no automated Iron Man soldiers, no military escorts?  It just relies on a stealth tech, and it has a “blind spot” that The Vulture takes advantage of?  Get the hell out!  But for this huge, glaring shenanigan, I would have given this movie an “A” grade.   It doesn’t ruin the movie, of course; but it does take quite a bit of the shine off.

— M

Grade A

“Hidden Figures” is based on the true story of three black women who helped in America’s race against the Soviets to put the first man in space and on the moon.  Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae portray three women who work in NASA, fighting not just racism but sexism.  Their weapons of choice in their struggles: their brains and perseverance.

At the start of the movie, the Soviets are beating the U.S. in the race to get a man into outer space.   NASA is in full swing, needing as many human “calculators” as possible since the IBM computers have not been set up yet.  The most intelligent women of the black section of NASA are called in to the front lines to help with calculations and problem solving; and Henson, Spencer, and Monae all rise to the challenge to help put the first American into space and safely get him back to Earth.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Hidden Figures” is the scene when Henson flips out on the all white group she works with regarding her ordeal with having to use the segregated bathrooms half a mile away from her workstation, plus not being able to use the same coffee pot her counterparts are using.   All her work and effort and help…and she is still treated as an inferior human.  This scene was so intense it woke me up and got my adrenaline rushing (it was about 3 a.m. in the morning when this scene came on).

“Hidden Figures” — a title that can be interpreted in two ways: black women who were part of the almost all white workforce of NASA; and the math that needs to be developed for further space travel — is a great movie that shows not only the struggles of blacks, but of women, in a world dominated by white men.  Balancing this out are white, male characters that are open-minded and want only the best on the job, regardless of color or sex.   Tempering the drama are the many comedic moments in “Hidden Figures,” most of which are charming and a few are laugh out loud funny.  You get a bit of history, and a lot of entertainment.

— M

Grade C –

Another offering by Nicholas Sparks, “The Last Song” stars Miley Cyrus as a teen girl who, along with her younger brother, is sent to live with her estranged father (played by Greg Kinnear) for the summer.  And now, for the cliches: Cyrus has a huge attitude because she hates her father for divorcing her mom; Kinnear is the nice, protective father who is desperate to reconnect with his daughter…and he has a secret that will alter the lives of his children forever; the son is a smart-ass who is insightful for his age; Cyrus, despite her anger issues and raggedy looks, will attract the local, young stud (played by Liam Hemsworth); Hemsworth turns out to be more than a pretty face — he is a guy with a heart of gold, and he is looking for “the one”; Cyrus can’t stand Hemsworth — or so she pretends — then starts to like him…then hates him again for withholding a secret from her that affects her father (who she used to hate but now kind of likes)…then likes Hemsworth again because she forgives him and she really really likes him and…well, you get the idea.

The worst things about “The Last Song” are the numerous cliches mentioned above, Cyrus’ lack of serious acting skills, the lack of onscreen chemistry between Cyrus/Hemsworth, and the forced, goofball scenes that are supposed to make the audience go ga-ga for these two young lovers.  The “meet cute” part isn’t cute at all, it is corny as hell and made me cringe that someone could write something so bad for a Hollywood movie.  Then there is the actor who plays the young son: his constant, constipation face is both funny and annoying.  Add the tears and the snot during the dramatic moments and it’s just all too much.

Saving this movie from a much lower grade is Kinnear’s very good acting.  It’s natural, subtle in most cases, and very believable.  Hell, he was my favorite character.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Last Song” is when Kinnear’s secret is revealed.  Sparks fans won’t be shocked as they know how this writer operates.

So…do I recommend this movie to Sparks fans?  Yes, because I know that fans of Nicholas Sparks will want to gobble up anything he writes, even if many say it is a substandard piece of work.  Fans will always need to watch for themselves.  So, watch “The Last Song,” and see for yourself.  Everybody else, there are much better rom-com/dramas out there.

— M

 

Grade B

After being dumped by her boyfriend, a woman (played by Amy Schumer) goes on vacation with her mother (played by Goldie Hawn) to Ecuador.  Although polar opposites — Schumer is outgoing and ready to drown her sorrows in booze and penis, and Hawn is happy to stay home and feed her cats — there is enough of a bond between mother and daughter to warrant Schumer to cajole Hawn to go with her…and there is the fact that the tickets are non-refundable and no one else wants to go with Schumer.

Not long after landing in the touristy spot of Ecuador, Schumer befriends a handsome local who takes great interest in her despite her craziness.  Too good to be true?  Damn right!  It turns out the local is part of a kidnapping ring; and because Hawn accompanied Schumer on her second date with the guy, it’s a two-for-one kidnap special.   Mother and daughter must find a way to set aside their differences and work together to escape the clutches of the vicious, deadly, and moronic gangsters who have taken them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Snatched” is the scene when Schumer is being dumped by her boyfriend: it is sad, pitiful, and very funny.  Her pain, our entertainment!

It’s not lost on me that “Snatched” has been torn apart by many viewers.   I gave this movie a shot, and I laughed my ass off.  And that is the bottom line for any comedy, right?  A special mention goes out to actor Ike Barinholtz, who stole the show playing Schumer’s agoraphobic, mildly retarded and slightly insane brother.

— M

Grade A

Based on the true story of the rap group NWA (Niggaz With Attitude) that started in the 1980s and revolutionized rap, “Straight Outta Compton” is a mesmerizing movie that holds your attention with its brutal, gritty scenes, good acting, energetic concert sequences, and powerful, in your face music.

O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, and Jason Mitchell portray three of the NWA founding members, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E, respectively.  From the mean, gang infested streets of L.A., these young men will hone and use their talents to rise above the killing fields and forge a new path for rap that is still felt today.  Brutal cops, vicious gangbangers, a sketchy manager (played by Paul Giamatti), jealousy and infighting among NWA members, and censorship will test the bonds the group members have.  Some will get stronger, some will fall by the wayside; but their music lives on.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when NWA is harassed by the LAPD just for standing around a building that houses a recording studio they are using.  That harassment inspires Ice Cube to write the lyrics for the song “Fuck Tha Police.”

“Straight Outta Compton” is one of the best biopics to have come out in the past decade, filled with a raw energy that can suck you in even if you are not a fan of rap songs.  And for those who do like rap, this movie will be much more enjoyable for you.

— M

 

Grade C –

Manny’s Movie Musings: Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a couple who stay in a secluded, vacation house who are terrorized by three masked strangers.  With their lines of communication and transportation destroyed, Tyler and Speedman are on their own and must find a way to survive the night.  My most memorable, movie moment of “The Strangers” is the scene when Speedman finally locates a shotgun and shotshells, enough to kill an army of strangers.  But — and here is why this movie gets a low grade — Tyler and Speedman make one stupid move after another.  It’s as if they suddenly got stupid and decided to do everything wrong.  Were the characters that stupid, or was the writer/director not a very good screenwriter?  I choose the latter.  A few well set-up scares saved “The Strangers” from getting a much lower grade.  Yes, Maximus, I was entertained; but not as much as I would have if the director was a skilled screenwriter.

— M

Grade B +

Writer/Director/actor Leigh Whannell creates a surprisingly good horror movie with “Insidious: Chapter 3.”  Most horror series, once they are up to part 3, the truly horrifying thing about them is how badly they are made and how much they suck.  Not so with this third round of the “Insidious” movies, which makes it more of an abnormality…in a good way.

Stefanie Scott plays a teen who recently lost her mom to cancer, and now she is hearing things and believe it’s her mom trying to contact her.  But instead of letting the dead be dead, Scott tries to communicate with the entity she thinks is her mom — but it’s not her mom.  A terrible accident has Scott die for a few seconds, and when she comes to life, she will find that she has brought something very evil into her life…a spirit that she nor her family can fight off by themselves.

Coming to their rescue — maybe — is an elderly medium we have seen from the first two “Insidious” movies, played by Lin Shaye.  Although Shaye had many encounters with dark spirits in the past, giving her an insight and wisdom on what to do, Shaye is spiritually weakened by a personal tragedy and a direct threat to her life from The Bride In Black spirit.  To be successful in helping Scott and keeping herself alive, Shaye must deal with her fears, or else two good souls will be lost forever.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Insidious: Chapter 2” is the scene when Scott, possessed by a demon, breaks off her cast on both legs and starts walking.  As Scott walks, the bones in her legs can be heard breaking again!  This poor girl…even if she frees herself from the demon, she’s going to have one hell of a recovery period from those broken bones!

Fans of “Insidious” will be very satisfied with this third chapter — it’s almost as good as the first, and better than the second.  It has a few cheap scares, but most of the scares are set up well and play up to your fears of things that lurk in the shadows.

— M

 

Grade B –

“Insidious” left us with **SPOILER ALERT** the father, played by Patrick Wilson, having his body taken over by an evil spirit; and Wilson’s own spirit is in the spirit world through astral projection. “Insidious: Chapter 2” shows us a bit of the past to make sense of what we are about to see in the present, which is the matriarch of the afflicted family (played by Rose Byrne) trying to make sense of what happened in the final moments of the first movie; and her doubt as to who Wilson really is and how to keep herself and her children safe from all the spooks and her possessed hubby.  With the help of a medium and two bumbling ghostbusters, Byrne will be in the fight of her life as she and her family are attacked by evil spirits on two fronts: the spirit world, and the real world.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Insidious: Chapter 2” is the scene when we learn of the tragic origin of the “bride in black” spirit from the first movie.

“Insidious: Chapter 2” is a clever sequel that employs time shifting and spirits of the present visiting people and spirits of the past.   There are the usual cheap scares —  spooks jumping out accompanied by a loud noise — and the genuine scares that takes its time to develop and makes you wonder what the hell is going on.  Unfortunately, the bumbling ghostbusters (one of whom is Leigh Whannell, one of the writers) usually ruin the scary scenes with their comedy acts.  This is a movie that should be played straight, sans comedic, tension relievers.  Let the audience be tense, let them be at the edge of their seats; once you got them on the hook, leave them on the hook until the end.

— M

Grade B +

A mega-hit from the early 1980s, “An Officer And A Gentleman” is a story of a young hustler, played by Richard Gere, who enters the U.S. Navy’s Officer Candidate School and gets a lot more than what he bargained for.

Fresh out of college and carrying a ton of emotional baggage, Gere is off to a rough start in OCS with his loner personality, money making schemes, and defiant nature.  Although he cruises easily through the physical parts of his training, there are still many things that can trip him up: a tough, ever vigilant Drill Instructor (played by Louis Gossett, Jr.); a factory worker (played by Debra Winger) who falls in love with Gere; and a fellow candidate –who is carrying his own set of destructive, emotional problems — who befriends Gere.  OCS isn’t just a test to see if Gere has what it takes to be a Naval pilot, it is also a journey to see if he can open himself to accept life’s most precious gift.

My most memorable, movie moment of “An Officer And A Gentleman” is the scene when Gere and Gossett take their differences to the extreme and engage in a brutal, karate fight.

People looking for accurate, basic training of soldiers will find many faults in this movie; but “An Officer And A Gentleman” is not a documentary on the U.S. Navy.  It is a story of romance and emotional growth, and it hits all the right emotions and sentiments for those who love this genre.

— M

 

 

Grade B

Based on the one-shot comic book of the same title from the late 1980s, “Batman: The Killing Joke” is a disturbing story that deals with four main issues: Joker’s vicious assault on Batgirl; Batman’s uneasy alliance/relationship with Batgirl; Joker’s origin story; and Batman’s perverse affinity for The Joker.

After an unnecessarily lengthy intro of Batgirl’s/Batman’s relationship which doesn’t truly mesh with the second and third acts (said intro not part of the comic book, as far as I can remember), “Killing Joke” gets to the meat of the story, when The Joker attacks Batgirl and kidnaps her father, who is Police Commissioner Gordon.  Batman goes on a rampage, going after every criminal he comes upon to get evidence of where The Joker is.  But when Batman finally finds The Joker, will it be too late?  Will The Joker bring out the madness in Commissioner Gordon?  Will Batman finally succumb to his own rage and kill The Joker?

My most memorable, movie moment of “Batman: The Killing Joke” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Batgirl, not in costume, opens her apt. door expecting a friend and instead sees The Joker pointing a gun to her stomach.

Fans of the source material — I’m one — will most likely not find this adaptation as satisfying as the original.  The comic was less than 48 pages if my memory serves me correctly, and in those few pages it packed one hell of a story that was well-paced and intense.   This movie, by expanding a short story into near-feature length, adds scenes and sequences that slow the movie down.  Yes, the extra stuff adds backstory which yields greater understanding of the main characters; but the pacing and high intensity are sacrificed.

Although far from being great, “Batman: The Killing Joke” is a good movie; and Mark Hamill’s performance as The Joker is outstanding, as usual.

— M

 

 

Grade C +

For those who are Roman numeral challenged, “Saw V” is the fifth movie of the “Saw” series.  Mostly this movie is about one of Jigsaw’s proteges and how this person came to be just that.  It’s a somewhat interesting origin story; and of course, “Saw V” has the traps (half of which are a bit boring compared to the previous “Saw” movies), the cruel and bloody choices the victims have to make to “redeem” themselves, the frenetic editing, the fast pacing, and the lean sets.  What we no longer get are the clever, non-linear story-telling that gives us several twists and surprises in the end.

The shenanigans are also amped up in “Saw V.”  Many traps are huge, set pieces that would take an army of MIT grads with lots of disposable cash to set up.  But we are to believe two or three people (including a near-death cancer patient) did all this.  There is a limit to suspension of disbelief.  Also, there’s a difference between suspension of disbelief, and suspension of b.s.  The former is fairly easy for moviegoers to do; the latter…not so much.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw V” is the scene when two victims put their arms in traps that have buzzsaws so that enough blood can be drawn to release the locks and set them free.   Gruesome, cringeworthy, and a bit funny because both victims were making faces that looked like they were having orgasms.

This fifth installment of the “Saw” series continues the downward slide — regarding the quality of the script — that was started in “Saw IV,” a strong sign that maybe it’s time to put this baby to bed.

— M

Grade D –

A modern, vampire tale: a man (played by Cristobal Tapia Montt) enters a small town looking for a woman.  Instead, he finds trouble: a young thug who does what he wants because of who his father is; and the thug’s father, a high-ranking police officer who will do anything to protect his son.  Father and son commit a heinous crime that they try to cover up, but “The Stranger” has terrible secrets of his own that will threaten to spill the blood of many who live in the town.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Stranger” was the start of the closing credits.  I was so happy that it ended and my suffering was over.  Why did I not stop the movie earlier?  Because I was watching it with three other people…otherwise this movie would have been stopped at the 20 minute mark.

A badly written script (almost every line has the word “fuck” or some variant of it, telling me that the writer/director doesn’t have the skill to create tense, gripping dialogue without the crutch of curse words; characters who do things that make no sense; pacing that is off), and acting that belongs in high school plays completely wreck a good story.  If you’re looking for a movie to watch while folding your laundry and playing with your phone and checking out the sale items on the local CVS flier, then this movie is for you!

— M

Grade A +

A terrifying documentary on the U.S. government’s suppression of evidence of intelligent, extra-terrestrial beings visiting Earth.  Explanations are offered as to why aliens have increased their visitations since the 1940s; and why U.S., ultra covert organizations are willing to do anything to keep the public stupid regarding intelligent, extra-terrestrial life.  For true believers, your life just got darker and more hopeful at the same time.  For non-believers, it’s a hell of a story.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Unacknowledged” is the scene when Steven M. Greer tells his story of a visit from a close friend of Bill Clinton years ago.  The friend tells Greer that Clinton won’t delve too deeply into the secrecy of alien visitations of Earth for fear of being assassinated by those in the U.S. government who wish to keep it secret.

— M

Grade A

Manny’s Movie Musings: a tale of love, grief, loss, and redemption that spans three generations.  Set in Montana before the start of World War I, the lives of a father and his three sons (played by Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn, and Henry Thomas, respectively) are forever changed with the arrival of Thomas’ fiancée (played by Julia Ormond).  The secret passions and a tragic death will threaten to tear the family apart.  Love can heal many things, but will it be enough for this family?  “Legends Of The Fall” is a romance story on steroids.  Great acting, amazing scenery, beautiful cinematography, expert direction, a memorable score and a script filled with drama — in some instances melodrama — makes this movie a romance/drama fan’s dream.  My most memorable, movie moment is the prolonged, trench warfare scene, which gives us a glimpse of the brutal and gory nature of that war.  It was unexpected in my first viewing, but the scene was necessary to set up the spiritual/emotional journey of the main character, played by Pitt.

— M

Grade B

Ten years after “Prometheus,” the crew of the colony ship, Covenant, experiences a serious malfunction of their ship.  Forced out of their expected 7 year cryo-sleep to make repairs, the crew’s focus switches from their destined planet to one that is much closer and supposedly more suited for humans.  Only Katherine Waterston, who plays the second in command, is hesitant to alter the plans; but the acting captain (played by Billy Crudup) and the rest of the crew are insistent on checking out the newly discovered planet, and off they go.

An exploratory team lands on the planet that turns out to be beautiful and teeming with plant life — but no animals or even insects can be seen or heard.  Despite this oddity, some of the crew are already planning on starting their new colony here…until two crewmen suddenly become sick and the horrifying, true nature of the planet is revealed.

Alien spore infestations/gestation/gory emergence, frenetic bursts of intense fights against aliens, impeccable cinematography, good and evil synthetic people (both played amazingly by Michael Fassbender), the mystery of what happened to the last two crew members of Prometheus, and claustrophobic bug hunts are all here.   There are moments where you — the “Alien” movies aficionado — will tell yourself “Oh, I’ve seen this before in previous ‘Alien’ movies,” but it shouldn’t be looked at negatively.  It’s simply director Ridley Scott giving fans what they want to see.  What should be treated negatively are the two, huge shenanigans in “Alien: Covenant” that, had they not been there, would have earned this movie a grade A.

Shenanigan #1: **SPOILER ALERT** Fassbender, as David, easily places his stolen spaceship above the city of “Engineers” and drops a crapload of bio-weapons on the Engineers below.  So these Engineers, with their highly advanced tech capability, had no way of knowing who was piloting their ship, and just let one of their own spacecraft hover above their city without any sort of vetting on who was actually inside the ship?  And where were the other space vessels of the Engineers throughout the city?  This highly advanced race looked like they forgot to pay the bills and all the good stuff were repossessed.  Shenanigan #2: Crudup, despite seeing the evil nature of Fassbender/David, lets himself fall into a trap that even a stoner whose brain is half-baked would’ve seen coming.

The fact that I gave this movie a B despite those two giant shenanigans tells you that I really enjoyed watching this.  Yes, I am a serious fan of “Alien” movies; but beyond that, “Alien: Covenant” is a good movie that combines old school elements with the new, and it definitely deserves to be part of the “Alien” lore.

And now, for my most memorable, movie moment of “Alien: Covenant”: the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Fassbender/David fights Fassbender/Walter.  For a brief moment, this sci/fi flick becomes a kung-fu flick.  It was surprising and entertaining.

— M

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star in “Shaun Of The Dead,” a British comedy/horror about two best friends who are caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in their hometown.  First order of business, find a way to rescue Pegg’s mom and ex-girlfriend, then head to a secure place: The Winchester Pub!  But as everyone knows, there’s what you plan for, and there’s what really happens.  Fans of British comedies and zombie flicks will love this great collaboration of the two genres, giving its core audience lots of funny jokes, zombie action and gore, silliness, and a few well acted scenes of drama.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Shaun Of The Dead” is the scene when Pegg’s group runs into another group of survivors led by Pegg’s friend; and both groups are nearly identical!

— M

Grade B +

1945, Germany.  The Americans are pushing hard toward Berlin.   Hitler has mobilized every German he could get his hands on (old men, women, children) to try to stop the American advance.  At the front lines is a Sherman tank crew headed by a tough Sergeant played by Brad Pitt.  Short one crewman who was killed in action, Pitt receives a completely green, teenaged soldier (played by Logan Lerman) who specializes in typing and never had one minute of training in a tank.

Knowing that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, Pitt forces Lerman to grow up much faster than the kid is able to.  With a huge push deeper into enemy territory coming up fast, Pitt’s crew must work together as one, cohesive unit if they are to have even a small chance of staying alive.

My most memorable, movie moment on “Fury” is the scene when Pitt’s platoon of tanks line up side by side and fire at a treeline ahead of them where German soldiers have taken a defensive position.  With all guns firing (main cannons, .50 Browning heavy machine-guns, .30 machine-guns) the Germans are slaughtered within seconds, with many bodies blown to pieces.

The outer shell of “Fury” is a vicious, gruesome tale of WW II combat.  Within this shell is the story of Pitt, a veteran warrior who is near his breaking point, and is further burdened with a boy he must teach to be a hardened soldier; and in doing so, risks further dehumanizing himself as well as the boy.

“Fury” is one of the best war movies made in the last 20 years; and had it not been for the slight — I’m being kind here — unbelievable nature of the final battle, “Fury” would have been destined to become a classic.

— M

Grade B –

“Saw IV” concentrates on two storylines: what truly motivated Jigsaw (played by Tobin Bell) into putting people into traps; and a cop (played by Lyriq Bent) being tested by Bell to see how far Bent’s obsession will go regarding Bent’s need to save everyone.  While the former is interesting and well played, the latter was forced, with Bent doing many things that were out of character despite the screenwriters trying to justify it with Bent’s emotional problems.

More bloody, heinous traps; more gruesome deaths of victims; more plot twists; more revelations; more mini cassettes with Bell’s altered voice; more frenetic editing and transitions that move the story along rapidly…all leading to more reasons for fans of this series to squirm and laugh and gasp and enjoy the morbid nature of these stories.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw IV” is the very detailed, disgusting, and fascinating autopsy scene.  Unless you have a very strong stomach, this is not the time to be eating your hot dogs or chips and salsa.

Four movies in, and the “Saw” movies still have lots of steam.  How far can it go before going stale?  I shall find out soon because I’ll be checking out part V.

— M

Grade B –

The eighth movie of “The Fast And The Furious” line, “The Fate Of The Furious” is just as outrageous, ridiculous, unbelievable, funny, and entertaining as the preceding seven movies.  Part 8 has Charlize Theron playing the villain.  Her problem?  She wants to have the means to threaten and carry out punishments to various governments when they do…whatever it is they do that upset her — the movie wasn’t really clear on that.  She blackmails Vin Diesel’s character to steal what she needs.  No, she doesn’t need ex-Navy SEALs; she doesn’t need ex-Special Forces; she doesn’t need ex-SAS or even ex-Delta Force soldiers — she needs Vin Diesel!

So what has Theron have on Diesel that makes him turn on his fellow fast and furious crew?  That is a secret I won’t reveal.  But Diesel is now on the most wanted list, and not only is his former crew after him, U.S. secret agents are also coming for him.  In fact, so many people are angry at Diesel turning rogue that his old crew are working with former enemies.  We are treated to ludicrous chase scenes and giant, action set pieces in Cuba, Berlin, NYC, Europe, and the unfriendly skies as Diesel’s motivations and actions unfold.

My most memorable, movie moment is the sequence of the bad guys hacking the computers of dozens of vehicles in NYC and driving them all remotely with a decent amount of precision…all done by one or two people.  Adding to the craziness of this sequence is seeing what is supposedly Manhattan’s streets fairly open to fast moving traffic during the day time.  People familiar with this island are probably laughing after reading that last sentence.

Hey, “The Fast And The Furious” movies will never be Oscar contenders for Best Screenplay, we know this.  These movies are for a specific audience of hundreds of millions of people all over the world — myself included — and they never fail to entertain us.  And so we keep watching them, regardless of how silly things get.  In fact, silly is something we’ve come to expect with the package.

— M

Grade C +

In this live action re-make of the classic 1995 anime, Scarlett Johansson plays a highly advanced cyborg who has a human brain (which contains her human essence, or ghost) that is placed into a tough, weapons grade body (the shell).   She and her team of government agents are tasked with finding a hacker who is killing top executives of a robotics company.

Through the crowded streets of Japan littered with giant, holographic advertisements, Johansson’s perspective on who she is, what she is fighting for, and who the real enemy is will change the closer she gets to the truth about the hacker.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Ghost In The Shell” (2017) is the scene when Johansson fights a Spider-Tank using inadequate weapons, forcing her to use her body to save another being that is similar to herself.

This iteration of “G.I.T.S.” dumbs down the complex storylines of the 1995 movie, making the 2017 version easier to understand but less satisfying.   It’s like driving a Dodge Viper ACR with the engine swapped out for one that belongs in a Toyota Camry to please those with inferior driving skills.  “G.I.T.S.” (2017) misses the whole point of a computer program becoming a sentient life form that seeks to evolve, and the arguments of what life is.  As disappointed as I was, this version is somewhat entertaining, and it was fun to see many scenes that were virtually identical to the original movie.  Still, this is a classic example of Hollywood focusing on style instead of substance.

— M

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings: One of the best animated movies of the 1990s, “Ghost In The Shell” has secret agent/cyborg Motoko searching for a hacker nicknamed Puppet Master who can hack into a cyborg’s “ghost,” or human essence.  Her investigation — often culminating in violence — will have her looking into her own government and make her ask questions about the definition of life and the basic principles of what makes a creature a human being.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Ghost In The Shell” (1995) is the scene when Motoko, armed with a submachine-gun and a few grenades, takes on a tank as she pursues the Puppet Master.  Every anime fan is aware of this movie and loves it; and that love is well deserved.  Watch the movie and you’ll see and hear for yourself.

— M

Grade B –

And the gore and traps and plot twists keep going in the “Saw” franchise with part III.  Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith reprise their roles as Jigsaw and his ex-junkie understudy, respectively.  Bell is at death’s door, so he enlists the help of Smith to kidnap a doctor to help keep him alive as he plays his last game, which presumably is the testing of an emotionally broken man played by Angus Macfadyen.  So here we have multiple themes/storylines  happening, adding layers of depth that makes this — and previous “Saw” movies — a level up from the many rip-offs out there.

First we have the complex relationship between Bell and Smith…teacher-student, father-daughter, perhaps lovers depending on which side you focus on.  Then there is the Macfadyen story: a husband blinded by rage to the point he has mentally abandoned his family…will he sacrifice everything to feed his rage and vengeance, or can he forgive and start living again?  The doctor…can she snap out of her daze (induced by drugs and an unhappy marriage) to keep a maniac alive without proper medical equipment?  And of course, there are the plot twists and surprise ending.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw III” is the scene when a man’s head and limbs are held in independently twisting, vise-like devices.  The key to freedom is guarded by a shotgun, and as the seconds tick by, the man’s limbs are slowly turned until bones, ligaments, and tendons break and snap.  Ouch!

“Saw III” does have plot holes and inconsistencies, which I refer to as shenanigans; but the clever and gory traps/puzzles, fast pace, twists and surprises, and some thought-provoking themes more than compensate for said shenanigans.  For fans of this horror sub-genre, prepare to cringe, laugh, feel queasy, and have fun.

— M

Grade C +

The latest movie adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, “The Choice” is about two people (played by Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer) who seem to be of differing personalities who meet cute, start a romance, and one is going to make a choice that will affect their lives forever.

So let me do a quick break down of this movie.  Despite some heavy drama thrown around during the second and third acts, “The Choice” is basically a romantic comedy.  As such, the couple “meet cute,” meaning they meet in a cute, funny, and interesting way.  This important element is catastrophically bad in “The Choice.”  I almost cringed at the horrible dialogue when Walker and Palmer first met.  Fortunately the dialogue improved somewhat in their subsequent meetings, although still at the level below what is expected of a good screenwriter.

Now to the second act, where things really start to get interesting.  The romance and drama get amped up, and most of the corny dialogue is replaced with slightly more serious and believable fare.  But all this time, I keep thinking of the lack of chemistry between the two leads — a crucial part of any movie, especially that of a rom-com — and how Walker was miscast as the male lead.  Another big strike against this movie; but as the movie goes on I started focusing more on the characters instead of how the actors looked together.  Saved by the bell here.

Then there’s the third act, which is mostly about the choice one of the leads has to make.  In order to not spoil the movie, I won’t mention anything more other than it is a Nicholas Sparks story, so prepare to have your emotions played with.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Choice” is the scene when Walker professes his love for Palmer, telling her in his own way that he wants to be with her forever.  This is the most dramatic and authentic part of the movie, filled with raw emotion without artificial sweeteners or cornball dialogue.

Sparks fans will most likely have a kinder attitude to “The Choice.”  But fans of great rom-coms will be disappointed, but still mildly entertained.

— M

Grade A

 Expertly directed by Angelina Jolie, “Unbroken” is the true story of U.S. soldier Louis Zamperini (played by Jack O’Connell) who survived weeks in a raft in the ocean after a plane crash, then is taken prisoner by Japanese soldiers and brutalized by the commander of the P.O.W. camp.

A dangerous bombing run, an attack by Japanese Zeros, a search and rescue operation that turns into a disaster, the agonizing weeks of starvation and thirst in a life raft, flashbacks of Zamperini’s troubled childhood and redemption, and the never ending days of torment in two Japanese P.O.W. camps give the audience insight to who this amazing person is and how he was able to survive the hardships during World War II.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Unbroken” is the scene when O’Connell is in the life raft with two of his friends who also survived the plane crash; there is a wicked storm and each wave is as big as a three-story house.  O’Connell grips tightly on the ropes attached to the raft, praying to God to help him make it through this horror.

“Unbroken” is a story made more powerful because it is true.  Both the beauty and ugliness of the human spirit are shown, with the “better angels of our nature” winning.

— M

Grade B

Josh Gad provides the voice for the main character in “A Dog’s Purpose,” a dog who keeps getting reincarnated, each time getting closer to the purpose of his existence as he keeps coming back.  Most of Gad’s story is spent living in the mostly happy home of a boy, forming a very close bond with him and creating the core emotions of Gad.  Through his deaths and reincarnations (some of the death sequences can be painful to watch for any dog owner who had their companions die in their arms), Gad enjoys the beauty of life and suffers the brutality of it; but eventually he will cross paths with the owner whom he loved the most, and he will finally discover his purpose.

My most memorable, movie moment of “A Dog’s Purpose” is the sequence of Gad being chained up in the front yard of uncaring owners for years until he is abandoned.

“A Dog’s Purpose” can be corny at times, but for dog lovers who also enjoy comedy and drama and rom-coms, this movie is definitely for us.

— M

Grade C –

Manny’s Movie Musings: “The Bye Bye Man” is a mediocre horror movie about a malevolent spirit whose name must not be mentioned, or else he’ll become more powerful and he will eventually kill anyone who utters his name.  An extremely intense, violent and shocking opening sequence sets the bar very high, but it’s only a tease, as the rest of the movie is a disappointment from that point.  The stupid decisions the victims make, the silly excuses the story makes to get the parents out of the way, and the cheap scares all contribute to making this movie forgettable.  In the trailer, it is mentioned that the spirit’s name must not be said…he must not even be thought of.   Well, “The Bye Bye Man” is a movie that will soon be lost in the vast ocean of horror movies that failed to live up to their hype; a title that no one will ever utter nor remember.

— M

Grade C

Manny’s Movie Musings: astronauts do the dumbest things and start messing with an alien lifeform that is evolving at a fast rate; and when things start to go bad they just forget basic safety precautions and containment procedures.  The victims’ deaths are somewhat interesting; the evolution of the alien is somewhat interesting.   “Somewhat interesting” should not be the result of a $58 million movie.  Adding more misery to “Life” is the inevitable comparison to “Alien,” a masterpiece of a movie.   Whoever greenlit “Life” for production probably has no life left in his career in the movie business.

— M

Grade B+

Fresh off his indie hit, “The Visit,” writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan creates another mega indie hit, “Split.”  James McAvoy plays a seriously troubled man with about 24 different personalities.  Each personality vies for its time “out in the light,” but the more malevolent personalities have taken over, resulting in the kidnapping of three young ladies.

The police have no idea where the girls are, and it will be up to the girls to find a way out of their prison.  Time is quickly running out, because a new personality is coming out of McAvoy, an entity that supposedly has the power to alter McAvoy’s body into one that is monstrous.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Split” is the bonus scene after the end credits, revealing a tie-in with another Shyamalan movie that hints of what his next movie will be.

Shyamalan’s mojo is definitely back, helped by the superb acting of McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays one of the kidnapped girls.  I can’t wait to see Shyamalan’s next movie.

— M

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