Archives for category: Movies/Criticism/Funny

Grade B+

Samuel L. Jackson plays the hitman and Ryan Reynolds plays the bodyguard in the action/comedy “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.”  Why would the most feared hitman need a bodyguard?  Because a dictator is on trial for war crimes, and the only one who could incriminate him is Jackson.  Taking Jackson from prison to the courtroom will be a hell of an ordeal, because the dictator has his goons out in force to stop Jackson from testifying.  And that’s where Reynolds comes in…unofficially hired by Interpol to protect and escort Jackson to the trial.  Unfortunately, both men are sworn enemies, and they may kill each other before the bad guys get to them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is the flashback scene when Jackson meets his future wife (outrageously played by Salma Hayek) for the first time.  It was funny and sexy with an overdose of hyper violence.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is loaded with shenanigans; but this is a movie that isn’t meant to be analyzed for story logic.  This is a fun and very funny, graphically violent movie that shines every time Reynolds and Jackson are onscreen together.  Kudos to director Patrick Hughes for adding energy to the story with his slick direction that really complements the script and lead actors.

— M

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Grade A

Based on the novel by Stephen King, “It” is a story of seven children who are considered outcasts in school, their everyday fears overshadowed by a creature that has awakened, taking the form of a clown (played by Bill Skarsgard).  Summer is supposed to be a time of fun for children.  Not so for the seven outcasts — calling themselves the Losers — who have to fight a war on two fronts: the terrors that most children face; and the supernatural entity that threatens to kill them one at a time unless the Losers Club bands together and takes the fight to the creature.

My most memorable, movie moment of “It” is the scene when the girl member of the Losers is attacked by her father who has been molesting her.  This scene alone makes the movie unfit for young children, and disturbing for most people to watch.

“It” should bring back many childhood memories of those who watch it.  The best of times (summer days of playing, hanging out with friends and teasing each other, first crush on a girl) and the troubling times (being a loner, feeling like a loser, the start of a girl’s period, being bullied, the mental/verbal/sexual abuse that some parents inflict on their children) are vividly and sometimes graphically exposed in “It.”  Although most of the lead actors are children, “It” is meant for adults, and adults will have a great time watching this movie that is horrifying, funny, and very, very well made.

— M

 

 

Grade B+

This adaptation of the Jane Austen novel of the same title stars Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet as two sisters with different personalities who do their best to manage suitors and a much downgraded lifestyle than they were accustomed to.  Thompson is the eldest sister, reserved and growing an attachment to a man who cannot seem to express his intent toward her; and Winslet is the headstrong, passionate sister who rushes into a romantic relationship with a man who is as passionate and lively as she, but spurns the affections of an older, emotionally reserved man.  The secrets of the suitors will eventually be brought to light, and how the sisters handle these secrets will either destroy or uplift them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Sense And Sensibility” is the scene when Thomson’s love interest tells her the full story of why he did the things he did, and how he wants to proceed in the immediate future.  I realize it’s a bland recounting, but it was done to not spoil what I consider the most dramatic part of the movie.

Everything about this movie is superb…except the running time.  At 136 minutes, parts of Austen’s novel had to be cut and/or trimmed down; and when you do that, it obviously damages the story.  For those who think this adaptation is amazing as it stands, I suggest you watch the near 3 hour BBC version which deserves an A+ rating.

— M

Grade B-

It’s a rare thing to have the sequel of a movie to be equal to or better than its predecessor.  “28 Weeks Later” is one of those rarities.

28 weeks after the outbreak of the “rage” virus that turns people into rabid, maniacal killers, an American led NATO force begins the clean up and reconstruction of England.  Displaced survivors are now filtering in to a large district controlled by the military.  But two children, a brother and sister, will enter the district and set forth a chain of events that will bring back infection, death and destruction.  Two U.S. soldiers (played by Jeremy Renner and Rose Byrne) have the opportunity to minimize the effects of the new outbreak; but their chances are slim when they are going up against hundreds of infected and soldiers ordered to kill everyone on sight.

My most memorable, movie moment of “28 Weeks Later” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Renner gets out of a stalled car to push it — and those inside the car (Byrne and the two children) — to safety, while soldiers behind Renner are getting their flamethrowers ready to burn him and the car.

A few glaring shenanigans destroyed the A grade I wanted to give this movie.  1) a woman who is a carrier of the virus doesn’t have armed guards posted at her door 24 hours a day; 2) the lead infected has thinking abilities that are not present in any other infected, and the movie never explains why; and 3) a glorified janitor has access to the most sensitive areas of the military compound.  Still, “28 Weeks Later” is an above average horror movie.  Very good acting, direction and editing; a fast pace, numerous tense and horrifying scenes keeps the viewer entertained all the way to the last second.

— M

Grade D+

A weak biopic of Tupac Shakur (played by Demetrius Shipp, Jr.).  His childhood, his early foray into rap, his rapid rise in the hip hop world, his friendship and falling out with rapper Biggie Smalls, joining Suge Knight and Death Row Records, his part in the feud between some East Coast rappers and West Coast rappers, his legal troubles, his time in prison, and the shooting that led to his death are all shown in this disaster of a movie.

There were three outstanding things in “All Eyez On Me”: 1) Demetrius Ship, Jr. looks very much like Tupac, and his acting was decent; 2) Dominic L. Santana, who plays Suge, stole the whole movie with his imposing and threatening presence; and 3) some of the musical scenes were very entertaining.   But these three things do not overcome the inadequacies of the director — who I won’t even name because you won’t know who the hell this guy is — and the disastrous editing and the grossly inferior screenwriting.  You’ve been warned.

My most memorable, movie moment of “All Eyez On Me” is the scene when Shipp is in the studio, energetically putting his vocals to the song “California Love,” one of the best rap songs ever made.

— M

Grade A-

Four people desperate to survive a virus that turns people into maniacal, rabid killers make a desperate escape out of London.  With a taxicab full of food and plenty of hope, they gamble their lives on a place that offers food, weapons, and protection.  But what lies in wait for them may be a bigger nightmare than the hundreds of thousands of the infected.

My most memorable, movie moment of “28 Days Later” is the scene when Cillian Murphy (playing the lead role) is chased by the infected who were lying in a dormant state in a dark church.  To me, this was the scariest part of the movie, and it shows early on the skills director Danny Boyle has in creating a horrifying and suspenseful atmosphere.

As far as I know, “28 Days Later” is the first movie that has fast moving, non-zombie/infected/seriously angry people who can infect others within seconds, so it gets a special mention for that.  Although technically not a zombie flick, I put this movie in the same category as zombie movies, and it is one of the top 10, best zombie movies ever made.  Yes, it has some shenanigans such as: the taxicab able to ride over a heap of abandoned cars in a tunnel; and the bad guys unnecessarily moving someone miles away from their base to kill them, which leads to an escape (reminds me of those old, corny James Bond movies where Bond escapes because the bad guy wants to be too fancy with the way he wants to kill Bond).  But everything else works very well, and it was all done on a low budget, which makes this movie more deserving of praise.

— M

Grade A

Manny’s Movie Musings: “Jawbone” is about a homeless, alcoholic ex-boxer (played by Johnny Harris, who also wrote the script) who seeks to get his life in order with the help of two friends (played by Ray Winstone and Michael Smiley) who run a boxing gym that Harris is secretly crashing in every night.  Out of cash and without a job, Harris seeks an underground, boxing match with a younger, stronger fighter.  A creepy gangster played by Ian McShane sets up the fight, and Harris will have to struggle with and suppress all his demons so that he can be in the best shape possible and give the crowd their money’s worth…and come out of the fight alive.  “Jawbone” is a raw, dark (literally and figuratively) story of one man’s battle against his own, self-destructive nature.  My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when Harris holds a bottle of liquor, staring at it, contemplating whether to drink it or not.  Harris’ eyes, his facial expressions…all show the torment in his soul fighting against his addiction.

— M

Grade C

A psychologist (played by Naomi Watts) caring for her catatonic teen, son (Charlie Heaton) who needs 24 hour care faces a snowstorm that can leave them cut off from the rest of the town for a few days.  That wouldn’t be so bad; but there is the possibility of a dead boy haunting Watts.  A boy whom she was treating for anger issues; a boy who may blame Watts for being sent away; a boy who may not have died.  As the storm approaches, Watts’ supernatural experiences become more terrifying (to the character, not so much to the audience).  Is she being tormented by the boy’s angry spirit, or is the boy still alive?  Or is Watts’ guilt over how she handled the boy’s case and how she treated Heaton prior to his accident finally overwhelmed her mind, causing her to lose her sanity a little at a time?

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when Watts’ friend sees through the computer camera something that reveals what is really going on.

“Shut In” gets a low grade because the main character makes one stupid decision after another throughout most of the movie.  An example: she wants to get out of the house, but the doors and windows are nailed shut.  The windows are flimsy, so what would you do?  For Watts, instead of breaking a  window, she panics and runs around and decides to break a skylight.  If she’s not concerned with making all kinds of noise by breaking a skylight, why not just break one of the ground floor windows and get out in less than five seconds?

“Shut In” would have received a much, much lower grade had it not been for the twist in the third act.  I have to admit, the movie suckered me into thinking one way, and I was pleasantly surprised to find my thinking was erroneous.

My last criticisms of this movie are these: there were too many similarities to “The Shining” during the third act — if you watch this movie and have seen “The Shining,” you’ll see; and the creepiness factor of the bathroom scene (you’ll know which one) is so high it’ll make every woman cringe, unless you’re really, really kinky.

— M

Grade C –

Riding on the coattails of “The Conjuring” and cashing in on that horror movie, “Annabelle” succeeds when it comes to making money, but falls on its face as a horror movie.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…let’s start with the story.  A man buys a super creepy doll for his pregnant wife — she collects dolls, even ugly, creepy ones that would give Charles Manson nightmares — and then they get attacked by cultists.  A female cultist named Annabelle is killed by the police, and her body is found cradling the creepy doll.  Does the couple move out?  Nope.  Do they get rid of the doll that was cradled by the serial killer woman during her final moments?  Nope.  Do creepy, evil things start to happen soon after that?  Yup!

The clueless couple eventually accept that they are being haunted, and after befriending a woman (played by Alfre Woodard) who has some experience with the supernatural, they figure out what is haunting them, and why.  How to stop the powerful, malevolent force…well, that’s not so easy.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Annabelle” is the scene when Annabelle levitates, and the evil force that is making her rise is shown.

“Annabelle” is told with a leisurely pace — many would call it boring and slow, but I didn’t mind it too much because it revealed much of the mindset of the female half of the couple, and that mindset is crucial to the finale.  What I did have a problem with is that the scares were too few and far between; and the Woodard character did something at the end which I found to be out of character.  Although there was a scene in the second act that was supposed to set up what Woodard did at the end, it still made no sense after I analyzed Woodard’s words and actions.  It just completely took me out of the movie and my mind was screaming “Shenanigans!”

— M

 

 

Grade A

Based on the true story of Oscar Grant (played by Michael B. Jordan), a man who was shot by a policeman while he was handcuffed and lying face down.

“Fruitvale Station” dramatizes the 24 hours leading up to the shooting, showing us two sides of Jordan: the hot tempered, ex-convict; and the loving father, boyfriend, and son who is trying hard to live a regular life and not go back to drug dealing which could land him in prison again.  The inner struggle of Jordan is easily conveyed to the audience, thanks to the exceptional talents of actor Michael B. Jordan, whose expressive eyes easily give away his inner thoughts and feelings.  Jordan’s lightning fast temper is also a frightening thing to behold, giving the audience a clue of one reason why things went bad so fast.

My most memorable, movie moment is the actual cell phone video of the seconds leading up to the shooting, shown at the beginning of the movie.

“Fruitvale Station” is a completely engrossing movie that gives the audience a glimpse of the injustice that young, black males sometimes suffer at the hands of certain police officers; and how a bad situation can quickly become deadly when two groups of hotheads get into an argument.

— M

Grade B+

“Shot Caller” is a tense, mostly terrifying story of a high ranking, prison gang member (played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) out on parole.  On orders from his boss to spearhead a major score of illegal guns, Waldau has no choice but to see it through.  To refuse would mean his execution, as well as his family’s.  Omari Hardwick plays a cop who is also Waldau’s parole officer.   Somehow, Hardwick is tipped off to the illegal guns; and he puts Waldau on surveillance, gleaning as much information as he can in order to prevent hundreds of fully automatic rifles going out into the streets. Two men on opposite sides of the law, and only one winner will emerge.

“Shot Caller” is told from two timelines: the present, and the past which reveals how Waldau became the ruthless gangster that he is.  It is the past timeline that is the most gripping, showing us a drastically different man who made a mistake that led to a devastating, downward spiral of his life.  But years in prison has not fully transformed Waldau…carefully hidden deep within the monster, there is a bit of humanity left.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Shot Caller” is the scene when Waldau butchers a fellow gangster in the man’s home.  No fancy choreography, just someone getting stabbed multiple times until his life ends.

“Shot Caller” would have received a higher grade but for the shenanigans near the end of the movie.  **SPOILER ALERT**Waldau hides a weapon in his anus, and from the time he is captured to the time he is sent back to his old prison, the weapon is still there?  No law enforcement personnel ever looked up his butt to see if there were anything hidden there?  Also, when Waldau attacked his boss because Waldau’s family were threatened with execution, how does Waldau know that the hit wasn’t already in place?  These are big shenanigans, but the rest of the movie is so good that they didn’t damage the movie much.  For those who enjoy a good drama/suspense/prison movie, this one is definitely for you.

— M

 

 

 

Grade D

Manny’s Movie Musings: “The Expendables” is awesome; “The Expendables 3” is awesomely bad.   There are too many characters that are undeveloped, and so we don’t care about most of them (the original members are sort of safe, as fans already have an attachment to them); the editing seems like it was done by a film student; it’s rated PG-13 (so we get that corny, 1990s style James Bond violence); the action sequences are incoherent and so over the top that they can’t be taken seriously, and therefore the audience has no emotional connection to them because you get the feeling that no Expendable will be killed off; and many characters doing things that make no sense.  Oh, there is somewhat of a story here: The Expendables are hired to capture an arms dealer, things go bad, and many characters say lots of bad inside jokes that puts this movie into the comedy genre.  Lots of wasted money and talent, and lots of disappointed 1980s/1990s action movie fans like me.  My most memorable, movie moment of “The Expendables 3” is the scene when Mel Gibson (playing the lead bad guy) explains to Sylvester Stallone why Gibson became the way he is.  It’s the only well acted scene that gave this movie any real depth.

— M

Grade A

From the talented and eccentric mind of Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained” is a violent, surreal story of an ex-slave (Jamie Foxx) teaming up with an extremely well-spoken bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to get back the wife of Foxx who was sold to a barbaric slave owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).   This being a Tarantino movie, going from point A to point B is done in an unconventional way which makes it hard for the audience to guess exactly what happens to the main characters (this is a good thing).  Along the journey, we are treated to Tarantino’s style of writing and directing: mimicking some camera movements of the 1970s; copying the look of the film stock of the 1970s; and the rich, expansive, mostly witty  dialogue.

Although Waltz and Foxx are the main characters, it is the relationship between DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson (DiCaprio’s head slave) that is the most interesting.  The roles of master and slave seem to switch back and forth at various times, and I believe many viewers will be very puzzled by this; but it’s really simple — the DiCaprio and Jackson characters go way back, and the decades spent living together obviously led to a mutual respect, trust and love for each other.  They have essentially become father and son.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Django Unchained” is the scene when Foxx is hanging upside down, completely helpless; and one of the bad guys is about to castrate Foxx using a red hot knife!

Tarantino fans won’t be disappointed with this movie, as it has everything you’d expect from a movie written/directed by him.  Although part satire, and therefore cannot be completely taken seriously overall, the movie’s depictions of punishments of slaves are very disturbing; and disturbing people is something Tarantino doesn’t shy away from.

— M

 

Grade B

Set in 1973, a “monster hunter” played by John Goodman scams the U.S. Government into funding an expedition into an island to supposedly look for valuable resources; but what Goodman really seeks is validation into his theory that monsters live within the earth, and at some point they will all come out and eat us like chicken nuggets.  With a tracker (played by Tom Hiddleston) by his side and a unit of the Army’s Assault Helicopter Company led by Samuel L. Jackson as an escort, Goodman and his fellow scientists begin their exploration of the island in a violent way…and they are all met with violence by the island’s largest and most fearsome monster, King Kong.

Their helicopters destroyed, the human survivors have a small chance of escaping the island and getting back to their ship.  But Kong and the island monsters aren’t the only ones the humans must fear.  Jackson, in his quest to avenge his men who were killed by Kong, turns into Capt. Ahab and risks everything and everyone to exact his pound of gorilla flesh.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Kong: Skull Island” is the scene when King Kong fights the big, underground lizard thing.   King monster against king monster; and a monsterfest is what this movie is all about.

“Kong: Skull Island” suffers from numerous shenanigans, such as Vietnam veteran helicopter pilots staying too close to Kong, with the result of being swatted and crushed by the giant ape.   Then there’s Hiddleston’s character who never loses his cool no matter how many giant, ugly creatures are trying to eat him — I’ve seen people show more emotion while playing video games.  Enough of the negatives.  What this movie has going for it are: 1) a fast paced, dynamic direction by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, giving this flick a tremendous amount of fun energy; and 2) monsters, monsters, and more monsters.  I’ve been a fan of Japanese monster movies from the 1950s/1960s…they are silly, and generally make no sense; but they are fun to watch.  Well, “Kong: Skull Island” is like that.

— M

Grade B-

From Nicholas Sparks’ second novel, “A Walk To Remember” pairs Mandy Moore and Shane West as high school teens at opposite ends of everything.   Moore plays a bible carrying sweetheart who is basically a saint with an amazing singing voice, while West plays a jackass who is part of the cool crowd.  Neither of them has much in common, but a prank pulled by West causes an accident that forces West to do community service.  One such service is to take part in a school play…playing the lead.   Huh, what?  West has no interest in playing lead, nor does he have any experience in acting; but the drama teacher gives him the male lead anyway because…well, because the screenwriter and director want West and Moore to have a reason to spend lots of time together, and they couldn’t be bothered with writing a more plausible reason, so we just have to accept that shenanigan.

So anyway…Moore/West have to study their lines together and guess what?  West starts to like Moore, despite her being all goody goody and wearing weird clothes and the same sweater…well, to be fair, Moore is beautiful and is such a nice person and honest and intelligent — traits that West is hard pressed to find in his cool group.   Moore’s portrayal of her character is absolutely on the money, very believable and extremely likeable; and it is Moore who saves this movie from being a cheese fest and catapults it to an entertaining, heartwarming rom/com/drama.

Enough of me gushing over Moore’s performance.   West/Moore’s romance of course hits the obvious bumps: the cool kids hate her; the father hates West; West feels alienated by his cool friends, etc.  But the biggest bump is when Moore reveals her secret to West.  This revelation is my most memorable, movie moment, which I will not spoil; but fans of Sparks will probably guess the secret.

For the average moviegoer, “A Walk To Remember” will be a bit too corny and syrupy for their tastes; but for rom/com/drama fans, this is one of the better ones, and Mandy Moore’s performance has almost everything to do with it.

— M

Grade B

Part 3 of “The Hobbit” trilogy shows the fate of the dragon Smaug, Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman), dwarf king Thorin and his band of dwarf followers, the “lonely mountain” and the enormous treasure hidden within it, and the five armies that will do battle for the mountain fortress and its riches.   But more things are unexplained.  Perhaps in the extended cuts more will be revealed; but it’s still inexcusable for a theatrical cut to omit so many answers to so many questions.

Multiple storylines play out in rapid fire sequence — this movie has probably the shortest running time of all six “Hobbit” and “LOTR” movies — resulting in a very fast paced movie that sometimes feel a bit rushed.   Of course, the usual shenanigans are here: characters that defy the laws of physics — or maybe physics are different in Middle Earth — and able to take a great amount of battle damage without being truly harmed.  Hey, if a character is fairly invincible, it kind of takes away the element of suspense that he or she may be killed.  Granted, a few of the characters get killed after killing millions of the enemy, but at this point it becomes a bit silly and the impact of those deaths are greeted with a shrug and another bite of the hotdog.

Now, my most memorable movie moment of “The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies”: the scene when Thorin (played by Richard Armitage, who looks a lot like Mel Gibson’s Braveheart in his dwarf look) has an internal struggle, realizing what his greed has done to him and the choice he has to make if he doesn’t want to follow the dreadful path his ancestors took.

Although full of problems that would be deserving of a much lesser grade, “…The Five Armies” was still an enjoyable, entertaining feast for my eyes.  Although I wonder if my forgiving nature is the result of having watched this movie for free (thanks, Library!).

— M

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

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