Archives for posts with tag: comedy

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 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 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

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 B +

From the mind of comedian Jordan Peele comes “Get Out,” a story of a black man (played by Daniel Kaluuya) who visits his white girlfriend’s (played by Allison Williams) family in the suburbs and slowly finds out that things are very, very off with her family and servants.

Everything is ok at first: the parents are all smiles and greet Kaluuya with hugs; the father mentions how he would have loved to vote for Obama a third time; the father using various slang to show he’s hip and down with the Negroes, etc.  Then Kaluuya notices the odd behavior of the black servants; the thinly veiled, racist remarks of Williams’ drunk brother; plus a weird dream of Kaluuya being hypnotized by Williams’ mother.  And this is just the start of Kaluuya’s long nightmare that will have him fighting for his sanity and life as the full secret of his girlfriend’s family is slowly unraveled.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when Kaluuya is told of the family secrets and the heinous plan of what is to be done to him.

“Get Out” is not just a very good suspense/thriller, it is also loaded with social commentary that are insightful, funny, and infuriating.  Examples: a black man’s worry of being caught in a rich, white neighborhood at night; the troubles that black men have to deal with when dating white women; white liberals who are constantly giving examples of how they are not bigots; the physical superiority of black men over white men; the mental superiority of white men over black men; and how trendy it is now to be black, as if the color of skin is some kind of accessory to flaunt.

The subject of race relations is a touchy one, and those who are overly sensitive may want to steer away from this movie.  Everyone else, jump in and watch the movie and have a laugh.  “Get Out” is, after all, a satire.

— M

Grade C+

Dakota Johnson stars in “How To Be Single,” playing a young woman on a break from her boyfriend as she starts a new life in NYC.  She’s on a quest to find herself, to have more adventures, to see what else is out there besides her ex and what he has to offer.  With the help of a wild co-worker played by Rebel Wilson, Johnson gets what she wished for, and all the bad things that go with being single (creepy guys, closed off guys, the lack of true intimacy and connection, etc.).

My most memorable, movie moment of “How To Be Single” is the scene when the new fiancée of one of the main characters is going psycho on the bartender character.  It’s one of the funniest scenes — and the most creepy — of the movie.

Had this movie focused on just Johnson’s and Wilson’s characters, I think it would have been a better movie; but three more characters are given a lot of screen time (a bartender; a nutty online dater; and a doctor).  Then there is the unnecessary scene at the end of the movie  involving a minor character and his daughter that derails the focus off Johnson even more!  With so many characters being juggled, it takes a laser focus and great talent of a screenwriter to make all this work…and it doesn’t, it doesn’t work.  Although there are some good laughs to be had throughout the movie, it’s not enough to save this movie from the realm of mediocrity.

— M

B+

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

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade A-

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade B +

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade B +

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

— M

Grade B

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

— M

Grade B

Manny’s Movie Musings: “G.B.F.” stands for Gay Best Friend.  Michael J. Willett plays a gay, High School student who is still in the closet; his life is turned upside down when he is accidentally outed, and his celebrity status in school quickly rises when the top 3 “it” girls vies for his attention so that each one can claim him as a GBF (purely to increase the cool status of the girls).   Willett goes along for the ride, as the three girls give him protection from all the ignorant hate; but he risks losing who he really is in his mad scramble to be the most coveted accessory to the cool kids.  What sets “G.B.F.” apart from the typical teen comedies is the sharp, wickedly funny, one-liners that come at you non-stop.  My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when a character played by Andrea Bowen is talking about sex acts using acronyms: for example, “hj,” “bj,” and “rj.”  If you don’t know what they are, you’re too young for me to explain them!

Grade B-

Manny’s Movie Musings: Brittany Snow plays a woman who is in desperate need of financial help because she is caring for her brother who is dying and needs a bone marrow transplant.  Enter the always interesting Jeffrey Combs, who plays a rich man who invites Snow for a dinner and a game; and whoever is the last person standing gets all the help they ever dreamed of.  The game, of course, is  “would you rather do this, or would you rather do that?”  Both alternatives are horrible, and the players are not told that once the game starts, there’s no going back.  Winner takes all, the rest die in horrible ways.  “Would You Rather” is a good example of “torture porn.”  It is gory, it makes you cringe — unless you’re a sadist — and, believe it or not, I think it’s part comedy.  If seen purely as a horror flick, then it’s an “eh” movie; but if seen as a comedy/horror, then this movie works better than most people give it credit for.  Look: if you think of a Toyota Corolla as a race car, then you’d think it was the suckiest race car of all time; but if you look at that car as a basic, daily driver to take you grocery shopping and back and forth to work, then it’s a pretty damn good car.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Would You Rather” is the scene when a player is given the choice of holding his breath under water for 2 minutes, or slicing one of his eyes with a razor blade.  Yikes!

— M

Grade C +

Manny’s Movie Musings: “After The Ball” is an interesting retelling of the “Cinderella” story.  It stars Portia Doubleday as the “Cinderella” character, applying for and getting the job as the newest clothes designer for her father’s company…but Doubleday does it as a man.   In her disguise as an effeminate, gay guy, Doubleday creates designs that would hopefully take her father’s company out of mediocrity and bring it back to its former glory days.  But a conniving, mean step-mother and two step-sisters won’t make things easy for our heroine.   “After The Ball” has all the elements of an entertaining Rom-Com (boy and girl meet cute, boy loses girl, boy gets girl, eccentric characters, some heart-felt moments, good laughs here and there), but there’s nothing special about it.  What could have been an original twist on the fairy tale becomes a rehash of “Tootsie” and “The Secret Of My Success.”   My most memorable, movie moment is the first scene when Doubleday appears as a man — it’s astonishing how well she pulls it off.

— M

Grade B+

For the sake of transparency, I have to state that the “Entourage” series on HBO is my favorite series of all time, so I may be a bit positively biased on the movie “Entourage.”

Now that I got that out of the way, “Entourage” (the movie) continues the adventures of four guys from Queens, NYC, in Hollywood where most of them have hit the big time.  Adrian Grenier plays the A-list movie star; Kevin Connolly plays his manager; Kevin Dillon is Grenier’s brother/chef/B-list actor; and Jerry Ferrara is a Tequila business millionaire…and Grenier’s driver.   And let’s not forget Grenier’s once agent and now studio head who is played by Jeremy Piven.

There is enough drama here for all the main players.  Grenier is finishing up a movie that he directed and is way over budget.  Connolly is trying to get back with his ex-wife who is about to give birth to their son; but two women he slept with on the same day will sideline him on his way back into his ex’s heart.  Ferrara has the hots for MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, and a misunderstanding may cost Ferrara a body part.  Dillon is desperate to achieve A-list status; but one of the financiers (played by a creepy Haley Joel Osment) backing the movie that Dillon is in wants him cut out of it.  And the ever high strung Piven is even more stressed due to greenlighting Grenier’s over-budget movie and trying to come up with more money so the movie can be finished.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Entourage” is the scene when TMZ reveals a video of Dillon’s character masturbating during cybersex!

Fans of the show will love this movie.  Many of the characters from the 8 seasons of the show are here.  Doug Ellin (creator of the show) directed and wrote the movie so the movie feels just like the show (fast paced, manic, multiple crises happening, jokes everywhere (most of them work), lots of beautiful women, celebrity cameos every two minutes, and of course, the heart of the story: the bond/friendship/loyalty of the four guys from Queens and former super agent Piven).  If the story ends here, I will be satisfied with that and give Ellin a huge pat on the back for creating a series and a movie that has given me so much joy.  Of course, I’m hoping for another movie.

— M

Grade C+

Manny’s Movie Musings: a quirky, mystery/suspense/thriller/comedy that stars Morgana O’Reilly as a criminal under house arrest — her mom’s house!  Angry that she has to be in her estranged mother’s and stepfather’s old, creepy house, O’Reilly sulks and grunts, eats like a pig, drinks like a sailor, and contributes nothing to the family.  But as memories come back of a ghost that supposedly haunts the large house, O’Reilly starts to see and hear things that will make her a true believer.  Working with her parents and her parole officer, O’Reilly will try to solve the mystery of the ghost and what it wants from her.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Housebound”: O’Reilly sitting on a toilet peeing, and we hear her urine streaming into the toilet water.  She hears a noise…her peeing stops; noise stops…she continues to pee; another weird noise near the bathroom…she stops peeing; the weird noise disappears, and we hear her peeing again.  Toilet humor, literally!

— M

Grade D+

Manny’s Movie Musings: A watchable, campy, direct to video, zombie movie with enough action and gore to keep one from turning off this movie before it ends…unless you have something better to do.  “Dead Rising: Watchtower” stars Jesse Metcalfe as a reporter who finds himself on the wrong side of a quarantine wall after a zombie outbreak.  Trapped in a city that is about to be firebombed by the military, Metcalfe discovers a conspiracy regarding the outbreak that can both save and kill him.  A surprisingly poignant scene involves Virginia Madsen’s character who finally finds her zombie daughter — she kneels down, opens her arms, and happily gives herself to her daughter…there is no pain, no fear, just complete joy from Madsen who just wants to be with her child…a memorable scene in an otherwise forgettable movie.

— M

Grade A

Outrageous!  Ridiculous!  Hilarious!  Highly entertaining!

Ryan Reynolds stars as a hired thug with a heart of gold.  His life of being a poor man’s “Equalizer” is turned upside down (for the better) when he falls in love with a woman (played by Morena Baccarin) who is in every way his soulmate.  Of course, life hits Reynolds in the groin when he is at his happiest moment: he is diagnosed with cancer.

The normally fast-talking, smart-ass Reynolds is devastated, mostly because of his fear of losing Baccarin and what his condition will do to her.  Then one night, a creepy looking man tells Reynolds that he can be part of an experimental program that will cure his cancer.  Desperate, Reynolds agrees.  Taken to a dungeon-like environment and strapped down, Reynolds understands too late what he is in for.  He is injected with chemicals that will try to unlock his latent mutant genes — assuming he has any — and then he’ll be subjected to non-stop torture in order for the stress to trigger his mutation.

The long, painful experiment is a success…so to speak.  Reynolds does become a mutant with powers to regenerate damaged tissue; but his skin has turned into something that resembles third degree burns. He is also a prisoner, and is threatened with having his mind altered so he can be controlled and sold as a slave to the highest bidder.

Torture and slavery not being part of his life goals, Reynolds escapes, puts on a suit to hide his identity and hideous face, takes on the name of “Deadpool,” and goes on a savage hunt to find those responsible for his freakish transformation.  But his ultimate goal is to force the bad guys to turn him back into a regular human so he can continue his life with Baccarin.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Deadpool” is the scene when Reynolds fights Colossus, an X-Men member with the power to turn his body into metal.  Reynolds hits Colossus with one hand and he breaks his hand!  He hits Colossus with his other hand and breaks that too!  Then Reynolds kicks Colossus and…yup, you guessed it: he breaks his foot!  Hopping around in pain with both hands and one foot broken, Reynolds kicks Colossus with his good foot and breaks that one too!  As I was trying to catch my breath while laughing my ass off, I wondered what the hell was wrong with Reynolds!  Then I figured it out: Reynolds just does not give up.

Parents: be warned, “Deadpool” deserves its R rating.  There is a lot of cursing and sex in this movie.  Oh, and lots of bloody violence.  Keep the kiddies away from this one.  For the adults: if you enjoyed “Ant-Man” and “Zack And Miri Make A Porno,” you’ll love “Deadpool” as it has many elements of those two movies.  The writers of “Deadpool” took a big chance on having Reynolds talk to the audience and make lots of movie references and insider jokes about filmmaking and celebrity; but the gamble paid off.  Instead of taking me out of the movie, I got more involved with it (I’m old enough to know all of Reynolds’ movie reference jokes) and it endeared me toward the Deadpool character — I wanted this guy to win; and judging by the box office receipts, so did many people.

Yes, Maximus, I was very much entertained.  I will see this movie again; but not yet…not yet.

— M

Grade C +

The worst adaptation I’ve seen of a Jane Austen story.

Kate Beckinsale plays a widow who has a talent for manipulating people.  With no source of income, she is dependent on the good will of her friends and relatives to keep her and her young daughter from being homeless.  But instead of being humble and grateful, Beckinsale retains her pompous, superior attitude; and too often insults her benefactors openly or behind their backs.  Knowing that she can’t live on the good graces of her friends and relatives forever, Beckinsale spins her spider’s web and attempts to marry off her daughter to a rich man who is kind, dimwitted, and suffers from diarrhea of the mouth.  Adding to the drama is the daughter’s refusal to marry the man, despite Beckinsale’s warnings of what a woman must deal with if she is poor.

There are other complications, of course, and many, many characters in “Love And Friendship” — this is an Austen based movie, after all.  But the running time of 1 hour and 32 minutes should be a red flag to all fans of movies based on the writings of Austen.  With such little time given to tell the story, the fillmakers are forced to rush the story…and it shows, especially in the first few minutes when the audience is force-fed the names of a dozen characters and how they relate to each other.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Love & Friendship” is the scene when the rich, dimwitted man introduces himself to Beckinsale’s relations.  He moves like a hyper child, prattling on almost incoherently as his scatterbrain tries to focus on the conversation at hand, producing the funniest part of the movie.

Compared to the brilliant BBC productions of “Pride And Prejudice” and “Sense And Sensibility,” “Love & Friendship” feels half-baked.  It’s like eating a poorly cooked, 5 pound steak in 15 minutes.  The fine acting did save this movie from a much lower grade — I wanted to make that clear as the actors were not the ones at fault for how disappointing this movie turned out.

–M

Grade A

An allegory about human prejudice, xenophobia, and making our hopes and dreams come true so we can be more than what we are, “Zootopia” is a city in a world where animals have evolved to live in peace with each other.  Predator or prey, large or small, animals no longer have to live their lives based on what they are.   Anyone can be anything as long as they work hard…or at least that’s what the ideals are.  What we see is a bit more…complicated.

“Zootopia” stars Ginnifer Goodwin as the voice of a female, rabbit, police officer who searches for a missing otter.  Difficulties abound in her search because no one takes her seriously.  Her fellow cops believe she is a joke — after all, how can a small rabbit, and a female rabbit at that — effectively do a dangerous, physical job of law enforcement?  But what the other animals don’t see and recognize are Goodwin’s intelligence, never give up attitude, and courage that would put a lion to shame.  With only a sly, hustling fox (voiced by Jason Bateman) as her ally, they search for the missing otter and discover a conspiracy that seeks to destroy the peace between predator and prey animals.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Goodwin, still a bunny, stands up to a bully who happens to be a fox.  The scene may be too intense for very little kids, but it’s a great set up to show the audience what Goodwin is made of.

Another memorable moment of “Zootopia” is the scene when Goodwin tells reporters that some predator animals in the city are becoming feral probably because it is in their nature to be that way.  They can’t help it, they are just born that way.  What a great scene.  Here is a character who has faced prejudice all her life, and now she’s spewing out the same, hurtful things, not realizing that she also harbors some of the ignorant views that she has seen in so many others.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Zootopia” is the scene at the Department of Motor Vehicles, where all the workers are Sloths!  Funny and brilliant!

Once again, Disney has hit a home run, giving us a very entertaining movie (with a lead character that is the cutest Disney had created in decades) that the entire family can enjoy, with the adults probably appreciating the more serious aspects of the movie.

— M

Grade D+

Ten stories in one movie that takes place in one neighborhood during Halloween!  Wow, sounds like a great deal, right?  Wrong!  With a running time of about 90 minutes, including credits, that’s about 8 minutes per story.  There is just no time to set up the stories so that the audience will care for what happens to the characters.  “Tales Of Halloween” is just an orgy of gory deaths that sometimes has a surprise ending that is amusing.  And the special effects isn’t much better than what was seen in the “Tales From The Darkside” t.v. show decades ago.  Almost every story has so many shenanigans that they cannot be taken seriously, further disengaging the audience from the movie.  This is not horror, but comedy; and even as such, it is a failure.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Tales Of Halloween” is the scene when a little alien with a little bag for his Halloween candy keeps saying, “twick or tweet!”  It was a cute, little critter and it made me laugh.

This movie is to be avoided by horror fans, unless you want something silly and gory to watch with your friends as you get drunk and catch up on your lives.

No, Maximus, I was not entertained!

— M

Grade A

Part comedy, part drama, part suspense and part horror — unless you don’t think being unemployed and homeless is horrifying — “The Big Short” is an eye-opening, crazy ride into the world of financial markets and how the world economy collapsed in 2008/2009.

A handful of traders and investors (played by Steve Carell, Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling, to name a few) have found serious flaws in the U.S. housing market that would cause it to collapse and take the entire U.S. economy — and those of other countries — down with it.  They decide to go “short” (basically a bet that prices will fall) against the housing market.  These men are laughed at and ridiculed by the rest of the traders/investors/banks who take the opposite bet; but eventually the financial apocalypse that so few had the vision to see — and the balls to take advantage of — will come, bringing such a wide swath of destruction that the effects are still felt by the entire world as I write this.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Gosling is trying to do business with Carell to take a large, short position on the housing market.  Carell and his guys ask for the math on Gosling’s findings.  Gosling points to a young, Asian guy and tells Carell and his crew that the Asian guy is his math specialist!  “Look at his face, look at his eyes,” Gosling says.  Ha ha!   Yes, it was a racist comment; but it was also funny as hell.  I’m Asian, and I laughed my ass off — and even if I wasn’t Asian, I’d still laugh my ass off.  Don’t be so sensitive…the world isn’t here to tiptoe around your feelings.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Big Short” is the scene when Carell is in a restaurant asking a manager of a CDO fund (Collateralized Debt Obligation, which is a financial instrument that was filled with garbage a few years prior to the financial collapse of 2008/2009) what he does and what is in his CDO fund and who the manager really works for.   This scene quickly sums up the high level of greed and callousness in the financial markets that helped usher in all that pain for hundreds of millions of workers all throughout the world.   This scene is infuriating to watch.

For those not at all knowledgeable about the financial markets, “The Big Short” can be confusing despite a few segments where celebrities — playing themselves — explain things in a more simplified form.   But this will be easily understandable by all: there were a lot of shenanigans going on in the U.S. government, the ratings agencies, the traders/investors/brokers, real estate companies, banks, investment banks, and last but definitely not least, the numerous people who took out housing loans who had no idea what they were getting into.

Bottom line: whether you’re into stocks or bonds or currencies or commodities, it’s gambling.  Know exactly what you’re getting into.

— M

 

More secretive than the CIA or MI6 or the Mossad or the He-Men Women Hater’s Club, I give you “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”  Led by Michael Caine (manning a desk) and Colin Firth (as lead Kingsman field operative), the spy organization keeps an eye on world threats and puts an end to them in a quick and violent way.

The biggest threat facing the world and the Kingsmen is a billionaire madman (played with a lisp by Samuel L. Jackson) who is planning to kill most of the population in order to save the planet.  Further down the list of concerns for the Kingsmen is their need to find new agents to train.

Enter Taron Edgerton, who plays the son of a Kingsman who died saving Firth.  Edgerton also displays natural, raw talents to be a good spy, so Firth takes him under his wing to learn the trade and see if Edgerton can finish at the top of his class in order to become a Kingsman.

And so, we have these two stories intertwined and mixed with a heavy — and I mean heavy — dose of rated R violence and language to give the audience an extremely entertaining, fast moving, very funny (“Kingsman” is an action/comedy, after all) movie that will surprise you in many ways.

Second place for my memorable moments of this movie I will give to the church massacre scene.  Describing the who, how and why will spoil too much; so let me just say that the body count in this church is about the same as the entire “Rambo III” movie.  I’m not kidding.  I’ve seen about as many violent movies as your typical politician sees hookers, so I’m used to seeing carnage on screen.  But this church scene had me stunned.

Taking first place among my memorable, movie moments of “Kingsman” is the scene when Edgerton comes upon the prison cell of a Princess.  He’s about to get her out, when more pressing matters demands his attention.  He tells her he’s off to save the world.  And her reply?  “If you save the world, we can do it in the *@#hole.”  Whoa!  Whoa!  Now that’s what I call a reward!  And that’s a Princess I can get behind and give my full support!

Fans of “Shaun Of The Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and “Kick-Ass” will enjoy “Kingsman” and therefore should give it a try.  And yes, Maximus, I was very entertained.

— M

 

I saw this movie for the first time at the drive-in movie theater, and I loved this amazing work of art ever since.  “500 Days Of Summer” states from the very beginning, “This is not a love story.”  Is this statement a “red herring,” or is it an accurate description of the movie?

“500…” stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young man who quickly falls in love with a co-worker named Summer (played by Zooey Deschanel).  This being in the genre of Romantic Comedy, you just know things aren’t going to go smoothly: Levitt is a romantic, and Deschanel doesn’t believe in love.  Despite their differing viewpoints about love, a romance is started, albeit one that is based on rules that they are just friends, keeping things casual, and Deschanel’s crystal clear explanation that she’s not looking for anything serious.

What we have here is a role reversal, where the man takes on the stereotypical outlook of a woman with respect to relationships; and the woman takes the stereotypical stance of a man regarding love and romance.  This isn’t an original idea, but director Marc Webb and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber did a brilliant job with it and the many other little and big things in the movie that make “500…” stand out high and above the endless rom/com crap that is out there.

One example of the filmmakers’ brilliance is their witty and clever use of non-linear storytelling, i.e. going back and forth in time.  Lesser writers and directors would end up with a choppy and incoherent movie; but in the case of “500…” it gives the movie energy and mystery, drawing the audience further into the story.

My most memorable, movie moment of “500 Days Of Summer” is the sequence that has Levitt going to a rooftop party thrown by Deschanel.  The screen splits into two, and on the left we have Levitt’s “expectations” of how the party will go between him and Deschanel; and on the right we have the “reality” of how things will actually play out.  As far as I know, this is the first time I’ve seen this technique used, and it is used skillfully.  And the sequence is heartbreaking.

Taking second place for my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Levitt and Deschanel are first getting to know each other and telling each other a bit about their past.  Deschanel blurts out that in college, her nickname was “anal girl.”  Levitt’s reaction was appropriate!

Third place for my memorable, movie moment of “500…” is the dancing sequence the morning after Levitt has sex with Deschanel.  Ah, love, when it works, that dancing sequence is how most of us feel.  And when it doesn’t, well, the movie shows that side, too.

An honorable mention goes to actor Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays Levitt’s younger sister who has a mind much older and sharper than her brother’s.  She gives him great advice that he, unfortunately, usually doesn’t take.

“500 Days Of Summer,” to me, is an honest look at how fun, painful, confusing, blind, inspiring, beautiful and destructive love can be. For those who have been there and back, and managed to survive those broken-hearted moments, this movie is for you. But those who are still recovering from bad relationships, you may want to keep away from this masterpiece.

I leave you all with something I told some of my friends: if you want to find that diamond, you have to do a lot of digging in the dirt.

— M

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Before there was “Fifty Shades Of Grey,” there was a little movie called “Secretary.”  Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a psychologically troubled, young woman who gets a job as a secretary for a lawyer named Mr. Grey, played by James Spader.  Spader, it turns out, has his own demons; and slowly both he and Gyllenhaal engage in a BDSM (Bondage/Discipline, Dominant/submissive, Sado/Masochist) relationship that can either lift them out of their troubles or add to their mental grief.

Gyllenhaal and Spader work great together in this movie.  She gives a great performance as a shy, unsure woman who becomes confident and certain of what she wants and needs as she explores, understands, and accepts her sexuality.   Spader rivals Gyllenhaal’s performance, adding those little, quirky touches that makes the character more real; and showing the audience what it is that torments him: not able to accept and understand his sexual desires, leading to self-loathing and an unhappy, unsatisfying life.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Secretary” is the scene when Gyllenhaal sits on Spader’s desk, palms down on the desk, and waits as ordered for Spader to return, however long that may be.  Her ex-fiancee asks why she is doing this, and Gyllenhaal tells him that she wants to do it.  This is very important, because this gives insight into the true nature of a D/s relationship.  It is the submissive that has most of the power, because the submissive is the one who sets the parameters of what can be done to him or her.  The submissive chooses his/her partner; the submissive can walk away anytime he/she wants if things aren’t working out.  So despite how vicious or degrading things can look — for example, the submissive being whipped to the point of physical injury — what is being done is consensual.

“Secretary” rings true for me in the way it explains a Dominant/submissive relationship — each relationship has its own quirks and set of rules, of course; but in general, the director and writers of “Secretary” got it right.  For those looking for a kinky movie, or a dark comedy, or a love story, hey, “Secretary” has it all.

— M

I put this movie on for my mom and planned to leave and come back when the movie was done; but instead I started to watch with her, and stayed until the end.  I’ve seen this movie before, enjoyed it the first time, and I figured it’s worth a second watch.

“Dan In Real Life” stars Steve Carell, who plays the title role.  He’s a widower who is in a perpetually sad state because he’s never let go of his wife who has been dead for years.  Adding to his problem are his three daughters who are growing up too fast for Carell’s comfort.  Carell and family and all their baggage go into a car and off they go to a family get-together in Rhode Island; and it is there that Carell will meet a woman who will change his life, for better…and for worse.

Taking a break from his daughters who are giving him the cold shoulder because he’s being the typical, overprotective dad, Carell goes into a bookstore and finds Juliette Binoche needing help on finding a few books.  Not a problem for Carell, who makes a living in the literary field.  Small chit-chat leads to a lengthier conversation over coffee, and the two have clearly made a love connection.  Before the romance could progress, Binoche has to leave.  She’s meeting her new boyfriend, you see.  Ugh, life gives another body blow to Carell, but he is hopeful, and manages to get Binoche’s phone number…you know, just to talk and finish their conversation and that’ll be the end of it.  Ha-ha.  Slickly done, but he’s not fooling anybody, especially Binoche.

Soooo, Carell goes back to his family get-together, and is all excited talking about this amazing woman whom he has met…and she walks into the room — Binoche is the new girlfriend of Carell’s brother (played by Dane Cook)!  Life gives an uppercut to Carell, almost knocking him out.  But he toughs it out, telling himself that he won’t ruin his brother’s new relationship, and that he will just ignore Binoche, and that will be the end of it.  Again, he’s not fooling anybody — well, maybe himself — because with each hour that passes, Carell finds something else to love about Binoche, and vice-versa.  How long can they keep their love hidden before they are found out?

My most memorable, movie moment of “Dan In Real Life” is the scene when the Carell family are waiting for Carell’s blind date — set up by his parents — with Carell’s High School classmate who was nicknamed “pig face.”  As Carell paces the floor, obviously nervous about an unwanted date, his relatives create a song that mocks “pig face.”  Then she arrives, and “pig face” is played by Emily Blunt!  Gorgeous, Emily Blunt: hair all done, full make-up, tight, short, red dress, toned body…life throws a wrench in the Carell/Binoche romance.

There’s nothing extraordinary about “Dan In Real Life,” it’s simply a good romantic-comedy that follows all the basic points of its genre.  It’ll make you laugh, maybe give some insights to your own problems in life, and then leave you with a warm, happy thoughts.  Isn’t that worth about an hour and a half of your time?

— M

Three college kids, two of whom are sweethearts (played by Brenton Thwaites and Olivia Cooke) are on a road trip to bring Cooke to her new college; and along the way they are taunted by a computer hacker whom the 3 young people track down to some crappy house in a crappy part of the desert…at night!  And if you haven’t already guessed, the 3 youngsters are white. Oh, white people in horror movies, when will you ever learn?

Well, the trap is set.  Cooke disappears from the car, the 2 guys look for her, they catch a glimpse of her standing outside in the dark, and her body is snatched up into the sky by an invisible force.  Loud noises and bright lights follow, then darkness.­­­  Thwaites finds himself in a wheelchair, dazed, unable to move his legs, and being interrogated by Laurence Fishburne, who wears a biohazard suit.

So, what do we have here?  Did the 3 young people encounter an E.T.?  Are they part of some elaborate hoax?  Maybe a government experiment?  These are all questions I had going through my twisted mind; and they will be going through your own minds when you watch “The Signal.”  It is a small, indie movie, but it’s a solid suspense/thriller/sci-fi flick. It does move slowly in the first act, though, so bear with that and give it a chance.  I believe you’ll find it’s worth your time.

One of my most memorable moments of this movie is the scene when it is revealed why Thwaites has a hard time moving his legs.  Shocking!  Plus I couldn’t help wanting to keep looking at what happened to him.  Kind of like a car accident, I suppose.

Coming in at the top of the list for my most memorable, movie moment of “The Signal” is the scene at the end that revealed to me what is really going on.  That’s all I can say about that without being an ass and revealing too much.

One last thing: have you noticed how big Fishburne’s face has become in the past 10 years?  Actually, his whole head.  I’m surprised they found a helmet that fit him.

— M

In 2005, a four man team of Navy SEALs are sent on a mission in Afghanistan to find and capture or kill high-ranking members of the Taliban. Problems with their communications equipment and encountering 3 Afghan, goat herders compromise the SEALs’ mission, producing a brutal fight that lasts for days.  This is “Lone Survivor,” based on the book by Marcus Luttrell, the only survivor of the four man SEAL team.

The opening of the movie shows real footage of Navy soldiers going through the hell of SEAL training.  It’s a great way to show the audience how tough these soldiers are early in the movie, which ties in well with how hard the team fought when the mission went sour.  It also shows the strong bond these men form early in their training.  When you’ve been through the same crap together in training, and then in combat, you become brothers, risking your life and willing to die so that your brother may live.  There are many instances of that in the second and third acts of “Lone Survivor.”

One example of the SEAL team’s brotherhood and sacrifice is my most memorable, movie moment of “Lone Survivor.”  That would be the scene when Taylor Kitsch (playing team leader Mike Murphy, who was soon to be married at the time) tells Mark Wahlberg (playing Marcus Luttrell) that Kitsch will climb to a higher and open area to make a call for help using a satellite phone while they are under heavy, enemy fire.  Wahlberg, knowing that the chances of Kitsch getting killed by doing this is very high, disagrees with the decision; but Kitsch has already made up his mind, and begins to give the few magazines of ammo he has left to Wahlberg.  Wahlberg says, “Sorry Mike.”  Kitsch replies, “For what?”  Wow.  Just think about that reply for a minute.

Coming in second place for my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when the SEAL team discuss what to do with their 3 goat herder prisoners (a boy, a teenager with hatred in his eyes, and an old man).  Various options were mentioned: let the prisoners go and they’ll probably go back to the Taliban village and rat out the SEALs; tie up the prisoners and the SEALs scrub the mission and go to the extraction point, but the prisoners could freeze to death or get eaten by a wild animal, therefore making the SEALs responsible for civilian deaths; or kill the prisoners and keep going with the mission, but that would violate the rules of engagement, and make the SEALs murderers.  It’s a hell of a discussion, and many of you will probably wonder what decision you would have made.  What the SEALs do decide regarding their prisoners is something they will pay a heavy price for.

Third place for my most memorable, movie moment of “Lone Survivor” is the speech given by a new SEAL member during his hazing ritual.  It is an affirmation of living life to the fullest, going for it balls out, and wanting more.  I admire people like that.  I wish I could say that speech and actually mean it; but I live a hum-drum life and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

As far as action movies go, “Lone Survivor” delivers what you would expect of it.  But it’s more than a movie, it is a testament to the courage, toughness, sacrifice, and bond of these special men of the Navy’s Sea, Air, and Land forces.

–M

A lonely man who is in the final stages of his divorce falls in love with his phone’s Operating Software.  That’s a hell of a logline for “Her,” isn’t it?  It hooked me, that’s for sure; and I’m glad it did.

Joaquin Phoenix plays a sensitive writer who makes a connection with a new OS that has artificial intelligence and voiced by Scarlett Johansson. We’re talking one hell of an A.I. here, because Johansson quickly takes on human traits, learning and evolving at a very fast rate.  What starts as amusement for Phoenix evolves into something deeper as he converses with Johansson every day, much the same way as a man talks to a woman he clicks with on a regular basis, until they become friends and, in some cases, the relationship becomes romantic.

I know, I know, you’re wondering how the hell a person — a normal person — can fall in love with an OS?  Probably the same way a person can fall in love with character in a book or a movie.  Probably the same way a person can love his pets as if they were his child.  People are emotionally complex, and our ability to connect deeply goes beyond human beings.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Phoenix is playing a video game, and he encounters a tiny, Pillsbury doughboy-looking character who curses like I do when I’m stuck in traffic.  Phoenix is stumped, not knowing how to deal with this foul-mouthed character.  Until Johansson offers advice that allows Phoenix to advance further into the game.  Hey, all girlfriends should be so helpful with their man’s video game struggles!

Another memorable, movie moment from “Her” is the scene when Phoenix is having a late night, sex chat online.  It quickly gets weird — which is usual for cyber sex (I know, I’ve had them!) — and outrageous when his partner, voiced by Kristen Wiig, wants Phoenix to pretend he’s strangling her with a dead cat’s tail as they are having cyber/phone sex!

As for my most memorable, movie moment of “Her”…that is the scene when Phoenix and Johansson have their first fight.  This is when I started to view Johansson as real, instead of an A.I. computer software.  The hurt and confusion in her voice will sound familiar to anyone old enough to have had a romantic relationship.  It was easy for me to believe that Phoenix was having a telephone conversation with a real woman.

“Her” surprised me in a few ways.  I expected “Her” to be some quirky, goofy, love story; but it simply is a love story.  A very well-written, well-directed (compliments to writer/director Spike Jonze), and well-acted movie about how relationships start and evolve.  I also thought I figured out what the ending would be at the start of the 3rd act, but I was completely wrong about that; and that’s a good thing, because being able to telegraph a movie’s ending sucks.  Last, I didn’t expect “Her” to stay with me after the movie ended.  You know, when a story lingers in your mind long after you have watched or read it. Those are the best types of stories.

–M

When 2 giant creatures (called MUTO: Massive, Unidentified, Terrestrial Organism) lying dormant for years finally awaken to multiply and wreak some serious havoc on Earth, Godzilla emerges to fight his natural enemy and restore balance to the planet.

Sounds like a creature fest, right?  Not really.  “Godzilla” is kind of a throwback to the 1960s and 1970s Godzilla flicks, meaning the human element takes precedence over the monsters.  Don’t worry, there’s enough Godzilla and MUTOs to gawk over when you see these titans fight.

“Godzilla” stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a Navy officer who gets in the middle of the monster fight because he had to travel to Japan to deal with his father (played by Bryan Cranston) who is obsessed with the destruction of a nuclear reactor many years ago that killed his wife.  Cranston always believed that there were other forces at play, and the government was hiding what really happened, and he wants answers!

Well, Cranston gets his answers, and then some.   The reactor destruction was caused by a MUTO, creatures who feed on nuclear radiation, and emit powerful EMPs (electro-magnetic pulses) that destroy any electronic device that isn’t shielded from EMPs.   Bad news for the humans, as most of their heavy weapons use electronics, and the ones that don’t use electronics do little damage, if any, to the MUTOs.   Enter Godzilla, possibly the best ally the humans have; but the military sees Godzilla as a threat also, and plan to kill all three at once.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Godzilla” is the sequence when Johnson and his team do a HALO jump (High Altitude, Low Opening), above and into the middle of a fight between Godzilla and a MUTO.  The type of music used during this sequence made the jump horrifying and extremely intense.  This moment could have been a page out of Dante’s Inferno, or remnants of a fantastic nightmare.  It’s a great example of genius filmmaking.

The rest of the movie falls quite short of genius, but that’s okay, because “Godzilla” delivers on the entertainment level.  Yes, Maximus, I was entertained.

Oh, one last thing about some people complaining that there wasn’t enough Godzilla in “Godzilla.”  There is such a thing as overexposure.  Show the creature too much and the audience will lose its sense of shock, awe, and wonder.  Give them just enough, and leave them wanting more.

–M

 

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