Archives for posts with tag: Drama

Grade B

 

Set during the American Civil War, Colin Farrell plays a wounded, Union soldier who is taken in by Southern women and girls who reside in a girls’ school.  First treated as a captive, Farrell slowly charms his way into the hearts and minds of the ladies.  As his wounds heal, Farrell becomes a friend to the girls, and a potential lover for one of the teachers (Kirsten Dunst) and the headmistress (Nicole Kidman).  But his conniving ways may trap him into situations that will reveal his true nature and bring an end to his respite from the war.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Beguiled” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT**Farrell wakes up after having fallen from a stairway and discovers that something irreversible and cruel has been done to him.

From an aesthetic point of view, “The Beguiled” is a beautiful movie; but when it comes to the story, the original movie is superior.  **SPOILER ALERT**Gone is the female, slave character who was significant to the story; the scene when the young girl’s turtle is savagely thrown by the soldier was played out better in the original, and therefore was crucial to the girl agreeing to help poison the soldier; and in the original movie, the soldier (played by Clint Eastwood) mentioned to the ladies that he will put in a good word with the Union soldiers about the ladies so the soldiers won’t harm the them — this was another important part that was left out of the remake, as this made the death of the soldier more tragic.

So which version is the best?  It’s a tie.  Director Sofia Coppola made numerous mistakes removing vital elements from the first movie, but her direction outshines the original; and credit has to be given to cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd for this version’s exquisite visuals.

— M

 

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Grade B+

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade A

 

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

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

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

— M

 

 

Grade B+

 

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade B-

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

— M

Grade B

 

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade A

 

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade B

 

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

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

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

— M

Grade B

 

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

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

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

— M

Grade B+

 

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

— M

Grade B-

A highly controversial movie by director Sam Peckinpah, “Straw Dogs” stars Dustin Hoffman and Susan George as a married couple living in an English countryside who endure an escalating series of attacks by local goons.

Hoffman plays the calm and gentle mathematician who chooses to be ignorant of the menacing nature of the local men he hired to work on finishing his garage; while George plays the young, petulant wife who notices the little threats all around her but cannot persuade her husband to see things as she does.  Hoffman judges George to be childish and silly, and George accuses Hoffman of being a coward.  Soon both will be tested to their limits, and their true natures will be exposed when the goons lay siege to their farmhouse and demand something that Hoffman cannot comply with.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Straw Dogs” is the most controversial segment of the movie, **SPOILER ALERT** the double rape of George.  Controversial for three reasons: 1) its raw brutality (this is a 1971 movie, don’t forget); 2) George appears to enjoy the final moments of the first rape; and 3) it is insinuated that George is anally raped during the second rape.   This part of the movie is something that movie fans will heatedly argue over for many years to come.

“Straw Dogs” isn’t a movie for the faint of heart nor for those looking for a quick thrill.  It starts off very slowly, and the suspense builds up gradually until what is left is a devolution of human nature to its basest instincts.

— M

Grade C+

A family of three survives the apocalypse (some type of disease — and that’s really all the information the audience gets) in a large, boarded up house in the woods.  A stranger breaks in looking for water, and the father (played by Joel Edgerton) decides to trade water for some of the stranger’s food.  They apparently bond so well that the stranger and his wife and young child move in Edgerton’s house. For a while they all live happily like a hippie commune until an event brings the possibility of disease within the house, an event that is never fully explained and is one reason why this movie gets a low grade.  From this point on, some of the worst natures of people in times of crisis comes out, mostly from Edgerton; and this is what “It Comes At Night” is truly about, the monstrous nature of people that lie dormant, waiting for the right moment to emerge.

My most memorable, movie moment of “It Comes At Night” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Edgerton is tracking a mother and her young son, finds them, aims his rifle at them and…

The extremely misleading title of “It Comes At Night” will frustrate many viewers because the title and trailers leads us to believe there is a monster out there stalking people at night, which is not the case.  The lack of info on how the disease is transmitted, and several plot holes will further aggravate the viewer, as is proven in the overwhelmingly negative reviews in so many outlets.  But I happen to like this movie’s study in human nature in times of disaster and the question it poses: what price will you pay for survival?

— M

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 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

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 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 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-

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 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 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 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 A

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

— M

Grade B +

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

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade C +

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

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

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade A

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade B

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

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

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

— M

Grade 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

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