Archives for posts with tag: Drama

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

 

 

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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

Grade A

The Disney hit machine is in full effect with a live action remake of “Beauty And The Beast” starring Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast.

For those rare few who are unfamiliar with the story, Stevens is an unkind, selfish prince who angered a witch who cursed him to live out his days as a hideous beast unless he falls in love with someone who also falls in love with him.  Stevens’ palace staff were also cursed, turning into clocks, dressers, candelabras, etc.  Enter Watson’s father, who picks a flower from Stevens’ palace grounds to give as a gift to Watson; and Stevens imprisons him for theft!  Watson, being the loving daughter, takes her father’s place as a prisoner.  What follows is a very rocky start, to say the least, to an unlikely romance between a beautiful, young lady and a monstrous-looking creature who has much love and kindness hidden deep in his soul, just waiting to be drawn out by the right woman.

But Stevens is on the clock: the witch has given him a rose, and when the last petal falls and Stevens has not met anyone who he has fallen in love with and loves him in return, Stevens and his staff will remain as they are forever.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Beauty And The Beast” is the scene when Watson and Stevens, all dressed up, dance together for the first time, and the song with the same title as the movie is sung by a tea kettle.

It’s been over a decade since I watched the animated version, so I was able to judge this iteration without being prejudiced by its predecessor.  The acting was good, the sets (practical and CGI) were lavish and bright to give hints as to its animated lineage, many characters were memorable and larger than life, and the musical numbers were simply amazing…I felt like I was watching an opera, that’s how intricate and beautiful many of the grander, musical pieces were.  This movie is a must-see for any Disney movie fan.

— M

Grade A

Feudal Japan: Christianity has been outlawed; priests have been expelled from the country but a few remain in hiding to keep teaching the converts.  Those who are caught are given a chance to renounce their faith; and if they don’t, torture and execution will follow.  Martin Scorsese directs and co-writes “Silence,” an emotionally powerful movie about two Jesuit priests (played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who volunteer to go to Japan and risk a horrible death in order to find a missing, high-ranking Jesuit (played by Liam Neeson) who was reported as captured and tortured by the Japanese until he apostatized.

“Silence” is a complex movie because of the multiple themes running through it: what are people willing to sacrifice to hold on to their faith and religion; is it okay to renounce one’s faith, without truly meaning it in one’s heart and mind, in order to avoid torture and death; if God exists, why does God allow the suffering and deaths of those who are faithful and loyal to God; which religion is the true religion; does one religion have a right to call other religions heresy, and by doing so is it a form of self-importance and ethnocentrism; etc.  The numerous, elongated scenes of torture will also be hard to watch for most people — yes, this is a movie, but the depictions of torture and executions of the Christian Japanese and European priests are based on what happened to this group hundreds of years ago.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Silence” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Neeson is brought to Garfield so Neeson can explain to Garfield why Christianity doesn’t work for most Japanese, and why Neeson renounced his religion.  While Neeson does give some valid points, the audience is left to wonder if Neeson is just playing along to protect his own life, or does he really believe in what he is saying?

“Silence” is a great piece of art that burdens the heart with sadness and horror at what people can do to others; and it also uplifts the spirit by showing the courage and sacrifice of those who will take death over renouncing their religious beliefs.  This movie is not for everyone, but for those of the Christian faith and those who love well-crafted movies, “Silence” will speak loudly to your soul.

— M

Grade B

Twelve alien spacecraft hover over various parts of Earth, their intentions unknown, their language unknown.  An expert on language (played by Amy Adams) and a physicist (played by Jeremy Renner) are tasked by the U.S. military to interpret what the aliens inside one spacecraft are saying.  It is a monumental task, but it has to be done as fast as possible because the entire world is on edge.  Fear is quickly taking hold of many people, some of whom have the power to start a war with the alien visitors.  If the “Arrival” of the aliens is meant to bring peace and friendship to humans, then it must be quickly confirmed before itchy trigger fingers causes an intergalactic war.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Arrival” is the scene when the aliens are introduced.  Let’s just say if I was there, I’d either run screaming like a Wayans brother or start crying like Matt Damon.

“Arrival” moves slowly, methodically, allowing the audience to soak in everything they hear and see.  Although many characters are in this movie, almost all of the focus is on Adams and Renner, making “Arrival” feel more personal.  The flashback sequences of Adams and her daughter adds a dreamy but highly relevant layer to the story which gives a nice surprise twist near the end of  the movie.

— M

Grade B

A character study of a black man (played by Denzel Washington) in 1950s America who had big dreams that remained just that.  Washington is middle-aged, works as a garbage man, has a loving wife (played by Viola Davis), two children and a house —  a decent living by most standards, but Washington is unhappy despite the many times we see him smile and grin.  Unfulfilled dreams, the bitterness he holds on to due to the racism he and many blacks endured for so long, and the constant repetition of his weekly routine year after year has taken a toll on him, making him do something that will threaten to destroy his marriage and everything he worked so hard to build should his secret come to light.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Fences” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Washington’s secret comes out and he has an explosive argument with Davis.  One can feel the pain, disappointment, and rage so much that Washington and Davis, for a moment, cease to be actors and become real people whose lives are rapidly crushed within a span of minutes.

For those who are unaware of the origin of “Fences,” it started as a play; and the movie stays true to its roots.  Heavy on the dialogue, a sparse cast, and few settings, “Fences” holds your attention purely on the spoken words and the great performances of Washington and Davis.

— M

Grade C –

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan reprise their roles as Ms. Steele and Christian Grey, respectively, in “Fifty Shades Darker.”  After being freaked out by Dornan’s sadist ways in “Fifty Shades Of Grey,” Johnson quickly gets back together with Dornan after setting up a “no rules, no punishment” alteration to their original relationship.  Things seem to go well until a weird, disheveled chick starts appearing intermittently to freak out Johnson; sexual harasser/creepy boss named Jack Hyde (dude, seriously, this is a name that I would come up with back when I was 14-years-old writing short stories, so it kind of gives you a hint as to the writing talents of the screenwriter and/or author of the books) comes on strong to Johnson, which freaks her out; and “Mrs. Robinson” is revealed, giving Johnson advice about she’s not good enough for Dornan and she needs to leave him, which freaks out Johnson.

So with all this stuff going on — and handled badly by the screenwriter/director/editor — what is the spine, or theme of this movie?  If I had to guess, it’s Johnson and Dornan trying to change for each other, trying to find a compromise so that they can continue their relationship.  That’s all good and well; but “Fifty Shades Darker” is less focused and more comedic (not deliberately, I bet) than the first movie, and the first movie was no masterpiece.  I know that most sequels tend to be of a less quality than their predecessors, but in the case of “Fifty Shades Darker,” the difference in quality is really jarring.  It felt as if there were 10 drafts of the movie, and instead of the 10th, polished draft being produced, the 3rd draft got produced.  Moving on…

My most memorable, movie moment of “FSD” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Dornan tells a creepy, former submissive who is flipping out to “kneel,” and she does so instantaneously.  This is probably the best written scene of the movie, as it shows Dornan’s immense power over his former subs; Dornan’s possible, continued need for that kind of pure obedience; and Johnson’s full realization that she can never give that to Dornan.

Bottom line, for those who didn’t understand nor liked the first movie, you’ll definitely hate this one.  But for those who were entertained by the first movie, as I was, you’ll probably want to see “FSD” because you want to see how things turn out, despite the cheesy, corny, ridiculous events and dialogue.  Look, it’s like a two hour soap opera, and if treated as such, and you are the type to get entertained by soap operas and soft core porn, then “Fifty Shades Darker” may be a decent piece of entertainment for a couple of hours.  Of course, if watched with a significant other, the entertainment value of this movie goes up significantly (insert winky face here).

— M

Grade B +

 Based on the true story of Private Desmond Doss who single-handedly saved dozens of U.S. soldiers on Okinawa in a place nicknamed “Hacksaw Ridge”…all without using a weapon.

Andrew Garfield plays Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who has made a vow not to kill nor handle a gun, yet volunteers to join the Army during WW II to serve his country in a way that doesn’t conflict with his religion, i.e. he will be a combat medic and save the lives of his fellow soldiers.  Basic training in the U.S. Army becomes a nightmare for Garfield because his Conscientious Objector status makes his unit think that he is a coward, and that Garfield will just stand by as his comrades get attacked by the enemy.  For his refusal to pick up a weapon during training, Garfield is ostracized, beaten, and court-martialed.   But with Garfield’s faith and inner strength, and the help of his fiancée and his father, Garfield’s C.O. status is upheld and allowed to finish his training.  The bloody battles in Okinawa await.

It is in combat that all soldiers are ultimately tested; and Garfield proves his worth in every way when the bullets fly, charging in when a soldier cries “medic!” despite the dangers all around.  As the men in his company fall from their wounds, Garfield is there to help save their lives; but with only a helmet for protection, how long can Garfield survive the enemy’s onslaught before he is killed?

My most memorable, movie moment of “Hacksaw Ridge” is the scene when Garfield’s Company reaches the Ridge and sees the landscape before them: torn bodies of soldiers everywhere, black sand, sharp rocks, trees splintered by the shelling, and smoke that hides the Japanese soldiers that are waiting for the Americans to walk into the killzone.

Taking second place for my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Vince Vaughn (playing a Sergeant in Garfield’s squad/platoon) addresses the new recruits for the first time.  One recruit is completely naked, but Vaughn ignores him and instead hurls insults at other soldiers who are more presentable.  It’s a fine example of comedic writing.

Director Mel Gibson did an excellent job with “Hacksaw Ridge,” taking his time to tell the background story of Garfield’s character to show us why he believes in what he believes.   And once we are on board with what this humble, C.O. is all about, the second half of the movie throws him into the meat grinder, where the audience will see what the man is truly made of.

— M

C +

Nichole Bloom and Fabianne Therese play two high school students who fall in love with each other and decide to run away to NYC to escape their extremely horrible lives (i.e. they live in nice houses in nice, safe neighborhoods; have parents who provide for them and care for them (for the most part); go to school where the only bad thing that is shown is a shoving match between Bloom and a bully; and they are given the freedom to go out and stay out late).  Given these horrors that these two girls experience every day, it’s no wonder they seek the comforts of a big city.

Not being completely stupid, Bloom and Therese realize they need money to make their big escape come true.  And that’s where webcam sex comes in.  The money comes in slow but steady, but not fast enough for the teens.  So they decide to prostitute themselves for one really horny guy who can afford it.  And that’s where things go really bad really fast.  **SPOILER ALERT**The surprising thing is — and kudos to the screenwriters on this one specific thing — it’s mostly the girls’ fault that their situation quickly spirals out of control.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Teenage Cocktail” is the scene when the father of Bloom’s character finds out that his daughter does webcam sex for money.  He is shocked, of course; but when he has a chance to confront his daughter, he just shuts up and quietly goes out of his daughter’s room.  This dude needs to go out in the ocean and swim with the jellyfish, because he’s as spineless as they are.

“Teenage Cocktail” has the basic elements that could have turned the movie into a very compelling commentary on some of the dangerous situations teens can get themselves in.  But the script — which felt like it needed a few more drafts to get all the stupidity out — is the weak link of this project, bringing the movie down to the level of mediocrity.

— M

Grade A

Director Ang Lee has a knack for packing a serious, emotional punch in even the most quiet moments of a movie; and he does that again with “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a mostly quiet movie that contemplates the craziness of war: started by the rich; fought by the poor and young; the physical and emotional damage it does to the soldiers and their families; the lies that are told to keep the war effort going; the lip service that most civilians give to the soldiers as life goes on as if there is no war happening, etc.

After his heroic actions during the second Iraqi war are captured on video for all of America to see, Joe Alwyn (who plays the title role) and his infantry squad are paraded throughout the U.S. to be used as living propaganda for America’s war against Iraq.  On the last day of their “vacation” in the U.S. before being shipped back to the war, Alwyn’s experiences in Iraq and his first days of coming home are told in flashbacks.  He clearly suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, and he finds a way out of going back into combat duty thanks to his loving and tenacious sister played by Kristen Stewart.  But he must make a tough decision whether to take care of himself and take the way out, or take care of his squadmates and go back into combat with them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is the scene when a civilian starts making fun of soldiers during a football game.  One of Alwyn’s squadmates puts the loudmouth in a sleeper hold, silencing his big mouth in seconds.

Ang Lee does a great job with “BLLHW,” focusing on Alwyn and allowing the audience to see what this soldier has seen and what he is thinking.  I especially enjoyed the unpredictable nature of this movie, as it could have gone in so many clichéd routes in the third act under the guidance of untalented directors/producers/writers; but the filmmakers chose to take the road less travelled, and produced a relatively quiet ending that is still emotionally powerful.

— M

Grade A

Based on a true story, Madina Nalwanga plays the title role in “Queen Of Katwe,” a young girl in the slums of Uganda who displays amazing skills in chess.  With the support of a tough, hard-working mother (played by Lupita Nyong’o) and a teacher (played by David Oyelowo), Nalwanga’s chess playing abilities opens up a whole new world for her, as well as opportunities that can elevate her and her family from the slums.  But patience and learning how to take losses are two skills Nalwanga needs to learn, or else she’ll risk burning out and quitting before she reaches her goals.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Queen Of Katwe” is the scene when Nalwanga and the other slum, chess students are put against the rich “city boys” of Uganda in a chess tournament.  It’s upper class against lower class; the rich against the poor…but in chess, money and power mean nothing.  It’s how powerful your mind is.

— 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 C+

After the mysterious and gruesome death of his beloved grandfather, Asa Butterfield (playing the lead role) discovers that his grandfather’s tales of children with super powers and the monsters that seek to kill them are all true.

What begins as spiritual healing for Butterfield ends as a wondrous adventure that is also terrifying as he is introduced to Eva Green (who plays the title role) and her home for peculiar children.  Each visit strengthens his bond with Green and her charges, especially for a floating, teen girl.  Happiness that has eluded Butterfield in his own world is finally found in “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children,” but one mistake will jeopardize not only his own life, but the lives of all his new friends and love interest.  Butterfield and the peculiar children must learn to be brave and fight the monsters that have come to kill them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “M.P.H.F.P.C.” is the scene that shows how the monsters came to be, and why they need to kill peculiar children.  It may be a bit too much for little kiddies, so parents beware.

“M.P.H.F.P.C.” gets a mediocre grade because it has too many shenanigans.  Some of the peculiar children have powers that can devastate an enemy quickly, yet they don’t take advantage of them or they wait until the last minute to use them.  Granted, some are little kids and have never been in combat, but the older children could have easily instructed the little ones on how and when to use their deadly powers.  **SPOILER ALERT** One older child (I’m being nice here, because she looks like she is 25-years-old) has the power to generate so much oxygen from her body that she can float a sunken ship, yet she can only put out about 20 seconds of air to pin the lead monster against a wall, after which the monster is free to do more damage?  Get the hell out.

I found the first two acts of this movie to be entertaining, but the last act — where most of the shenanigans take place — left me questioning what the hell the filmmakers were thinking.

— M

Grade B

Manny’s Movie Musings: Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, respectively; a power hungry couple who decide to assassinate their king so that Fassbender will usurp the throne.  The funny thing is…Fassbender knows that his treachery will bring serious blowback to himself, but Cotillard spurs him on.  After their traitorous deeds are done, and Fassbender and Cotillard are king and queen of Scotland, paranoia and madness sets in the mind of Fassbender, leading him to murder men, women, and children so that he may keep his fragile grip on the throne.  But a vengeful husband and father comes with ten thousand soldiers to put an end to Fassbender’s tyranny, and Fassbender will have to answer for all the blood that he has spilled.   “Macbeth” is overly stylish to the point of distraction; but the performances of the main characters are top-notch (although the combination of accent and an ancient way of speaking makes it difficult to understand what is being said).  My most memorable, movie moment of “Macbeth” is the scene when Fassbender burns a woman and her children alive because he believes they will oppose him in the future.

— M

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