Archives for posts with tag: entertainment

Grade B +

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

— M

Grade B +

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

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade B –

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade B –

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade C +

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade B +

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

— M

Grade B –

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade C +

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

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

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade A

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

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

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

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

— M

Grade B

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

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

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

— M

Grade C –

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

— M

Grade C

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

— M

Grade B+

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

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

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

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

— M

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 B

The second part of the “Saw” franchise, “Saw II” is surprisingly good because of the plot twists and masterful use of non-linear storytelling.  “Saw II” gives us a bigger set of victims, 7 stuck in a building filled with deadly traps and puzzles, plus 1 more “victim”: a cop (played by Donnie Wahlberg) who happens to be the father of one of the 7 victims.  Caught in serial killer Jigsaw’s (played by Tobin Bell) twisted plot, Wahlberg must do as Bell commands in order to have a chance at seeing his son alive again.  But can Wahlberg, a notoriously brutal cop, follow Bell’s rules and keep his cool long enough to ensure his son’s safe return?

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw II” is the scene when Bell’s timer for his “game” counts down to zero, revealing a shocking secret, and proving that all “players” must follow his rules.

I am very impressed with “Saw II” as it goes above and beyond the typical “torture porn flick.”  But it does suffer from several shenanigans such as: police procedures in raiding Bell’s hideout; Bell allowed to stay in his hideout because of what cops see on video monitors, giving the bad guy the advantage of being in his home turf; and a lowly Detective with anger management issues is put in charge, further jeopardizing the entire case and potential victims with his numerous bad judgments and decisions.   Still, the good more than outweighs the bad, and “Saw II” is a superior example of this genre.

— 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 C+

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

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

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

— M

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 +

The very first in a long and successful movie franchise, “Saw” has two extremely unfortunate guys (played by Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell) chained to pipes in a large, disgusting bathroom.  From hazy memories and clues given to them in the room, they realize that they have been kidnapped by a serial killer named Jigsaw in order to play out a vicious, painful and bloody game in order to escape.  Should the two men refuse to play, there will be severe consequences.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw” is the scene when Elwes reaches his breaking point and uses a hacksaw to begin his escape.  Although cringeworthy, it is mild compared to what future “Saw” movies has in store.

“Saw” works because 1) it moves fast thanks to a tight script and frenetic editing that can be annoying most times; 2) there is the mystery of who the serial killer is; and 3) it offers the audience very interesting and sadistic ways to kill the victims.  Weaknesses of “Saw” are: 1) Elwes’ often melodramatic, soap opera-ish acting; and 2) Danny Glover’s cop character who makes one stupid move after another, making me wonder if he had a brain.  Taken as a whole, “Saw” is an entertaining movie for fans of so called “torture porn” horror movies.  Seeing the traps/puzzles alone is worth the price of admission.

— 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

Grade B

Ellen DeGeneres reprises her role as Dory in “Finding Dory,” the sequel to “Finding Nemo.”  DeGeneres has flashbacks of being a young fish and having parents, so she decides to find her parents based on the miniscule clues that her limited memory gives.  With the help of little Nemo and Marlin from the previous movie, Degeneres starts a long, dangerous, crazy and fun adventure that may give her closure, or may find her lost forever.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when we first see Hank, the octopus (voiced by Ed O’Neill) do his trick of blending in to the environment.  The character easily steals the show in this movie, being the most interesting and most fun to watch with his stealthy, ninja/secret agent moves and tricks.

I found “Finding Dory” to be almost as good as “Finding Nemo,” with Hank the octopus being the most interesting, animated character I have seen in years.  As usual, Pixar has hit another home run, albeit this one doesn’t go as far as some of their other movies have.

— M

B –

Manny’s Movie Musings: “Firestarter” adapts Stephen King’s book of the same name, and stars Drew Barrymore playing the title role and David Keith as her protective father.  Both father and daughter have super powers (Barrymore can set almost anything on fire) due to a government experiment, and now they are hunted down for more experimentation and ultimate disposal.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Firestarter” is the scene when Barrymore walks out of a burning barn, ready to kill and burn everything and everyone she sees — a little girl with an adorable face but with the power of the devil.  Although “Firestarter” has the feel of a movie of the week and has several shenanigans (e.g., the bad guys make the laughably bad assumption that Keith has lost his powers and therefore doesn’t need that much supervision), overall it is very entertaining (mostly due to Barrymore’s adorable portrayal of her character), and the part when Barrymore goes off on the bad guys is very satisfying.

— M

B+

A terrific start to a fresh take on the “Planet Of The Apes” movies.  Andy Serkis plays the role of Caesar, a chimpanzee with heightened intelligence due to an experimental drug that was developed by his owner (played by James Franco).  Living in the house of Franco, Serkis grows strong and freakishly intelligent.  But he is still basically a chimpanzee; and that inner, savage nature takes the best of him when he escapes from the house to protect a loved one.

Serkis is placed in a “sanctuary” for great apes, which is basically a prison.   Serkis must learn to carefully navigate this madhouse, avoiding the vicious alpha male of the group, and cultivating friends as he plots an escape.  But where can he and his kind escape to?  He doesn’t belong to the human world, and he certainly doesn’t belong in a zoo nor a “sanctuary.”

As Caesar tries to make sense of his situation, Franco creates a stronger version of the virus that made Serkis super intelligent, hoping for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.   But viruses being what they are, Franco risks unleashing a curse instead of a cure.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes” is the scene when Serkis speaks for the first time when he is being mistreated by a human.  He utters one word, a simple word that bullies, tyrants, and dictators fear.  A word that can spark a revolution.

— M

Grade A –

Mostly taking place days before “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” puts us at the tip of the spear of the Rebel Alliance.  Said tip is headed by two rebels (played by Felicity Jones and Diego Luna) who volunteer to infiltrate a heavily defended, Imperial base to steal the plans to the Empire’s dreaded, new weapon, the Death Star.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is the scene when Darth Vader boards a Rebel ship.  Invisible within the dark hallway, his breathing can be heard…then the red light saber ignites.  Vader straight up murders dozens of rebel soldiers within a span twenty seconds, an unstoppable, evil force moving forward as he kills.  It is Darth Vader’s most terrifying moment in all of the “Star Wars” movies.

What makes “Rogue One” more satisfying than the last four “Star Wars” movies (Episodes I, II, III, and VII) is mostly due to a tight screenplay that does not contain many head-scratching moments that put off “SW” fans; and a more brutal depiction of combat where characters that you grow to like may not survive.  The “dogfights” are also faster paced, have better dialogue, and have great choreography.  And last but definitely not least: the numerous characters from Episode IV that are brought back, either through CGI or from unused film footage from the 1977 movie.

My ticket to “Rogue One” was money well spent, and this title will be part of my Blu-Ray library in the near future.

— 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

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