Tolkien Movie Review

“Tolkien”, is about the famous fantasy author (who would make sure you know that the right way to pronounce his name is “Toll-keen”) and how he grew up and learned to value “fellowship”. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien has a rough start in life, with a dead father, and soon also a dead mother. He and his younger brother became wards to the Catholic Church, but because of a forward-thinking priest, Tolkien gets a classical education and gets into Oxford. But after being sidelined with World War I, he gets to marry his true love. He gains stature as a Professor at the college, and eventually writes some very large books. But ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ do not make a big dent in this movie, because it ends about the time that he starts on them…


Young J.R.R. Tolkien and his mother and brother are helped by the parish priest Father Morgan (Colm Meaney). He makes sure that they have a home after their father passes away. But soon after his mother is also gone, and the two boys are put into a nice foster home. Tolkien at first finds it hard to make friends, but he soon makes several lifelong friends. When he grows up Mr. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) is able to get into Oxford. He knows a fellow orphan in his foster home named Edith Bratt (Lily Collins) and believes that she will be the love of his life. Tolkien and his chums have raucus talks and arguments about deep subjects. They form a “fellowship” of sorts, and hold fast to be true to each other. Edith also becomes a part of his life, and when he enters college, his grades suffer.


Oxford is ready to pitch Tolkien out of school, because he is not living up to the highest of standards. But he happens to meet Professor Wright (Derek Jacobi) who is a specialist in languages. Tolkien manages to convince the Professor that he has the same love of language and for the origins of speech. He is able to impress the Professor with some made-up languages that Tolkien created for his own writing. Tolkien is able to thrive in the new class setting, and he and Edith are very happy. He feels that the world is ready for a new saga that is a great and as far-reaching as the opera Wagner created “The Ring Cycle”. But before that can happen, World War I breaks out. Tolkien and his three friends are signed up and enlisted in a short time.

Tolkien spends time at the front in Somme. In the trenches, he puts all of creative spirit on hold. The War is horrible, and he sees many people injured and killed. Tolkien is infected with trench fever, and he spends time searching for one of his friends on the front lines. With his feverish mind, he looks out on the No Man’s Land area and imagines what the fight between good and evil might look like. Shadowy black wraiths hover over the battlefield, as armored knights gallop in the dead trees out on the landscape. Dragons roar across the sky as thunderous booms rain down on the broken land. Tolkien is seeing those images that he would eventually put down onto paper in his later books.

Nicholas Hoult does a very decent job in portraying Tolkien, and he does the man justice. He shows a lot of compassion and smarts as a young brilliant writer. But he and Lily Collins do not have a lot of energy together in their scenes. The story is a bit of a see-saw back and forth from Tolkien’s war time activity, to a flashback set of sequences of his prior life.

All Is True Movie Review

“All Is True” is a love poem, neh – a Love Sonnet – to the veritable Bard of Stratford-on-Avon. Yes, William Shakespeare is in his retirement years. He is spending these years not at Sun City West playing golf, but instead puttering around in his garden bemoaning his deceased son. His long-suffering wife and his two daughters are beset with Old Will’s presence after many, many years. For all those years, he has been living in London – writing and directing at the Globe Theater. But when it burns down, his whole life is put in disarray, and he retreats back to his humble abode. It is actually a pretty nice estate, because he has spent years being the world’s most successful playwright and poet. His patrons have lavished Shakespeare with enough to make his life very comfortable in his sunset years. Now, if he could only stop driving his family crazy…

William Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh) has returned to his hometown, back from being a major success in London. The theater that he had founded has burnt to the ground, and he no longer has any reason to be there. He gets back to his wife Anne (Judi Dench) and his daughters.  Susanna (Lydia Wilson) is married to a Puritan, so that means she is not happily married. Daughter Judith (Kathryn Wilder) is unmarried and is considered an ‘old maid’ with a tart tongue and a shrewish attitude. Will is back and he really starts to think about his son, Hamnet. He had died nearly two decades ago, while William was in London making the theater magic happen. Shakespeare did not allow himself to grieve properly, and now the loss of his son hits him hard. That was his family legacy, in his passing down of the family name to continue the Shakespeare greatness. With his daughters, they will not retain the family name, so there is a possibility that the Shakespeare line will be snuffed out.

Wife Anne has had many years to mourn her son and will not accept that hubby Will is just now getting around to it. After all, when Hamnet died, Will was consumed with the hustle and bustle of the Globe Theater. He was too busy writing “The Merry Wives of Windsor” at the time and could not get back to see Hamnet laid to rest. Now, Shakespeare has remnants of letters and poems created by Hamnet when he was younger, and alive. There was a rough but noticeable talent in his writings, and William is mourning the loss of not only a son, but the one who could have carried on the new family tradition. But Anne is stoic and steadfast, and she knows whatever secrets that Hamnet held are also dead. Judith has some shocking news for her father, and he does not know how to begin to understand what happened, and how his son died.

During this hubbub, there is a visit to the estate by an old friend and very wealthy patron of William Shakespeare. The Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen), who is a noble by birth and a scoundrel in nature, comes to meet his favorite British poet and playwright. The Earl never needed to put on airs or persuade people to respect him. It was his due by his heritage. Shakespeare, on the other hand, was humble and born into poverty. His father was involved in scandal and he was frowned upon. So, Shakespeare has worked mightily to polish the family name. But both of his daughters have brushes with bad reputation and gossip. So, the cycle starts over once more. When the Earl of Southampton finally leaves William to his situation, he wishes him well. He wants him to remain true to his recent work in London as a genius, and not wallow in the backwater tides of the local countryside.

Kenneth Branagh plays his man-crush William Shakespeare with an intensity and a ton of prosthetic makeup. He does wind up looking like the historical portraits of The Bard, so it is a fitting appearance. Branagh really loves him some Shakespeare. So much so that he lives to direct movies adapted from Shakespeare, or star in movies adapted from Shakespeare – or mostly star in and direct movies that are adapted from Shakespeare. Branagh finds a suitable match with Dame Judi Dench playing Anne Hathaway, the woman who married William Shakespeare. These two are wonderful on-screen and play well against each other. Along with the cameo role of the Earl of Southampton, Ian McKellen has a twinkle of mischief in his eyes as he builds up and berates Shakespeare. They also are great in the same scene.

In Phoenix, playing exclusively at the Harkins Scottsdale Camelview.

Long Shot Movie Review

“Long Shot” is a funny look at a couple of people with almost nothing in common except a long-ago shared high school past. The romantic comedy has an R-rated bite to it, and some political overtones that make some broad commentary on current events. The two leads are experienced actors who make an unlikely romantic attraction look realistic. The movie is bolstered by the fact that it has some secondary characters who are played by excellent people and are well cast in those roles. The movie might have an R-rated exterior, but it has some nice universal notions of true love being blind.

Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) is a determined, if somewhat disheveled, investigative journalist. He just found out that his weekly newspaper is being taken over by a huge media conglomerate run by a right-wing billionaire bigot. He quits and sees his long-time friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). Lance has done quite well for himself, and he takes Fred out to a major party. It is an environmental fundraiser, and it is also attended by the current Secretary of State. She is Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), who is a major Washington power player. She is also considering running for President. Her long-time aide Maggie (June Diane Raphael) is keeping Field’s public persona clean and bright. Fred and Charlotte have a history back in high school. She used to babysit for Fred a few times, and he was hot for her back then.

Charlotte is now still as beautiful and is also very powerful. She hears from the President (Bob Odenkirk) that he will not be running for another term. He wants to break into movies instead. So now he will endorse Charlotte as a candidate. When she meets Fred at the Washington party, she remembers that he was a sweet teenager. Fred has just quit from the job, because he does not want to support the new owner. He is looking for a new position, and she is looking for a speechwriter. That could be a match made in Heaven, or at least the smoky backrooms of the Washington establishment. He is a passionate idealist, who does not wince from dropping a few F-bombs in his articles. She is poised and practiced pragmatist and used to the idea of abandoning ideals to get the deal done. Not a chance these two might have issues with the other, right?

As she becomes a Candidate for the top job, Charlotte is pleased with the high level of energy that Fred can bring to her campaign. Her aide Maggie is not a fan, but she is biting her lip until a time that Fred’s wild personality will blow up. That point might bring Charlotte’s chances to a screeching halt, because even now – she is considered a ‘Long Shot’. Fred becomes a key part of her entourage, travelling with Charlotte to many world capitals. She and Fred are becoming very close and are become lovers. Fred lets his friend Lance know what is going on, and he encourages Fred to be true to his principles. But the real world makes Charlotte compromise many of her campaign goals. Fred is taken aback, and he sees that life in a political realm might not be to his liking.

This movie is a hard-R rating, but mostly for language. The relationship between the two main characters is not exactly believable. But Seth Rogan and Charlize Theron are very natural in these roles, and they can pull it off. The actors do a great job with some less than stellar material. There quite a few very funny lines, and the Fred Flarsky character is made out to be the biggest boob on the face of the Earth. But with Rogan’s sad puppy face, you just must love him. Also, there are some fine performances with the side characters, especially O’Shea Jackson Jr. and June Diane Raphael. These two more than carry their weight in the movie, and they have some good moments. The overall political attitude swings a little to the left, and the main policy initiative for Charlotte Field is to save the Environment. Never seen that before on the screen, huh?

“Long Shot” gets the most juice out it’s lead actors by getting them into the most natural situations. It is less than perfect when they are forced into a ‘fish out of water’ scene, such as Fred Flarsky at an International State Dinner event. There are few times when it seems to cross the line over good taste, but for the most part is fun watch. The ending veers over the line and it goes on a little too long. But if you like your character-driven comedy with a romantic flavor and a political edge, this beats any other movie by a “Long Shot”.

El Chicano Movie Review

“El Chicano” is a dark and gritty view into a Hispanic gang-run neighborhood, with an emphasis on the ‘hood’. It relates the legend of a mysterious motorcycle-riding vigilante called El Chicano. He attacks the criminals and gang-bangers and brings them to justice. He is kind of a Ghetto Ghost Rider, without the flaming skull. The drug-infested East Los Angeles area is like “Mean Streets” with Salsa beats. El Chicano targets the drug pushers and killers, the bangers and cartel leaders. He takes a magical Aztec knife and uses it to kill the baddest of the bad. He becomes a boogie man for the criminal underclass, a type of “Usual Suspects” character ‘Keyser Soze’ of the Barrio.

Three young boys grow up in the East Los area, and one night they see El Chicano in action. A local gang leader is stabbed, and the roar of the black motorcycle is heard screeching away. A local cop named Gomez is on the scene quickly, but El Chicano is gone. The young boys are grown up twenty years later, and each has gone separate ways.  Detective Diego Hernandez (Raúl Castillo) is now on the right side of the law. But his twin brother Pedro has served time in prison, and now is dead. The other childhood friend is a top-level gang leader named Shotgun (David Castañeda). Most of Shotgun’s crew of thugs has been killed in a mass slaughter. Detective Hernandez is handed the case with his new partner Detective Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo). They have a day to determine what is going on, because the FBI is hot on the trail of a cartel boss. The cartel is trying to get into the Barrio, and the killings might be related. However, Diego Hernandez is worried, because all the murdered thugs have a tattoo.

This odd tattoo is the old nickname of Diego Hernandez’s twin brother Pedro, and the tattoo also has their birthday. How is his dead brother related in any way to the thugs that worked for Shotgun, and is this related to the cartel?  Detective Hernandez and Detective Martinez transport the lone survivor of the killings, until they are ambushed. The last survivor is killed, and all ties to crime lord Shotgun are gone. The two Detectives report to their boss, Captain Gomez (George Lopez). The street cop from years ago is now the Police top dog. He is working to keep the FBI away, but the heat is rising. Detective Hernandez and Detective Martinez are in the middle of a stakeout to watch Shotgun and the cartel guys. But there is more violence and murder, but this time it is not aimed at a thug in the back seat.

Detective Diego Hernandez has lost a brother, and now he has lost a partner. He investigates what his brother Pedro had done when he got out of prison. He finds a secret hideaway that contains the black motorcycle that he last saw as a kid. Back then it was being ridden by El Chicano when he eliminated many bad guys. Diego is tired of having the gangs and the cartels win the street battles. So, he trains and gets in shape, so that he can carry the magical Aztec knife and go after the evil thugs. He gets his black cape and death-skull face mask. He will be ready to take back the streets as the mystical magical El Chicano. The cartel guys and Shotgun are now on the run from the avenging force of “El Chicano”…

This “El Chicano” movie has a lot going for it. There is a street-wise feel to the scenes and the story is built up organically. Diego has a slow transformation into the El Chicano character, and it feel real and earned. The moves of El Chicano when attacks and fights several thug henchman at once are swift and brutal. He would make “John Wick” proud. The movie is seeped in the Hispanic culture of respect for the dead, and ‘El Chicano’ is seen as an avenging angel. He is ready to force retribution on the cartel and drug lords. He is there to take back the streets.

There are a few times when it seems to be a low-budget movie. But for the most part, it gets the same milage for action and fight scenes as the big budget movies. The acting is low-key and many of the extras look like they come ‘Straight Outta East Los’. The cast is pretty good, but basically unknown. Only George Lopez has a high profile background. Co-writer Joe Carnahan has done some really good stuff in the past, and his efforts are well used in this script. The overall quality of this movie is very watchable, even when it did not have the richest budget.

Avengers: Endgame Movie Review

“Avengers: Endgame” is a Marvel super-sized movie about Superheroes in a fragile condition. It is a big Hulked-up (so to speak) massive piñata of Marvel goodies – all built up and then broken open – for all the Marvel fans. The ‘Marvel Extended Universe’ might have seemed at first to be a pompous overselling of a marketing gimmick. But with movie it has been proven to be a very real thing. This movie is a direct tie-in to prior Avengers (Infinity War) movie, and it picks up right at the end of the prior one. So, if you have never seen a Marvel franchise movie before, you might want to catch up on some other ones first. But “Endgame” shows that Marvel knows how get the best talent to create the best movies, based on the very popular Marvel characters. Diving into the thick of it (without revealing any SPOILER items), let us dig in…

In “Avengers: Infinity War”, the Biggest of Big Bad Guys was named Thanos (Josh Brolin). A large collective team of Superheroes attempted to stop him. It included Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle). But they were also helped by the Guardians of the Galaxy – which includes Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldanda), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), not to forget Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). Oh, by the way, there were a couple of other talented Superheroes joining them, Spiderman (Tom Holland) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) with Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), and also Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). They all worked to stop him, but…

The effort failed, and Thanos gathered up six special ‘Infinity Stones’, put them into a metal gauntlet – then he snapped his fingers and half of the living universe disappeared. Many of the above-mentioned Superheroes turned to Superdust and floated away. Coming in late to the party was Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), who was first paired up recently dusted Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). She first saves Iron Man and Nebula, and wants to stick around to help. Even if they can find Thanos and eliminate him, it will not bring back the old dusted friends. Five years later, and a surprise return for Ant Man triggers some thoughts on how to retrieve the Stones. Not the band, the original Infinity Stones, prior to being collected by Thanos.

Yeah, it has to do with Quantum Realm time travel jazz, but don’t think about it too hard. After all, Professor Hulk (a new Hulkier version of Bruce Banner) is on the job. Not joining in the fun is Iron Man. Tony Stark and wife Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Stark has a young child to think about now. Oh, and if you go back into Time — you might locate people are not around today, such as Stark’s father Howard (John Slattery) and Captain America’s true love Peggy Carter(Hayley Atwell).

Except that Tony Stark is a genius and cannot stop thinking about a way to harness the Quantum Realm and using it.. Using it to what end?  If they can travel into the past, to certain dates and places, they will know where the Stones are and they can steal them. Yes, it has become a Galactic Heist Movie. By the way, Black Widow has also rounded up Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who is handy with a bow and arrow. They split up into teams, and each is set to obtain the Stones before Thanos can get to them. What a wonderful plan. What Could Ever Go Wrong? If you think that this might be more difficult (and more painful) than urinating onto an electric fence, then give yourself a hand.

Many good people are caught up in the savage battle between Thanos and the little pack of Superheros that will do ‘whatever it takes’ to defeat him for good this time around. After all, there are many Marvel movies to be made in the future, and they will need many of these characters back! But honestly – Marvel did such a glorious job to tie up almost every loose thread that this movie zooms right by. You never feel that there is any real bloat in the runtime, and even when the movie slows down a minute or two – it is a scene that this emotional and poignant.

There are a few shocking events, and a bit of self-sacrifice that makes the point clear. This is a Team that will do ‘whatever it takes’. The writing is well thought-out and carefully planned, so every twist and turn becomes a focal point for the next action. Also, there are quite a few flat-out really funny lines. The overall effect is a very fitting ‘Endgame’ to the first Phase of the Marvel movies. A few of the original actors/characters are due to phase out (Iron Man, Captain America, and some others) while newer ones will phase in (Spiderman, Ant Man, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, etc.).

Bravo to the team at Marvel Studios. Another decade like this past ten years, and they will have Thanos-like powers.  Wait, Is that a good thing???

Peterloo Movie Review

“Peterloo” is an overly ambitious retelling of a British historical event from 1819. It was soon after the Battle at Waterloo and the War was over. British common folk thought that good times would come. But the English royalty and Parliament, plus the wealthy land owners and merchants, continued to abuse the lower classes. They rose up with noble ides, like their American cousins, to rally for more freedom and equality – universal suffrage, voting rights, the end of tariffs and better wages.

This all led up to a sunny day in St. Peter’s Field in Manchester, where a crowd of 60,000 or more came to cheer on a reformist speaker. But at the end, they were trampled, stabbed and shot by the King’s Army and local police. Thus the “Massacre at Peterloo” was born, a play on name “Battle of Waterloo”.

At the end of Waterloo, a single British bugler, Joseph (David Moorst) remains in a field. He stumbles all the way back to his hometown of Manchester. Back with his father Joshua (Pearce Quigley) and mother Nellie (Maxine Peake), life is harder than ever. The end of wartime has ended the hardship, suffering and toil of the common British worker. The dawning of the Industrial Age has made 16-hour days and child labor a big thing. Common people look for a way to get a better deal out of life.

The dream of Radical Reform, a way to change government and society to be more equal and just, is coming to the lower classes. The King and other Royalty are not impressed by the ideas of change. Major speakers, such as Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt (Rory Kinnear) are well known in the country and they are spreading the ideas of equal representation and voting rights.

Many people in Manchester decide that getting Henry Hunt up to the northern reaches of England would spark the population and help to bring about change. The local farmers, small shop owners and textile mill workers plea with him to visit and speak to a crowd of local folk. The District magistrates and local constables are spying on the townsfolk to see if they are getting out of hand. They are worried that a new fresh change in the politics could put them all out of a job.

The Home Secretary in London sends an Army officer to the area to amass a large group of soldiers. They are all back from war in France, so they can be a military show of force at home.  Mistrust and bad manners are also getting in the way of a united English people. Various newspaper people are also interested in how the large group of people in Manchester will react when Henry Hunt speaks to them.

The day comes, and Henry Hunt is ready for a big crowd. He has some stirring words to say to everyone. During Hunt’s speech, one of the magistrates reads the Riot Act out of open window – out to the crowd. The crowd does not hear any of that, but now the magistrates are able to disperse the meeting. They will use any means that they require to end Hunt’s speech and to arrest the people in charge.

The Army cavalry charges out riding horses to attack the peaceful assembly with sabers at the ready. Hunt and the others are arrested. The army forces try to clear St Peter’s Fields. But there are too many people, and the entire event ends in bedlam and mayhem. Some people in the crowd are killed and many more injured. The bugler Joseph, now returned home, is stabbed with a sword. He dies, along with a little over a dozen others. There are many more injured and hurting. Word gets out that the “Massacre at Peterloo” was an affront against the English people from their out-of-control government.

“Peterloo” is an honest effort to teach people about a savage and unfortunate event in British history. The biggest problem is the medium that is used. The ideas that are brought up and explained in this movie could have been expanded and given more time to digest – but only if this had been created as a limited mini-series.  Perhaps on Amazon Prime, because they are the movie’s main producer. With a length of over two and a half hours, the movie still feels rushed, just because there are too many threads that are left unresolved.

Perhaps Mike Leigh, as the writer, was thinking that he would be paid by the word. There are so many speeches and speechifying in this movie that it eventually gets like verbal assault on the ears. There are never any true human characters in the movie, nobody that makes an emotional connection. Each person was mostly just a symbol – the Old Farmer, the Drunk Townsman, the Sneaky London Political Player, the High-Minded yet Soft-Spoken Leader…

All of these people are given words (lot and lots of words) that seem to written as a dry dissertation by a boring English Professor of British History. Very little of it could be relatable to the honest common workers of Manchester. There is even a part when a woman a small group meeting stands up and complains that everyone is using too many big words that they she does not understand. The same could be said for the audience, most of the time.

Teen Spirit Movie Review

“Teen Spirit” is a ‘been there, done that’ standard story of a young teenage girl who wants to break out of her humdrum existence by becoming a famous star. The pathway to stardom is an English talent contest called ‘Teen Spirit’. But she is a basic nobody who lives with her mother on the Isle of Wight (off the southern coast of England). She has a difficult to pronounce last name (her mother was from Poland). But she has a beautiful voice, even with little formal training. She wants to take on this contest, to see if she can conquer the world.

Violet Valenski (Elle Fanning) is that down-and-out farm girl, and her father left many years ago. She attends school and works at a bowling alley with her mother as a waitress. But she sings in the church choir and really breaks out in song when she feeding the pigs or tending to the horses. She finds out that the ‘Teen Spirit’ squad will be in town to select new contestants. She knows her mother will not let her go, so she finds a older guy who has heard her sing ballads at the local talent night in the bar. His name is Vlad (Zlatko Buric) and he knows that Violet could be a very amazing singer. He knows a bit about singing himself. He is a former world-famous opera star.

Violet makes the first cut, but she has to explain to her mother Marla (Agnieszka Grochowska) that she and Vlad are going to audition for ‘Teen Spirit’ for a second time. Her mother is quite angry that Violet did not come to her, and she has many suspicious about Vlad. Why does he look so disheveled, and why does he smell of alcohol? She has misgivings, but then somebody else is selected for the contestant from the Isle of Wight. So it appears that Violet will put her dreams on hold for a while longer. But there is a phone call, telling here that the other person was rejected for the show. Violet will have a pass to the final program in London to compete for the big show.

In London, Violet is ready to take on the competition. She is with Vlad, who has agreed to take her there as long as he becomes her manager. She is getting ready for the performance, and she meets one of the main leaders from the ‘Teen Spirit’ program. Her name is Jules (Rebecca Hall) and she thinks Violet could have quite a future. Even if she does not win the final competition, she offers Violet a nice record contract. Of course, she would have to dump Vlad. Jules would become her real manager, so that Violet could have all the doors opened for her…

There are conflicts and drunken fights, and televised competitions. There are people’s feeling that will be hurt, and a small town on the Isle of Wight who will ecstatic that a local girl is competing. There all sorts of things that you would normally think you would see in a movie like this. There are many fairly standard turn-of-events before the final announcement of the winner. And while that all goes on, Violet just keeps her eyes focused on what she could have if she wins the whole enchilada.

Max Minghella has taken a step out from being just a regular actor to becoming the writer and the director for “Teen Spirit”. His vision is one that has been done over and over again, and he adds very little that is new or refreshing. He does a competent job, but there is not an above average aspect to this movie. Elle Fanning is quite fetching in this role, and her voice is good enough to carry the weight of the role. She has a breathy intensity to her vocals that can be quite pleasing to the ear.  Zlatko Buric is pretty good as the down-on-his-luck former opera superstar. Rebecca Hall is also good in a very limited role.

Perhaps the best thing with this movie is that it can be paired with another movie coming out at the same time (“Her Smell”). So you can mix and mash-up these two movies as “Her Smells like Teen Spirit”…


Watch how music producer Marius De Vries (La La Land) prepared Elle Fanning for her role in this new “Music” featurette:

Breakthrough Movie Review

“Breakthrough” is a faith-based story of Missouri family rocked by a tragedy that turned into medical miracle. It was all because of the unshakable faith of the mother. Based on a true story from 2015, a young adopted son fell into an icy river and was submerged for over 20 minutes. But the faith and prayers of his mother seemed to bring him back to life at the hospital. The family struggle is depicted in a very straight-forward and moving way.

Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz) and her husband Brian Smith (Josh Lucas) have an adopted son named John (Marcel Ruiz). They are very involved with their local church. Joyce and Brian went on a mission trip to Guatemala where they adopted John. Joyce has loved John with a fierce protective nature, even when he would rather ignore her feelings. He is a star player on the basketball team, and the family attends church every Sunday. Joyce is not happy with the new leader, Pastor Jason Noble (Topher Grace). She likes more traditional ways, and Pastor Jason is there to shake things up. Joyce still will not call him by his first name, and she hates his 90’s boy band style haircut.

Over a long weekend in February, John and his friends go over to the frozen lake in the town and are goofing around on the ice. The ice suddenly breaks, and the boys are in the icy water. The Fire Department rescue people show up quickly, but by then John Smith has sunk down into the murky depths. A water rescue EMT named Tommy (Mike Colter) is in the water, about to give up on the search – but he hears a voice telling him to “Go back”. He tries again, and finds the body of John underwater. John is brought to the ER, and the doctors are unable to revive his lifeless body.

Joyce is beside herself when she gets to the hospital. She is allowed time with John, until they need to take his body to the morgue. She prays and cries and prays and yells and prays for God to answer her prayer. John’s pulse revives and he is a weak condition. But John is still alive, so they rush him to the Children’s Hospital. A specialist is there named Dr. Garrett (Dennis Haysbert), and he has treated many drowning patients. But there has never been a patient who had been underwater for so long. John might survive, but he could have severe mental difficulties. Brian Smith is so distraught that he cannot be in the hospital room. But Pater Jason shows up to support Johan, and especially Joyce.

Dr. Garrett has put John into an induced coma, so that his body can adjust to trauma that he has gone through. Many of the nurses and other doctors openly speak about John’s condition is tenuous, and that Joyce and Brian should prepare for the inevitable. Joyce is a fierce Mama Grizzly, and she chastises anyone who does not believe that John will be OK. Her strength, which can sometimes turn into pig-headedness, is overwhelming. She finally breaks down and realizes that Pastor Jason is doing the right thing, and she accepts him. She has some medical issues herself, but is strong enough to be a powerful voice for John. She wants the doctors to give him a chance to fight on his own, and orders him taken out of the induced coma.

At the moment of greatest need, Joyce unites her church and her community with enough faith and power to see John back from the dead. Even medical EMT Tommy comes by to tell Joyce that he heard a voice that day to ‘Go back’. But it was not his Fire Chief, or any other human voice that told him to do that. Tommy is not a religious man, but he says that he knows that there is someone above looking out for John. The people from church sign outside of John’s window at the hospital to show their support. So, will John make a ‘Breakthrough’?

Given that a story such as this could be very predicable and could turn very mawkish, the level of acting and direction raises it up to higher standard. You actually do start to care for the predicament that Smith family find themselves in. The human and emotional honesty with the characters turns it into a very uplifting and heartwarming story. Chrissy Metz is a large woman, but she needs to be to contain the size of her heart. Her performance was really emotional and true. Topher Grace is also really good in his role. Dennis Haysbert has the type of gravitas to pull off the role of an experienced Doctor. You just wish that he would turn to Joyce when John is put into the hospital room and tell her – “He’s in Good Hands”…

All in all, it is strong contender for a wide and positive audience reception, even outside a faith-based community. There is a little bit of a play on words with the title of the movie, “Breakthrough”. It could stand for the time when the boys ‘break though’ the ice of the river. But it could also be reflective of the medical ‘break though’ when John recovers. God Only Knows…

Hellboy Movie Review

“Hellboy” is another reckless reboot that nobody had asked for and was not handled with much care.  Based the dark comics “Hellboy”, this ground has been previously trod by director Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman (as Hellboy). With del Toro’s flair for visual style and Perlman’s knack for tough guys with a heart of gold, it did not seem that there would be any more areas for growth.

But of course, that never did stop Hollywood from cranking up the old Reboot Machine to start the whole mess over again. Because you can’t go wrong with a movie that includes a Demon child, an undead sorceress, fairies, giants, King Arthur, Merlin, Excalibur, Nazis, Rasputin, giant human-warthog hybrids, Mexican Lucha libre, seers, secret societies, Alice in Wonderland, a man who can turn into a jaguar, Baba Yaga and Lobster Johnson. You can’t go wrong with all that, right? Well, maybe so…

Hellboy (David Harbour) is a spawn of the devil and was brought to Earth years ago. He was raised by Professor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane) who now leads a group called the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.). This group hunts down odd creatures who invade the Earth from time to time. Hellboy is sent down to Mexico to find an agent who has gone missing. He finds the agent who is now working as a Lucha libre wrestler. There is darkness coming, and the end – says the agent in his last dying words.

Hellboy is next sent by Bruttenholm to England, to help a secret society take out a band of Giants. They explain that an ancient undead sorceress named Nimue the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) is sending her minions out to resurrect her. The members of the secret society want to ambush Hellboy. The Giants beat them to the punch, and all of them are dead – except for Hellboy. He finds himself saved by Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) who knew him from way back. He saved her from being kidnapped by fairies at a young age.

Hellboy is joined by Alice and a special British M-11 agent named Major Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim). They need to locate Nimue before she can bring about the end of the world. Alice has special psychic abilities, and Daimio can turn into a were-jaguar. So, they have a great team going. Nimue is using human-warthog to do her bidding and she is gaining strength. She will be able to take over the world, and she wants a huge Demon spawn to be her king. Are you interested, Hellboy? Once that Hellboy learns of his heritage going back to King Arthur, he is offered the Sword Excalibur. But if he takes it, he will be the one to bring ruin to the world.

But will Hellboy give in to the wishes of the Nimue the Blood Queen? Will Professor Bruttenholm, Alice and Major Daimio survive the onslaught of the newly freed minions of Nimue? Will you be able to handle the curse words and the buckets of digital blood sprayed over the screen? Will the number of red herrings and loose ends drive you crazy? Will the clunky dialog land easy on your ears, or be a bombastic buzzsaw of clichés? Will the movie make any sense at all, or will it be overwhelmed by the superior versions that have come before? You can decide…

This movie is attempting to make a new version of Hellboy, one that is darker and more bloody and vicious. Yet the story does not hold together very well, and the dialogue might be cursed in the same way as the evil monsters. It is bad, but not ‘so Bad it is Good’. Ever since Deadpool showed that is was possible to have an R-rated comic book anti-hero that rocks the box office, Hellboy thinks it can follow the same path.

David Harbour does an adequate job as Hellboy, but he is just too nice to be so nasty. Ian McShane is terrific as the Professor, and he kills it. Thomas Haden Church has mostly a cameo role in this movie, and he might have been a superior Hellboy – if he had the role. The direction is good in the action and fight sequences, but elsewhere is tends to drag. Most of that is due to the off-kilter writing and the extended story lines, because there are multiple ones.

“Hellboy” needed a reboot the same way that an electric car needs an oil change. But with an oil change, you don’t get all the violence and bloodshed. Unless you have a very unusual mechanic…

The Best of Enemies Movie Review

“The Best of Enemies” tells a true tale of the troubled tension in the recent South. Back in 1971 in Durham, N.C – the only way to mix Black and White was to lay down a linoleum checkerboard floor. But even after the Civil Rights laws had been passed, some Southern good-old-boys still kept with the white-hooded ways. The Ku Klux Klan was still strong in Durham. There was some movement for Black folk’s equality. But in the South, there was more pain than gain. Schools were still separate, yet not equal – not even close. Klan members and local politicians had each others backs, and that left the Black population in dire straights.

Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) is a local Black organizer and activist. She gets up in peoples way, and she will not let up until she has won. She is polite most of the time, but do not cross her, or get in her way. She has absolutely no time for someone who is a local leader in the KKK.  C. P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell) is such a man, a true Southern down-home poor-boy who loves being a part of the KKK. He wants the unity and purpose that the Klan gives to him, even if it means working hard to make ends meet. His wife (Anne Heche) supports Ellis, but she knows that in the nation things are changing. Atwater is a big part of that change.

When there is a fire at the ‘colored-only’ school, there is a crisis point in the town. Where will the children be sent to school? The mood in the town will not allow for a mixed race attendance. But then it goes to court, and judge comes up with a unique idea. He gets a guy from out-of-town to stage a ‘charrette’. This is a very structured legal way to getting local citizens to create a board and conduct meetings, and the end result will be voted up or down – and if passed, that will be the new normal. Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) has done this type of thing before, but never with a racially charged concept like school integration.

Ann Atwater is a natural choice to participate. C. P. Ellis hears about it, but at first he wants no part. But he gets friendly advice from the Durham Mayor (Bruce McGill) and a couple of council members. They want Ellis to make sure that the final vote goes the ‘right’ way. Ellis gets more advise from fellow Klan member Floyd (Wes Bentley) – get in there and keep and eye on things. Once the session begin, Ellis and Atwater find that they might have some more things in common than they first had realized.

The people of Durham are not ready to massive change, but they might be open to some adjustments here and there. Also, when a judge orders that the results of this ‘charrette’ must be followed, they all hope it will go all right. There is major destruction in the old school, and the Black youngsters only want a decent place to study and learn. Perhaps the White students that the school will also be able to learn, and this time it will be something outside of what is in a book. On the night of the final vote, there is a lot of worry and anxiety. There have been a few KKK members that strong-armed a couple of White people on the voting panel. They had better vote the ‘right’ way, or else something bad will happen. After all C. P. Ellis is there to make sure it all ends just right…

“The Best of Enemies” follows in line with a recent spate of very fine movies made about true events regarding racial inequality. “Green Book” and “BlacKKKlansman” and “Hidden Figures” are some other examples. This movie also has a fantastically talented cast. Sam Rockwell and Taraji P. Henson do a nicely nuanced portrayal of each historical real-life figure. The story does give the short-end to many of the Black people in the cast, with almost no back story or depth to those characters. Some of the White characters get slightly better treatment (more development), but not by much.

The whole idea of the ‘charrette’ is a unique way of proceeding with a touchy situation. But the biggest downfall is that it is difficult to turn into a compelling story-line. It is basically a bunch of people who go to a bunch of meetings to hash things out. That is the only trouble with this movie – the parts in the middle where it tends to drag along. Putting two great actors into the middle of a overly-long story cannot make it move any faster.

But there is a real true purpose to enjoy this movie – it makes you believe that people can reach inside themselves and find new ideas and better ways to deal with life.