Lights Out (PG-13)

Lights Out is a story that plays out as if your imaginary best friend in your head was an angry, envious, insecure, murderous, psychotic demon who could manifest into solid form that all could see, hear, and touch – but only when the lights are out or in the shadows.  It does not like the light, so it knows how to darken a room within seconds so it may wreak havoc upon you.

Starring Theresa Palmer and Gabriel Bateman as step-siblings, Lights Out is a horror movie co-written and directed by first-time feature film maker David F. Sandberg.  I have to say, I’m enjoying the emergence of this new crop of directors in the horror genre.  The genre seems to be benefitting greatly from fresh voices and new ideas.

Both Theresa Palmer and Gabriel Bateman did a solid job in their roles. Maria Bellow as the insane mother to Palmer’s and Bateman’s characters did a solid job as well.  Also worth a mention is Alexander DiPersia, who plays the boyfriend to Palmer’s character.  It is the actress who portrayed the entity, Alicia Vela-Bailey, who shines in this movie.  She is a former stuntwoman-turned-actress who is referred to as “the human special effect.”  The entity was scary and once you find out the background info on how this thing came to be, it becomes scarier.  Even though the entity appeared to be no more than a tangible shadow, Vela-Bailey embraced this role with primitive squats, gestures, leaps, bounds, retreats and reappearances (think the ego-driven Gimme from United States of Tara, but much darker).  It was a particularly brutal entity when it felt threatened.

Once again and as usual though, the story relied too heavily upon people doing stupid shit and going into ridiculously unnecessary places where they should not be to further the action. When this happens, I just ask myself “Why?”  Why would one be going in the basement, attic, inside, outside, or wherever the most ridiculous place to be is?  “Why!?”  I mean, these people act as though they have never seen a horror movie before!  I understand it is the set up for more action, but some behavior just does not make sense.  If the house is “haunted” and I know the house is haunted, I’m not going in there.  Unless we can only stop whatever it is from inside of the house.  Period.  And even then I might not go in there.  Whatever is in there will surely have to come out and get me if it wants me.  And we are all leaving together.  Period.  And we will be staying together.  Indefinitely.  At least until we figure out how to stop whatever it is.  And when we figure out how to stop it, it will be stopped.  I will not wait for things to play out to their inevitable conclusion.  If it can be stopped now, it will be done sooner rather than later so we can end this nightmare.  Sometimes sacrifices must be made!  Oh, and that reminds me, the ending could have been much better.

The dialogue in this movie fell a bit flat. If I just had an encounter with some “thing” that tried to kill me, dragg me who-knows-where, assaulted me, you better believe I am going to tell the next available person I run into, no matter who they may be, all about it – even if just briefly.  Who wouldn’t?  I understand the audience just witnessed what happened and doesn’t need a recap, but some things just do not make logical sense.  Are we not working together toward a common goal here?  And I’m not asking a child whether or not he wants to talk about what happened.  Spill it kid.  This is not play time.  We are trying to live here!  Oh how frustrating these movies can sometimes get!

I did like that some of the history of this loosely blended family and the plot had to be surmised by the audience and everything was not patly explained.

Today I confirmed the reason I dislike seeing two films within the same genre within a short period of time (two days). Yesterday I reviewed Don’t Breathe and today Lights Out.  It is difficult not to compare the two, and I gave it a shot.  But here is where I compare the two.  I believe both Don’t Breathe and Lights Out were equally entertaining due to the originality contained in the story line of each.  Don’t Breathe edges out Lights Out in acting.  Not that the acting in Light’s Out was bad, but Don’t Breathe was more of a suspense thriller than a horror film, providing stronger material for the actors to work with and a much less predictable template.  Also, Don’t Breathe contained more action and cool camera work that begs one to see it in a theater.

Lights Out earned 7 out of 10 bloops. It’s a good movie worth seeing, even if you’re not particularly into horror.  I would not exactly recommend anyone run to the theater to catch it, but be sure to catch it when it streams.  It would make a really good Netflix & Chill flick.

Don’t Breathe (R)

Starring Stephen Lang and Jane Levy, Don’t Breathe is written and directed by first-time feature film director Fede Alvarez . It is the story of one very bad decision turning into a nightmare. The kind of nightmare from which there seems to be no escape, as it goes on and on and on…

From the beginning of the movie, Don’t Breathe sets us up for the suspense that is forthcoming. The premise feels original (even though we’ve seen elements of it before in movies like Panic Room, The Fear Inside and Wait Until Dark, just to name a few) and the originality of its execution will keep you engaged, for the most part.

With no particular “good guy” to root for in this movie, the dynamic of who the “bad guy” is changes throughout the course of the story. It is this back and forth that provides Don’t Breathe’s originality and “twists” and makes this movie suspenseful and worth watching.  This movie isn’t so much of a “horror” movie as it is a suspense thriller, where you, at least at one point, may find yourself holding your own breath with the characters and saying aloud, “Don’t breathe!” – perhaps with an added expletive for emphasis (or maybe that is just me).  This is the type of movie that will appeal to you even if you don’t care for “horror” flicks, because it is not a horror flick in the truest sense. There are no supernatural occurrences, no poltergeists, no demons, spirits, zombies, witches or warlocks.  There is not a lot of blood or gore.  What we have here is a lot of suspense and a lot of fast paced action.

The acting is quite good; better than I have seen in an American-made horror flick in a long, long time. Jane Levy’s eyes are so expressive.  You wouldn’t think she would be able to open them as wide as she does in one horrifying scene, but she pulls it off and makes it believable.  Stephen Lang is brilliant in his role, playing the blind man.  He is a soldier through and through whose other senses are heightened to the point where he is animalistic and this makes him terrifying to watch.

This movie is not without problems unfortunately. As in most “horror” films, there are moments when you wish you could literally just reach out and slap, or push, or yell directly at a character.  “Why are you still standing there!”  “Run stupid!”  “There is really nothing to discuss.  Just get the hell outta there!”  As irritating as these moments can be, here they provide the bridges to elongating the action and suspense.  The problem is, these moments are also moments when you come “outside” of the movie and are back in the theater shaking your head at the screen following scenes where you were just totally into the action.

There is something “lame” about the beginning of the movie as the premise is set up. It sounds like too many set ups heard before in other horror movies where young people tell the tale of so-and-so who died and the ghost that haunts the schoolyard, or whatever.  If you can get past that, and trust me, you can, you will not be disappointed once the action begins.

A couple of events in the end went “off the rails,” making it feel as though Alvarez lost control of the story and the story lost a bit of its sophistication and maturity. I can’t explain it further without telling you what happens.  Watch it and see for yourself.  You will know exactly what I mean when you see it.

All these issues aside, Don’t Breathe earned 7.5 out of 10 bloops. It is a good movie worth seeing based on the originality brought to a not so new premise, strong acting, fast paced action and suspense.  The story is entertaining and the length of the movie is just about right.  Additionally, although not mentioned earlier, the camerawork is exceptional during many scenes.  As Alvarez states in his “thank you” message before the film starts, it is a film that merits watching in a theater amongst a group of strangers.  Wait until the lights go out for this one.

Southside with You (PG-13)

Written and Directed by Richard Tanne, and produced by John Legend’s Get Lifted Film Company, Southside with You, starring Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter as Barack and Michelle Obama tells the story of the POTUS and FLOTUS’s first date.  This is Tanne’s first feature length film.

What is there to say about a movie that is set around a first date? I could not have imagined, but I will say this: this is one of the best films I have seen all year.  (And for the record, I’m not saying this because I’m black, just to be perfectly clear.)  No matter how you may feel about our President and his wife, this movie is simply beautiful.  It is nothing short of masterful to create a movie that keeps the audience interested and invested until the inevitable end using only two main characters as we go on a date for a day with them; especially when everyone knows how it all works out.  This is a beautiful love story reduced to one day and every bit of it is a reflection of the grace and charm that this couple have exhibited in front of us for the past 8 years.  This is not an easy feat to accomplish: to capture the essence of two people, not only in the characters, but in the intricate filmmaking.

In a society where people are easily bored and distracted – everyone wants action and 3D and 4DX and CGI, bigger, better, newer and faster – this film uses the tension between these two characters as the action and the suspense through dialogue; the old fashioned art of two people getting together and talking to one another. Nothing is exploding, no one’s life in jeopardy, there are no catastrophic cliffhangers.  Just good old fashioned conversation like people used to have in what now seems like the olden days.

If this film is a harbinger of the quality of filmmaking we can look forward to from Mr. Legend’s production company, I say “Bravo John Legend! Bravo!!!” Finally, perhaps we will see some stories about black people with substance, where no one is running around in drag and no one is smoking weed, or rapping, and no one is losing their life to senseless street violence – something different, something refreshing.  Not that there is anything wrong with those films, but damn it, they have been done to death, and there are so many, many, many more stories to be told about the black American experience.

This film manages to capture a romantic, serendipitous moment in history, and it is interesting because the audience gets to see the things these two people saw in one another from the beginning that hold them together to this day. It is part of our American history really, because if these two were not together, who knows if Barack would have ever made it to the White House.  This film reminds us how brilliant, strong, loving and evenly yoked this couple is.  This film is a love letter to the Obamas, about the Obamas, on film.

Parker Sawyers gives a spot on portrayal of Barack Obama, without seeming like a caricature. He captures the President’s posture, gestures and speech pattern flawlessly and you could imagine that this is what a young Barack sounded like, looked like and how he acted.  Tika Sumpter as Michelle Obama was incredible.  One small problem with the film was there were a couple of times where she over-acted just the tiniest, teensiest bit and crossed into the Michelle Obama impersonator territory, but she reeled it back in gracefully, just as one would imagine Michelle might do, and carried on.

Southside with You earned 9.75 out of 10 bloops. I can forgive the bit of overacting Tika did but I cannot forget it.  This is a surprisingly beautiful and thoughtful movie that relies on writing and bare acting to carry it, and succeeds.  It is a perfect date movie, but be careful…  if you have a mate who is happy with you, you will score points – but if you’re a sorry mate, it may make your partner reevaluate you and your entire situation.  Barack is very smooth.  But you already know that.  At any rate, you will not be bored in the least bit.  I believe you will enjoy it.

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 Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

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Previous Reviews

Good Time
Atomic Blonde
Dunkirk
Girls Trip
Spider-Man: Homecoming
The Big Sick
Baby Driver
All Eyez on Me 
It Comes at Night 
The Wedding Plan 
Wonder Woman
Everything, everything
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Raw

Kong: Skull Island
Logan
The Girl with All the Gifts
A Cure for Wellness 
Get Out

Hidden Figures
Fences
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Loving
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Nocturnal Animals
Captain Fantastic
Elle
Jackie
Florence Foster Jenkins
I Am Not Your Negro

Morris from America (R)

I was (and still am) a parent for whom, from the time my daughter was born, almost all things were teaching moments and points of discussion for me and my daughter, particularly movies and television shows that most children her age did not watch. Watching The Maury Povich Show (She was around 4 years old maybe, so I first had to explain what a DNA test was) the point was to teach her to please not grow up to be a silly whore, don’t ever embarrass me by going on television to find out which of two or three or five or 10 men is your child’s father’s and the difference between a father and a “baby daddy.”  Queer as Folk (age 10) helped us discuss the range of human sexuality and acceptance of different ways of life (although I had to keep the remote in hand, because if a sex scene was coming she would yell out “Man love!” and I would promptly turn and switch back when we thought the coast was clear).  There was nothing that was off limits for her to watch, with the exception of HBO’s OZ.  She could not watch OZ.  I was NOT going to explain OZ to her.  I wasn’t yet up to the task of explaining the dark side of human behavior.  Not that dark.  And thankfully it came on past her bedtime.

Parenting styles may differ, and for better or worse, this was mine.  Most things we watched together were used to bring up conversation and situations that we would discuss together and about which she could do some independent, critical thinking.  Morris from America would have been our movie.   It would make an excellent conversation starter for parents and their children about all the things our little darlings may or may not be doing, or be tempted to do, or be thinking about doing, or heard someone else did, or may do in the future, or feel pressured to do, or their friends may do, or they just did yesterday, or not.  This movie focuses on the things we really ought to be teaching our children about if we don’t want them learning about them “out in the streets.”  The things we say we want our children to learn about from us, at home, but we do not discuss them.  The things all parents should be discussing openly and regularly with their children, particularly considering the times in which we now live.

Morris from America, starring Craig Robinson and Markees Christmas is a coming of age story about a 13 year old black boy growing up in Germany with his widowed father.  The reason I state that Morris is black is because he is the only black boy in his community.  He is an outsider who is learning German, and he stands out from his peers in a distinct way that is fundamental to the plot of this movie.  Otherwise, he is just a very typical 13 year old boy.

Morris is a strong-willed, highly independent, tough (to some extent) kid, but he is still just a kid. He is picked on, singled out and targeted by his peers at times, shows vulnerability and, despite his best efforts, a lot of immaturity.  He has a love for rap music that, as his father must explain to him in a not-so-delicate way, is not based on his own life experience.

This is one of the most multifaceted coming of age stories I have seen.  So many aspects of this child’s personality and so many issues are touched upon, and it is all honest. It features the social situations children can and do get into when adults are not looking, and how they really think and feel about and react to things, including but not limited to, their parents, peers, outsiders and newcomers, anyone different than themselves, peer pressure, drugs, sex, love, older people and life, to name a few.  The movie reminds us how easily influenced children can be by “outside forces” and how a lack of real communication at home enables those “outside” forces to operate.  We are reminded how ignorance and stereotypes develop from being misinformed/uniformed and sheltered.  And how that ignorance spreads and becomes a cultural norm.  It also reminds us of what a tumultuous, energy filled, curious and confusing time 13 years old can be.

Markees Christmas does a superb job of what looks like him just being himself. His acting is so subtle and authentic that if there are many differences between the character of Morris and Markees it is hard to tell.  Craig Robinson gives an outstanding performance of a single father who is attempting to navigate the line that most parents must walk, and many times fall off of one way or another: the line between being a friend to your child so you can be included and know what is going on with them – letting them know you will not judge them and no matter what they will always have your love and support; and being the responsible adult who sets rules and boundaries and disciplines when necessary.

I know I recommended it for parents and children and I stand by that. You must be the judge of how mature your own child is and whether they should see it, or if that is the type of parent you are.  (Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you, okay?)  But, being Rated R, Morris from America contains some foul language, much of it spoken by Morris and his father, and contained in the soundtrack’s hip hop lyrics, which is Morris’ passion.  It is definitely worth overlooking a few foul words that your children have heard before and will hear again, to get to the message of this movie, in my opinion.  Use the language as another teaching moment of what not to do, if you must.  Morris is consistently reprimanded for his use of foul language by his German tutor throughout the  movie – his father doesn’t mind it so much.

Morris from America earned 8.0 out of 10 bloops. It is an endearing film.  If you are really not the parent who is taking their child to see this movie, go see it yourself and support an independent film.  For now the only place it’s playing in New York is the Angelika.

War Dogs (R)

War Dogs is based on the true story of twenty-something stoners David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli (played by Miles Teller and Jonah Hill), who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan with absolutely no qualifications to do so.  They have some experience with and knowledge of guns and ammo, but this job is way over their heads.  They learn the business as they go along, and along the way there are a series of pitfalls that they have to work their way around/into or out of in order to successfully complete the contract.

Directed/co-written/produced by Todd Phillips this movie is fun and engaging.  Phillips is credited with directing/co-writing Old School and the Hangover movies, and here we get a dose of his signature humor/adventure.  This team worked well together and struck a good balance of humor and two of the biggest hot-button issue in our country – guns and war.  War Dogs is a bro-movie with money, guns n’ ammo and danger.  Despite the serious subject matter (earning profits off of war) the movie is not particularly violent.  There are quite a few chuckles provided, mostly by Hill’s character, while you get to go on this international escapade with these two kids who give new definition to the phrase, “fake it ‘til you make it.”

David, the more serious of the two, attempts to keep thing grounded and acts as the moral compass of the company. Although the story revolves around both men, it seems much more like the telling of their story from David’s perspective.  Jonah Hill does a great job as Efraim, an obnoxious, fun-loving, greedy, smart, egotistical guy who is looking for every loophole he can find and working every angle to make a buck.  Not only is this strategy for work, it is his strategy for life.  He is a hustler in every sense of the word and it is his ambition, confidence, impulsivity and devious nature that drives their company to great heights.  Both guys are great at thinking on their feet and figuring out Plans B through Z when Plan A, B, C, etc., fall through – and it is fun to watch them figure it out.  If you did not know the main facts of this story to be true and someone told you about it, you probably would be quite skeptical as to whether or not they were pulling your leg, making the film even that much more fun to watch.

War Dogs earned 8.5 out of 10 bloops. It is a funny, fun, entertaining movie that gives you a peek into just how arbitrary, crazy and careless “The Powers that Be” who run this lovely country of ours can be.  This is one of the better summer movies offered this year that I have seen.

Ben-Hur (PG-13)

There are some works of art that one should never attempt to reproduce.  As old as she is, no matter how many times the Mona Lisa is painted over and over again, reproductions will never live up to, equal or out-value the original.  Can those reproductions be enjoyed?  Perhaps.  But it just isn’t the original.  Something’s lacking, something is different, something is off, it’s just not right.  The same can be said for many pieces of music, poetry and prose, and yes, movies.  And if one chooses to take on a classic work, one better make sure the job is done properly.  In the case of 2016’s Ben-Hur the $100,000,000+ it took to make  was not enough to make it comparably as good as the 1959 version and would have been more wisely spent elsewhere.

If one has not seen what will hereinafter be referred to as “the original” (even though there were earlier versions released), this 2016 rendition may seem fine.  But as a fan of classic movies, I can assure you those who are familiar with, and dare I say love, the 1959 version starring Charlton Heston will be quite unimpressed.  The original is not considered a classic randomly.  We are talking about a movie which won 11 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Griffith, playing an Arab sheik who befriends Ben-Hur – played here by Morgan Freeman), Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction/Set Direction, Best Sound, Best Score, Best Film Editing, Best Color Costume Design and Best Special Effects. It was also nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. Ben-Hur’s record number of Oscars still stands, although two films (1997’s Titanic and 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) have matched it.  Why not just re-release the original in theaters and call it a day?

Now that the history of the original is out of the way, we can move on to discussing the 2016 movie on its own merits.

One huge mistake made on this movie was focusing too heavily on CGI and action.  While effects are certainly important and it is important they be done right, and they were absolutely done right here, effects are not what is at the heart and soul of this story.  There needed to be stronger focus on warming up the relationships between and among these characters.  Some scenes felt rushed, and not enough care was taken  to convey the emotions of the characters.  Most scenes felt cold, detached or indifferent most times.  It was as if the cast were acting individually, but never really acting together as a team. There was no time where they were playing off of one another.  Something about the delivery was very straightforward and stilted.  I did not get the overall feeling that these people were family, friends, comrades, enemies, lovers – who were interested or invested in one another.

This film felt tepid at best during scenes between any two or more characters that should have conveyed much more passion (with the exception of brothers, Ben-Hur and Messala), considering the richness of the plot.  This is a story of love, revenge, redemption, forgiveness.  The chemistry between Ben-Hur and his brother Messala was great.  They were mostly believable as friends, brothers and enemies.  But there was absolutely no spark between Messala and what was supposed to be the woman of his desires, Tirzah.  I can’t say if it was poor directing, poor acting, lack of chemistry, a combination of some or all of these factors or what, but Messala goes off to become this respected, feared, powerful soldier in the Roman army so he can be considered “good enough” for the woman he loves, and they play their scenes as if they are brother and sister.  During one important scene, he generates these odd expressions and ill-timed smiles, making their interactions seem awkward and disconnected.  It was almost as if someone was off camera making him laugh and he was trying to hold it in.

The times during this movie that I was transported from the theater to ancient Jerusalem or ancient Rome were the scenes where special effects were used.  The horse and chariot race, the boat collision and the battles were all done well.  During most non-action scenes, I was back to sitting in a seat in a theater watching a movie.

Morgan Freeman could have done this role in his sleep.  He may have been asleep and no one even knew.  That’s how gifted he is as an actor.  He walks, he talks, he projects, he stands, he pontificates, and he does it all well.  His performance is subtle, yet his is the only character who seems connected to those he is acting with during his scenes.

Ben-Hur earned 6 out of 10 bloops.  It’s a good movie that with a bit more care could have been and should have been so much better.  Actors playing Hebrews and Romans with British accents did not help; zoom-whitened teeth did not help, despite how charming the smiles were; Dolby® sound did not help; the fact that Jack Huston (Ben-Hur) is the grandson of John Huston did not help.  Cutting one hour and 28 minutes off the time of a 3 hour and 32 minute classic original epic did not help. I will not even discuss the 3D version.  Nothing helped. If you haven’t seen the original, catch it on Amazon.  If you have seen the original, watch it again on Amazon.  You’ll enjoy it more than this version.

Little Men (PG)

Little Men was touted as one of the breakout films at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year.  The story revolves around two young boys who become friends who have their bond tested when their parents battle over a dress shop lease.

The story line involving the boys (Theo Taplitz as Jake Jardine and Michael Barbieri as Tony Cavielli) was interesting because it featured the start, middle and end to a friendship.  The two become fast friends despite the fact that they come from different ethnic, cultural and financial backgrounds and had very different personalities with Jake being an introvert and Tony an extrovert.  Both have a common love of the arts.  Their parents’ conflict and the natural course of events cause them to grow apart and eventually separate over time.  This is the most interesting part of the film because I don’t recall having seen the end of a relationship between two teenagers in a movie unless someone died, moved away or the friends had some sort of disagreement.  It is honest, as sometimes in life a friendship simply runs its course.

You will recognize these teens. Tony is the tough talker whose insecurities are buried underneath a very outgoing and cool-looking exterior and Jake is the socially awkward loner who has trouble connecting to people his age and making friends. As far as the adults go, it is as if totally different people wrote these characters.  The care that was taken to show the differences between the two youngsters and the development and decline of their relationship was cast aside and what was left was a mess of spewing declarations, insults and emotional tantrums from the adults.  I did not recognize these adults.  I don’t believe I know these people at all.

Jake’s father (played by Greg Kinnear) is this underachieving, semi-emasculated, struggling actor whose wife is currently the bread winner of the family.  Although his wife, played by Jennifer Ehle never complained to him about this fact, she brings it up to a total stranger to defend their position to raise the rent on the property his father willed them.  Then the woman who rents the property throws the fact that she was closer to Kinnear’s father than he was in his face, chastises him for never visiting his father and informs him that his father was ashamed of him for being a failure – to which Kinnear’s character had no reply.

I’m sorry. They lost me here.  I live in a totally different world.  Where I come from, you are more than welcome to personally attack someone in that manner, but be prepared to be greeted with some sort of protest, possibly in the form of being told off, cussed out or worse.  Any human would become defensive and have some sort of response.  Even if I know it is true, it is not your place to say.  It is simply not done.  In another scene Kinnear’s character insults Tony (his son’s new friend) and says something quite immature and emotionally hurtful with no apology offered at all.

The most relatable role was played by Talia Balsam as Kinnear’s sister, who was the voice of reason regarding the business surrounding the shop, pushing past her grief over losing her father, keeping the business aspects of the deal in perspective and eliminating the personal factors.  Although she seems rather cold while doing so, she is the only adult character who consistently acts like an adult.

The acting in this movie was strong, despite the fact that the material the adults had to work with was mundane and these rude and disrespectful outbursts that were meant to be emotional moments only served to make them all seem like idiots.

Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri did an outstanding job; although I cannot understand why Michael’s Brooklyn accent sounded like he was from the cast of The Jersey Shore. He had a super “Italian-American accent” that didn’t quite fit the character, but he was so good in the role he made it his own and it was forgivable.

Little Men is not a “bad” movie, but neither would I recommend it. The adults are so annoying at times I cannot say who it will appeal to, but it did not appeal to me.  Little Men earned 5 bloops out of 10. It is a so-so movie that is worth a look to check out the work of the younger actors, if you don’t have to pay.

Anthropoid (R)

Anthropoid is based on true events surrounding the 1942 assassination of the main architect behind the Final Solution, iSS General Reinhard Heydrich.  Heydrich (often referred to as “The Butcher of Prague” because he was extremely brutal, even by Nazi standards) was the Reich’s third in command after Hitler and Himmler.

Starring Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders) as Josef Gabcik, and Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey) as Jan Kubis, Anthropoid tells the story of what happened during the months Gabcik, Kubis and those who assisted them planned the assassination, how their assassination attempt nearly goes wrong, and how the success of the assassination led to the Lidice massacre in  Czechoslovakia.

This movie is well acted, beautifully shot, well written and well directed.  The story is thought provoking and will keep you invested all the way through until the end and even thinking about it for some time afterward.  There is suspense, tension and even a bit of romance.  All does not work out well in the beginning, the middle or the end.  It is a sad story, like all stories about the Holocaust, and war, and murder and chaos, but it stands apart because it celebrates those who took on real forces of evil and did what they believed needed to be done in order to restore order to their country and the world.

Anthropoid tells an important story about the heroes in the background who were bold enough to take a stand and risk and/or give their life for what they believed in. Although the history of WWII and the Holocaust interests me greatly, I am far from a historian.  I had never heard anything about this story before seeing Anthropoid.  I have learned quite a lot about the sad truth of it all since then.

Even though these two men were tasked with committing a murder, and we all know murder is morally wrong, this particular murder falls into one of those gray areas where it feels as though it may be the right thing to do, given the circumstances.  You are faced with a moral dilemma just as these men were, thinking they were acting within the best interest of their county and fighting for the “greater good,” while still having some reservations.

This movie vividly shows the atrocities and senselessness of war; man’s inhumanity toward man and the absurd human cost endured. The violent scenes in this movie were so necessarily vivid and well choreographed the audience gets a real sense of what it must have been like not only for Kubis and Gabcik, but for the network of brave people who helped these men and the Czechoslovakian citizens the Nazi’s used to take out their frustrations.  I felt a palpable threat of violence, torture and death.  The finale is absolutely incredible; full of action that brings home all that suspense that you feel while the Nazis are torturing, kidnapping (to be sent to the concentration camps) and killing innocent Czech citizens.

The performances of Murphy and Dornan are solid. The chemistry between the two men is apparent, as they played off one another quite well; Murphy as the self-assured militant and Dornan as the not-so-certain assassin with a heart, who tends to get shaky hands and pangs of conscience immediately before a kill.  (If you’ve not seen Murphy in Peaky Blinders on Netflix, I recommend you do.  It can be quite violent but it is a good show.  And this project was a smart choice for Dornan to shake that 50 Shades of Grey persona.)

While the romance in the story humanized the hitmen (heaven forbid there should ever just be two good looking guys focused on a mission who missed an opportunity to pick up two pretty girls along the way), it is the performance of Czech actress Anna Geislerová, that is worth mention.  As Gabcik’s love interest, her character is powerful and unafraid to fight for the cause or die trying.  She is a woman whose attitude and demeanor have clearly been shaped by war.  She is equally as brave as the assassins.  Another noteworthy performance is given by Czech actress Alena Mihulová, as the lady of the house where the assassins hide out until the assassination attempt is made.  I found no proof Geislerova’s character was actually part of Gabcik and Kubis’ true story, but the presence of both these roles helped to move the story along and provided much appreciated strong roles for female characters, nonetheless.

Anthropoid earned 8.5 out of 10 bloops. It is a great movie you do not want to miss.  The extra .5 is added just for the finale alone.  It is a finale that was made to be seen on the big screen.

Florence Foster Jenkins (PG-13)

Starring Meryl Streep (as Florence) and Hugh Grant (as Florence’s husband, St. Clair Bayfield), Florence Foster Jenkins is mostly a story of love; Jenkin’s love of music and the love between her and her husband.  Based on a true story and set in the early 1940’s Florence decides she wants to pursue opera singing, despite the fact that her voice is inarguably terrible.  Somehow, her singing goes viral (far before the internet came along), and the rest is history.  Her husband indulges and enables her for a number of reasons, as they both buy their way into realizing her dream of selling out and singing at Carnegie Hall.

At first one might feel as though this entitled, rich woman is just a brat who wants to have her way and inflict her horrible voice on others because of her ego. But as the story delves a bit deeper into Florence’s life and her past, we find this is not the case at all.  What comes out of Florence’s mouth when she sings and what she feels in her spirit when she sings are two very different things.  She sings because she has a genuine love for music and it brings her great joy.

Florence Foster Jenkins is billed as a biography, comedy, drama and each of these elements are expertly woven together throughout the telling of her tale. You will laugh and you may tear up, but you will definitely learn a lesson about judging books by covers and discovering that no amount of money allows anyone to escape from having problems and complications in their life.  This film subtly demonstrates why we should live our best life every day that we possibly can, doing the things that we love, surrounded by people we love.

Cosmé McMoon, (played by Simon Helberg (Howard Walowitz from The Big Bang Theory)) is a pivotal character, playing Florence’s quirky, socially awkward, endearing pianist, who is dumbfounded by Florence’s voice and ambitions, until he gets to know and understand her better.  His character reflects the audience and how we feel about Florence.  As his opinion of Florence changes, so will yours.

Hugh Grant is delightful as Florence’s doting husband who loves and protects her consistently while she follows her dream. While the marriage is definitely non-traditional, it is not a marriage of convenience.  They are true best friends.

Meryl Streep needs to be added to that short list of sure things in life, along with death and taxes, in that she can always be counted on to deliver the goods on any performance she attempts. Her performance is effortless, whether she is cracking you up with that horrible singing or demonstrating Florence’s sad, insecure and/or vulnerable side.

The costume designers outdid themselves with every outfit in this film. Although it is still a bit early, as Oscar season approaches, I would not be surprised if the costume/wardrobe crew got a nomination.  All costumes on all the characters were outstanding.

Problems with this movie are few, but most importantly, the characters, with the exception of Cosmé, did not change. They did not evolve, grow, come to any new or different conclusions about life or themselves or anyone or anything else.  In this sense, the story is very “one note” and a bit “flat.”  It was literally the retelling of what happened without much depth.

Florence Foster Jenkins earned 7.5 out of 10 bloops. Florence’s story is interesting, the acting is solid and the set design and costumes are absolutely lovely.  It is a good movie that shouldn’t be missed.

Sausage Party (R)

To say that Seth Rogan’s Sausage Party might offend you based on your level of cultural sensitivity is an understatement.  I consider myself fortunate to be a person of little “sensitivity,” in that it is almost impossible for me to be offended by much.  Swearing, jokes about Blacks (the box of grits), Jews (the bagel), Arabs (the lavash), Native Americans (the vodka or “fire water”), homosexuals, the disabled (this really brought tears to my eyes it was so funny to me – although it seemed so very wrong!), Asians, Germans, Irish, Jamaicans, religion (overall), are all included.  Penis jokes, innuendo, and images (as you would expect in a movie where a hotdog is the star) abound.  And there was much foul language thrown about.  If this is not your type of humor, Sausage Party is not the movie for you.

I won’t say much about it, but the movie manages to touch on relevant themes of the day in the course of all its debauchery. You wouldn’t think that an adult comedic cartoon would be so deep, and it isn’t, because it is presented in this ridiculously light hearted manner that makes you laugh.  But as you are laughing, you will also be thinking about what is going on in front of you, how you feel about it, and perhaps why you find it funny.  At least I was.  That’s what makes this movie worth seeing – if only once.  But go forward with the knowledge that once you see it, you cannot “unsee” it; so proceed at your own risk.

I am a huge fan of inappropriate adult themed cartoons including but not limited to South Park, The Boondocks, American Dad and Archer.  The more offensive, the better in my book.  The key is that the cartoon can’t just be offensive to be humorous.  It must also be clever, and Sausage Party is just that.  Because they are cartoons, the writers can get away with things that would never air if live humans were to do or say them.  To use food as the vehicle to deliver the jokes removes us even further from the obscenity of it all and this is the reason Sausage Party, unlike the aforementioned cartoons, is able to get away with such explicit sexual content.  Obscene and absurd and funny as heck, you almost feel bad for laughing, but at times you must.   You will be appalled, disgusted, mesmerized and shocked all at once – sort of like seeing a John Waters flick.  And similarly to many a Water’s flick, at times it tried harder than it had to.

I recall going to see The Book of Mormon on Broadway with my daughter and laughing at the jokes, but laughing more hysterically at the people in the audience who found some of the material so uncomfortably offensive yet funny at the same time they were confused as to whether they SHOULD be laughing, or not. That is what Sausage Party is like.

Sausage Party, while not for everyone, earned 8.0 bloops for its originality and subject matter. It set itself apart from the offensive cartoons of television with its “sexually explicit” content – which I am still unable to process thoroughly enough to say whether that was a good thing, or not.  It was well thought out and the length of it was pretty spot on (I couldn’t have watched for much longer.  I was exhausted afterward!).  If this is your type of humor, you’ll enjoy it; if not, steer clear and don’t let anyone try to talk you into it.  This movie delivers exactly what it promises.