Allied (R)

Starring Academy Award Winner Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt a/k/a the “wokest” white man in Hollywood (The Undefeated’s Soraya N. McDonald’s label, not mine – although I must admit after seeing Moonlight, it is one label that I love, love, love, love, love and reference it as often as I possibly can), Allied hit theaters this past weekend following much controversy over Bradgelina’s divorce and what was happing on that set between these two co-stars.  Unfortunately, this film did not live up to all that media hype in my opinion.

Don’t get me wrong, the film had some exciting moments, but as advertised, I was under the impression (and I’m sure I am not the only one) that it would be a bigger, better, badder, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005) (which is why many people believed Marion and Brad were getting it in while filming).  It was not.  That was a marketing error.  It is a totally different movie that was not nearly as much fun.  The movie starts off slowly, introducing Pitt’s character, Cotillard’s character, the era, the setting, the point; then we are set up with this love affair that begins between these two assassins; then we get to the real conflict in the movie.  Somewhere between the beginning and the middle of the story is where they lost me.  I was expecting more action and adventure and got more of a human interest story. (The very reason I rarely watch trailers is so that I have no expectations going in, but when you go to see as many movies as I do, you can’t help but catch one or two from time to time.)

Brad Pitt acted as though he was distracted. He brought very little to this role in the first third of the movie, but shined during the last third.  At times, particularly when he was an active spy, he looked like he wished he was home doing anything else but acting in this movie.  Ms. Cotillard is a consummate actress who had me thinking that if ever a movie about Bette Davis were made, she could do an outstanding job with it.  That is high praise coming from me; just about the highest.

The score was predictable. The writing was lackluster at times, and at times the story became ludicrous.  Pitt’s dialogue was minimal in the first third of the movie due to his cover as a spy.  There could have been less time taken with that part of the movie and more taken with the final third of it where the suspense lies.  As a matter of fact, most of the fluff that filled the beginning and the middle could have been condensed and it would have been a much more interesting, fast-paced and exciting movie if the focus was over the long, Bastille Day weekend featured in the last third of it all.  The fact that I saw the end coming before it arrived certainly did not help.

Allied earned 6 out of 10 bloops. It wasn’t bad, but could have been much better.  It ran a bit too long, focused too heavily on parts it should not have and not enough on the exciting part.  I look forward to what Cotillard will do next.  Better luck next time Brad.  I heard buzz about an Oscar nomination for this role.  I don’t believe that’s likely sir.  Those of us who love you still do, Oscar or no Oscar.

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Rules Don’t Apply (PG-13)

Warren Beatty wrote the story and the screenplay, produced (along with 15 other Hollywood bigwigs such as Steve Bing, Brett Ratner, Arnon Milchan and James Packer), directed and co-stars in Rules Don’t Apply.  To say that this is Mr. Beatty’s passion project would be an understatement.  TIME magazine predicted Beatty would play Hughes on screen in 1976.  Finally, 40 years later, Beatty’s Hughes has arrived.

Howard Hughes is a figure that people have come to know quite a bit about, either because they were around during his time or through movies based on some portion of his life. We know he was a filthy rich, eccentric (to say the least), brilliant, and that he suffered with mental health issues, most notably near the end of his life.  This makes Hughes a difficult subject to cover and bring something fresh to.  I believe Beatty succeeded.  This movie is not a documentary or a biopic, but very much in the vein of Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead, it injects a real life character into a fictionalized situation.

I watched Beatty’s first movie, Splendor in the Grass (1961) not two weeks ago when Turner Classic Movies held a Natalie Wood showcase.  He’s been in the business for over 50 years and he knows his stuff.  As a huge fan of classic films, I believe Beatty captures a true, old Hollywood feel here; and why shouldn’t he be able to?  He was there.  The music, the wardrobe, the set design, the use of old footage (real and recreated) and photographs, the dialogue, even the old-fashioned nature of the love story between the two young lovers (played by Lily Collins (yes, Phil’s daughter) and Alden Ehrenreich) harkens back to a time when movies featuring stories such as this were made.  The movie also contains some rather sweet sentiment that one can immediately recognize as a characteristic of many classic movies.

Love it or hate it (and plenty of people I talked to after the movie really didn’t care for it at all), Rules Don’t Apply is a nearly perfect depiction of the fine line between genius and insanity. It shows how 1950’s/1960’s white male privilege combined with inexhaustible funds, enormous political and social power, at least one mental disorder, physical maladies, drug addiction, and surrounding one’s self with “yes men” who will indulge one at every turn under the threat of losing their job, can be a tragic recipe; until Beatty sprinkles it with his own brand of mirthful humor.  Hughes’ character is so pathetic at times it becomes difficult to laugh at him.  It almost physically and spiritually hurts.  But laugh you will because Warren Beatty will make you laugh.  Even out loud at times.  Humor, along with using the story of the two lovers to break up Hughes’ moments of madness, and vice versa, allows the movie to never get too “deep” or too “dark.”  Individually, Hughes descends into madness and the young lovers face their challenges.  Collectively, we can see the ages old clash of the older generation versus the younger generation, so that there are really three stories going on at once.

The acting here is incredibly solid as the cast moved fluidly between comedy and drama. Beatty, Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich do a fine job.  I’m looking forward to seeing more from Ms. Collins.  There was such star power in the supporting cast, I will not even name all the familiar faces you will see here.  They were a pleasant surprise to me and I’d like them to be the same for you, if you choose to see this movie.  Beatty could not go wrong with this cast if he tried.

Rules Don’t Apply earned 8.5 out of 10 bloops.  It is a great movie that shouldn’t be missed.  It is a thoughtfully made and portrayed movie where you can feel the love and time put into it.  It has some problems with plot here and there and with some editing, but the acting was top notch, the story was interesting, and best of all, there was humor where you would least expect it.  Beatty focusing on just a snippet of Hughes’ life inspired me to research Hughes; refreshing what I already knew and learning even more.  Rules Don’t Apply is a quirky movie with some original elements that make it work in my opinion.  Good work Mr. Beatty.  Good work.

Miss Sharon Jones (Unrated)

To honor the now late Sharon Jones, I am republishing this review of her amazing documentary entitled Miss Sharon Jones, which was released earlier this year. Her documentary is available for rental or purchase on Amazon and showing On Demand.  Miss Sharon Jones remains an inspiration who made a huge impact in my life and the way I choose to live.

Rest in Power Miss Jones.

Miss Sharon Jones may be the best biographical documentary I have seen. Ever.  It is not the typical story of the rise or the rise and fall of a musician, as one would expect (although her many struggles in the business throughout her career are touched upon).  It is documentation focusing mainly on Sharon Jones’ battle against and defeat of pancreatic cancer.

This might be an otherwise depressing subject to cover, but this film has all the depth, soul and beauty of the woman herself, whose imperfectly perfect self is captured, perfectly. You will laugh because Miss Sharon Jones has a mean sense of humor.  And you will cry.  I’m not talking about just any ole regular crying either; you will cry tears of empathy, tears of laughter, tears of praise, tears of triumph.  There will be all sorts of tears.  And the tears will be heartfelt, either because you relate so closely to her battle with cancer (having faced it yourself or because of the memory of a loved one winning or losing their battle), or just because you feel the human suffering of another person who has been “cursed” with this wretchedly, often-times incurable, nasty disease.

We get to see cancer take its toll on her body, her energy, her disposition, and at times, her spirit, but we also see the magnificent rebound and recovery. Sharon’s beautiful spirit truly makes this movie watchable.  It makes it bearable to discuss cancer, to watch someone having surgery, chemo treatments and scans, to watch a woman lose her hair, to talk about burial vs. cremation.  It is her zest for life, her authenticity, and her matter-of-fact bluntness and honesty that make this film bearable, even uplifiting, and saves it from not being a totally depressing cancer talk.

To say that this woman is bad-ass is an understatement. She is ebullient and full of talent.  She is a firecracker, whose spirit is everything you want to be, but are not and never will be.  Dubbed the “Female James Brown” for her uniquely soulful sound and stage presence, Sharon Jones is a force of nature.

There are many take-aways from this documentary. This movie teaches us about perseverance and inner strength, positive attitude, and faith in God’s plan, whatever it may be.

We learn that success is relative. It does not always come with great fame and great fortune and followers and paparazzi and accolades and awards.  It can come with knowing that you have the ability to care for yourself and the ones you love, and nothing more.  It can simply come from doing what you are passionate about and enjoying that passion and sharing that passion with others.

We have the privilege of getting a glimpse into the world of a woman who is a living example that it is possible for people of different ethnicities, religions, cultures and beliefs to support and help one another and cheer one another on; which is something greatly necessary at this time in history. Despite having been raised in a segregated southern community (she briefly discusses the racism), her friends, social circle, support system – whatever you may call it – is super supportive, loving and diverse.

We are yet again reminded that beauty never lies solely in a person’s physical appearance. Beauty comes from our spirit and our drive, our talents and passions, our disposition, our humility, and much more.  By the end of this documentary, I promise you, you will see Miss Sharon Jones, with or without hair, sick or well, as one of the most beautiful people you have ever laid eyes upon in your life.

Miss Sharon Jones is an inspiration to us all. Not just this documentary, but the woman herself.  Her beautiful spirit will simply overtake you and bring you joy.  Her talent will make you immediately take the time to acquire and listen to every bit of her music that you can get your hands on.

Miss Sharon Jones earns 10 out of 10 bloops. If you see one movie this year, see this one.  I promise you will not be disappointed.

Nocturnal Animals (R)

Nocturnal Animals, produced and adapted into a screenplay by Tom Ford (yes, the clothing designer) and starring Amy Adams as Susan Morrow and Jake Gyllenhaal as Tony Hastings/Edward Sheffield, is the story of an unhappily married art gallery owner reading an intriguing book her ex-husband has written and sent to her.  The movie has three moving parts: the present which features Susan’s life with her current husband; the past which features Susan’s life with her ex-husband; and Susan’s interpretation of this book.  She takes the book personally, because you know that person; everything is about them – and she literally (on screen) imagines the book is about her ex, a character who looks very much like herself and their daughter.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays dual roles as the ex-husband/author of the book and the book’s main character in Susan’s imagination as she reads.

The most interesting part of the movie by far is the book itself, which has a strong theme regarding the perception of strength and weakness, which was at the crux of the problems in Susan and Tony’s marriage. The book has drama, suspense and darkness.  Susan is consumed by this book as she tries to understand the figurative meaning behind it and it provides a much needed distraction from other things going on in her life.  There are parts of the book that cause her to have flashbacks to certain points in the past where we learn about her tumultuous relationship with Tony.  So, this is how the three moving parts interact.

One can easily see the appeal of this story to Ford, as it allows him to delve into all things artistic and beautiful including set designs, camerawork, wardrobe – all things visual arts. This movie serves as a worthy vehicle for his vision as a writer and director.

That being said, I will tell you little more about the movie specifically. This movie captures your attention from the opening credits quite immediately.  I can say with some certainty, you’ve never seen anything quite like it.  From there, there are high points and low points, exciting, suspenseful moments and unfortunately, some lulls.

The main function of Amy Adams’ character is reading this book, so her role is not the meatiest. Jake Gyllenhaal does stronger acting than I think I’ve ever seen him do.  The standout acting here is performed by Michael Shannon, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  Either of them could very well end up with a supporting actor nod.  They were entertaining, tough, mentally unwell, funny, scary and convincing at it all.

Nocturnal Animals is an intricate tale, but the story itself at times seems a bit self-absorbed as it unnecessarily attempts to be more edgy than it already is. Other times it focuses too much on smaller details and not enough on the larger questions.  One glaring question in particular had me confused.  There were several points where I checked my watch, shifted in my seat, wondered if I would make it through to the end.  It could have used a cut of about a good 10 minutes.  There were certainly times during this film where I was just disinterested in what happens next to Adam’s character and just wanted to get back into the book.  The book was the only place I was truly transported out of the theater and into suspense and terror and pain.  But in all honestly, at some point even the book  got on my nerve and I was over the entire movie.

Nocturnal Animals earned 8 out of 10 bloops. It is an interesting movie with potential to be excellent that didn’t quite hit its mark in execution.  Its originality lies in its interesting format of a book being read and portrayed within a movie, but because the three moving parts mentioned above didn’t flow seamlessly enough, it had a very “choppy” feel.  I was into the movie, then back in the theater, into the movie, then back in the theater too many times to enjoy it fully.  Despite the things I thought went wrong with this movie, a lot went right enough to give it a watch at some point.   I give credit for a good effort on Mr. Ford’s part and am looking forward to seeing what he will take on as his next project.

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!

My Welcome Message

Oscar reviews:

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

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (PG-13)

Starring Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the newest installment in Harry Potter World to grace the screen.  Newt (Redmayne) has a suitcase full of beasts.  Some escape and run loose on the streets of New York City.  He has to collect them so that the witches and wizards who live in New York can remain undetected by the non-magical (Non-Maj is the American term for Muggle) people.

I admire J.K. Rowlings immensely for the way she overcame her circumstances and changed her life, and I hold her in very high regard. Her story is nothing short of inspirational.  That being said, I have never seen a Harry Potter movie in a theater and the only one I have ever seen is the first installment.  To say that fantasy is not my favorite genre would be an understatement, and I didn’t care for Harry Potter well enough to continue on with the series.  It’s just not my thing.  But this movie was fun and enjoyable at times.  I opted to not see Fantastic Beasts in 3D.  I’ve had enough of 3D for the week, but I can see how one’s experience might be enhanced by doing so.  The “beasts” were fantastic.  Even without 3D, the animation was superb.  The set designs were breathtaking at times.

Eddie Redmayne is a talented actor. But while he was acting in Fantastic Beasts I saw Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and I saw Eddie Redmayne as Einar Wegener /Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl; using the same right leaning head tilt and lowering of the chin, the toothy smile, the sheepish eyes…  He seemed to be the same character in all three movies at times.  Has he been deceiving me all this time into thinking he is some great actor, when he’s one note?  Not that there is anything wrong with being one note when you do what you do well.  But I feel as though I shouldn’t be having the feeling that I’ve seen him do this very same thing before in three very different movies in what are supposed to be three starkly different roles.  I’ll have to keep an eye on him…

For me, Dan Fogler was the standout here as the Non-Maj who accompanies Newt and the crew on this adventure to capture these loose beasts.  It is through his eyes as a non-magical person that the wonder of this entire movie is captured.  Alison Sudol was delightful in her role as his love interest.  Ezra Miller also does a fine job as a dark, tortured villain.

What I didn’t like about this movie, first and foremost is that it is entirely too long… The introduction feels forever-taking and at the end I felt like I was being held hostage as the unnecessary set up for the next installment (which I will be passing on) is planted in our heads. If you read regularly, you know I hate a next installment set up.  I take it as an insult to my intelligence.  Also, I felt nothing one way or the other for Katherine Waterston’s portrayal of Newt’s potential (in the future, perhaps) love interest.  She was kind of “just there” and I feel her character could have been being played by any of many age-appropriate female actresses.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them earned 7.5 out of 10 bloops. It’s a good movie worth seeing for the artistry of the effects, the set designs, the imagery and the imagination that went into making it.  I’m sure you will like it more than I did if you’re a fan of the series.

Arrival (PG-13)

Arrival is like the story of what happens after Close Encounters of the Third Kind ends.  They’re here, we’ve made contact, we’re communicating.  But now what?  What are they saying and what do they want?  Being a huge fan of Close Encounters I was interested to see where this story would go.

Starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, Arrival is the story of a linguist (Adams), called upon by the U.S. government to listen to and decode alien language, along with other scientists and professionals around the world so that we can communicate with the extra terrestrials.

I will not say one more thing about this movie directly except that you need to go see it. Fan of science fiction or not, this movie is so interesting and so immersive it is worth a look, and I believe you will enjoy it.  It is based on a well thought out concept with strong themes that is wonderfully executed.  It’s like watching a flower bloom.  It takes patience, but just you sit and wait.  It takes time, but the concept of time changes and you realize the payoff is worth that wait.  And you would do it again.  It is intricately brilliant.  You can feel the love that was put into this project.

In the abstract, this movie is about us all, collectively and individually, all at the same time. It is about time and space, our connectivity to one another, the universe and all.  It is about our humanity, our consciousness, our rigidity and our flexibility.  It is about all of our limitations, real, man-made and imagined.  It is about our fear, our perceived strengths and weaknesses, our perception of everything, our reality, and how all of these things affect one another.

Arrival is about letting go of yourself, forgetting everything you think you know and opening your mind to something new and different; something we need a lot more of in the world today. It is about empathy, communication, understanding, reasoning and patience.  Arrival doesn’t give you all the answers and leaves you to ponder what it all really means; answering enough questions in the end to leave you satisfied.  It is moving.  It is well conceived, well written, well acted, well relayed and well executed.

What I didn’t like is that there are two lousy lines of dialogue that took this movie out of the running for a 10th bloop. When you hear each of them, you will recognize them.  You may cringe.  The most annoying line has been featured in many, many movies before and the only time I have ever seen it work was in Aladdin.

Unfortunately, I could not overlook that cliché, ever-grating line – and that other poor choice of word or words… Arrival earned 9.5 out of 10 bloops. A solid and sure contender for a best picture nod.  It will make you think about yourself, your fellow Americans and all mankind.  This is not two hours of my life I wish I could get back.  I would definitely do it all over again.

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!

My Welcome Message

Oscar reviews:

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

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (R)

Directed by Ang Lee, based on a novel by Ben Fountain and starring newcomer Joe Alwyn and Garrett Hedlund, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk attempts to journey into the mind of a young man who has developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following a tour in Iraq. Hailed as an American war hero for some reason Billy can’t quite seem to figure out, Billy attempts to reconcile what the term, “hero,” means versus the reality of what happened during war.

Billy has just committed a heroic act and he and his unit are swept up into a whirlwind tour around America for parades, television appearances, etc. before returning to Iraq for a second tour. (If only we gave war heroes so much recognition.)  This tour raises the question, what and how much does the American government owe someone who has seen combat and put their life on the line?  Those who go into combat in defense of our country should certainly make more money than, let’s say, someone who plays with a ball for a living?  Right? But that is not the case.  So it is a smart juxtaposition when these war heroes are placed directly among professional football players, business men and celebrities during the finale of this big American tour, which features Billy’s unit “performing” at half-time during the Superbowl.  This movie expresses many points of view about war and the way we look at it as civilians and as soldiers.  With a clear mind or through impairments, Billy has to wade through all these different opinions and questions, and this chaos going on immediately around him, in order to decide whether or not he can go on to fight another day.

There is a lot to like about this movie, like scenes where PTSD is outwardly expressed not only by Billy, but by other Unit members. They are very intense, sudden and sad.  The lack of control is frightening.  I also loved how this unit appears to become more and more fragile individually while becoming stronger as a unit as the time grows closer for them to return to Iraq.

One big problem I had with this movie is that it has a lot of layers, and those layers get messy at times and the movie loses focus. Jean Christophe Castelli’s first screenwriting effort isn’t so great as there are poorly written and poorly placed scenes that are so distracting they pull you out of the story.  I never really got immersed into Billy’s mind, because almost as soon as you were taken there you were back too soon.  I wanted more war.  Outside of the flashbacks, there were too many distractions; the phone, the girl, the schedule, the agent, the crowd, the hecklers, the 3D, his family, etc.  I understand that there was supposed to be a “fast paced,” “urgent” and even “cluttered” aspect to the story telling to intensify the PSTD reactions and help us understand the pressure Billy is under, but some of the details read as overkill that could have been eliminated.  We get it.  He’s under pressure.  No need to go on and on and on with it.  This is just a guess as I’ve not read the book, but what may have worked in the novel doesn’t necessarily translate into film well.

The movie has spots where it gets dull. It definitely could have used a good 10 minute cut.  Easy for me to say, I know. I didn’t make the movie.  I don’t make movies, period.  But sometimes that excess causes things to get stale, and that’s what happens here, or at least what happened for me.  Billy didn’t have to meet the girl three times, the second or third fight could have been cut.  There were obvious scenes that could have been cut to tighten up the movie and make it flow better.  It felt as though this movie was forcibly stretched out without good reason.

Shown in 3D and shot in High Frame Rate projection, characters looked like cut out dolls on the screen against a background, and extras were very pronounced and noticeable rather than blending in when they should have. It was odd and felt fake at times.  And I personally found the 3D distracting for this particular story and could have done without it here altogether.  I feel like shooting and showing in this format took away from the movie and was somehow a bit disrespectful to the serious subject matter.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk earned 6 bloops out of 10. It ’s not bad, but it could have been so much better.  The movie is worth seeing because it takes on a subject that needs and deserves so much more attention. I wish the screenplay were better written and I wish Ang Lee had not used technology which seems better suited for more effects-heavy films this time.  I wouldn’t recommend you run to the movies to see it but would definitely say catch it streaming when you can.  I’m trying to understand the Oscar buzz.  Maybe I’m wrong and I’ll change my mind later, but I don’t see it.

Shut In (PG-13)

Naomi Watts and Charlie Heaton star in Shut In, the latest drama/thriller to hit the big screen.  Where to begin, where to begin, where to begin…

This movie could have been great, but missed the mark by a mile, and it was painful to watch it miss, because the movie had potential. It contains elements that would easily allow it to stand out as an original, but clung so tightly to horror film clichés (without even being classified as horror), that the story was done an injustice.  It has surprises and suspense, but also has much of the same old, same old regarding jumps and scares.  It contained far too many repetitive and predictable parts, save for the big reveal; and when the reveal came, I honestly found it to be utterly ridiculous.

There is nothing wrong with the acting done here, except it was done in the wrong movie. Too much of the movie relies on the characters doing the most foolish things.  I was so happy to see Oliver Platt, but his character behaved quite foolishly as well.

Shut In attempts to pay homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, but fails in its delivery.  Norman Bates-crazy is one thing, but this is quite another.  A mind has to stretch much too far, or rather too deep beyond the depths of mental illness to make this movie credible.  I’m not even sure if a mentally ill person can pull off what was portrayed in this movie.  One would have to be a special kind of crazy that I have never heard of or seen before.  I don’t think this kind of crazy could remain hidden; particularly not from one’s parent; even a parent in total denial of how insane their child really is.  It defies human nature and logic and is “crazy” in a preposterous way, rather than in a scary way.  So, the question is, does that make it a better film?  I don’t think so.  Others may disagree.

Although, I will admit that the Charlie Heaton’s character was sufficiently creepy, I just couldn’t get past the explanation of what happened to him to get to what people who liked this film saw. Following the reveal I was full of eye rolls and sighs, shaking my head from side to side, and fidgeting in my seat fighting for dear life to not walk out and waiting for this movie to end.  Two people gave up and walked out about 15 minutes before the end.  Oh, and the end…  I.  Cannot.

And at some point they went into the basement… (Read my reviews of Lights Out and Ouija: Origin of Evil to learn about my disdain for the old basement scene if you’re unfamiliar).

Shut In earned 5 out of 10 bloops. Shut In earned points for uniqueness and I really wanted to like it, but it lost me at the ridiculous reveal.  It is a so-so movie that could have been really great that may be worth a watch if you don’t have to pay.  I’ve met people who liked it much more than I did, of course, but I advise you to proceed at your own risk.

Almost Christmas (PG-13)

Honestly, before seeing Almost Christmas I had a lot of mind clearing to do because I thought it would be so similar to Soul Food or This Christmas or any other movie featuring a predominantly black cast involving family, food, church, music and dancing.  Oh, and somebody’s husband is going to cheat on them, for certain.  Like, yes Hollywood, black people do those things, but we also do much more.  Geez!  I thought, “Please don’t tell me this is going to be the same movie that I have already seen with some different black people in it.”  It isn’t.

All those things do occur in Almost Christmas, starring a whole lot of black people (LOL! Too many to name), but it is definitely worth a watch as it sets itself apart from those other films in a number of ways.

First, there is a theme of adults learning from children. One would hope that the younger, tech driven youth who have access to every bit of information known to man at their fingertips might be more knowledgeable than those who came before them about all areas in life.  These kids are, and they prove it every time you hear from them.  They constantly keep their phones at the ready to catch anything post-worthy, but also manage to stay engaged with each other and the older members of their family.  They are adorable as well.

Secondly, the sisters and brothers in the family have believable conflict and rivalry among them; things that if they don’t go on in your own family, you know a family where it does or it might go on. From your siblings judging your spouse or your life choices, or whatever, Almost Christmas shows relationships in stages ranging from being able to tolerate a relative you don’t particularly get along with to being all the way on the outs with them.  When you fight with a relative they know a lot about you and have the power to say some hurtful things that can wound deeply.  You can’t take those things back once they are put out there, but sometimes there are ways to work past it.  Not with me of course, but sometimes, some people can get past it.  I’m too much of a Scorpio to allow anyone the opportunity to hurt my feelings twice, but I’m a work in progress.  Pray for me.

Thirdly, Almost Christmas shows how individualized the grieving process can be from person to person. Avoidance of the grief and the events surrounding it altogether, dwelling on the loss, regrets of what wasn’t done while the loved one you lost was here, diverting yourself from thinking about the grief by preoccupying yourself with anything else; all these processes that we use to cope with grief were displayed.  Some of us grieve more openly and some internalize it without asking for help, until the grief consumes us.  It was good to see mourning and grief touched upon in such detail, because dealing with death is as “real” an issue as anyone ever has to face and it is an important subject to talk about.

Almost Christmas reminds us that Mo’Nique is one helluva good actress.  I’m sure my nieces and nephews will agree, she reminded me very much of myself in a humorous way here; that aunt who knows a lot, thinks she knows everything, with the foul mouth, the big heart, a wig, a drink in her hand and some jokes.  My family doesn’t get together on holidays like that anymore unfortunately, and there are reasons why; but this movie made me almost miss those days.  Almost.

This movie takes you on an emotional roller coaster (or maybe I was just feeling weepy today, but I enjoyed it) where you will tear up, then laugh out loud and then shed a tear. The opening scene is absolutely fantastic and sets the tone for the good time that is ahead.

Okay, now for the unpleasant part. What I didn’t like.  There is one scene that is sooooo corny I wanted to screeeeeeam!  I mean I absolutely hated it.  You will know it when you see it.  Trust me when I tell you that  you will know it…  There were some formulaic elements present, such as the church scene – a mandatory staple, obviously, for any and all large, black families.  I’ll allow it, because the movie is based on Christmas, but aside from adding a gospel song to the soundtrack, there was no real reason for a church to be the setting used.  Also, at an hour and 52 minutes, the movie is a bit too long.  That super corny scene is what could have been cut out altogether and please don’t accuse me of trying to take the “Christ” out of “Christmas,” but the lines spoken during the church scene could have been incorporated elsewhere.

Almost Christmas earned 7.5 out of 10 bloops. Could have been an 8, but that scene!  Uuuugh!  It is a feel-good holiday movie worth seeing.  I would say it is a family film, but there’s a bit of cussing and a wee bit of vulgarity you might not want the little ones to hear – or you might not want to hear it yourself.  You won’t be bent over holding your sides with laughter, but there are some funny moments.  It strikes a nice balance between humorous and dramatic without getting too corny (except for that scene!), or sappy.  It’s a nice, light weekend movie I think you will enjoy.

Loving (PG-13)

Loving, starring Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, is based on the true story of Richard and Mildred “Bean” Loving’s fight to have their 1958 interracial marriage legalized in Virginia, and how that fight led to the 1967 Supreme Court decision that, simply put, made interracial marriages legal in all 50 states.

I enjoyed the portrayal of Mrs. Loving as this quiet, meek, figure who was thrust into this fight for her civil and human rights. She was not a crusading, organizing, protesting civil rights figure, but her humble and quiet demeanor is what helped draw her husband in and got him to go along with her decision to take their battle through the courts.  The Lovings were not typical revolutionaries. There is no big rebellion or riot or protest scene involved here.  And most surprisingly, the Lovings made it through this without being killed by some racist police officer and/or the Ku Klux Klan or some other misguided, “interested party.”  Mrs. Loving just wanted to live in their hometown near their families, with her husband, in peace, without fear of persecution.  She wanted to find a way to right the injustice her family had endured, and do what she could to ensure no one else went through what they went through.

The acting in this movie is palpably strong. You will feel as though Negga and Edgerton actually know, love and care for each other as the Lovings.  The likeness of the actors to the real life Mr. and Mrs. Loving is striking.  Negga is powerful in her humility and grace.  And those eyes!  You will drown in this woman’s eyes.  You will strongly feel her growing depression over her circumstances, and it is revealed in such a charmingly restrained way.  Equally will you feel her mood elevate as things begin to go her way.  Edgerton as Mr. Loving conveys all the inward turmoil of a man who is powerless to make his wife happy.  He just wants to go to work, protect and provide for his family and live in peace.

There is a nice mix of up-and-coming actors and character actors whose names you may not know but whose faces you will remember if you check their acting credits. You will find there are a lot of actors you will want to see more from including Sharon Blackwood, Christopher Mann and many more.

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, there is much suspense and surprise in all the right places here.  You fear for the Loving’s lives, just as they do.  The use of the language that was actually used in court documents to describe people who were other-than-white in those days is smart.

What I didn’t like about this movie was that I was uncertain about the timetable. Suppose I was someone who knew nothing about the story?  How long was it between the marriage and the Supreme Court ruling?  Even though there were strong indicators, I would have liked to have some dates on the screen to clearly show that this battle took many years and what was happening with this couple in the years in between.  I would like to have seen how Richard and Mildred met because it would have helped put a gage on how young they were when all of this was happening, but the story begins a bit later.  Also, in the effort to portray Mr. and Mrs. Loving as these two calm and internalizing souls, the movie lacked a bit of “oomph,” shall we say.  It is generally sort of a low energy film, which is not necessarily a bad thing; but Mrs. Loving in particular could have conveyed more passion during the more traumatic scenes.

The unfortunate casting of Nick Kroll as attorney Bernie Cohen was difficult for me to watch at times.  He is such a widely known comedian that his cute, silly face makes you anticipate a joke that never arrives in a movie that is far too serious for him to be in.  He wasn’t terrible, but he was distracting in this role, in my opinion.  Also, I was looking forward to a courtroom scene of some sort that contained some real drama that never quite came to fruition.

Loving earned 7.5 out of 10 bloops. It is a good movie, worth seeing if the subject interests you.  It is an important part of American history that should not be forgotten in a story that needs to be told.  The acting is great, overall.  If you don’t go to support it in theaters I recommend you stream it when it becomes available.

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!

My Welcome Message

Oscar reviews:

Hidden Figures
Fences
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
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