Netflix Movie Review: Hillbilly Elegy

Netflix Movie Review: Hillbilly Elegy

The new Netflix movie “Hillbilly Elegy” is based on the best selling book that was released several years ago, about a man who made it out of extreme poverty and being raised by a single mother who was a drug addict.

Despite a horrific start in life, the main character in this film J.D. Vance, played by Gabriel Basso became a lawyer and even attended Yale Law school after joining the Army. This is an amazing feat, considering how his life began, and his abusive childhood progressed.

This film has two well known actresses: Glenn Close who plays J.D.s grandmother and Amy Adams as J.D.’s mother and one of the best directors, Ron Howard. Despite all of this, including what I thought was outstanding acting throughout, the critics on Rotten Tomatoes are giving this very strong movie only a 26% rating. In all my years of comparing the opinions of critics, this has to be the all time champion in regards to a group of critics who have no understanding of the the quality and significance of a film. The only good news is that the audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes is a very high 89% – in line with the quality of the screenwriting and acting. A rating of only 26% makes no sense, expecially considering the critical opinions are so completely different than the audience opinion.

Anyone who has a background of poverty or near poverty will appreciate what it is like to live in a situation where there is no hope, no future and no chance. Perhaps the critics who reviewed this film cannot relate to the stark and depressing reality of many millions of people who in so many cases, need miracles to survive. With this story, the poverty also comes with extreme levels of drug addition, with many depressing scenes where J.D.s mother is either shooting heroin, taking pills or overdosing. All of this was well done and well acted.

I agree with the audience rating for Hillbilly Elegy of 89% and highly recommend this movie.

On Demand Movie Review: The Secret: Dare to Dream

About 10 years ago, a video was released called “The Secret”. This video became so popular it even made it to the Oprah Winfrey Show. The message in this video was very simple, “if you think about something that you want so badly often enough and strongly enough, then the universe will give it to you”. It would be great if something like this were true, and the popularity of this message was mostly caused by so many millions of people wanting it to be true, rather than it being actually true. The fervor of the video and this message eventually died down, only a few short years later. Since then, I have not seen any sign of the The Secret, not until the new movie “The Secret: Dare to Dream”, starring Josh Lucas and Katie Holmes was released through On Demand some days ago.

I agree with most of the critics who have said that this story is too much like a small Nicolas Sparks book. While the story is rather simple and “Nicolas Sparks” like, I thought that overall, the story and message was good enough to give this film marginal recommendation.

The main character Miranda Wells is played by Katie Holmes. She is raising 3 kids as a single mother, ever since her husband died 5 years earlier. Her life is all about having no money and being in huge debt, with both a car and house that is falling apart. Then enters Bray, played by Josh Lucas who is a professor of Mechanical Engineering from Vanderbilt University. Through a series of coincidences that all start with a minor car accident, Bray starts to help Miranda and her 3 children with some of their money problems – the worst problem is fixing up their house after a Hurricane. I thought that the story did take too long to wind down, as Bray is carrying a huge secret from Miranda, all the way down to the last minutes of this movie. Other than that, the story was well told and the acting was well done.

The 28% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes are absurd – with the audience ratings of 76% far more accurate. My rating is 70% and I do give this movie a marginal recommendation.

Amazon Prime Series Review: Wayne

Amazon Prime Series Review: Wayne

The trend for several years within the challenging art of screenwriting is coming up with something that has never been done before. Unfortunately I have seen way too many different bad movies over the years, where the screenwriter tried so hard to break new ground and produce something that has never been done before, resulting in a very-different bad movie. A film still has to be good more than it has to be different.

The new Amazon prime 10-part series “Wayne” is very different from anything I have seen before but more importantly its also different-good, not different bad or average. There are no famous actors in this series, only few character actors we have all seen before. The story is about a 16 year old kid in high school, Wayne, played by Mark McKenna who has a life in shambles. His mother left the family and his father is dying and he lives in a rundown section of Brockton Massachusetts – the home town of Boxer Marvin Hagler. His daily life is all about violence, with him either getting beaten up or beating someone else up, any way he can. Wayne has a personality disorder where he feels he has to right any wrong he sees, which is why he is always getting into fights. The language in this movie is one for the record books because it probably has more F-words and S-words than any production ever made. This is now people talk on the hard streets Boston and the screenwriter made sure that this is made very clear in every scene in this series.

As the story progresses, Wayne leaves Boston and heads south to get back his father’s car his mother now has in Florida. His companion during this road trip to Florida is Del, his girlfriend and unfortunate daughter of a lowlife family of 2 stupid brothers and a violent loud-mouth father who hate Wayne and follow Del and Wayne to Florida. Del is played by actress Ciara Bravo, who just about steals this entire series with her completely natural acting ability.

The foul language and violence in this 10 part series are insane and frequent, mixed with crazy humor along the way.

The critics on Rotten Tomatoes are giving this series 100%, IMDB is a very high 8.4. If you can get used to the constant foul language and violence, this movie is a must see, but definitely not for children. I highly recommend this 10 part series on Amazon prime.

Movie Review: Freaky

Movie Review: Freaky

The new movie “Freaky” is one of those films that receives high reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and because I am maintaining a blog I felt obligated to see it. The first mystery was why this mostly average movie is receiving such high marks by the critics and the second mystery was why Vince Vaughn – mostly an A or a B list actor, agreed to make this teen-parody-B-horror movie in the first place.

This film is a parody of the many “Freaky Friday” movies, the last one released in 2003 with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis. The plot is: due to some freakish event, two people switch places and inhabit the body of the other person. In the case of Freaky – a serial killer played by Vince Vaughn takes the place of a teenage girl played by Kathryn Newton. The rest of the story contains nothing really new or innovative, other than the presence of Vince Vaughn, who tries to act like a 17 year old girl for half of the story. The longer this goes on, the stranger the experience of watching Vince Vaughn play a 17 year old girl gets. There are attempts to be funny that mostly fail and the parody attempts will all be lost on most younger viewers who are not familiar with the previous Freaky Friday movies. There are the same old fake shock horror scenes, where someone pops out of nowhere, some over the top scenes of blood and gore, and that all too familiar trickery making the audience believe that someone is dead when they are really not dead. The movie viewing world is more than tired of this in all movies.

My guess is that there were agreements to make this film, and soon after, a realization that nobody would see it because of the weak premise. So a decision was made to pay Vince Vaughn a great deal of money, hoping that his presence would bring in viewers. After production a decision was made to release this movie into the “throwaway Pandemic fire”, period we are all in, to at least get some money back for this film that will ultimately lose money.

In the end, I have no idea why the critics are giving this movie an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes, because it is nothing more than an average teen horror movie. My rating is 60%, for only the attempts at some humor but with no positive recommendation.

Movie Review: Let Him Go

Movie Review: Let Him Go

The new movie “Let Him Go” is the first movie released in theaters since the Pandemic that is high quality, and with the bankable stars: Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, with a great story and great cinematography – in this case, the barren vistas of North Dakota.

The story here is mostly believable, all the way up to the end, when there is an expected Hollywood climax. In real life, nobody would do what the characters do at the end of this movie. Within these two hours are scenes of domestic abuse, child abuse, massive injustice, a criminal family known as the “Weboys” and impressive scenes of conflict and tension performed at an extremely high level.

Margaret and George Blackledge live on a horse ranch in very rural North Dakota where life is cold, flat and at times very harsh. Ever since I saw the great movie “Fargo” in 1996 I have always wondered why anyone would want to live in cold, flat and sparsely populated places like North and South Dakota. At the start of this story Margaret and George are living with their son, his wife and their infant son and then, unfortunate events do occur that lead them into having to track down their grandson Their search leads them to meet a criminal family known as the Weboy’s in an even more rural area of North Dakota.

As the Blackledge’s try to visit with their grandson, a series of high stress events happen, starting with a dinner, where the Blackledge’s and Weboy’s meet for the first time – arguably the best acting in this film. A line is drawn where the Weboy’s make it very clear that they do not want the Blackledge’s to see their own grandson ever again.

The acting throughout this movie is outstanding, and the actress Leslie Manville is a standout with her role as Blanch Weboy, the patriarch of the Weboy family. Manville’s acting is so strong, she may just be nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress, despite this depleated Pandemic movie year.

Many years ago I learned that one of the fine arts of screenwriting is the use of reflection to show something early in a story, that gets used again in a much more significant way later. This movie has an example of a reflection that starts with Margaret Blackledge whispering in an ear of a dying horse, and ends with one of the most powerful examples of refection that I have ever seen in a movie.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for Let Him Go are only around 75%, but my rating is a solid 90% for the great story and acting. Movies like this one remind many of us that one of the reasons why we go to the movies is because very often a great injustice is revenged. Unfortunately real life far too often, does not work that way. I highly recommend this film.

Netflix Series Review: The Queens Gambit

Netflix Series Review: The Queens Gambit

The new Netflix 7 part series “The Queens Gambit” is about a child prodigy, in this case a young 9 year old girl, who happens to be a one in a billion chess genius. While in an orphanage she learns chess from the school janitor and after only a few games, the janitor realizes that she is a gifted genius of Chess. When it comes to child prodigies, there are only 3 kinds, Mathematics, Music and Chess and this series is one of the best of its kind when it comes to Chess prodigies, the last one was “Search for Bobby Fischer”, released in 1993. 

Even for those who are not true fans of the great game of Chess, this series will win you over and maybe even make you a convert when you realize the extreme challenge that Chess is to master. There is so much you have to know, and any real player knows that with just one small mistake a game can be lost on the spot. For years the debate has been, “is Chess really a sport”.  Chess was on the cover of Sports Illustrated several times in 1972 during the Spassky Fischer match in Reykjavik Iceland. In my opinion, chess a sport, because of the toll it takes on the body because of the stress of playing any game against a top player. 

This series is extremely well written, photographed and acted throughout the entire 7 hours and holds the rare distinction of getting 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 97% from the audience.  The high score on IMDB is 89%.  

The actress Anya Taylor-Joy plays the child prodigy Beth Harmon, and as she becomes an adult in her 20’s playing in tournaments, she develops a severe drug and alcohol problem to deal with the extreme stress of playing Chess professionally. Her acting in this series is worthy of an Oscar, even thought this production will probably only be considered for an Emmy Award. Over the centuries, there have been several top chess players who have gone insane due to the stress of dominating this extremely challenging game. The most severe example was Bobby Fischer, who became an anti-Semite, in his later years, even though he was Jewish himself. 

The Queens Gambit is one of the best movies of its kind that I have seen, and I give it my highest recommendation. I am also including a link to the analysis of the championship chess game in this series, that was taken from an actual Grandmaster game that was played in 1993.

Movie Review: After We Collided

The new movie “After We Collided” is the second in a four part series that started with “After” that was released in April 2019. The critics are trashing After We Collided, giving it a very rare zero on Rotten Tomatoes and while the critics are correct that this is mostly a bad movie, there is no way this production deserves a number as low as zero.

The movie After received only a 19% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the critics were very wrong about this movie, because what After did correctly, was show the emotional pain of a relationship despite the soap opera-like story. What After We Collided did wrong was it was mostly all about the soap opera, without the effective story and acting that showed the painful emotions of a very painful on and off relationship. Despite all of this, I thought the acting within this story with Tessa, played by Josephine Langford and Hardin, played by Hero Fiennes Tiffin was very well done. Josephine Langford, as she showed in After, has one of the most perfect faces ever seen within any movie.

There are two more sequels in the works in this series, based on 4 books written by author Anna Todd, who wrote them on of all things, her cell phone. Even more incredible is that her first book “After” received over 1.5 billion downloads. Despite the critics, this Anna Todd series is still going strong with 4 movies either completed or in production. I hope the next two films are much better than this one, that did not hold up well in comparison to After.

Overall, my rating for After We Collided is about 50% only for some of the scenes of good acting within a film that unfortunately has a weak story that could have been greatly improved with several more re-writes. For these reasons, I do not recommend this movie.

Movie Review: Honest Thief

Movie Review: Honest Thief

The word from the movie industry (much like Broadway) is that any thoughts of a realized rebound in 2020 are out the window. The promised release of all 2020 blockbuster movies coming out this year now have all been pushed into 2021. This is why Regal Cinemas has decided to close down all of its US locations for a second time this year. The final straw happening with the new James Bond movie being pushed to April 2021.

The other large movie chain AMC has recently announced that they are running out of money and could be out of business by year end.

Many in the financial world are predicting the total collapse of the movie industry as it existed in 2019 and unfortunately because of Covid-19, they could all be right. Nobody would have imagined 1 year ago all that has happened in 2020; a year far worse than any year anyone alive can remember. 

As far as the new movie “Honest Thief”, starring Liam Neeson and Kate Walsh many critics will say that we have seen most or all of the scenes in similar movies in the past and Liam Neeson is still capitalizing on his great 2008 performance in “Taken”. This is all true, but overall I thought that the story and the message make this one worth a visit.

This story is about a former bank robber, played by Neeson who wants to come clean and give back the 9 million dollars he stole years earlier in exchange for getting a much lighter sentence so he can be with his new girlfriend, played by Walsh. Unfortunately due to human greed and the amount money involved this idea goes very south quickly and what follows is a believable story and some good action. The very low 37% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes for this one are way off – once again proving that the critics are wrong too much of the time. To give a good movie like this one only 37% makes no sense. More in line with reality is the 71% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes that I agree with. I do recommend this movie.

Netflix Series Review: Away

Netflix Series Review: Away

The new 10 part Netflix series “Away” is about a real life trip to Mars and for the most part is about the reality of space travel of this magnitude and so many things that can go wrong. This series stars Hilary Swank as the commander of the spaceship that takes off from the moon and travel to Mars. During the trip to Mars, commander Emma Green, played by Swank and her crew encounter and then solve numerous problems life threatening problems. Some of them are solved by Green’s husband Matt Logon played by Josh Charles from Earth. I thought all of these problems were believable and the drama of finding solutions to each obstacle is one of the best parts of this 10 part series.

Many would argue that no woman who was married with a child would ever consider taking a trip to Mars that would take her away from her daughter and husband for years – one of the main areas of drama during this entire series. Over the last number of years, there have been people who have volunteered for trips to Mars, even under the condition where they would never be able to return. I have always wondered how long someone who made a decision like this, would have a huge change of heart after months and years in the middle of nowhere with no chance to ever return to earth. Before the United States or any other country can travel to Mars, thousands of problems and scenarios will have to be solved, starting with the human problems that will be the most challenging.

I thought both the science and the drama in this series was very well produced and acted and I am surprised at the relatively low 60% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, go figure. My rating for this series is a very solid 80% and I do recommend it.

Movie Review: Kajillionaire

Movie Review: Kajillionaire

The new movie “Kajillionaire” is for any person in the world, who thinks that being broke, heavily in debt or even being close to homeless is not a big deal. Not only is all of this a big deal, but for so many millions of people in the world, it can be a fate worse than death.

The story of Kajillionaire is about an older man and woman and their 20-something daughter who are on the outer fringes of living on the streets. They run scams, some of them very complex that involve faking lost luggage at the airport. They duck under a fence to avoid their landlord who is renting them a former small office room that leaks foam from a next door car wash. This film stretches to a highly unusual level of storytelling that in some areas barely make sense with storylines that in some ways seem connected but then drift away. Many times when I see movies that try so hard to be different – they do not work, but this movie works and for the most part well done.

Kajillionaire stars Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins and Gina Rodriguez. This is movie is not a comedy, it is a dark drama about the harsh realities of life in this country for people with no money. Over time, people become desperate animals just to survive one day to the next – and all of this makes Kajillionaire a difficult story to watch. The acting is very solid throughout, with Rodgriguez character joining this group of 3 drifters in the middle of this story – a part of the story I found to be somewhat unbelievable.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for Kajillionaire are a very high 88% but a very low 54% audience rating. I am more in the middle, around 72%, with a passing rating. This is not the great movie some of the critics are raving about because some parts of this story did fail and other areas are so disjointed that they do not seem to make sense. Trying to be unusual too often in any story can ruin the final production – the best recent example of this is the movie Tenet. Overall, I do recommend this movie for its stark and depressing reality of people living on the edge.