Movie Review: In the Heights

The new musical “In the Heights” which is based on the stage play created by Linn Manuel Miranda is not for anyone who does not like musicals. Like the musical “Hamilton”, one of the most talked about musicals in recent years, one cannot help but admire the work to turn so many normal spoken sentences into rap music, so all of this takes some gettin used to.

The new musical “In the Heights” which is based on the stage play created by Linn Manuel Miranda is not for anyone who does not like musicals. Like the musical “Hamilton”, one of the most talked about musicals in recent years, one cannot help but admire the work to turn so many normal spoken sentences into rap music, so all of this takes some getting used to. I thought the best part of this movie was the struggles of Nina Rosario, played by Leslie Grace and her father Kevin Rosario, played by Jimmy Smits with finding the money for her to continue her education at Stanford. Kevin would do anything to help his brilliant daughter and that included mortgaging and even selling his business. There is much more to this story, that did a great job in demonstrating the financial struggles of the insane cost of college.

There is a great deal of singing and dancing within these two hours and I thought that the movie would have been better with more normal talking scenes and less musical rap scenes.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for this movie is a very high 97%, along with many celebrities giving their opinions on how good this film is. My rating is in the 85% range, mainly because I am one of those people who does not like musicals. Regardless, I strongly recommend In the Heights.

Showtime Series Review: The Kings

The Showtime series “The Kings” is about what is probably the most significant period in the history of boxing in the 1980’s when Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns were all at the peak of their careers. They all fought each other, in some cases like Duran and Leonard (3 times) Hearns and Leonard (2 times) more than once. This period in the 1980’s was the first time in the history of boxing when the heavyweight boxers did not dominate the sport. Several of the fights, especially the one in April 1987 when Hagler fought Leonard were considered at the time, fights of the century. After the 1980’s it was unfortunate that Leonard, Hearns and Duran continued to fight well past their primes. This is a frequent problem with too many fighters, including Ali, who never seemed to know know when it was time to quit. What followed the Kings era was the Mike Tyson era, that reestablished heavyweight boxing as the top of the sport

The Kings is a four part series that can be seen on SHOWTIME or through Hulu. I thought this series did a good job with mixing the news of the day with the major fights of these 4 boxing legends. In March of this year, Marvin Hagler died and what followed were a series of false rumors about the cause of his death at age 66. From my research on the internet, the cause of Hagler’s untimely death is still not known.

I recommend The Kings as a very good series about a time when Boxing was the #1 sport in the world – a time that has long past, unfortunately replaced with MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) boxing.

HBO Max Movie Review: Friends: The Reunion

For those who have waiting for the friends reunion special hoping for a new episode about how the 6 characters turned out 17 years later, they will be very disappointed. This special is nothing more than a talk show hosted by James Corden, some highlights and bloopers from the TV series “Friends”, that ran from 1994-2004. Interviews with the producers and cast members – but not much else, other than some guest stars including Tom Selleck and Lady Gaga.

One of the most remarkable things about television sitcoms is how rare the creation of a good or great one is. There is something called “pilot season” in television where producers throw money at hundreds of comedy-show ideas, and just about all of them fail. The reason for all that failure is that writing something funny is extremely difficult and coming up with a cast like Friends or Seinfeld, along with a group of writers, producers and directors that have chemistry is even more difficult, if not impossible. The best part of the “Friends Reunion” / documentary is learning about how impossible a show like Friends can be to assemble. Both Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow had contracts with other TV shows and pilots and they both were unlikely to being cast for Friends. Aniston filmed 3 episodes of Friends even though if her other pilot was bought by the Network, they would have had to re-shoot the first 3 episodes over again with a new actor.

From the first episode my opinion has always been that without actor Mathew Perry, who played Chandler Friends would never have have been huge 10 year hit it became. By far, Chandler was always the funniest character on the show, for the entire 10 year run. Unfortunately Perry has had a long term drug and alcohol problem, even during the latter years of the show. He also looks like he has aged the worst of the 6, and has awkward looking dental veneers that may have been installed as result of his years of drug abuse.

One thing about great sitcoms is that once an actor gets a great comedy show hit, the odds are extremely low that they will ever have another one. The one rare exception is Mary Tyler Moore who had 2 huge hits with the Dick Van Dyke Show and her own Mary Tyler Moore show.

For me, I thought the idea of having an episode of Friends shot about the future of the characters might have been a good idea, but perhaps it was too difficult to think of something that was satisfying enough for everyone.

I mostly agree with the below average Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 68% – and give Friends a recommendation only for the most die-hard Friends fans.

Movie Review: A Quiet Place Part II

In the history of movie science fiction, in my opinion the Matrix series had the best scientific concepts. Using human beings as batteries, an alternate world where people have to plug into a computer to see the world as it really is, excellent special effects of robots attacking humans and karate sequences. All of these ideas are great and spawned 3 movies, ending in 2003.

“A Quiet Place”, released in 2018 and now the sequel “A Quest Place Part 2”, released originally in 2020 and delayed until 2021 – has the second best movie science fiction concepts in movie history. Aliens from another planet have invaded Earth and they kill anything that makes a sound – a great an original idea that results in film that has very little dialogue and a high level of terror. With both movies, the special effects with these insane looking alien creatures is outstanding, as is the acting, most especially with the main character Evelyn Abbot, played by Emily Blunt. The good thing about this sequel is that the movie starts by showing the invasion of the aliens of the small town that occurred before the beginning of the first movie. However, the big flaw I found in this sequel is that in a situation where Evelyn Abbot has an infant child and two young children younger than 13, why are there so many scenes where all of them are separated? In real life, nothing like this would ever happen. Most especially in a scene where Evelyn leaves her injured 12 year old son and infant alone so she can collect more supplies. This makes absolutely no sense and lacks any level of common sense. Screenwriting is an extremely challenging art form because a story has to be plausible and entertaining at the same time.

This movie also stars Djimon Hounsou and Cillian Murphy in excellent supporting roles.

Despite the flaws, I mostly agree with the critics who give this sequel some very high ratings, mostly for the brilliant concept and the excellent special effects with the rampaging aliens who can kill humans so easily.

Movie Review: Dream Horse

Once again, the best movies are always based on true stories. The new movie “Dream Horse” starring Toni Collette and Damian Lewis is based on true story about the horse “Dream Alliance”, who was purchased by a group of ordinary people who lived in Wales some 20 years ago. Trained from birth by an alliance led by Jan Vokes (played by Collette) Dream Alliance eventually became a miracle horse. The movie Dream Horse is not quite at the level of two other great horse movies “Secretariat”, released in 2010 and Seabiscuit, released in 2003 – but it is still a very good horse movie.

What is good about this film is how it shows the ups and downs of the business of horse racing, always a very risky financial endeavor. In the country of Wales – the location of this story – horse racing is all about horses racing but also leaping over hurdles. In just about every race shown in this movie, a horse falls after jumping over a hurdle. My question was, why race horses like this, when the odds of injury and even death are so much higher than for normal horse racing? What does it prove to have a horse race with hurdles, rather than just a straight up race with no hurdles – especially considering the risk to the horses. The cost of the insurance of each horse is also much higher for the owners considering the dangers of jumping over so many dangerous obstacles. Considering the purchasing of the horse, paying the trainers and handlers in horse racing, turning a profit must be a very precarious business at best.

I thought the acting in this movie for both Collette and Lewis was very strong, with Jan Vokes, played by Collette an ordinary person working as a cashier with a very boring and depressing job, and Howard Davies, played by Damian Lewis, as down on his luck tax accountant. Just about everybody can relate to these two characters who are living average lives, but dream of so much more. I thought this aspect of the story, works the best in this film.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for Dream Horse are a very high 89%, and I both agree with this rating and recommend this movie.

Movie Review: Spiral From the Book of Saw

As long as a horror movie franchise as popular as “Saw” has been, there will be more Saw movies and it does not matter that the last Saw movie ended the life of the main character. As long as movies like this make money – there will be more of them.

Spiral is a new variation with the same idea behind it. Someone (in this case police officers) have done something bad in their life and gotten away with it, and now it is payday. Unfortunately for the victims in these films, payday consists of a horrendous and painful death along with an equally painful decision they have to make (like sawing off an arm) to try and save their life. The question I have always had is, who are the people who think of the death and torture scenes in these Saw movies – is a documentary within itself. The sadistic imagination behind some of these scenes is in some cases rather unbelievable. Why do some of us like to see movies like this, at this extreme level of cruelty? If there were not so many millions of us who like movies like this, they would not exist in the first place.

So far there have been nine Saw movies with this one the first new variation from the original that was released in 2004. Obviously, there will be many more new variations of this same general idea. I remember the first Saw movie had an outstanding ending scene that caught everyone by surprise, but since that first solid firm, most of the movies that followed have been mostly about horrendous torture and death scenes.

For this film I was surprised to see Samuel L. Jackson in this movie as the father of the main character Detective Zeke Banks, played well by Chris Rock. Perhaps Jackson just wanted to work with Chris Rock and did not care about the quality of this movie. In the past few years and especially with his appearance in the latest television series based on the movie Fargo, Chris Rock has completed in some very impressive acting roles. Unfortunately the decision to make this movie was not a good one, mostly because the script was not strong enough to recommend.

I agree with the low 41% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and I do not recommend this film.

Movie Review: Those Who Wish Me Dead

The new movie “Those Who Wish Me Dead” is now available in theaters and HBO Max. Angelina Jolie returns in an action movie where she plays a fire jumper/fighter. Based on the overall quality of the story, I am a bit surprised that Jolie took this role mainly because this film is nothing new and for the most part, very average. I can guess that this movie was made mainly because of the huge fires in California that have been in the news for the last few years – due to Global Warming.

This story about a forensic accountant and high level criminals who are out to kill him and his son. This eventually degrades into a shoot and chase film involving firefighters and a wooden tower that rises over a huge forest. Tyler Perry makes one of his rare and small cameo appearance in this film that I thought was surprising, mainly because how small his role was. The best part of the story is the bond between Hannah, played by Jolie and the boy which for the most part does work. Unfortunately the story is not strong enough to give this film any higher than an average rating.

This time around, I do agree with the critics on Rotten Tomatoes who give this film a 63% rating. I do not recommend Those Who Wish Me Dead. Also, considering the content of this movie, the title does not make much sense.

Movie Review: Here Today

In the last few years, actor Tiffany Haddish has been in more movies than any other actor except maybe Liam Neeson. A detailed documentary should be made about Haddish’s life – because her path to show business fame required her to live for years in her car – a Geo Metro. A Geo Metro is a very small and dangerous car that for anyone who has driven one knows that this is barely even a car. Haddish shares this hard-life-road distinction with producer-actor-writer Tyler Perry, who also lived in a Geo Metro for several years. It is impossible not to be impressed with any human being, wanting something so badly that they are able to risk their lives to attain. How many of us would be strong enough or even crazy enough to live in a small car for years – all for the dream of fame and fortune in show business? How many other Tiffany Haddishes are out there right now, living in their car, hoping that their day in the sun might one day arrive but never will. The road to success in show business in almost all cases involves so much hardship that for most of us, it is not worth the risk. How many of us would have the staying power over years that both Tiffany Haddish and Tyler Perry had, knowing that at their lowest points, there is never any guarantee of any success? There is not a more challenging field to aspire to than one in show business. Even after you get your big break and hit it big, there is no guarantee of another great opportunity. The late actress Erin Moran of “Happy Days” is just one example of great success followed by nothing but failure.

The other thought I had while watching the new movie “Here Today” is how long did Billy Crystal and Alan Zweibel work on the script for Here Today, with re-writes, meetings, emails, more re-writes and then the waiting for the film to be released. All for an end end result of very low ratings of 48% and bad reviews on Rotten Tomatoes? Once again, the cruel critics are very wrong because Here Today is not a bad movie – it is a good movie about friendship and the onset of dementia. The reviews of this film have reminded me once again, how difficult the path to success in the art of screenwriting and movie-making can be – even for two writers with a known track record of writing and directing.

Here Today is another movie told well using flashbacks about the life of the main character, Charlie Berns, played by Billy Crystal – who is a head writer on a “Saturday Night Live” type show, slowly showing signs of mental deterioration caused by the onset of one of the many forms of dementia. Due to a Cameo-like raffle Charlie has lunch with Emma Payge, played by Tiffany Haddish and over time they develop a strong bond and friendship that I thought was very well developed. Over the course of this movie, the life of Charlie Berns slowly unfolds including both happy times and tragedy with his two children and his wife. As far as the comedy, some of the jokes and situations work, and some do not, but overall I thought this was a very well thought-out, well written and acted family-entertainment movie.

I do not agree with the very low 48% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes as this is more of a solid 75% – with a good story and solid message. I do recommend Here Today.

Movie Review: The Father

There was only one controversy in this years Oscars awards ceremony. Everybody was expecting the late Chadwick Boseman to win the Academy Award for best actor – becoming the 3rd posthumous award winner in Oscar history along with Peter Finch for “Network” in 1976 and Heath Ledger for “The Dark Knight” in 2008. Aside from this controversy, anyone who sees the great actor Anthony Hopkins play an older man suffering with dementia in “The Father” will have will immediately understand how Hopkins had to win best actor this year, and that would include Chadwick Boseman himself.

Even despite this horrendous year long Pandemic, I have been very surprised how difficult it has been to see a movie of the quality of The Father in the last few months. The Father has been in very few theaters and on demand in recent weeks. Nothing has been normal during with movie releases during the last year due to the Pandemic and we can only hope that this will return to more normal soon.

There have been quite a few movies about Alzheimer’s and Dementia in the last few years, but The Father is the first one I have ever seen that tells the entire story of the suffering, frustration and terror from the victim’s perspective. Throughout this entire 2 hour story the main character Anthony, played brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins confuses one person with another, remembers events that never happened, forgets events that did happen, does not know if he is living in his own house or the house of his daughter. He also never remembers that his youngest daughter died in a car accident some years earlier. All of this is made more agonizing by the screenwriter, who thought to tell this story through Anthony’s eyes until he eventually has no idea what is happening – almost as if he was being put through the most cruel of all college pranks. The acting of Anthony Hopkins, most especially within a devastating scene at the end of this film is some of the best I have ever seen. Of all the horrendous diseases and afflictions humanity has had to endure – Dementia and Alzheimer’s are two of the very worst. This movie shows the ravages of this disease better than any movie I have seen.

The acting is outstanding by all the actors in this movie, including Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams and Imogen Poots. I agree with the 98% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and I highly recommend this movie.

Movie Review: Wrath of Man

For those who think that the new Jason Statham movie “Wrath of Man” has karate-like-action in it – you will be very disappointed. This is the first 100% acting with no Karate movie that I think Statham has ever made in his career. Much to my surprise there was no martial arts action in this entire film.

Different variations of this story have been done before. “A gang of high end armored car robbers over time get more and more bold in their heists, culminating in a robbery involving numerous armored cars carrying over 160 million dollars.” The elaborate back story, involves Statham – who plays a character named H after he and his son become victims of circumstance due to one of the armored car heists that the gang pulls off. This mutates into a revenge story, that works and then does not work – mostly because the entire story is told within a tangled time line that goes from back to front, to back again, to the middle and then to a conclusion involving a seen-before machine gun fight. I have never seen any movie that has this many time line changes before – but somehow it was possible to follow all of these flashbacks, despite the insane and risky way this story was told.

I was a surprised to see actor Josh Hartnett in this film, who has had a greatly reduced career the last few years after peaking a decade ago – once again showing the world how precarious a career as an actor can be.

Overall, I thought the acting was good enough, but the story too elaborate and complex to believe. The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for this movie are accurate at 68% – and because of the crazy way the story was told, I give this film just a marginal recommendation.