Movie Review: Wonder Wheel


With the amazing wave after wave of sexual allegations that have destroyed the careers of so many in Hollywood, music and even Broadcasting, one has to be amazed that Woody Allen is still able to make whatever movie he wants and still hires some of the best names in the movie industry. Ironically, Allen’s son with Mia Farrow, Ronan Farrow was the journalist who started the dominoes falling with Harvey Weinstein and after he fell, it seems that the new reports of sexual abuse are never ending and careers and lives are ruined every day. The allegations against Woody Allen go back to 1992 and one can only wonder if this news came out now that Allen’s career would have survived like it did in 1992. Why Woody Allen was able to survive in 1992 when so many careers are now over for good, for charges that are in most cases are far less than what Allen was charged with is another question. One could argue that Woody Allen is the greatest and most prolific screenwriter of all time, making the tragedy of what happened to him in 1992 all the more tragic, whether or not the accusations are true. All movie fans can only wonder what it must be like to be Woody Allen after his incredible career and great movies and fame, only to have something like this happen to him to shine a bad light on his legacy.

Allen’s new movie “Wonder Wheel” is about a husband and wife, played by Jim Belushi and Kate Winslet who live on a boardwalk in Brooklyn right under a giant Ferris wheel called Wonder Wheel. I wondered if Allen’s use of this Ferris wheel was a metaphor for life or the story in this movie, but perhaps the idea of people living so close to a noisy amusement park and huge wheel fascinated Allen and he just decided to put this idea in a movie. This part of Wonder Wheel reminded me of Allen’s masterpiece Annie Hall, the only comedy to ever win best picture in 1977 because the main character in that film, Alvie Singer, played by Allen lived under a roller coaster when he was a child. I thought this entire story of Wonder Wheel was well done and believable and lead up impressively to one singular moment towards the end where Kate Winslet’s character has to make a decision to either do the right thing, or selfishly save her own life.

Like many of Allen’s recent movies, this one is completely serious that absolutely no comic moments. For all true Woody Allen fans, we are all hoping that one day he will revert back to his the comedy phase of his writing career and give the world another Annie Hall, but for now that seems like a remote possibility as Woody only seems to make mostly serious movies now.

Overall, I thought this was a solid movie and also included singer Justin Timberlake as one of the main characters. I am actually surprised at the low 30% ratings on rotten tomatoes as I would have given this movie a solid 75 out of 100. The acting was very good and even though the story did drag at parts, it kept my attention and had a great singular moment as I mentioned before with a good ending. I recommend Wonder Wheel.

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Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Without a doubt, Star Wars which was first released 40 years ago in 1977 is the most prolific and profitable franchise in movie history, now spanning 9 films.

Some 20 years ago the inventor of this amazing movie idea, George Lucas, decided to make 3 new movies starting in 1999, after saying for years that his Star Wars idea was only going to be a movie trilogy and he would never make another sequel. The 3 new Star Wars movies received a level of success and critical acclaim that was far less than the first 3 movies received and perhaps because of that, Lucas decided to sell the entire franchise to Disney for 4 billion dollars some years ago. Two years ago “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was released and the world now knows that there will probably be a new Star Wars movie released every December for the foreseeable future. The second movie, released in 2016, “Rogue One” was the first Star Wars movie that involved characters that were outside the original franchise, but this new one, “The Last Jedi” contains both the new characters introduced in The Force Awakens and the original characters that go back to the original movie released in 1977.

Everyone knows that a Star Wars release is virtually a guaranteed huge money maker and due to that obvious fact, very often due to the pressure to produce another film every years with so many special effects and action the screenplay takes a back seat, and in my opinion, that is the main problem with this film.

I have never been a fan of rapid-fire Michael Bay scene changes with no explanation or continuity or connecting thread as several stories move forward and then switch to another part of the story, then back again, then to another scene and before you know it, you have no idea what is going on and the entire experience becomes more annoying than entertaining. This movie plays like it was written by 5 screenwriters with so many different scenes and story lines going at the same time for over 2 hours. There are great special effects like like all of the Star Wars movies, but like I have said many times in this blog, special effects will never be a band aid for a poorly written screenplay or bad original story idea. While I don’t think The Last Jedi is by any means a bad movie, for me it was not good enough movie because of the “all over the place direction”. I expected more with this film and because of the rapid fire disconnected story telling, I was overall disappointed.

It was quite depressing to see the late Carrie Fischer in her last film role and in some ways, Mark Hamill, who looks looks much older than his 66 years. Perhaps the rapid aging of Fischer and Hamill is a reflection of the incredible highs and lows of their respective acting careers and after both of them reached such a huge highs 40 years ago, they found like so many that trying to be a Hollywood actor is an extremely difficult and precarious life choice.

See this movie for the special effects and the action scenes, but not for the great story.

Movie Review: The Disaster Artist


This movie is both a documentary and an actual movie about another movie called “The Room” which is known as the best worst movie ever made. The story is also about something that is never talked about enough. The number of poor people in Hollywood following their remote dreams of becoming actors, directors, producers and trying to become rich and famous like so many of the rare few in the most difficult and fickle business in the world, Show Business. This film is about a little known actor, writer and director, Tommy Wiseau, played by James Franco, who after a car accident has slurred speech but still tries to make it in Hollywood after years of constant rejection. The amazing part of this story is that somehow Wiseau obtains a great deal of money (its never revealed how he got this money) and like so many before him who have failed, he tries to make his own movie that he stars in, directs and writes. What ultimately results is an extremely bad movie that over the years after 2003 when it was first released, has become a cult movie around the world, only because its so bad, its rather funny. What I found fascinating about this is where does a movie that is very bad become entertaining and actually good because its so bad? Where is this fine line between just bad and funny bad? The yearly Television phenomenon Sharknado is a good example of something that is so bad and so stupid that its actually funny and entertaining. Another movie that has the distinction of being so bad its actually funny is the movie Plan 9 from Outerspace that was released in 1959.

Like so many people with no talent who think they can sing on shows like American Idol, Tommy believes that he is great actor, even though he has no acting ability and a great writer, even though he cant write a screenplay and with 6 million dollars along with his best friend Greg, played by James Franco, he sets out to make a very bad movie that he thinks is going to be a great masterpiece. The Room cost Wiseau 6 million dollars to make and on its first weekend in 2003 in only one theater it made only 1800 dollars, but over time and all over the world because of its cult following, in the ending credits it was revealed that the movie has made most of that 6 million dollars back.

For me the best line of this entire movie was from Judd Apatow who played a cameo in this film as himself being harassed in a restaurant by Wiseau. His line, “Even if you had the talent of a Marlon Brando you’re odds of making it are still 1 million to 1”. Apatow’s other line was almost as good, “Just because you desperately want to make it, does not mean that you ever will.” For me that says it all about the realities of life in Southern California for so many well-intentioned dreamers. The harsh reality is for so many good people, it doesn’t matter if your talented and deserving, so often its just all about dumb luck. The millions of people who are destined to be always on the outside looking into a world that they see as nirvana, can only hope and pray that the lucky few who have made it, appreciate the miracle gift they have been given, but it seems that so many of them don’t. The recent myriad of sexual allegations in Hollywood certainly prove that.

As far as this movie that I thought was good or average somewhat funny story about Hollywood and its harsh realities, I was surprised at the very high marks on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB this film has received. I would give it maybe a 7 out of 10, definitely not an 8 or higher.

Movie Review: Last Flag Flying


The movie “Last Flag Flying” is not really a war movie, but rather a story about the aftermath of war depicted in a way I have never seen before. Three friends from the Vietnam War reunite after many years, leading to a road trip where they transport the son of one of them, who was killed in the Iraq War in 2003 to his hometown to be buried.

This movie has 4 major stars, starting with Steve Carell who is the father of the solder who is killed, Brian Cranston, a local bar owner and Laurence Fishburne who is now a preacher. The story is about the transition for the father of the young solder killed, played very well by Steve Carrel from the anger he feels towards the United States at first for losing his only child to an unjust war based on lies about “weapons of mass destruction”. Towards the end, he eventually coming to terms with his new reality of not only losing his wife to breast cancer a year earlier, but now his only son. War is hell and this story about how and why his son was killed in this story are typical of the aftermath of war.

One scene that impressed me the most was when Carell’s character insisted on seeing the body of his dead son, despite knowing in advance how horribly he died. There is some humor in this story mostly during the the road trip, mainly by Cranston’s character and excellent acting by all stars. There is a scene towards the end where the three men visit the mother pf one of their fallen friends from Vietnam, played by 93 year old Cicely Tyson and the conversation leads to a dilemma that represents another tragedy of war; do you tell a surviving loved one the real truth about how their son really died? Or do you spare their feelings to protect the memories they have of their son who was killed in action? The suffering because of War’s in this world is beyond all comprehension and for those who are left behind to rationalize the loss of someone so young and to always imagine what could have been is unbearable.

I thought this movie was very well produced, directed and acted and I recommend it.

Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express


The new movie “Murder on the Orient Express” is a remake of the original made in 1974. I always ask myself, when there is a remake of a movie like this, why a remake? Was the movie important enough or memorable enough to make another one? Very often and including this time, the answer to that question is no. Murder on the Orient Express is one of the most famous of all the Agatha Christie novels, but in my opinion the ending of this story is too unbelievable and convoluted to really believe possible and for that reason, and for the reason that the entire movie was quite boring, I cannot recommend this movie.

There are many known actors in this film, including Johnny Depp and
Michelle Pfeiffer, but their appearances are not enough to have any reason to recommend this film.

Movie Review: Roman J. Israel, ESQ.


First off, I was pretty disgusted and shocked by the middle of the road estimates on Rotten Tomatoes for this very good movie. When I read some of the reviews, I wondered if some of these reviewers were in the wrong movie theater. Right from the start, I can state that Roman J. Isreal, ESQ. is one of the best movies of 2017.

“Roman J. Israel, ESQ. , played extremely well by Denzel Washington is about the conflict between idealism as a young lawyer starts out his career, and the desire and need for financial security that becomes more necessary as you get older.

As this movie explains very well, within the legal system today, prosecutors throw very severe maximum penalties at the accused in the hopes that they will accept a plea bargain, because if they fight the system and lose, their entire reason for living goes down the drain with their prison term. The only thing worse than going to prison is going to prison for something you didn’t do, or living through a prison term that is completely out of proportion to the one time mistake you made as a young kid. Your choice is to fight prosecution, lose all your savings and if you lose, getting the worst case scenario prison term. If your found innocent because of a mistake by a prosecutor or a lying witness, you don’t get a refund from the legal firm that charges you 500 dollars an hour to save your life. Your financially ruined for life and you did nothing wrong. These are the harsh realities of how the broken legal system in this country works for so many unfortunate people.

For me the most significant scene in this movie is towards the beginning, where Roman meets with a young 17 year old terrified kid, who is in prison waiting trial and while trying to negotiate a fair plea for this young man, who made a small mistake and to save his own life, wore a gang t-shirt. The female prosecutor made it very clear that she could care less about the life of this unfortunate poor 17 year old. She only cared about about her perfect batting average as a prosecutor as Roman desperately tried to plead for his life. This is what is wrong with the legal system in this country, humanity, common sense and decency takes a back seat to a batting average. Underlying all the complex and unfair laws are young human lives who either because being poor or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, face a horrible existence that is barely worth living, in prison, and far too often for something they didn’t even do.

Fighting for the innocent and not being about the money is what Roman Israel is all about. Mainly due to his idealism, he has been living alone in a run down apartment for the last 35 years. Israel is a legal savant with a photographic memory but unfortunately is slightly autistic, with perhaps a mild case of Asperger’s syndrome and because of that, just does legal research for a small firm that is very deeply in debt and then the owner of the firm has a heart attack, which is where this movie begins. Roman cares about helping the less fortunate so much that he has been preparing a huge legal brief for many years, in the hopes of cleaning up a system that just does not work and is grossly unfair to the less fortunate who get pushed through a system with plea bargains and sentences that are outrageously unfair.

I thought that Colin Farrell’s performance as a rich lawyer who hires Roman was one of the best performances of his career. Colin plays a lawyer who is the opposite of Roman, and mostly cares about money and almost never about helping people. This film has a great story, great back stories, and transitions as the main characters find themselves through mistakes and by learning from others. There are some scenes as Roman attends a meeting of young civil rights advocates that I thought was also outstanding and inspiring.

I thought that Roman J. Israel, ESQ. is one of the best films of 2017 and it receives my highest recommendation. Tragically, Denzel Washington should receive another Academy Award nomination, but probably will not because of the average reviews for this very good movie.

Movie Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Aside from having one of the longest titles for a movie I have seen in a long time, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, is a story about grief and the loss of a child told in one of the most unusual ways I have ever seen. In order to make a movie today, considering just about every idea has been tried or tested, coming up with an idea this unusual is almost mandatory.

Surviving grief because of the loss of a child requires therapy, anti-depressant drugs and massive rationalization. Losing a child, especially one who was raped and murdered is just about impossible for anyone to ever recover from. The divorce rate for people who lose a child is understandably extremely high. Some people turn to drugs to cope with their grief and the constant reminders of what could have been, the opportunity lost, high school graduations, weddings, the birth of the first grandchild. But in this case of the story in this movie, some people get very angry, like the main character, played extremely well by Francis McDormand. Due to her frustration over the police never solving her daughters murder after 7 months, she decides to put put up 3 billboards to humiliate the police chief, played by Woody Harrelson. The billboards ask the police chief why nobody has been arrested for the crime of murdering her daughter after so many months. I thought that the 3 billboard idea in this story is not only very unusual and extreme but very believable when you get to know the main character played by Mcdormand who is tough, strong and takes no disrespect from anybody. There are very good side stories with the police officers in the town of Ebbing that include racial bigotry and the harsh reactions of the towns people towards this grieving mother because of her billboards, even despite her tragic loss that I thought was very well done.

The acting in this movie is outstanding enough to create several Academy Award nominations, starting with Francis Mcdormand with her best role since winning the Academy Award in 1996 for Fargo. I also think that this movie might also receive a nomination for best picture and it is one of the best films of 2017.

Movie Review: Justice League


One can only wonder or try and estimate when this incredible flood of Marvel movies over the last 15 years will finally get old. We all know from the comic books that there are many super heroes but at some point, they all blend together and seem like the same movie. This is true of “Justice League” and is backed up by the low ratings of 40% on rottentomatoes. Perhaps the pendulum has started to swing the other way because these movies all seem to use the same formula every time. Some massive super villain is trying to destroy the world, and a few or several super heroes step in to save the world. The end of the movie has a huge amount of special effects and then a climatic battle that we have all seen many times before. In the end, most of us will never be able to remember what was unique or different with any one of these movies.

Justice League stars Ben Afleck as Batman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane,Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and some new super heroes making their Marvel movie debut. Jason Momoa as Aqua-man, Ezra Miller as the Flash and Ray Fischer as Cyborg, admittedly a super hero I have never heard of before. When this film was over, I felt like I have seen the same movie 10 in the past few years, and in fact I probably had. My advice to the producers is to hire a great screenwriter and come up with some new ideas we have not seen before. In my opinion, all of these Marvel movies have already reached their saturation point.

I thought that Justice League was too run of the mill to recommend.

Movie Review: Lady Bird


This is one of the few movies I have seen in many years that is all about one of the most difficult times in anyone’s life; “You’re about to leave high school, you have to choose a college and decide what to do and you are only 18 years old”. Very often we all accept the way things are, even if the way things are is insane, like having to make a life decision so early in life. Some of us are able to figure out what we want to do when we are 18 years old, but what about the rest of us, who have no clue? The new movie, “Lady Bird” takes an unusual take on this adolescent dilemma and starts with the fact that the lead character wants to change her name from Christine to Lady Bird, but screenwriter never tells the audience why she wants to change her name to Lady Bird.

The reviews of Lady Bird are extremely high, reaching a very rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.4 on IMDB and I mostly agree with these high marks. The start of this story is a conversation in the car with Lady Bird played by Saoirse Ronan and her mother played by Laurie Metlcalf that could be called a summary of the whole movie based on one conversation. At the end of this argument Lady Bird actually jumps out of the car, because of her anger of what her mother is saying is so extreme. Given the fact that Lady Bird is so confused about what to do with her life and her very identity, her mother’s constant criticism and at times cruel berating is hard to hear at times during this film. Lady Bird goes through a few friendships and two boyfriends during the time she is desperately trying to get into an East Coast college, mainly so she can escape her boring Sacramento California life and her mother. Unfortunately, as her guidance counselor in her Catholic Girls high school laughingly reminds her, her grades are not good enough to get into most colleges. There are some very good laughs in this film along with the realities of an 18 year old not nearly ready to take the next step in her life. I thought all of this was very well done.

The screenwriter and director for this film is 34 year old Greta Gerwig, and due to the acclaim this movie has received so far she just might get a few Academy Award nominations.

I Lady Bird is a very good movie and I do recommend it.

Movie Review: Wonder


Its been very rare in my experience that a movie hits on every single aspect of what a great screenplay and film is all about. The new movie “Wonder” does all of this and challenges the harsh realities of peer pressure, bullying, empathy, compassion, abandonment, betrayal and friendship all in one story. This great movie also hits the marks with excellent acting and remarkably has significant sub stories about the peripheral people around the main character who has a facial deformity; at a level that I cannot remember ever seeing. The sub stories around the main character I found to be profound enough to create completely new movies around them.

The main character of Auggie is played by Jason Tremblay who at only 11 years old has proven himself to be a great actor, previously in the highly acclaimed movie “Room”. This movie is not a true story, but is very loosely based on another child who was born with a very rare DNA combination that causes facial deformity. From the beginning you cannot help to have empathy for this child, not only for what he has already gone through at age 10 but what he will be facing for the rest of this life. People stare, people are cruel, most especially young children in school and for that reason, up to the 5th grade Auggie was home schooled by his mother played by Julia Roberts and his father, played by Owen Wilson.

I was most impressed with the real life depictions of bullying that Auggie faces from his first days at school. There seemed no limit to the rude staring and cruel remarks this young boy had to face from so many of his classmates. A great deal of this kind of cruelty is because of peer pressure and this even happens with the only friend Auggie is able to make that creates a significant moment in this movie. For me, equally as important as Auggie’s plight is the difficult life his older sister, played very well by Izabela Vidovic has to face as her mother seems to completely ignore her, because she is so obsessed with protecting her son. The message here is that with a problem this challenging in the life of a young child, this would also greatly affect the lives of everyone around him.

It takes a special person to step out of themselves despite peer pressure and other fears and befriend a 10 year old boy in school with a facial deformity and this act of courage did happen twice during this story. There are several acts of extreme cruelty, most especially with one young boy who passed several horrible notes in class to Auggie. There are also moments of great transition as people, as they sometimes do, recognize their own evil and realize they have to change to be able to live with themselves.

This movie has all the ingredients of a film that should be nominated for an Academy Award, but perhaps because of the subject matter it might not get a nomination, but in my opinion, it definitely should.

I highly recommend Wonder that is one of the best movies of 2017.