Movie Review: Free Solo

The new documentary “Free Solo” is about mountain climber Alex Honnold, who is the greatest free mountain climber in the world. The term “free climber” means that the climber climbs a mountain or large rock without any ropes or even a parachute. Why something like this would not even include using a parachute is a mystery to anyone who would never understand people who risk their lives like this. Of all mountain climbers, less than 1% free climb, because it is so dangerous. Many free climbers have fallen to their death in this sport, especially during the last few years.

In the entire history of climbing the famous rock formation El Capitan, nobody has ever climbed it without ropes. This one task is the central point of this documentary and the main goal in life for Honnold. This movie is also about the very unusual life of Alex Honnold, who dropped out of college at the age of 19, to pursue the life of a professional mountain climber. I thought that the one thing lacking in this film is how exactly Alex makes money from this profession, but I assumed its mostly from endorsements for mountain climbing products. Honnold travels the country risking his life climbing mountains and living in a Van and from his attitude about life and his complete lack of all fear, due to a brain abnormality we learn about during an MRI he receives in the film. Honnold’s entire existence is only about feeling alive by taking huge risks with this life. The problem with successful climbers like Honnold is that they inspire other young people to take the same risks, without anywhere near the same level of talent and many of them will be killed. The other problem with risk taking like this is that just because your successful 100 times or 1000 times, all it takes is one gust of wind and one mistake and your life is over in an instant. This is the same issue with Tom Cruise and the huge risks he takes with all of the Mission Impossible movies – all it takes is one small miscalculation and your life is over. Is it worth it?

The majority of this movie are about the practice runs Honnold takes on El Capitan with ropes to master the many different areas of the rock that are the most difficult to traverse. Most fascinating are the artistic and complex body and hand movements that Alex perfects to get past areas of the mountain that seem impossible to climb – until the end of the documentary when he takes the ultimate risk of his life and tries to climb the rock with no ropes.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for Free Solo are a perfect 100% and as documentaries go, I agree with this rating. I highly recommend this movie.


Movie Review: First Man

While watching the very good new movie “First Man” about Neil Armstrong, I remember wondering why the story of this great American was not made into a movie 30 or 40 years ago, especially considering that the first moon landing happened almost 50 years ago. Hollywood decided in 1995 to make the movie about a failed moon mission Apollo 13 where 3 astronauts were very close to losing their lives when an explosion happened in their capsule – why not make a movie about this successful mission? It is impossible to not have great respect for all the astronauts who risked and gave their lives, especially in the 1960’s when the risks of space travel and a trip to the moon were at their highest.

Since the 1960’s a total of 20 NASA astronauts have lost their lives, including 3 astronauts who died in a fire inside their space capsule in the early stage of the Apollo missions. There were so many things that could have gone wrong in the incredibly risky ventures of both the Gemini and Apollo missions that eventually led to the moon. Due to the high level of danger involved, the courage of those who risked their lives was the most impressive part of human beings landing on the moon in July 1969. It is understandable that the cost and risk of death was so great that NASA decided to never go to the moon again, after the last Apollo Mission in 1972, with Apollo 17. I was most impressed with this film when it showed the small and dark environment of the space capsules and the extreme vibrations involved when the rocket takes off into space. Due to these vibrations, its hard to believe that so many more explosions and accidents did not occur, considering the millions of parts that were involved for each space flight. During all of the Apollo Missions to the moon, Apollo 13 being the only failure, one can easily imagine the many ways all of or some of the astronauts could have been killed, and this even included being stranded on the moon forever.

Ryan Gosling stars as Neil Armstrong, playing this this part wooden, almost emotionless, which was the personality of Neil Armstrong and one of the reasons why he was chosen to be an Astronaut in the first place. In order to fly missions as dangerous as all the astronauts did in the 1960’s being able to stay calm in an inevitable crisis was paramount. Gosling also looks like Neil Armstrong who died in 2012 of a heart ailment and I thought it was a shame that he was not alive to see this very good movie about his life and trip to the moon. Armstrong’s wife was played by Claire Foy, who does an acting job so outstanding, she will probably receive an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress.

First Man is one of the best movies of 2018 almost a guarantee to receive and Academy Award nomination for best picture and it receives my highest recommendation.

Movie Review: Venom

The new movie “Venom” follows the same Hollywood paradigm for Marvel action movies. “We don’t need a story or a script because we have a built in Marvel audience. All we need is special effects and explosions and people will come.” Unfortunately, this idea works as Venom, which is a pretty bad movie is making very good box office, but for those of us who are looking for a quality screenplay or some kind of a story, this film is a nightmare to sit through.

I was most surprised to see Michelle Williams in this movie because her entire career has been all about quality over money, but perhaps she was angry over being paid so little in last years re-shoot of “All the Money in the World”, and decided that it was her time to get a big payday. The star of the movie Tom Hardy looks like he is drunk or in some kind of a coma during this entire 2 hours and at times he is hard to understand because he mumbles many of his lines.

This movie should be avoided, even for die hard Marvel comic fans. The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for this movie are a very low 30% – my rating is around 15%. Unfortunately there will be more bad movies like this in our future that forego a script, story and quality in favor of special effects.

Movie Review: The Old Man and the Gun

Robert Redford has said that at age 82, this will be his last acting role. If this is true, its unfortunate but for any profession there is a limit for most people in just how much they want to do, even with such an enviable career like Redford has had. Ironically, the high point in Redford’s career was winning best Director for “Ordinary People”, in 1980, arguably the best picture of its kind ever made. Redford has never won a best actor Oscar, nominated in 1973 for the Sting, which like so many other actors as good as Redford has been, makes no sense.

The new film “The Old Man and the Gun” is about Forrest Tucker, a career criminal who robbed many banks and more amazingly escaped from prison no less than 16 times. The interesting part of this story is the fact that Tucker robbed all of these banks without any violence and was actually polite when he walked into a bank and asked for their money, just showing the gun he had under his coat. Tucker also worked with two other accomplices, played well by actors Danny Glover and Tom Waits. Tucker was just a person who enjoyed robbing banks and could never have been rehabilitated; to him being a criminal was life to him and very often he had a smile on his face while robbing a bank or running from the police.

At the start of this movie they mention that this story is “almost true” and we do not learn what parts are true or Hollywood embellishment and this includes the girlfriend Tucker finds while escaping the police, played by Sissy Spacek, who I have not seen in a movie for a number of years. Casey Affleck plays the police detective assigned to find Tucker and his gang and this is the first role I have seen him in since his Academy Award performance in the great movie “Manchester by the Sea”, released in 2016.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for this movie are a very strong 89% and I agree with that score. Hopefully Redford will change his mind and act again and even direct again. I highly recommend The Old Man and the Gun.

Movie Review: A Star is Born

The latest remake of “A Star is Born” directed by actor Bradley Cooper is one of the rare film experiences where there is no evident acting. Every actor in this movie comes across as real, as if whatever they are saying was never written down. This is a tribute to the great screenwriter Eric Roth who wrote the screenplay. As far a movie remakes one would be hard pressed to find any other movie that has been remade 5 times like this one has. The reason for this is the great story and the music – but 5 times is a rather hard to understand total.

The music and especially the lyrics during the musical segments in this film are all outstanding. There is no doubt that Lady Gaga can sing, but she is also a great songwriter as well and is perfect for this role, almost as if it was created just for her. I was also impressed with Bradley Cooper not only for this acting but also for directing his first movie – the last time I remember this happening was in 1980 when Robert Redford directed the great movie Ordinary People, that won for best picture and best director with Timothy Hutton winning for best supporting actor. Most of the other actors cast for this movie were a surprise including Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliott and even Dave Chappelle who has a small role in this movie. All of them were outstanding in their roles. I expect there will be several Oscar nominations for this film, including best director, best picture and best actress for Lady Gaga.

This is one of the only movies I can remember seeing that shows both the highs and lows of success in show business and specifically the music industry. The constant travel, the two hours of high during a performance and the many days of lonely traveling, hotels and as shown in this story drugs and alcohol that far too many turn to to escape this very difficult life. One need only think of Whitney Houston and the recent documentary “Whitney”, also reviewed in this blog as one of the best examples of how difficult a life in the spotlight can be.

The ratings for A Star is Born are a very high 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.5 on IMDB and I agree with both of these ratings. A Star is Born gets my very strong recommendation.

Movie Review: Night School

When it comes to stand-up comedy, Kevin Hart is one of the best comedians to come around in many years. His story telling, facial expressions and natural ability to make people laugh are all about as good as it gets. This is why his stand-up movie specials are some of the best ever produced. Unfortunately, his excellent stand-up talent has yet to translate into a comedy movie that has been memorable – and this includes his latest movie also starring Tiffany Hadish, “Night School”. Writing and producing a great comedy movie is probably the most difficult to create and you cannot just put in some slap-stick scenes and think that the movie is going to be funny because of physical comedy. The problem with Night School is that there is too much physical slap-stick comedy with Kevin Hart and Tiffany Hadish – including some ridiculous wrestling scenes that were never funny. The other actors in this movie including Rob Riggle, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Taran Killam, Romany Malco and Ben Schwartz all seemed like they were sleep walking through their roles, hoping that the months of shooting will be over soon. The problem with this comedy movie is as always the obvious problem – its just not funny enough.

I thought that the message of this story was a good one, never give up and Dyslexia is an abnormality of the brain that can be treated and you are not stupid if you have this problem. Perhaps this is another flaw with this story, because Kevin Hart’s learning disabled character has a life affliction that can never be funny.

I remember thinking that this story has some parallels to Kevin Hart in real life because I read his book I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons. As I have said in the past within this blog, would any of us be able to go through all that Kevin Hart had to go through to become successful in a field as remote and challenging as stand-up comedy? Kevin Hart in the end was hugely successful after being a shoe salesman and almost a high school drop-out, but how few of us would be able to endure all the years of hardship and disappointment that he had to go through to get where he is today? Kevin Hart was raised by a hard working single mother, his father was a drug addict who was frequently in prison. He struggled for many years making almost no money trying to break into stand-comedy. In 2016 Hart made 87.5 million dollars, making him by far the highest paid stand-up comedian, but the dues he paid to get there are almost unbelievable and what he should be admired the most for.

The Rotten Tomatoes rating for Night School are a very low 30% and for IMDB, the rating is only 5.4. I agree with these ratings and if you are a fan of Kevin Hart, you would be better off renting one of his stand-up comedy movies – and miss this latest unfunny film.

Movie Review: Life Itself

There are several things I found shocking and unique about the new movie “Life Itself”. The first is the extremely low ratings of only 13% on Rotten Tomatoes for a film that does not deserve anywhere near ratings this low. The second is that the screenplay is in four acts where the first two acts are closely related and the last two initially seem to be not related and then the end connect to the first two acts – something I have never seen before. I appreciated the hard work it must have taken to write a story like this for the screenwriter and creator of TV show “This is Us”, Dan Fogelman and I also can relate to how bad he must feel now that the critics are trashing his film. The problem here is that this movie is “too much” of a tearjerker. There is too much death, too much loss and depression and downside. There are some very shocking scenes making this movie not an experience for any child under the age of 15. Aside from all of this – this movie is well acted and the story told well enough to appreciate the thought and hard work it told to create it and should have a rating more in the 60% range – not good enough, but definitely not a bad movie.

Life Itself also has several big named stars, including Annette Benning, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde and all are very good in their roles, although I did not like the smoking Annette Benning does at the start of this film or the insane narration done by Samuel L. Jackson, which seemed extremely out of place.

As far as the TV show This is Us, starting its 3rd season on September 25, 2018, Fogelman’s timeline idea is one of the most original and best concepts for a Television show of all time. Unfortunately, as always happens when a great new original idea is created, there are clones of the original idea – too many of them, that rip off the original. One of them, “Me, Myself and I”, starring SNL actor Bobby Moynihan has already failed and the new ABC Series “A Million Little things” debuts on ABC this fall – is also stealing the timeline idea. In my experience, TV shows that steal from another great idea always fail, not that this has ever prevented this phenomenon on TV from happening way too often.

The movie Life Itself is not for the faint of heart or for anyone who is depressed because it is almost overwhelming in some parts at how depressing it is. Despite all of this and the too low ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, I do recommend this film, but prepare yourself for way too many depressing scenes.

Movie Review: Fahrenheit 11/9

Whether you like Micheal Moore or hate him because he is so extremely liberal, there is no denying the greatness of the documentaries he produces or his incredible energy, passion and anger when it comes to seeking out horrendous injustice and with his research and hard work. Moore tries to do something about the worst problems this country faces because he cares so much about this country and hard working people. The title of this new film is similar to Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 documentary, this time with the 119, meaning 11/9/2016 when Trump was officially elected.

The truth about his new movie, “Fahrenheit 11/9” is that its about far more than just the insanity of the 2016 election. Moore covers many other subjects in this movie and the number one criminal injustice he shows are the sick and callous actions of the Governor of Michigan Rick Snyder, who according to Moore, unnecessarily re-routed the water sources to the city of Flint entirely for his own financial greed. Then even after the water was found to be contaminated, Snyder continued to poison the citizens of Flint for a long period of time. The water contamination stopped only when the bad water was proven to be responsible for damaging automobile parts in a GM plant, one of Snyder’s main contributors. Since the water contamination in Flint, tens of thousands of children will forever have lead poisoning and many people have died from legionaries disease and other health problems that are caused by lead in their blood. This one part of Moore’s documentary is worthy of a major new film all on its own and is even more shocking and infuriating than the movie “Erin Brockovich”, that was released in 2000. While watching the Flint water contamination story, one can only wonder why Rick Snyder is not in prison for life right now along with all the criminals responsible for this criminal outrage.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is shocking with some of its revelations right from the start when it suggests that Donald Trump’s entire reason for wanting to be president was born from his jealousy of singer Gwen Stefani, when she was paid more on the TV show “The Voice” than Trump was being paid for “The Apprentice” – almost impossible to believe if this insanity is true. Moore also compares Trump being elected to what happened in Nazi Germany and Hitler, that many less angry people might consider a little over the top.

I was also amazed at how many political experts in this country – practically ALL of them, thought that there was no way Trump would ever win the 2016 election, many of them even laughing at the idea that Trump could ever win in 2016. From the beginning most people thought Trump was running to be President only for publicity and never really wanted to be President.

Moore also covers the Parkland, Florida shooting and showed many of his meetings with the students who after this horrible shooting in February 2018 – just had enough of this sick insanity of school shootings going on for decades and started a new movement including the marches on Washington in March 2018.

Moore’s movie is not all negative as he covers the emergence of new young politicians who actually are trying to do good things and effect lasting change in this country and many of them are winning elections. It was encouraging to see that there is still hope in this country and so many people, along with Moore, care greatly about the future of this country. Moore spares no one in this film and even has some negative segments about Hilary Clinton and surprisingly Barack Obama, who Moore has called a great President.

I thought Fahrenheit 11/9 is one of Michael Moore’s best movies, along with “Sicko” – a must see movie about the disastrous state of medical insurance in this country. Ironically this new film goes back to Flint Michigan frequently, the site of Moore’s first movie “Roger and Me”, released in 1989. I highly recommend Fahrenheit 119 as one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.

Movie Review: White Boy Rick

The new movie “White Boy Rick” would be impossible to believe even happened, were it not for that fact that this is a true story. Is it possible for any child born in 1970 in the declining years in the inner city of Detroit Michigan while being raised by a lowlife single father who is a gun runner to succeed in life? In a poor depressing environment in the mid-80’s in Detroit where a 15 year old kid by the name of Rick Wershe Jr. is born, is it even possible barring some miracle that someone like this could amount to anything but someone who dies young from a drug overdose, a drive by shooting or winds up in prison? What are your options? Your education is a disaster and your father is a gun runner. Very few ever make more out of a life like this – born to you because of where you are and who your parents are. I was most amazed by this true story because its about a young white kid of 15 who was used by the FBI to spy on a group of drug pushers who are all black. Somehow, he was able to get into their group and then somehow, was able to help the FBI get information to arrest them. How he was then treated by the police and FBI is another amazing part of this true story that was hard to believe. On top of all of this, his sister was a drug addict that left their home and lived in flop houses in local Detroit squalor.

This movie was well acted by Matthew McConaughey and newcomer Richie Merritt – who seemed very adept and getting the mumbling incoherent dialogue of not only that period in the 80’s but also to meld with the black drug pushers that he was able to become friends with. The downside of this is that very often its hard to understand what he is saying much of the time. The actor Bruce Dern was also in this movie, playing the boys grandfather and he also does a very good job despite his advanced age.

This movie as an average rating of 60% on Rotten Tomatoes and for me I would have given it about a 70%. I was surprised that McConaughey had so little screen time, given that he is supposedly the star of this film. I give a solid recommendation to White Boy Rick.

Movie Review: Blaze

“Blaze” is a movie about a little known Country and Western singer, Blaze Foley. For me this movie was all about the very harsh realities of pursuing a life in show business – any show business. With the few who make it an any art form, we all see the end result of their success, we will never fully realize what they went through to become successful. If any of us who have thought about making it in Hollywood as an actor, comedian or writer, how many of us would be willing to pay the dues necessary to succeed in an impossible business?

The new movie Blaze is one of the very few stories I have ever seen where the lows of trying to make it as a Country singer in the south are depicted in such a real life and depressing way. I recognized no acting or movie magic in this film – with the entire two hours all about living in squalor, hitching rides to a gig, getting drunk and doing drugs to drown your sorrows, audiences who ignore you and a failing relationship, because what relationship could survive a precarious life like this one? It would be nice to know that at the end of many years of misery that you will finally make it one day – but the reality is, so many people try their whole lives because they just have to and they never know if they will ever make it. All of us have heard famous actors who talk about their lean years of bad jobs and waiting tables, many of them just days or weeks from giving up their dream. Most recently an actor, formerly famous on the Cosby show was disrespected because he had to work at Trader Joe’s. In life we have to make a living, despite our dreams and despite having to do things that we just do not want to do. How many of us would be willing to go through so much to achieve a dream that may never happen, even if they knew that in the end they would succeed.

The problems with this film are the depressing songs, because the lead actor who played Blaze, Ben Dickey – sang nothing but depressing songs the entire movie. On top of of this, he talks with such a mumble most of the time that very often you have no idea what he is saying. This film was hard to watch, mainly because of the squalor and the depressing real life we are seeing – as human being wants to be a singer so badly he is willing to risk everything for that one and only goal. This movie also includes many other named actors, including Steve Zahn, Sam Rockwell, Kris Kristofferson and Ethan Hawk who both co-wrote and directed this movie. While watching this film I had great respect for the work that must have been involved and all the hours of filming in run down depressing areas that show the harsh reality of trying to be a Country singer is all about.

The ratings for this movie on Rotten Tomatoes are a perfect 100% – a very rare mark for any movie and just might get this movie an Academy Award nomination for best picture. I thought this movie was very well done, but not at a rating of 100%. I recommend Blaze, but for anyone who decides to see this film, prepare for a dark depressing story about a little known but talented Country singer who was one of so many who paid so many dues for little or no payoff.