Movie Review: Marriage Story


In 1996 a book was published called “The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy”. What I remember most about this book about the realities of average people becoming a Millionaire or multi-Millionaire in the United States is that the overwhelming majority of them who were married – never got divorced. Not ever. If they got married, they all stayed married and this is one of the primary reasons that they became wealthy, and more importantly, stayed wealthy. Failure was never an option when it comes to the extreme and very often life ending financial nightmare of divorce. If there are children involved, staying married is even more imperative both for the emotional stability of the child and to avoid unrecoverable financial loss.

The new movie “Marriage Story” is by far the best movie I have ever seen about the extremely harsh real life of divorce, both emotionally and financially. The acting from both Adam Driver as Charlie and Scarlett Johansson as Nicole is the best of their careers, especially one scene that ended with an emotional explosion from Driver that might just win him an Academy Award this year. Marriage Story is both written and directed by Noah Baumbach and the screenplay, story and especially the dialogue is about as good as I have ever seen. The dialogue at times is erratic, indirect, nonsensical and in some cases almost crazy; but it sounds like real life. How people really talk, is one of the most difficult aspects of screenwriting to master. The inevitable emotional blowup as Charlie and Nicole try to end their marriage without lawyers is acting at a level of as impressive as “Fences”, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, released in late 2016.

Some of the best lines in this movie were spoken by actor Ray Liotta who plays Charlies lawyer: “Criminal Lawyers see bad people at their best and Divorce Lawyers see good people at their worst”. The reality of 25 thousand dollar retainers and legal fees that are 400, 450 or 950 an hour are overwhelming to hear about for anyone who has never been divorced and even for the many who have.  We have all heard real truth that the only person who wins in any divorce – is the lawyer. One of the clearest messages in this great film.

Actor Laura Dern plays Nicole’s lawyer and she will probably receive a best supporting actress nomination for this role. Everyone in this production is at their best, including Julie Hagerty as Nicole’s mother, Alan Alda who is outstanding as one of Charlie’s lawyers and Azhy Robertson who plays Henry, the couple’s learning disabled and troubled son.

What complicates this heart breaking story is that Charlie and Nicole live and work in New York City on Broadway for many years and when Nicole received and acting job in California, their entire relationship falls apart.  Logistics of a great distance, financial problems and custody of a child has ended millions of marriages.  When a marriage works, studies have shown that people live longer and are much happier than those who never marry.  When a marriage fails, many never recover from the emotional and financial loss. This real life choice is one of the most challenging aspects of being alive for all of us. There is no perfect situation and no guarantees for anyone who decides to get married.

The movie “Marriage Story” is the second in recent weeks to be released in very few theaters before premiering in Netflix on December 6th. On November 27th “The Irishman” was released on Netflix and seems that the movie industry has changed to this new formula of producing high quality movies at the end of the year funded by Amazon or Netflix.  Marriage Story is a guaranteed nominee for best picture along with the Irishman and there will be many nominations for both of these great movies. I agree with all of the very high reviews and highly recommend this movie as one of the best of 2019.

Movie Review: Queen & Slim


There is not a white person in the world, who could ever talk to any black person and say that they understand what it is like to be black in a dangerous neighborhood and be pulled over by a police officer. To say that you “understand” to a black person about this issue, disrespects how bad this problem has been in this country for many years. Anyone who hears the intimidating police sirens following behind is already put on edge. When you’re black this experience is exponentially worse; proportional to part of the country and the training and humanity of the random police officer who stops you.

The new movie “Queen & Slim” is an idea for a film that was inevitable, when a young black couple, Queen and Slim played by Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya are pulled over by a dangerous and bigoted police officer and then turn his own gun against him after an altercation. For the rest of this movie they are on the run for their lives, driving from Ohio all the way to Miami Florida, hoping to escape to Cuba. One flaw with this movie are that there is too much driving across the country in what appears to be filler to make the movie 2 hours long. The other flaw is that there is a video of the altercation with the police officer that goes viral, and this video clearly shows that the entire incident was in self defense. Given that the altercation was clearly self defense, much of what follows is not strong enough to carry the message of this story. There is also a scene in a convenience store, where Slim gives his gun to an insane store clerk, just because he wanted to see what it felt like to hold the gun. Obviously, nobody would ever be stupid enough to do something like this and because of this, Slim is almost killed with the gun he took from the police officer.

I did not like the ending of this movie at all, and despite the critics giving this movie a very high 85% rating, mine is only 70% because too much of this story involves some long boring scenes of driving through the Southern United States and not enough story telling. I give Queen and Slim a very mild recommendation, mainly because of the message and not for the film.

As far as this ongoing horrendous police shooting issue in this country, both sides of this story are best explained in the scene below from the movie “The Hate U Give” by the actor Common, who plays a black police officer in this excellent film, released last year.



 

 

Movie Review: Knives Out


A wealthy family. A murder mystery involving the family Patriarch an old Victorian Castle and “Knives Out” seems like another Agatha Christie murder mystery, with a complicated plot and an ending that requires a long series of flashbacks that define and explain everything that happened in the previous 2 hours. I have never been a fan of any screenplay that requires an explanation at the end. For me, all this means is the story was not told well enough throughout the movie. The exception here is that the story was so complicated it actually did require a summary at the end. The other very unusual aspect of this story is that the lead character, the family maid, played by Anna de Armas, cannot lie without vomiting after. I have to admit, that I have never seen or heard of any like this before.

The most exceptional thing about “Knives Out” is the large number of known actors in this production including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans,
Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Christopher Plummer and Ana de Armas. Overall, the acting was very good but my rating is more in the 75% range, not the very high 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This movie is just OK, not great but I do recommend it.

 

 

 

 

Movie Review: 21 Bridges


For the most part, the critics are trashing “21 Bridges” starring Chadwick Boseman. The main reason for the low ratings for this solid movie is because all or most of this story has been done before in one form or another in other movies or TV shows. The problem is, police stories in movies or TV dramas have dominated the industry for many years and because of that, every idea, surprise ending, gun fight, police corruption, or massive injustice has already been seen. What remains is judging the quality of the production, the acting and how believable the story is. In my opinion, 21 Bridges, along with the recent “Black and Blue” – also trashed by the critics, connects on all counts and should be considered a very solid and entertaining police drama. My rating for this movie is a solid 80%, not the wrong and very low 45% on Rotten Tomatoes.

All of the acting 21 Bridges is outstanding, with Chadwick Boseman as the lead detective trying to find 2 criminals who killed 8 cops during a drug shootout.  Sienna Miller is unrecognizable as one of the police offers helping to find the 2 killers and J.K. Simmons as the police captain. 

Some would argue that closing all 21 Bridges out of New York City in the middle of the night, is something that could never happen. For a seasoned movie goer, some of the surprises were easy to figure out within the first hour, but the story was so well told, none of this mattered.   Once again, the critics are very wrong and I recommend 21 Bridges.

 

Movie Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


The popularity of the documentary “Won’t you be my neighbor”, released in June 2018 about the children’s television show Mr Rogers, is most likely the reason “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, was made. Very surprisingly, this film is not really about the life story of Fred Rogers or Mr Rogers, it is really a about a true story about a broken man, Tom Junod who just happened to write a now famous article for Esquire about Mr Rogers in November 1998 called “Can you say … Hero?”. This article was so well written it made the cover of Esquire for November 1998.

What is most impressive about this movie, was the decision to not make this story into a biopic about Mr Rogers, but rather to show what a great man Fred Rogers was by using this one small chapter in his life, when he went out of his way to show empathy towards a reporter, who was a total stranger and who was having a very hard time in his life. Many of us know first hand what a rare commodity empathy is in today’s world. People have their own problems and few have the time, energy or desire to step out of themselves and imagine and ultimately understand what someone else is suffering through. What this very good movie showed more than anything else is that Fred Rogers was 100% genuine and there was nothing fake about this man who hosted a children’s TV show from 1968-2001. Fred Rogers cared very deeply about other people and as this movie stated several times, people like “Tom Junod” are his favorites; because they are broken and they need help.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood stars Tom Hanks and based on his great performance in this movie, I expect he will receive another Oscar nomination. Other actors in this film include Chris Cooper , who plays Tom Junod’s father, Matthew Rhys as Tom Junod and Susan Kelechi Watson who is one of the very good actors who appears on the great TV series “This is Us”. The acting in this movie is outstanding throughout.

The ratings for this film are an extremely high 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and due to the acting and the great message about empathy and the difficulties in dealing with life, I agree with this very high rating and recommend this movie.

 

 

Movie Review: Charlies Angels


Producing any motion picture requires the risk of millions of dollars. Even for the lowest budget movies that are only released to a smaller subset of art houses around the United States, there is still the risk of a very significant amount of money.

Managing risk producing a movie is where the Movie industry is more like the Insurance industry. When there is an idea for any new movie idea, if there is a guaranteed “built in” audience because of name recognition, some of the risk of spending millions of dollars can be reduced. Even if the TV show, in this case the “Charlies Angels” of the 1970, was bad or even stupid, does not matter, because it is believed that there will still be enough of an audience, to mitigate the risk of spending so much money. This same idea happened two years with the release of the horrendous Baywatch movie. Name recognition with no thought of a story idea, or any kind of a screenplay turned out to be one of the worst movies of 2017.

In this case of the new “Charlies Angels” movie, the hope is that there will also be a sequel, as there was in 2003, for the last time a Charlies Angels movie was released in the year 2000. However this movie is so bad, with critical ratings so low, I doubt that there will be a sequel. The problem with this film is not enough time was put into the screenplay, written by the director who also acted in this film, Elizabeth Banks. The story is ridiculous, disjointed and for the most part made no sense. This entire movie is an excuse to pass one action scene onto the next one, mostly made up of explosions, gunfire and karate.

This movie starts with two Charlies Angels played by Kristen Stewart and newcomer Ella Balinska totally dominating about 8 other armed men in a Karate fight, which is another problem with a movie like this one, believability. There is nothing wrong with Karate in any action movie, but there will always be a problem with preposterous Karate action showing 2 people out fighting 8 others, especially when the other 8 people are also armed.

For those old enough to remember the original Charlies Angels TV series, this movie is better than the TV show, but not enough to make any viewer not feel embarrassed for anyone who is acting in something this ridiculous. The 1970’s TV series was exploitative of the women involved, and just about ruined the career of all the actresses who appeared in the show. Only the late Farrah Fawcett who appeared in TV movies after she left the series after the first year had some kind of a career after Charlies Angels.

I was surprised to see an actor of the caliber of Patrick Stewart in this bad movie, along with Elizabeth Banks and Naomi Scott. There is nothing worth seeing here, no new ideas and a bad story. I agree with all the bad ratings, 57% on Rotten Tomatoes and a very low 4 out of 10 on IMDB. This film should be skipped by everyone, including the few die hard fans of the TV show and the even fewer fans of the last Charlies Angels movie released in 2000.

Movie Review: A Good Liar


The movie “A Good Liar” marks the first time that great actors Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen have even appeared in the same movie. Considering that Mirren is 74 and McKellen is 80, both with very long and distinguished careers, it is hard to believe that they have never acted together.

A Good Liar is about a scam artist, Roy Courtnay, played by McKellen, a person who has no conscience and finds it easy to steal and scam money from others, with no fear of retribution or a very long prison term. The problem with this film and ultimately screenplay is there are too many holes in the story, that starts with an online dating service where Mirren’s character meets McKellen’s character. This film has the “explain the story with flashbacks” method at the end to resolve all the action that happened previously, including new events that had never been shown before. Some of these events are impossible to believe and in some cases make absolutely no sense. There is an ultimate revenge aspect of this story at the very end that for the most part, holds no water.

I agree with the below average ratings of 64% for this film on Rotten Tomatoes and do not recommend this movie because there are just too many holes in the story.

 

 

 

Movie Review: Ford V Ferrari


The sport of Auto Racing has always been known as one of the most dangerous in the world. Over the years, the technology has greatly improved and deaths during races has reduced, but the danger is always there. In the 1960’s, the period where this movie is based, the cars they used in many cases did not even have seat belts and all had none of the new breakaway technology that absorbs the impact and protects the driver from certain death after a fire or collision. The dangerous cars of the 1960’s also burst into flames immediately after a crash, killing the driver in some cases, despite the protective suits they wore.

The new movie “Ford V Ferrari” starring Matt Damon who plays Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale who plays Ken Miles is about the competition that existed between Italian auto maker Ferrari and Ford. At the beginning of this film, Ford makes an attempt to buy the almost bankrupt Ferrari, in the hopes of appealing to baby boomers who at the time were reaching adulthood and buying their first cars. That deal did not work because part of the deal was that Ford could control what Auto races Ferrari was able to compete in. This is what created the angry competition with these two companies that lasted for years. One of the best parts of this movie was the politics between one executive at Ford who did not like Ken Miles and spent a great deal of effort trying to prevent him from representing Ford in any Auto race, or even winning a race. This was despite the fact that Miles was one of the best drivers in the world. Ultimately this film is about Ken Miles and his ability to push any car to its limit, never worrying about his own safety. Miles was also a mechanical genius, largely responsible along with Shelby for advancing Automobile technology.

I thought the many scenes that showed extreme danger of the Auto races including the Daytona 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans, was extremely well done.  There are certain people who just are born to drive fast and because they have no fear, they are able to reach the extreme speeds that are necessary to make them the fastest in the world.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for Ford V Ferrari are a very high 92%. My rating is more in the 85% range and I highly recommend this film.

Movie Review: The Irishman


From Dictionary.com: The theory of Karma can be thought to be an extension to Newton’s third law of action and reaction where every action of any kind including words, thoughts feelings, the totality of our existence, will eventually have a reaction, same type of energy coming back to the one that caused it.

The one main theme to come from all great movies about the Mafia and people who indiscriminately commit crimes of stealing, arson, money laundering, assault and murder is that one day, they themselves will pay for their crimes, with either a very long prison term, or murdered themselves. This is the very definition of Karma. We all want to believe that what goes around, comes around, and for the men in the Mafia that seems to be the way of things for all who choose that way of life. A life of easy money from drugs and crime as a member of the Mafia comes with a lifetime of looking over your shoulder, because your day of reckoning is always coming.

The new movie from director Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”, is mostly about Frank Sheeran, played by Robert De Niro, who was a close friend and bodyguard for Jimmy Hoffa, played by Al Pacino. This outstanding film, that runs over 3 hours, has a great deal of speculation about who ultimately killed Hoffa, but also suggested that the Mafia was responsible for the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy Assassination possibly the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was also suggested the the Mafia was responsible for getting John F. Kennedy elected in 1960 with voter fraud in the state of Illinois. Instead of receiving favors from the new President, including being able to build Casino’s in Cuba, Bobby Kennedy, the President’s brother became Attorney General, and aggressively prosecuted the Mafia criminals who got the President elected in the first place. This betrayal caused a great deal of hatred towards Kennedy with members of the Mafia and mostly Jimmy Hoffa, who tried to get even with Kennedy after he was elected. This movie is also about the corruption of the Unions led by Hoffa and the illegal no interest loans taken from the Union Pension funds to help Mafia causes.

The story of The Irishman is both violent and so engrossing, but most will not even notice that this movie runs over 3 hours. The ease that Frank Sheeran demonstrates with every one of the many murders he commits in this movie is hard to watch, but typical of people like this, who kill people like it is a trivial act. This movie will remind many of the 1990 Scorsese production of “GoodFellas” which is the equal of this film with both its extremely impressive story and violence. A director as great as Martin Scorsese, takes years to release a new film, this one written by screenwriter Steven Zaillian. It is always very impressive to realize the time it took to create the attention to detail and quality very evident in this great movie. The new face replacement technology in this film, making all of the major actors look much younger was another extremely impressive achievement.

For the second time in a year, this movie was released with a very small number of theaters, and ultimately will be released on Netflix on November 27, 2019. The last time this happened was with last years great movie Roma. Given the Irishman’s very high 159 million dollar budget, it is a risk for Netflix to finance this movie, hoping that millions will sign up for the service on 11/27 – where some will just buy the service for one month and others will stay with the service long term. This new Netflix paradigm for releasing films, may eventually replace the standard methods of releasing films in movie theaters.

The Irishman unites Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci for the first time along with many other very good actors including Ray Romano, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Steven Van Zandt and Sebastian Maniscalco. As with all Scorsese productions, this film is outstanding, and should win for best picture of the year, along with several more for acting and other categories. Robert De Niro should definitely receive an Oscar Nomination for best actor. I highly recommend The Irishman as the best picture of 2019.

Movie Review: Harriet


The definition of empathy from Dictionary.com: The psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Regardless of anyone remembering the story of Harriet Tubman from high school history, everyone owes it to themselves to see the new movie “Harriet”. Finally realizing the full story of Harriet Tubman will give everyone even more appreciation to what this great woman did to save so many people from slavery.

What was so great about Harriet Tubman was her empathy for other people. Once she escaped slavery herself to the city of Philadelphia, a miracle in itself, Tubman returned many times to save other slaves without regard for her own safety. In the end she saved 70 other slaves and some years later, actually led a battle in the Civil War that rescued an additional 750 slaves – an amazing story that I never knew about.

As with every movie about the horrendous and cruel world of pre-Civil War slavery, watching many of the scenes in this film will make any normal person’s skin crawl, with the constant use of the N word, and the endless cruelty of the slave owners towards human beings that they believe are their property. The best line in this movie from Harriet Tubman is “No person should ever own another person”. This one sentence could be considered the entire reason for the Civil War.

The acting in this movie is outstanding, starting with Cynthia Erivo, who plays Harriet Tubman, who was known as Minty when she was a slave. The rest of the cast are mostly unknown actors, with the exception of Janelle Monáe who plays a free black woman who lives in Philadelphia and provides a great contrast between herself Harriet Tubman after she escaped from slavery.

Harriet has solid critical numbers, including 72% from Rotten Tomatoes and my rating is about 80% due to the very well told story about an important part of American History. I recommend Harriet.