Movie Review: The Suicide Squad

The movie “Suicide Squad” released in 2016 was a bad movie, rated 26% on Rotten Tomatoes. The new version, “The Suicide Squad” is getting 92% on Rotten Tomatoes this time around. Considering that the idea of both movies is the same, “over the top, weird insane action and special effects with no real story”, I am having a hard time understanding the huge difference in the critical opinions with this new film.

This sequel does in fact have better special effects and stranger characters, including a man-shark creature called “King Shark” played by Sylvester Stallone. A man who can shoot pokadots at people to kill them and who also really hates his mother. A giant star fish who can control the minds of other people by attaching other small star fish to the faces of other people. The character played by Idris Alba has a mask that looks like the lizard-like creature in the Alien movies. All of this is original, crazy, never seen before insane action, with no real story.

The character of Harley Quinn played by Margo Robbie (the only character to return from the first movie) has a much smaller role in this version, but with her same over the top karate scenes where she is attacked by many people at the same time and managers to easily defeat them all.

Even considering the greatly increased budget for special effects, it is very hard to understand the huge increase in critical opinions for this new version. Once again, there is no story here and while the special effects are impressive, this is not enough to save this film.

My rating for this movie is more in the 65% rating, mostly for the special effects – with a marginal recommendation for only the most rabid Marvel Comic fans.

Movie Review: Jungle Cruise

Some years ago, some Disney executive probably said, “Why can’t we combine the African Queen with Raiders of the Lost Ark?” From this one idea the odds are pretty high that the new movie starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, called “Jungle Cruise” was created. The problem is that this movie was probably made as a vehicle for two of the hottest actors right now, rather than writing a great story first and then getting the actors later. I could be wrong, but after seeing Jungle Cruise this sure seemed like the most likely scenario.

The start of this story seemed so familiar with the start of “Raiders Of the Lost Ark”, in this case there is a disease curing leaf of an impossible to find tree, somewhere in the jungle. Dr. Lily Houghton, played by Emily Blunt has to travel to the Amazon and rent a boat, captained by Frank Wolff, played by Dwayne Johnson. Once they meet, this entire movie is an excuse to create one action scene after another – and it all seems like we have seen this many times before. There is nothing new here, nothing memorable. This is not a bad movie, but definitely not a good enough movie to recommend, despite the special effects that at times were good.

I agree with the low 63% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and rate this film a pass.

Movie Review: Stillwater

The new movie “Stillwater” is one of the few movies I have seen where the trailer makes it look like a high quality blockbuster, but in realty the film is a huge dud. The problem with Stillwater is simple. Its horrendously boring. Why the producer of this bad movie decided to make it run 2 hours and 20 minutes, with the story could be told in 80 minutes is anyone’s guess. The logline of this movie is about a construction worker is living in France while trying to get his daughter out of prison for a murder she did not commit. The problem is there is so little story to tell here, that they decided to add so much filler to stretch the runtime to 260 minutes, that you can actually go into a coma sitting through this incredibly boring waste of way over two hours.

There is a side story where the main character Bill, played by Matt Damon becoming involved with a French actress and her 9 year old daughter, but even this secondary story is another extreme waste of time. Bill’s daughter who is in a French prison is played by Abigaile Breslin. I am actually surprised that both Damon and Breslin read this script and still decided to make this bad movie.

The Rotten Tomatoes rating of 72% is wrong. This movie is 60% at best and should be skipped by all.

Movie Review: Joe Bell

The new movie “Joe Bell” is the true story of a father who lost his gay son to suicide all because of high school bullying. To honor his son, Joe Bell decides to walk across the country by himself to raise awareness to the tragedy of bullying.

Bullying has been a problem in schools for many years, and due to social media and other reasons, this issue has gotten even worse over time resulting in extreme anguish, depression and suicide for too many children around the world. Bulling has always been considered a generic human reality, part of the ride of that comes around during childhood. But bullying also exists in adulthood, even during our working lives. In all cases, bulling can cause extreme psychological and physical damage to the victims, ultimately causing all of us to ask why it exists in the first place. What is it within certain people to temporarily feel good about themselves by making someone else feel horrible about themselves? What is the gain here? Do people who bully lack so much empathy, that they just cannot stop relentlessly torturing someone else? Bullying is also an issue not isolated to boys, girls can be just as bad or worse when it comes this tragic problem.

The story of Joe Bell is one of those true events where the movie rights are bought by someone with clout, in this case, Mark Wahlberg who stars as Joe Bell. This story is a very impressive one with a great message and a double tragedy. The problem with this film is there is not enough story to tell to make it an engrossing two hour movie. The screenwriters decided to tell this story backwards, beginning with Joe Bell on his cross country walk, next to his imaginary deceased son intermixed with flashbacks. Sometimes the flashback method of storytelling can work, and other times, it can make the story hard to follow. I thought this story would have been better told in chronological order.

What happens to Joe’s son Jadin, played by Reid Miller, is told well enough with much of the bulling depicted in this movie very hard to watch. Joe Bell gives speeches at high schools during his walk across country and I thought more of these speeches would have resulted in a better movie with less walking scenes and more emotional speeches, trying to educate young people about the damage they are causing too many young people with their cruelty. There are a few good scenes with Wahlberg and actor Gary Sinise who is a local Sheriff who also has a gay son.

Due to the great message and good acting in this movie, I was very surprised at the extremely low 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 5.2 on IMDB. My rating for this movie is about 70%, mainly because the true story and message are both so strong. I give a marginal recommendation to Joe Bell.

Movie Review: Old

In my opinion, the most unusual writer/producer/director career in the history of Hollywood belongs to M. Night Shyamalan.

Shyamalan’s first movie was the “The 6th Sense”, released in 1999. The 6th Sense was a monster hit, with one of the best screenplays and arguably the best ending of any movie ever made. Since then, Shyamalan has been trying to get back to the heights he reached 22 years ago. In 2000 “Unbreakable” was released and I thought this was a very good but not great movie. Another honorable mention was “Devil”, released in 2010 and Split, released in 2016. But these two movies were just good films nowhere near the level of The 6th Sense.

After Unbreakable, Shyamalan has written and directed mostly average movies, with the exception of “The Lady in the Water”, and “After Earth” that were both regarded as bad productions. Unfortunately Shyamalan’s new movie “Old” is once again another average movie. It is easy to understand that due to Shyamalan’s extreme dedication to the craft of movie making and the time it takes him to write, produce, direct and then release a new film – that movie making is one hell of a challenging industry to dedicate your life to. I personally have heard stories of Shyamalan even mortgaging his own home to get the funding to produce a new movie. Despite enormous amounts of work, script rewrites, production problems, there is never any guarantee that any movie will be great or even make money.

After spending years writing, producing and directing and finally releasing Old, I can only imagine how disappointed Shyamalan is now after seeing the relatively poor 50% scores on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.2 score on IMDB. I would rank Old in the low 70% range because it is not a bad movie, just not good enough to be something that will be respected and remembered for a long time. The premise of Old is, “Several people are vacationing on an Island, where they wind up on an ocean cove surrounded by rocks that they not only cannot escape from, but also makes them age extremely fast”. Granted this is a new and very unique idea, but unfortunately watching people age, die and try and escape their confined Island cove, became old as fast as the people were aging.

There is a pretty good and surprising ending, that Shyamalan always tries to put in all of his movies, but not enough to save this film. Once again, Shyamalan himself, just like Alfred Hitchcock did in many of his movies, appears in this film as a van driver.

Finally, I give Old a marginal recommendation, mostly for die hard fans of M. Night Shyamalan.

Movie Review: Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

On June 8, 2018 Anthony Bourdain, a famous chef, author and star of his own TV series took his own life in a Hotel room in Paris France, by hanging. The new documentary “Roadrunner” does an outstanding job showing how someone as successful and rich as Bourdain could go from such highs to lows low enough to take his own life.

One of the phenomenon’s of success at a young age, is that once it seems like you have it all and should be happy, and you’re not, where do you go from there? Bourdain was already a famous chef and best selling author at age 30, and as he became more famous this lead to his own TV show “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” where he traveled around the world from 2013-2018 sampling different restaurants. Unfortunately for Bourdain, a show like this meant that he was on the road, 250 days a year and hardly ever saw his wife and child. This show was filmed in some of the poorest and most depressing parts of the world including the Congo and even Vietnam. Over time, a life like this would take a huge toll on anyone – and just for a TV show? For Bourdain, was all of this ever worth it?

I wondered often during this film that if Bourdain’s show was all about food in the United States, then his life could have been so much easier, and much less depressing. However, Bourdain’s suicide is more complicated than any one explanation. As this 2 hour documentary unfolds, a relationship with actress Asia Argento – one of Harvey Weinstein’s many accusers seems like it could be a major cause of Bourdain’s suicide near the end of his life.

In my opinion, Bourdain’s suicide was ultimately caused by the huge lows of his depression, followed by a manic high when in love with Argento, followed by another extreme low, that he just could not recover from. It also could just come down to Bourdain himself, who was so fortunate in his career, never believing he was worthy of such extraordinary fame and wealth. The world will never know the real reasons why Bourdain took his own life, because he did not leave a note.

The amazing thing about this documentary is the amount of film that was produced during Bourdain’s life, so much of what happened flowed more like a movie than a documentary.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings are a very high 95% for Roadrunner and I highly recommend this documentary.

Movie Review: Black Widow

For the new movie “Black Widow” I would have liked to have much more background and setup explaining how this “Black Widow Family” has powers where it seems they cannot really be hurt or killed, at least not very easily. Where do they get their fantastic martial arts skills? Early on the two girls in the family; Natashia played by Scarlett Johansson and Yelena, played by Florence Pugh are placed into some kind of a spy training camp for unknown reasons at very young ages. At this point it would have been logical to see some of this training, explaining some of their impressive skills. Maybe this important part was cut out of the film because it was too long.

What is explained is a foreign spy syndicate that is involved with mind control to train young women to be spies and killers using brain washing chemicals. Unfortunately, the ending is completely out of sync with the sudden appearance of a far into the future huge space ship at the end of this film. This ship looks like something that might be built 100 or 200 years from now, definitely not present day. This is yet another example of special effects over story, almost as if an incredible idea for a fantastic ending with explosions, fights and action on a space ship had to be melded with a present day spy story and as a result we have a time-line that once again makes absolutely no sense.

The special effects and acting in this movie is very good, with a standout performance from Florence Pugh who is becoming a very well known actress who has a perfect face for the movies. With all of that in mind, why Florence Pugh has not changed her last name is about as mysterious as a good part of this screenplay.

David Harbour plays Alexi the girl’s father along with Rachel Weisz who plays Melina, their mother and in my opinion that twist at the end of this story, involving Melina and Natashia, has trouble making enough sense to round out the ending.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for this movie is in the low 80% range and I mostly agree with this rating and do recommend Black Widow.

Movie Review: The Summer of Soul

The full title of the new documentary “The Summer of Soul” is “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” – easily one of the strangest titles in movie history.

In 1969 at the same time the very famous Woodstock festival took place, 300 thousand people attended the Harlem Culture Festival and for reasons that most likely included that just about everybody at this festival was black, this major event went mostly unnoticed until some film was found in a basement some 50 years later. There is some important history here but mostly gospel singing and a few popular acts including Stevie Wonder playing the drums and the Fifth Dimension. This movie is not for an ordinary movie goer, because this is a documentary about a musical event and I found it boring and too long. The Summer of Soul has won two major awards at the Sundance Film festival and for me it was interesting to see video that was so well preserved that it looked at times it was created weeks ago, rather than 52 years.

See this documentary if you are big fan of music and cultural history, otherwise this documentary might be too boring for most people.

Amazon Prime Movie Review: The Tomorrow War

There have been probably too many movies that involve time Travel over the years, and as a screenwriter it may be impossible to make sense over something that is not possible now and most likely will never be possible. How is it possible to travel into the future, when the future has not even happened yet?

The first problem with the new movie on Amazon Prime “The Tomorrow War” is that because the movie is set in 2021 and the main part of the film involves travelling from 2021 to 2051, the whole idea falls apart from the beginning. In 2021, time travel is not possible and it is just that simple. The other reason why this story falls apart is that through a wormhole porthole military and then ordinary citizens are sent into the future to fight horrendous and horrible alien creatures because they are killing everyone in 2051. If they are killing everyone in 2051, then why would anyone think that new people from the past would fair any better? Why would anyone voluntarily travel into the future and certain death?

Later in this story there are attempts at looping around back into some semblance of common sense, but not nearly enough to save this story. The good parts here are the great CGI special effects and even the aliens that seem to be clones from so many other movies with horrible creatures. This movie stars Chris Pratt as Dan Forester a high school chemistry teacher who gets drafted into this war in the future, and J.K Simmons who is Dan’s estranged father. When the film changes direction at the 80% point, some of this convoluted logic does get better until the every end when the science and technology that tries to explain all of this just falls off the rails.

The critics and Rotten Tomatoes are mostly trashing this film at 51% and I agree with that number because the entire story when fully understood just does not hold water. I do not recommend The Tomorrow War.

Netflix Movie Review: The Ice Road

Ever since the release of “Taken” in 2008, there has probably not been a more prolific actor than Liam Neeson. The problem is that just about all the parts Neeson has taken since his huge hit with Taken, seem to be more or less the same character. This is an error in strategy, with not choosing film roles that would stretch Neeson as an actor. Instead it seems that Neeson is going for the money resulting in roles that blend together, ultimately into nothing memorable enough, considering how good an actor Liam Neeson is.

The idea of “The Ice Road”, released on Netflix is a unique one, probably taken from the TV series “Ice Road Truckers”. There is an accident in a coal mine in Canada where 26 workers are trapped. The only solution is to commission 3 tractor trailers – for redundancy – to transport a machine that can pump poisonous air from the collapsed mine and save the 26 coal miners. The problem is, the only way to this Canadian coal mine via frozen road over lakes, during the most dangerous time of the year.

The main character Mike is played by Neeson, a professional truck driver who lives in barren and cold North Dakota and Gurty, played by Marcus Thomas, who is Mike’s mentally disabled brother, who was injured in the Iraq war. Another trucker Tantoo, played by Amber Midthunder has a brother who is one of the trapped coal miners. Laurence Fishburn has a surprise small part in this film as a manager of a trucking company who also makes the trip across the dangerous ice roads. The main story here is all about corporate greed and cruelty, that any person who has been an employee of a large company can easily recognize. I thought that the story was somewhat convoluted and perhaps overly complicated, but in the end was an effective thriller with a good ending.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for The Ice Road are a very low 47%, which is ridiculous considering the solid story and acting. My rating is 75% and I do recommend this film.