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: 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.

Movie Review: F9


About 25% into the new and extremely stupid Fast Five movie “F9”, Tyrese Gibson makes a speech about all of the insane action scenes in this franchise and wonders why nobody ever died and nobody even has a scratch on them. I think this was the screenwriters attempt at making fun of this 9 movie series, because there is no reason to make action that are this level of insane and over the top. What is the point of making movies this out of the world-makes-no-sense-idiotic-crazy and stupid. Less is more.

Why cant the creators of these movies make the simple decision to do two things. First make a movie that has a plot that makes sense and then create special effects are not so ridiculous. For example , there is a scene where Torreto played by Vin Diesel with passenger Letty played by Michelle Rodriguez decide to jump onto a broken bridge that seems to be made out of rope – in the hope that the rope will wrap around one of the wheels and then propel them into an arc onto the other side of a mountain. Why write a scene like this? Why do the producers and director have to be so over the top ridiculous? Another scene has Roman played by Tyrese Gibson and Tej played by Ludacris has both of them inside a Pontiac while floating in space. The reason why they were in space was part of an incongruous and once again – ridiculous plot that made zero sense. Like the last movie, why the producers of these movies take no time to explain why the characters are doing what the are doing is just about the most infuriating part of sitting through these two hours. Why not come up with a good solid idea that involves action and science and then fill the audience in on why things are happening? The reason why this does not happen is because the producers only care about the special effects, a good story that makes sense takes too long to write.

Charleze Theron is once again in this movie, making her debut in the last and also bad movie in the franchise “The Fate of the Furious” playing the evil Cipher. The bad news is that she agreed to make the last movie and the good news is that in this latest installment her part is very small. There is no explanation why her character hangs out in a giant plastic enclosure, adding another annoyance to this two hours. Also her hairdo this time around is as bad as her character.

The big action scenes at the end of this mess involve super powerful electric magnets and when they are turned on, all metal items are immediately attached to this. These magnets are used by several cars to pull other cars to them, and then when the magnets are turned off, they propel away from the magnet and crash into walls and other cars. There is a very large train-like car that is pulled by the magnets by two other cars making it stand on its front and then fall over on its back. This probably violated all laws of physics and within the audience I was in, people were actually laughing at how ridiculous this stunt was. A better movie would eventually be a documentary showing how all the non CGI stunts were filmed. Apart from that there is nothing good in this movie because even the special effects were so ridiculous they invoke laughter rather than awe.

John Cena plays Dominic Torreto’s brother in this film and there is only one scene where they fight that I thought was well done, with a back story involving their father, a car race and a misunderstanding that would in normal circumstances have been resolved between the two of them, long before their conflict within this story.

The actor Sung Kang returns to this franchise even though his character Han died in a car accident several movies ago. The explanation about how or why he is still alive was as equally ridiculous as the rest of this very bad story. I find the too often story line involving characters dying in this film franchise and then later they are alive again, insulting to the audience. Plausibility, continuity and a rational story is always better than another cheap special effect.

The ratings for this movie on IMDB are a correct and very low 5.3. Rotten Tomatoes is a too high 62%. My rating is 40% only because of the hard work of the stunt people who created some of the special effects. This movie is so ridiculous and stupid it should not be seen unless you are drunk. All of this being said, the movie “Furious 7”, released in 2015, the last film involving the late Paul Walker was a good movie, with a good story and excellent special effects. If you have not seen Furious 7, see this movie and run from this latest horrendous mess.

Netflix Movie Review: Good on Paper


Comedian Iliza Shlesinger has been one of the best standup comedians in the last few years, along with Amy Shumer, Kevin Hart and Dave Chappell. In one of her standup specials she has told a story about a man who she met on a plane who then became her boyfriend. It turns out that this man lied about every aspect of his life, including graduating from Yale, managing a hedge fund and even lying about his mother dying of Cancer. Shlesinger has written a screenplay about this experience – now on Netflix called “Good on Paper”. Unfortunately the ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB are around 50%, once again demonstrating how difficult it is to write and produce any movie.

I thought this movie had some good aspects, including Shlesinger mixing parts of her standup act throughout this entire movie with some good acting with the remaining cast including Margaret Cho and Ryan Hanson. The problem with this idea however is that in the end, there was nothing new here, not enough comedy and eventually the whole story degraded into a revenge film. This movie would have been much better with more humor from Shlesinger both with her standup act and within the story and some new ideas that we have not seen before.

The critics are wrong ranking this film as only 50%, my rating is in the 65% range but I cannot recommend it, with the possible exception of big fans of Shlesinger’s standup act.

Movie Review: The Truffle Hunters


Over 100 years ago, on September 20, 1920, the Princeton Garden Theater in Princeton New Jersey opened to the public. Since that time this theater has been a landmark in Princeton on Nassau Street for all movie goers. Almost 100 years later in March 2020, this great theater closed due to the world wide Covid-19 Pandemic and many thousands of us who have walked the streets of Princeton New Jersey wondered if it would ever open again. On June 4, 2021 the Princeton Garden theater opened again and I when I watched the new movie “The Truffle Hunters” there today, it was almost as if no time had passed. All people who live in the Princeton area are very happy that this theater is reopened. According to the owners, what saved this business was the many donations made by the people who have supported this movie theater for the last 100 years. Over 100 years ago, on September 20, 1920, the Princeton Garden Theater in Princeton New Jersey opened to the public. Since that time this theater has been a landmark in Princeton on Nassau Street for all movie goers. Almost 100 years later in March 2020, this great theater closed due to the world wide Covid-19 Pandemic and many thousands of us who have walked the streets of Princeton New Jersey wondered if it would ever open again.

On June 4, 2021 the Princeton Garden theater did open again and when I watched the new movie “The Truffle Hunters” there today, it was almost as if no time had passed. All people who live in the Princeton area are very happy that this theater is reopened and hopefully will never close again. According to the owners, what saved this business was the many donations made by the patrons who have supported this movie theater for the last 100 years.

The Truffle Hunters is a foreign documentary from Italy with subtitles and is about the precarious business of using dogs to smell out and then dig for Truffle’s in the remote forests of Italy. Without the use of dogs, it would be close to impossible find truffles because they are so hard to find, mainly because you have to dig for them underground. This is a big business in Italy and the people who make the money are the few at the top of the food chain, not the hard working men who search with their dogs for days trying to make a meager living. Most disturbing is the practice of competing truffle hunters trying to poison the dogs who are trying smell and then dig for truffles.

Despite the very high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes of 97% I thought that this movie was unnecessarily long and a bit too boring in too many areas – mainly because there is just so much you can say about finding and selling Truffles. I give The Truffle Hunters a marginal 75% recommendation.

Netflix Movie Review: Fatherhood


For anyone who has read Kevin Hart’s book , I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons one cannot help but admire his talent as a stand-up comedian but more impressive is how he survived his childhood, his criminal drug addict father and starting out as a shoe salesman. What followed was many years of hardship and dues paying, to eventually becoming the highest paid stand-up comedian in the world. Success in standup comedy could just be the most difficult road in show business.

As far as acting, all of Hart’s early films were comedies with the exception of 2017’s “The Upside”, with Brian Cranston. His latest movie “Fatherhood” – available on Netflix is Hart’s most serious role and there are scenes within this film that demonstrate conclusively that Kevin Hart is a very good actor.

Fatherhood is a very serious movie about tragic circumstances that could happen to anyone including the remainder of the story about the lead character Matt, played by Hart, adapting to a new life raising his daughter as a single father. Matt constantly has to make difficult decisions that are all about the welfare his child and trying to hang onto a job and making a living. The best part of this story is that sometimes responsibility and a person’s professional career can conflict to the point where there is no perfect solution, no best answer. The supporting cast is also very impressive, including Alfre Woodard, Paul Reiser and Lil Rel Howery.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for this movie of only 69% are too low, my rating is more in the 80% range and I recommend Fatherhood, mainly for the surprisingly good acting of Kevin Hart and the relatable but tragic story.