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Maiden is a documentary about Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old English girl who decides to make it her quest to sail around the world in the Whitbread Round the World race in 1989. The journey is grueling, going for 27,500 miles, from England down to Uruguay, then east through the southern ocean to Australia and New Zealand, then back round Cape Horn and up north through the Atlantic again. It takes about 9 months.

The entire sail-racing world is completely dominated by men, and no crew is willing to take her on. She decides she has to find her own all-women crew, buy a boat, get a sponsorship, train and – yes, sail. She is the laughing stock of the sailing world. Nobody takes her seriously. When she can’t find any sponsors, she mortgages her house and buys a second-hand boat that they first need to fix up.

Finally, against all odds, the starting gun sounds in Southhampton in 1989, and she sails off heading south. Nobody believed she would make it out more than a few days, or perhaps a couple of weeks, before failing and possibly perishing.

Maiden is a true documentary. Tracy herself and a number of crew members and skippers from other boats tell the story on camera. All the footage is vintage and original. Due to this, the pictures are often grainy and shaky, but they draw you in and you are on the boat embedded with the crew, experiencing the adventure firsthand.

The movie is a documentary of the Whitbread race of its first ever female crew, a testament to the human spirit of fighting against all odds and succeeding, and a validation for women all around the world fighting for their right to be treated as equal members of humanity.

Maiden is inspiring and eminently satisfying.

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I am looking out the window and the trucks won’t stop coming.

This is the first sentence battered women use to identify the purpose of the call when they call Sadie for help.

Sadie (Olivia Wilde) was abused by her husband (Morgan Spector). He was a loner who took his wife and young son into the wilderness in the Adirondacks to practice living off the grid. They would park the car, cover it with a tarp and camouflage it with branches and leaves. They would hike into the mountains and live off the land. To prove toughness, he would break her arm and then reset it himself.

One day she has enough and musters the courage to leave him. When Sadie breaks away, their son gets killed.

On her own, she teaches herself martial arts, fighting and self-defense and makes it her life’s mission to help other women leave their abusive men by coming after the men with the same brutal aggression they have been using on their women. It is not an easy life. Eventually there is the final face off between herself and her former husband.

A Vigilante is full of graphic scenes of despair, terror and anguish. We see women in a shelter telling their stories to each other to try to get closure. We see how Sadie slowly transforms herself from battered wife to ruthless fighter for justice by her own terms. But none of it is credible and works.

The movie is disjointed and choppy. I found it difficult to make out where in the story I was at times, whether she was on a mission to free somebody, or on her own obsessive quest to come after her husband.

Light spoiler ahead:

In the final showdown, she finds her husband, and true to his self, he ties her up and breaks her arm just for good measure. She eventually gets away, and when he finds her, somehow, she kills him. The movie does not show how this goes down. This small woman, albeit trained as a fighter, with one arm broken and temporarily mended by herself with electrical tape, stands in front of the man, tells him she is going to kill him. In the next scene we see her choking him with her one working hand, he is on the ground, rolling his bulging eyes as he dies.

Then she dumps his naked body in the woods and moves on to save another woman.

The critics love this movie, which boasts 91 on Rotten Tomatoes. I differ greatly.

A Vigilante is not credible from the very beginning. It is trying to show the hurt and anguish of battered women, and it does so graphically. Otherwise it’s an unconvincing movie, depressing to watch, with huge plot holes.

Unsatisfying all around.

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I usually don’t like musicals. When the actors in the beginning of Rocketman all of a sudden stopped talking and started singing, it had me pause. But Rocketman is a biopic about Elton John, who is one of the great singers and songwriters of pop music history. A little musical extravaganza with actors singing and dancing to make their point provides just the right mood.

Elton John burst onto the music scene in 1969 and his career exploded in the early 1970ies. In those years he was the best-selling musician in the world, rivaled only by Stevie Wonder.

Rocketman tells the story Elton John’s life, his childhood dominated by inept and emotionally abusive parents, and the discovery of his talent of being able to listen to a melody and instantly playing it back on the piano. When he crossed paths with Bernie Taupin, who would become a lifetime friend, their collaboration made creative sparks fly and changed pop music history. Most singer and songwriters write their music and then compose lyrics to fit them. Elton and Bernie worked the other way around. Bernie wrote poetry, gave the lyrics to Elton, who pondered the words, built the music around it, and sang it with his characteristic voice. The outcome was true pop music magic.

I was just entering my teenage years, and I remember clearly New Year’s Eve 1973 when I was with my friends, we were awaiting the New Year while with were playing cards, and Crocodile Rock was playing in the background. In the years that followed, Elton John and his music had a huge influence on me and my coming of age.

I remember as an 18-year-old, lying on the carpet next to the stereo with the headphones on listening to the Madman Across the Water and Captain Fantastic albums.

Rocketman brought back all of those memories and feelings.

What I didn’t know was how bad Elton John’s substance abuse was at that time, how destructive it was for all those around him, and how much he suffered from it. This movie, which celebrates his life and musical genius, also serves as one “hell of a warning” to everyone about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

The actor Taron Egerton, portraying Elton, sings all his own songs in Rocketman. I was skeptical about this approach before I went to see the movie. After all, how do you imitate the voice of a legend who is a legend partly because of his voice? It seemed impossible, but it worked. Elton John’s music powers through the movie and keeps a relentless pace. For those of us that grew up with that music it is a joy to watch. I don’t know if it has the same impact on the younger generation.

 

 

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Dell (Kevin Hart) is a recently paroled ex-convict. His teenage son and his wife do not respect him. He has not been a father or provider by a long shot. On his search for a job, he stumbles upon the opportunity to be a caretaker for the paraplegic billionaire Phil (Bryan Cranston). Even though he is not qualified whatsoever, Phil takes a liking to him and over time, the relationship changes both of them. The unlikely pair become friends.

The movie is based on a true story first told by the French film The Intouchables. The critics of The Upside are blasting it and comparing it to the supposedly much better The Intouchables. I have not seen that film, so I am not qualified to judge, but I can say that I enjoyed watching The Upside more than I expected. It’s a heartfelt comedy that lifts the human spirit.

I have a pet peeve about movie titles that don’t make sense to me. The Upside is one of those. I can’t figure out why they named it that. There must be some upside with this film.

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Landline was released in 2017, but plays in Manhattan in the 1990s.

Two sisters are struggling with their own lives. Ali, the teenager, is fighting with coming of age troubles, boyfriends, drugs and growing up in the big city. The older one, Dana, is recently engaged but finds herself in lust with an ex-boyfriend and is trying to come to terms with her feelings. They discover that their father is having an affair and they try to figure it out without telling their mother.

This Woody-Allen-esque drama plays in Manhattan in the 1990s. You can tell because all the phone calls are done on landlines. No Internet, texting or smart phones. There is on old Mac computer that contains files that expose the dad. Why he would just leave those files on the family computer for all to see is strange and an apparent plot hole.

I don’t know why the movie is called Landline. The title has nothing to do with the story. I also don’t know why they staged this in the 90ies. It might have been more effective, and simpler to do, if it had played today.

It’s mildly entertaining, makes you think about family, love and dreams of youth that dissipate as we go through life.

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This is one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. It shows Buzz Aldrin on the moon with the American flag on July 20, 1969.

I was 12 years old then, old enough to think on my own and science-minded enough to sit up in the middle of the night (in Germany) in front of our TV at 3:56am local time when Armstrong made that famous first step onto the moon.

The movie Apollo 11 is a documentary of the moon landing, and as we are coming up on the 50th anniversary of this event, it is ever more significant. The entire movie is not narrated or filmed. It is entirely constructed of actual clippings, both video and audio, taken at the time, and put together in a coherent sequence that tells the awesome story in all its glory. There is a minimum of screen prompts, like “Day 3,” that keep the viewer oriented. Other than that, it’s all original material, and that makes the impact all the more powerful.

This is not a movie, but rather a documentary of humanity’s peaceful conquests, and it is told masterfully.

 

 

Now that I rated the movie, I have to add my own ruminations about the moon landings.

I am not sure exactly how all those people who were born after this, which is the majority of humanity, think about the moon landings. But I remember clearly reading science fiction in the 1960s when I was in awe of the immensity of the undertaking. I remember a world before humans reached another body.

50 years have now gone by. 77 percent of all people alive today were not alive when the first moon landing occurred. Another 12 percent of all people alive today were younger than age 12 at the time of the moon landing, and therefore probably do not have first-hand memories of the events themselves.

So a full 89 percent of the world’s population did not have the experience of sitting in front of the television that day, watching those grainy pictures from very far away.

I remember what I thought that day. I remember thinking that by the time I was “old” I’d be able to buy a ticket to take a vacation on the moon. Not in my wildest dreams did I think that by 1972, we’d stop going there, and by 2019, the United States is actually in a position where it does not have the technology to put a man into space, let alone onto the moon. I recognize that we’re on track to change that soon, with initiatives by SpaceX and Boeing for human-rated rockets underway and both within 12 months of realizing that goal.

Of the 12 men who ever walked on the moon, eight are now deceased. Only Buzz  Aldrin (age 88), David Scott (85), Charlie Duke (82) and Harrison Schmitt (82) are still alive as of today.

I would never have thought that a boy in South Africa (Elon Musk) who would not even be born for another two years after the summer of 1969 would be the one that would make it possible for the United States to launch humans into space in 2019, and who would have the vision to take them to the moon and Mars.

The collective will of our nation, and our species, to set goals beyond the next election cycle, has diminished and we are left at the whims of individual politicians with an outlook of a few years at a time. Real goals, like a space program that allows us to leave the planet, are achieved in decades of dedication and lifetimes of focus. Unless we figure that out soon, we might as well continue to ruin our planet and render it unlivable, with no way out.

Perhaps movies like Apollo 11 will inspire us to do more with our time than line our pockets and gratify our immediate urges and needs.

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Instant Family is about a middle-class couple with no children, who are re-evaluating their lives. He (Mark Wahlberg) is a contractor who buys and flips houses. When they investigate adoption, they find out that the first step is becoming foster parents. They go through the training and eventually, at a big meet-up picnic, find a 15-year-old girl who comes with two smaller siblings. And thus starts the adventure of a white working class couple picking up an instant family of three Latino kids.

The foster parent community is a special one, and it has its challenges. Natural parents can show up all of a sudden, and the kids you have just gotten used to could be taken away from you overnight.

Instant Family is a better movie than I expected it to be. There is some slapstick like humor that is a bit over the top, but it’s tastefully done. It puts a spotlight on the plight of children who either have no parents, or whose parents are so unreliable that the kids need to take care of themselves. It’s a part of our society that we don’t really think too much about unless we’re in the middle of it.

The human drama comes through, and it brought out a few tears as the story progressed. I am glad I watched Instant Family. It entertained me, I learned, and it pulled me in emotionally. At the end, it was wonderfully, if predictably, satisfying.

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We all know Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel as the kings of Hollywood comedy in the 1940s and 1950s. Everyone knows them as Stan and Ollie, or Laurel and Hardy, or, as I knew them as a young boy in Germany in the 1960s, “Dick und Doof.” Their comedy is timeless. It worked for me in this biographical movie today as it worked for me when I was a child.

Stan & Ollie plays in 1953, when the duo went on a tour in Britain. They were older, and carrying their own suitcases was starting to be a challenge. The tour was depressingly slow at first but gradually built into a success. However, Ollie’s health was failing, and their partnership began to show the cracks of age.

What I didn’t know until now was that Stan, who played the feeble-minded of the duo, was actually the creative genius behind their comedy, and the business man, driving them forward to comedy success and financial reward. I enjoyed seeing Stan transform himself from a thoughtful, caring, clever and hardworking showman to a doofus klutz the moment he walked onto the stage, time and again.

Stan & Ollie tells the story or Laurel and Hardy as they come to terms at the twilight of their long and successful career.

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Are you watching me now? Watch closely now!

It’s impossible for me to review A Star is Born with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in 2019 without going on a side track about A Star is Born with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand in 1976. Shockingly, while the Cooper/Gaga movie got 89% on the Tomatometer, the Kristofferson/Streisand version got 38%.

What?

Then I read some of the reviews by the critics, and most of them were written in 2019, about a movie older than some of the critics themselves. Whether the 1976 version is a good or great movie in itself is not relevant to me. When I watched it first in 1976, it was phenomenal. It was one of my coming of age films. I remember clearly who I was with at the time. I had just turned 20 and I was figuring out what makes blood boil. The songs in A Star is Born will forever transport me back into those passionate years of my life. Candles on the rims of bathtubs took on meaning for me that never left me since. For me, A Star is Born was one of my favorite movies of all time. 38% my ass!

So I was reluctant to even go see the 2018 version, lest my memories get confused and polluted. But after all the press and hoopla with the Oscars, and after The Woman went to see it and came home and said it was a great movie and I’d better go see it, we went – I for my first  time – she for the second viewing.

The story is the same one. Jackson “Jack” Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a rock superstar with an established career and an alcohol problem. Ally (Lady Gaga) is a struggling artist. They meet by pure chance in a drag bar when Jack stops in for a drink after a performance. He is smitten. She is skeptical. But Jack sees the talent and brings her up on stage at his next concert in a stadium, and when she lets loose with one of her songs, the audience goes wild and the critics swarm all over her. Within just a few months, while he burns in the ashes of drugs and alcohol, she rises like a phoenix. It’s a love story for which we all know the ending, it’s a musical without the corniness of real musicals. The soundtrack is exceptional. The music is all new. And yes, I think the Cooper/Gaga version is as good as the Kristofferson/Streisand version was 42 years ago.

Young lovers will go on and remember this movie for an entire generation. They will own the soundtracks just like I owned the vinyl record of the old A Star is Born for all these years. And my “Are You Watching me Now?” will be their “Shallow” and a new Star is Born.

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In 2003, L.T. (Tommy Lee Jones) is cozy in his retirement in his cabin in the woods in Oregon. He used to be in the special forces, where his assignment was to train soldiers to kill in hand-to-hand combat. When someone brutally slaughters four deer hunters, the FBI calls on L.T. to help them find and apprehend a murderer. They suspect a rogue special forces soldier.

Sure enough, Aaron (Benicio Del Toro) is one of L.T.’s trainees, one of the best there is, and mentally damaged beyond hope by terrible trauma he was exposed to during the conflict in Kosovo.

When L.T. comes after Aaron, he is unarmed, and it is not clear what he was thinking. Two trained killers are at each other’s throats for the duration of the movie.

This is Rambo, First Blood, part two, only much less refined. Two men, trainee and mentor, fight to the death with — it had to be that way — knives they made from scratch in the woods. L.T. fashions a knife from rock splinters. Aaron forges a knife from scrap steel he finds at a ruined embankment. As the two go at each other, we are subjected to completely unrealistic blood scenes. The human body only has about six quarts of blood. It seems like both fighters spill more than that in each of their fights, and they somehow keep walking away without bandages each time.

The Hunted has been around. It was released in 2003, and you have probably seen it flipping through the channels more than once over the years.

If you want to watch a movie about a damaged special forces soldier going berserk, watch Rambo, First Blood instead. It’s a much better movie.

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It is 1962 in New York City. Tony is an Italian-American in the Bronx. He is a bouncer at a local club and hangs around with questionable mob types. At a party at his house he observes his wife giving two glasses of water to two black workmen when they are thirsty. Later, when nobody is watching, he drops these two glasses in the trash. Blacks in 1962 were treated as sub humans.

When Tony loses his job because the club is remodeling, he looks for a job and hears that Dr. Don Shirley is looking for a driver. Tony shows up at the interview and discovers that Dr. Shirley is black. He is a world-class pianist and he is going on tour in the Deep South. Tony reluctantly signs on. The manager gives him “The Green Book,” a guide for establishments in the South were blacks are welcome. Many times, Tony has to stay at one hotel, while Shirley stays at another.

As one would expect, there is severe resistance to a black man of status in the South, let alone one that has a white driver. The two run into a number of difficult situations, and with every one of them, their mutual respect for each other seems to rise, and they slowly build a friendship. Tony gets lessons in grammar, speech, etiquette and general humanity from Dr. Shirley, and when he comes home after a months-long tour, he is not quite the rough neck that he was when he left.

Green Book is very rewarding movie. It gives us a glimpse of America before Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement of the mid-sixties. Discrimination and racism were rampant and brutal. But the human spirit transcends the differences, and two very different men become friends.

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It’s been a long few days on the road, and I am on a flight in seat 15E from Chicago home to San Diego. 15E is a middle seat, with not enough space on either side to take out the laptop and do some meaningful work of any type. I have the Bose headphones on, but no music, just noise cancellation. Then the movie Bumblebee starts on the little screen a few seats ahead of me overhead. I see the start and I plug in the headphone cables so I can hear the sound. That’s how I came to watch Bumblebee, a movie rated 93% on the Tomatometer.

It’s 1987. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) is about to turn 18 and she finds a battered yellow WV bug in a junkyard. She brings home the car and quickly discovers this is not an ordinary WV beetle. It’s a Transformer. And that’s really all I have to tell you about the story.

Transformers are cars that turn into robots. I have never before watched a single Transformer movie, and now I am grateful that I didn’t. Robot battles are boring. I know too much about technology to buy into this myth of indestructible robots that, when it comes right down to it, do their battles with fist fights like two humans would. It quickly turns into endless action scenes of robots throwing each other around, kicking each other, and I can’t get it out of my head that it’s all two guys in robot suits doing the fighting.

The story is predictable and boring. The concept is ridiculous. I don’t know where the ratings come from, but it did nothing at all for me.

It killed 114 minutes of flying time. Now I know I never have to watch another Transformer movie.

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I was around in 1988, when Senator Gart Hart (Hugh Jackman) was considered the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. We know how it all ended. Hart exited the race not too long after a story broke about an extramarital relationship with a woman named Donna Rice.

In 1988, tabloid journalism surfaced for the first time in a presidential election. It is now 30 years later, and it seems like tabloid journalism is all we get anymore in high profile elections. Gary Hart was an Eagle Scout compared to Donald Trump. Our senses are now dull, and our sensitivity numbed. The office of the presidency will not be the same again.

But in the days of Gary Hart, different rules applied.

This documentary drama tells the story of the rise and fall of Gary Hart, the man who almost might have been president, until some “Monkey Business” got in the way. The Front Runner is an entertaining and informative film into the way we run our presidential elections and I enjoyed the window into the past.

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Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is a quiet, shy working-class man who lives with his wife (Laura Dern) in the mountains outside Denver. He is the local snowplow driver and a respected citizen.

Their young son, who works at the local airport as a baggage handler, is killed one night. When Nels tries to figure out what happened, he runs into the underworld of the local drug traffickers. As he is faced with brutality and criminality, he quickly turns vigilante and picks off the bad guys, one at a time, using fists, guns, snowplows, tree trimming tractors, axes, and anything you might find in a maintenance garage for heavy machinery.

I expected Cold Pursuit to be an action thriller as many other Liam Neeson movies, and it is, but it’s also a dark comedy. I laughed more than I expected, and in the end I walked out chuckling.

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Rich, old, fit black man in big city puts on headphones and expensive watch and goes for a jog. Bam! He gets hit by car and dies. Shock – I didn’t see that coming.

His estranged daughter and her two children are driving to his house in the country to get ready to sell the house. The house turns out to be a mansion with all kinds of security gadgetry. But something does not seem right.

Four bad guys had broken in. They somehow got wind that the old man had liquidated all his assets and there was a lot of cash in the safe in the house. All they had to do is find the safe, open it, and take the money.

But darn it, the family shows up and makes things difficult.

The mom and her children turn out to be quite resourceful against the four bad guys, of which one is a very bad psycho guy.

A predictable story, told many times over. Normal people get in the way of really bad people, and have to fight their way out. In this case, with the gadget house, it’s Home Alone for Adults.

Alright, I was entertained for a bit, found myself cheering for the underdog, but in the end there was nothing much to remember about this movie.

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