Movie Review: Tower Heist (2011)

Josh Kovak (Ben Stiller) is the manager of a high-rise condo in New York. The owner of the building, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) lives in the penthouse on the top floor, complete with a rooftop swimming pool.

It turns out that Shaw is arrested for fraud. When the dust settles, it becomes clear to the employees, from manager to doorman, that the pension fund they entrusted to their high-living landlord and employer, is gone. Shaw is ruthless.

A group of the employees recruit Slide (Eddie Murphy), a common street hustler, to help them steal their own money back. That’s how the Tower Heist gets started.

This is a light comedy, and it’s actually entertaining to watch, as all movies with Eddie Murphy generally are. But you can’t take it seriously, the plot twists are over the top, and at the end, it all seems a little silly.

That’s what we got when we flipped through Netflix for “something to watch.” We had a couple of light, entertaining hours.


Movie Review – Air (2023)

It’s 1984. Shoe salesman Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) is scouting for basketball talent at high school games. His company, Nike, is the clear leader in running shoes, but not even considered in other sports, let alone basketball. Sonny has a total budget of $250,000 a year he can spend on athletes marketing the shoe, which is nowhere near enough to attract any first-rate talent.

But Sonny sees Michael Jordan, who then was just a kid getting started. This story is about how the underdog Nike, led by Sonny’s indomitable will, is successful in recruiting Michael Jordan. He does the unthinkable and completely unacceptable: He shows up unannounced at the house of Michael Jordan’s parents in rural North Carolina. The picture above shows him talking to Deloris Jordan (Viola Davis) trying to convince her to come visit Nike for a pitch.

This movie is directed by Ben Affleck, who also stars as the iconic Nike founder and CEO, Phil Knight. Phil started the company in 1964 when he was a track team member in college, along with his coach as co-founder. In the first few years, Phil sold running shoes at track meets out of the trunk of his Plymouth.

I have heard people say this is a movie about Michael Jordan, but it’s actually not. It’s a movie about Nike and how a team of dedicated people succeeded in attracting Michael Jordan in a sponsorship deal which would change how shoes are sold worldwide.  Michael Jordan isn’t even seen in this movie. He is usually outside of the frame. Only a few times he is seen at all, but partially obscured and only from the back. The only views of Michael are in archival footage that supports the story.

I could not watch Air and not think of the book Shoe Dog which I read and reviewed here five years ago. It tells the story of a startup, Blue Ribbon Sports, Inc, which later became Nike, from a one-man show to a global giant, making Phil Knight one of the richest people in the country. Nike was even included in the Dow in 2013, replacing Alcoa. I always thought it to be an incredible rags to riches story. If you haven’t read Shoe Dog, go and do it now.

And if you haven’t seen Air, go ahead. I predict there will be Oscars won by this movie.


Movie Review: All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

As the first world war unfolded, which was then known as the great war, since they didn’t know there’d be a second, Germany’s propaganda machine recruited its young men as soldiers. A group of teenagers enlist voluntarily in the army, their faces full of fervor and optimism. But those preconceptions about the honor of war crumble very quickly as they see their first conflict and they realize they put themselves into a situation where it does not appear there is a way out. The hopelessness, the utter despair, the terrifying fear consume the boys as they are falling, one by one. In the end, when an armistice is negotiated by the brass, riding in luxury train cars and sipping wine, the boys are sent out one more time in the last 20 minutes before cease fire.

This movie has been made twice before. The other two are Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), and the lesser-known version by Delbert Mann, All Quiet on the Western Front (1979). This current rendition is supposedly the most expensive German film in the history of Netflix. My wife loaded it up and we found it is a German film, dubbed in English. Which, of course, was better for her, but I would have liked to watch it in its original language. Yet I don’t think I can do it again, it took too much out of me.

The uselessness and injustice of war depressed me, as many war movies will do. Every leader who is in a position of sending other people’s children into harm’s way should be required to watch All Quiet on the Western Front. This happened in 1917, and a hundred years later we still haven’t learned these basic lessons.

Of course, the irony is that the French won that war and forced the Germans into reluctant submission. They ended up signing an agreement they knew they ultimately could not accept. We all know that a young soldier named Adolf Hitler was also a grunt in that war and experienced the humiliation of Germany first-hand. It lit up a fire in the chest of that young man, and we all know where it ended.


Movie Review: Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)


This is my whole review:

Why did this movie get made in the first place?

Why did it win any Oscars, let alone seven of them?

Best Original Screenplay
Daniel Kwan
Daniel Scheinert
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Daniel Kwan (producer)
Daniel Scheinert (producer)
Jonathan Wang (producer)
Best Achievement in Directing
Daniel Kwan
Daniel Scheinert
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Michelle Yeoh
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Jamie Lee Curtis
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Ke Huy Quan
Best Achievement in Film Editing
Paul Rogers

What the heck is wrong with the Oscars?

This movie has no story or plot of any interest, no redeeming value of any kind, terrible acting, no moral that I could detect, no beauty, no scenery, no score. It is utterly boring and difficult to sit through. I knew after 10 minutes that I really wanted to walk out, but – well – it won seven Oscars so there must be something to it.

Trust me, there is not. It just drags on for two hours and 19 minutes. Half the movie at least are pointless and violent fake fight scenes. After the first few I was jaded and then I faded out.

There was no acting worth mentioning.

And the fact that it got Best Motion Picture of the Year is an insult to any movie made last year, any other movie!

This is the worst movie I can remember ever watching.

Do not bother to see Everything Everywhere All At Once.

It is a complete waste of time.


And that means ZERO stars.

Movie Review: The Vanishing (2018)

In December of 1900, three lighthouse keepers stationed on Flannan Isle off the coast of Scottland disappeared without a trace. They were never heard of again. The authorities found a diary entry logged by the keepers where they write about a terrible weather as the one they have never seen in 20 years at sea. It is interesting to note that the general weather reports at the time indicated that the weather was fine and calmed. Nobody knows what happened to the three men.

The movie The Vanishing is a thriller based on what might have happened. We witness what their lives were like on the island during their shift, and how they got along with each other. One day, while making the rounds on the island, they discover what appears to be the wreck of a lifeboat in a crag. They lower the youngest and lightest of them down with a rope to investigate. He finds what appears to be a dead body, along with the crashed boat and a sea chest.

The body, as it turns out, was not dead. This sets off a series of events the men could not have anticipated. Quickly they find themselves in a quagmire of conflicting emotions. Lack of judgement, kneejerk reactions, and simple greed escalate their situation where soon they see no way out.

The Vanishing is a well-structured thriller with simple photography and virtually no sound track. I became part of the set and experienced the isolation, the cold, and the monotony of the life of the keepers. It made me think about the human experience under drastic and unbearable conditions.



Movie Review: A Man Called Otto (2022)

In March of 2021 I watched a movie titled A Man Called Ove. It was a 2015 movie in Swedish, with English subtitles. I gave it four stars. Here is my review. 

One of my readers at the time commented that there was a Tom Hanks adaptation on the way, and here it is.

This review is difficult to write because I could just copy the Ove review here. It follows the script that closely.

Otto (Tom Hanks) is 59 years old and lives alone in a housing development somewhere in the northern United States, judging from the snow. He loses his job by a forced retirement program. His wife passed away from cancer six months before. He grieves badly and visits her grave every day. He has no relatives or children. He is the self-appointed master of the condominium association of his little community. He does not care about the official roles, and he rules with an iron fist. Daily rounds include checking whether the garbage recycling is done correctly and whether gates remain closed. Driving of any type in the community is forbidden, and leaving a bicycle out is a serious infraction. He is a true curmudgeon and the essence of a grumpy old man.

One day new neighbors move in across the street from his place. Marisol (Mariana Treviño) is from Mexico.  She has two young daughters,  and is pregnant with her next. Her husband is the opposite of handy and has difficulty even driving a car. Otto has them in his sights immediately.

Otto is seriously depressed and he attempts suicide several times in the movie, only to be interrupted by Marisol and her family. An unlikely friendship develops, and gradually he gets drawn back into a semblance of purpose.

A Man Called Otto incorporates many flashbacks to when Otto was young and his romance with his wife Sonya (Rachel Keller). Interestingly, the actor playing young Otto is Truman Hanks, Tom Hanks’ 27-year-old son.

A Man Called Otto is a well-crafted film about an ordinary man’s life from young adulthood to retirement. While I gave Ove four stars, I am giving Otto “only” three. It is a little awkward from time to time where Ove was nothing but authentic. But it’s a good movie, it draws out a tear or two, and it made me think of “the circle of life.”

You should go and see it.

Movie Review: Lou (2022)

Lou (Allison Janney) is a recluse who lives alone with her dog in a rough cabin on an island off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. She owns the trailer next door on her property. The tenant is a young woman named Hannah (Jurnee Smollett) with her young daughter Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman). Hannah is struggling to make the rent and is haunted by fear of her abusive ex-husband.

During a night of heavy rain and thunderstorms, Lou is planning on ending her life. She writes a letter, locks the dog in the bathroom, and points her rifle to her head. Just as she is about to pull the trigger, Hannah bursts into the cabin. Her daughter has been abducted.

The two decide that calling the authorities in the middle of the night in a storm will waste too much time and give the abductor extra time. Lou gathers up some supplies and the two head into the woods.

It quickly becomes apparent from Lou’s survival and hand to hand combat skills that she is not at all what she seems to be.

Lou is a thriller that plays in the same surrounding and “feeling” of Rambo First Blood, the unforgiving woods of the Pacific Northwest. It turns out that Lou has more secrets than the average loner, and plot twists keep the viewer in suspense. We know things are about to get serious when the CIA gets involved. There are no heroes in this movie, only underdogs and victims.

Lou is an entertaining thriller that made me think about our country and what it does in the world.


Movie Review: White Noise (2022)

The IMDb description of this movie talks about the dramatization of a contemporary American family’s attempt to deal with everyday life. But the movie plays in the early 1970s, which I would hardly characterize as contemporary.

It has some hilarious moments, but for the most part, this is just a bizarre dark comedy without a consistent storyline or plot. There are three distinct phases in the film: The first one introduces us to the family and its various dysfunctions. He is a college professor who is not sure about his career and where he is going with it, and the rest of the family follows suit. The second section deals with a toxic chemical emergency in their immediate neighborhood. And finally, when that is dealt with, in the third phase we go on to a bizarre drug abuse story with an unlikely ending.

Let’s all sing and dance in the grocery store!

Definitely, definitely don’t bother.

Movie Review: The Fabelmans (2022)

The Fabelmans is a highly acclaimed film of 2022. I just saw it as number one on the list of best movies of 2022 in Time Magazine. Of course, it’s by Stephen Spielberg, so you can’t go wrong. After the trailers and teasers, I expected it to be a movie about a young boy who wants to become a filmmaker  and succeeds. Wild guess, right? That’s what happened to Spielberg. I expected it to be somewhat autobiographical, since many of Spielberg’s movies have such touches.

But it really isn’t about a boy so much as it iss about a young Jewish family in Arizona and then California, living in the sixties in the early tech world. Elements of ostracism of Jews in Anglo-American society permeate the story. But the most surprising plot twist is completely unexpected and has little to do with filmmaking. It has to do with family dynamics in a complex social environment. It’s a story about the trials of modern life in a competitive society, and how the career of one can challenge or even ruin the lives of others.

The most memorable scene is the closing one, where “the most famous filmmakers of all time” gives the boy advice:

“Horizon low, interesting. horizon high, interesting, horizon in the middle, boring as hell. Now get the fuck out of my office.”

Movie Review: The Power of the Dog (2021)

The Burbank brothers jointly own a ranch in Montana of 1925. Both are bachelors.

Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the rough cowboy who manages the physical work on the ranch. He is rough, uncouth, obnoxious, brutal actually, and as a result of those qualities he happens to be successful running the cattle ranch and the bunch of cowboys who do the work.

George (Jesse Plemons) takes care of the business side of the ranch. He is quiet, gentle, calm, sensitive and somewhat overweight. On a cattle drive on horses, while Phil wears chaps, George wears a suit and tie, sometimes even a bow tie. They are wealthy enough to be part of Montana society, and when the governor is in town, George invites him to the ranch for dinner.

The brothers have deep respect for one another, almost to the point of co-dependency. Phil calls George “Fatso” in front of the men, and George grudgingly accepts it. When Phil is expected to make a showing at the table with the governor, George tells him awkwardly that he should wash up before joining. Phil stinks.

One day, on a cattle drive, George meets Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), the widow inn-keeper with an awkward but smart young son who is studying to become a doctor. George and Rose get married, and the dynamics on the ranch change drastically.

The Power of the Dog is a highly acclaimed film with great reviews, and yet, I could do very little with it. From the very beginning, I found it very slow-moving. For the most part I didn’t know what was going on, I still don’t know what the power of the dog means. I had to look it up. There is a bible verse:

Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.

If you can figure this out, please comment here and let me know.

There are many mysteries about the plot and the story, and what is actually going on. One scene has to do with anthrax, which caused me to look up the origin of the substance:

Anthrax is most common in agricultural regions of Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, central and southwestern Asia, southern and Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean. Anthrax is rare in the United States, but sporadic outbreaks do occur in wild and domestic grazing animals such as cattle or deer.

There is a lot of mystery around this film, and perhaps it is one of those that requires you to read the novel first. It is based on Thomas Savage’s  1967 novel of the same name. Here is the description in Amazon:

Set in the wide-open spaces of the American West, The Power of the Dog is a stunning story of domestic tyranny, brutal masculinity, and thrilling defiance from one of the most powerful and distinctive voices in American literature. The novel tells the story of two brothers — one magnetic but cruel, the other gentle and quiet — and of the mother and son whose arrival on the brothers’ ranch shatters an already tenuous peace. From the novel’s startling first paragraph to its very last word, Thomas Savage’s voice — and the intense passion of his characters — holds readers in thrall.

Maybe I need to read the book to understand it.

Everything else would be speculation.

Movie Review: The Menu (2022)

The Menu has a rating of 89% on the Tomatometer, that’s why we chose it for tonight’s movie night out. Here is the only description I found:

“A couple (Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult) travels to a coastal island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the chef (Ralph Fiennes) has prepared a lavish menu, with some shocking surprises.”

After just reading about Michelin star restaurants recently in Shucked, I looked up all the three Michelin star restaurants in the country (there are only some 20 or so). Two of them are by chef Thomas Keller: The French Laundry in Yountville, California, and Per Se in New York City. This movie is about such an exclusive restaurant and an iconic chef.

It’s a comedy, a satire, and a parody about expensive restaurants, the kind where after spending a few hundred dollars on a meal, you leave hungry. Except this restaurant has some non-culinary surprises, which makes the movie somewhat of a thriller. It least it tries to be a thriller.

It didn’t work for me – at all. First, I can’t relate to restaurants of that class, never having actually been to one. And I don’t drink wine, so you can skip the pairing.  I could not relate to any of the patrons. Their vapid dialog left me uninterested, the food descriptions seemed comical, and the entire movie was flat out boring to me. I found myself tapping my foot, waiting for it to be finally over.

Here is an example of a highly rated movie that I would definitely not recommend at all. Do yourself that favor, don’t bother, and you won’t miss anything.

To give away the plot: It all comes down to a cheeseburger in the end.



Movie Review: Ticket to Paradise (2022)

Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) is 25 years old and just graduated from law school. To reward herself, she and her best friend Wren (Billie Lourd) book tickets to Bali for a vacation “in paradise.” When they get there, Lily falls in love with a handsome young local man – a seaweed farmer. She decides to stay in Bali and marry into the family, and give up her career.

When her parents David (George Clooney) and Georgia (Julia Roberts) get the word, they freak out. While David and Georgia have been non-amicably divorced for 20 years, this news unites them and they make a pact to travel to Bali and sabotage Lily’s marriage. They believe she’s about to make the same mistake they did when they first got married, and they want to save her.

Ticket to Paradise is completely predictable. You know what’s going to happen the minute the movie starts, and you check off your predictions one at a time as the events unfold. But that did not seem to matter to me, and I truly enjoyed the story.

It’s funny, at times emotional, and who cannot like the scenery in Bali – paradise after all!

There is a message that comes through in the end, that has already affected some of my decisions since:

“Why save the good stuff for later?”

To find out what this means in the movie and for you as a message, you’re just going to have to go see Ticket to Paradise.

Movie Review – The Woman King (2022)

I like a movie best when it makes me think, and even more, when it makes me research afterwards.

In Smithsonian Magazine, I found an article about the Agojie, which starts out with this paragraph:

At its height in the 1840s, the West African kingdom of Dahomey boasted an army so fierce that its enemies spoke of its “prodigious bravery.” This 6,000-strong force, known as the Agojie, raided villages under cover of darkness, took captives and slashed off resisters’ heads to return to their king as trophies of war. Through these actions, the Agoije established Dahomey’s preeminence over neighboring kingdoms and became known by European visitors as “Amazons” due to their similarities to the warrior women of Greek myth.

Dahomey was a kingdom on the south coast of West Africa, approximately in the southwest area of today’s Nigeria. Throughout its history, starting in the 1600s, the kingdom was instrumental in its role of supplying slaves to European and later American slave traders.

The Woman King is inspired by true events in the 1825 timeframe. The female warriors of the Dahomey kingdon were called the Agojie. They were highly trained, fierce and skilled warriors. The army of women numbered in the thousands and essentially ruled the entire area for centuries.

The Woman King depicts the life of General Nanisca (Viola Davis). She leads her army with an iron will, as she trains the next generation of recruits. While the historical background is real, the individual stories are fictional. Yet, the plot is highly emotional and gripping, and it presented me with a view into the lives of Africans during the period of colonization by the Europeans and the exploitation of the black people. I usually thought about slaves being captured in Africa by traders and hauled across the sea. This movie shows that it was way more complicated than I ever realized, and how the African nations were complicit in the destruction of their own social fabric. You cannot sell your own people to the  world as slaves and maintain a thriving nation at home.

The movie tells a powerful story and it puts things for Dahomey into a much better light than the realities of history actually were. Read the article in the Smithsonian I quoted above for rich detail, about the country, its kings, and the Agojie.

The fighting scenes are extensive, brutal and graphic. There were many times when I had to close my eyes. While there is a lot of death and destruction, it is never shown as graphic blood and gore. It just makes your imagination create it.

Viola Davis has won many acting awards, including an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Fences which I predicted when I wrote my review in January 2017. Let me make another prediction: She’ll win the Oscar for best leading actress for The Woman King.


Movie Review: Breaking (2022)

Our nation has been sending young men and women into endless wars in faraway continents for many decades. We supposedly revere our military, we thank them for their service when we see them in airports or in the lines at stores. They go overseas and many of them come home broken. Some never come home. Some come home with limbs missing. Some come home with terrible diseases due to exposure to poisons. Some come home with broken spirits. When they come home, we owe them.

But we don’t seem to pay our debts.

We have the Veterans Administration, or short the VA, whose mission it is to “take care” of our veterans. I am sure sometimes they do. But, as we all know from anecdotes of people we know, from the stories in the media in general, and from the crazy political machinations we watch on TV, all too often our veterans are not taken care of.

Sometimes they end up homeless, begging on street corners, rejected, abused and  addicted to drugs.

According to a study completed in 2021, 30,177 American active duty military and veterans after 9/11 have died by suicide. During that same 20-year period, 7,057 service members were killed in combat. Suicide kills four times as many service members as combat does.

Breaking is based on a true story of the soldier Brian Brown-Easley, a former Marine whose disability check gets diverted due to no fault of his own. In a crazy scheme, to get public attention to his plight, he holds up a bank – not to rob money, but to get his $850 check that he says the VA owes him. That’s all he wants.

As he finds out quickly, holding up a bank to get on TV does not work, and he tries to somehow exit the situation with honor and alive.

After the movie, on the way home, I was not really able to talk. The images of the deep pain and despair haunted me. The pictures of the waiting room at the VA kept flashing through my mind, where seemingly hundreds of dejected men and women were languishing in endless lines, their dignity taken, their spirits broken, almost like cattle at the trough, just to collect what is due them, what we, as a country, owe them for their service: To care for their wounds – that’s all.

Breaking puts a spotlight on their blight.

Thank you for your service.

Movie Review: A Call to Spy (2019)


At the beginning of World War II, the British were desperate for information, and the traditional methods of espionage didn’t seem to work sufficiently.

In an age were women in war were not a common occurrence, Churchill requested that the spy agency, the SOE or Special Operations Executive, recruit women to work behind enemy lines and pass information back home via wireless Morse code transmitters.

Using those transmitters was a very dangerous activity. The units were bulky, the size of a suitcase, had to be set up in secret locations and could only be used for a short time. The problem was that they were easily traceable, so the users had to be on the move all the time. And if a “wireless operator” was intercepted by the enemy, the team that depended on him or her were left stranded without a connection home and had to operate “in the dark.”

Vera Atkins (Stana Katic) was the head of the spy department at the SOE. Among many other men and women, she recruited two very unusual candidates: Virginia Hall (Sarah Megan Thomas) was an American woman who had been turned down in her quest to become a diplomat because she had a wooden leg. She was very capable and ambitious, and took on the challenge. The other was a Muslim woman named Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Atpe), a pacifist, but a soldier nonetheless, because she believed in defending her and her people’s rights. Noor was the wireless operator, and Virginia the relentless spy and operative.

Together they helped to undermine the Nazi regime in France. Albeit at a terrible cost, they left a powerful legacy in their wake.

A Call to Spy was inspired by true stories and the credits at the end listing the fates of the players left me inspired about the heroism of that generation and the tremendous sacrifices they made – so we all could live in this world we built for ourselves after the war.