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Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

CITY LIGHTS

United Artists, 1931, 87 minutes

Starring Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill

Produced and Directed by Charlie Chaplin

Film Score by Charlie Chaplin

A blind flower girl captures the Little Tramp’s heart. Smitten by her charm and beauty, the homeless hobo is resolved to rescue the girl from her hapless condition. This is the premise which drives the plot of City Lights, Chaplin’s unforgettable romantic comedy. The encounters between the Tramp and the blind girl project a gentle pathos that echoes the recurrent theme of unrequited love. By contrast, the meandering episodes, featuring the Tramp’s arduous ventures to earn money, provide broad comic relief. Enter on the scene a drunkard, distraught over his marital woes. In the course of his clumsy attempts at suicide, he is rescued by none other than the Tramp. The brooding tippler turns out to be a bourgeois millionaire! In gratitude to his rescuer, he promises to assist the blind girl. But can such serendipity be real? Or is it too good to be true? The millionaire’s behavior turns out to be erratic, his shifting moods alternating between bouts of intoxication and sobriety. Will he keep his promise to Chaplin to aid in the rescue of the poor flower girl?

City Lights was greeted enthusiastically by audiences weary of the hardships inflicted by the Great Depression. Considered one of Chaplin’s greatest films, it is preserved in the Library of Congress as a cultural treasure. City Lights ranks 11th on the list — created by the American Film Institute — of the 100 best American films. At the time the film was released, the silent era of cinema had been eclipsed by the advent of sound. Yet Chaplin would continue to work without spoken dialogue. Modern Times, his last silent feature, was released in 1936. The Great Dictator (1940), his lampoon of Hitler and Mussolini, ushered the introduction of spoken dialogue in the next wave of Chaplin films.

Although Chaplin composed mostly his own music for his films, the romantic theme in City Lights was a melodic arrangement based on the popular Spanish song, La Violetera. The composer, José Padilla, sued Chaplin for not acknowledging authorship and won.

The restored print of the film in black-and-white is available in DVD format through the Criterion Collection (which has acquired exclusive rights to the entire Chaplin Library).

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The picture above shows a piece of the demolished Death Star crashed into an ocean on some planet. I always like pictures of crashed space ships (or in this case huge space stations) on some planet, hidden by clouds and mist and off in the distance. Star Trek had a few shots of spaceships sitting on the ground from time to time, and Star Wars does the same. And that shot, and a few of the scenes that come along with it, were the most interesting and enjoyable part of the movie.

This movie is rated only 53% on the Tomatometer. We went to see it because we had seen the other eight Star Wars movies over the last 42 years, and “we just can’t stop now” even though everyone said there isn’t much to go and see. The Star Wars series is an epic, and in such, it shaped my entire life of enjoying science fiction.

So what about The Rise of Skywalker?

  • I don’t know what the title means. I didn’t see any Skywalker rising.
  • There aren’t any decent aliens. All the aliens have only cameo roles in the background, mostly lasting a fraction of a second, not enough to enjoy them. The few aliens that speak are the trite humanoids, as usual. Whatever happened to the classic bar scenes?
  • Sword fights. What’s with the light sabers in every Star Wars movie? I get it. Wars waged by huge fleets of thousands of advanced battle ships miles long in size with weapons that can destroy planets are ultimately solved by two young people and their swords. The sword fights are always boring. Nobody ever gets hurt, they just go on and on, and I simply find myself waiting for them to be over. This is the case in every Star Wars movie. Half of this movie seems to be sword fights.
  • Stealing from the classic theme of Independence Day, where the alien mothership is attacked and defeated by pilot jockeys in fighter jets, the same thing happens in this movie: A thousand ships suddenly materialize in the sky over this planet where the entire battle cruiser fleet is for some reason suspended, and they, by their sheer numbers, eliminate the battle cruisers.
  • Then there is the invincible emperor, who has magical telekinetic powers, that are eventually matched by one Jedi with two swords. Deus ex machina.

There was no story that I cared about. There was no plot that I could follow. There were no characters that I could empathize with. There was no technology or space travel gear that was interesting. The movie makers just packed as much Star Wars legacy and as many characters into two hours and twenty minutes that they could to make a bang ending to the series.

But I think it fizzled.

After all, where was Jar Jar Binks? (backstory here)

 

 

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Movie Review: Bombshell

Bombshell is a dramatization of the time in 2016 when Megyn Kelly didn’t put up with the degrading behavior of candidate Trump, and when Roger Ailes, the creator of Fox News, fell after a massive scandal of sexual harassment.

It is not clear, of course, how much of the story is dramatized, and how much is real. But it gives a telling view of Fox News behind the scenes.

Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) are the main characters in the drama of the fall of Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). They know something is rotten in Fox News, and they struggle internally and openly between coming forward, telling the truth, and exposing what is going on, or staying quiet and continuing with their lucrative careers. We all know how it eventually ended. Roger Ailes was let go by Robert Murdoch, the owner of the network. Eventually, Bill O’Reilly also fell from grace.

I remember watching Fox News over the years, and I remember wondering why all the women in prominent roles, especially the anchors, looked like Barbie Dolls. Now I know. Management required it, all the way from the top down. All the women knew they’d have to buy into it if they wanted to be on television, it was as simple as that. And watching Fox News now, Roger Ailes long gone and meanwhile deceased, it’s still that way today. Fox News hasn’t changed.

Megyn Kelly doesn’t work there anymore, and many others have gone, too.

Bombshell is a revealing movie about a time in our history that is not over yet. Therefore it is quite relevant right now and watching it was insightful. It was a little odd to have all the characters played by actors. Charlize Theron does an amazing job with Megyn Kelly. She looks just like her, and acts just like her. The same holds true for John Lithgow playing Ailes, where it’s important to remember that Ailes was never on television on the front lines, so the viewers don’t know him that well and therefore cannot judge whether Lithgow got it right.

All the other main characters in Fox News make appearances in the form of actors, including Hannity, Pirro, O’Reilly and many others. Fortunately, when a new character is introduced there is always a caption with the name of the character. In some cases, there was a strong likeness, in others not so much. I didn’t recognize Hannity, for example. The playing of Fox News celebrities in Bombshell is somewhat reminiscent on how it is done of Saturday Night Live – a bit comical. But what else could they do?

Overall a movie worthwhile to watch, particularly if you are NOT a follower or fan of Fox News.

Know thy enemy!

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Movie Review: Uncut Gems

We went to see Uncut Gems on Christmas Day. It was the highest-rated movie available, and while we didn’t know much about it, we thought it would be a safe bet.

Uncut Gems kills your Christmas spirit with the speed and power of a baseball bat hit on the side of the head.

Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a New York City jeweler and compulsive gambler. His life is filled with frenetic activity in all areas. He is cheating on his wife, he is neglecting his three children, he is not paying his debts to mafia-types, he is abusing his employees, he is using his friends, and he swindles everyone he comes in contact with. That does not come without a cost.

He succeeds in buying a rare opal from a dubious source at an Ethiopian gem mine. He estimates the raw (uncut) gem is worth over a million dollars, and he tries to sell it to a superstitious basketball player who thinks it gives him power. But it’s never that simple, because he has to use the leverage of the gem to hold off the many wolves he owes money to. As you might expect, things don’t always work out like he has been planning.

Uncut Gems starts out with frantic activity, total chaos all around, cussing, beating, cheating and subterfuge. Every scene is accentuated by a powerful sound track of custom music to further disorient the viewer. Within about ten minutes of watching I realized I didn’t have a clue about what was going on. I was severely disturbed and wondering why I was there. The couple who sat next to us left after about 30 minutes. I assume they couldn’t take it anymore. I was close, but we stuck with it in hopes of it getting better.

The plot was impossible to follow. But I assume that was by the design of the music and the camera work, accompanied by the constant yelling of the people. Confusion abounded.

The movie also holds a dubious record of being in place seven of all time for movies with the word fuck or fuck-derivatives. There are 408 in the movie, or about three a minute.

Fucks notwithstanding, this was a very hard movie to watch, and when it was done, I was dazed.

I found no moral, no redeeming value and no lessons.

Just stay away from gambling, and from the jewelry business in New York.

I felt like I needed a shower when it was all done.

And yes, Sandler will probably win some awards for that performance.

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Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a young man with Down syndrome who lives in a residential nursing home because he has no relatives and is under the supervision of the Department of Social Services with the state. He feels imprisoned, and realizes that he does not belong there. Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) is tasked to keep watch over him and take care of him. She does it with kindness and dedication.

But Zak needs to get out. His dream is to become a professional wrestler, and he wants to start by enrolling in the wrestling school run by his idol, Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), in Florida. With a little help from his elderly roommate and friend (Bruce Dern) he breaks out one night and does not come back. He runs into an outlaw on the run named Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) and the unlikely pair team up against all odds and start heading south. First stop: Salt Water Redneck’s wrestling school.

Reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine, a group of unlikely underdogs make their journey and come out better on the other side.

This is a feel-good movie for all of us and it makes us think about our place in society, and those who are not as fortunate as we are.

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood tells the real-life story of the relationship of Tom Junod, a journalist who wrote for Esquire Magazine, and Mr. Rogers, the famous children’s television show host.

In the fictionalized story, the journalist is Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). He is burned out and trapped in an emotional mess of his own making. He can’t reconcile the broken relationship with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper), and he takes it out on his supportive wife and indirectly on his infant son. When he is assigned to profile Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), he first thinks it’s a joke.

When he meets Mr. Rogers, he goes through a learning process, when the famed star of the children’s show uses his techniques of dealing with emotions to elicit empathy and kindness. While Lloyd ends up writing the story of his life, ending up on the cover of Esquire Magazine, he also learns how to deal with his emotions and inner conflicts. He makes peace with the demons of his life and settles his scores with his estranged father.

Tom Hanks makes a wonderful Mr. Rogers. They could not have found a better actor for this role. While we see into the soul of the journalist, Tom Hanks shows us that the seemingly unflappable Mr. Rogers has his own pains and moments of sorrow and anger.

This comes to life in the last minute of the movie, when Mr. Rogers plays the piano in the studio, after a show, when the crew has left, the studio is all quiet and dark. Mr. Rogers plays a painful tune and then suddenly pounds all the lowest keys of the piano a few times hard, and we, the viewers, all know what that means.

You’ll just have to go and find out.

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In 1968, when I was a young boy of 12, I enjoyed learning about cars. I was impressed with the Ford Mustang, but my all-time favorite car was the Ford GT40. Of course, I never, ever saw one in real life. I had to be satisfied with pictures.

Ford built the GT40 as a race car, specifically designed to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race that was dominated by Ferrari in the early 1960s. One of the requirements to compete in the Le Mans was that the company had to build at least 25 road-going versions of the car they were racing. Ford built 31 GT40 Mk I street cars. Nowadays they sell at auctions for over three million dollars each.

The first time I ever saw a GT40 in real life was at the Escondido Hot Summer Nights a few years ago. Escondido is my home town. On Friday nights in the summer, they close down Grand Ave for an all-town party. Car lovers bring in their babies by the dozens, maybe hundreds.  All the restaurants are open, and it makes for a great outing – and an occasional sighing of a classic, like the Ford GT40.

The movie Ford v Ferrari tells the story of the legendary American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who worked with Ford on the GT40, and the daring driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), as they built a car from scratch, in record time, against all odds, to beat Ferrari at the Le Mans.

The movie is over two-and-a-half hours long, but worth every minute of it.

Christian Bale did an amazing job in this movie. He had to lose a large amount of weight to fit the role. Remember, this is the same actor that played Dick Cheney in the movie Vice in 2018. See this article for a picture of the same man for these two extreme roles. I find he is unrecognizable.

I didn’t know much about racing in the 1960s, and this movie taught me a lot. And I got to see the Ford GT40 in action. What more could this 12-year-old boy in the body of a 63-year-old man want on a movie night?

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JoJo Rabbit is a satire. It is cartoonish and grotesque, and for the first half of the movie I really didn’t know what to do with it. It plays with an intense subject matter, the Jewish prosecution in Nazi Germany and how it was possible for an entire nation of people to be led to play along with such an obscene objective.

We all know it happened. JoJo Rabbit tells the story of a lonely and awkward 10-year-old German boy named JoJo who, as all children of his time, joined the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth), an organization that brainwashed children from an early age by subjecting them to Nazi doctrine and the personality cult Hitler fostered. Peer pressure did the rest. Create a “family” of like-minded people, in this case children, who are told that their mission is a noble one of creating a pure and good empire and eradicate all bad, ugly, evil and low, and you have an entire generation of followers who never knew otherwise and think nothing of ratting out their own parents for the good of the country.

When JoJo finds a Jewish girl hidden in the attic in their house, it creates a conflict for him that he does not know how to work through.

JoJo Rabbit exposes what went on during the Nazi regime, and it makes us think about what is happening today. We vilify foreigners, especially a certain type of foreigner, we build walls to keep us protected from them by supposedly keeping them out. We know the walls don’t work, they never did, they never will, but we tell our children and our people who do not think for themselves that walls are good, and the illusion feeds on itself. We hold up an emperor, and it does not matter if he wears any clothes. We follow him, because we don’t know what else to do to solve our problems.

When the emperor starts killing and putting uniforms on 10-year-old boys so they can go out and die, the people still follow because they don’t know any better.

JoJo Rabbit shows how this works.

It disturbed and unsettled me.

 

 

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The Joker is a comic book character, a supervillain, psychopath and criminal mastermind who reigned over his empire in Gotham, the arch nemesis of Batman. The movie Joker is a prequel to the numerous Batman movies, but completely unrelated to them. It explains how the Joker came to be in the form of a stand-alone fictional story.

There is nothing funny about the Joker. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a clown for hire during the day. He puts on gaudy makeup and twirls signs in the city streets. When he goes home and his makeup is off, he dreams of being a stand-up comic. He writes joke material into his journal and performs in comic joints at night when he can get a gig. Maybe one day he’ll make it big.

But things are not easy for him. He supports his ailing mother, who has a secret or two of her own. He battles severe depression and desperately tries to cope with his illness by taking a multitude of medications and going to counseling. As a clown in a degenerate society where the social gaps between the desperate masses and the super powerful is huge, he is a perpetual victim of his purported friends, and of the bullies on the street.

When he gets beat up in the subway by a group of young Wall Street thugs he snaps and kills all three of them. That was his first blood. It wasn’t his last.

Joker is a story about mental illness in our society. It’s a dark, depressing, heavy depiction of a man with a will, a yearning for a decent life, a successful and rewarding career, who gets beaten. He get beaten by kids on the street, beaten down by his upbringing, beaten by his workmates, beaten into submission by his superiors, beaten by the mental illness support system of his city: “Where am I supposed to get my medication now?”

Joker is a story about the immense differences between the classes of society. There is the corrupt political layer, where the powerful enrich themselves by the labor of the masses and where those same elites convince the people that they have their welfare in mind. Does that have any parallels in our society this very day?

Joker is a movie with one main actor – Joaquin Phoenix – who portrays a comic book character with fierce intensity and relentless passion. I predict he’ll get an Oscar for this role.

When we left the movie Joker, we needed to distract our minds. Be prepared. It takes a lot out of you.

But you have to go!

 

 

 

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Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is an astronaut in the nearer future, a time when trips to the Moon and to Mars are routine and humanity has started venturing farther out, mining the asteroid belt, and reaching for the gas giants. When Earth is suddenly bombarded by massive and destructive power surges from a mystery energy source at the planet Neptune, McBride is recruited to help. As it turns out, the only person who ever traveled to Neptune was his own father, a decorated astronaut who was the first to reach Jupiter, then Saturn, and finally embarked on a mission to the edge of the solar system, to Neptune, presumably to seek out alien intelligence in the universe. But when he arrived, he and his crew perished and were never heard from again – or were they?

NASA suspects that the elder McBride near Neptune is still alive and has something to do with the power surges that threaten to destroy the earth. In order to communicate with him, NASA recruits his son, Roy McBride, because they think the father is likely to respond to the son. And thus he goes on a long journey.

Ad Astra is the Latin expression for “to the stars.” There nothing about stars in this movie, other than neat special effects of space travel. The entire movie and the ludicrous story that does not make any sense just seem to be an excuse to string together some interesting and effective special effects.

I watch pretty much every “large” science fiction movie because I am interested in space travel and humanity in the future. So I enjoyed the movie, even though it insulted my intelligence every few minutes along the way. There is so much wrong with this story, it’s hard to know where to start.

Warning: Significant Spoilers Below – even though I don’t think they’ll really interfere with your enjoyment of the movie, since it’s such a weak plot anyway.

First the basic premise: NASA recruits Roy for the top secret mission to travel to Mars, via the Moon, to send a message to Neptune to his father, with the option to eventually fly out to Neptune to stop the threat to the Earth. The journey to the moon is equivalent to an airline ride coast to coast for us. It’s all routine. But when they arrive on the moon, for some odd reason, they have to travel by rover overland to another base from where the rocket to Mars is launched. But there are now pirates on the moon, and they prey on travelers and attack them by rover. Everyone is in spacesuits and they are shooting each other up, like in a western, but rather than riding horses, they ride rovers in space suits. I wonder what the pirates are trying to gain. The whole chase is just a useless filler that takes up 5 or 10 minutes of movie time and adds nothing to the story.

Along the way to Mars, there is a mayday call from a research vessel, and the ship stops to try to help. I will spare you with what happens on that research vessel. It again has nothing to do with the movie other than adding some special effects footage and scary scenes. The problem is, how did the chemical rocket they were riding to Mars stop along the way, line up with the stranded vessel and match trajectories so they can board via space suit? And then start up again going on to Mars. The trip to Mars is supposed to take a few days, so the stopping and starting along the way would have taken massive amounts of acceleration that no human could possibly endure. But, it’s a movie, I guess.

Once Roy arrives on Mars, he is guided into a secret sound-proof room where he records a message to his father that is then sent to Neptune via a laser beam. After sending the second message, it appears there is a response. That is quite odd, since Neptune is about four light hours away from Mars, so the round trip of a message would take eight hours. You would not stand there waiting for it. But that’s what it looks like they are doing. Then they decide to send Roy back to Earth because they think he is not psychologically ready to continue with the mission. So explain to me why Roy bothered to travel to the Moon, get attacked and almost killed by pirates, then on to Mars, just to record a message? He could have recorded that message in his living room on Earth and they could have sent it to Neptune.But, it’s a movie, I guess.

He eventually forces his way onto the ship that travels on to Neptune. The trip will take 79 days. Again, massive accelerations and speeds are required to make that happen, and it’s not clear how the simple chemical rocket technology they have accomplishes that. As we observe him on his journey, there are some convenient shots of the ship right in front of Jupiter first, and then a bit later of Saturn, as if the outer planets were all lined up in a straight line and the ship would travel from one to the other. As it is, the planets are spread out all over the solar system, often on different sides of  the sun, and a rough alignment only happens every few centuries. It seems to have happened for Roy’s journey.

Neptune has a thin set of rings. Roy put his craft in an orbit right above the plane of the rings, so he has to conveniently dive through the rings to get to the craft of his father. I enjoy thinking about floating in the rings of Saturn, and I wrote this entire post about that. So I enjoyed that scene, even though it was way too contrived. I also got a kick out of how Roy decided to return to his craft through the rings after he loses his shuttle. He uses a sheet metal panel to protect himself against impact of ring particles as the dives through. Then he finally gets back and collides with his own craft due to their velocities not being matched very well. Good scene there.

Finally, when the movie is over, somehow Roy has to travel back to Earth. To do that, he invokes a Deus ex Machina technique: he uses a nuclear explosion to propel him. Somehow the three dimensional vector between the nuclear explosion and his ship is perfectly aligned so the ship travels through the 2 billion miles plus back to Earth and hits it exactly. Yeah, sure!

As you can see, this is a movie for people that do not understand science, know nothing about space travel, and just want to see neat special effects. They might enjoy this

For the geeks, like me, Ad Astra is just silly and a waste of a good opportunity. All that money and technology could have made a good movie and a good story instead.

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If you asked me what Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is about, I’d be hard-pressed to give you an answer.

The story plays in Los Angeles in 1969. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the former star of a western TV series. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is Rick’s stunt double, who also serves as his driver and definitely his best friend and buddy. Rick is struggling to keep his career moving forward. He feels washed out and does not know how to cope with Hollywood’s new realities. When he is recruited to travel to Rome and star in a series of “spaghetti westerns” he is depressed and driven to tears. Cliff’s own success is directly dependent on Rick’s career, since nobody needs a stunt double other than the star, and if the star does not have gigs, the double does not eat. But Cliff has other skills and he does not take shit from anyone. When he runs into Bruce Lee on a movie set and Bruce taunts him, he ends up giving him a good beating.

Rick lives in a nice house on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood hills, and his next door neighbors are Roman Polanski and his girlfriend Sharon Tate. Rick’s ambition is to somehow meet the famous “Polish Prince” director in an effort to boost his own chances of landing a starring role, but he does not know how to go about it.

Cliff, in his own right, has been around the movie business for a long time, and he knows people. During one chance excursion he goes out to the Spahn movie ranch where he finds an old friend on his dilapidated farm taken over by a gang of zombie-like hippies. Their leader is Charlie and the hippie in charge of security is Tex.

The casting was somewhat unusual, too. Seldom do we see two top Hollywood actors share the same movie. Neither Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio was the star of this movie, they both were, and it was very well balanced. The two played off each other well, and neither dominated the other. The acting was superb, convincing and poignant.

So what is the movie about?

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is probably a play on Once Upon a Time in the West, my favorite spaghetti western with Charles Bronson by Sergio Leone. It’s about struggling actors in Hollywood in the Sixties.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is also about the Charlie Manson murders, specifically the Sharon Tate massacre on August 8, 1969. When Cliff ran into Tex, it was Charles “Tex” Watson of the Manson gang who was a central figure in the Manson crimes and is serving his life sentence to this day.

A friend told me that after watching this movie he went to get the 1974 book Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, to read up on the Manson gang. Coincidentally, Helter Skelter was the first book I read in the English language back in 1974, and I still remembered quite a few of the details as I watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

I thought I knew what would happen, but I was wrong.

So what was the movie about?

You’re just going to have to go and see it to find out.

 

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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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