Fantasy

Don't Let Go

First Hit: Visually well crafted and ambitious in concept, ultimately it didn’t quite satisfy.

Films that mess with time (jump time), like “Memento” and “Frequency” have had their ways to jump time and create an engaging story. “Don’t Let Go” does this and then some.

In this story, the deep trusting relationship between a Policeman Jack Radcliff (David Oyelowo) and his niece Ashley (Storm Reed), is put to the test when Ashley, her father (and Jack’s brother) Garret (Brian Tyree Henry), and mother Susan (Shinelle Azoroh) are brutally murdered, or are involved in a murder-suicide.

The film does a great job of showing how close Jack and Ashley are through multiple telephone calls and one on one discussions. He does this because his brother has had a checkered past, and he wants the best for Ashley.

Jack gets a disturbing and interrupting call from Ashley that ends in a hang-up. He drives over to his brother’s home and finds them all murdered. Shocked, he thinks that this could be the result of Garret’s re-involvement in illegal drugs, with the intent to distribute.

Despondent, he’s in shock during the funeral which is then followed by scenes of him sitting at home, at a loss for why this happened.  Shortly after that, he gets a call from Ashley’s phone and the voice on the other end is definitely Ashley, although it is more scratchy sounding than usual. She hangs up. He calls back and gets a message that this number is no longer in use. Shocked he checks the police crime scene file boxes and doesn’t find her phone. Breaking into his brother’s murder scene sealed home, he finds the phone in the tub. It is broken and doesn’t work.

He then gets another call from Ashley from her number, and he begins to talk with her while trying to grapple with how this can be because he’s buried Ashley and yet she’s calling him.

Eventually, he determines that she’s calling him from the past and by slowly accepting that if he can change Ashley’s past actions, just before the murderous event, he is hoping to help her shift her future and his future as well, the one he’s already lived through.

That’s what this film attempts to do, have the audience believe this possible and improbably story of past and future existing at the same time. The work to make this film believable is all up to the acting of Oyelowo because he’s trying to live in three different time frames all at the same time. In doing so, he must juggle and make the audience believe the various versions and scenarios of the story. In two of them he gets shot. One he gets shot by a drive-by shooting. In another he gets shot twice, once in a warehouse and then by a fellow officer. These wounds bring him to the edge of death but also make him figure out who his brother’s murderer is and who might be corrupt in the police department. Ultimately, he’s able to help Ashley stay alive and conversely it allows him to live.

This is a complex film, and I thought the sets and scenes were well designed. The alleyways, buildings, and street scenes were not overpowering, but they brought the right tone and reality to this mystery.

Oyelowo does an outstanding job of creating belief. Less of an actor would have made this film a mess and unbelievable. He was able to use his protective love for Ashley in a most effective way. The whole restaurant gum scene was beautiful. Reed shows again (“A Wrinkle in Time” among her credits) what a wonderful actor she is becoming. Again, watch the restaurant gum scene, she’s magnificent in it. Mykelti Williamson, as fellow police officer and friend Bobby, was excellent as a trusted friend and eventually an antagonist. Jacob Estes wrote and directed this complex and challenging movie. At times, I felt I needed different clarifying touchpoints, but it was well done.

Overall: Although I really liked the components, I still don’t feel that the film finished as well as it could have.

Yesterday

First Hit: Thoroughly enjoyable film and story, especially if you like “The Beatles” music.

In my sophomore and junior years of high school, Jim Golden and I sat in his or my bedroom playing Beatles songs over and over again. Jim was one year younger than me and much better on guitar and singing. However, I knew how to harmonize, and together, we sang the shit out of those songs.

In my junior year (1967), Jim and I joined a band and one week after the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album came out, the group sang three songs from this album in the second of our band’s total of three public performances. My contribution was singing lead on “A Day in the Life,” and I’ll never forget it. The proof is that today, I can still play and sing this song.

In this film, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) wanted to play his music in front of people. His manager Ellie Appleton (Lily James), met him and fell in love with him at age 17 when he performed Oasis’ Wonderwall song during a high school performance. From that time, she worked tirelessly to get him gigs in local bars and establishments near their small English town of Lowestoft. When he’s not performing his songs at these joints, he’s working in a food warehouse.

When he plays, most people in the audience talk or just go about their business, and no one really listens except Ellie and a small group of friends that request their favorite Jack Malik songs.

One day Ellie brings him good news and bad news. The good news is that she got him a gig at a big-time music festival. However, the bad news is that it’s in a remote music tent. When we see Jack perform in the tent, his most attentive audience appears to be four children, Ellie, and a couple of other friends. It’s at this moment he decides to give up on his music career.

While riding his bike on the way home, there is a worldwide blackout, and during the outage, he gets hit by a bus. Waking up in a hospital with two missing front teeth, Ellie is there by his side. Getting out of the hospital, she gives him a new guitar because the old one got run over by the bus. While testing out the guitar, he sings, The Beatles “Yesterday.”

The three friends sitting with him ask him when did he write that song? And he says, he “didn’t, The Beatles did,” and they say who? This is a hilarious scene, especially when they bring up Coldplay. But the fantastic thing about this scene is that the audience, at least I did, hears this song as if it were really a new song. The focus is on the words, and they reflect Jack’s current situation, just as they reflect the circumstances in our own lives.

This then becomes the setup of the film. Did The Beatles exist? Did they ever exist? Jack goes home and searches the internet for The Beatles and finds nothing, except beetles.

Thinking that no one knows The Beatles songs, he begins to recall them and begins to write them down. When he performs them, the audiences love the songs and believe that these songs are Jack’s songs. Through the greatness of the songs, he becomes the new world singing and songwriting sensation.

He records the songs and with the help of Ed Sheeran and a new obnoxious agent who is appropriately named, Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon). She gets him all caught up in the demands of the music business, including how he looks. The scenes of the marketing team coming up with album titles and imaging are hilarious.

Meanwhile, Ellie tries to tell Jack that she’s more than someone who used to manage him, she’s in love with him and has so since she was seventeen. She asks him to make a choice.

This story is about making choices about the love of a person or a career. It is about honesty through the songwriting. It is about fame, money, and the downsides of all of it. However, for me, it was mostly about the songs I grew up playing with Jim Golden. I loved singing The Beatles songs then, and I loved lip-syncing the songs while watching the film. “I Saw Her Standing There” (She Was Just Seventeen) had extra meaning because of Ellie. The background music as Jack was hit was the music crescendo from “A Day in the Life.” Watching Jack work on remembering the words to “Eleanor Rigby” along with the remembering of the other songs shared in this film was exquisite.

The film had so many out-loud funny bits. Including that “Coke,” Oasis (the band), and cigarettes didn’t exist, were both entertaining and amusing each time they came up. I thought the pacing and sequencing of the scenes were divine, and when Jack drives out to a lonely beach house and meets an artist who tells him what is important in life, I wept silently.

Patel was fantastic in this role. I felt him in his character through my own experience as a young boy in a band wanting to sing songs. James was beyond wonderful. I loved her attempts to share her feelings with Jack, but it’s her looks when she just watching him that made her perfect. Joel Fry as Rocky, Jack’s old friend, and roadie after he gets discovered was hilarious. McKinnon slightly overacted her role at times, but overall was good. Sheeran as himself did an excellent job of acting in a role he would know. Richard Curtis wrote a fantastic screenplay from a story co-authored with Jack Barth. Danny Boyle did a superb job of creating a thoroughly enjoyable version and filled my heart with memories and joy.

Overall: This is a feel-good film.

Avengers: Endgame

Fist Hit: A long swan song with highly predictable scenes and very little cohesive clarity.

I’m glad it’s over, and I hope I don’t have to see another Avengers film in my lifetime. Yes, that is how I feel after sitting there for three hours and one minute just to give everyone, in the Avengers franchise catalog, a scene where they could shine a little.

Were there good parts? Yes, a few. I did think Thor (Chris Hemsworth) getting fat from drinking too much beer and lying around playing video games was slightly amusing. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) was showing his age while fading graciously into the great beyond was poignant.

Everyone had their day in the sun in this story. This includes but not limited to; Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Hope Van Dyne/The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), and at least twenty other known Avengers, fighting Thanos (Josh Brolin) who had destroyed one-half of the people on Earth as a way to have the inhabitants wake up.

The petty fighting between factions in this group of Avengers was brought forth and forgiven. Simmering mistrusts were rectified. Everything seemed to be tied up in a beautiful neat bow.

But the story was rather meek and dividing up the defeat of Thanos by the various personalities and powers diluted the entire reason for the franchise.

I won’t bother calling out a group or sub-group of actors and their performances as there are too many people to name. Overall, there were no outstanding performances. Everyone did what they were supposed to do, make their screen time be about their character’s strengths and weaknesses, no more no less. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wrote this overly ambitious screenplay: Make every Avenger have a say in the story and its ending. What they forgot about that this sort of story loses focus, the audience cannot attach themselves to a single hero, and it makes for a really long experience in mediocrity. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo co-directed this, and in the end, they did what the producers wanted.

Overall: I couldn’t wait for the end because the movie came across as an amorphous mass of ideas.

Dumbo

First Hit: Overdone, overreaching, and overproduced leaving little to the imagination — dumb.

Director Tim Burton has a habit of creating worlds and often what we see is his complete vision. He tidies the storyline in such a way that the audience can only watch and not imagine themselves. With fantasy, I think it is important to leave things to the imagination.

With Dumbo he’s created a world where we have to feel sorry for the Medici Circus because it has fallen on hard times. The circus is run by Max Medici (Danny DeVito). The train cars are perfectly faded. There is the strong man who is also the accountant, as well as assorted clowns, snake charmer, and other mixed people. The only animals that are left in this dilapidated circus are dogs with colored fur and elephants.

Two children are running around the circus, Millie and Joe Farrier (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins respectively). They are being taken care of because their mother has died and their father, Holt (Collin Farrell), had to leave the circus to fight in the war.

Upon the father’s return, he’s missing an arm which adds to the depressing scene. Holt’s act with the circus was riding horses, and when he returned with one arm, he discovered the horses were already sold. He’d hoped he’d do a one arm riding act. Max tells Holt his new job will be to tend the elephants, including the new huge one who is pregnant.

When the elephant gives birth, they find out the baby elephant has enormous, I mean really huge, ears which makes him the laughing stock of the circus audience. Here is where I see a mistake, why is the audience laughing? It is merely a ploy used to make everyone feel even more bad for the Medici Circus clan.

The children are fascinated by the big-eared pachyderm, and through an accident of inhaling a feather, Dumbo sneezes and ends up leaving the ground. Soon the kids discover they can induce Dumbo to fly by flapping his ears and coaxed by a feather.

The circus is about to fold when evil villain V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and his girlfriend, Collette Marchant (Eva Green) come to see the flying elephant. Vandevere likes what he sees and buys the Medici Circus, and now everyone works for Vandevere.

Unfortunately, V.A.’s money man J. Griffin Remington (Alan Arkin) puts conditions on V.A. and Dumbo’s performance. This enhances the sadness because Dumbo’s mom is taken away again and now the Medici Circus team wants to retaliate.

You can easily imagine what happens. The whole story is to make everyone feel bad, then let Dumbo save the day along with the kids.

The most positive aspect of this film was the quality of the pictures. Burton does this well, and he’s to be commended for this, but otherwise, the movie is predictable and sadly lacking soul. The computer-generated Dumbo was a work of thoughtful art, but at times, he seemed to human-like.

Farrell was reasonably adequate to the role, but there was nothing for him to stretch into and make it his own. Keaton was OK as the villain, he’s good at it. DeVito was charming as the small circus owner, but I found it hard to believe he owned or ran the circus. The actual running of the circus, like putting up tents, seemed to happen through magic. BTW: The tent poles were longer than a train car, so I kept wondering how did they get them from place to place? Parker was stunning. Her intelligence and maturity were well beyond the child character she played. She embraced this role and was the best thing in the film. Hobbins was equal to the task as well, and it is his and Parker’s performances that kept me engaged. Green was excellent and put something of herself into this role and made it work. Arkin was sardonically perfect for this role as an arrogant banker and money man. Ehren Kruger wrote the screenplay which seemed too buttoned up and left little to the imagination. Burton was himself. His visuals were good and generally dark in character. I also thought that Vandevere’s “Dreamworld” was overdone and took the film too far out of any sense of wanting this film to be real and down to earth.

Overall: Everything was perfect and the way it was to be seen, therefore when I left the theater, nothing came with me.

Films that rose above the fray in 2018

This was a particularly good year for films. At first I didn’t think so but after I reviewed the films I watched and wrote about this past year, I was pleasantly surprised. I was entertained by outstanding acting, strong and poignant films about racism, and out loud laughs. My next post will be about the Oscar nominations.

Game Night: This film was funny from the get go and I laughed out loud all the way through.

Leaning Into the Wind: Andrew Goldsworthy: If you liked the film River and Tides, you’ll love Leaning....

The Death of Stalin: There are very funny moments, but I couldn’t help but wonder was his regime filled with that much personal corruptness? Probably.

Flower: The acting lifts this bizarre storyline to funny, engaging and entertaining levels.

Red Sparrow: Although long at 2h 19min, it had enough twists, turns, and detail to keep me fully engaged.

You Were Never Really Here: Beautifully shot scenes, dynamic soundtrack, but this oddly paced film tells a story of redemption, salvation or deeper despair.

Beirut: I really liked the way this film was put together and came to fruition.

A Quiet Place: Well done film and the silence of the actors made all the difference in the world.

Deadpool 2: First Hit: This film is fun, irreverent and filled with out-loud laughs.

RBG: Excellent film about a woman who lives within her strength and defined and changed U.S. law.

Disobedience: Extremely well-acted film about how antiquated thinking can split families and a loving relationship.

Hotel Artemis: Who says Hollywood cannot create a unique and well-acted film.

Blindspotting: Extremely powerful and pointed film and raises the bar for Best Picture of the Year. In my view this unnominated film is by far and away the best film of 2018.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot: A unhurried film revealing the power of how forgiveness of others and self, can make one’s life different.

Three Identical Strangers: A truly amazing story about how sciences’ curiosity didn't take into account the effects on human beings.

Sorry to Bother You: What I liked about this film is that it is funny, unique, and unlike any other film I’ve seen.

Leave No Trace: Sublimely acted and evenly paced film about a man and his daughter living in a public forest.

Puzzle: I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant film about a woman finding herself through a passion.

BlacKkKlansman: Fantastic film about race relations in the United States while reminding the audience about how far we have to go.

Eighth Grade: Outstanding acting and script gives us an insightful view of what it is like to be in the Eighth Grade today.

Fahrenheit 11/9: Covers a lot of stuff but I think it was mostly about Presidents and people in power managing and acting poorly.

Pick of the Litter: It was an fantastic and interesting way to learn about how guide dogs are taught to be amazing caretakers for the blind.

First Man: Compelling reenactment of an audaciously brave time in the 1960’s where we were challenged by President Kennedy to go to the moon.

The Hate U Give: A fantastic film about the existence of racism and, as indicated here, in our police departments as well.

Green Book: Excellent acting, engaging story, and both funny and thought-provoking make this film fun to sit through.

Boy Erased: Outstanding cast delivers sublime performances in a powerful story about LGBT conversion programs.

A Private War: Rosamund Pike (as Marie Colvin) gives a deeply complex performance of a war correspondent who brought personal stories of war victims to the forefront.

Bohemian Rhapsody: Accurate or not, this film was fun, well-acted, engaging, and joyful.

Can You Ever Forgive Me: Excellent acting about a caustic, friendless author that finally finds her voice.

Mary Queen of Scots: Saoirse Ronan (Mary Stuart) and Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth 1) give powerful performances in this adaptation of how Mary Queen of Scots tried to claim her title to the throne of England and Scotland.

Vice: I liked this oddly created film about a powerful yet enigmatic man who really ran our country for a period of time.

Ben is Back: Extremely well-acted story based on 24 hours of a mother and her addicted son’s return for the holidays.

Roma: Outside of the beautiful black and white photography and languid movement of the story, I left the theater with little.

The Favourite: A stark, intense musical score underscores the bizarre and tension filled interrelationships between the queen and her court.

Shoplifters: Wonderfully engaging film about a Japanese family who chose each other while fighting to stay nourished and together.