Episode 1:  New World Order 

The Falcon, (Anthony Mackie) is sent into Tunisia to stop the terrorist group LAF, meanwhile his friend, Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez) is attacked by another terrorist group, the Flag Smashers, can Falcon help stop them too? 

After facing off with LAF, Falcon goes to Washington DC to retire Captain America’s shield, but is the Captain really retired? 

The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is in therapy, and trying to atone for all the damage that he’s done as the Winter Soldier, how does his first attempt at redemption go? 

The issue with this episode is that there is much too much backstory, and not enough plot to hold the viewers’ attention.  The plot is pedestrian, and the writers are trying to make the show a character driven show, but the backstory isn’t very interesting.   The plot is undermined by the fact that The Falcon and Winter Soldier don’t appear together at all, they just look like two superheroes doing different things.  The most interesting plot point is Captain America, it should be fun to see how that develops. 

Episode 2:  The Star-Spangled Man 

The American government introduces a new Captain America, John Walker. (Wyatt Russell) and both the Falcon and The Winter Soldier are disgusted by the thought of a new Captain America.  The Winter Soldier and Falcon go to Baltimore to visit a disgruntled veteran super soldier, Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbley) Isaiah refuses to help Falcon and the Winter Soldier.  Captain America tries to get them to work with him, but neither is interested. 

Falcon and WS continue with their main mission, find the Flag Smashers.  When they find the Smashers leader, Karli Morganthau (Erin Kellyman) they are surprised to learn that she and the rest of the Flag Smashers have super soldier strength, how did they get that way? 

This is a much more interesting episode than the first one.  The duo has a mission, and they are working together to pursue wherever it leads.  They view John Walker as a usurper to a throne he doesn’t deserve, and they view each other as rivals.  Falcon is not please with Winter Soldier, and the feeling is very mutual. 

Episode 3: The Power Broker 

Falcon and the Winter Soldier are looking for the source of the Super Soldier serum, and Winter Solder suggests breaking dangerous criminal Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) to help them on their quest.  Falcon is not so sure that’s a good idea.  Their journey takes them to Madripoor, a lawless island near Indonesia, where Falcon and Winter Solder are in over their heads, but they get some unexpected help.  Do they make it out of Madipoor in one piece? 

This is a great episode, because the mission has changed slightly, and the writers keep bringing in different characters from the MCU and these are nice surprises throughout the episode.  The new Captain America is still lurking about, on the outside looking in and that adds another element to the show. Good acting by Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, and guest stars Daniel Bruhl and Emily van Camp, which makes the episode even more enjoyable. 

Episode 4:  The World Is Watching 

Ayo (Florence Kasumba) second in command of the Dora Milaje, travels to Latvia and demands that Winter Soldier turn over Zemo, but Zemo is helping Falcon and Winter Soldier, so will they turn him over?  Zemo wants to ko kill Karlii Morgenthau, leader of the Flag Smashers, and Karlii has already blown up a building with people inside, none of which is helpful.  But Falcon wants to save Karlii from the Power Broker, and talk to her before she does anything else impulsive.  Is the new Captain America helping or hurting the situation with Karlii?  

This is probably the best episode of this series yet, it has shifting allegiances, action, and becomes a cautionary tale about the Super Soldier Serum.  What makes the characters on this show fun to watch is that they are all flawed, so the viewer has to choose the most heroic anti-hero, which makes for difficult viewing, but complex dramatic exposition.  Complex dramatic exposition makes the show worth watching. 

Episode 5: Truth 

John Walker is unceremoniously discharged from the military for his less than heroic actions in Europe, but Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis Dreyfuss) says the people who she works for might be interested in Walker for some unspecified purpose.  Falcon wants Walker to turn over his shield dies he? Winter Soldier wants to turn over Zemo to the Dora Milaje, does he?  Falcon, Winter Soldier and Sarah work on the family boat while waiting for Karlii’s next move.  While working on the boat, Falcon mulls over an idea that could have seismic effects on him and the Avengers.  What is the idea that Falcon is thinking over? 

This is another excellent episode, Falcon and Winter Soldier are trying to stop another terrorist attack, while the future of Captain America is in limbo, the only aspect of this episode that is sub-par is the Contessa character, played by Julia Louis Dreyfuss, who was a bad choice for this role.  She plays the Contessa like a smarmy Elaine Benes, she just doesn’t fit the show, all the other actors fit into their characters well, but Louis Dreyfuss sticks out like a sore thumb, a square peg in a round hole. 

Episode 6:  One World, One People 

Karlii is set to unleash her plan in NY Do Sam and Bucky know how to stop it?  What about John Walker?  Does he help or hurt Sam and Bucky?  Sharon Carter comes to NY to watch the proceedings; does she help Sam and Bucky?  Can Sam talk Karlii out of enacting her plan? 

All those questions are answered, and the questions raised are interesting.  There are more than a few surprises in store for some of the characters and plenty of loose ends, more than enough for a new Captain America movie, with should be good.  If this show was created to set the stage for a new Captain America film, it did an amazing job of creating the need for a new movie. 

Impressions of Season 1 

Episode one of the Falcon and Winter Solder was a slog, it seemed like just another superhero movie, good guys bad guys, fighting, explosions.  Was it worth watching another episode?  Thankfully the answer is yes, and as the episodes continued, each episode began elaborate on larger themes, racism, both subtle and unsubtle, terrorism, and redemption.  

Just as intriguing as the weighty themes that are wrestled with, is the way the writers have revitalized the Captain America story, by bringing in another Captain America, there is an immediate and intense rivalry between Steve Rogers’ friends and John Walker, and then just as suddenly it becomes a cautionary tale about serums that promise great things, but may have nasty side-effects.  They also revitalize the Captain America story by rejuvenating two underused characters, Falcon and Winter Soldier, giving them new purpose and frankly making them more multifaceted.  Episodic television gives writers the opportunity to give characters depth, and the writers certainly gave Falcon and Winter Soldier much more depth than they had in three or 4 movies, 

The writers also did an excellent job of integrating characters from previous Marvel films, and bringing them seamlessly into the plot.  And all the characters are flawed they are not perfect Superman type extraterrestrials here to save the world, because the feel magnanimous.  These are very human characters with very human problems, and they have to work through these problems to become better people and better heroes.   The self-actualization process could be frustrating for viewers who want someone clean cut and flawless to root for, but not having a rooting interest makes for interesting viewing. 

The acting is mostly fantastic, especially by the principles.  Both Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan play unassuming anti-heroes who eschew the spotlight.  There’s a rivalry between them because both of them can lay claim to part of that Steve Rogers legacy and neither thinks the other is worthy of Rogers’ legacy or friendship.  And then they have a new Captain America to deal with, and there a rivalry between the new Captain and Falcon and Winter Soldier.  Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan take all that repressed anger, jealousy, reluctance and infuse it into their characters and yet they have great chemistry between them, for characters that don’t like each other. 

Wyatt Russell, Kurt Russell’s son, has a tough role, playing John Walker, he has to appear likeable, but really be a jerk and consistently do the wrong thing at the wrong time, and Russell is pretty convincing as a know-it-all jerk.  Daniel Bruhl is also very good as Zemo, a shady character whose only goal is self-preservation.  Emily Vaan Camp reprises her role of Sharon Carter from the Winter Soldier and Civil War films and the viewer is not quite sure what she’s up to.  Van Camp does a good job keeping the audience guessing. Florence Kasumba reprises her role as Ayo from the Captain America, Avengers Civil War and Black Panther films both Sharon Carter and Ayo are small but pivotal roles played well.  Not so good, are Erin Kellyman as Karlii, the  leader of the Flag Smashers, the writers wanted Karlii to be an idealist, but there was something missing from her role, fatalism, anarchy, her performance was too controlled, if Kellyman had thrown some aspect of unpredictability into her character, that would have made her performance much better.  Julia Louis Dreyfuss plays a snarkier version of her Elaine Benes character, and it’s not a good fit, she wasn’t able to meld with the ither characters. 

The direction is good, the pacing of the first episode is a little slow, there a lot of exposition to do.  That episode tries to pick up the pace with an action sequence, but the pacing was still uneven.  After that the director, Kari Skogland, stayed laser focused on the characters.  Yes, there are action sequences, but they don’t get in the way of the many storylines and themes, or the evolving characters. And Skogland directed the whole season, sometimes when a series has many different directors, the series loses focus.  Not here. 

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier:  A Marvel-ous series. 

Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness) works at the Courtland textile mill in the U.K. shortly after the end of WWII.  He gets unceremoniously fired after the boss of that mill discovers he’s spending too much of the company’s money.  Sidney surreptitiously goes to work at the rival Birnley Mill as a researcher, and quietly starts spending that mill’s money, until the mill’s owner, Alan Birnley (Cecil Parker) finds out about Sidney’s expenses, and plans to fire Sidney, until the mill owner’s daughter, Daphne (Joan Greenwood) intervenes.  Mr. Birnley lets Sidney work for free, and soon Sidney’s discovered a fabric that’s stain resistant, Sidney makes a prototype, but there is another unique quality of the fabric which complicates mass production. What does Mr. Birnley do? How does Sidney react? 

The Man in the White Suit is a satirical British comedy that comes eerily close to what General Moters did with the EV1 in the mid-1990’s.  It may be satire, but it deals with serious corporate issues like planned obsolescence, and how both labor and management view a ground-breaking invention.  In this case, both labor and management view the invention the same way, and that’s where most of the satire comes from.  dome of the comedy is silly slapstick, but most of the satire is on target.  The ending is surprisingly optimistic, but it is a comedy after all. 

The acting is very good.  Alec Guinness is a standout in an early film role.  Sidney’s not a simpleton, in fact, he’s very intelligent and somewhat shrewd in getting himself ensconced in the textile mill as a researcher, he’s just naïve about the industry’s reaction to his innovation, and Alec Guinness brings all that complexity to bear, and yet makes Sidney a likeable character.  Joan Greenwood is excellent as Daphne, the mill owner’s daughter, whose intentions with Sidney aren’t clear and she purposely makes Daphne’s intentions vague, and that makes the character interesting.  Vida Hope is also good as Bertha, the labor representative.  Bertha is in love with Sidney, but she’s not sure she loves his invention, which makes for an interesting dynamic for Bertha. 

The direction is quote good, given that this film was shot in the early 1950’s, with a meager budget of 90,000 pounds, approximately 125,000 dollars.  The pacing is good, the translucent suit is a visual attention-grabber, and the film builds up to a nice set piece, or climax.  Alexander McKendrick is an American director who also directed The Ladykillers, another British comedy starring Alec Guiness.  Hollywood tried to remake the Ladykillers in 2004 with Tom Hanks, but it was painfully unfunny. 

The Man in The White Suit: Suits me just fine. 

Movie Review: Greenland (2020)

Posted: July 17, 2021 in Drama

Comet fragments are headed towards Earth, and selected people are being chosen to go to underground shelters in an undisclosed location.  John Garrity (Gerard Butler) a structural engineer is chosen to go, along with his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin) and his son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) are chosen to go, immediately sparking discord with John’s neighbors.  The family sets out to the military base, but as they get there, Allison is told that Nathan cannot board the plane because of his diabetes.  Allison takes Nathan, and tries to hitchhike to Kentucky, where her father, Dale (Scott Glen) lives. John is despondent when he can’t find Alison or Nathan decides to hitchhike to Canada, and take a private flight from Canada to where he thinks the bunkers are located, in Greenland.  Does John make it to the bunkers, does he reunite with his family? 

Greenland is one of the most disheartening, disenchanting disaster movies in a very long time.  Instead of this disaster bringing out the best in everyone, and people trying to help one another through this harrowing situation, the audience is subjected to the worst instincts that humans have to offer.  The characters who are supposed to support the main characters are busy stabbing the main characters in the back trying to replace them on that flight to the bunker.  Even when there is a rare moment of humanity, it seems inauthentic and manipulative.  Not only are the supporting characters not worthy of praise, the main characters evolve from getting a merit –based invitation to the bunkers, to entitled snobs demanding a plane ride to possible salvation. All of which is very off putting.  Finally, the family’s quest seems to get easier as the movie progresses, traffic clears up, cars are full of gas, water is running, all while the earth is being pelted with comet fragments.  Logic would dictate the trip would get more strenuous, wouldn’t it?  

The acting is mostly forgettable.  Gerard Butler mumbles and stumbles through another action role.  His Scottish accent is so thick that they wrote it into the role.  He is nothing more than a discount Russell Crowe.  Isn’t it ironic that both Crowe and Butler got paunchy and grew beards at around the same time?  Butler co-produced this film, which is an interesting way to land a role in Hollywood.  Morena Baccarin plays the hysterical mother role for most of the movie, but at least she does a decent American accent.  Roger Dale Floyd plays a standard suffering kid, his role is more of a prop than a role.  The best performance was a brief appearance by Scott Glenn as John’s curmudgeonly stubborn father-on-law. Dale seems to be the only character content with not doing anything to escape his fate.  He gives John some uncomfortable truths to chew on and told him to be on his way.  It was a refreshing performance. 

The direction is not good either, the pacing is very slow, it takes a very long time to get to the climax, and the climax seems very anticlimactic.  The director, Ric Roman Waugh tries to keep the focus on the characters, to his credit, but the special effects keep getting in the way, and the story meanders through plot twist after plot twist.  The viewer will tire waiting for the climax, which never seems to come. Waugh started out as a stuntman, and doesn’t really show any flair for visuals or pacing. 

Greenland:  Left Me Comet-tose 

Fern (Frances McDormand) is left widowed and destitute by the death of her husband.  To compound matters, the Gypsum plant she works in shuts down, and she loses her job.  She takes a seasonal job, but that only lasts he through the winter.  She decides to sell most of her belongings, buys a used van and hits the road.  In a trailer park in Arizona, she finds fellow wanderers like Swankie, (herself) Dave (David Strathairn) and Bob Wells (himself) a youtuber who makes money telling fellow nomads how to wander the country for next to no money. 

Fern works odd jobs to keep travelling, but her plans get sidetracked when her van breaks down and she doesn’t have the money to fix it.  She visits her sister, Dolly (Melissa Smith) in California, who gives her the money to fix the van, and even offers her a chance to stay with her.  Does Fern take the offer and end her nomadic lifestyle? 

Nomadland is an odd mix of fiction and documentary that doesn’t really work as either.  The part of the movie featuring the actual nomads seems ad-libbed, and the part with the actors seems badly written.  This movie is dull as dirty dishwater, depressing and manipulative, the story meanders along and never really goes anywhere.  Nomadland is not a very dialogue heavy movie and by the time there are scenes with narrative importance, around 75 minutes in, the viewer has probably lost interest. The writer further undercuts the seriousness and earnestness of the script by inserting product placement in two or three places in the movie.  Is this a serious look at economic displacement or a commercial for certain companies? 

The acting isn’t bad in this film considering the characters were paper thin.  Frances McDormand was pretty good at wordlessly conveying what blue-collar economic displacement looks like, except for an inexplicable skinny-dipping scene which seemed out of character and more of an appeal to McDormand’s vanity.  But McDormand was also a producer on this film, who probably paid a lot to see this film get made, so if she wanted a scene in the movie, it stayed in the movie. The raison d’etre for David Stratharn’s character wasn’t clear until very late in the movie, and even after the character explained his motives, the explanation seemed to come out of left field.  Luckily, it was a small role.  The real nomads weren’t bad, but they weren’t acting. 

Director Chloe Zhao deserves some credit for combining genres, documentary with fictional drama, and for capturing some of the most picturesque vistas of the American West, some of the editing is reminiscent of a documentary film, but the pacing is very slow, and it might have been better just to make a straightforward documentary.  She could have avoided the product placement, the big-name actors, and that might have made it a better film.  Maybe she wouldn’t have gotten the accolades she did (she won a Best Director Oscar) but it might have been a better film.  And if she really wanted to make her mark as a director, she would have edited out McDormand’s skinny dipping scene and explained that it didn’t fit the character, but she was intimidated by McDormand’s star power.  But she’s got an Oscar, and all I’ve got is this blog, so who makes better decisions? 

Nomadland:  A Fern grows in the desert. 

Barb (Annie Mumalo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) are having a rough day, they get fired from a local Jennifer Convertibles store and they get kicked out of their Talking Club for lying about losing their jobs.  They ignore all the bad mojo, and decide to take a vacation to Vista Del Mar, Florida.  A strange occurrence gives Barb ad Star an opening at a lavish hotel, where they meet a young hunk named Edgar Paget (Jamie Dornan) who they both fall for and sleep with at the same time.  Little do Barb and Star know that Edgar is hiding a secret that threatens the whole town of Vista Del Mar?  What is the secret?  Do Barb and Star save their vacation getaway? 

Make no mistake, Barb and Star is the kind of lighthearted romp that America needs right now, it’s got jokes a plenty, songs, and choreographed dance numbers. It’s a refreshing change from the serious, touching heartfelt movies of 2020, like Minari or First Cow.  The movie’s only flaw is that it’s derivative, it borrows a lot from the Ausin Powers movies. The characters of Barb and Star are reminiscent of two characters from the SCTV television show.  Edna Boil, wife of an Organ Store owner, played by Andrea Martin and Margaret Meehan an awkward teen who always jumped in too quickly on a Canadian quiz show.  Barb and Star are somewhere between Edna Boil and Margaret Meehan.  So, despite the singing and dancing and many good jokes, it’s too derivative to be an instant classic. 

The acting is good.  Kristin Wiig plays two roles, the Midwest nice Star, and the second role is again reminiscent of a character from the Austin Powers movies, and her role in Wonder Woman 1984. Annie Mumalo does a decent job as Wiig’s sidekick, but there’s not enough in her role to be a standalone character.  Jamie Dornan dies a good job as the male eye candy, and a heartbroken man who is looking for love. 

Director Josh Greenbaum is known mostly for his tv work, but makes the most of this feature film.  He has good pacing, the visual palate is bright and colorful, the musical numbers are well-placed and nicely staged, he gets good performances from even a child actor, so Greenbaum does a good job overall. 

Kristen wears a wig and gets big laughs in this film. 

23 days after Thanos (Josh Brolin) has destroyed half the universe’s population, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are rescued from deep space by Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) The rest of the Avengers locate Thanos on an uninhabited planet, but Thanos has already destroyed the Infinity Stones.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in a fit of rage, decapitates Thanos. 

Five years later, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) returns from the Quantum Realm, and finds the Avengers.  The Avengers realize that time travel is possible in the Quantum Realm. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) invents the time machine, and experiments in sending Scott back and forth in time.   Tony Stark perfects the time machine, and the Avengers decide they must go back in time, collect the stones, and bring back all the people in the galaxy who Thanos killed. 

The Avengers split into four teams, Banner Lang, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Stark head back to 2012 New York City, Rocket and Thor go to 2013 Asgard, Nebula and Rhody Rhodes (Don Cheadle) go to Morag in 2014 and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) go to Vormir in 2014.  Do the Avengers collect all the stones or does 2014 Thanos have other ideas? 

Endgame is a three-hour exercise in overindulgence.  Out of the three-hour running time, a scant amount of time I spent on the time machine, which is arguably the crux of the entire film, no time machine, no going back to get the Infinity Stones.  But the writers seem more interested in first resuscitating some of the less popular heroes in the Marvel Universe, why else would Hawkeye, Falcon and Ant Man take up such an inordinate amount of time and space in this movie.  Endgame is formulaic writing to a ridiculous degree, there is comedy, drama, and just enough pathos to make the Marvel fandom sad.  No one watching Endgame should be sad, unless the viewer is expecting real drama and genuine emotion from this film.  Marvel will milk these characters until there’s no more money to be made. The writers did have a nuanced take on Banner/The Hulk, and Thor continues to be comedy relief following the success of Thor Ragnarok  the but that is not nearly enough character evolution for a three-hour film. 

Only a few actors stand out in this film, because there are far too many characters to let more than one or two actors stand out.  If this was Robert Downey Jt’s swan-song as Tony Stark/Iron Man, it was one of his best performances.  He combined humor, drama and angst in this performance, and he carried the three Iron Man films, hopefully this is last performance as Tony Stark.  Hopefully, because superheroes are never really dead in these films.  No one should play Iron Man for a long time, just like no one should play Wolverine except Hugh Jackman.  Similarly, Chris Evans blended humor and drama well, and made Captain America more than just a one-dimensional character. The writers essentially re-wrote the Hulk character to make him more interesting, and gave Mark Ruffalo a chance to act.  Ruffalo always seemed like a bland presence onscreen, but he seemed to be better this time around.  Scarlett Johansson gets to show some emotion in her performance as well, but that’s it, the other performances were either phoned in or not large enough to make an impact. 

The direction by the Russo Brother is not good, they timehop with reckless abandon and they expect everyone in the audience to follow them. they spend about 5 minutes with the development of the time machine, which should be the heart of the film, and the rest is just a movie overrun with special effects and battle scenes that the viewer becomes numb to after a while. The climax or set piece is so long in coming, and so expected, that it’s hardly a climax at all.

Avengers Endgame:  A Stark-ly overwrought bloated 3-hour dumpster fire. 

Usnavi De La Vega (Anthony Ramos) owns a bodega in Washington Heights, in Manhattan. Usnavi has a suenito, a small dream of going back to the Dominican Republic, and restoring his father’s beachside bar, but he needs money to achieve his dream, so he keeps working at the bodega, with his cousin Sonny. (Gregory Diaz IV)  Usnavi is in love with Vanessa Morales (Melissa Barrera) but is too shy to tell her.  Vanessa works at a nail salon, but dreams of being a fashion designer. Nina Rosario (Leslie Grace) has made it out of Washington Heights, all the way to Stanford in California, Nina’s boyfriend, Benny (Corey Hawkins) is not happy that Nina is so far from home. Benny works for Nina’s dad, Kevin, (Jimmy Smits) as a dispatcher.  Nina isn’t sure she wants to stay at Stanford, does she tell her father how she feels?  Does Usnavi tell Vanessa how he feels, does he achieve his suenito at go back to the Dominican Republic? 

 Is In The Heights an instant classic?  No, but it comes close.  Here’s why it could be a classic.  The music, written by Lin Manuel Miranda is fantastic, and lifts the rest of the material higher than it should be.  The Latino diaspora in the US is well represented, Dominicans, Cubans Puerto Ricans and Mexicans are all represented, or at least sung about.  There’s a very effective scene where Usnavi sends a shout-out to different Latina heroes, like Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno, Celia Cuz and even Sonia Sotomayor, but why no Tito Puente or Carlos Santana?  The film, even though it’s a musical, never loses sight of reality. The jobs that these recent immigrants have are very real, and so are the daily monetary struggles they bring. 

However, the plot elements come together much too slowly.  Some of these elements are either unnecessary or emotionally manipulative, which leads to the second critique, the movie is much too long. A running time of 2 ½ hours is long for any film, for a musical, it’s much too long.  In contrast, the film’s denouement, or resolution, conversely comes much too suddenly, and undermines the reality that the film seeks to portray.  The romance between the main characters, Usnavi and Vanessa falls flat, there is no spark between the characters, and it’s actually overshadowed by the Benny/Nina romance. 

The acting is very good.  Anthony Ramos gives Usnavi an understated, self-deprecating charm with lots of humor.  Melissa Berrera did a fine job portraying a woman with big dreams and small paycheck.  There is no chemistry between Berrera and Ramos, and that really detracts from the main storyline.  Much more convincing as lovers are Leslie Grace as Nina ad Corey Hawkins as Benny.  The have the chemistry that Ramos and Berrera lack. Leslie Grace is also very good in illustrating the pressures of being an overachiever, while Hawkins does a solid job of reflecting the angst of a long-distance relationship, and working for his girlfriend’s father.  Jimmy Smits portrays Kevin as a hard-charging entrepreneur who has tasted a bit of success, and wants even more for her daughter.  Olga Merediz reprises her role as Abuela Claudia, the guardian angel of the neighborhood, who watches over everyone, she also conveys the hardships of a first-generation immigrant well.   

The direction is pretty good.  The musical numbers are staged extraordinarily well, with Busby Burkeley type crane shots thrown in for added effect.  But the pacing of the non-musical scenes drags and thee many disparate plot points come together much too late.  Director Jon Chu gets good performances from a young cast, but he should have cut the 2 ½ hour running time and made the whole movie as fresh and exciting as the musical numbers. 

In The Heights:  The director bites off more than he can Chu 

A Korean man named Jacob (Stephen Yuen) transplants his wife, Monica (Yeri Han) and their two kids, Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan Kim) to rural Arkansas because he wants a chance to become a farmer. They make ends meet by determining the sex of baby chicks at a chicken processing plant.  Jacob and Monica fight all the time about finances, so to keep Monica happy, Jacob lets Monica’s mother, Mrs. Oh, (Esther Moon) come live with them in Arkansas.  Mrs. Oh is hardly happy in Arkansas, she curses in Korean, she drinks Mountain Dew, and chides David about his bedwetting. 

The family tries to ingratiate themselves to the rural Arkansans.  Jacob hires a local farm hand named Paul (Will Patton) with a little too much Holy Spirit, Monica joins the local church, and David finds a friend.  Not everyone tries to fit in, Mrs. Oh plants minari a watercress plant she brought from Korea, which flourishes near the stream on Jacob’s land. Jacob keeps farming, and his crops grow, does he sell anything? 

Minari is relentlessly depressing and ruthlessly manipulative, David, Jacob’s son, has multiple physical problems, Mrs. Oh is elderly, and something awful happens to her in the span of this film.   The writer makes the viewer first like the precocious David and the feisty Mrs. Oh, and then the writer makes the viewer feel sorry for them.  Minari treats Christians worse than the kids and the elderly in this movie. Paul, the farm hand, is a barely coherent person, mumbling in tongues and carrying a wooden cross down a dirt road.  That’s worse than cartoonish writing, it’s offensive.  And Monica seems almost apologetic for her faith.  There is no uplifting moment, there is no life-affirming moment, and then it just ends, abruptly.   

It’s too bad of writer/director Lee Chung didn’t have an ideal immigrant experience, no first-generation immigrant does.  Is he arguing against assimilation?  First generation immigrants don’t often have a choice, first generation immigrants don’t often have ready-made enclaves to live in, so they must assimilate.  Assimilation doesn’t mean losing one’s culture, it means keeping what is best of one’s culture and weaving one’s culture into the larger American experience. Minari misses all that nuance.  It speaks in blunt generalities. 

The acting is good.  Stephen Yuen is earnest as a man with a single-minded focus to make his small family farm work.  It may cost him his marriage and his kids, but he pushes on.  Yeri Han is very good as the underappreciated Monica, the wife who tries to be supportive of her husband, but also asserts her view that this is not her dream life.  It’s a tough role but she handles it well.  Esther Moon steals the movie as the cantankerous, but loveable mother-in-law.  Alan Kim steals a few scenes in the movie, and has the requisite cuteness and precociousness for the role.  Will Patton does a good job in humanizing Paul the farm hand, and not making him the caricature he was written to be. 

The direction is so-so, the pacing is slow, but Chung gets good performances from his actors, even the kid actors, which is not always easy to do, The set piece or climax seems unrealistic, and that detracts from its impact on the film. 

Minari: Withers on the Vine. 

Sargeant Manfredi (Michael Moore) and Seargeant Johnson (Peter Baldwin) are planning to break out of Stalag 17, a German POW camp filled with U.S. and Allied sergeants.  Sergeant Sefton (William Holden) draws the ire of all the other POW’s, because he bets against Johnson and Manfredi making it out. Especially irate are barracks chief “Hoffy” Hoffman (Richard Erdman) and Security chief Price. (Peter Graves) Sefton is right, Manfredi and Johnson are killed, and that leads the other men in the barracks believe that Sefton is a spy.  Suspicions intensify when the men hear of all the trades that Sefton has made with the Nazi guards. 

When Manfredi is replaced by Lieutenant James Dunbar, (Don Taylor) Dunbar begins to brag about blowing up a supply train to the men in the barracks.  Soon, word gets back to Oberst Von Scharbach, (Otto Preminger) who interrogates Dunbar for three days without sleep, and plans to send Dunbar to Berlin where he will be charged with sabotage.  Who informed on Dunbar, and on Johnson and Manfredi?  was it Sefton?  Or someone else in the barracks? 

Stalag 17 is not The Great Escape.  Both were set in a POW camp during WW II, that’s where the similarities end. While The Great Escape is concerned with breaking out of a prison camp Stalag 17 is concerned about a spy in the prison camp.  Stalag 17 has a lot of comedy, The Great Escape has very little.  They are both great movies, just very different. 

The theme of Stalag 17 seems to be don’t jump to conclusions.  The film could have been a sweeping indictment of violence against German Americans, suspected of being collaborators, simply because of their ethnicity, or Japanese internment camps, but that might have been too radical a theme for 1953. Actually, it is about a serious theme, McCarthyism, which was ravaging Hollywood during the 50’s, but even that theme is somewhat undercut by the ending, which is satisfying, but could have been more daring. All the same. it is a riveting spy story and whodunnit, with plenty of jokes. 

Was there too much comedy?  Maybe Animal’s Betty Grable fixation was a bit over the top or Sgt. Shapiro in a blonde wig is over the top.  Maybe Billy Wilder should ask himself why he made two movies with men dressed up as women?  Never mind, the comedy serves to ease the tension of the spy drama, and it’s natural for people to joke when they’re in a high-pressure situation. 

The acting is superb.  William Holden is magnificent as Sargeant Sefron, who seems to specialize in getting under his fellow POW’s skin. He’s a smooth-talking, deal-making, jerk, who seems far too chummy with the Nazis, Sefton even gets on the wrong side of Lieutenant Dunbar, who’s a hero to the other POW’s. Holden wasn’t Director Wilder’s first choice or his second. Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas were offered the roles, but Holden was the perfect anti-hero, and took home an Oscar. Don Taylor and Richard Erdman play the more conventional hero types, and do a convincing job, but they have the easier roles to play.  Peter Graves also gives a standout performance in a very complex role.  This was well before his fame on Mission Impossible, or the Airplane movies. Harvey Lembeck and Robert Stauss, provide the very broad comic relief, and break the dramatic tension quite nicely.  Fellow Director Otto Preminger does a good job playing both a serious and tongue in cheek role, but never missing an opportunity to taunt the American in his camp. 

The direction by Billy Wilder is also very good.  He balances comedy and drama very well in this film, the pacing is quick, and the set piece or climax is perfect.  He gets great performances from everyone un the cast, both the serious roles and comic ones.  

Stalag 17: POW! A hard-hitting drama with lots of comedy. 

Joe (Jamie Foxx) is a disgruntled music teacher, who just got a full-time job as a music teacher.  He should be happy, but he dreams of getting an audition with a jazz musician.  Joe gets his shot when an ex-student of his named Curley (Questlove) gets Joe a chance to sit in on piano a saxophonist named Cassandra, (Angela Bassett) This is Joe’s dream gig.  But Joe falls down a manhole, and dies.  Joe ends up on a conveyer belt, and his way to the afterlife, but escapes, and becomes a mentor to Soul 22, (Tina Fey) a soul in the Great Before who hasn’t gotten her spark, despite the attempts of many famous mentors.  Does Joe help 22 find her spark?  Does Joe get another chance at life? 

Animation is a great palette to discuss metaphysical issues.  An animator can draw anything a writer imagines, so the sky is literally the limit.  So, what do Disney’s writers give the audience? A rehash of Heaven Can Wait, a plot twist out of Freaky Friday, and the ultimate insult, the viewer is made to think that the story is about one character, when it’s about another.  The ending doesn’t even let the supposed focus of the film make the most important decision of his life.  There are two or three endings that are better than the one the writers decided on, it was a cop-out and it was incomplete, and that’s the worst of both worlds.  Inside Out was a much better look inside a person’s emotional makeup, and a much better film overall.  There are some laugh out loud lines, but overused premises and an all too conventional ending ruin what could have been an extraordinary film. 

The acting is very good.  Jamie Foxx did a very good job a playing a man who tries to please everyone but himself.  He is believable as a musician, maybe because he’s played one before in Ray.  He conveys Joe’s love of music well. Tina Fey transfers her annoying character from 30 Rock to this movie pretty effortlessly, the character is a bit edgy, Fey seems to want to indulge the edginess, but the writers don’t.  Phylicia Rashad is very good as Joe’s mom, she should have had a bigger role. Angela Bassett is good in a small role.  And New Zealand actress Rachel House stands out as irritating human calculator, Terry. 

The direction is not that good.  The animation of the afterlife is gorgeous, even though the features of the black characters seem a bit exaggerated.  The music by Jon Baptiste and Trent Reznor is very good and differentiates the movie from other Disney Pixar films. However, the plot device is old and hackneyed.  The ending is the real problem, the writers and director played it too safe, instead of going for the meaningful ending, and director Pete Doctor doesn’t let the movie play out, he cuts off the movie before revealing an integral part of the film, leaving the audience hanging. 

Soul:  Fails at its sole purpose.