In the 1890’s in London, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) work as planted members of an audience for the magician Milton. (Ricky Jay) Angier’s wife, Julia Piper Perabo) also works for Milton as his assistant.  One day, a water tank trick goes horribly wrong, and Julia is killed, Angier blames Bordon, and so a friendly professional rivalry turns serious. 

Borden is now on his own as a magician, and has a wife Sarah (Rebecca Hall) and a child, Jess, (Samantha Mahurin) and is living the ideal life according to Angier, who fumes in jealousy at the tatters of his own life.  Borden tries a bullet catching trick, Angier disguises himself and shoots Borden on the hand.  Hardly dissuaded, Borden tries a new trick, the Transported Man.  Despite the advice of his ingenieur, John Cutter (Michael Caine) that Borden is using a double, Angier becomes obsessed with the trick. Angier hires an assistant named Olivia (Scarlett Johansson) and asks her to spy on Borden, and goes to one of the founders of learning how to harness electricity, Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) and asks him to build a machine to help him with the Transported Man.  The machine makes Angier’s illusion wildly popular, and now it’s Borden’s turn to obsess about how Angier does the Transported Man.  Unfortunately for Borden, he is backstage when Angier’s trick goes horribly wrong, despite trying to help Angier survive, is Borden arrested for sabotaging the Transported Man, or does a worse fate await Borden? 

The Prestige is much more than a movie about magic.  It’s a movie about rivalry, in fact not only does it speak to the rivalry between these magicians, it introduces the rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, in the Tesla subplot, so that rivalry becomes a strong theme in the film.  The rivalry becomes bitter and all-encompassing and leads to the second theme, which is obsession, the magicians become obsessed with sabotaging or stealing each other’s tricks, does that obsession ruin their lives?  That is for the viewers who haven’t seen this movie to find out. Another common theme in Nolan films are shifting alliances.  Characters the viewer thinks are on one side or the other of the rivalry, may or may not be on the same side when the film ends.    The denouement is complex as n with most Christopher Nolan films but easily comprehendible and thoroughly explains the questions that are raised before the resolution.  This is engaging, exciting, stimulating filmmaking and it’s what Chris Nolan should return to.  

The acting is first rate.  Christian Bale is one of the best actors in Hollywood, and he shows why here.  Alfred Borden is a tremendously complex person He is in love with his wife, but he seems to love magic more, so while he does love his wife, but devotes an inordinate amount of time with his illusions, and competing for the affections of Angier’s assistant Olivia.  Bale packs that mass of contradictions into one performance, and makes Borden a somewhat likable character, despite all his flaws.  Hugh Jackman turns in an exceptional performance as Robert Angier, a man who wants to prove he is the best magician in England, and will buy, cheat and steal to prove it.  Despite his cutthroat nature, Jackman turns on the charm, and turns Angier into a first-rate showman.  For those only aware of Jackman as the mostly one-dimensional Wolverine in the X-Men movies, this is the movie where he gets to show his acting skills more clearly.  This role shows off Jackman’s acting muscles, and not just his workout muscles.  The interplay between Jackman and Bale is outstanding, starting off as uneasy friends, then competitors, lastly bitter rivals.   

Micharl Caine turns in another stellar performance as John Cutter, he’s a teacher and mentor to the rising young magicians, it’s a familiar role, especially in Nolan’s films for Caine, and he plays it with each, charm and wit.  Scarlett Johansson turns in a very convincing performance.  Is she Angier’s spy?  Is she a woman in love?  She does a great job of leaving the viewer guessing.  She was cast in this film three years after making a name for herself in movies like Lost In Translation and The Girl With The Pearl Earring, but before she became a box office draw as Black Widow in the Marvel Universe.  She was more of an actress here than a movie star.  Rebecca Hall does a decent job as Borden’s loving but harried wife, Sarah, Hall does a good job of playing the love interest, and then conveying the confusion caused by Borden’s quixotic behavior.  David Bowie eschews his usual flamboyance as a musician, and underplays Nikola Tesla nicely. 

To tell this story in a linear fashion is too boring for Director Christopher Nolan.  Instead, he tells most of the story via flashbacks, with Angier and Borden reading from each other’s stolen notebooks.  Nolan seems to want to prove that The Prestige is not about magic and so he shows a lot of the behind-the-scenes preparation for the illusions, and even how some of the illusions are done.  The excitement in the Prestige is not derived from the magic, it is derived from the competition between these two men and how far each of them take it. Nolan gets an excellent performance from bale, that’s to be expected, but he gets an equally fine performance from Hugh Jackman, who was mostly known at the time for his work in the X-Men movies, and also from Scarlett Johansson, who was just becoming famous, and most surprising of all he gets a finely understated performance from David Bowie.  The pacing is quick for a long film, over 2 hours, and the set piece, or climax is exciting.  This is how Christopher Nolan started to make a name for himself. 

The Prestige:  Behind the tricks is a real treat. 

In 1985, at the height of the cocaine and crack cocaine epidemic, co-owners Peter Walsh, Tess O’Connor McDade and Dave Hunt opened an Irish bar in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. Washington Heights is dominated by people originally from the Dominican Republic. to make his customers feel safe, Walsh followed drug dealers into the stalls and made sure they couldn’t do their drug deals in his bathrooms. Slowly, through hosting fundraising 5k runs for the nearby armory, Coogan’s became a place where politicians, community leaders, doctors, nurses, police and firemen could gather. During a 1992 disturbance, after a Dominican man was shot by police, police and community leaders met at Coogan’s to calm tensions.

Just as Coogan’s became a fixture in Washington Heights, New York Presbyterian Hospital, the landlord that owned the lease on Coogan’s bar demanded a 400 dollar a month increase un the rent that the Walsh, McDade, and Hunt could not pay. Residents were outraged at the thought of Coogan’s closing, and one famous resident if Washington Heights, Lin Manuel Miranda, started fundraising and brought attention to the possible closing. Would the owners be able to negotiate a more realistic rent increase and keep the bar open?

This is a fantastic documentary about a local bar, that opened in a tough beaten down part of New York City, and stayed and actually improved the community by giving many local people jobs and a way out of some horrific choices in that neighborhood. Are these actions truly worth a documentary? Isn’t a business that opens in a particular neighborhood supposed to improve that neighborhood? Would anyone care if a Dominican owned business in Washington Heights another neighborhood closed down? The documentary ironically answers that question, and the answer may not fit the overall warm and fuzzy tone of the film. But Coogan’s Way is to be lauded for its optimism and realism, without being preachy or sentimental.

The filmmaker’s documentary techniques are nothing out of the ordinary, they interview politicians, community leaders, and the owners. The technique is nothing special, but the optimism and joy of this story is what makes this documentary worth watching. The ending is quite bittersweet, but it is real life after all and that is not to be confused with reality tv. All this emotion is packed in an economical 1 hour and 7 minutes, not a wasted frame in the film.

Coogan’s Way: Raises the bar on documentary filmmaking.

Episode 1: True Crime

Charles Hayden Savage (Steve Martin) is an out of work actor. Oliver Putnum (Martin Short) is a Broadway director, struggling to find his next project. Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) is an apartment renovator. They all live in a fancy apartment building in NYC called the Arconia, and they are all fascinated by true crime. When a man named Tim Kono (Julian Cihi) is found dead in the apartment, police think it’s a suicide, but Charles finds a clue that makes him think it’s murder, and he and Olver want to turn the murder mystery into a podcast. Is this case a murder? Will it make a good podcast?

Only Murder in The Building is more complex than it may appear at first glance, there is humor, but there is also angst between characters, and a mystery, not only in the apparent murder, but also within and between the characters. The question is, are the actors as good as the material, and if Steve Martin only co-wrote the pilot, will the material continue to be as good as the pilot is?

Steve Martin is a talented writer and actor, Martin Short is good at playing over the top characters. Selena Gomez is primarily a singer, who is sometimes an actress. Short seemed uncomfortable in the more serious scenes. Gomez’ delivery seemed still and stilted, so is the acting ass good as the material in the first episode, sadly, the answer is no.

Episode 2: Who is Tim Kono?

Tim Kono is eulogized, and it appears no one liked him very much. As Charles and Oliver seem superficial in their coverage of Kon’s death, Mabel looks for some deeper reason behind the murder of Tim Kono. Mabel also finds some telling dialogue in an episode of Charles’ old tv show, Brazos.

This episode was actually better written than the one co-written by Martin. The tone in this episode seems lighter, the spoof of 1970’s tv shows is hilarious and Martin Short even tined down the comedy, so it’s not so over the top, so even though the plot of this episode deals with a dark subject, the writer deals with it in a darkly comic way.

Episode 3: How Well Do You Know Your Neighbors?

Oliver uses his skills as a director to narrow the list of suspects, but as he airs the first podcast, the threats against him get more ominous. Oliver thinks he’s found the main suspect, but another one emerges. Oliver also faces the very real threat of being kicked out of the building, how does he plan to pay his back due fees?

This episode is not as funny as the previous episode, though it tries mightily, with a spoof on a failed Broadway play. This is what happens when there is writing by committee, sometimes the writing is inconsistent. So, the episode tries to compensate with stars making cameos, but their dialogue is just as unfunny as the principles. The acting is good, although Mabel’s character, the eye rolling millennial is getting to be a bit cliched.

Episode 4: The Sting

Oliver suspects a celebrity living in the building may have killed Tim Kono and poisoned his dog, Charles and Mabel find evidence that the celebrity in question may have had a motive for murder, so they go to a top-rated podcaster, Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) for advice. Charles goes on a bad date with a “sexy bassoonist” from the building named Jan. (Amy Ryan) The date becomes cathartic for Charles later on. Oliver’s son Will (Russell Broussard) has some surprising news for Oliver and Charles.

This whole episode was a diversion, until Will comes in and spills the beans on someone. It’s be interesting to see Charles and Oliver’s reaction to their newly found knowledge, but the bad first date the weird use of Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig was just an attempt to make a filler episode creative. The bad first date has been done a million times, and Bugs and Porky was just bizarre. Tina Fey was mildly amusing as the podcast host.

Episode 5: Twist

Charles and Oliver follow Mabel to Long Island. She’s with old friend Oscar (Aaron Domingus) who recently got out of prison, and who Charles has identified as Tie Dye Guy, an early suspect who was running up the stairs, while everyone was running down the stairs during Tim Kono’s murder. Is Oscar a suspect or just an innocent bystander?

This is a good episode, very funny, the viewer sees some of Charles and Oliver’s quirks and insecurities, it also introduces a new suspect into the mix. The acting is good too, the chemistry between Short and Martin is really good in this episode, and Selena Gomez seems to be loosening up, her delivery is not nearly as wooden as it was in the earlier episodes.

Episode 6: To Serve and Protect:

Mabel brings Oscar, Charles and Oliver to meet her mother. (Mandy Gonzalez) Detective Williams (Davine Joy Randolph) decides to send Mabel a clue after hearing the podcast. Teddy Dimas (Nathan Lane) gives Charles and Oliver 50,000 dollars after Cinda plugs his restaurant on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Teddy also gives Oliver and Charles an inadvertent clue. But after learning more about Mabel, Oliver and Charles are not so sure they want to continue the podcast, will the new clues and big check change their minds?

This is a strange episode, there’s a long seemingly unnecessary storyline about Detective Williams and a long, extremely serious soliloquy by Teddy about political tensions between the Greeks and Turks. The show seems to have a tonal issue, it can’t seem to decide if it’s a drama or a comedy. The writers need to decide quickly what kind of show they want before the viewers get tonal whiplash.

Episode 7: The Boy From 6B

Teddy’s deaf son Theo (James Caverly) finds out what Oliver and Mabel are digging into and neither of them like it, but who’s going to do something about it?. Charles unlocks Tim Kono’s phone, and spends the night with sexy bassoonist Jan.

This is an intriguing episode, because it’s told from Theo’s point of view, so the episode is almost entirely without sound, which is a clever directorial device, but also has its drawbacks. The viewers don’t get to hear the actors in what turns out to be a very emotional episode. There’s also a powerful backstory that explains Theo’s involvement in many of the mysteries swirling around the building. There’s also a bit of a cliffhanger, although putting a cliffhanger in episode 7 of a ten-episode show is probably a mistake.

Episode 8: Fan Fiction

Teddy warns Oliver and Mabel that this better be their last podcast. Jan insinuates herself into the podcast by association, and Oliver doesn’t like it at all. Oliver brings in superfans of the podcast to parse the clues so far. Oliver, Mabel and Charles turn over what evidence they have to Detective Williams, but have they zeroed in on the right suspect?

There are multiple problems with this episode, Teddy’s ultimatum wasn’t forceful enough or convincing enough and wrapping up the case with 2 episodes to go is another writing mistake, and it’s pretty easily correctable. But this is a funny episode, the superfans make it funny, the rivalry between Oliver and Jan for Charles’ attention makes it funny. It’s a good episode, that needs to clean up some sloppy writing for the second episode in a row.

Episode 9: Double Time

As Teddy and Theo sit in jail, it is not at all clear if they killed Tim Kono. As Mabel, Oliver and Charles evaluate the changing circumstances, a new suspect emerges. Who is this new suspect? And what draws suspicion to this person now?

The new suspect is not a surprise, the surprise is, what took so long to settle on this person. Hopefully, there won’t be another suspect in the final episode. Jane Lynch makes a cameo as Charles’ stunt double on Brazos, her deadpan delivery is always funny, and she gets to take a lot of cheap shots at Martin’s character.

Episode 10: Open and Shut

The killer is revealed, but that doesn’t mean an end to the danger for Charles, Mabel and Oliver.

This is a rather tepid ending to this sometimes enjoyable series. There is only one laugh out loud sequence in the whole episode and only one twist in the narrative, which leads directly into a possible storyline for season 2. Steve Martin and Martin Short even try physical comedy in this episode, and fail miserably. Short return to his overblown acting style, and makes the character sound more like Jiminy Glick or Ed Grimley, than a new character named Oliver Putnam.

My Impression of Season 1:

Only Murders In The Building could have been better, much better. With the talent on hand, Steve Martin and Martin Short, not to mention Selena Gomez, this should have been a great show. Maybe my expectations were set too high, being a fan of both Martin Short and Steve Martin, maybe that ruined the show for me.

The writing was the first issue. Steve Martin only wrote the pilot, he should have been much more involved in the writing, he’s a talented writer, writing movies like The Jerk, Roxanne, and Bowfinger, but he farmed out the writing duties to others, who neither know or appreciate Martin or Short’s comedic stylings. The bottom line is most of the jokes aren’t very funny, a lot of the jokes concentrate on the ages of Short and Martin or the age differences between Short, Martin and Gomez. Agism is not funny, neither is a snarky, eye rolling millennial, that is almost a cliché these days. The tone shifts wildly, from comic to dramatic and back again, without warning. There should have been more satire of 70’s detective shows, with more clips from Charles’ show Brazos, that satire was dead on. Unfortunately, the Broadway show satire didn’t work as well, and the jokes were hit or miss, and for every joke that hit, it seemed like two missed.

Columbo was the gold standard for mixing murder mystery with humor. Monk isn’t bad either, if Only Murders in The Building was trying to recreate the mix of humor and murder from those shows, it didn’t quite do it. The humor is either too broad or cerebral, and the character who should be most invested in solving the murder, Mabel, often seems bored or disinterested, and often times the drama has nothing to do with the murder the amateur sleuths are investigating. In top of these shortcomings, the mystery is not that difficult to solve, if I can do it, it’s not that hard to figure out.

The second issue is the acting. It’s only average. Steve Martin plays Charles Hayden Savage as subdued to the point of being catatonic. He’s the straight man. Understood. But he didn’t have to make the straight man so boring. That leaves the door wide open for Martin Short to get some laughs, but he overdoes it, and the scenery chewing occurs early and often, before someone (Steve Martin or the directors) tells him to modulate Oliver Putnam a tad, and so he eases up a little and makes Oliver a human bring rather than a cartoon character, until the finale, when he tries his hand at physical comedy, and fails. Selena Gomez plays the typical twenty-something, but she uses no more tools than sarcasm, and a “What Am I Doing Here With These Geezers” look on her face to convey a moody, and generally unlikeable character. Just once it would have been nice to see her take a comedic risk and do something outlandish. I know she’s a singer, but it would have been nice to see her take a risk and do a pratfall or something. Nathan Lane does a terrific job playing a failed Broadway producer and deli owner, with a dark side. He makes the darker side of Teddy Dimos more humane, and that’s difficult to do. So despite many famous people doing cameos, the acting is average at best.

There was only one episode that stood out, from a director’s standpoint and that’s the Boy From 6B. This is the episode with no dialogue, where only sign language was used. It’s easy to call this episode gimmicky, but it conveyed a lot of information and did it in a unique way, that makes it worth watching. The rest if the episodes were pretty conventional from a directorial perspective.

Only Murders In The Building: Building to a lackluster ending

Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) is a backup quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, but things may be looking up.  On Joe’s birthday, Rams trainer, Max Corkle (Jack Warden) brings Joe a cake, and tells him that he’s the starting quarterback for the Rams.  What should be the happiest day of Joe’s life is cut short when he’s involved in a car accident while riding his bike and taken up to heaven too soon by an overanxious Heavenly escort. (Buck Henry) Joe isn’t due to die until 2025, so to make up for the escort’s mistake, Mr. Jordan (James Mason) insists that Joe be put back in his own body, but Joe is being cremated, so that’s out.   

Mr. Jordan suggests several people who are about to die as a replacement for his own body, but they both settle on millionaire corporate tycoon Leo Farnsworth.  Joe seems intent in meeting Betty Logan (Julie Christie) a pretty young environmentalist protesting Farnworth’s plans to drill for oil in her small English town.  Joe agrees to become Leo Farnsworth, and while his gold-digger wife Julia (Dyan Cannon) and personal secretary, Tony Abbott, (Charles Grodin) are amazed to find Leo alive, they keep trying to kill him so they can run away together.  Joe is also still trying to find his way back into football, so as Farnsworth, Joe buys the LA Rams, and announces that he will play quarterback.  Does Joe play quarterback for the Rams?  Does he fall in love with Betty Logan?  Do Tony Abbott and Julia Farnsworth succeed in killing Leo Farnsworth? 

Heaven Can Wait is a better remake of an earlier film, Here Comes Mr. Jordan.  Heaven Can Wait doesn’t make a profound metaphysical statement.  It’s a very conventional take on the afterlife, stressing the importance of fate, and not changing what is meant to happen.  It’s not really a great football movie, the ending hinges on a third-string quarterback winning the Super Bowl, normally the third string quarterback doesn’t even practice with the first team, so what makes this movie a classic?  It’s a very funny satire of the vacuousness of corporate culture, and social climbers trying to become wealthy by any means necessary.  And it’s a very funny social commentary on the social and political trends of the 1970’s, or it might have been Warren Beatty’s own political and lifestyle views seeping into the script, either way it works as satire.  It’s also ironic how many of Joe Pendleton’s views are now mainstream.  Heaven Can Wait also works as a romantic comedy, put all those elements together and that’s a classic, the ending is also perfect, bittersweet with a touch of hopefulness.  Elaine May and Warren Beatty co-wrote this film the humor and sweetness overcome any shortcomings this film may have. 

Warren Beatty is great in this film precisely because he is playing against type, he is not the superstar quarterback, he’s the guy fighting for a job as the first-string quarterback, he plays the underdog role perfectly.  Beatty even plays the soprano saxophone badly, which makes Joe Pendleton even more likeable. The audience naturally roots for Joe, because he’s always trying to do the right thing.  And of course, Beatty is a natural as a romantic lead.  Beatty also does well playing the millionaire Leo Farnsworth, giving him a fish-out of water earnestness that is appealing to the average viewer. James Mason adds a lot of class as Mr. Jordan, explaining the rules of the afterlife to an agitated Beatty.  Mason is the kind of presence one hopes populates all the corridors of Heaven. Buck Henry, on the other hand plays an officious twit.  His character is a slap at bureaucracies everywhere.  Charles Grodin is perfect as the corporate toady trying to climb the corporate ladder any why he can.  Nobody can play a weasel as well as Grodin can, and he’s at his weaselly best here.  Dyan Cannon is also very good as the insecure, neurotic, co-conspirator.  Julie Christie brings a sweetness and innocence to her character, and the chemistry with Beatty is unmistakable.  Jack Warden is also fantastic as gruff but lovable trainer, he cares for Joe Pendleton, perhaps more than any other character, and he expresses that devotion in the cake scene.  The chemistry between Warden and Beatty is superb, and that is key because if their relationship doesn’t work, a big part of this movie fails. 

The direction by Beatty and Buck Henry is ok, the heavenly scenes look like someone emptied a dry ice factory onto a soundstage with a Concorde jet facsimile parked in the middle, this is before big budget special effects really took hold in Hollywood, Star Wars was made in 1977, Superman in 1978, but this was a comedy, so there was no big money spent in making Heaven look ethereal.  The pacing was good, the set piece was the Super Bowl, so that was good, the ending was good tonally and visually.  If there is one other critique of this film, it is that there were far too many football montage scenes, and they all looked similar, Beatty throwing passes of one kind or another, are all those montages really necessary? 

Heaven Can Wait: Tackles the afterlife with sweetness

John Winger (Bill Murray) is having a really bad day.  He quits his job as a cab driver, his car gets repossessed, and his beautiful girlfriend, Anita, (Roberta Leighton) leaves him.  On a whim, Winger joins the army, and convinces his friend, Russell Ziskey, (Harold Ramis) who teaches English as a second language to join the army, and amazingly, Russell agrees. 

Once in basic training, John and Russell run into the usual bunch of misfits, including the overweight but somewhat lovable Ox. (John Candy) They also run afoul of the tough drill sergeant, Hulka. (Warren Oates) They also meet two attractive female MP’s, Stella Hansen (PJ Soles) and Louise Cooper (Sean Young, and they’re not interested, or are they?  When Sargeant Hulka meets with a training accident, the platoon is left to train with the less than capable ladder climber Captain John Stillman (John Larroqutte) Will the new recruits shape up in time before they have to show their skills to General Barnickie?  (Robert J. Wilke) Or will John, Russell, and Ox have to redo basic training? 

To call this movie formulaic is an insult to formulaic movies.  Here’s the formula, Saturday Night Live star leave show and does bits of his characters in a movie and makes a lot of money.  It worked first for Chevy Chase, then John Belushi, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, and many more.  The script is basically Animal House goes to basic training.  There’s even an inspiring speech that Winger gives, much like Bluto in Animal House, but less funny. There are so many cliches, lovable loser with nothing else to lose joins the military and trains different lovable losers in how to succeed.  And oh the misogyny, the women are there for nothing but for the men to chase and grope them.  There is a truly embarrassing scene involving Ox and mud-wrestling. This was standard issue 80’s sex comedy 101. But the other characters aren’t well written either.  Ox has a mean steak, Sergeant Hulka sounds like a rip-off of Sergeant Carter from Gomer Pyle USMC, and Stillman is an incompetent boob, gee that’s a refreshing take on a military character.  The scenes after the drill routine aren’t even worth watching, as Stripes limps to an unsatisfying finish. 

Bill Murray brings out his bag of tricks as the working-class aging hipster, lounge lizard with sad puppy dog eyes.  He’s played this character several times, Meatballs Stripes, and The Ghostbusters films and it doesn’t age well.  He comes off smug and arrogant, and not very funny.  The great thing about a film like Groundhog Day, is Murray’s character evolves and fixes what’s wrong with the smug, arrogant character from the beginning of that film.  There is no such evolution in Stripes, Murray is the same frat-boy type he was in the beginning of the film.  John Candy is funny un this film, but either he ad-libbed or it was bad writing by Harold Ramis, but they gave Ox a chip on his shoulder that didn’t fit Candy’s loveable persona.  Candy’s best movie is still Planes, Trains and Automobiles, written by John Hughes who ironically wrote a lot of formulaic teen movies in the 1980’s.  It’s nice to see Sean Young in an early movie, before she destroyed her own career by publicly auditioning for Catwoman in Tim Burton’s Batman.  In Stripes, she plays Louise Cooper, the more serious of the two MPs, and makes the most of the role.  Harold Ramis who co-wrote this slop, plays the shy, bookish, sidekick, just like he did in Ghostbusters.  SCTV alums of Ramis and Candy, Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas have minor roles. 

The direction by Ivan Reitman is not that impressive, the pacing is slow and the film peaks at the drill routine, that was clearly the high point of the film, and should have ended there, the scenes in Europe seem like they’re from another film entirely.  Reitman dutifully provides explosions and shooting, and a basic training montage to show Stripes is a military film, and not a frat-boy comedy, but of course it is a frat boy comedy, with frat boys inducted into the military. A technical issue with the extended play DVD, the editing is terrible the scenes end abruptly, sometimes they run too long, it makes for awful viewing, even on the theatrical version. 

Stripes: A blockbuster in the 80’s bombs during repeated viewing. 

Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) have a terrific first date, but four years later, they are constantly bickering.  Just when they finally call it quits, Jibran runs over a bike messenger (Michael X Parsons) who is not hurt, and rides away.  A policeman (Paul Sparks) commandeers the car, and runs over the bike messenger on purpose.  After the policeman leaves, a couple (Barry Rothbart & Catherine Cohen) see the dead bike messenger and blame Jibran and Leilani. 

Now fugitives on the run from the police, they gather clues that lead them to a frat house and a party at a secret society.  Do Jibran and Leilani find who killed the bike messenger and why?  Is the killer really a cop?  Do the bickering lovebirds ever figure out their relationship? 

This is a formulaic movie.  In fact, it’s a lot like the Tina Fey film Date Night.  It also resembles another Kumail Nanjiani movie called Stuber, where Nanjiani plays an Uber driver (stereotype much) who gets pulled into solving a crime.  There are some funny moments, but a lot of uncomfortable moments, and very little material that is new or original.  Both Nanjiani and Raye are talented writers, surely they could have written a better movie than this rehash of old ideas.  Jibran could have filmed portions of their adventures, and kept saying, “This would make a great documentary” as a recurring joke for example, but that line never occurred to the three writers who write this dreck. Nanjiani and Rae executive produced this movie, so clearly, they wanted to be in a movie together, so why didn’t they write a funnier one themselves? 

Nanjiani unconvincingly plays a documentary filmmaker, at no time does the fact that he films documentaries play a part in this film, even though his character is trying to solve a real-life murder.  He is funny at times, but not funny throughout.  Rae is slightly funnier as Nanjiani’s bored girlfriend, but they’re not convincing as a couple, there’s no chemistry between them.  Anna Camp makes a brief appearance, but she’s not nearly as funny as she is in the Pitch Perfect movies. 

The direction is nothing to brag about, the audience follows this beleaguered couple as the find clues, and hope to find the name of the real killer.  The pacing is slow for such a short film, it’s under 90 minutes long, the set piece or climax is not exciting, and the performances are underwhelming.  Director Michael Showalter also directed Nanjiani in The Big Sick, another underwhelming movie that somehow got critical praise. 

The Lovebirds:  Most of the jokes don’t fly. 

Ella (Camilla Caballo) is a young woman with big dreams, she wants to open a dress shop, which is a big dream indeed in the patriarchal society in which she lives.  Her dreams are also being held down by a sadistic stepmother named Vivian (Idina Menzel) She is also being held back by her cruel and conceited stepsisters, Malviola, (Maddie Baillio) and Narissa, (Charlotte Spencer) who derisively call Ella Cinderella, because of the cinders on Ella’s face. 

Undeterred by her family, Ella goes out to see the changing of the guard, unable to see, she climbs on the stature of King Rowan (Pierce Brosnan) and starts having a conversation with the king.  Prince Robert (Nicholas Gailitzine) is enchanted by Ella’s spunk.  The next day, the prince in disguise, buys Ella’s dress and invites her to the ball.  But stepmother Vivian says Ella cannot go to the ball because she’s already pledged to be married to someone else.  Can her Fabulous Godmother (Billy Porter) get her to the ball, and must Ella leave the ball before midnight? 

This is an excellent rendition of the classic fairy tale, the contemporary music and touches of humor make this movie eminently more watchable than the original animated Disney version.  There is some good character development, the Fabulous Godmother, and some not so good character, development, the Prince. But try as they might to escape the patriarchal tropes of the original story, and try to make it a story about self-determination, the story ends up revolving around the cliches of a woman deriving her power and happiness from a man, and the biggest cliché of them all, love cures all ills, that is hardly the liberating story that little girls need to hear in 2021.  The writers compromised a truly radical story in the name of romance and a happy ending.  If the writers wanted to be daring, why not go all the way? 

Camilla Caballo makes this Cinderella both perky and spunky, her voice is good enough to sing all the songs well, but her voice doesn’t really stand out.  Her performance is also limited by the contours of the writing. Idina Menzel absolutely steals the show from everyone else, she has no issues playing a cruel character, and her voice is so powerful that it blows the roof off this musical.  A highlight was her rendition of Madonna’s “Material Girl.” Piece Brosnan is surprisingly good as King Rowan, again he’s limited by bad dialogue.  Brosnan even sings, and yes, it is bad, but humorous.  Minnie Driver is not given much to do, but at least proves she has a good singing voice.  Billy Porter seemed like a gimmicky choice for Fabulous Godmother, but he made the most of his one scene and his one song, “Shining Star” by Earth Wing & Fire, so Billy Porter take a bow.  Nicholas Gailitzine is not convincing in his transformation from spoiled little rich prince to besotted prince. 

Director Kay Cannon has only directed one other film, Blockers, but she does a good job with this film, the pacing is good, most importantly the songs are well-staged and well sung, and the transition from speaking to singing seems natural.  The pacing lags a bit after the set piece of the ball, but there’s enough humor and singing to hold the rapidly changing plot together till the end. 

Cinderella:  Ella, mostly enchanting. 

A man gets involved in a car accident and meets God.  The man asks where he is and who he’s speaking to, when the man finds out he’s talking to God, he asks about his wife and children, he then asks about himself and his purpose in life, and later man’s purpose in the universe.  Does God answer the man’s questions?  Does that lead to more questions? 

This is a metaphysical philosophical look at the concept of Divinity and man’s place in the universe. Weir uses a common fertility symbol across religions, the egg as a title. What may surprise some is that it’s devoid of any Christian theological foundations, and relies heavily on Hindu and Buddhist tenets to provide the basis of Weir’s ideas, neither of which is the problem in this story.  It is when Weir adds his own constructs to the story that the story starts to stray from most traditional religious beliefs, and becomes something else entirely.   

 Weir’s own religious constructs are where this story suffers, most religions emphasize self-sacrifice, not self-aggrandizement, Weir seems to forget this in his theology. Also, not reading the story, and instead listening was also not the best experience.  Amazon should put all books on Kindle and not try to push other formats.  I haven’t needed anyone to read to me in a long time, thank you very much. 

The Egg:  A sunny side up view of religion. 

Episode 1:  Glorious Purpose: 

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) disappears from New York in 2012 and ends up being a prisoner of the TVA. (Time Variance Authority) The TVA accuses Loki of breaking his timeline, and she is about to be sentenced by Judge Ravona Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha Raw) when Mobius (Owen Wilson) intervenes. He wants to study Loki, see what makes him tick, and hunt down another variant while studying Loki, will Loki agree to help Mobius?  Or will he just continue to have delusions of grandeur? 

The concept of analyzing Loki is an interesting one, although they seem to be doing the same with the Winter Soldier in the other series.  The problem is Loki always worked better as comedy relief, working off of Thor’s hyper serious character, can the character handle a storyline all by himself, or will the show become too Loki-centric.  In this episode Loki seems to take a little too much pleasure in torturing his antagonists.  The other issue is the cast, Hiddleston is a fine actor, but Owen Wilson and his Ambien inflected beach bum voice is hard to take seriously, Mbatha Raw is a pretty face who hasn’t had many complex characters to play.  This series could be great, it could be lousy. 

Episode 2  The Variant: 

There’s a variant on the loose, and this variant is hurting TVA employees and hiding in certain events in time.  Mobius uses Loki to try to find the variant, and stop its plan. But does Loki really want to find the variant or is he just playing with Mobius’ mind? 

The two central questions in this show are, who is the variant, which the writers answer quite quickly and what are Loki’s motives, which will probably take all six episodes to answer.  The more important questions are, is this plot sustainable and can it hold the audience’s interest for a season or longer?  To be determined, but judging from the first two episodes, this show shouldn’t last more than 6 episodes.  Besides Tom Hiddleson, the acting is poor, and where can they go with this except Loki chasing the variant through different times and places and how long before that gets redundant? 

Episode 3  Lamentis: 

Loki finds the variant named Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) and they disappear to the planet Lamentis, just before the planet is about to be crushed by its own moon.  Loki and Sylvie board a train, to go to a rocket that will take them off the planet before it dies.  But they get kicked off the train, and it’s a race against time to get to the ship.  Do they make it in time? 

This episode, in fact the show so far, is the epitome of bad writing.  The writers boxed themselves in from the start of the show with the variant character, so they made the variant a woman.  So now, the exposition plays out like a bad rom-com, Sylvie and Loki are on a train, they don’t like each other at first.  Not only is this a rom-com, it’s a bad rom com.  Disney surely paid Tom Hiddleston a king’s ransom to be in a series, but didn’t come up with an imaginative enough plotline to make this show worth watching. 

Episode 4:  Nexus Event

Loki and Sylvie are still stuck on Lemantis, with no way to leave, are they doomed to certain death?  While on Lamentis Sylvie shares her insights on the TVA and the Time Keepers.  Loki is not sure what to think but he knows he wants to help Sylvie. 

This episode is another example of bad writing.  Sylvie and Loki are facing an existential threat in episode 4.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happens next.  And no one should care what happens to the time Variance Authority for many reasons, which will be elaborated on in the Season One summary of Loki. 

Episode 5: Journey Into Mystery 

Loki is sent into an undisclosed location by Judge Renslayer, Sylvie soon follows.  They meet other variants, who are resigned to the fate of staying where they are. But can Loki and Sylvie survive Alloth?  What is Alloth? 

This episode has a very medieval feel too it, complete with a quest, a creature, and even a castle.  Unfortunately, it’s not as entertaining as Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  It tries to be funny in an off-handed Python way, with the variants, but it doesn’t work. 

Episode 6:  For All Times.  Always

Loki and Sylvie finally meet He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) is he the being they’re after, or just another false face to battle through? 

There’s a Wizzard of Oz, man behind the curtain vibe going on here, it’s lazy writing and bad writing, because even if Loki and Sylvie achieve their goal what next? 

My Impressions of Season One. 

There was an interesting premise here somewhere, about Loki hunting a deadly variant, but the premise got plowed over by a lot of bad writing and yes even dangerous writing.   

The writers boxed themselves in by making the variant a variant of one character, with nowhere ese to go, the writers the writers made the variant a woman.  That led to the oldest and most tired cliché, sexual tension.  Yes, every television comedy and drama from Friends to Moonlighting to The Wonder Years used this overused plot device, and suddenly with Loki, sexual tension is supposed to be fresh and new, well it isn’t.  Sylvie and Loki hate each other at first, then they open up to each other, then they fall for each other, it’s all been done before, many times. 

This leads to other cliches later on in the plot, the medieval themed “Journey Into Mystery” is filled with characters and images viewers have all seen before, the writers try to change the circumstances of the setting shift, but the change in setting wasn’t as imaginative as the original setting, so it fails.  Then as a finale, at the end of the rainbow, as it were, viewers are treated to an Oz themed finish, again It’s been done before and done better. 

Now, here’s what’s dangerous about the writing, Loki is sent to the TVA, Time Variance Authority, not the Tennessee Valley Authority, Loki has nothing to do with rural electrification, although maybe Loki would have been more interesting discussing rural electrification.  Loki is left in the Time Variance Authority a big, bumbling bureaucracy that somehow manages the timelines of every humanoid in this reality, in a world that believes that their world is held aloft by the Timekeepers, three lizard-llke creatures, who control the timelines for everyone.   

Questioning authority and even divinity is fine in make-believe worlds, what’s the worst that can happen in a make-believe world, fake chaos?  But we humans are facing a very real and existential threat from a very real variant called Delta, and now is not the time to create a storyline that questions authority, when belief in any sort of authority is at an all-time low.  And when some need faith to soothe their grief when their loved ones are dying is this a time to satirize people’s beliefs in a higher power?  Hindus believe the world was created by three gods?  Is Disney satirizing polytheism?  Or animals as gods?  Hanuman is the Hindu monkey God, Ganesh is the Hindu elephant God.  So, this storyline is either a very condescending take on religions that the American Disney writers do not understand, or a satire of a bumbling bureaucracy that doesn’t know what it’s doing or why.  Either one is a horrible take when the world is suffering through a global pandemic. 

For a show with a seemingly innovative premise, the characters are awfully conventional.  Loki is a mischief maker, he likes to cause chaos.  Sylvie is nothing more than a love interest, with a strange nod to narcissists.  Mobius is the epitome of an establishment character, a TVA functionary, a bureaucratic pencil pusher, his evolution through the episodes is unconvincing and uninteresting. Judge Renslayer is even more determined to preserve the status quo than Mobius, and therefore even less interesting. 

Loki is a showcase for Tom Hiddleston.  Hiddleston does not disappoint, he uses his wit and charm to turn Loki from an irritating pest to a likeable antihero.  But the writers made a mistake by pairing him up with Sylvie, that means Hiddleston has to share time with an actress, and generate genuine feelings for her.  That takes away from Loki’s Modus Operandi, which is tricking people to get his way.  Owen Wilson and his narcoleptic beach boy delivery is not a sharp enough retort to Hiddleston’s quick witted verbal bobbing and weaving.  Sophia D’Martino doesn’t really have any chemistry with Hiddleston, so the romance seems forced, the writers also try to give her an action hero aspect to her role, but that doesn’t work well either, so the writers are stuck with a romance.  Gugu Mbatha Raw brings nothing to her performance as Ravona Renslayer, no dramatic ability, no comedic ability, it’s a flat uninspired performance.  Wunmi Mosaku is good as a variant hunter, named B-15 (really creative name there) but not as good as her performance as Ruby in Lovecraft Country, where she got to show off her singing talents.  Here, her character was more one-dimensional. 

The direction is not that great, the pacing lags somewhat.  There’s a cliffhanger in episode 3, that the audience knows is not a real cliffhanger, and the final set piece, or climax is really anti-climactic.  There are different locales, some meant to be exciting, but the dying planet of Lamentis looked like set decoration from a Star Trek episode from the 60’s, surely Disney can afford better set design. When Loki is banished, the scenes look like something out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Except Monty Python’s version looks more authentic. 

Loki:  Hiddleston’s non-low-key performance can’t save this predictable sci-fi series. 

A protagonist (John David Washington) is working for the CIA, and it trying to find out why an Indian arms dealer named Priya (Dimple Kapadia) is interested in selling a unique weapon to a Russian oligarch named Sator. (Kenneth Branaugh) Sator and his wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) are mixed up in some messy art forgeries.  Is Sator going to sell the weapon to a third party, or threaten to use it himself and blackmail a government into paying his art forgery losses?  Can the protagonist trust the team assembled to help him? Are Neil (Robert Pattinson) and Ives (Aaron Taylor Johnson) there to help the Protagonist or betray him? 

First of all, Protagonist is a ludicrous name for a character, second of all, Christopher Nolan’s fascination with time, and timelines has finally resulted in an incomprehensible plot.  If this movie was about someone trying to stop someone from using a unique weapon at some point in time, that would have been fine, but it’s about much more than that, and the much more is where the movie becomes difficult to understand.  Memento was great, Inception was great, Interstellar took some time to come together, but in the end, it made sense.  Time travel makes no logical sense in this movie, for various reasons, and the weapon makes no logical sense if analyzed properly.  This movie stopped making sense about an hour before it ended, why anyone would sit through to the end is hard to fathom, even though I did watch it to its end. There are some light-hearted moments, but most of the humor is drowned out by a heavy mix of overwrought drama and pseudo-scientific babble. 

The acting is not that good.  John David Washington lacks the sophistication and charm of his father, so any electricity that should have happened between he and Debicki is simply lacking, and that’s a key element of the movie.  Elizabeth Debicki is playing a damsel in distress, that’s her only function, and for some reason, she’s not very convincing.  She should have played more of a femme fatale, with more characteristics of an independent strong-minded woman, instead of a helpless victim.  Her actions seem more of a result of fear and desperation than courage. Robert Pattinson is good playing a man who is intentionally vague about his origins and intentions.  Kenneth Branaugh lays it on thick as the sadistic Russian oligarch, he doesn’t give the character any dimensions, just unabashed cruelty. Dimple Kapadia, an Indian actress, is quite good as a shady arms dealer who never shows whose side she’s on, it’s a good, understated performance.  And Michael Caine makes a humorous cameo, which is always a welcome sight. 

Christopher Nolan is an unparalleled director, both in terms of visual acumen and narrative navigation.  He is able to steer the most complex narrative to a clear and compelling finish. That is what makes Tenet so disappointing, seeing actors going backwards and forwards in multiple scenes is not visually gratifying, neither is a chase scene with a car driving backwards.  Tenet is a waste of Nolan’s prodigious directorial talents.  The exposition is no better, there are a thousand plot twists and not one of them is consequential.  Nolan needs to go back to the drawing board and forget his obsession with time travel. 

Tenet:  A no-no for Nolan, bad writing and uninspired direction.