the last jedi

General Hux (Domhall Gleeson) launches an attack to wipe out the last of the resistance fleet, but Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) launches a counterattack that disables a dreadnaught, one of the First Order’s most powerful ships.  The counterattack is a costly one and Poe disobeyed Leia Organa’s (Carrie Fisher) orders not to attack the ship, so Leia demotes Poe.  Leia is injured in a subsequent attack and hands power to Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) who proceeds to retreat out of range of the First Order’s ship, but Hux’s ship can track the Resistance ship, even in hyperspace, and the resistance ship is running low on fuel, so time is running out for the resistance.

Finn (John Boyega) wants to escape the ship and find Rey, (Daisy Ridley) but he is stopped by Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) Rose’s sister, Paige, (Veronica Ngo) was killed in an initial attack on the dreadnaught, so Rose takes her resistance role seriously.  Rose and Finn figure out how to disable the tracking device, but Maz Kenata (Lupita N’yongo) suggests that they need a master codebreaker, so they travel to the Canto Bright casino to find the codebreaker.

Meanwhile Rey finds Luke (Mark Hamill) on the island of Ahch To, where he is on self-imposed exile. While on the island, Rey is discovering her powers within the force. Luke is disillusioned with being a Jedi, because of his inability to train Kylo, and does not want to give Rey the training she desires.  She is also using her powers to hear the voice of Kylo Ren (Adam  Driver) Kylo is trying to bring Rey to the dark side, Rey sees  the conflict in Kylo’s heart and tries to pull him over to the side of the resistance.  Who wins the mental tug of war?  Kylo or Rey?  Does Luke train Rey? Do Rose and Finn find the codebreaker?

There’s a lot to like about the new Star Wars movie, the Kylo/Rey/Luke storyline is probably the most interesting.  Luke is probably more interesting as a character than he’s ever been, because he’s conflicted. The Rose/Finn casino storyline falls flat, because it’s just silly, it’s as if Casino Royale breaks out during a Star Wars movie. Admiral Holdo is one of the worst characters ever written, she orders people around, doesn’t explain her plan, and gets things mansplained by Poe.  It’s an insult to women everywhere. DJ, the codebreaker is one of the few new characters that works in this film.  But the movie doesn’t end when it should, and the movie limps to an end, and I never thought I’d say that about any Star Wars movie. Despite all the problems with plot and character, the movie works, primarily because of the intensity of the Kylo/Rey/Luke storyline.

The acting varies greatly.  Daisy Ridley is a great actress, there’s something about her eyes and face, that makes the viewer want to watch her.   Adam Driver is superb as Kylo Ren, he brings an intensity to the role that fits the character to a tee.  John Boyega’s role is a little less central to the movie, but he brings the same enthusiasm to his role.  Oscar Issac has a lot of magnetism to the role of Poe, but the script shoots him down several times, and he’s not allowed to show Poe as the daring flyboy he is. I wish Mark Hamill was a better actor, because this version of Luke Skywalker is almost Shakespearean in its complexity.  Unfortunately, Hamill  is not up to the challenge.  Kelly Marie Tran plays Rose like a lovesick teenager, and has no chemistry with John Boyega.  But Laura Dern gives the worst performance in this movie by far, she plays an unlikeable person with no emotion at all, which makes a boring character even more boring.

Riann Johnson is a good director, I liked Looper, I didn’t especially like The Brothers Bloom.  He keeps the pacing going well, I would have cut the casino scene entirely, and worked on another scene to get Rose and Finn together.  People can differ about the casino scene, but I absolutely blame Riann Johnson for not being able to decide on an ending, he actually wrote the perfect ending, but he didn’t end the movie there, he ended the movie much later than he should have.  Also, as director, he didn’t bring the disparate subplots together in time to tell the story in a cohesive manner.

Star Wars:  The Last Jedi:  A flawed tour-de force.

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marvelous mrs maisel

Episode 1: Pilot

Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) has a dream life in the 60’s, she’s married to the love of her life Joel (Michael Zegan) and has two kids.  Joel is a businessman who dreams of being a standup comic, but when he bombs in a comedy club, Midge’s dream life turns into a nightmare.  Joel tells Midge he’s leaving her and having an affair with his secretary, Penny Pann. (Holly Curran)  Drunk and heartbroken, Midge stumbles onto the standup stage, and vents about her cheating husband, and broken marriage.  How does her performance go?

This show starts off slowly with Joel leaving Midge, but the episode gets much funnier after Joel leaves and Midge tries out her standup routine.  The writers seem to emphasize Midge’s Jewishness, I don’t know if they’re trying to be authentic or stereotypical. The acting is good, Rachel Broshnahan stands out, she handles both the comedic aspects and the serious aspects of the part well. Tony Shalhoub, who is usually very funny, overdoes the accent a bit,as Midge’s father.  Alex Borstein from Family Guy is also very funny.

Episode 2: Ya Shivu v Bolshom Dome Na Kholme

Midge is trying to get used to her new life.  Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein) is trying to convince her that she should do stand-up, but Midge is convinced that it is a one time thing. Joel’s father, Moishe (Kevin Pollack) and mother Shirley (Caroline Aaron) are upset about their son’s separation from Midge.  They pressure Midge and Joel to get together for dinner.  Midge and Joel get together, how does the dinner go?

This show is funny, and the laughs come in unexpected places .  Kevin Pollack overdoes Moishe a little but the interplay between Pollack and Tony Shalhoub is funny, the parents on the whole are very funny.  But I hope the writers quit the redundancy of Midge getting angry, and then doing what she does best.  It’s like watching the Incredible Hulk and waiting for David Banner to get angry.  It’s getting to be a tied plot device.  Alex Borstein is funny again, and Rachel Broshnahan is very talented.  Not everyone can show all the sides of a character like she has already done.

Episode3:  Because You Left

Midge goes to jail again, and is bailed out by Lenny Bruce. (Luke Kirby)  Midge also gets a lawyer, because she might need one in the future.  Abe and Moishe hatch a plan, and Joel asks Midge a question,  what is her response?

This episode is not as funny as the first two, and that makes me mad, I sense a dramedy coming and that would ruin a perfectly good show. Rachel Broshnahan does one good stand-up routine,  but she’s like some kind of 50’s rebel, hanging out with musicians, smoking dope, what’s next reciting beat poetry? I hope it doesn’t turn into a cliché.

 

Episode 4:  The Disappointment of The Dionne Quintuplets

Midge moves out of her apartment, and moves in with her parents.  Joel moves out of Archie’s (Joel Johnstone) apartment, and moves into his own place.  When  Midge drops Ethan (Matteo Pacale)  off with Joel, she gets a few surprises.  Susie takes Midge to a few clubs to give her a few tips, but when she comes home late, Midge remembers what living with her parents was like.

I don’t want to say this was filler, because it was funny, but it didn’t have the hallmark of the first three episodes, but it did have something that I didn’t like, name dropping, and when I realize how pathetic 50’s stand-up comedy was, the writers really didn’t need to name drop all that much.  Midge talks about changing her name and that leads me to think that this show is based on someone real, and that’s only one person I can think of.  Good performances by Rachel Broshnahan, Alex Borstein, and Marin Hinkle as Midge’s mother.

Episode 5: Doink

Midge goes to work behind the makeup counter at B.Altman’s.  She also bombs for the first time at the club, and hires a comedy writer named Herb Smith (Wallace Shawn) to sharpen her act. Joel takes Penny out to dinner to meet his parents.  How does that go?

This is an interesting episode, because Midge succeeds at something and then fails at something badly, and her failure droves her to do something impulsive.  Joel is not doing any better trying to impress his parents with Penny Pan.  Wallace Shawn is funny as the well-meaning but not funny comedy writer.

Episode 6:  Miss X At The Gaslight

Midge hones her act at B.Altman parties, and she may have a comedy partner, named Randall. (Nate Cordray)  Susie doesn’t lie any of it, the parties, the partner.  Does she do anything about it?  Abe gets a job offer at Bell Labs, and the family goes out to celebrate and unexpectedly runs into someone at the restaurant.

This was a pretty funny episode, but there was some unnecessary drama, and some unnecessary characters introduced in this episode.

Episode 7:  Put That on Your Plate

Abe brings home a colleague.  Joel is in line for a promotion.  Midge has a “tight ten minute set” and she’s set to open for Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch) the biggest comedienne in New York.  Sophie gives Midge some advice.  Does she follow the advice?

This is an interesting episode because the women in this episode strike out against the conventional wisdom of the 1950’s.  First Midge’s mom, and then Midge react to external situations not of their own making.

 

Episode 8:Thank You and Good Night

Midge and Joel talk about a divorce, but do their actions suggest something else?  Midge gets blackballed by a powerful   agent.  Midge and Penny fight at B. Altman’s. Joel blows his shot at a business proposal. Midge gets another shot at stand-up, how does she do?

I didn’t like this episode, everything the writers set in motion about women taking charge of their life is suddenly and magically forgotten in this episode, suddenly Joel is calling the shots, and it’s up to Joel whether or not his wife is suitable.  And when everything is pointing to Midge never doing stand-up, suddenly someone appears as a deus ex machina, and her comedy career is back on track.

Season 1 Summary:

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a very funny show that’s very Jewish.  I don’t know if it’s authentically Jewish, or stereotypically Jewish, but sometimes it seems to cross the line between authentically Jewish and stereotypically Jewish more than once. Are people laughing with Jews, or at Jews?  That’s the fundamental dilemma of this series.

The Gentile characters aren’t that well-written either, one is Penny Pan, who is a homewrecker, a dim-wit, and doesn’t have any friends to speak of.  I’m not sure that Joel even likes her.   The other Gentile character is Astrid, Midge’s sister-in-law, who’s converting to Judaism,  so she aspires to be more Jewish than her Jewish husband.

This is also supposed to be a female empowerment show, a girl power type show that proves even in the fifties, women could make it if they fought hard enough.  It is that show for the most part, but the final episode is really disappointing in that respect.  All the power that Midge built with her comedy, and living alone is somehow lost in that last episode.  The writers cede Midge’s power back to the men in her life in the last episode and that’s disappointing.  Separately, the economic fall that Midge encounters is not as precipitous as it should have been, but Midge just moved in with her parents.

I also didn’t like the name dropping of comedians on the show.  Lenny Bruce is on the show as a character, the writers mention Red Skelton, and Redd Foxx, and Buddy Hackett, and comedians that I generally didn’t think were that funny.  Redd Foxx is funny, Red Skelton, Buddy Hackett, not so much, and the way they use Lenny Bruce to advance certain storylines is a cop out.

All this criticism might lead you to believe that I didn’t like the show, but I actually did like the show quite a bit.  I liked it primarily because of two actors.  Rachel Broshnahan is very talented, she handles the serious and the comedic aspects of the show very well.  She does overplay the Jewishness a little but it’s a good role for her and she plays it well.  Alex Borstein is also very funny, uproariously funny at times, very cynical, very New York street smart, nothing phases her, she wants to bond with Midge, but yet she doesn’t want  to open herself up to ridicule.  It’s a different role than her Family Guy role, and she also handles the role well. Tony Shaloub overplays the Jewish dad role, but modulates a bit later on. Kevin Pollack, who is Jewish, wildly overplays the Jewishness of his character.  I also like Marin Hinkle as Rose, Midge’s mom.  I thought she did a nice job understating her role, and her scenes with the tea-leaf reader are hilarious.

I’m wondering how the show will evolve from here, and where these  characters will go in seasons to come.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel:  a-Maise-ing.

 

 

Movie Review: Kidnap (2017)

Posted: January 6, 2018 in Drama
Tags:

kidnap

Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) is a divorced waitress with a six year-old son, Frankie. (Sage Correa)  She loves her son very much and dotes on him whenever she sees him.  Karla and her husband are fighting over custody for Frankie, so Karla has a special day at the park planned for Frankie,  Karla is even tracking Frankie’s movements on a  walkie-talkie, as they play Marco Polo.  When she doesn’t hear her son’s voice, Karla panics.  Soon Karla’s worst fears are realized, her son is gone, and he sees the kidnapper driving away with her son in a 1980’s Mustang.  Who are the kidnappers?  Why did they kidnap Frankie?

With movies like Taken becoming all the rage in Hollywood, why shouldn’t a woman haven action movie where her son is abducted, and what better actress to do the action movie than Halle Berry? The concept of a woman saving her son from abduction may be intriguing, but the execution of this idea in this movie leaves a lot to be desired.  Karla admits in the movie that she has no plan, yet she somehow finds her son’s abductors and tracks them through two states, until her magic minivan, which crashes through many objects, but never stops until it runs out of gas.  When the van runs out of gas, Karla somehow walks for miles, with no food or water,  through a dense forest , and finds the exact destination that she needed to find.  This is not humanly possible.  If that isn’t bad enough, this film features the worst portrayal of backwoods whites since Deliverance.  No one deserves to be stereotyped, not African Americans, not Southern whites, not anyone but Hollywood seems to have a shorthand description of everyone. .  The product placement is shameful, the ending is painfully obvious, and can’t come soon enough.

Halle Berry is the lead actress in this movie, and she’s also one of the producers, so she has to take ultimate responsibility for the quality or lack thereof.  As an actress she failed, all she did was have this horrified look on her face.  As a producer she should have hired better writers to produce a better script, or hired better actors to help her carry the load, but the load of this crappy movie was entirely on Halle, and she has no one to blame but herself.  She’s a good actress, who’s made some very bad films, and unfortunately, this is a very bad film.

The direction is something only a stunt driver would love because most of the action takes place behind the wheel of a minivan as it chases a Mustang.  The non-chase scenes are dull, in fact the chase scenes are pretty redundant, and the pacing is pretty slow.  Moreover, this is a long film, made longer by lack of plot development, character development, and nothing visually exciting.

Kidnap:  Take an adult nap, through this entire movie.

 

Beatles Eight Days 2016

Director Ron Howard commemorates and celebrates the Beatles 250 concerts from 1963 to 1966.

The sweep of this documentary in the early years in Liverpool and German to their tours of America is comprehensive, interviews with a reporter who covered the Beatles when they toured America in 1964 and 1965, interviews with an unlikely fan of the Beatles, interviews with the Beatles themselves,  both in archival footage, supplemented by  current interviews with Ringo and Paul, and lots of live concert songs, the documentary captures the excitement of the Beatles music in those early days.  The film also captures the palpable exhaustion, and growing frustration of the Beatles at the end of the 1966 tour.

Where this documentary loses points is that it comes to a grinding halt in 1966, at a time when the Beatles music was getting more creative, and less formulaic.  The documentary really gives short shrift to the alums after 1966, and that really shortchanges Beatles fans and music fans in general.  I realize that the documentary was looking at the Beatles from a touring perspective, and the archival footage and photos  of the group in Liverpool and Germany are fantastic, but with so much concentration on the early Beatles, 8 Days a Week loses what turned the Beatles from a pop band to one of the most influential rock bands in the world.  Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely  Hearts Club Band  is one of the best albums in music history, and it is put on little more than a laundry list by this documentary, and that is a shame.  It is also puzzling, because the Beatles’ movies are brought in in addition to their tours, but there is little discussion of some of the most influential music of all time,  There is sparse footage of the final rooftop concert, that plays over the credits, all of which leave the viewer with a general sense of disappointment, when there should be no disappointment from a Beatles documentary.

Thee pacing is good, the mix of archival footage, still pictures and current interviews are interspersed well.  The songs are fantastic, and still hold up very well, which all speak to the immense talents of the Fab 4, I watched it on PBS and it was constantly interrupted by pledge drives, which no doubt interrupted with Howard’s attempt to tell a cohesive story through the music and interviews. Overall, it is a good documentary and well worth watching.

8 Days A Week:  Hard to Beat

girls trip

Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall) is invited to be a keynote speaker at the Essence Festival, the quintessential event celebrating black music and culture.  Ryan is going to the Essence Festival to promote her new book, with her husband Stewart.  (Mike Colter) She decides to invite her friends, because they have drifted apart in the last few years.  Ryan’s friend Sasha (Queen Latifah ) runs an internet gossip site called  Sasha’s Secrets, and she’s despite to find a story to boost clicks to her site,  Lisa Cooper (Jada Pinkett Smith) is a single mother who’s so devoted to her kids, that she doesn’t  even want to leave them alone with her mother to go on this trip with Ryan.  And there’s Dina (Tiffany Haddish) the  wild child of the  group, who will say or do anything, with no apologies. Sasha gets a compromising picture of Stuart with an Instagram model named Simone. (Deborah Ayorinde)   Does Sasha confront Ryan with this picture, possibly wrecking Ryan’s perfect marriage?  Does Sasha post the picture on her site, saving herself from financial ruin? Is the photo even real, or has it been photoshopped?

This movie tries hard to be Bridesmaids, but there are so many problems with the writing that it’s difficult to even begin to explain them.  Start with a few tried-and-true black woman stereotypes.  Dina is the stereotypical l brassy, streetwise black woman that is prevalent in most movies. Then there’s Ryan, with another black female stereotype, the Superwoman, she can do it all, juggle, husband and career, and not break a sweat.  Then there’s some bathroom humor, some Tyler Perry drama, including a bar fight, and for no particular reason, some 1990’s New Jack swing music.  So the uplifting feminist empowerment soliloquy near the end of the film, can’t make the viewer forget all the trivial nonsense that comes before it. On the positive side, there is a really good Madi Gras band in the movie, there should have been more scenes with them in it.

Regina Hall is not really convincing as the “I have it all, you can have it too” persona.  It is not until late in the movie until the writers  humanize her character, that she shows any range at all.  Queen Latifah is competent , but again, there’s little range for the character, Latifah goes between angry and indignant, and that’s not a lot of range.  I didn’t buy Jada Pinkett Smith as a dowdy  hypochondriac, single mother of 2, so the transformation was not that shocking.  Tiffany Haddish is not very funny, she tries really hard,  but she is kind of annoying.  Mike Coulter does a really good job as the roguish, cheating husband, he is a dirtbag, but he has to maintain a public persona, so he is all smiles on the outside.

The direction has nothing noteworthy to speak of, other than a scene at Mardi Gras, and a scene with the marching band, the audience wouldn’t know that it was set in New Orleans at all.  The pacing is slow, the length is excessive for a comedy, and other than Mike Colter, there are no really good performances to speak of.

Girl’s Trip:  Falls flat.

baby driver

Baby  (Ansel Elgort) is a young getaway driver who works for Doc (Kevin Spacey) who’s a mobster.  Baby’s first job is driving Griff (Jon Bernthal) Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Elza Gonzalez) away from a bank robbery.  He does this in a red Subaru.   Baby’s second job is a Brinks truck heist featuring three different criminals, Eddie (Flea) J.D. (Lanny Joon) and Bats. (Jamie Foxx)  Once again, Baby escapes with his life.  Doc promises Baby that’s his last job and Baby is glad, because while going to the same diner every day, because his mom used to work there, he meets Debora (Lilly James)a cute waitress, and the two fall in love.  Baby is out of the getaway driving business and working as a pizza delivery boy, when Doc calls with one more job, involving money orders and the post office.  After a threat from Doc, will Baby take the big job, or forget his life of crime and run off with Debora?

Most people have heard of a mash up in music, Baby Driver is a mash-up of genres.  It’s a crime caper, it’s a drippy romance, and it’s got so much music, it might as well be a musical.  But the music and the romance divert attention from the crime drama, in ways that didn’t help this movie.  There are coincidences that would never happen in real life, like two cars looking just like the getaway car on the first getaway, there are backstory elements that only serve to garner sympathy to the Baby character, and there’s a badly mismatched cast, which makes the viewer wonder if this group of people would ever do anything together, much less plan robberies together.  It’s got that one last bank job cliché, and then it breaks that promise, because there is not enough material in the film to maintain interest. The ending would have been fine, if the movie had ended five minutes before it did. If this movie wasn’t a mash-up of genres, it would have been just another heist movie with a lot of shooting and fancy driving, so I guess the touches of style are better than nothing.

This movie features some of the strangest casting in any recent movie I’ve  seen.  Ansel Elgort is good as the innocent getaway driver, but does anyone believe that a guy like that would actually be a getaway driver?  No.  And Elgort laid that Southern accent on a bit too thick, it was noticeable.  The writers failed to give Baby any dimensions though, he was basically all good all the time, and that got boring quickly. Jon Hamm is great in Mad Men, but he is not a thug, and making him dress up in a leather jacket with stubble doesn’t exactly make him look tough, he just looks out of place, like he missed a revival of Grease or something. Casting 27 year old Elza Gonzalez as Hamm’s girlfriend when Hamm is 46, makes the idea of Hamm in this movie even more ridiculous.  The two were obviously badly mismatched, and Gonzalez was only used for eye-candy purposes.  Kevin Spacey plays what he always plays, an authority figure who everyone fears for some unknown reason.  Well I hope he enjoyed himself in this movie, because he’s finished in Hollywood. Jamie Foxx plays what he always plays, a slightly crazed, unpredictable character who makes jokes. One can argue about casting any of these people, but what are Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and 70’s lounge singer Paul Williams doing in this movie?  Strange casting indeed.

The direction is not great, the pacing is uneven, it goes from a faced paced action flick to a slowly paced romance, and back and forth between the two.  The director used the beat in the music in concert with some of the action, which is unique, but hardly worth sitting through this movie for.  Watch Drive with Ryan Gosling, which also has arthouse excesses, but it’s got a better story and better acting than this movie.

Baby Driver:  Drove me to drink.

 

 

thor ragnarok

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is locked up in a cage by Sartur (Clancy Brow) a demon who claims to have initiated Ragnarok, a prophesy where Sartur will destroy Asgard.  Thor thinks he’s already stopped the prophesy, but flies to Asgard to talk to his father, Odin.  (Anthony Hopkins)  Instead of Odin, Thor finds Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who seems to have replaced Odin on Asgard.  With a little help from Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) Thor finds Odin, only to find that he’s dying, and Hela (Cate Banchett) who is Goddess of Death and also Odin’s first born, and also Thor and Loki’s sister, plans to take over the family legacy.When Odin passes away, Hela will have infinite power.  Odin passes away shortly thereafter, and the race is on to get to Asgard.  But Thor and Loki get sidetracked to planet Sakaar, which is ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) who wants to pit Thor against his champion in a gladiatorial battle.  It turns out Thor already knows the champion of Sakaar, it’s the Hulk, but will beating the Hulk be as easy as Thor thinks and can Thor get back to Asgard before Hela takes it over?

Thor Ragnarok did something that I didn’t think was possible, it made me like a Thor movie.  The previous two Thor movies took themselves so damn seriously, this was a refreshing tongue in cheek take on the Thor story that this trilogy needed in the worst way.  The story is simple, which is crucial to a superhero movie, don’t overcomplicate things.  The backstory with Hela is equally as good, and those two elements alone make this movie worth watching.  There are drawbacks however, the whole Hulk fight scene is unnecessary, in fact Hulk is unnecessary, as is Dr. Strange.  Writers have yet to find a way to integrate Hulk into any avengers movie much less make a decent Hulk movie, in this one the Hulk is little more than comedy relief.  The ending is predictable, and when Hollywood runs out of plot, it pours on the fight scenes and special effects.  Thor Ragnarok is no exception, but Ragnarok is a welcome relief from a character and trilogy that was rapidly losing relevance, in the Marvel universe.

The performances are very good.  Chris Hemsworth is a funny guy, anyone who’s seen him in the Ghostbusters remake, admittedly not that many saw this, but those who did knows he has great comic timing.  Tom Hiddleston is also great as Loki, as he plays up the sibling rivalry again, this time for laughs.  But the best performance in this film undoubtedly belongs to Cate Blanchett, yes she is evil, but she underplays the evil so well that it’s subtle, and she has a reason for being angry, and that makes her performance all the more intriguing.  There are also good performances by Idris Elba Karl Urban, Tessa Thompson and of course Anthony Hopkins. These performances make a well-written movie even better.

The direction is good, the scenes burst with color, yes there’s a lot of CGI, but the film I is not overwhelmed by it.  The pacing is good, the movie moves along at a brisk pace for a movie that’s over 2 hours long, and the director gets a lot of good performances from a very talented cast.

Thor Ragnarok  Rock on!