Friday, January 22, 2021

Review: ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance’ gives a glimpse into what it was to be ‘like Mike’

By Matt Pascarella

He is arguably the greatest basketball player to have ever played the game. “The Last Dance” follows Michael Jordan’s 1997-1998 season on the court. I’m late to the game in watching ESPN’s 10-part series, released last year and now on Netflix, but you don’t have to be a fan of basketball to enjoy it. It’s about one man’s strength, determination and drive to be the best.

It’s 1984. And a 23-year-old from the University of North Carolina, who had strived to be the very best and pushed himself to do so from the start, is drafted by the Chicago Bulls. That man would go on to win the Bulls six NBA championship titles, multiple MVP awards and was part of the 1992 Dream Team -  the men’s Olympic basketball team which earned the United States gold against Croatia in the summer Olympics.

From start to finish, this series is a summary of some of Jordan’s best moments on the court. It shows the many sides of Jordan and attempts to explain what it meant to ‘be like Mike.’ It features exclusive interviews, past and present, from owners, managers, coaches and teammates, as well as the man himself.

The series juts back and forth to multiple spots in Jordan’s career, all the while telling his story. It begins by following a bit of Jordan’s career history, then moves on to tell his teammate’s stories, starting with Scottie Pippen, then Dennis Rodman and onto others. It explains how these individuals related to Jordan and how they each worked together. It features great archival television footage from the 1990s of Jordan at his best. You also get a bit of a peak behind the curtain as to what it really was to be ‘like Mike.’

During the time that Jordan was at the height of his career, I was younger and more focused on baseball, but I’m sure I was aware of who Michael Jordan was. So now – a little older – to hear Jordan’s story from a variety of different individuals, is thought-provoking. I found Jordan’s motivation and drive to be the best, inspiring.

This series is incredibly captivating. So much so that I almost couldn’t look away and binged it in three days. The series gives good insight as to what it was like to work with, play with and be, arguably of course, the best basketball player of all time.

While watching the archival footage of the games, accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack featuring everyone from Jay-Z to The Beastie Boys to Queen, seeing the behind-the-scenes interviews, hearing the announcers along with game highlights, you are pretty effectively transported back to the 1990s, watching Jordan and the Bulls go for their NBA championship wins.

I would highly recommend this series, though you don’t have to watch it in three days, once you start ... you may want to. <

Friday, January 15, 2021

Movie Review: Disney-Plus’ ‘Soul’ has heart and well, soul

By Matt Pascarella

Joe (Jamie Fox) was born to play music; from the moment he wakes up in the morning to the moment he falls asleep, music is all he thinks about and his reason for living. What began as the best day of his life, takes a sudden turn when he ends up in another dimension that could be headed toward death. Joe must find his way back to Earth in time for his gig with the famous Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). This is another Pixar homerun and a movie both kids and adults can enjoy.

Joe is a part-time music teacher at a school. He gets the opportunity to become a full-time music teacher but is hesitant to take the job because of his love of playing gigs. Joe is overjoyed when he gets the opportunity to play with the Dorothea Williams Quartet, something he’s wanted his entire life. He’s so excited, he falls down a manhole and lands himself in the Great Before, a holding pattern for the soul. Joe is terrified and wants to return to Earth. He is told that finding your spark gets you to Earth.

Joe gets paired with 22 (Tina Fey) who has been in the Great Before for a while and has no desire to put in the effort it takes to leave.

“Can’t crush a soul here, that’s what Earth is for,” she says.

Joe helps 22 find a reason to get to Earth. In the process, they learn lessons about passions, obsessions, depression and joy. Eventually, the two make it into bodies on Earth – though it’s not the way they intended. You’ll have to watch the movie to see whose bodies they end up in.

The two must work together to right this wrong and get Joe back in time to play with Dorothea. While in a body, 22 realizes Earth might not be so bad. She wants to find her purpose.

When the two are taken back to the Great Beyond, 22 realizes she might have missed her chance to live a life on Earth. And Joe still needs to get back for his gig.

What will happen to Joe and 22? Will they ever make it to Earth? Will Joe be to his gig on time?

I was somewhat on the fence about this movie; Pixar usually does an exceptional job, but not every movie they’ve made is a winner. Not to fear, “Soul” is a definite winner. It’s a movie the whole family can enjoy with subject matter that works on both levels. It’s heartfelt with humor too. 22 has an especially funny line about messing with the New York Knicks for years (as she makes them miss a shot). Sorry if you’re a Knicks fan. This movie has great lessons about friendship, finding your spark, finding your purpose and finding/doing what you love to make the most out of life. It stresses the importance of being thankful and living life to the fullest.

This is a feel-good movie I highly recommend. It also has a great soundtrack. Several music notes up. <

Friday, January 8, 2021

Movie Review: Sci-fi thriller ‘Sputnik’ takes a dark turn

By Daniel Gray

Released August of last year, Sputnik is a Russian sci-fi thriller that takes place in 1983. We follow astronaut Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov), who has a parasite living inside him from space and it is up to Tatyana Kilimova (Okasana Akinshina), a doctor with a nearly revoked license, to separate them.

 

At the beginning of the film, we have Konstantin and his colleague disengaging from ORBITA-4 and starting to make their way back to Earth. Before they can safely reach the Earth's atmosphere, something rattles their ship and causes the men to panic. Only Konstantin survives the journey and suffers for it.

 

We then meet a neurophysiologist named Tatyana who is being charged for unorthodox methods of helping a teenager who suffers from seizures. Soon after the trial, she meets a man named Semiradov who needs her help with Konstantin, believing that she can help assist them. Tatyana accepts and the two travel to a secured and secluded base that holds Konstantin and his alien parasite.

 

At first, Tatyana diagnoses Konstantin with simple PTSD due to his lack of memory of what happened up in space. As she learns more and more about Konstantin and his case, she is terrified of the monster that lives inside of him and keeps him alive. Tatyana is determined to help Konstantin be freed of this creature, so she continues forward to help him.

 

Things take a dark turn when Tatyana learns more about the parasite inside of Konstantin. She had been told it feeds on whatever Konstantin eats, but instead they have been feeding it prisoners from a nearby facility. Disgusted, Tatyana confronts Semiradov that it is morally wrong, but turns out they are keeping Konstantin there to have him as a future weapon and that he doesn't care who dies in the process.

 

Tatyana hatches a plan to help free Konstantine from the parasite, along with the facility he's held in. Upon escaping, they are soon ambushed by Semiradov and the military. Tatayana and Konstantine flee the fight that ensues with the parasite being left behind to kill off the armed forces, but it is soon outnumbered and nearly killed.

 

With the parasite being in a hurt state, Semiradov is able to catch up to the two and attempts to force the ill Konstantine to allow it back inside of himself. Instead, Konstantine controls the parasite to kill Semiradov. Afterwards, Konstantine shoots himself to finally kill the alien inside of him, dying in the process.

 

Sputnik wasn't too much of a scary movie, but it did keep me in suspense the whole way through. The fact that the whole thing is in Russian doesn't have a barrier either, the translations easily helping English viewers along to understand the story and dialog.

 

The ending seemed rushed however and made me wonder if Konstantine could have lived life normally with the parasite instead of shooting himself. But overall, a good final watch of 2020 and it’s available on Amazon and Hulu. <

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Netflix’s ‘Over the Moon’ a heartwarming animated adventure

By Daniel Gray

"Over the Moon," an animated movie that was released on Netflix in October, follows the story of a young Chinese girl named Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) along with the ancient Chinese legend of a moon goddess named Chang'e (Phillipa Soo).

The movie is bright but has meaningful tones of loss from both Fei Fei's perspective and the moon goddess' that's heartwarming by the end.

First and foremost, the legend of the moon goddess is a very important part of the story, so here is the boiled-down version. There was a woman named Chang'e who loved a man named Houyi, however, one day Chang'e took a pill that granted her immortality, and she became a goddess while he stayed and died on Earth.

With that out of the way, let's continue with Fei Fei's story.

At a young age, Fei Fei lost her mother and the family suffered from the loss, though just a few years later, Fei Fei's father brought in another woman. Distraught, Fei Fei is sure that if her father believed in the moon goddess like he had when her mother was alive, he would not want to marry again.

Eventually, Fei Fei hatches the plan of forcing her father to believe that the moon goddess is real by flying to the moon herself in a rocket ship. She goes through many trial and errors before finally, she’s able to take off and almost crashes immediately.

Before she can get close to hitting the ground, the moon goddess herself rescues her and brings her up to the moon.

Once she reaches Chang'e, the goddess is annoyed when she finds out Fei Fei did not bring 'the gift' that will grant the goddess' wish of bringing Houyi back. Until she finds the gift, she cannot take a picture of Chang'e to prove that she is real.

After a small adventure, Fei Fei finds the gift and brings it to the goddess, but it is too late to rescue Houyi and he cannot be turned immortal. Chang'e falls into a depressive state that Fei Fei helps her get out of through her own grief and mourning over her mother.

The moon goddess helps bring her back home, but not before teaching Fei Fei that she can learn to move on from her sadness and look forward to a new family with the happiness it brings. 

This movie was heartwarming in every sense of the word. There were several points that had me on the verge of tears, especially when Fei Fei and the moon goddess were bonding with grief towards the end. The only issue taken with the movie is how it lacks the moon goddess' story and how it could have been expanded a bit better for western audiences.

The animation was beautifully done, and I found myself entranced by the visuals. It's a worthy watch and definitely something I would revisit over and over again. <

Friday, December 18, 2020

‘Bad Therapy’ should require movie malpractice insurance

By Daniel Gray

Special to the Windham Eagle

What happens when your therapist makes your life worse than how it started before sessions? Bad Therapy, released April 2020, is a thriller that follows a married couple Bob (Rob Corddry) and Susan (Alicia Silverstone) that have a few bumps that Susan feels that could be resolved with a marriage counselor. However, the one they find wants to ruin their marriage instead of strengthening it in this film available on Amazon.

 

They meet Judy Small (Michaela Watkins), a recently unsilenced therapist that had accidentally killed her last client due to unorthodox methods. In only a few sessions, Judy soon has the two turn on one another to sate her own compulsive desires.

Judy has Susan believe that she needs to 'even the score' between herself and Bob, since he had a small affair before they were married with an ex-girlfriend. Susan, however, does not believe this will benefit her marriage and starts to realize that Judy isn't the best fit for her and Bob. All the while, Judy is trying to edge Bob onto the conclusion that he needs to have an affair because he is a man with needs and that she can help with those needs.

Later on Susan says that she does not want to continue counseling with Judy since Judy doesn't seem to be listening and instead egging her to conclusions. When Susan goes out of town for the night, Judy drops by to seduce Bob for her own desires. She finds herself infatuated with the man and simply wants him to herself. 

After Susan finds out about Judy and Bob, she kicks him out of the house and Bob spends the night alone at a motel, going to Judy the following day and begging her to make things right with his wife. It's very clear that Bob loves Susan and only has eyes for her, which enrages Judy. Thus, making her drug him and plan to keep him captive as her lover.

In the end, Susan does come to rescue Bob from Judy, and Judy is taken into police custody. The two then are seen happier than ever when the credits roll.

This movie was very interesting, to say the least. There could have been a lot more with Judy's character to make this more of a thriller genre.

Instead, it seemed more like a cliché drama than anything. The acting was incredible, and the actors did an amazing job, but there are so many plots that are happening that seem to tangle the movie up. The movie itself is also just bland in the plot department.

 

If it had just focused more on the main plot of Judy as a malpracticing therapist and given more backstory as to what happened before Bob and Judy, I feel like the movie could have benefited greatly.

As a final stance, the 'bad' in Bad Therapy is my rating for this so-called 'thriller'. <                    

Friday, December 11, 2020

‘Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey’ has potential to become a classic

By Daniel Gray

Special to The Windham Eagle

Released Nov. 13 on Netflix, “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” might be a film you have heard about but from the only brief clips seen through commercials, and not many knew what the film is actually about. The film follows a famous toy maker Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker) and his sad tale of betrayal, but is also the story of a happy ending with just a bit of believing.

The toymaker runs his own store dubbed Jangle and Things, where he sells his inventions to the public as toys for children. He runs the shop with his wife (Sharon Rose), daughter Jessica (Anika Noki Rose), and apprentice Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key). The townsfolk love to roam into his shop to buy and see his inventions, but they won’t be visiting too much longer.

After finishing one of his newest inventions that will be sure to make him famous, Gustafson steals it, along with Jeronicus' book of inventions. This made Gustafson very wealthy and rich, while it left Jeronicus and his family in shambles.

Jessica and Jeronicus cease talking with one another once she is old enough to be on her own, having a family and a lovely daughter, Journey.

Years later, Jeronicus invites Jessica to come back to the shop and instead, Jessica sends Journey. She is a bit of an inventor as well and she hopes that she can spark a little bit of belief in him. Their relationship was rocky at first, but soon Jeronicus and Journey warmed up to each other.

While exploring Jeronicus' old work room, Journey and Eddison find an unfinished robot and get him to start working again, with the robot running off of people believing it can work. Gustafson looks on through a telescope and, soon after, he steals the robot to claim it as his own design.

The two children go to his rescue and save him from Gustafson however the bot suffers from damage trying to save the kids in the process.

So, Jeronicus fixes it up with the unlikely help from his daughter, Jessica. She had come to pick Journey up early and instead the two made up after years of silence between them.

The movie ends with Gustafson getting arrested for stealing all of Jeronicus' ideas and Jeronicus gets to be a famous inventor once more.

The movie was much more musical than I had thought it would be, having eight songs squeezed into the two hours. Despite this, they were very well scored with amazing dance sequences to match.

Not to mention that “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” has a mainly black cast, which isn't something you see very often from the movie industry. While this wouldn't trump classic holiday movies such as “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the film “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” can easily slide into your family's traditional holiday movie list. <

Friday, December 4, 2020

Netflix film ‘Holidate’ a decent romantic comedy

By Daniel Gray

If you're a fan of somewhat raunchy-style movies but also enjoy the fairy tale sweet endings of Hallmark classic movies, then is this a perfect flick for you. 

 

“Holidate,” a romantic comedy that premiered in late October on Netflix, follows the hopeless romantic Sloane (Emma Roberts) during the span of an entire year with her 'holidate,' Jackson (Luke Bracey). 

 

Sloane and Jackson are two 30-somethings that are tired of either having no dates or insane ones for the holidays, so they make a pact to be together for the holidays to avoid loneliness during them. 

The two first meet at the returns section a day after Christmas, annoyed that they can't return their presents and end up taking it out on each other briefly while in line. The anger soon turns playful with Sloane agreeing to be Jackson's date to a New Year’s Eve party. 

 

From New Year’s onward, the two continue being each other's holidate for every holiday possible.

 

Valentine’s Dayh, Easter, Cinco De Mayo, even Mother's Day, these two continue with their holidate shenanigans to Sloane's mother's dismay. She wants her daughter to stop wasting her time with someone she doesn't like and to actually go on real dates. Despite her mom, they continue going on their dates and get to know each other better in the process.

 

Feelings start to bloom for one another, only to have them shatter after a wedding.

 

Sloane's younger brother is getting married and she needs a date and, despite it not being a holiday, her sister encourages her to ask Jackson. If he wants to come, then that must mean he likes her. Meanwhile, Jackson tells his friend about the wedding and his friend warns him not to go to the wedding with her. The two end up going with different people and are jealous, and the tension continues to grow when Halloween rolls around.

 

Halloween morning, the two sleep together and almost immediately after, Sloane's sister barges into her apartment and she has to quickly usher Jackson out. This hurts Jackson immensely, nevertheless, he returns for their annual holidate the following month.

 

Thanksgiving ends with a big fight between Jackson and Sloane. They do not spend Christmas together this year, but soon see each other afterward.

 

Christmas comes and goes, and these two meet up at the mall just like in the beginning. Sloane tries to chase after Jackson but ends up having to go on stage where a choir is currently performing to give a heartfelt speech to him about how she loves him. Jackson returns the feelings and they share a romantic kiss then and there.

 

I'm not too much of a romantic movie kind of person, but I do have to give it to Holidate, it was pretty funny.

 

All in all, it's probably one of the best romantic comedies I've seen in a long time and I think it would be worth watching with friends during a Netflix binge-a-thon. <

Friday, November 27, 2020

Movie Review: What to watch now that it’s officially the holidays

By Matt Pascarella

The holiday season is right around the corner, 2020 is finally on its way out, and holiday movies are here. While you and your family are recovering from a Thanksgiving feast, here are a few of my personal favorites to bring in the yuletide cheer.

Muppet Christmas Carol

Without a doubt, this is my favorite of the holiday movies. A kid-friendly adaptation of Charles Dickens’ famed classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ featuring the Muppets with Michael Caine as grumpy miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. I feel like this is one kids and adults can enjoy. Five out of five red scarves. Available on Disney+.

The Grinch (1966)

This cartoon short is, in my humble opinion, the best version of the tale written by Dr. Seuss. All the Whos down in Whoville, liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch who lived just north of Whoville, did not. Can he stop Christmas from coming? Will he have a change of heart? Five out of five cans of Who Hash. Available to rent.

Home Alone

When little Kevin McCallister is accidently left home alone, he has to protect himself from two less than intelligent criminals. He discovers how to fend for himself and learns the importance of family. This is a classic. Five out of five broken ornaments. Available on Disney+.

The Santa Claus

A certain fellow in a red suit with a big white beard takes a spill off Scott Calvin’s roof. Not to fear! SC fills in and helps out the big guy, only to realize he may have stepped into a more permanent role. Five out of five cups of cocoa. Available on Disney+.

Elf

I’ll admit, this is not a must-watch on my list, but it is a decent holiday movie with a great cast – Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, Ed Asner, Bob Newhart, James Caan, Peter Dinklage – just to name a few. Buddy the Elf, or so he thinks, travels to New York City in search of family. What follows is funny and heartwarming. Three out of five curly slippers. Available on STARZ and to rent.

It’s a Wonderful Life

When George Bailey, the man who always put others before himself, hits a bit of bad luck, he contemplates doing something that would change everything. That’s when George gets a glimpse of what life would be like if he were never born. Available on Amazon Prime.

Die Hard

What would a holiday movie list be without an appearance from John McClane? When German terrorists take his wife hostage during a Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza, it’s up to McClane to save the day. Four out of five Yippee Ki-Yays. Available on HBO MAX.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Clark Griswold only wants to give his family the best Christmas he possibly can. If only relatives, a boss who shorts him a Christmas bonus, nosy neighbors, and a well-meaning, but aloof brother didn’t get in the way! Keep an eye out for Seinfeld’s Elaine in this one. Four out of five tangled strands of Christmas lights. Available to rent. <

Friday, November 20, 2020

Movie Review: Showtime’s ‘Apple Seed'’ an okay movie with nice lessons

By Matt Pascarella

Prince (Michael Worth) is down on his luck. The bank won’t give him a loan, his father died, and his girlfriend left him. On some misguided advice from a bartender, Prince decides to go on a road trip back to his town of Apple Seed to rob a bank – the bank he feels has wronged him after so many years of loyal service. After meeting an eccentric older man with a zest for life named Carl (Rance Howard), the two embark on a journey.

When Prince first meets Carl they are complete opposites. Prince is very reserved and not talkative, where Carl at one point draws a crowd just speaking in his lively manner. I found this movie to be moderately enjoyable, but a little on the long side.

At a motel, Carl’s wallet is stolen by Rocky (Sarah De La Isla). After the problem is remedied, she joins their road trip. They also meet singer Dallas (Dasha Chadwick) who joins their bunch.

Prince gets into a fight and is saved by Carl. It’s here Prince learns Carl is an ex-convict.

After dropping Dallas off at her desired destination, Carl seeks to right a wrong and pays a visit to Sirom (Robby Benson), who was part of Carl’s team when he robbed that bank so many years ago. Sirom is happy to see him and they spend some time with him. At this point Rocky leaves the group.

Shortly after their car breaks down, the two hop a train and ride the rails. Carl seeks to right another wrong and visits his son, Hughie (Clint Howard). Hughie isn’t pleased to see him. He’s angry that Carl wasn’t there when Hughie’s mother died.

There are lots of motivational/inspirational quotes in this movie. When Carl and Prince reach the end of their road trip and part ways, Carl tells him, “Whatever you hope to find ... or whatever you hope to make right, the past is only good for reminding you, you still have a future.”

Prince still plans to go through with the robbery, even after all he has seen with Carl and all the things Carl has told him.

Will Prince rob the Apple Seed Bank? What will happen to him? Will he ever meet up with Carl again? Is there more to this I’m leaving out?

The movie starts all about Prince and how he’ll make up for his shortcomings but turns into more of Carl leading by example of how to get the most out of life. This movie has several valuable lessons about living life to the fullest, seizing the moments and knowing that going through life with others is better than going alone.

It has a fairly strong first act and a decent second act, but the third act, while somewhat exciting with twists and turns, needed more explanation for why some character decisions were made. It does have a nice soundtrack. I enjoyed 90 of its 120 minutes. I give it only one cowboy hat up.

Available on Showtime. <

Friday, November 13, 2020

Movie Review: “Knives Out” a slow burn with a decent ending

By Matt Pascarella

There’s been a murder! Well, maybe there’s been a murder. When patriarch, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead, his family and those who worked for him are questioned by detectives. As the motives begin to present themselves, private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) rules everyone is a suspect and requires this combative family to remain at Harlan’s home until this mystery is solved. Is everything as it has been presented to Blanc?

This witty comedy/mystery, while on the longer side, is a solid murder mystery.

After the funeral of Harlan, his family returns to his home where Lieutenant Elliot (LaKeith Stanfield), Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) and private investigator Blanc (Craig) are there to begin questioning everyone. Jamie Lee Curtis plays Linda Drysdale along with husband Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson). 

Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Frank Oz, Riki Lindhome and Katherine Langford round out the cast. Harlan’s nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) is among those being questioned and she announces right away she cannot lie without vomiting; which is quickly confirmed.

As each family member is questioned, it’s clear they have different motives. However, everyone’s stories matched; no one was unaccounted for. While on the surface, this seems like it could be an open and shut case, the detectives have a disagreement about the motives and how (or who) might have been involved in Harlan’s death. Blanc has suspicions regarding the case. Everyone had something to gain from Harlan’s death.

We travel back in time to Harlan’s 85th birthday party, the night before he died, and someone realizes a mistake was made.

Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans), son of Richard and Linda, arrives just in time for the reading of the will. Blanc then tells the other detectives everyone had something to gain from the alleged murder of Harlan except one individual.

Part of what makes this a comedy is dry humor like this line:

“Think of a will reading as a community theater production of a tax return.”

Lines similar to this are featured throughout the movie.

The will reading doesn’t go as planned and tensions rise between the family members. It’s at this point that a revelation is made in regard to Harlan’s inheritance and this angers the family more and shows their real colors.

Blanc comes upon a clue which may help identify who might have been responsible for Harlan’s death. Blanc suspects foul play and has eliminated no suspects.

How did Harlan die? Who was involved? What about his inheritance? Who gets it?

Blanc identifies this mystery as a truly twisted web that needs much untangling. I found this to be a decent murder mystery, however, one that is a slow burn. I was interested to see where this was going and who might be responsible. I was satisfied with the ending, though this is a longer movie and drags in several places. The twists and turn make it worth the time though. The characters dry humor and wit lightens the sometimes tense scenes. I’d recommend this one. Two knives up – or out, your call.

Available on Amazon Prime and to rent. <

Friday, November 6, 2020

Showtime’s ‘Ode to Joy’ provides entertainment and education about a real condition

By Matt Pascarella

What if you fainted every time you felt a strong emotion? What if that emotion was happiness? Such is the case of real-life person, Matt Frerking, who this movie is based on. Frerking has narcolepsy with cataplexy. If he feels strong positive emotions, it can cause his brain to tell his body to go to sleep.

In writer Max Werner’s film, “Ode to Joy,” Martin Freeman plays Charlie, who has a very similar problem – any feelings of joy cause him to fall right to the floor. This fun movie is based on a piece done by WBEZ Chicago’s “This American Life” about Frerking and his condition.

Charlie lives with his brother Cooper (Jake Lacy). Cooper has looked after his brother all their lives. Charlie, who has concocted ways to keep happiness out of his life, like wearing boring clothing to avoid compliments, or putting tacks in his shoes in an effort to feel pain and avoid joy. This changes when he meets Francesca (Morena Baccarin) who enters and wants to bring joy to Charlie’s life.

They meet when Francesca’s boyfriend dumps her in the library where Charlie works. His first impressions of her aren’t great, but after some coaxing from a co-worker, he decides to ask her out, but very carefully. She says yes and while their date goes well, it ends with Charlie in the hospital. He ends things with Francesca and suggests Cooper date her. Charlie later meets Bethany (Melissa Rauch), who is a little less exciting, and she and Charlie begin to date.

When the two couples spend a weekend at a bed and breakfast, it becomes clear that Charlie and Francesca have more in common. This weekend doesn’t go well, as both Charlie and Cooper get dumped.

Francesca lives with her aunt (Jane Curtain) who is battling cancer and understandably, this is hard on Francesca. When Francesca sees some gifts that Charlie bought for her, she realizes there might be a future. It takes some convincing from Cooper for Charlie to make the same conclusion.

Will Charlie and Francesca get together?

I’m sure you have already predicted how this ends. It’s not a hard prediction to make and the end might make you smile. This atypical rom-com is a feel good movie that’s only minimally sappy. On a sappy scale of one to 10, I wouldn’t give it more than three or four, tops. The plot moves along nicely and there are only a couple points where there’s a minor lull in the story. It won’t have you tearing up with laughter, but I thought it was pretty funny. When I learned this was a real thing that actually happened to someone, cataplexy, it made the movie interesting. “Ode to Joy” has a nice message about finding someone who accepts you for you. Two boxes of joyful tacks (or pushpins) up.

Available on Showtime or to rent. <

Friday, October 30, 2020

Netflix series ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ a slow burn that will surprise you many times

By Matt Pascarella

I’ll admit I had not planned on reviewing this nine episode Netflix series, but after watching several of the episodes, it’s too good not to review, especially with Halloween coming up. This season stands alone, but with small connections, to its 2018 first season “The Haunting of Hill House.”

“The Haunting of Bly Manor” follows Dani (Victoria Pedretti) as she arrives at Bly Manor to be an au pair to children Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth). While the series jumps back and forth in time, I believe a majority of it takes place in 1987. At Bly Manor there is housekeeper, Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller), chef Owen (Rahul Kohli) and gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve).

The series begins with a woman telling several guests at a wedding a ghost story. The story initially focuses on Dani and her time at the manor, but also gives a bit of backstory regarding some of the previous events that happened at the manor, how it may have affected the children and who may have been responsible. The more I watched, each episode would drop a bombshell or reveal a crazy cliffhanger that kept me wanting more.

Dani arrives at Bly Manor, from the states, and is excited to have secured a new job as an au pair. While she seems relatively carefree at first, she has a few secrets. Dani has been hired by Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) to care for orphaned Flora and Miles. As the series progresses, you meet Henry’s business partner Peter (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who was involved with the previous au pair Miss Jessel (Tahirah Sharif) and could be responsible for her whereabouts ... or lack thereof.

While this is a series in the ‘horror/thriller’ category, it’s not gory; there are several jump scares along with mild language and some violence.

Each episode will have you asking questions and questioning what is real and what might not be. As you get further into the series, you’ll discover secrets, twists, turns, you’ll learn about dream hoping, they’ll be creepy children and startling revelations. There’s even a romance.

I loved this show. I was a fan of the first season, at Hill House, which I’d also recommend. This season at Bly Manor was just as good, if not better. My only complaint is the series can be hard to follow at times with several storylines and a lot going on.

Parts of the series can be a little slow, but even the slower parts are leading up to a sometimes, jaw-dropping moment, so stick with it. At the end I felt like all questions were answered and enjoyed the wedding connection. This is a series worth a watch; but maybe keep the lights on. <

Friday, October 23, 2020

VUDU’s ‘Save Yourselves’ starts strong, but ultimately fizzles

By Matt Pascarella

In the film “Save Yourselves” a couple, Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Reynolds), are rarely off the grid. Like many, theses millennials use some sort of device several times throughout their day. When the two decide to go device-free for the week at a friend’s cabin, they picked the wrong week to do so. Is there a right week to do anything, when aliens attack?

Su and Jack attend a wedding where Jack’s friend Raph (Ben Sinclair) offers the two his cabin for a week. Su and Jack make a pact to go device-free for the week, in an effort to become more authentic.

They begin their week by going on a hike where they hear gunshots in the distance and don’t give it much thought. Later that night, after Jack is unable to start a fire, they see what they think are shooting stars lighting up the night sky. Are these really shooting stars?

“The urge to take out my phone is really strong,” says Su.

One of these shooting stars hits the Earth. And there may or may not be chaos slowly happening all around them, but Su and Jack are so tuned into being authentic they do not notice.

What they do notice is a pouffe, a round hairy something, like a hairy soccer ball in the cabin. They later notice the pouffe can move.

Su and Jack trying to be authentic leads to some arguing and a truthful discussion where Jack admits he doesn’t know how to do ‘manly things,’ like gut a fish. Afterward, Su breaks their pact and checks her phone where she has many voicemails and text messages informing her that these pouffes have begun taking over. Su and Jack decide it’s time to turn their phones back on.

From the information in the texts and voicemails the two have received, these pouffes or possible aliens, are attracted to ethanol. This makes Su and Jack’s car a paperweight. The two freak out but develop a plan. They find a working car in Raph’s shed.

From here things really begin to unravel and get very strange. On their way away from the cabin, they see a pouffe kill two people. As Su and Jack are driving by, they realize this couple had a baby in their vehicle and Su and Jack decide they need to try and save him.

While saving the baby and trying to escape these pouffes, a pouffe attacks Jack.

Will he survive? Do they both escape? What is going on?

This is billed as a comedy and it is mildly funny; let me stress mildy. The first two acts are relatively strong and actually pretty good. It’s the third act where this movie lost me. It just gets too weird, with too many strange turns that didn’t seems to add to the overall plot of the story.

I rented this movie and while it wasn’t a total bust, I would save yourself from “Save Yourselves.” <

Friday, October 16, 2020

Movie Review: Netflix’s ‘Hubie Halloween’ delivers laughs, frights and a familiar feel

By Matt Pascarella

The character of Hubie Dubois may be new to the screen, but in Adam Sandler’s ‘Hubie Halloween’ Sandler, who plays Hubie, brings a very familiar feel from his past movies, like “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore”, to this new character’s story. Several big names, and a few surprise cameos, round out the cast of this relatively new, hilariously spooky Netflix film.

It begins with orderly Hal L. discovering someone has escaped from the psych ward in Salem, Massachusetts.

It’s the day before Halloween and Hubie (Sandler) is preparing for the big day. Hubie is a laughing stock around town. Everyone, kids included, constantly tease and are mean to him.

Hubie meets Walter Lambert (Steve Buscemi) who has moved in next door to Hubie and seems very nice, but Hubie soon notices something is off about Lambert.

Hubie lives with his mother (June Squibb) who tells him he needs to stick up for himself more. The only person who doesn’t tease him is Violet Valentine (Julie Bowen) who he has had a crush on for many years.

The big day is here – Halloween. The movie’s scenery provides a very, what I would call, classic Halloween feel. Salem is preparing for their annual parade. As daylight is fading fast, where is the escaped psych ward patient?

Every year, Hubie dubs himself the Halloween monitor and goes around monitoring the streets to make sure people are being safe.

He hears noise coming from Mr. Lambert’s home and goes to check it out, only to make an odd discovery.

While policing the streets, all of Salem teases Hubie; it’s even said that “messing with Hubie is a Salem tradition.”

Soon, some kids go missing. Then several adults. Now there is a mystery on Salem’s hands and Hubie is on the case. He even gets accused of making these people disappear.

Was Hubie responsible for the disappearances? What about the escaped psych ward patient? Will the lost people be found...alive? And what about Violet and Hubie? What does their future hold?

I am generally a fan of Sandler’s movie’s, though my two favorites, without question, are “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore.” I only mention these two because this movie had a very similar comedy feel to those Sandler movies of the mid 1990s. 

This movie is very slapstick, with potty humor and several call-back jokes to the above mentioned movies; can you spot the references? It does have some language and a fair amount of sexual humor in the form of several risqué t-shirts, worn by Hubie’s mom. I wasn’t a fan of the voice Sandler gave Hubie and I felt the stupidity was a little over-the-top at times, but still enjoyed this movie and would recommend it. It has great music and great cameos.

Two retractable thermoses up – or is that out? Sideways maybe? <

Friday, October 9, 2020

‘The Addams Family’ shows the lighter side of macabre

By Matt Pascarella

They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky, they’re all together ooky, The Addams family. The macabre family and their wacky antics are brought to life for a new generation. The movie features a star-studded cast: Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Martin Short, Bette Midler, Catherine O’Hara, Tituss Burgess and Snoop Dogg – yes, Snoop Dogg!

What started as a comic strip in the 1930s, a TV series in the 1960s and later multiple movies and multiple animated series in the 1990s, is now a computer animated movie with jokes both kids and adults can enjoy.

The movie begins with Morticia (Theron) and Gomez (Isaac) getting married and the entire Addamses family is at the ceremony when it is interrupted by angry townspeople calling them monsters and saying the Addams family isn’t welcome in their town. They are soon under attack.

The funny gags appear right from the start. As Morticia and Gomez try to escape, they cut the pants of the torch-carrying villagers, revealing an assortment of underwear. The two eventually escape the angry villagers.

Morticia and Gomez later meet Lurch, a servant of theirs, and the three moved into an abandoned insane asylum. 13 years later, they have two children, Wednesday (Mortez) and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard). 

We meet Wednesday as she awakens for the day, wearing her noose earrings (a nice touch), and seemingly bored of the same routine. Pugsley is playing with a rocket, when he should be practicing for his Mazurka, ‘the most important day in an Addams’ life’ his father tells him. Family members from all over will be coming to watch Pugsley. Wednesday has never left her home and is curious what is beyond the family gate. The family visits a nearby town.

Here, Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) cracks jokes, while the movie conveys a message about conformity. The family meets Margaux Needler (Allison Janey), a home renovator who offers to give the Addams’ home a makeover. Margaux seems innocent enough at first but may have an ulterior motive. Morticia is not interested and turns her down.

Wednesday makes a friend with Margaux’s daughter Parker (Elsie Fisher). In an effort to break her perceived monotony, Wednesday goes to junior high. Meanwhile, Gomez is worried Pugsley will do poorly during his Mazurka.

Margaux leads a charge to get rid of the Addams family.

Will the Addams family be driven out of town? What happens to Wednesday? How will Pugsley do at his Mazurka?

I was never a fan of the 1960s TV show or the 1990s movies and animated series. This was a good movie though. It had a decent storyline that works for kids and adults. It had a nice message about being different told through Wednesday’s and Parker’s storyline. There are a few scary voices or what could be considered frightening scenes, but overall, I found it relatively tame. Available on Hulu or to rent.

‘Thing’ gives it one thumb up! <