Friday, April 30, 2021

Netflix’s ‘The Vanished’ will keep you guessing until the very end

By Matt Pascarella

What started as an innocent camping trip quickly turns into anything but relaxing in this fast-paced thriller where anyone in the town could be a suspect. Are they? I felt like this movie ran the gamut of emotions and kept me wondering and on the edge-of-my-seat until the final minutes.

Paul (Thomas Jane) and Wendy (Anne Heche) are headed for a campground in their RV with their daughter Taylor (Kk Heim, Sadie Heim). When they get there, Paul and Taylor are going to go fishing.

As soon as they arrive at the campground, Paul meets Miranda (Aleksei Archer) who is there with her husband, Eric (Kristopher Wente) in their RV.

Shortly after Paul and Wendy arrive at the campground, Taylor goes missing; she was in the RV and now she isn’t. The police are called immediately in an investigation that takes a number of days. Paul and Wendy are informed that there is a prisoner on the loose. They are told to stay in their RV as the police have search parties all over looking for Taylor.

Wendy convinces Paul they need to go out and look for Taylor, despite the advice of Sheriff Baker (Jason Patric). Paul and Wendy go looking and things get more than a little off the rails.

After filing an official missing person report, they have a weird interaction with the campground’s groundskeeper, Justin (Alex Haydon). The investigation is taking a toll on all involved. Do some people know more than they are letting on?

On day three of the investigation, Paul and Wendy go out on the water with Miranda and Eric, in hopes to extract some information from them. When they get stuck on the water, accusations are made and it gets heated.

After a body turns up, Miranda disappears.

Tom (John D. Hickman) runs the convenience store on the campground and he and Justin have a conversation that made me suspicious of Tom. We learn more about Justin and the whole situation unravels further. Wendy continues to struggle.

Wendy comes across something very disturbing which could involve Taylor. It really seems like a member of the town could be involved in Taylor’s disappearance, but is that true? Where is Taylor?

This is an intense thriller with twists, turns and tense, dark moments. I found it to be a good mystery as there were many possible suspects in the town who seemed to be hiding information that may have led to Taylor’s disappearance. I was trying to figure out who the entire movie. In the end, I couldn’t figure it out. I was very surprised by the ending and it was one I found satisfying. This is a fast-paced movie that kept me engaged until the final minutes. It is worth your time, two thumbs up.

Available on Netflix. <




Friday, April 23, 2021

Hulu’s ‘Then Came You’ a romantic comedy that gets weird

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: PG-13

Runtime: 97 minutes

Howard (Craig Ferguson) is the owner of Awd Inn in Scotland. Annabelle (Kathy Lee Gifford) is looking for ‘new everything’ as she describes it and is going to take a trip to many different countries, starting with Scotland. What follows is an ok movie that caught me a little off guard.

Annabelle is still hurting from the loss of her husband Fred, who died about a year ago. She has a box of chocolates with his ashes in them. When Howard (Ferguson) picks Annabelle (Gifford) up at that train station, they don’t get off to the best start. That quickly changes the more they get to know each other.

Later on, the two talk about their past loves and being stuck in a rut and settling for ‘enough.’ Both Annabelle and Howard have had tough pasts. The bond between the two continues to grow.

Annabelle is in the garden, talking to one of the only other staff members at Awd Inn, Gavin (Ford Kiernan), and he tells her there is a woman who is looking to financially take advantage of Howard. That woman is Clare (Elizabeth Hurley). Howard has a son (Calum Chisholm) who does not approve of Clare.

As it turns out, Howard and Annabelle may not have been completely honest with each other. A small fight between the two brings out the truth.

Howard and Clare have a talk. Annabelle seeks out an unexpected guest, Arlene (Phyllida Law), where Annabelle and Howard learn some new information. At this point in the movie, things took an unusual turn. That’s all I can say.

After visiting and discussing this with Arlene, Annabelle plans to continue her trip and asks Howard to drive her to the train station but not before some other weird stuff happens.  It also gets a little mushy and emotional here.

Does Howard drive her to the train station? What did the two find out from Arlene?

I was expecting something moderately funny and sappy when I sat down to watch this. I think Craig Ferguson is funny and used to watch him on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.” He has the same type of dry wit in this movie, but not the same type of humor from his late night days. I would say this movie more than exceeded my expectations as a comedy; it is very funny in spots. The romantic part of the movie is relatively predictable and pretty tame, until that meeting with Arlene. I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen and was more than surprised when a very sharp right-hand turn was taken. I still have questions. The end is kind of sweet if you can overlook that one detail. I’m on the fence about this one. One bowl of haggis down.

Available on Hulu. <

Friday, April 16, 2021

Movie Review: Netflix’s ‘Thunder Force’ promises strength, mildly delivers

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: PG-13

Runtime: 106 minutes

In March of 1983 a massive pulse of interstellar cosmic rays struck the Earth. This triggered genetic mutations in a few individuals and gave them the ability to unleash unimaginable superpowers, making these few a new breed of human known as Miscreants. Thunder Force tells the story of two friends who join forces to try and stop these Miscreants that are destroying everything. While this movie delivers on action, it falls a little flat in pace as well as delivering comedically.

It’s 1988 and a young Emily Stanton (later played by Octavia Spencer) is getting picked on in school. Emily is super focused on finding a way to stop the Miscreants because they killed her parents.

A young Lydia Berman (later played by Melissa McCarthy) sticks up for Emily and even gives a bully a taste of his own medicine.

Lydia and Emily become friends and remain so through high school. Then they drift apart. Fast forward many years after high school to Chicago and Miscreants are still causing problems for the city. Lydia wants to see Emily again as their high school reunion is coming up. Lydia is nervous about contacting her to see if she is going. Although Emily writes back, she does not show at the reunion.

In hopes of seeing Emily and bringing her to the reunion, Lydia stops by Emily’s office and learns that Emily has made progress in figuring out how to stop the Miscreants.

However, Lydia breaches Emily’s research and has to stay at the lab. Lydia has stolen one of the superpowers Emily had worked years on.

Emily begins to receive the second superpower she has developed. Each of them now have one superpower. Soon, Thunder Force is born. They will stop Miscreants, like The Crab (Jason Bateman), a human-crab hybrid who robs a convenience store which Thunder Force stops.

The King (Bobby Cannavale) is running for mayor and is using Miscreants to help him get what he wants. One in particular, Laser (Pom Klementieff) has been wreaking havoc all over the city.

As Thunder Force gains notoriety, The King gets angrier and angrier. Lydia also finds herself attracted to The Crab.

The King has a plan to get back at those who don’t like him. Thunder Force must find a way to stop him. After a careless act by Lydia, she and Emily get in an argument and a newswoman wonders ‘are we better off without Thunder Force?’

Can Lydia and Emily stop The King and Laser before it’s too late? How will they do it? Will they remain friends?

I had higher hopes for this strong-casted movie and it did not deliver. I was expecting more comedy and it’s not that funny a movie. It is action-packed with nice special effects. It also has a decent soundtrack. It might be worth a watch, but I only give it one strip of raw chicken up. <


Friday, April 9, 2021

Movie Review: D.B. Cooper – an aviation mystery

By Matt Pascarella

Running Time 1 hour, 27 minutes

It’s an unsolved mystery of epic proportions. 10,000 feet above Washington state a man jumps from a 727 with $200,000.

Despite this crime being well-known, you may have never heard the name D.B. Cooper before. HBO’s documentary “The Mystery of D.B. Cooper” sheds a little light on the only unsolved act of air piracy in American history. And this story gets weirder and more interesting as it goes on.

Thanksgiving eve, 1971, Portland, Oregon; a passenger boards a Boeing 727 and a short time later tells a stewardess he has a bomb. He demands $200,000 and four parachutes. When the ordeal is over, this passenger, known as D.B. Cooper, has jumped from the plane 10,000 feet above Washington state and no trace of him has ever been found.

This documentary is a mixture of in-person interviews, reenactments and file footage from individuals involved with Cooper’s case and several individuals who suspect they have met or know the real D.B. Cooper.

There are interviews from the crew of the 727. Stewardess Tina Mucklow describes her interactions with Cooper from that day. Other members of the crew tell what it was like the moment they knew Cooper had left the aircraft.

The documentary speaks to authors and FBI agents as well as suspects.

Jo Weber was married to Duane Weber from March of 1978 to March 1995. She recalls several things her husband did and said which makes her believe this man she was married to for almost 20 years may not have been who he said he was.

Robert Dayton is suspect number two. Dayton became Barbara Dayton in 1969 and there is some speculation D.B. Cooper could have been a woman.

L.D. Cooper is uncle to Marla Cooper who gives an account from when an 8-year-old Marla overheard her uncle planning with her dad about a secret event.

The final suspect, at least mentioned in this documentary, is Richard McCoy who hijacked a Boeing jet in 1972, a short time after Cooper’s hijacking. The details of McCoy’s hijacking and Cooper’s are extremely similar. Could they be the same person?

There are many interesting details to this case. Roughly 40 hours after Cooper leapt from the 727, a search party was constructed to scour the area where he may have been.

In 1980, an 8-year-old boy found a few bundles of money near the Columbian River Beach, along the Oregon and Washington Border. How did that money get there? Was it buried there by Cooper?

The case of D.B. Cooper has fascinated many and I am no exception. How does a man just disappear into thin air? And leave little to no trace? And continue to baffle experts? I knew a little about this case, but never knew of the various suspects and how they got involved or were related to Cooper – that made this documentary more interesting. I would recommend any fan of an unsolved mystery watch this and see what they can piece together. Do you think he’s still alive?

Two giant bags of money up; 10,000 feet up.

Available on HBO Max. <

Friday, April 2, 2021

Movie Review: Netflix’s ‘Yes Day’ wholesome family fun

By Matt Pascarella

This is a fun movie for the family. Imagine there was a day where your kids made the rules and the parents had to say “yes.” There are rules and limitations, but the premise is that kids get to call the shots for 24 hours. And anything can happen.

Before their kids, Allison Torres (Jennifer Garner) and her husband Carlos Torres (Edgar Ramirez) said ‘yes’ to everything, they went on many adventures.

Fast forward to three kids later and ‘no’ has become the new ‘yes.’ Allison says ‘no’ 50 times an hour as it is all part of the job of parenting.

The Torres family is a typical hectic, somewhat messy family. Each parent has very different styles of parenting. Does this sound familiar? Carlos is more likely to be a little less restrictive with the kids, whereas Allison is the opposite. This is evidenced by the music they listen to when they each take their kids to school.

During a parent-teacher conference, Allison and Carlos are shown a video where their son Nando (Julian Lerner) describes Allison as a captor and dictator. Allison does not want to be known as the one who always has to drop the hammer.  

Allison and Carlos are at a loss of what they should do when a coach recommends Yes Day, where for 24 hours, the kids call the shots and the parents have to say ‘yes.’

The oldest daughter, Katie (Jenna Ortega) describes her mom as a fun killer and thinks there’s no way she can go a whole day without saying “no.”

Allison agrees to a Yes Day and bets Katie that if Allison says ‘no,’ during Yes Day, she’ll let Katie go to a concert – unsupervised. If she goes the whole day saying “yes,” she’ll attend the concert with Katie.

Katie, Nando and Ellie (Everly Carganilla) make a list of five big activities for Yes Day; the final activity is a big, big one.

The activities bring the Torres family closer together.

Yes Day gets thrown a little when Carlos wants to quit. Although there are very specific rules about traveling specific distances during Yes Day, Allison allows an exception. Although the exception is very fun and very cool, a discovery on Katie’s phone derails Yes Day even more. Police become involved and things definitely don’t go as planned.

Who ended up in jail? Can the family salvage what is left of Yes Day? Was Yes Day a good idea? Who wins the bet?

Like I said before, this is a great movie I think the whole family will enjoy and maybe even relate to a little. It’s heartfelt and has a nice message of the importance of family – no matter how crazy they make you. Based on the book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Yes Day is a real thing families do. Maybe it’s something you and your family would try – if you dare.

Two giant pink plush gorillas up. <

Friday, March 26, 2021

Showtime’s ‘The Turning’ a decent ghost story with a major flaw

By Matt Pascarella

Running time: 1 hour 34 min

Rated: PG-13

A giant mansion with a checkered past. A governess hired to look after two unique children. Strange behaviors. A possible haunting. “The Turning” is based on the Henry James novella “The Turn of the Screw,” in which children suspect their estate is haunted. Overall, this is a decent movie with only one flaw.

It begins with a woman running from a large mansion, panicked and terrified. She is struggling to leave and does everything she can to leave the grounds as quickly as possible.

Kate (Mackenzie Davis) just got a job as a teacher, to Flora (Brooklynn Prince) who lives in the large mansion the woman was shown fleeing from in the beginning. Before arriving at the house, Kate stops to visit her mother (Joely Richardson) in a care facility. Once at the mansion, the first person she meets is Mrs. Grose, the caretaker (Barbara Marten). Mrs. Grose has been with the family for many, many years.

Kate and Flora meet and discuss a variety of topics. While giving Kate a tour of the estate, Flora mentions she has no friends. At another point in the movie, Mrs. Grose says that Flora doesn’t leave the grounds; I thought this was an immediate clue about Flora’s existence. Why would someone not be able to leave the grounds, even under supervision?

Flora tells Kate of her prior governess, Ms. Jessel (Denna Thomsen) and how she never got to say goodbye to her.

Flora’s older brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard) returns from school and it’s learned he was expelled for attacking another student. Miles’ behavior toward Kate is unsettling from the start.

Weird things happen inside the house. Kate sees things and hears noises. Is it actually happening or is it in her head? Kate finds Ms. Jessel’s diary and learns about the former stablemaster, Quint (Niall Greig Fulton) who died in a horse accident.

Flora gets scared as she, Miles and Kate are about to leave the grounds; things get heated from there. Miles gets angry and tells Kate to leave like everyone else has. Kate wonders if she can do this and considered quitting.

Kate continues to see things in the house. More disturbing information comes from Ms. Jessel’s diary.

Later, Kate makes a discovery about Mrs. Grose.

What is going on in this house? Is it haunted? And what does Mrs. Grose know? What will happen to Flora and Miles? What does the future hold for Kate?

This is a decent horror movie; it’s not gory, or overly violent, but good enough that it keeps you interested. In watching it, I recognized some of the names and realized that the Netflix series “The Haunting of Bly Manor” is similar to this movie – they end very differently though.

I did mention a flaw; my only issue with this movie is its ending. I can’t say any more than that. It’s definitely worth watching. Maybe with the lights off.

Available on Showtime and to rent. <

Friday, March 19, 2021

Netflix’s ‘Moxie’ addresses tough topics with positive messages

By Matt Pascarella

Running time: 111 minutes

Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a high school junior is tired of the sexism and harassment of women at Rockport High School. She’s also sick of the staff’s indifference to it, specifically her principal, Shelly (Marcia Gay Harden) who would rather ignore certain behaviors just because it’s easier. Vivian decides to take a stand in this good movie that comes with a positive message.

On Vivian’s first day of school, she and her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) notice that the rankings have already begun. The rankings are list of ‘best this, best that’) put out by the boys, that rate the girls.

The beginning of the movie depicts serious harassment and discrimination from the captain of the football team, Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger). Mitchell is a bully and jerk right from the start. In a discussion about the importance of “The Great Gatsby” he interrupts and undermines a new student, Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena). When Lucy tells Principal Shelly she feels unsafe, the principal brushes it off as something that can be worked out. Even after a more serious accusation, that the whole school is aware of, the principal glazes over it.

Vivian is working on a college essay that asks what cause she feels passionate about and what steps has she taken to make a change. She’s having a little trouble, so she talks to her mom, Lisa (Amy Poehler) and finds a box with a bunch of Lisa’s protest pamphlets and patches. Vivian makes a pamphlet, or zine, of her own called “Moxie,” and distributes it anonymously. The zine appeals to a couple girls right away. In it is a list of the dirtbags of Rockport High.

The Moxie zine gathers support very quickly and Vivian prints a few more. While the Moxie zine is largely about girls supporting girls, it draws the support of Seth (Nico Hiraga) who Vivian develops a crush on and it’s quickly reciprocated.

At a party, several girls, including Vivian, talk about the sexism at the school and are impressed by who wrote Moxie. They start a Moxie club. Solidarity among the girls at Rockport High increases as more Moxie zines come out.

Vivian and Lucy become friends and Claudia feels left out. Seth and Vivian get closer (and closer). Moxie officially becomes a school club, thanks to Claudia who later gets suspended. Kiera (Sydney Park) runs against Mitchell in a scholarship contest. Mitchell makes a plea during the school’s televised morning announcements that he is being attacked.

Vivian feels more than a little hopeless when things don’t go the way she wants and lashes out at her mom and her mom’s boyfriend. Mitchell is later accused of a horrific act.

What happens to Vivian and Claudia? And Seth? And even Mitchell?

There are a lot of layers here. This movie deals with subjects of sexism, inequality, race inequality, harassment, assault and probably a couple others I missed. It asks the question, “what are you going to do, nothing?” of anyone who witnesses discrimination of any kind. While the topics discussed in the movie are tough ones, they are important and “Moxie” illustrates that one person can make a difference – even if it’s not easy. I enjoyed this movie and would recommend it. <

Friday, March 12, 2021

Movie Review: Apple TV+’s ‘Palmer’ a story of second chances and acceptance

By Matt Pascarella

Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake) didn’t have it easy growing up and recently got out of prison. As he struggles to figure out this somewhat new world ‘on the outside,’ he meets Sam (Ryder Allen), a little boy who is not afraid to be himself. The two develop a connection and become important to one another. ”Palmer” is a heartfelt story of acceptance and second chances.

Palmer has been in jail for 12 years. When he finally gets out, he moves in with his grandmother, Vivian (June Squibb). Vivian rents a trailer out back to Sam’s mom, Shelly (Juno Temple), who disappears for days – sometimes weeks. Vivian often looks after Sam when Shelly takes off.

During one of Shelly’s disappearances, Sam and Palmer meet. Sam doesn’t dress or act the way one might think a boy should; he likes dresses and princesses. At one point, Palmer says to him, “you know you’re a boy, right? Boys don’t play with dolls.” To which Sam responds, “well I’m a boy and I do.”

When no one else will hire him, Palmer gets a job as a janitor at Sam’s school. When Palmer sees Sam getting picked on, he stands up for him. Vivian later dies and Palmer is at a bit of a loss for what to do with Sam, so he takes him to the police station where they agree to take him, but say he’ll probably end up in Child Protective Services. While apprehensive, Palmer decides to let Sam stay with him instead.

Over time, he and Sam become friends and Palmer very much like a father figure. Palmer meets Sam’s teacher, Ms. Maggie (Alisha Wainwright) and the three go bowling together. Palmer and Maggie get close.

News of stipulations in Vivian’s will surprises Palmer. As Sam continues to stay with him, Palmer continues to make sure Sam is safe – even from adults. Sam notices Palmer’s efforts and tells him he is doing a good job. Palmer looks into becoming a legal guardian.

Out of nowhere, Shelly returns and Sam goes back to live with her and her abusive boyfriend Jerry (Dean Winters) who is not nice to Sam. Eventually, Child Protective Services takes Sam away. Palmer tries to convince Shelly to sign custody over to him, but she won’t have it.

Palmer again makes a plea for custody, but the judge turns him down. Palmer takes Sam away from Jerry and Shelly in the midst of a fight. This gets Palmer arrested and upsets Sam.

What will happen to Sam? Will Palmer get custody? What about Jerry and Shelly?

While this movie was a little slow to start, the story is very good. It was an emotional rollercoaster, but also a feelgood movie. It stresses the importance of being okay with who you are and is also a story of friendship and kindness. I’d recommend this one. Two thumbs up.

Available on Apple TV+.  <

Friday, March 5, 2021

Movie Review: ‘I Care A Lot’ a solid exploitive crime-comedy

By Matt Pascarella

Runtime: 1 hour 58 minutes

Rated R

Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) is great at her job – or that’s at least what she wants you to think. She’s been pretty successful until Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Weist) came along. Loosely based on real life events, this comedy crime-thriller was better than I expected. It will keep you guessing even after you don’t think you have to guess any more.

Grayson and her business partner/girlfriend, Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) have convinced many able-bodied elderly people they are no longer able to live on their own and they must now move to an assisted living facility. Afterwards, Fran and Grayson rob them, stealing from their assets and bank accounts.

In the beginning of the movie, Grayson says, “there are two types of people in this world: lions and lambs; I am not a lamb.”

After the death of Alan Levitt at Berkshire Oaks Facility, it is recommended to Grayson that she ‘go after’ Jennifer Peterson. Why? Peterson has no family, she lives alone, and she is quite wealthy. After a doctor (Alicia Witt) falsifies some information, a judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) says Grayson can add Peterson to her caseload. Grayson meets Jennifer and Jennifer is quickly brought to the assisted living facility like so many others who Grayson has taken advantage of before. After Peterson is in, Grayson raids her home and sells her possessions.

Maybe Peterson isn’t as unattached as originally thought. Peterson’s lawyer (Chris Messina) stops by Grayson’s office and says he knows what she’s up to. He sort of threatens her, and then bribes her. 

At this point Peterson is aware of what Grayson has done and tells her she’s the worst mistake Grayson will ever make.

There are some new developments regarding Peterson. Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage) is looking for her. Grayson and Fran meet Lunyov and it doesn’t go well. Several questions come up at this point about Jennifer Peterson. Grayson is aware that she may have bitten off more than she can chew. Things get a little crazy.

Have Grayson and Fran met their match? Have they finally conned the wrong person? And what about Jennifer Peterson?  And Roman Lunyov? How is he associated with Peterson?

I went into this fast-paced movie with only a peaked interest and zero expectations. I think it’s safe to say Marla Grayson and Fran are both antiheros. But not ones I was rooting for. Once the story began evolving and Marla had some opposition, I wasn’t rooting for anyone – but I really wanted to see how everything was going to play out.

Just a heads up: there is some language, violence, mild sexuality and drug use.

Also, don’t let your guard down when you think it’s okay to do so. You might be led in the wrong direction.

Two bags of diamonds way up.

Available on Netflix. <







Friday, February 26, 2021

Movie Review: It might be better if Hulu’s ‘Alone’ is watched with others

By Matt Pascarella

Have you ever felt like someone was following you? What if that someone kept reappearing as your day went on? That’s the case for Jessica (Jules Willcox) as she moves to a new home after suffering a tragedy. This action thriller had me on the edge of my seat for big chunks of the movie.

Jessica is loading up a U-Haul to move out of the home she and her late husband shared. She is about to make a long trek to a new place. In the first part of her trip, she tries to pass a slow-moving Jeep which, at the last minute, decides to speed up while a tractor-trailer truck is barreling toward her. At the last minute, she passes the Jeep, but is understandably shaken.

Later that night, Jessica is pumping gas and while talking on the phone to her dad, notices what could be that exact same Jeep emerge from the darkness. Luckily, it drives right by the gas station.

Jessica stops at a motel for the night. In the morning, just as she is about to leave, a man (Marc Menchaca) approaches the car and asks if she recognizes him. Jessica does not and he explains he was the guy in the Jeep who didn’t let her pass the other day. He says he was texting but apologizes. He then continues to ask her questions; he’s very interested in her and where she’s going. Jessica is reluctant to say much, and he wishes her a good trip and leaves.

Jessica is driving down a narrow road when there is a broken-down car with a driver who needs assistance. The driver is the same man (Menchaca) from before and he asks her to take him to the next gas station. Jessica refuses. He makes several more pleas before she eventually drives away.

It seems like everywhere Jessica goes, there is the Jeep. This scares her so much she calls 911. But it’s too late. She blows a tire and skids out of control into a ditch. The man approaches and before Jessica can defend herself, she is in a stone room with bars on the window.

The man and Jessica have a brief encounter.

Jessica figures out how to escape the stone room and hides in a closet until the right time where she runs into the woods. She’s barefoot and steps on a root. This was a very cringe-worthy scene.

The man follows her, but she escapes him by making a tough decision. She runs into a hunter, Robert (Anthony Heald), who is genuinely helpful.

Can he help Jessica escape? Or does he also have bad intentions?

What happens to the man?

I love a good thriller, and this fits that bill. I was rooting for Jessica pretty much from the beginning. The end will have your heart pounding and you’ll be on the edge of your seat. This is well worth 98 minutes of your time, though maybe don’t watch it ‘alone.’ I give it two tire irons up. Available on Hulu. <

Friday, February 19, 2021

Movie Review: ‘One Night in Miami’ can teach powerful lessons

By Matt Pascarella

Originally written as a play in 2013, now a movie available on Amazon Prime, “One Night in Miami” follows Muslim minister and human rights activist Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), musician Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), football player and actor Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and boxing legend Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) as they gather in a hotel room to celebrate after Clay defeated Sonny Liston to win the Heavyweight Boxing Title. What starts as a celebration, evolves into a discussion about racism, inequality and civil rights.

The movie begins in Wembley Stadium, London, 1963; a young Cassius Clay (who would later be known as Muhammad Ali) is in the ring with Henry Cooper. The announcer says everyone watching this boxing match is cheering for Cooper. Despite the crowd jeering Clay, after the announcer watches him box, he says they may have underestimated him.

The location switches to the Copacabana where Sam Cooke is waiting to go on but is met with opposition. Once Cooke takes the stage, the crowd isn’t receptive; with some even getting up to leave.

Jim Brown arrives at the home of Mr. Carlton, a wealthy white man and family friend. He is very friendly, until Brown offers to help him move some furniture and is met with a racial slur. This comes shortly after Mr. Carlton saying Brown is a credit to the entire state of Georgia.

Malcom X returns home after preaching and has a discussion with his wife, Betty X (Joaquina Kalukango) regarding issues of misconduct among Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad.

Feb. 25, 1964, Miami; 22-year-old Cassius Clay is preparing for a match against Sonny Liston. Malcom X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown are all set to meet up at a convention center after Clay’s fight.

They return to Malcom X’s hotel room, which is in a particular section of hotels for African Americans, after Clay wins the Heavyweight Boxing Title. The four begin discussing race and civil rights.

Much of the conversation is led by Malcom X, who the movie somewhat revolves around. They discuss instances of inequality African Americans faced during the early sixties, some of which still exist today.

At one point, later in the movie, Cooke makes a comment that Malcom X is always upset, Malcom X says with what is happening around us, everyone should be upset. Arguments erupt. Each have different viewpoints regarding how to deal with racism.

I was captivated by the important conversation had by these icons. While progress has been made, there’s always more that can continue to be made.

Prior to seeing this movie, I had some blind spots. When I thought of these four individuals, I did not think of anyone discriminating against them. I thought of their talents; their messages, what they brought to the general population. Fame and talent did not exclude them from discrimination. But it did not stop them from doing what they thought was right.<

Friday, February 12, 2021

Review: ‘WandaVision’ a different type of Marvel production

By Matt Pascarella

(This review does contain minor spoilers about "WandaVision.")

I’ll admit, when it comes to superhero cinema, I’m not a big fan. I liked Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ movies and Marvel’s ‘Ironman’ movies, but I’m not excited about or by superhero movies. Let me get to the point. Disney Plus’ “WandaVision” isn’t like every superhero production. First off, it’s a series. It’s a mixture of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and TV from a variety of decades, plus there are elements of mystery in it. Many questions that need answering.

Starting in the 1950s, each episode is in the style of a classic TV sitcom, beginning in black and white and moving to color. The superhero piece lies in that Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and her husband, Vision (Paul Bettany), both have superpowers and are trying to navigate each episode and fit in among ‘regular’ people. Wanda meets neighbors Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) and Geraldine (Teyonah Parris). You learn more about them later. There may be something going on outside the worlds Wanda and Vision live each episode.

The episodes feature classic TV introductions, as well as laugh tracks and even faux commercials. The episodes are fun and feature clues (I’m only guessing, I don’t know) as to what is happening to Wanda and Vision. For example, in episode two, Wanda finds a toy helicopter that is in color, when everything else is black and white, in the bushes outside her home. What does that mean?

Members of the community have been growing suspicious of the couple. Wanda worries the neighbors might discover their secrets.

Wanda has a somewhat big reveal at the end of episode two; Agnes tries to warn Vison about Geraldine but is prevented from doing so. More questions arise.

Wanda enters a new stage of her life after having a major life event in episode three.

Episode four takes the story away from Wanda and Vision. The FBI are searching for Captain Monica Rambeau. A few pieces of the puzzle fall into place here but more questions come up that need answering.

Episode five is ‘a very special episode.’ Wanda and Vision struggle with the new stages of their lives. Wanda and Vison become suspicious of Agnes. We learn more about Wanda’s past. More weird stuff happens. Wanda and Vison have a dispute. An unexpected visitor stops by.

This series is riddled with clues. And I love that – I just wish I could spot more of them. I definitely think Agnes knows more than she lets on and for some reason I don’t trust the director (Josh Stamberg).

What is up with Wanda and Vison?

I found the first five episodes to be very good. My only complaint would be some of the episodes do drag just a little, but overall, I recommend this series. I like the classic TV aspect coupled with the faux commercials. I look forward to seeing what the remainder
of this series has in store. <

Friday, February 5, 2021

Movie Review: Hulu’s ‘The Ultimate Noise Playlist’ may surprise you

By Matt Pascarella

Marcus (Keean Johnson) is your typical teenager with one noticeable difference – he loves music and sounds. He loves them so much that he’s been dubbed the resident playlist doctor at his high school. He makes playlists for all types of scenarios and this forms the basis of Hulu’s “The Ultimate Noise Playlist” film.

Unfortunately, the thing that Marcus can’t get enough of is about to be taken from him. After finding out he has a brain tumor in which the operation will cost him his hearing, Marcus goes out to create a playlist of his favorite noises, like the sound of Velcro, a campfire, a chainsaw, in order to hear them one last time.

Before learning of his tumor, Marcus had suffered a loss as a young child when his older brother, Alex (Gordon Winarick), saved him from a fire but wasn’t able to make it out himself. Marcus says everything he does, he does for his older brother, who was a musician. He is very grateful to his brother and keeps him in his memory.

When he finds out he will lose his hearing because of a brain tumor, he comes up with the idea for the ultimate playlist of noise to hear his favorite noises one final time. He plans to take a road trip to New York City to visit his brother’s recording studio and maybe hear some of his brother’s old recordings.

His parents are against this road trip, but Marcus sneaks out and begins it anyway. He’s only started the trip when he accidentally hits a pedestrian, Wendy (Madeline Brewer), a musician who is running from her angry ex-boyfriend. She’s also headed to New York City.

They begin recording sounds and a friendship is quickly formed. When they eventually make it to New York City, the two go their separate ways. Marcus makes it to his brother’s recording studio. It is here that he learns of a different version of his brother’s past.

Everything begins to unravel when he runs into Wendy in New York City and some other truths come out. They part ways again. Marcus makes some bad decisions which lands him in the hospital several days prior to his surgery. After this he returns home and resumes his ‘regular’ life while he waits to have surgery.

How does the surgery go? Do Wendy and Marcus get to see each other again? What does the future hold for the two of them?

If you’ve read this far, let me say that while this is a movie about music and sounds, it is not a musical. No one breaks into song and dance here. No part of this movie dragged, and I was engaged the entire time. The relationship between Marcus and Wendy is a sweet one and their story is very heartfelt.

This is a nice movie, that although a little heavy towards the end is well worth a watch. The end might not go the way you expect, or maybe it will. I recommend this and give it two cassette tapes up. <

Friday, January 29, 2021

Movie Review: ‘The Good Liar’ might keep you guessing but is kind of a disappointment

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: R

Runtime: 1 hour, 49 minutes

An older couple meet through an online dating website and strike up a relationship. You soon realize one is not to be trusted. Will the other realize before it’s too late? Sounds exciting, right? It is. For a majority of the movie, you think you know who’s playing who, but then things change. However, this thriller has a strong start and then fizzles a bit at the end.

Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen) is on a dating site where he meets Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren). The two meet and hit it off right away; Roy makes a statement early on that he deplores dishonesty. Little does one of them know that the other is more than a bit of a thief.

Roy meets Betty’s grandson, Stephen (Russell Tovey) and pretty much right from the start, Stephen is not a fan of Roy. He does go along to humor his grandmother, though.

During dinner, Stephen notices a scar on Roy’s neck and asks him about it. In keeping with being honest, Roy says he does not like to talk about it and declines to answer. The answer will reveal itself later.

Outside of their relationship, you learn a bit about who Roy and Betty are as people, which may – or may not – play into their honesty later on. As the two get to know each other, they reveal more and more about themselves to the other person. Are they being truthful?

While out one day, Betty collapses and is told by a doctor that she must take it easy, or she won’t live another year.

Stephen later takes Roy and Betty on a tour of Berlin, where Stephen only grows more suspicious of this man spending all this time with his grandmother.

In Berlin, there are a few reveals. It was at this point that I felt like the movie dragged a little. I did get a sense that Betty might be up to something, but I also got a sense that Roy was not far behind – also up to something.

What’s the deal with these two? Is there lying going on? Might there be a connection? Or is it something else?

I was on board for about 75 percent of this movie. I’m not really a big fan of these two actors, but the premise seemed interesting. I felt like the ending could have been better. It was mildly predictable in some areas, and there was a twist I didn’t see coming.

Without giving too much away, it gets a little dark at the end. The last 25 percent of this movie was ok, but for everything they had set up, I felt like the payout was minimal. I’d give it two and half stars out of five stars. Available on HBO Max. <

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. <