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. <

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. <