Friday, August 28, 2020

Movie Review: HBO Max’s ‘Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind’ a treasure

By Matt Pascarella

Earlier this month was the anniversary of the death of actor, comedian and all-around bringer of joy, Robin Williams. This documentary has friends, family and those who knew him talk about him. There are clips and interviews as well as footage from Williams’ stand up specials, USO tours, movies, TV and more.

I have been a fan of Robin Williams from the moment I first saw – actually, it was when I heard him on the big screen. I was 7 or 8 and I saw 1992’s “Aladdin” in the theater. The genie made me laugh. I remember the impressions he did and the way his voice changed to match his impression; like Jack Nicholson for example. I’ll be honest, at seven or eight you don’t know all the people he impersonated as the genie, but it made me laugh and that’s where it counted. From that moment, Robin Williams was on my radar.

A year later, I would see Williams when my parents took my brother, a friend of mine and myself to “Mrs. Doubtfire.” I remember trying to mimic the impressions he did. That movie remains a favorite of mine to this day.

Williams has always been a Tour de Force of energy and comedy from his late night appearances to when he played the character Mork on ”Mork and Mindy.” A fourth camera had to be added to follow him because three were not enough. 

The documentary opens with a scene from Williams’ appearance on “Inside the Actor’s Studio” with James Lipton. This appearance is a good example of how fast he thought and how energetic he was.  

Williams was interested in theater early on, and later gravitated toward improvisation and then stand up comedy. It is said later in the documentary, that he was more comfortable on stage than off. He attended The Juilliard School, but left during his junior year. It was after this that he got in to improvisational comedy. Standup soon followed and a former writer made the observation that “being a writer for Robin’s stand up is like being a pinch hitter for Barry Bonds – you’re not necessarily needed.”

Once the success of “Mork & Mindy” hit, it hit big. Williams got into drugs, but after the death of his friend and actor John Belushi, Williams got clean. He married, had a child and began making movies. It was around this time that he made classics like “Good Morning Vietnam,” or “Moscow on the Hudson” and “The Best of Times.”

He later got divorced and did theater and made even more movies like “Awakenings,” or “The Fisher King” and “Hook” (just to name a few). He continued doing stand up and remarried and had more children.

His oldest son Zak, said “his pathos was seeking to entertain and please.”

I highly recommend this documentary. I’ll warn you about the last 10 minutes, it gets rough. I knew what was coming, but there was a part of me hoping for a different ending. There is some language and sexual humor, but overall, it’s the story of man who just wanted to make people laugh - and share his spark of madness with the world. As Williams said, you’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it. <


Friday, August 21, 2020

Movie Review: HBO Max’s ‘An American Pickle’ not a typical comedy

By Matt Pascarella

It’s the early 20th century. You work at a pickle factory. One day, you fall in a vat of pickle brine and are preserved for 100 years.

When you awaken, the world has completely changed and you know no one, except for your great grandson. Based on Simon Rich’s comic novella ‘Sell Out,’ this movie tells the story of Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) and Ben Greenbaum (also Rogen).

Herschel and his wife Sarah (Sarah Snook) moved to America in the early 20th century where he worked in a pickle factory. After he fell in a vat of brine, and woke up in the 21st century, he feels very scared and alone. His wife is dead, his child is dead, and he doesn’t know anybody.

He meets his great grandson, Ben Greenbaum who is very welcoming and excited to meet Herschel. Ben grants a dream of Herschel’s almost immediately after meeting him.

Herschel is amazed and overwhelmed by the current world. He is amazed that Ben owns 25 pairs of socks. As would be expected, Herschel is confused by some aspects of this ‘new world.’

Ben shows Herschel a photo album with pictures of his grandson and son. Ben’s parents have died, and Ben doesn’t like to talk about it. The two go to find Ben’s parents’ grave.

Herschel finds Sarah’s grave which is now under an overpass and in front of a giant billboard. This upsets Herschel and he gets in a fight with a construction worker and he and Ben go to jail. They are quickly released, but this upsets Ben as he had to pay bail. It then has a negative effect on an app Ben was developing. Ben has had it with Herschel and kicks him out.

Herschel begins selling pickles with found ingredients. They are a hit and his pickle business takes off. Ben sabotages it. Herschel is able to turn his business around and returns to Ben’s apartment to help Ben. Ben sabotages Herschel at least twice more. Herschel makes some bigoted remarks and people turn on him. He goes to Ben for help, unaware that Ben set him up all along.

What happens to Herschel? And Ben? Do they ever find common ground?

This is not your typical Seth Rogen movie. The movie follows the novella fairly closely but includes some things the novella doesn’t and vice-versa. It starts out very heartfelt but takes a turn.

While Ben’s anger toward Herschel for landing them in jail is justified, Ben is vindictive for a lot of the movie. Herschel does some things that aren’t great, and he does say some things that are not politically correct in both the film and the novella. Ben started off very welcoming and turned on Herschel pretty fast.

While this movie is billed as a comedy, I didn’t find it particularly funny. It’s funny in parts, but you won’t be laughing for 90 minutes - or even 50.

It’s still an ok movie and if you’re interested in seeing it, I say go for it. I give it one pickle up and one pickle down. <

Friday, August 14, 2020

Review: ‘You Should Have Left’ a creepy thriller

 By Matt Pascarella

If this movie has a central theme that runs through it, it’s nightmares. The characters rent a house where nothing is as it seems. And you find that doesn’t just apply to the house.

“Violent or upsetting dreams are merely the minds attempt to release the pressures of our daily thoughts and fears,” says the narrator of a meditation relaxation tape.

Theo (Kevin Bacon) is infamous for a crime he was found not guilty of and his wife, Susanna (Amanda Seyfried) is an actress. They decide to get away with their daughter, Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex) for a little while and rent a house in picturesque Wales. The house is enormous and is very nice inside and out.

Right from the start, you notice something is more than a little off about this house. Ella is the first to notice it when she’s playing shadow puppets.

On a walk one day, Ella asks Susanna ‘why people hate daddy so much?’ Before they left, Theo had mentioned to Susanna that he had been recognized when he visited her set. Susanna explains to Ella that before she met Theo he was married, and his wife died. Now, a jury did find him innocent, but there are people who think he had something to do with it.

More house-related weird things happen when Theo goes into town to buy groceries. The clerk asks if anything has happened in the house and if he’s met Stetler yet. And when Theo leaves, a woman is waiting for him at his car and gives warnings about the house. He brushes this off as just weird interactions.

Theo suspects Susanna of cheating and goes through her devices while she’s taking a bath. He finds nothing.

Theo is constantly noticing that doors seem to appear in places where they weren’t and when he tries to show Susanna, they are not there (of course). The house seems to be one big maze from time to time and Theo has trouble deciphering the dreamworld from the real world. This is most evident when he finds himself trapped in the many hallways of the house, looking for Ella. This comprises a very intense few scenes, with Theo even cutting himself to see if he’s asleep or not.

After talking it over, they decide to leave the house. Something stops all three of them from going.

What’s the deal with the house?

Who is Stetler? What role does he play?

Are the three of them able to get away from the house?

I’ve seen a lot of movies about haunted houses, but this isn’t one. This house has its own issues that have nothing to do with ghosts. This movie kept me interested through most of it and there are many details about the house that just don’t make sense and had me wanting to know more and more. It’s not particularly scary, but there are a few extreme scenes. It has some mild sex (no nudity) and language. Stetler creeped me out. The actor who played him did a fantastic job at making the viewer feel uneasy with what they were seeing. This is not an edge-of-your-seat thriller, but it’s a decent rental that will have you guessing why the house is doing what it’s doing to Theo and Susanna until the end. Two creepy hidden doors up.  <

Friday, August 7, 2020

Movie Review: Sequel ‘747 Meters Down Uncaged’ meets criteria

By Matt Pascarella

The Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week will happen this year and is right around the corner. So, in preparation, I chose the sequel to 47 Meters Down on Amazon Prime as something to hold me over until Shark Week is here.

If you haven’t seen the first 47 Meters Down – not to worry. The sequel is pretty much exactly the same premise, people go into the water and must escape sharks, except with a larger cast. Unlike Shark Week, don’t expect to learn anything from this movie, except that sharks don’t like big speeches about how you’re going to outsmart them.

Mimi (Sophie Nelisse) and Sasha (Corinne Foxx) are step-sisters, who aren’t particularly close. Mimi is being bullied at school and Sasha doesn’t really stick up for her. When Mimi’s dad (John Corbett), a cave diver, gets them tickets to a shark tour, Mimi and Sasha skip the tour and go cave diving with friends (Sistine Rose Stallone and Brianne Tju) instead. Everything is going well, and everyone is having fun when out of nowhere, chaos ensues. The group gets separated.

Fortunately, they run into a friend, Ben (Davi Santos), but he’s no help. The group soon discovers they are not alone. More chaos happens around them and part of the cave collapses and the girls have to find a way out. In trying to do so, they only get more lost and oxygen tanks are starting to run out. Mimi knows her dad is working close to where they are and breaks off to try to find him. She eventually finds him. He helps the girls by leading them to a harness that will pull them safely to land. If only it were that easy. The harness gives way and falls into the water. Now, they are right back where they started.

Will they all escape?

Is there enough oxygen to do so?

How many sharks are they surrounded by?

While this film dragged a little and didn’t have my heart racing with excitement (or terror), I still enjoyed it. It had a few jump scares. That being said, it’s not as amusing as one of the many ‘Sharknados,’ but those are big fins to fill.

Parts of ’47 Meters Down Uncaged’ are predictable and in other parts it’s hard to see. I found it was sometimes hard to keep track of where each of the girls were, especially in the scenes where it’s much darker. There is a bit of blood in the water, as the sharks do kill a person (or maybe two), so if you’re squeamish, heads up. But I didn’t find it overly gory.

If you’re looking for a cheesy shark movie, this meets the criteria.  Two fins up – above the water, so look out. <