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. <