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. <