The Birthday Cake


A different kind of birthday candle.

(2021) Drama (Screen Media) Shiloh Fernandez, Val Kilmer, Ewan McGregor, William Fichtner, Lorraine Bracco, Jeremy Allen White, Emory Cohen, Vincent Pastore, David Mazouz, Ashley Benson, John Magaro, Nick Vallelonga, Penn Badgley, Franky G, Ruben Rivera, Luis Guzmán, Aldis Hodge, Jake Weary, Clara McGregor. Paul Sorvino, Joseph D’Onofrio, Tyler Dean Flores, Emily Tremaine. Directed by Jimmy Giannopoulos

 

“The neighborhood is changing” is a lament that we hear just about everywhere. It shouldn’t come as a surprise though; neighborhoods are always changing. People move out, more people move in, as they say, change is inevitable but growth is optional.

For Gio (Mazouz), he is the son of a family that is, as it is euphemistically put, “connected.” On his mother’s side, though; his father is not and it is his father he takes after; gentle, desiring to walk the straight and narrow. When some Russian kids give him a black eye, is cousin Leo (Cohen) urges him to scare the bejesus out of them by pointing a gun at them. Some of the kids run off but one, seeing that there is no way in Hell Gio is ever going to pull the trigger, beats the heck out of him even more.

Ten years later, a now grown Gio (Fernandez) remains hopelessly naïve. His cousin Leo has just returned from prison, but it is not a happy homecoming; everyone is looking for him, and not to congratulate him on his release. Leo is in hiding, and Gio, as Leo always has protected him, now protects his cousin.

It is the occasion of his Uncle Angelo’s (Kilmer) birthday and also the tenth anniversary of his father’s death – he was found strangled in the trunk of is own car. As she traditionally does to mark both occasions, his mother (Bracco) has baked a cake and insists that Gio deliver it, but first reminds him to stop by the church and light a candle for his father. Gio is reluctant to do that; while Father Kelly (E. McGregor) means well, Gio has a lot going on, including getting together with his cousin.

As Gio walks through the Brooklyn neighborhood to get to his Uncle’s house, he meets up with a number of neighborhood friends and family, all inquiring about Leo. He also meets a couple of federal agents and some Puerto Rican and African-American gangsters who also want to see Leo – preferably bleeding profusely. One thing is clear; Uncle Angelo, the crime boss who has run the neighborhood for years, is losing his control.

Once at his house, there is concern that Leo is talking to the Feds and Uncle Ricardo (Fichtner), a crooked cop, is particularly insistent on Leo’s whereabouts, although Vito (Pastore), Angelo’s right hand man, is a bit more diplomatic about it. Clearly Leo has transgressed and there are a number of people out for his blood. Can Gio stay clear of all this and be the good young man his mother wants him to be?

The film has been characterized as a story in which Gio learns to become a man, although it is unclear if he has done so by the film’s end – I suppose it would depend on what your definition of a man is. Giannopoulos, making his feature film debut as a director, has assembled an impressive cast although that is a bit misleading; many of them have little or no screen time. Sorvino, for example, has exactly one line and is confined to a chair for his two scenes. Ewan McGregor, who is near the top of the cast list, is onscreen for probably about five minutes total, split between the movie’s beginning and end, although he does provide voiceover narration for most of the film. Bracco also has just two scenes, although she is memorable in her few moments. Guzmán is in just one scene as a dope-smoking cabbie.

On the other hand, Fernandez is in nearly every scene, other than the prologue in which Mazouz plays the younger version of Gio. He tends to be a laid-back actor and doesn’t give over to histrionics, although he is plenty adept at projecting emotion through facial expression and body language. Gio has tended to be a bit of a wimp throughout his life, but is showing signs that he is ready to stand up for himself – and in the film’s climax, he is forced to do so to a certain extent. I’m not sure if it represents a life change for Gio, but it does show the character in a different light.

It is also true that the movie is for the most part really well-written. Although I think the conceit that Gio is the only one in the neighborhood who isn’t aware of how his father really died is a bit unrealistic, there are some pretty slick curves in the film and there is a reason that Gio’s mom made a chocolate cake when she knows her son is allergic to chocolate. There’s a certain elegance to what happens in an almost Scorsese-like turn.

Setting the film at Christmas time is inspired; New York really sparkles at that time of year, and clearly Giannopoulos loves the city and Brooklyn in particular. Some might squirm at Italian stereotypes that are carried on here, but fuhgeddaboutit. There are also allusions to the importance of family and loyalty, but we also see the flip side of that.

All in all, this is a much better movie than I expected. I was a little surprised at the low RT score it got, but you never know with critics. We can be an ornery bunch. Don’t let that fool you; this is a movie well-worth checking out, particularly if you love mob movies set in Brooklyn.

REASONS TO SEE: Surprisingly well-written for a crime melodrama. A great cast with a few folks who don’t get enough big screen roles of late. Nice touch to set it at Christmastime.
REASONS TO AVOID: A great cast but many of the bigger names are only onscreen for a few minutes, some with almost no dialogue.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, profanity, drug use and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was co-written by Giannopoulos and Fernandez (as well as Paul Bermudez).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/24/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 27% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Bronx Tale
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
A Man Called Bulger

One Night in Miami


Four giants. Four legends.

(2020) Drama (Amazon) Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Lance Reddick, Christian Magby, Joaquina Kalukango, Nicolette Robinson, Michael Imperioli, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Derek Roberts, Beau Bridges, Emily Bridges, Amondre D. Jackson, Jerome Wilson, Hunter Burke, Robert Stevens Wayne, Randall Newsome, Matt Fowler, Chris Game, Jeremy Pope. Directed by Regina King

 

On February 25, 1964, Cassius Clay won the heavyweight championship of the world against Sonny Liston. Clay, who would later become better known as Muhammad Ali (and who will be identified as such throughout the rest of the review for the sake of clarity), was well on his way to becoming one of the greatest – if not the greatest – heavyweight boxer that ever lived.

In town that night for the fight were three of his friends – Nation of Islam spokesman and civil rights activist Malcolm X (Ben-Adir), football legend Jim Brown (Hodge) who was just about to embark on an acting career, and soul legend Sam Cooke (Odom) who was one of the most popular singers in the country. All four were friends and they gathered at the Hampton House hotel to celebrate the triumph of Ali (Goree).

While this actually happened, what transpired that night in the hotel has been the subject of speculation, and playwright Kemp Powers – who recently co-directed Soul – wrote a stage play about it that he has now adapted for the screen, to be the feature directing debut of Oscar-winning actress Regina King.

It is also sobering to note that within one year, two of the four men in that room would die violent deaths. Much of the focus is on X and Cooke, who are at loggerheads; the Black Muslim leader – who after some disagreements with Elijah Muhammad (Gilliard) is getting ready to break off and start his own movement – believes that Cooke should be singing about the struggle, protest songs about racial injustice to use his fame to spotlight the cause. Cooke counters that he doesn’t believe that kind of song will sell and that he can do much more as a black businessman than as an angry young black man singing about injustice. That’s the crux of the argument, and both of the participants are passionate about their positions – and to be honest, a bit rigid in their viewpoints.

There is a temptation to make these legendary figures larger than life and in some ways, that’s how they come off, but at the same time, King and Kemp humanize the men, Ali is unsure of the religious conversion, and wonders if he can give up the things that a conversion would demand, like alcohol and pork. Brown suspects that football has taken him about as far as he can go and that his future lies in acting, which at the time was a nearly impossible industry for African-Americans to break into. It was a turning point in all their lives and indeed, in America itself. King captures that moment very effectively.

It helps that she cast the film perfectly and the actors in return gave her uniformly great performances. I was particularly impressed with Hodge, who gives Brown (the sole surviving member of the quartet, by the way) a quiet dignity and gravitas, even as he experiences in a telling preamble to the film the blunt racism of the time as exhibited by a family friend (B. Bridges). Goree also nails the braggadocio of Ali as well as the charisma.

But the marquee performances are sure to be Ben-Adir and Odom. Ben-Adir gives a quiet intensity to Malcolm X that is certainly comparable to the Oxcaar-nominated turn by Denzel Washington in Malcolm X. In some ways I think that he manages to make the icon still relatable although I think that as written the character is made to look more rigid and unbending than perhaps he really was. I can see Malcolm giving Sam Cooke an upbraiding along the lines of what is given in the film, but I think he would have listened to his friend’s side as well – I don’t think that the Malcolm X in the film does that.

Of the two, Odom has a tougher task in many ways; he not only has to capture Cooke’s enormous talent and legendary presence, but also show a practical side – as well as a tragic flaw of being a womanizer. I think it’s very possible Ben-Adir will duplicate Washington’s feat of an Oscar nomination for the role. I think Odom deserves the same honor as well.

King may also add an Oscar nomination as a director in addition to her Oscar win as an actress. Even given a stage play that takes place in a hotel room as a source, she manages to keep it from feeling stage-y, using subtle camera movements and the judicious use of mirrors to give the film a depth of field that is anything but claustrophobic. King is already one of my favorite actresses; she may well turn out to be one of my favorite directors as well. Certainly this is a movie that has to be considered a major contender for this year’s Oscars and in an awards season that will be unusual to say the least, a real stand-out. The movie had a brief Christmas theatrical run and is currently available for viewing on the Amazon Prime service, included without additional charge for subscribers.

REASONS TO SEE: One of the frontrunners for Best Picture. Note-perfect representation of the era. Dialogue worthy of Aaron Sorkin. Strong performances throughout.
REASONS TO AVOID: Thought it was a leeeeetle harsh on Malcolm X.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, some sexual references and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson, who play husband and wife Sam and Barbara Cooke, are married in real life.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/25/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 83/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Selma
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT:
Skyfire

What Men Want


Touchdown!

(2019) Romantic Comedy (Paramount) Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Richard Roundtree, Tracy Morgan, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Josh Brener, Tamala Jones, Phoebe Robinson, Max Greenfield, Jason Jones, Pete Davidson, Brian Bosworth, Chris Witaske, Erykah Badu, Kellan Lutz, Kausar Mohammed, Paul B. Johnson, Auston Moore, Shane Paul McGhie, Lisa Leslie. Directed by Adam Shankman

In 2000, Mel Gibson had a hit rom-com with What Women Want, in which a bathtub electrocution gave him the power to hear the thoughts of women (but not men). In this gender-reversal update (and I use the term loosely), Henson stars as Ali Davis, a brash and ambitious sports agent working basically at a white boy’s club where she hopes to become partner. When she’s passed over, she demands to know why since she has an impressive list of Olympic athletes with an impressive list of endorsements; her smarmy boss replies “You just don’t connect with men.”

Well, that problem is about to be solved by singer-songwriter Erykah Badu who plays Sister, a wacky psychic who is hired by a bachelorette party that Ali is attending. She supplies Ali with a drug-laced tea and then for good measure, Ali gets knocked upside the head by an oversized dildo. When she comes to, voila! She can hear the thoughts of men (but not women). She hopes to use her new superpower to her own advantage rather than trying to stop Thanos in his evil mission…err., wrong film. In any case, she discovers it isn’t so much what men are thinking that’s important (and non-spoiler alert – I think most women have a pretty good clue what men are generally thinking) but what is inside her own head that really matters.

The movie is full of rom-com clichés and never really excites any sort of glee from the audience. Henson is a talented actress who I’ve been a great fan of for more than a decade, and she does do her best here, but she has to contend with Badu’s shameless overacting (although to be fair Badu is pretty much the most consistently funny in the cast), a script that does her no favors and patter that rather than being snappy falls about as flat as a remake of a comedy about misogyny in the era of #MeToo. Timing matters.

REASONS TO SEE: Henson is a little bit over-the-top but still always watchable.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very cliché.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and sexual content, along with some drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first R-rated film to be directed by Shankman.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Epix, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/10/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 49% positive reviews: Metacritic: 42/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: What Women Want
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Relic

New Releases for the Week of February 28, 2020


THE INVISIBLE MAN

(Blumhouse/Universal) Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman, Benedict Hardie. Directed by Leigh Whannell

When her abusive ex takes his own life, Cecilia is at first relieved. When he leaves her his fortune, she becomes uneasy. When a series of unlikely coincidences turns lethal, she begins to suspect that her ex may not be dead but hiding in plain sight.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for some strong bloody violence and language)

Blood on Her Name

(Vertical) Bethany Anne Lind, Elisabeth Röhm, Jared Ivers, Will Patton. When a woman accidentally kills a man, she panics and hides the body. When her conscience demands that she return the body to his family, things really spiral out of control.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Studio Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

Disappearance at Clifton Hill

(IFC Midnight) Tuppence Middleton, Hannah Gross, David Cronenberg, Eric Johnson. A troubled young woman with a checkered past returns home to Niagara Falls. While there she is compelled to investigate a mystery that has plagued her since childhood, but that investigation will take her into a conspiracy of silence that runs deeper than she could possibly fathom.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater
Rating: NR

Emma.

(Focus) Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth. Jane Austen’s beloved tale of a queen bee in a small town who seeks an equal to marry, discovers that sometimes you have to earn your happily ever after.

=See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG (for brief partial nudity)

Guns Akimbo

(Saban) Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Ned Dennehy, Rhys Darby. A mild-mannered video game developer gets caught up in a real-life streaming deathmatch, waking up with guns grafted to his hands. He’s up against the game’s most successful killer and his usual fallback. of running and hiding won’t help him.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action Comedy
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and brief graphic nudity)

Impractical Jokers: The Movie

(truTV) Joe Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn, Sal Vulcano. The merry pranksters of truTV make the break for the silver screen, starring in a movie that involves their attempt for redemption, competing in hidden camera challenges that will help overcome a high school mishap that hangs over the lives of three of them.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall,  AMC Avenue 16, AMC Classic New Smyrna, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Lake Square, Cinemark Orlando, Cinepolis Polk County, Cobb Grand Winter Haven, Cobb Merritt Square, Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Epic Theaters of Lee Vista, Epic Theaters of Titusville, Epic Theaters of West Volusia, Fashion Square Premiere, Regal Port Orange Pavilion, Regal The Loop, Regal Wekiva Riverwalk
Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive content, language, some drug references and brief nudity)

Premature

(IFC) Zora Howard, Joshua Boone, Imani Lewis, Jimmy Lee Gary Jr. Two young people in Harlem – a poet getting ready to go to college in the fall, and an aspiring music producer, meet and fall in love. But the fantasy turns real as they – and particularly her – must deal with the consequences of their relationship

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Cinematique Daytona
Rating: NR

Seberg

(Amazon) Kristen Stewart, Jack O’Connell, Anthony Mackie, Colm Meaney. Actress Jean Seberg was the darling of the French New Wave cinema, but her involvement in the civil rights movement brought her to the attention of the FBI who did their best to derail her career and tarnish her reputation.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Oviedo, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language, sexual content/nudity and some drug use)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Nuuk
Thappad

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Nuuk
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band
Thappad
Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations
Zombi Child

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Baahu
Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Nuuk
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band
Thappad
Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Disappearance at Clifton Hill
Emma
The Invisible Man
Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Bonita Springs International Film Festival, Bonita Springs FL
Vero Beach Film and Wine Festival, Vero Beach FL

New Releases for the Week of January 24, 2020


THE GENTLEMEN

(STX) Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Henry Golding, Eddie Marsan, Hugh Grant, Jeremy Strong. Directed by Guy Ritchie

An Oklahoma entrepreneur who built a billion-dollar marijuana business in London looks to cash out while he still can. His intentions trigger a flurry of activity as a rogue’s gallery of characters try to steal his business out from under him. This is Ritchie returning to his gangster comedy roots.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Caper Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violence, language throughout sexual references and drug content)

63 Up

(BritBox) Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield. This groundbreaking documentary series from Michael Apted reaches its ninth edition as it follows a group of Britons, checking in with them every seven years from the age of seven – they’re 63 years old now.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

Clemency

(NEON) Alfre Woodward, Aldis Hodge, Wendell Pierce, Richard Schiff. A burned-out prison warden develops a relationship with a death row inmate she is tasked to execute.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinematique of Daytona, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for some disturbing material and language)
 

The Last Full Measure

(Roadside Attractions) Sebastian Stan, Christopher Plummer, Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson. An all-star cast headlines this story based on actual events in which a Pentagon staffer is tasked with investigating a Congressional Medal of Honor request for a soldier for his heroic actions 32 years previously in the bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War. As he digs, he discovers a government cover-up of a secret they want to keep buried along with the dead.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Orlando, Cinepolis Hamlin, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal The Loop, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for war violence and language)

The Turning

(Universal) Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, Joely Richardson. A beautiful young nanny is put in charge of two orphans in a mysterious house in rural Maine, only to discover that neither the house nor the children are what they appear to be. Based on the classic Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for terror, violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some suggestive content)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Detective Chinatown 3
Disco Raja
Gul Makai
John Henry
Que Leones
The Rescue
Street Dancer 3

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Cunningham
Detective Chinatown 3
Disco Raja
Disturbing the Peace
The Edge of Democracy
Elsewhere
Panga
Psycho (2020)
Que Leones
The Rescue
Shylock
Street Dancer 3

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Anjaam Pathira
Cunningham
Disco Raja
Panga
Street Dancer 3

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Panga
Raising Buchanan
Street Dancer 3

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Gentlemen
The Last Full Measure
The Turning

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, West Palm Beach, FL
Sarasota Native American Film Festival, Sarasota FL

Brian Banks


There is absolutely nothing like a mother’s love.

(2018) Sports Biography (Bleecker StreetAldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Morgan Freeman, Melanie Libaud, Dorian Missick, Tiffany Dupont, Matt Battaglia, Xosia Roquemore, Gina Vento, Mytie Smith, Rick Vyper, Edward Parker, Charles Alexandre, Dean Denton, Mary Faulkner, Jennifer Pierce Mathus, Kevin Yamada, Harrison Stone, Monique Grant, Elizabeth Donaldson. Directed by Tom Shadyac

 

There is little doubt that the American legal system is seriously broken. Justice seems to be the sole province of the wealthy and the white. Standards of proof seem to fluctuate depending on the color of one’s skin and the gender of the accuser.

Brian Banks (Hodge) is a 16-year-old kid with an incredible future before him. A star linebacker at Long Beach Poly high school, one of the premier high school football programs in the entire country, he has already been accepted to the University of Southern California and seems guaranteed to be on the fast track to NFL stardom.

That rosy future is interrupted by an accusation of kidnapping and rape by a fellow Poly student (Roquemore). Banks is arrested and indicted, then his ineffective lawyer convinces him to accept a plea agreement that turns out to be a raw deal for Banks, sending him to prison for five years which would be followed by probation for an additional five years – plus being labeled a sex offender for the rest of his life. Sounds pretty much like justice except for one thing; the rape never happened.

Banks struggles to prove his innocence, reaching out to Justin Barber (Kinnear), founder of the California Innocence Project who gently informs Banks that because he entered a no contest plea, the only way to get his conviction reversed is literally for his victim to recant her testimony.

Amazingly, Banks perseveres even though he is as much a prisoner on the outside as he was in prison. Nobody will hire a convicted sex offender and Banks isn’t allowed within a certain distance of public parks and schools. Every time it seems like Banks finds a ray of hope, some tough-on-crime politician rams through legislation that slams the door shut.

This is meant to be an uplifting, inspirational film about the power of perseverance and believing in one’s self and one’s dreams. Hodge delivers a star-making performance that carries the picture, holding his own nicely against stellar actors like Kinnear and Freeman (who plays a prison teacher whose platitudes help Banks find inner peace). While the true story is compelling enough, it is Hodge that most people will remember best after seeing this film.

Definitely the movie makes some commentary on the gulf in the justice system that exists between black and white. Had Banks been a white athlete, it’s likely that the accuser would not have been believed and even if the case went to trial, the perpetrator would have gotten a slap on the wrist if he did any time at all. Boys will be boys, but African-American boys will be criminals – at least that’s how our legal system apparently sees things.

In the #MeToo era there is a bit of tone deafness about this project. False rape accusations are relatively rare and more often than not, accusers are treated with disbelief and scorn, often being blamed for their own assault. Even though this is a true story, it’s not a typical one and the movie really doesn’t address that.

Still, Banks is an inspirational person and watching Hodge absolutely nail his performance is a treat. That the plot gets a bit maudlin especially in the last half of the film doesn’t help matters. The real Brian Banks couldn’t have asked for a better performance to capture his life; he certainly could have asked for a better movie to frame it.

REASONS TO SEE: Hodge delivers the performance of his career.
REASONS TO AVOID: The script gets a bit soapy in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a certain amount of profanity, as well as some adult thematic content and accompanying images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At least eight of Banks’ teammates on the Long Beach Poly team eventually played professional football either for the NFL or overseas.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/28/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 58% positive reviews: Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Time to Kill
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Seaside

New Releases for the Week of August 9, 2019


THE KITCHEN

(New Line) Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge dale, Brian d’Arcy James, Common, Margo Martindale. Directed by Andrea Berloff

In Hell’s Kitchen in 1978, the wives of three low-level hoods in the Irish Mafia find themselves in dire financial straits when their husbands are sent to jail. Despite assurances by the mob that they’ll be taken care of, it turns out that it’s all just lip service. Desperate, the ladies take matters into their own hands and start running their husband’s rackets on their own.

See the trailer, video featurettes, a clip and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Crime Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violence, language throughout and some sexual content)

The Art of Racing in the Rain

(20th Century Fox) Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Baker, Kevin Costner (voice). A puppy, picked up by an aspiring Formula One race car driver, grows philosophical, realizing that the techniques that make one successful on the race course also apply to success in life.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic material)

Brian Banks

(Bleecker Street) Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Melanie Liburd. A young high school All-American football player is ready to take that first step towards turning pro when he enrolls at the University of Southern California but finds his plans derailed when he is accused, tried and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. After years of trying to prove his innocence, he at last is successful and is determined to fulfill his interrupted dream of playing in the NFL.

See the trailer, video featurettes and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Sports Biography
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and related images, and for language)

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

(Paramount) Isabella Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Pena, Eva Longoria. The beloved Nickelodeon animated show Dora the Explorer gets a live action treatment as high schooler Dora along with her faithful monkey companion and some of her pals from school go on a wild adventure in the jungles of South America to save her parents and solve the mystery behind a legendary city of gold.

See the trailer, video featurettes and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action and some impolite humor)

ECCO

(Citadel) Lathrop Walker, Tabitha Bastien, Helena Grace Donald, Michael Winters. A former assassin, living quietly with his family away from his former life, finds his cover blown by his former employers. Now he must rely on his skills to protect his loved ones and hunt down those who betrayed him and in whom all his sins reside.

See the trailer, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for violence including bloody images, language, and some sexuality/nudity)

Rapid Eye Movement

(Vertical) Reiko Aylesworth, Francois Arnaud, Danny Ramirez, Rebecca Watson. A radio DJ, attempting to break the world record for staying awake, is beset by a troubled caller warning him to raise $5 million for charity or face disturbing consequences.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

(CBS/Lionsgate) Zoe Margaret Colletti, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Michael Garza. A group of teens find a book of terrifying tales written by a young girl named Sarah whose terrible images turn out to be all too real.

See the trailer, video featurettes, a clip and a promo here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references)

Them That Follow

(1091) Olivia Colman, Kathryn Dever, Walton Goggins, Jim Gaffigan. In this 2019 Florida Film Festival favorite, a young girl raised in a church that practices serpent handling, the pastor prepares for his daughter’s wedding, which unwittingly unleashes a secret that may change the girl’s perception of her father forever.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG (for ] language, thematic elements, some suggestive content and brief smoking images)
 

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Bring the Soul: The Musical
Hello, Love, Goodbye
Light of My Life
Manmadhudu 2
Nerkonda Paarvai
Parey Hut Love

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Best Summer of My Life
The Bravest
Bring the Soul: The Musical
David Crosby: Remember My Name
Jabariya Jodi
Manmadhudu 2
Nekrotronic
Nerkonda Paarvai
The Quiet One

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

The Bravest
Hamlet Pheroun
Hello, Love, Goodbye
Jabariya Jodi
Kobbari Matta
Nerkonda Paarvai

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Manmadhudu 2
Nerkonda Paarvai

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Brian Banks
The Kitchen
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Them That Follow

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Popcorn Frights Film Festival, Fort Lauderdale

New Releases for the Week of February 8, 2019


THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART

(Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell. Directed by Mike Mitchell

The citizens of Bricksburg are once again facing a deadly threat, this time in the form of LEGO Duplo characters from outer space. Their quest will take them to strange unexplored worlds including a galaxy where everything is a musical. Batman sings?

See the trailer, video featurettes, a clip, an interview and a short film here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Capernaum

(Sony Classics) Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, Kawthar Al Haddad. A street kid who flees his negligent parents survives by his wits on the streets of Lebanon. When he sees justice meted out in a Lebanese court, he decides to sue his parents for the act of giving him life and then leaving him to rot. The actors are all non-professionals who are given the situations that the screenplay dictated and asked to speak and gesture as if the events were happening to them. Where things deviated from the script the director rewrote to adjust to her actors. This won the Grand Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language and some drug material)

Cold Pursuit

(Summit) Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Emmy Rossum, Tom Bateman. An upstanding citizen, the snowplow driver for a small Northern town, is shattered when his son dies mysteriously. Connecting the death to a local drug lord, he goes on a quest to get justice which turns into a quest to exact vengeance as those sorts of quests often do.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence, drug material, and some language including sexual references)

Piercing

(Greenwich) Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Marin Ireland, Wendell Pierce. An upstanding husband goes on a business trip where he aims to murder an innocent. The call girl he invites to his room however has an agenda of her own.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for aberrant violent and sexual content, nudity, and language)

The Prodigy

(Orion) Taylor Schilling, Jackson Robert Scott, Peter Mooney, Colm Feore. A young mother discovers that her beautiful little boy has been possessed by an evil entity. She is torn between her maternal instinct to protect her son and a need to discover what is wrong with him – a journey that will blur the lines of reality.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, disturbing and bloody images, a sexual reference and brief graphic nudity)

What Men Want

(Paramount) Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Tracy Morgan, Richard Roundtree. A career driven sports agent has run up against the glass season at the agency where she works. When she obtains the power to hear men’s thoughts, she uses her new-found gift to help her advance her career.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language and sexual content throughout, and some drug material)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

The Aspern Papers
Berlin, I Love You
The Final Wish
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot
Mary, Marry Me
Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year
The Second Time Around
Yatra

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Anina
Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel
Integrity
The Invisibles
Natasaarvabhowma
Pegasus
Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year
Untogether
The Wandering Earth
Yatra

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

A Violent Man
The Amityville Murders
Beneath the Leaves
Berlin, I Love You
Darkness Visible
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot
Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year
Vijay Superum Pournamiyum
Yatra

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Mary, Marry Me
Natasaarvabhowma
Yatra

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Cold Pursuit
The Final Wish
Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
What Men Want

Hidden Figures


When all else fails - dance!

When all else fails – dance!

(2016) Biographical Drama (20th Century Fox) Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell, Kimberly Quinn, Olek Krupa, Kurt Krause, Ken Strunk, Lidya Jewett, Donna Biscoe, Ariana Neal, Sanlyya Sidney, Zani Jones Mbayise. Directed by Theodore Melfi

 

Here in the United States we are justifiably proud of our space program. NASA has done some mind-blowing things when you consider our humble beginnings in the Space Race. Back in 1962, it wasn’t certain that we would succeed at all.

Katherine Johnson (Henson) is a math prodigy employed by NASA’s Virginia facility. So are her friends Mary Jackson (Monáe), an engineer, and Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) who is the de facto supervisor of the computer division – the group of mostly African American women who crunch numbers at the facility. The Space Race is in full bloom and even though NASA has gotten Alan Shepherd into space, they haven’t yet achieved orbit with an astronaut which is also something that the Soviet Union hasn’t been able to do either. John Glenn (Powell) is the candidate for the orbital mission, but the mathematics don’t exist yet to safely get Glenn into orbit and back to Earth again. Time is ticking as NASA has some intense political pressure on them to deliver.

In this office, most of that pressure falls on Jim Harrison (Costner) and his engineers, led by Paul Stafford (Parsons) and things aren’t going well. After some spectacular failures, Harrison needs someone to double check the math of the engineers and the prim and proper supervisor (Dunst) of the computer pool taps Vaughan to suggest someone and she in turn suggests Johnson.

She couldn’t have chosen better. Johnson is a legitimate genius, perhaps more so than the white male engineers and as she begins to clean up their efforts, she shows Harrison that she might be the one to invent a new form of mathematics that will get Glenn into orbit and home again without burning him to a cinder, or sending his spacecraft into a trajectory that takes it beyond where he can get home again.

At the time IBM was building its first supercomputers and installing one in Virginia had turned out to be a much more daunting task than they had at first envisioned. Vaughan, realizing that this computer will put her and the women of the computing division out of a job, learns programming on her own and helps get the system up and running. In the meantime, Jackson – ably assisting chief engineer Karl Zielinski (Krupa) needs to take classes to get her degree so she can progress further. Unfortunately, the only night courses she can take are being taught at a segregated high school which she can’t legally attend.

There are all sorts of petty humiliations associated with the segregation culture of its time; Johnson is forced to take long breaks to scurry the mile and a half to the nearest colored bathroom since she can’t use the whites only bathroom in her own building. She also is not allowed to drink from the same coffeepot as the others. The pressure of the job is keeping her away from her children and her new husband, a dashing Army officer (Ali) much longer than she would like. Will she crack under all this pressure?

One of the things that has irritated some critics about the film is that much of the segregation sequences are essentially manufactured. The bathroom incidents, for example happened to Jackson, not Johnson and while Vaughan became an essential computer programmer for NASA, her role in getting the computer installed was overstated here. However, keep in mind that this is a movie based on the experiences of actual people – it’s not a history lesson per se and is meant to be entertainment.

And as entertainment the film succeeds, largely on the back of the performances of its leads. Spencer has become in short order one of America’s finest actresses bar none; I can’t remember a recent film in which she’s given a subpar performance or failed to elevate. Here she is absolutely mesmerizing whenever she’s on screen; the power of her personality almost overwhelms the others.

Henson has a much more mousy character to portray but she makes her human and vulnerable rather than so smart we cannot relate to her. She is that, but she’s also got a ton of humanity as well – she gets frustrated with her situation but she has a lot of confidence that the future will be a better one. Henson has also climbed to the top echelon of actresses working and while Spencer has gotten more award acclaim, I don’t doubt that Henson is headed in that direction as well as she gets more leading roles on the big screen and the small.

Costner is a reliable performer who is transitioning into a bit of a character actor as well as a leading man still. He knows how to play grouchy with a heart of gold about as well as anybody and Harrison is all of that. Of course, this being a Hollywood production, there are elements of “decent white guy helping the cause of African-American freedom.” It’s a bit condescending but I suppose, forgivable; after all, there were plenty of decent white guys (and gals) who not only supported the civil rights movement but also fought on the front lines of it. Still, Melfi at least has the good sense to make sure the focus is on the trio of ladies where it should be.

The good thing about Hidden Figures is that it educates us about people who have been lost to history but shouldn’t have been and that is invaluable. Nearly as invaluable is that the movie leaves us with a good feeling as we exit the theater (or turn off our home video device when the time comes) and in times like these, it’s certainly about as important.

REASONS TO GO: Fine performances from all three of the ladies include an Oscar-nominated one by Spencer. It’s a really uplifting film – literally.
REASONS TO STAY: Strays quite a bit from the actual history of these extraordinary women.
FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of mild profanity and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The house that was used as Dorothy Vaughan’s house has historical significance; the residence, in Atlanta, is where civil rights leaders Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. first met.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/9/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Right Stuff
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Split

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back


Tom Cruise finds his “make the ketchup bottle disappear” trick didn’t work as well as expected.

Tom Cruise finds his “make the ketchup bottle disappear” trick didn’t work as well as expected.

(2016) Action (Paramount) Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Judd Lombard, Jason Douglas, Madalyn Horcher, Robert Catrini, Anthony Molinari, M. Serrano, Nicole Barre, Jessica Stroup, Sharon E. Smith, Teri Wyble, Sean Boyd, Austin Hébert, Sabrina Gennarino, Ernest Wells, Lizbeth Hutchings. Directed by Edward Zwick

 

Most of us have some sort of moral code. It might not be straight and narrow and it might be more flexible than most, but it’s there. For most of us, there are things that just cannot stand. Then again, there are those whose codes, for better or worse, are about as flexible as the Rock of Gibraltar. Sometimes, that can be a good thing.

Jack Reacher (Cruise) was once in charge of a Military Police investigative unit until he retired from the armed forces. He prefers to live off the grid, moving from place to place and living off his pension which he collects in cash. He hitchhikes to get from place to place. He’s a loner by nature and will never initiate a conversation without reason to, but if you get up in his grill he absolutely will mop the floor with your carcass.

His successor in the unit is the ramrod-tough straight shooter Major Susan Turner (Smulders) on whom Reacher asks a favor from time to time. The two have developed a friendly, semi-flirtatious repartee that doesn’t seem to have much expectation that anything will come of it, but there is clearly mutual respect between the two and Reacher doesn’t respect a whole lot of people. After she arrests a group of human traffickers operating from a military base (and rescuing Reacher from being arrested himself for assault in the bargain), he tells her that he owes her a dinner and she can collect the next time he’s in D.C.

But by the time Reacher gets there, things have turned upside down; Major Turner has been arrested for espionage, something Reacher thinks smells fishy. And the more he talks to her commanding officer (McCallany), the fishier the smell. Pretty soon, he discovers that two of her direct reports in Afghanistan turned up dead. Quickly Reacher’s nose indicates that there’s a nasty little conspiracy going on and that Major Turner – whom he scarcely knows but considers a friend – is not safe in jail. He breaks her out and goes on the run, pursued by – well, everybody including a black-gloved assassin (Heusinger) with no name who might just be Reacher’s equal in hand-to-hand combat.

To further complicate matters, there’s a teenage girl (Yarosh) who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter and because she might be, she’s in the crosshairs of the killers. Whether she’s his progeny or not, he can’t just leave her in the hands of the wolves, so Reacher knows he’s going to have to do what he does best – kick ass and dig until he finds the truth, assuming you can handle it (see what I did there).

The Reacher book series penned by author Lee Child is at 21 books as of this writing and continuing to climb. The series has a fairly rabid fan base, not all of whom are especially pleased over the two films that have been adapted, particularly as the hero is 6’4” in the book, nearly a foot taller than what Cruise is in real life. Short of budget-busting special effects, nothing is going to make Cruise that tall. He is then forced to take up the slack with attitude.

And to a certain extent, it works. Reacher feels dangerous here. Maybe it’s the way he looks at you sideways or the coiled spring tension in Cruise’s body language but you get a sense that rubbing this guy the wrong way would be a bad and potentially fatal idea. I will give Cruise that – he gets the attitude of Reacher right.

But that makes it a bit of a hard sell. Reacher as written isn’t the sharing kind. He’s taciturn, sullen, often hostile. He’s smart in a predatory kind of way. He’s also self-disciplined as you’d expect for an elite military officer but that doesn’t mean he can’t explode into violence when the need arises. It’s the kind of character that Clint Eastwood might have owned a few decades ago, or more recently maybe Schwarzenegger. In many ways, Jack Reacher isn’t much different than a number of action hero loners with faulty social skills and therein lies the rub.

Much of the movie (particularly in the second half) requires Reacher to be something of a father figure and it just comes off…wrong. Reacher is loyal to a fault but that doesn’t make him an ideal family man. The interactions between Reacher and Samantha (said sullen teen whose moral compass is a bit shadier than his) are awkward as they should be, but that ends up making you feel uncomfortable, like listening to Florence Foster Jenkins singing karaoke.

The action sequences are decently staged, although unremarkable in and of themselves. The climactic fight between the assassin and Reacher on the rooftops of the French Quarter (and it must be said that the Big Easy looks pretty great here) is lengthy but it feels predictable. I’m not saying that it’s horrible, it just didn’t wow me. Perhaps I’ve seen too many action movies.

All in all, this is entertaining enough to recommend but not enough to recommend vigorously. I think that a good movie can be made from the Child novels but thus far the movies have been decent but not memorable. They make for some nice time fillers if you’re bored and want to kill a couple of hours, but if you’ve got a yen for an action movie that’s going to leave you breathless with your heart pounding, this isn’t the one to select.

REASONS TO GO: Some pretty decent action sequences highlight the film. The filmmakers utilize the New Orleans location nicely.
REASONS TO STAY: For the most part the film is pretty unremarkable. It loses steam in the second half.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of violence and action movie goodness, a bit of profanity, some adult themes and a couple of bloody images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is based on the eighteenth book in the series; its predecessor was based on the ninth book.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/17/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews. Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Out for Justice
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Denial