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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, really is beautiful | What's The 411 Movie Review

When Esquire magazine writer Tom Junod’s editor assigns him to write a 400-word piece on Public TV star Fred Rogers of the Mr. Rogers program, their meeting is supposed to be a brief interaction. But instead, it turns into a complex, long-term relationship between the two men. Two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks plays Mr. Rogers and Matthew Rhys, plays Tom Junod, the journalist who wrote the profile of Fred Rogers in Esquire magazine, on which this feature film is based.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Thinking back to my childhood, I saw Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood as a hopelessly sappy program that seemed more like a satire than an actual TV show. But this film is substantive, sometimes compelling, but always entertaining. It gets a See It! rating.

From the beginning writers, Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster, convey where Fred Rogers’ priorities lie. When a Make-a-Wish Foundation kid visits the set, Rogers leisurely chats with him and his parents, completely indifferent to the resulting delay in the filming schedule. In other words, people are more important than timetables. Later, Rogers meets the journalist who has a difficult relationship with his father, the TV host makes resolving the issues between the writer and his dad a high priority.

This movie also delves into the lives of both men. The seemingly perfect Rogers acknowledges some issues with his two sons. Yes, Rogers had children, despite definitely being on the list of People We Can Never Imagine Having Sex. He was also a vegetarian even though some thought he was a vegan.

This film is warm and laden with positive messages, without being overbearing, preachy or . . . sappy.

Tom Hanks just seems to be incapable of poor or even average performances. He authentically portrays Rogers as a mellow, kind, yet very real person. Matthew Rhys embodies Junod as a complex, wounded individual who’s trying-his-best to be a good husband and father – and ultimately a good son.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood gets an A- for cast diversity. It is richly diverse. African American actress Susan Kelechi Watson plays Junod’s wife in the movie, although his real-life wife of over 30 years is Caucasian. And I have mentioned before casting directors can increase diversity by including people of color in minor roles and background scenes. This film does just that. However, the minus is due to the lack of diversity among non-African descendants. There are few Hispanics or Asians despite that there are several Asian Americans producers of this film.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is rated PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language and is 108 minutes in length and gets our highest rating, See It!

Ford v Ferrari. It’s not worth the drive | Movie Review

When Henry Ford II, president of the automobile empire, Ford Motor Company, is slighted in a business deal and personally insulted by a fellow car manufacturer, Enzo Ferrari, Ford decides to take on the Italian automaker in the venue that Ferrari’s vehicles donated for years, the Le Mans car race, formally known as, 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Academy Award-winners Matt Damon plays the auto designer and Christian Bale star as the driver of a state-of-the-art car that Ford pours millions into, to combat his Italian rival. Ford v Ferrari, is a long, drawn-out (over two and half hours!) story about how far a powerful man went to achieve victories over his opponent. This is a film you should wait and rent.

It’s loaded with what I call false conflicts. Screenwriters’ tool of creating quandaries that there’s really no question as to how they will be resolved. For example, there’s a plotline raising doubt over whether Matt Damon’s character will be hired by Ford to draw up and build the car. Also, the Ford executives don’t like Bale’s character and want someone else to drive at Le Mans. But because Damon and Bale are the stars, it’s obvious how all of this turns out.

Some commentators opined that even if you aren’t into this sport, you’ll be intrigued. Wrong. If you don’t like the sport of car racing, this film will bore you. Especially at the insufferable length of two hours and 32 minutes.

Set in the 1960s, this story will appeal to those who long for that time when white men exclusively held the reins of power. Before notions of equality and diversity took hold. The acting is superior. Damon and Bale shine, as does Tracy Letts as the legendary auto executive Henry Ford II, and Caitriona Balfe who plays Bale’s loving and supportive spouse.

Ford v Ferrari gets a “D” for cast diversity. Other than a few scenes of blacks working in the Ford factory – Ford has a long history of hiring African Americans as early as 1916 – there are few people of color in this film. Understandably, there would not have been black people in executive offices or socializing with the powerbrokers featured in this movie. But blacks made up about a third of the Motor City’s population during that time, including some of my family members. So, they should have been on the streets and other background scenes of the film.

Ultimately, Ford v Ferrari has some historical value and moments of intrigue. But for non-race car fans, this film is too long in length and too short in entertainment.

Ford v Ferrari is rated PG-13 (for language and peril). And it’s a Rent It.

Harriet . . . Hurry it up and See It! | MOVIE REVIEW

Harriet Tubman is a name like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglas; all were courageous members of the abolitionist movement. Ms. Tubman, short in stature, barely five feet tall, is a giant in history. And, the film, Harriet, tells the story of Ms. Tubman, the most well-known of all the Underground Railroad's "conductors” and her amazing ability to move in and out of the south. According to the PBS’ Africans in America series, Ms. Tubman made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 enslaved Africans to freedom and without capture.

Harriet brings to life a character whose story, without any embellishment, is amazing. Cynthia Erivo in the title role nails it. She’s authentic, credible and exceptional. There was some pushback over Director Kasi Lemmons’ selection of Erivo, a British actress, in the role of an African American icon. But no one can legitimately challenge that choice after seeing the film.

Ms. Tubman created her own true-life Mission Impossible scenarios. Once she alone escaped to Philadelphia, her accomplishment was widely celebrated in anti-slavery circles. But ignoring warnings about repeating the incredible feat, she made multiple returns, and as her reputation grew, each trip became more dangerous.

At first, it was believed that the person who had become known and wanted as “Moses” was a white male abolitionist in blackface. Because only a white male would be capable of pulling off such cunning and dangerous exploits. But once it was learned that Moses was black and female the outrage and determination to capture her grew.

The film opens with one of the claims associated with Harriet. She prays for her owner’s death. His son, Gideon (Joe Alwyn) overhears Harriet’s imploring to the heavens and tells her God doesn’t listen to Ni. . . people like her. Gideon’s father dies that night.

Harriet and Gideon grew up together and as was often the case with enslaved people and their slaveholders, their relationship was complicated.

Maybe I am a coward. But if I had seen Harriet pray for the death of someone and that someone died shortly thereafter, unlike Gideon, I would have been very kind to her from then on.

One feature of Director Kasi Lemmons’ films that I like is her black characters have depth. They fall in love, make emotional connections with each other and pursue hopes and dreams.

But this film also has the typical Hollywood fairytale gloss. There were always perfectly timed messages from above directing Harriet throughout her journeys. Also, as was the case in another story from that period, 12 Years a Slave, blacks in the North are portrayed as full and equal citizens, dressing in the finest wear, living comfortably and interacting with whites as friends and colleagues. And that was simply not the case.

While blacks were free in the North, they were neither the social nor the professional equals of whites and rampant discrimination was the norm.

As to cast diversity, Harriet follows the racial demographics of that time.

Harriet, also starring Leslie Odom, Jr. and Janelle Monae, is a historical, educational and entertaining event, and you should See It! It’s rated, PG-13 for thematic content throughout, violent material and language including racial epithets. Harriet is 125 minutes in length.

 

Gemini Man: Regardless of your sign or gender, you will like this film | Movie Review

In any profession there comes that time when one knows he or she just doesn’t have it anymore. For the government’s top hitman, Henry Brogan (Will Smith), it’s when he aims his high-powered rifle at his target’s head but hits his neck.

As Henry sets to retire, he finds that someone he has killed per government instructions was actually an innocent civilian. Henry’s superiors decide it’s best to exterminate the retiree. Blame the Russians. And have him go out as a hero.

He connects with another agent (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who’s sent to tail him. She’s conflicted as to whom to believe, the top brass who wants Henry killed. Or, Henry who claims he’s being unfairly targeted.

Realizing that Henry is the best at what he does, his bosses know that they have to send the very best to take him out. When Henry comes face to face with his determined nemesis, he’s shocked to find out that it’s a cloned 20-year-old version of himself.

Speaking of 20 years, Gemini Man’s route to the big screen took two decades. Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, and Sean Connery were among the actors associated with the project at some point.

This end-product starring Will Smith is creative and entertaining and gets a “See It!” rating. Smith’s now 51. So, the Fresh Prince is middle-aged! He’s outstanding in this role, playing both the aging icon and the bureau’s youthful, hope for the future. Filtering makes the half-century-old, Smith look like a very young man.

The characters actually have scars and bruises from fights that don’t heal right away. As the days go by the marks gradually fade, adding realism rarely seen in films.

There are also some different types of action scenes like young Henry using his motorcycle to give his older version a beatdown. There’s even some humor. When the older Henry speaks of his situation with a Russian counterpart, the Rusky teases him: You American agents get your feelings hurt when your government decides to kill you. With us, we call that Tuesday!

Gemini Man gets a B+ for cast diversity. Obviously, there’s Will in the lead role. Benedict Wong plays Henry’s trusted friend. Two Asian companies play major roles in the production of Gemini Man as that part of the world increases its influence in the film industry.

It’s rated PG-13 for violence and action throughout, and brief strong language, and is 116 minutes in length. Gemini Man’s uniqueness and attention-grabbing scenes make it worth your while. It’s a, See it!

Ad Astra doesn’t add up. [Movie Review]

Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) travels to outer space to figuratively kill two birds with one stone - or one trip. There are electronic waves coming from the heavens threatening earth and this phenomenon leads scientist and high-level government officials to believe that there’s a connection between the waves and a space voyage 30 years earlier led by McBride’s father (Tommy Lee Jones) from which his father never returned.

Despite Brad Pitt’s stellar performance, Ad Astra never really takes off and it gets a Rent It rating. Screenwriters James Gray and Ethan Gross layout the story effectively and clearly. There’s the threat to destroy the world which is likely connected with the McBride’s father space journey decades earlier. But other than that, this story moseys through a series of modestly interesting scenes serving as little more than filler until McBride reaches his final destination.

And those of you who expect Star Wars-type battles and scenes, you’ll be disappointed. Many of the scenes are serene and calm – which probably better represents what outer space is really like. There’s a mildly amusing portion: The film is set in the future where passengers can take commercial flights to the moon. Those wanting the comfort of an on-flight blanket pay a cool, $125!

Again, Brad Pitt does all he can to propel this story into an entertainment sphere. And the cinematography is out of this world, with creative angles and vantage points. However, those features are not enough.

Ad Astra gets a “B” for cast diversity. This is very much a white male-dominated cast. However, Ruth Negga has a major supporting role. Kimberly Elise plays an astronaut, but with very little to say. There are other people of color with visible but minor roles.

Ad Astra is rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images coupled with brief strong language. At 124 minutes, it’s too long.

In the end, Pitt’s performance coupled with the visually stimulating scenes is what gives this film some entertainment value. But don’t see it now. Wait and Rent It

Ready or Not is Gruesome [MOVIE REVIEW]

One of the days many women dream about from childhood is their wedding day. Grace (Samara Weaving) can’t hide her excitement about marrying Alex (Mark O’Brien). They have been blissfully happy together for years. And today, they both are thrilled to formalize their love before family and friends. However, the night after the wedding, Grace, and Alex join in a ritual that has been a part of Alex’s family for generations: selecting a game to play. When Grace pulls the hide-and-seek card as the selected activity, her dream day turns into a nightmare.

Ready or Not is bloody, violent, bloody, morbid, bloody, intriguing, and bloody. If you’re a horror film fan, you’ll love it. And it gets a See It! rating. The screenwriters' layout of this story, detail by detail. Viewers know what’s going on and why. Every character plays a valuable role in the development of this movie.

Samara Weaving is a sympathetic protagonist as the young, trusting, and very much in love bride ultimately relying on her wits to win this life or death game she never imagined playing. Without her strong performance, this film doesn’t work.

The directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett visually highlight the macabre results of every act of violence. You’re not human if don’t wince a few times watching this film.

It’s hard to give Ready or Not, a cast diversity rating because it centers on the (Caucasian) groom’s few family members. I guess they could have had a person of color as part of that group which in this day and age wouldn’t have been uncommon. But they don’t. However, at Grace’s and Alex’s wedding earlier that day, the guests include several people of diverse races.

Ready or Not is 95 minutes in length and rated “R” for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use. Ready or Not is an exceptional production and again, gets a See It! rating.

Good Boys is sort of good. [MOVIE REVIEW]

Twelve-year-old, Max (Jacob Tremblay) has a lot to worry about. He’s invited to his first kissing party and panics because he doesn't know how to kiss. His friend Thor (Brady Noon) convinces him to spy on a teenage neighbor and her boyfriend, to get lessons on how to smooch. So Max, Thor and another friend Lucas (Keith L. Williams) decide to use Max's dad's drone -- which Max is forbidden to touch -- to spy on the couple. Their plan goes awry and the drone gets destroyed. Leading the kids on an arduous adventure to replace the device before Max’s father gets home - while also learning how to kiss.

Good Boys, directed by Gene Stupnitsky, combines coming of age humor with a bunch of crazy events happening in a short period – in this case, one day. A filmmaking style made famous in 1983 by Tom Cruise’s Risky Business. Most of the laughs center on the boys’ swearing and trying to figure out what the purposes of the devices Thor finds in his parents’ bedroom.

The film also touches on serious topics like parental divorce.

But ultimately, Good Boys is just a series of funny screens, but nothing filmgoers need to see right away. It gets a Rent It rating.

Good Boys scores an “A” for cast diversity. This is a highly diverse group in this film. Max’s dream girl is an adorable teen of color. Good Boys is also diverse in character roles. Max’s friend Lucas, the black kid, is not the stereotypical thug. Rather he’s a nerd. A rule follower. The nice guy in the group. Additionally, the Alpha Male, the coolest dude at their school is a petite, Asian American (Izaac Wang).

While Keith L. Williams is a head taller than his two Good Boys co-stars, he’s actually the youngest of the three.

Good Boys is rated “R” for strong crude sexual content, drug, and alcohol material, and language throughout and is 95 minutes in length. Again, no need to take the time and spend the money to see this at the theater. Wait and Rent It.

Luce is a loser [MOVIE REVIEW]

Despite being only a teenager, Luce (Kelvin Harrison, Jr) has had an eventful life. Rescued from a war-torn country and adopted by an American couple, (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth), he becomes an excellent student, stellar athlete, and the pride of his school. But all he has worked for is in jeopardy when one of his teachers (Octavia Spencer) makes a troubling discovery in his locker. The question becomes is Luce the person everyone thought he was or does his teacher have a vendetta against him?

In my rich and varied experiences as a black man in America, I sometimes see films with African American casts and storylines, and I find myself asking, “Who wrote this?” Because in Luce, as in others, the behavior and dialogue lack authenticity. And almost always I find the writers are not people who know the African American experience. And such is the case with Luce, written and directed by Julius Onah, who was born in Nigeria and raised there as well as in the Philippines, Togo and, the United Kingdom. Onah did go to high school in Virginia while his father served as a diplomat in the U.S.

He creates three black teens in the story, Luce, who as the story references, is Obama-like – at least as it appears. The two others are thugs, fighting, swearing – every other word is MF and N. These young men are stereotypes. As a person who has taught and worked extensively with urban youth, I know that young black men are so much more diverse and complicated than this film shows- one good kid, maybe, and two hoodlums.

Octavia Spencer’s character, in addition to being at odds with Luce over the locker incident, has a mentally ill sister who shows up at the school one day and behaves in a disturbing fashion. This entire subplot adds nothing to the film.

Another problem with this story is one which is common in screenwriting when writers use dialogue to share information with viewers. There are discussions between people such as spouses who have been in longterm relationships, revealing information as “new” that any real couple would have talked about before.

Tim Roth and Naomi Watts who play Luce’s parents have a close relationship. But Roth who has no trouble being frank with his wife, states that from the beginning he had apprehensions about adopting Luce. His wife is surprised. But wouldn’t a husband who communicates with his wife have brought up these concerns before delving into the difficult process of adopting a child from another country? Or talked about it sometime in the over a decade and a half they have had Luce as part of their family? These doubts help viewers to understand the father’s view but are not credible because as devoted as this couple is betrayed to be, they would have had this discussion before.

This film shot in grainy 35 MM, leaves some questions about who’s right and who’s wrong in this story. But neither of those issues deflect from the quality of the movie. Luce is done in by its overwhelming lack of credibility.

It’s 109 minutes and R (for language throughout, sexual content, nudity, and some drug use). It gets our lowest rating, “Dead on Arrival!” In other words, skip this film.

 

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