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The First Man, It Doesn’t Really Take Off. [MOVIE REVIEW]

Based on the bestselling account of Neil Armstrong’s journey to becoming the first person on the moon,First Man stars Ryan Gosling as the first man on the moon. The film focuses upon the 1961 – 1969 time period when Armstrong goes from a decorated but unknown pilot to one of the most famous men in the world. The story doesn’t just focus on the NASA side of his life but also upon his painful recovery from a loss of close loved one.

First Man is an often dry, necessarily predictable but informationally important film. The problem with movies based upon well-known historical events is that the outcomes are by in large already known. When senior government officials discussed whether the U.S. would move forward with plans to land a man on the moon, viewers knew that answer was yes. When Armstrong applied for the astronaut’s program we all knew he’d be selected.

The movie also tells the story of Armstrong’s home and family life – which is actually pretty boring. Younger viewers expecting to see Star Wars type of adventures will be disappointed.

But the film's value is its references to historical issues. Like how the U.S. space exploration was driven by competition with the Russians and that eight men died in NASA related accidents during the 1960s.

Ryan Gosling is bland in First Man’s leading role. I am not sure if that was his acting or a reflection of Armstrong’s true personality. On the other hand, Claire Foy was outstanding as Armstrong’s wife Janet. She dominated every scene she was in.

As to cast diversity, First Man gets a “C”. To many in this country, this time period from 1961-1969 represents the “good ole days” when women and people of color held few positions of power or authority. However, black men are shown at the launch site and in the command center scenes. And there were no references to the black women featured in Hidden Figures, who played essential roles the space program during that very same time period.

The verdict on the First Man is to wait and Rent It. It’s an interesting film but not compelling enough to rush out and see it now.

It’s Rated PG-13 (for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language). And it is an extremely long 138 minutes.

The Oath is pretty good; I promise [MOVIE REVIEW]

In The Oath, the White House announces it is requesting that all Americans take an “optional” loyalty pledge to the president. This request outrages Chris (Ike Barinholtz), a diehard liberal and only fuels his existing anger over the direction the country is heading. He shares his disgust with his wife, Kai (Tiffany Haddish) who appears to be just as offended. As they prepare to host his family for Thanksgiving, he hears stories of people who vocally oppose the pledge being taken from their homes by federal agents. Chris’ family comprised of his parents, sister and her husband, and brother and his girlfriend arrive and as Chris expects, there are contentious exchanges among them about the pledge and politics in general. Kai does her best to keep the peace but things only get worse when some unexpected guests arrive.

Writer, director, and star Ike Barinholtz makes a strong statement about America’s current political climate in this provocative production. He hits both the government and those who remain quiet and are even supportive of the erosion of U.S. constitutional principles. The characters are authentic and credible, except for the fact that they ALL curse like the proverbial sailor which makes all of their dialogue sound very similar.

Chris’ interracial marriage fits his persona perfectly but is not really a major issue in the storyline. Tiffany Haddish continues her tendency, we first saw in Girls Trip, to play the stereotypical, horny black woman. When Chris first hears of the pledge and goes on a rant, her focus quickly becomes getting his pants off.
While the performances are stellar across the board, Ike Barinholtz is exceptional; just as you might expect of someone who writes, directs, and stars in a film.

As to our cast diversity rating, The Oath gets an A-. The cast is relatively small and Haddish, an African American woman and Asian American John Cho have major roles.

Ultimately, The Oath works because it’s thought-provoking and takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster. It gets our highest rating, See It!

It’s rated R (for language throughout, violence and some drug use) and is a fast-paced, 93 minutes in length.

 

The First Purge Should be the Last. [MOVIE REVIEW]

It’s sometime in the future. The First Purge, the fourth in the series, shows how the idea began of having 12 hours in which it is legal to commit all crimes, including murder. A new right-wing party called the New Founding Fathers (NFF) initiates the concept supposedly to allow people to release frustrations building up from everyday life. Staten Island is chosen as the test site for the first purge. Ultimately, NFF’s true motive comes to light.

The First Purge is sickening. And, similar to Book Club, The First Purge is Dead on Arrival. The problems are many. First, it assumes that viewers don’t know much about Staten Island, including that its population is almost 80% percent white, mainly Irish and Italian Catholics. This film focuses on a low-income housing development and the surrounding communities which are black, who comprise about 10% of the Island’s population. There are more Hispanics in Staten Island than there are blacks. If this community did exist it would include whites and Hispanics.

Next, white screenwriter, James DeMonaco, who’s from Brooklyn, obviously did little research, as he creates scenes and dialogue based upon how he believes black people act. The film opens with a conversation between a blue-eyed, intellectual, medical male staff person and a dark-skinned, scared face, inarticulate black man with badly stained teeth.

It’s loaded with stereotypes. There’s a lot of the N-word, black street gangs (which is NOT a huge issue in Staten Island), heavy drug dealing, and hoochie mamas. And during the purge, again when all crimes are legal, rather than finding safe havens, they show black people dancing in the streets and partying. Since sex is the only thing black people ever think about, the film features a couple in plain sight, getting busy on the top of a car.

Further, in DeMonaco’s black world, even the most decent, peace-loving African American woman, is familiar with and knows how to use a gun!

Even though the film ultimately shows this community is the victim of malevolent forces, the way it is displayed, it justifies the disdain and fear of low-income urban residents that some people harbor.

The First Purge gets a “C” for cast diversity. It’s a largely African American troupe. Marisa Tomei is one of the few white actors in the film. She plays the sociologist who originally comes up with the purge idea. The film’s grade reflects its misrepresentation of the demographics of story’s location.

There are two characteristics of bad films. Both occurred at the screening of The First Purge: viewers laugh at serious dialogue not all intended to be funny. And people leave before it’s over.

The First Purge is rated “R” for strong disturbing violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use. And is 99 minutes in length.

This 4th of July week, purge your mind of any notions of seeing The First Purge.

Don’t miss, Deadpool 2 [MOVIE REVIEW]

In Deadpool 2, the 11th installment of the X-Men series, thing are going well for Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) until he loses a loved one. When he attempts to join her on the other side, he learns that he has to do more good in this world before he can move to the next. His first step is to assist a young, troubled mutant. However, Cable (Josh Brolin) gets in the way of that effort leading Wilson to put together a new team of X-men to fight his old nemesis.

Critiquing Deadpool 2 is easy. If you like the mutants’ series, this episode will not disappoint. And Deadpool 2 gets a See It! rating. It has all the battles, humorous dialogue and over the top action scenes which made the first Deadpool film a success. Ryan Reynolds breathes an everyman type of charm into the lead character. He’s funny and flawed which makes him more credible.

One downside of the mutant series is the lack of racial diversity. The main characters are overwhelmingly white males. However, the creators do embrace black women characters. There’s Storm who was played by Halle Berry in four of the X-Men films. In Deadpool 2, Leslie Uggams returns as Blind Al, Wilson’s confidant. And joining his new team in this film is the half German and half African-American, Zazie Beetz. Her mutant skills are exceptional marksmanship and hand-to-hand skills, and probability-altering powers.

However, due to the overall lack of cast diversity, Deadpool 2, receives a “C” for cast diversity.

It’s rated “R” (for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material) and is 111 minutes in length.

Ultimately, Deadpool 2 is a See It!

Don’t Join The Book Club [MOVIE REVIEW]

They’ve been friends since college, and get together once a month to discuss the book of the month. Diane (Diane Keaton) is recently widowed after 40 years of marriage. Vivian (Jane Fonda) runs a five-star hotel and only gets involved with men she could never fall in love with. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is still recovering from her divorce of almost two decades. Carol's (Mary Steenburgen) marriage slumps after 35 years. The book of the month, the salacious 50 Shades of Grey has the friends reexamining their own situations.

The Book Club is simply not worth the time. It’s Dead on Arrival. First, the characters are not interesting. Even for a comedy, they simply lack the depth to make this film worthwhile. It’s not the performers; it’s the weak script. Further, while the four women are all supposed to be the approximately same age, having attended college at the same time, it’s obvious that Mary Steenburgen is younger than her costars and is in fact 15 years younger than Jane Fonda.

There’s also not a credible subplot. Diane’s love interest Mitchell (Andy Garcia) is obviously younger than her (10 years in real life). He’s a pilot whose invention reducing wind drag on airplanes has made him wealthy but for some unexplained reason, he still works as a commercial pilot. Thus, this rich guy who’s in a profession where he meets plenty of women decides to pursue a much older, very ordinary widow. Is this possible? Of course. Is this likely? Of course NOT!

Speaking of Garcia, he is the only one keeping this film from getting a D- minus in cast diversity. This Hispanic (Cuban) actor has a starring role in what would otherwise be one of the least diverse films I have seen in years.

The Book Club is rated PG-13 (for sex-related material throughout and for language) and is 104 minutes.

Ultimately, it is sad that such talented actors are bound together in this losing production. It’s Dead on Arrival.

Go in to see Breaking In [MOVIE REVIEW]

After her father’s sudden death, Shaun Russell (Gabrielle Union) and her two children, Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr) make the several hours drive to his large estate. Shaun, who was estranged from her dad, decides to put his house for up sale immediately. But little did she know that there would be four sinister characters hiding inside, more interested in the contents of the house than she is. These men have no qualms about destroying anything or anybody to get what they want. Shaun has to draw deeply into all her physical and mental skills to protect her children and herself.

From the start, Breaking In quickly becomes suspenseful and dramatic, turning the first pleasant, almost boring scene into a shockingly violent one. Being only 88 minutes in length, it gets to the main storyline very quickly. Breaking In gets a See It! rating because it does what a spectacle of this type is supposed to do, keep viewers on the edge of their seats and wondering what happens next.

Gabrielle Union rises to the occasion in the lead role. She’s authentically tough and at the same time necessarily tender while guiding her children through this ordeal. But you can’t have a truly great hero, as Union is in this film, without a supremely wicked villain. Of the four thugs, Duncan (Richard Cabral) is the most heartless, and justifiably raises the ire of both Shaun and the viewing audience.

Another interesting cast member is Ajiona Alexus, who at 22, successfully plays Shaun’s young teenage daughter. Alexus and Union look so much alike, I checked to see if they are related. They are not.

RELATED: THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US IS A BIT BUMPY BUT YOU SHOULD SEE IT.

But Breaking In also is burdened by the weaknesses of this film genre. Characters who can be shot, stabbed, badly beaten but then miraculously recover to the point where they can run fast, climb to rooftops and engage in lengthy, full-blown physical battles. And there are also handguns that shoot an unlimited amount of bullets without being reloaded.

Gabrielle Union in the starring role in the movie Breaking in Photo 2 courtesy Universal Pictures 750x529Gabrielle Union stars in the thriller, Breaking In

While writer Ryan Engle created a strong black woman in Shaun, the two black male characters were either dishonest or disgustingly weak and ineffective.

As to our cast diversity rating, Breaking In gets an A-. First, the cast is small which limits the number of roles available. Blacks, whites and a Hispanic actor all have major roles. There are no Asian-Americans featured.

Breaking In is rated PG-13 for violence, menace, bloody images, sexual references, and brief strong language, and, it's a See It!

 

Fifty Shades Freed Entertains [MOVIE REVIEW]

Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) return in the third and final film series based on the bestselling Fifty Shades novels.

The film opens with Christian and Ana trading marriage vows, looking to a new life of shared love and luxury.

Of course, there’s a lot of sex, but Fifty Shades Freed, more than anything else entertains and it gets a See It! rating.

The story does strain credibility in an effort to bolster the story. In the scenes after the couple gets married, Anastasia behaves more like someone who just met Christian than someone who knows and agreed to marry him: She didn’t know he had a domestic staff at his apartment, he had his own plane, and that she will have a security detail following her around. Apparently, after the long and extensive history of sexual gymnastics, they don’t know each other’s viewpoint on having children.

However, the characters are fuller and richer than in Fifty Shades of Grey where they both seem empty and vacuous. In this edition, they are more interesting and more balanced characters. While sex can be a draw to a movie, there has to be more to a film for it to succeed. Here there’s drama and amusing dialogue.

Fifty Shades Freed gets a B+ for cast diversity. Set in Seattle, a city in which people of color make up about a third of the population, the film has a diverse group of people of color in supporting and background roles.

Fifty Shades Freed is rated “R” for strong sexual content, nudity, and language and it is approximately 105 minutes in length. Fifty Shades Freed will be worth your time and money.

Murder on the Orient Express; take this thrilling train ride

English crime writer, Agatha Christie’s 1934 classic whodunit, Murder on the Orient Express, first filmed in 1974, returns to the big screen for the second time. In the 2017 film version of Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh directs and leads an all-star cast including Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom, Jr, and Josh Gad. Murder on the Orient Express is the story of 13, first class passengers traveling on a luxury train to London when one of the passengers is found dead in his cabin, the victim of multiple stab wounds.

Hercule Poirot (Branagh), the internationally known, fictional, detective happens to be on board and is coaxed into solving the brutal crime. The film takes viewers though Poirot’s painstakingly, thorough examination of the suspects and their possible motives.

Murder on the Orient Express is a fascinating, far-fetched, yet definitely entertaining film. And it’s a See It!

It has a Titanic feel to it. Wealthy passengers travel opulently to their destination. Like Titanic, the mode of transportation is damaged. In Titanic, it’s an iceberg; in Murder, it’s a snowy avalanche which derails the train.

While I was familiar with the story title, I was unaware of how the crime would be solved, which added additional intrigue to the mystery. And, the outcome is a truly a surprise.

Again, this is a star studded cast which enriches the production. Murder on the Orient Express gets an “A” for cast diversity. Among the 13 passengers, there is a black man, Leslie Odom, Jr., who starred in the Broadway musical, Hamilton, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is a Hispanic man. Further, there are many characters of color in background and small roles. Often movies set in time periods such as the '30s have all-white casts, as if people of color only came into the being in the '60s and '70s.

Additionally, the cinematography is creative and exceptional. With scenes shot from a multitude of angles and ranges.

Murder on the Orient Express is rated, PG-13, and is 116 minutes. And it’s a See It!

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