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Little is Big on Entertainment | WHAT’S THE 411 MOVIE REVIEW

She’s the ultimate Alpha female, Jordan (Regina Hall) runs her highly successful tech enterprise mercilessly. She insults and constantly threatens her staff. She’s condescending to everyone else in her world. One day Jordan offends the wrong person who magically transforms her back to her 13-year-old self. After getting over the shock of this transformation, she realizes that even as a teen she has a business to run. So, she turns to the primary target of her abuse, April (Issa Rae), her personal assistant to serve as her guardian and to run the day-to-day operations of her business.

Little is simply a lot of fun and it gets a See It! rating. It’s funny and even as a comedy serves up superior acting. Marsai Martin of Blackish fame who plays the younger Jordan, rules! She personifies the teenage version of the iron-willed executive that we saw in the adult Jordan. Her performance is key to the success of Little. She also works her natural “do” throughout the movie. Marsai who will soon be 15-years-old in real life also is one of the film’s executive producers, and according to NPR that makes her the youngest one in Hollywood.

Marsai Martin as a preteen Jordan Sanders in the movie Little photo courtesy of Universal Pictures 700x487

Marsai Martin, as the preteen Jordan Sanders in the movie, Little. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

The rest of the creative team includes Tina Gordon, Will Packer, Kenya Barris, and Tracy Oliver. This group of African Americans should be commended for the creation of such positive black characters: Jordan has two married parents. There’s nobody on welfare or in jail. And no one calls each other the “N” word. Jordan definitely behaves like what many would call the “B” word, yet no one says it! (And they shouldn’t.) While this is definitely a female dominated story, the black men are upbeat and supportive of the ladies as they deal with their myriad of issues.

Little earns a solid “A” for cast diversity. It’s frankly one of the most diverse casts you’ll see. Which is also consistent with the fact the story is set in Atlanta. Little is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and is 109 minutes in length.

Take a little time to see Little. You won’t regret it!

Pet Sematary, gets better with age | What’s The 411 MOVIE REVIEW

It’s been 20 years since the first film based upon Stephen King’s bestselling novel, Pet Sematary, was first released. In the 2019 remake, like the original story, Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), relocates from the fast pace of Boston, with his wife, Rachel (Amy Seimetz), son and daughter, to a quieter and more relaxed, rural Maine. Immediately, they find a pet cemetery burial ground hidden deep in the woods near the family's new home. A place where the locals have entombed their deceased pets and livestock for decades. When the family’s pet cat succumbs to a roadside accident, Louis turns to his reclusive neighbor, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), for help in disposing of the feline. Jud, wanting to help relieve the family’s pain, sets off a chain of events leading to nightmarish results.

Pet Sematary, the handiwork of master scary guy, Stephen King, will entertain, scare and fascinate you! And it’s a See It! The fact that viewers are likely to have varying degrees of familiarity with the story is not a problem; as just the right amount of the original plot has been changed. And this familiarity piques viewers’ interest as to when, what they know will happen, is going to happen. Those who know very little about this film will still find it gripping.

The producers dug up a great group of performers. Horror films generally don’t require any acting range beyond a well-timed look of fear and authentic sounding screams. But Pet Sematary, demands more and Clarke, Seimetz and Lithgow provide it. Each character deals with his or her demons requiring them to behave in a way that convinces viewers of the deep anguish they each suffer.

Of course, there are some leaps in credibility. Like trucks driving at highway speeds on a narrow, country road where children and pets might be crossing. And why are horror films always set in remote areas? Why not in a high-rise apartment?

As to cast diversity, Pet Sematary gets an A-. The cast is small, and the film is set in an area which would likely have a small minority population. However, a black man has a major supporting and other people of color, smaller supporting roles.

It’s rated R for horror, violence, bloody images, and some language, and is 101 minutes in length. Pet Sematary is worth your while!

Us, let’s us down. | What’s The 411 MOVIE REVIEW

There’s a saying: Adulthood is that time in life when you get over your childhood. And that is certainly the case for Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o) who suffered a traumatic beachfront experience as a child. Now having married and moved away from that location, she and her family, husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) return to the site to vacation with their friends, the Tylers. The families rent houses down the street from each other.

Adelaide immediately feels creeped-out upon arriving at the house. She tries to suppress the feelings as her husband launches into a fun-loving, we’re-on-vacation mode. That night Adelaide realizes that her queasiness is justified when four strangers appear in their driveway and the group, which looks exactly like her own family, is not there for fun and games.

Us, from writer and director Jordan Peele who scored a huge hit with his 2017 film, Get Out, turns out an utter disappointment this time in Us. I fully expected another different twist to the horror film format. Unique in the way Get Out cleverly intertwined race and terror, in a way not seen before. In Us, the only difference is that it has a black cast.

Us has all the features of the genre that makes these films seem so insipid. The villains are human yet are always a lot stronger than ordinary people. The characters must behave in the most implausible way. For example, the Wilsons arguing over who should drive when they need to make a lifesaving escape. Then there’s Adelaide’s getting out of the safety of the vehicle to confront weapon-carrying killers. My favorite horror film lunacy is how moments after the most terrifying and bloody encounters, the survivors engage in light banter. As if nothing just happened. In Us, after a nearly fatal ordeal, the Wilsons calmly chat, and the son even munches on Skittles.

The dialogue falls into “the who says that?” category. While driving along and listening to music, Adelaide turns to her son, in the back seat, snaps her fingers and tells him to “get in the rhythm”. Is that what a black mother would say to her child? And in describing their attackers’ strategy, the husband, Gabe opines that would take a shit load of coordination!

Peele’s own father was absent from much of his life. Interestingly, the black father character in Get Out had an absentee father. In Us, Peele creates Gabe, a bumbling and childlike parent. It’s almost as if Adelaide has three kids rather than two.

Speaking of Adelaide, Lupita Nyong’o is exceptional. She holds this film together. It’s unfortunate that she wasted her vast talents on this production.

As to cast diversity, we give Us a B+. It has a relatively small group of characters. There are the Wilsons and the Tylers, who are white. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for other performers. Asians and Hispanics are pretty much absent from this production.

Us gets a split rating; if you like horror films, See It! If not, wait and Rent It.

Us is rated “R” for violence/terror, and language, and is 116 minutes in length. At a budget of $20M, which is small by movie-making standards, there is no question that Us is bound to be a financial success.

Wonder Park is wonderful! [MOVIE REVIEW]

June Bailey, played by newcomer, Brianna Denski, is a precocious and creative eight-year-old, visualizes and creates a model for a magical amusement park she calls, Wonder Park. One day while traveling with her math camp class on a field trip, she decides that the outing just isn’t for her. With the help of a classmate, she creates a diversion and exits the school bus and heads home. She takes a shortcut through the woods and what does she find? A place called Wonderland that has all the rides and characters from her imaginary place, Wonder Park. But things aren’t quite the way she dreamed of - and Wonderland residents look to her for answers.

Wonder Park is a computer-animated adventure film full of vivid colors and lively characters and it’s a See It! I like the fact that the genius in this story is a girl. Traditionally these roles have been filled by boys.

The story is busy. June deals with family issues, annoying relatives, a pesky neighbor, not to mention finding her dream landscape is actually a bit of a nightmare. Kids today expect intriguing plots and subplots like this film offers. The days of Bugs Bunny simply trying to foil Elmer Fudd are long gone!

As a parent, one aspect of the film troubled me: June escaping the school trip and then taking a shortcut through the woods to get home. That’s not recommended behavior. The target market for the film is kids and they can be easily influenced.

In addition to Brianna Denski, Ken Hudson Campbell, Kenan Thompson, Ken Jeong, Mila Kunis, John Oliver, Jennifer Garner, and Matthew Broderick, star and provide voices for the characters.

Wonder Park is rated PG for some mild thematic elements and action and it’s 86 minutes in length. Wonder Park is a See It!

The Aftermath is entertaining after all! [MOVIE REVIEW]

It’s 1946. World War II has ended. To the victors go the spoils. The winning British are in Germany governing the losing Germans. Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) leads the British efforts to bring order to the City of Hamburg. Morgan’s wife, Rachel (Keira Knightley) arrives from England where the two reunite to begin their post-war lives together. The British Government, as it has a right to do, takes over a mansion owned by a German architect, Stefan Lubert, (Alexander Skarsgård). This becomes the Colonel and his wife’s new home. There are camps set up for displaced Germans like Lubert, a widower, and his daughter who resides with him. However, Morgan, much to his wife’s chagrin, allows the Luberts to stay in the mansion’s attic. From that point, The Aftermath begins, with the characters confronting a range of conflicts and challenges.

The Aftermath succeeds not because it’s an exceptional production, but because it’s a refreshing change from current film experiences. It’s a period piece. And, the re-creation of worn-torn Germany, the story’s highlighting of the continued hostilities between the forces even though the war has officially ended – give the movie a value which underlies the main storyline.

The character conflicts are real and compelling. Lewis and Rachel debate a loss they suffered. Stefan tries to convince his daughter that they are actually lucky to be in the attic. Then there’s tension between Rachel and Stefan. Lewis is often away from home carrying out his military duties. So, one has to question his leaving Rachel in the mansion with the taller and better-looking Stefan.

Each of the lead actors proffers strong performances. Ultimately, The Aftermath comes together in an entertaining and even a bit educational way. And it gets our highest rating, See It!

The Aftermath is rated R for sexual content/nudity, and violence including some disturbing images and is 108 minutes in length.

Greta. No need to be in a hurry to see her. | MOVIE REVIEW

Someone leaves a handbag on a New York City subway. Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) retrieves it and returns it to the owner, Greta, (Isabelle Huppert). The two women quickly form a bond. When Frances learns that their encounter wasn’t the by chance event she thought, she distances herself from her new friend. But Greta isn’t the easy come, easy go, type of woman and becomes obsessed with maintaining a bond with Frances.

Greta contains all of the clichés of horror films. There’s the nice well-meaning victim, Frances and her sinister nemesis, Greta. In this film genre, villains are always capable of feats of great strength, always one step of head of others, and never seem to have anything else to do in their lives but to pursue their victim(s).

It’s also troubling when films have non-credible aspects. Frances is new to New York, gullible and naive to the dangers of big city life. But then she references being from Boston. Really? Boston is not exactly a small town. It would have been easy to have her hail from any of thousands of towns and villages.

As to the acting, to make the film work, Chloe Grace Moretz has to be a character who garners viewers’ sympathy. She does. Alternatively, Isabelle Huppert, in the title role, has to be evil. She is, in the most exquisite way. Together they create the necessary drama and suspense.

Greta gets a B+ in cast diversity. It’s a small cast; so there are a limited number of characters. However, there are many people of color in supporting roles and background scenes.

When films are set in New York City, I always subject them to a New York City Realism Test. In a Gwyneth Paltrow film, she rode the G train through Manhattan. Wrong. The G train only goes between Brooklyn and Queens.

In Greta, nothing stands as not authentically New York. The writers even explain how two young women like Frances and her roommate are able to afford the large, comfortable loft where they live; her roommate’s father bought it for her.

The verdict on Greta: It’s a Rent It. No need to see it now. If you have the opportunity to see later, through some other venue, do it. It’s not a must see now.

Greta is 98 minutes long and rated R.

Apollo 11 is a trip you should take | MOVIE REVIEW

Apollo 11 is a documentary focusing on the historic 1969 Apollo 11 mission, to the moon. The film consists solely of archival footage that was previously unreleased to the public and does not feature narration or interviews. The stars are the three astronauts who made the voyage: Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. aka Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins.

Apollo 11 is educational and mildly entertaining. There’s no mystery as to how this adventure is going to turn out. It’s truly amazing as to how many components of this project, years in the making, had to come together for this mission to succeed. It’s also intriguing to listen to conversations between the astronauts in outer space and control stations in Houston. In addition to the serious informational exchanges, there was light-hearted banter.

The film also captures a time when more people smoked, men, wore shirts and ties and women, dresses, even in casual settings.

There will be some viewers who will bask in the imagery of a large number of technicians, scientist, mathematicians and laborers who worked on this project: hundreds of white men, approximately 20 black men and a handful of Asians. No women. Yep, to some, those were the good ole days!

But we also know from the 2016 film, Hidden Figures, that women played an important role in America’s space program.

Apollo 11 is a CNN film and is a See It! It’s Rated G and is 93 minutes.

Widows is a Film to Both Mourn and Celebrate [MOVIE REVIEW]

They knew their husbands were involved in the unsavory and illegal activity of thievery. And when their spouses were killed pulling off a major heist, they also knew that day might come. But what they didn’t expect was to be threatened with death, if they didn’t repay money stolen by their now deceased partners. Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki play the widows who have to delve into a world they know very little about to save their own lives.

The movie, Widows, boasts an exceptional cast and compelling story but is badly tainted by a virtual smorgasbord of negative stereotypes of the African American community.

While any plot involving criminals displays seedy characters; in Widows, this seediness if mainly painted black. There’s the dishonest, self-serving black pastor; thugs parading as legitimate politicians; a ruthless, very dark-skinned enforcer/killer; and African Americans, are referred to as people who kill each other and who can’t stop making babies.

And of the black women characters, one gets made a fool of romantically, and the other is a masculine, athletic man-woman.

As is often the case with these types of troubling portrayals, this script is the product of a black man, Steve McQueen, who co-wrote and directed the film.

Viola Davis is absolutely amazing. A powerful screen presence, coupled with an uncommon ability to display a full range of emotions, each with authenticity and credibility. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of roles for 40ish African American women and they often have to take what is offered to them.

Widows gets a cast diversity rating of “A-”. Set in Chicago, it contains actors of color but not as many Hispanics and Asians as should be, for the highly diverse Windy City.

At two hours and 10 minutes, this movie goes on way too long. As I have said in the past, few films tell a story that takes more than 90 to 100 minutes to tell. It’s rated “R” for violence and language.

The verdict is: See Widows. Despite my criticisms, if this film succeeds we’ll see more of Viola on the screen. And that would be a very good thing!

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