Quickie Review: Minding the Gap

I’m not a big fan of the skateboarding scene and when I heard this documentary was one of the five Oscar nominees, I knew I had to watch, but I wasn’t planning on getting into it much. But wow! Yes, it is set in the skateboard dude world, but it’s more than that. It’s a coming of age story of three boys/men in the depressing town of Rockford, Illinois, where skateboarding is the only good thing they have in their lives. Bing Liu is the filmmaker and one of the three. He started out just shooting for the fun of doing skate videos for YouTube, but found the stories of his two best friends resonated with his own and continued for more than a decade, ending up with a sobering take on toxic masculinity and its effect on sons. It’s not easy to watch, but it is an amazing film.

Review: I Am Not a Witch

In this odd little satirical film from Zambian-born director Rungano Nyoni, 8-year-old Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is branded a witch and sent away to the camp where all the other witches are kept. It’s a strange place that tourists are brought to to see the women (yes, they’re all female) all tied to enormous spools of white ribbon, which allow them only limited freedom to roam and keeps them from flying away. Shula is told she can either accept the spool or be transformed into a goat. She grudgingly takes on the spool.

Review: Isn’t It Romantic

Isn’t It Romantic unabashedly satirizes and celebrates the RomCom, a genre I just so happen to unabashedly embrace. So while the movie falls far short of the classics it draws upon for inspiration (Pretty Woman, My Best Friend’s Wedding, 13 Going on 30, Sweet Home Alabama, Notting Hill, When Harry Met Sally…), it’s still an entertaining watch. Isn’t It Romantic seems hyper-aware of its flaws and limitations, closing with a cheesy musical number a mere 80 minutes or so after the plot – such as it is – begins to unfold, starting with a bonk on the head. You know the drill. Revel in it. Or recoil from it. Those are your only options.

Quickie Reviews: The Isle; Untogether

The Isle is for the horror flick lovers out there. It’s set in 1846 on an island off the coast of Scotland that is shrouded in mist. Three survivors of a shipwreck row ashore to find it nearly abandoned. But then they meet the only four people still living there, a couple of women and a couple of men. And they can tell that things are not normal, and the island folks are not opening up about what happened to all the others who lived there, and the 3 men really want to get off the island, but can’t seem to find a way. Then they start dying. It takes some time for the men to figure what’s happening, and once they do, they’re powerless against it.

Review: What Men Want

What men should want is not to be dragged to this movie for Valentine’s Day. And what men – and women – deserve is a stronger spin on a plot device that worked quite well in Nancy Meyers’ 2000 romantic comedy What Women Want, starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. Gibson (before he went all weird on us) played a chauvinistic executive who learned something about himself – and his treatment of women – after a mishap gave him the ability to hear women’s inner thoughts. This time around, the genders are reversed. Taraji P. Henson plays Ali Davis, a successful sports agent in Atlanta who gains the ability to hear men’s inner thoughts. She hopes to use her newfound power (a blessing and a curse) to score a high-profile client, and land the promotion she is entitled to in the boy’s club that is her workplace.

Review: Oscar Nominated Short Films 2019

I always look forward to watching the shorts. (Short being 40 minutes or less, so some of them aren’t all that short.) This year’s crop had clear winners and losers for me in each of the categories. Some of them felt like films I’d already seen. And overall, I think there have been stronger years for shorts.  However, they’re always worth seeing.  And as I do each year, I will renew my call for theaters to start showing them before the features.

Trailers to this year’s shorts can be found here.

Review: Cold Pursuit

Cold Pursuit triggered a chilling case of deja vu. Not just because it’s another Liam Neeson revenge thriller. But because I’d seen the exact same movie before, in 2014 – a foreign film out of Norway called In Order of Disappearance (“Kraftidioten”), about a mild-mannered snowplow operator named Nils Dickman who sets out to avenge the mob-related murder of his son. Cold Pursuit is an American remake, made by the same director (Hans Petter Moland), with a few minor alterations. And I mean minor. The main character’s name has been changed to Nels Coxman (Neeson), and he’s a snowplow operator in Colorado. The narratives, the action, the motivations, the gallows humor, and the high body count remain essentially the same, as do the creatively varied ways in which people die.

Quickie Review: In Like Flynn

In Like Flynn is all about swashbuckling Errol Flynn in the days before he became a star, when he was traveling around the South Seas looking for adventure and getting in trouble. The film is loosely based on Flynn’s autobiography “Beam Ends,” and the movie was co-written by Luke Flynn, Errol’s grandson. But who knows how much of it is true? It opens with the proviso, “A Mostly True Account of the Hollywood Star’s Early Adventures.” And in the end, it doesn’t really matter. It’s a romp, and a light weight one, at that.

Quickie Review: Serenity

Chances are you’ve already heard or read: This movie kinda sucks. So I won’t delve too deep into the waters of this fish tale gone awry. Suffice it to say, I expected more (better?) from a stylized thriller with an A-list cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Jason Clarke and Djimon Hounsou. I’m not one to automatically subscribe to the “If it’s released in January, it’s gonna stink” theory. Heck, The Kid Who Would Be King is actually pretty good. And M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass is looking better by the day! So what happened here? I have to believe that the cast saw something Inception or Interstellar-like in writer/director Steven Knight’s script that simply did not translate onto the screen. It fails quite spectacularly, mainly due to a plot twist that – tempted as I may be – can’t be revealed without spoiling the whole kit and caboodle. Here’s the general set-up: A fishing boat captain named Baker Dill (McConaughey) is hired by his femme fatale ex-wife Karen (Hathaway) to take her abusive current husband Frank (Clarke) out on a fishing trip and feed him to the sharks. For his troubles, she’ll pay him 10 million dollars. That’s a lot of tuna.

Review: Stan & Ollie

Do (or did) you get a kick out of the slapstick comedy of Laurel & Hardy? If the answer is yes, then Stan & Ollie is worth a watch, primarily due to the heartfelt and moving performances of Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy. Stan & Ollie is not your traditional biographical drama. It kicks off with the legendary comedy duo at the height of their fame during Hollywood’s Golden Age circa 1930s, then fast-forwards to the pair as fading stars looking to revive their routine – and film careers – by embarking on a variety hall tour of Britain in 1953.