Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Blu-ray review: Yesterday

© Universal Pictures
Yesterday brings the music of the Beatles home on Blu-ray
by Justin Moore

I saw Yesterday over the summer when it was released and enjoyed most of the film. The Danny Boyle directed film about a world without The Beatles was heartwarming and I couldn’t wait to explore it again on Blu-ray. Yesterday centers around Jack Malik, a struggling musician who wakes one day after a crash and learns that the Beatles were never a thing. He is the only one that knows who the Beatles are and uses that to his advantage to get popular. Himesh Patel stars as Jack who finally catches his big break after his crash. In a world of superhero movies, sequels, and remakes, it is nice for original films to come along and present an appealing story.


Yesterday had such an interesting concept that made the film intriguing to watch. One of my issues the first time I saw it and it is still a gripe of mine the second time around is that Danny Boyle creates a generic film as it moves along. The movie explored what it is like to live a life of stardom and what you must give up for it. Lily James also stars in the film as Ellie Appleton. With having her in the film and exploring their relationship, the film unfortunately falls into the cliché moments despite having a unique plot. Every single time that Jack is performing a Beatles song, I loved it. The Beatles are a band that are widely popular, and the use of their songs makes the film fun to watch.


The video presentation looks crisp and bright. The moments where Jack is performing live is stunning to look at with the large crowd. I was impressed with the presentation because it was a night concert, which could have been dark and hard to see, but it was presented clearly. All the settings that Jack visits throughout the movie capture stunning details and are colorful and warm.


The audio in Yesterday is superb. The musical moments feel grand, which works since a lot of those moments are presented in front of a large crowd. The smaller musical moments of Jack playing a guitar are clear and personal. The audio is the highlight of the film since it is a movie featuring the music of the Beatles and the Beatles deserve the best.

© Universal Pictures
Special Features
The Blu-ray release of Yesterday is packed with special features ranging from alternate endings, deleted scenes, and more. A DVD and digital copy are included in the Blu-ray release.

  • Alternate ending (3:10)
  • Deleted Scenes (23:29 Total runtime)
  • Live at Abbey Road Studios (9:50) -- Three songs that Himesh Patel sang at Abby Road Studios live.
  • Alternate Opening (4:47)
  • Gag Reel (2:04)
  • A Talented Duo (3:25) -- A look at the collaboration of director and writer.
  • Playing for Real (5:35) -- This offers an inside look at the casting choice for the film and what it was like for Himesh Patel to learn how to sing, play, and perform the Beatles songs.
  • Soul Mates (4:47) -- This special feature takes a closer look at the relationship between Jack and Ellie.
  • Ed Sheeran: From Stadium to Screen (3:09) -- A look at Ed Sheeran’s role in the film.
  • Agent of Comedy: Kate McKinnon (3:17) -- A look at Kate McKinnon’s performance in the movie.
  • A Conversation with Richard & Ed (3:22) -- The writer of Yesterday and Ed Sheeran talk about the film.
  • Audio Commentary – Director Danny Boyle and writer/producer Richard Curtis talk about the production of the film in depth.
Overall, I enjoy the premise of Yesterday and all the moments involving songs from the Beatles. You can tell that Jack really was into the Beatles and it was impressive that he was able to remember all their songs when no one else couldn’t. The film does feel a bit cliched at times, which is unfortunate, but I am able to look past that and enjoy the film for what it was.

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Movie review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

© Sony Pictures
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood proves the necessity of Mr. Rogers even now
by Jeremy Fogelman

Of course I need to start with a confession: I never liked watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood as a kid. Perhaps I was already too old by the time I was even watching TV at six years old, but I do remember Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow being my jam back then. Mr. Roger’s was pleasant but often too slow and I didn’t really appreciate the show. It’s easier to appreciate what he was in retrospect, especially after last year’s emotional documentary. But did we need a Mr. Rogers biopic? Not really, and thankfully that’s not what we got.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood comes from director Marielle Heller, written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, inspired by the real life article written by Esquire writer Tom Junod in 1998 called "Can You Say ... Hero?" I recommend the article as an interesting bit of context for the movie, although I wouldn’t read it until you’ve seen the movie. Some elements are explicitly connected to the film, others are invented wholecloth.

The movie is framed as though it’s an episode of the television show, with Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks at his most sincere yet) introducing us to the story of his friend Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), the Esquire writer loosely based on Tom Junod. As we cut between scenes in different cities, the movie cleverly shows us various cityscapes in model form like the credits of the show, lending a feeling of unreality to Lloyd’s journey.

Lloyd is a new father, raising his son Gavin with his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), and a writer for Esquire magazine. His typical articles are take-downs of public figures and celebrities, but that leaves him unpopular with potential interviewees. He also has a fraught relationship (or lack thereof) with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper), who abandoned Lloyd and his mother. Jerry shows up at Lloyd’s sister’s wedding, and it doesn’t go well. Lloyd is completely uninterested in Jerry’s requests for forgiveness or insistence that he’s changed after a long term relationship.

© Sony Pictures
Then Lloyd gets a writing assignment to interview Fred Rogers, and there is a concern that the grim, cynical writer will “ruin people’s childhoods”, including his wife’s. Over the course of the movie, Lloyd’s continued interview and conversations with Mr. Rogers digs deeper and deeper into the lessons that are difficult to hear. Lloyd has difficulty believing that anyone can be so nice, but the movie reveals that it is and isn’t that simple.

The lesson here is that Mr. Rogers wasn’t a saint, but someone that worked to push back on his negative emotions and temper, and tried to spread good lessons to people, mainly children. Eventually in a scene of real emotional depth that is a truly wonderful moment of acting and directing, things begin to sink in.

The movie is unafraid to get weird, delving into hallucinatory images as Lloyd’s mind tries to get a hold of itself. Here Matthew Rhys, late of The Americans, shows off his perfect hangdog emotional complication, the self-proclaimed broken man that has an arc of healing. Chris Cooper is great like he always is in these problematic older man roles, while Susan Kelechi Watson gives depth to the “supportive partner” character type. And of course, Tom Hanks is wonderful, the driver of the movie but not the star, embodying Mr. Rogers in style and feeling without aping or impersonating him.

Ultimately this is a movie uninterested in hagiography of person but romanticism of personality. The lessons of Mr. Rogers sound so treacly and childish when you’re not in the right space to hear it, but he was always so connected to empathy and effortlessly communicative. It shows a way for anyone to get better, if they try, and that’s radical enough to praise in the slew of feel bad movies we’re getting these days.

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Monday, December 23, 2019

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Friday, December 20, 2019

Blu-ray review: Blinded By the Light

© Warner Bros. Pictures
Blinded by the Light is for any fans of The Boss
by Justin Moore

Blinded by the Light was released in theaters over the summer and was met with positive reviews. I missed the movie then, but thanks to Warner Bros., the Blu-ray copy they sent me to review will allow me to finally see what people were so excited about over the summer. Blinded by the Light was directed by Gurinder Chadha, who directed the 2000 sports film Bend it Like Beckham. This is inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and his love for Bruce Springsteen. The film stars Viveik Kalra as Javed, a British-Pakistani Muslim teenager whose life is changed after he discovers the music of The Boss. The movie also stars Haley Atwell as a creative writing teacher, who pushes Javed to continue writing. Javed feels out of place at his new school. He struggles in his writing class and is rejected from the school’s writing paper. He feels that he is going nowhere with his writing, but once he discovers Springsteen, everything changes. Blinded by the Light takes a deep look at the power of music. When someone discovers an artist, they start to relate to them and it's all they think about. Viveik Kalra gives a fantastic performance as someone who struggles with the fact that they may not be the best writer they can be. The beginning of the film offers a realistic look at that struggle, but the film picks up and becomes jubilant once he discovers Springsteen. He starts to feel better about life, asks a girl out, starts writing more and everything just seems to fall in place for him. Music has that power on one’s life and Blinded by the Light and Kalra capture that well.


One of the things I found most impressive about Blinded by the Light and its presentation was the use of shadows. When Javed first listens to the Boss and runs outside, the use of shadows behind him provide excellent detail and offer a nice bonus to the movie. Chadha also utilizes lyrics on the screen, which has become popular lately, but they were done in an effective way that captured the lyrics that resonated with Javed.


This is a movie where the audio needs to shine. If the audio wasn’t at least decent, we wouldn’t be able to feel Springsteen’s lyrics the same way that Javed felt about them. Luckily, Warner Bros. put a lot of effort into this release. The moments with Springsteen’s music feel grand and the pop music soundtrack sounds so clear

Special Features

  • Memoir to Movie (6:09) – Blinded by the Light was adapted from 'Greetings from Bury Park – Race, Religion, Rock n Roll' by Sarfraz Manzoor (who also co-wrote the screenplay). This special feature takes an inside look at adapting the source material as well as shooting in Luton.
  • The Most Crazy Thing (6:54) – Sarfraz Manzoor talks about his love for Bruce Springsteen, writing his memoir, and what it was like to have the film approved by Bruce Springsteen himself.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (9:19)- There are two deleted scenes provided for the film as well as one extended scene.
  • Digital Copy – A digital copy code is provided with the movie to download on Movies Anywhere.


Blinded by the Light was a very surprising film. I enjoyed how heartfelt it was. Springsteen’s music was powerful within the movie and the use of the lyrics on the screen were able to capture how Javed felt. At its core, it is a film about how an artist can change someone’s life and if anyone listens to music, they can relate to this movie. I also fell in love with Bruce Springsteen a little more with this movie!

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment generously provided Hotchka with a Blu-ray version of the film for reviewing purposes.

Blinded by the Light is available on Blu-ray/DVD from Target.com and the WBShop.com and on Digital from FandangoNow. Make any purchase through the links and help support Hotchka!

Blinded By the Light BD - TargetBlinded By the Light DVD - Target

Blinded By the Light - FandangoNowBlinded By the Light BD - WBShop

Blinded By the Light soundtrack available from Target.com.

Blinded By the Light CD - Target

Greetings from Bury Park – Race, Religion, Rock n Roll by Sarfraz Manzoor available from BN.com.

Greetings from Bury Park - B&N

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Movie review: The Report

© Amazon Studios
I don’t care for political movies, but I liked The Report
by Justin Moore

I’m not one for political movies. I mostly ignore politics, which is hard nowadays since it is all over social media. Whenever there is a new political movie, I often skip it, but I wanted to check out The Report solely because of Adam Driver. Driver has three films coming out in the span of a month. His two films in December (Marriage Story and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) are a perfect way to cap off the year.

Adam Driver stars as Daniel Jones, an FBI agent who is tasked with investigating the CIA’s use of torture on suspected terrorists. After the 9/11 attacks, the CIA adopted new interrogation techniques. With not paying too much attention to politics, I was not too familiar with this report and investigation, so I went into the movie with an open mind.

The movie presented the argument of why the report needed to be made and why it should be destroyed. Throughout the film, many people were trying to convince Daniel Jones that his report should be destroyed since the CIA was trying to stop future attacks by interrogating suspected terrorists. On Daniel Jones side, he believes that no human should be interrogating people the way the CIA was. By having both arguments present, it makes the report more urgent and the film more gripping.

Adam Driver has shown throughout the years that he is a talented actor. He can balance comedic and dramatic roles. He is very believable in his role and truly is invested in his character. The report Jones is writing up is a very long document, which requires hours and hours of hard work, and Driver easily convinces the audience that Jones was motivated to finish the report.

I was surprised with the large cast that is in this movie. The cast includes Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Corey Stoll, Michael C. Hall, and Maura Tierney. Everyone has an important role in the film, big or small, and makes the report feel important all the way till the last few minutes when Senator John McCain read the report.

Scott Z. Burns hasn’t directed a movie since 2006 but has spent most of career writing films that are directed by Steven Soderbergh, who also serves as the producer for The Report. He keeps the movie feeling quick and rarely slows down. As someone who isn’t into politics, I appreciated the quick pace for the film since I always remained interested.

I was surprised with how much I liked The Report. If I scrolled through my favorite films of recent years, there wouldn’t be a political thriller in there. The Report won’t crack my top ten of the year, but I am glad I sat down and watched it. And hey, I learned things about the CIA and FBI!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Movie review: Honey Boy

© Amazon Studios
Honey Boy is the most daring film of 2019
by Justin Moore

Shia LaBeouf has enjoyed a lengthy career since his days on the Disney Channel show Even Stevens in the early 2000s to his most recent summer movie, The Peanut Butter Falcon. I think Shia LaBeouf is an underrated actor and most of his recent films have great performances from him. His newest film, Honey Boy, which he also writes, is probably his best performance ever and a daring film as well.

Honey Boy is inspired by Shia LaBeouf’s upbringings with his father and his childhood fame. Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges both play Otis, who is essentially LaBeouf and Shia LaBeouf plays his own dad, whose real name is Jefferey, but goes by James in the film. There aren’t many movies that have an actor play their father in a film. Straight Outta Compton had O’Shea Jackson Jr. play his father in the movie. It is a unique approach that can bring authenticity to the role. Shia LaBeouf witnessed first-hand how his father treated him, so he is able to bring a realistic performance to the movie.

LaBeouf easily could have written his father as a disgusting human, but he decided to mix what he loved about his father and what he hated. LaBeouf has described his father as a “tough as nails kind of person” but he loved his father and his father loved him. He brought heartwarming moments to the role of his father, but also presented moments that made LaBeouf’s life so hard. We get to see the effects his father had on him as an adult, played by Lucas Hedges. Both Jupe and Hedges give such a surreal performance as the same character, who is struggling to connect with his father. Lucas Hedges picks his roles wisely and only appears in films when it is award season. Besides appearing in Honey Boy this year, he will also be starring in Waves later this year. With films like Lady Bird, Manchester by the Sea, and Boy Erased, Hedges is proving to be strong presence in Hollywood.

At times this movie is heartwarming when you are witnessing Otis interacting with his father and how he is helping him, but as the movie progresses we witness a harsher side to Otis’ father. The film quickly becomes a devastating, heartbreaking film that shows how a father can affect your life for the good or bad. The film started off with an older Otis as he was filming a movie, and during breaks drank alcohol and was constantly putting himself and others in harm. As the movie jumps back and forth between an older and younger Otis, we get to witness why he acts the way he does.

Honey Boy is a film that is daring but paid off in the end. The idea of this movie first threw me off, but it ended up being a powerful film with strong performances. A lot of people don’t like to talk about their childhood if they had one similar to LaBeouf’s but I thought it was brave of him to write a screenplay that put all of his hard upbringings on the screen for everyone to witness. At times he can make this film relatable with how his father is treating him, which makes the film realistic, even if Otis is a childhood star.

Honey Boy trailer
© Amazon Studios

Movie review: Waves

© A24
Waves comes crashing in and leaves me wrecked
by Justin Moore

Trey Edwards Shults has only directed three films since directing Krisha back in 2015. His follow up to Krisha, It Comes at Night, was a polarizing horror film that was met with mixed reviews. His latest film Waves is by far his best film. The film stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., Sterling K. Brown, Taylor Russell, and Lucas Hedges and centers on a suburban family as they navigate love, forgiveness and coming together in the wake of a loss.

Shults is an impressive director. His directing style always feels like it is in a constant motion. Early on in the movie, Shults shows off his directing style by moving the camera in a circle to showcase the characters and their surroundings. He often resorts to that style, but it always remains unique. Even when the characters are still, the camera is always moving.

This is a simple film about family, love, loss, and forgiveness. For the first 30 minutes or so, I didn’t see what the draw to this movie was. It seemed to have no focus or structure but as the film progressed, I understood the core of the film. The family consists of four members and the younger son and daughter get most of the screen time. Kelvin Harrison Jr., who shined in Luce earlier this year, stars as Tyler, a popular high school senior on the wrestling team. He often parties with his friends. After hurting his shoulder during wrestling, he becomes addicted to painkillers. This is where the film takes a turn and becomes devastating. The film's theme of loss and love hit hard. There are so many heartbreaking moments within the second act of the film as we see Tyler become more distant from his family and more aggressive with his girlfriend. The film focused a lot on Tyler and I thought the movie was going to stay focused on him but the third act of the movie focuses on his younger sister Emily.

The film remains emotional once Emily is the center of the movie, but it manages to add some lovely moments. She connects with Luke, played by Lucas Hedges, who is one of Tyler’s teammates. As Emily is dealing with shame and rage from her brother’s actions, she lets Luke into her life, and together they enjoy themselves amidst a time that is hard for her. Taylor Russell was fantastic in her role. The moments where she is thinking about her brother’s actions are heavy and believable, so when Luke makes her happy, the smile on Emily’s face says a lot.

Waves is an emotional rollercoaster. At times I felt pure joy as Emily and Luke were building a genuine connection but I also felt completely wrecked by watching Tyler’s storyline. At the end of the film, I just sat there and watched the credits roll and thought about what I just saw. 2019 has offered plenty of great films, most coming within the last month or so, and Waves is one of the best.

Waves trailer
© A24

Crisis on Infinite Earths Parts 1-3

© The CW
It’s here!
by Brandon Coulson

Part 1

Crisis started with a lot of fan service but done in a pretty interesting way. To establish just how widespread the destruction was we got a quick series of scenes on multiple Earths all about to be destroyed. Robert Wuhl’s Knox character from the 1989 Batman, DC Universe’s Titans, even original Robin Burt Ward all made quick cameos and as far as we know were wiped out by the wave of antimatter destroying the multiverse.

Even Super nerd Will Wheaton makes a cameo as an end of the world nut job. The pace of the first episode of the crossover was almost exhausting the way it ping-ponged from character to character, desperate to set up so many threads and give those in the audience unfamiliar with any one of the five main shows some semblance of understanding. The main takeaway is just about everyone who watches this is going to be lost at some point about something, so you just gotta go with the flow.

© The CW
There were some clumsy and frustrating fakeouts early on in the destruction of Argo and the supposed death of Superman and Lois Lane. While the scene of them shooting their son off in a rocket both mirrored Superman's origins, even some of Marlon Brando’s dialogue, as well as Alexander Luthor’s from the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” comics the crossover is based on. Later having Clark and Lois teleported away at the last minute with their son lost seemed unnecessary in an already overstuffed special. Even more pointless was the journey to the alternate future to save the child and give us another look at old Ollie for pretty much no reason. Frankly, aside from the gray hair he looks just like the main Oliver and it brought things to a screeching halt. Yes, it did fix a plot hole in having a future Oliver even though he is supposed to be dead but really, who cares?

There were some very sweet moments as well though, from the heart-to-heart with Kara to Mia getting her own Green Arrow suit, the heart was there. The fights with the Antimonitor’s blue meanies however was the worst kind of CG mess while those poor actors kicked and punched into nothingness.

Part 1 does end on quite a surprise though as the Monitor is shown to not know everything. After saying Ollie would die well into the final confrontation, he ends up dying saving billions from Kara’s Earth. Poor Stephen Amell did his best here but we all know his looks were always his strongest skill way ahead of his acting, and the death scene just felt awkward. What it did do was establish that anything can happen and The Monitor’s omnipotence is no longer a thing. This all brought us to…

© The CW
Part 2

Now Part 2 was both incredibly satisfying and an incredible gut punch. With the team mourning Oliver’s death, things went into some very unexpected directions, good and bad.

The whole thing about promising the Legends no more crossovers made me sad as it meant half of the legends were absent from the crossover. I don’t know if this was budget or scheduling, or perhaps to not address the big changes from last season's end. However they did cheat and grab Mick from another Earth with a Waverider equipped with a Captain Cold AI. Pretty brilliant and very enjoyable.

The sequence with baby Jonathan crying, continually interrupting the Monitor, was very cute as he gets traded from person to person ending up with Mick. The whole paragon thing seemed a bit forced to me, especially seeing as all but one ended up being from established CW series, but it did provide room for plenty of fake outs.

As they started looking for the paragons, Luthor went on a Superman massacre. These two storylines led us to the two most anticipated cameos of the crossover by far. As we got to Gotham and that old animated series theme started up I got goosebumps. The man who has been Batman’s voice for almost thirty years finally got to be the Bat in the flesh. Kevin Conroy and his assistant, a very ripped Luke Fox, got face time with Kate and Kara. Oh boy, these showrunners are gonna get some hate mail as Conroy’s Batman ends up being a bitter and murderous version. But it was so fun seeing him take that character he’s played so long to such a dark place … and then die on screen! Jesus, I did not see that coming!

Luthor’s trip gave us a dead hero as well as we got a brief glimpse of one version of Superman he murdered, just to give us an homage to the nineties "Death of Superman" comics. But the big payoff was his next victim in Smallville, Kansas as Tom Welling returned! The scene and Tom specifically played things kind of odd and aloof, almost awkwardly so. But the reveal that he no longer is affected by Kryptonite because he gave up his powers to have a family, such a nice button on that story and seeing Erica Durance back with Tom just gave me a smile.

Of course we eventually got to see Brandon Routh back in the red and blue and again, just fantastic both in fan service and letting Routh just go for it, even interacting with his Legends character. Using the classic Superman theme during Routh’s scenes also gave things that extra air of gravitas.

My only real gripe with Part 2 is the immediate journey to use a Lazarus pit to resurrect Oliver felt like it completely undercut the death. More on that in a bit but seeing as it gave reason to bring Constantine in, one of my favorites, I’ll allow it. All that and a tease of Lyla with the Anti-Monitor and we got to…

© The CW
Part 3

So lets be honest, that Birds of Prey cameo, that’s for like the four people who watched that series right? Cause I am a DC super nerd and never had one iota of interest in that series.

But Part 3 has to be my favorite of the three episodes so far, just ever so slightly over Part 2 and miles ahead of Part 1. We meet Ryan Choi who is a paragon as well as heavily rumored to be the new Atom as Brandon Routh has announced he’s leaving the CW. Cisco was back to his old self, both as Vibe thanks to the Monitor as well as the amount of shade he was throwing at the Anti’s moniker and Pariah’s suit.

The most shocking cameo of the crossover came from the journey to purgatory for Oliver’s soul as on Earth 666 we met Lucifer, yeah, like the Fox to Netflix series! Unexpected, crazy and kinda perfect. Following that the actual finding and reminding Oliver who he is happened way too easy and then suddenly the Spectre showed up seemingly to make Oliver the new Spectre. For those who don’t know, The Spectre is God’s Spirit of Vengeance and an incredibly powerful character in the comics. I’m betting Oliver as The Spectre is what brings back everyone who was killed in Crisis.

Speaking of killed, that brings us to the Flash and his big sacrifice. Not so fast Barry cause other Barry has some thoughts on that. Yes, the big showdown this episode was at a treadmill powered by John Wesley Shipp’s Flash. After a bunch of exposition and rolling Black Lightning into the mix, Earth 1’s Barry is ready to make the ultimate sacrifice, until Shipp steals his speed and his place. I gotta say I knew they wouldn’t kill the primary Barry but this whole swapping out of Flashes felt kind of cheap to me. What redeemed it was having Shipp disintegrate in the iconic crisis manner and even tossing a flashback to his series.

The banter and heart-to-heart moments really made this part special. Kate and Kara had a very nice moment, their friendship is being built up as a new cornerstone to the CWverse or whatever they will call it once Arrow is gone. Also I really liked Black Lightning and Barry’s conversation on loss and moving forward. All while the multiverse was getting wiped out.

Yeah, Marvel had a cliffhanger with half the universe being wiped out, but DC left us with all of existence save a handful of heroes whisked off to the Vanishing Point ready to make one last stand against the Anti-Monitor... in a  month! Of course one last twist came as Routh’s Superman had one more loss as he gets swapped with Lex Luthor officially taking the one and only non-CW character out of the final battle. One little Easter egg was that Luthor shows up, not with the Book of Destiny but “The Count of Monte Cristo”. A book about a man who is wrongly imprisoned and escapes to wreak vengeance on those who did him wrong. Surely just how Luthor sees himself. Cryer has absolutely killed it as Luthor, so seeing him go on to the final showdown should be quite entertaining.

So with the first three of five down what do we think so far? Cheesy? Yes. Was it mostly fan service? You Betcha! Were the limits of a TV budget painfully on display? Whoa boy, they certainly were! But was it fun? Let me say as a lifelong comic fan I was and am giddy to see such a ridiculous and iconic story brought to life.  My biggest hope is coming out of the Crisis and let's be honest, when everyone save three or four characters gets brought back to life, that the CW uses this the same way DC did - to clean up continuity. Fold these worlds together, make things simpler, aside from that let’s go full steam ahead, January can’t come soon enough!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Movie review: Marriage Story

© Netflix

Marriage Story breaks and warms the heart in a story about people losing each other
by Jeremy Fogelman

A lot of movies have an autobiographical vibe to them, sometimes subtle or subconscious, sometimes obvious and intentional like Lulu Wang’s The Farewell. Obviously all of Woody Allen’s movies are that sort of nonsense, but I think that usually adding more of a layer between fiction and reality often works better. And the emotions can still be truth.

Marriage Story comes from director/writer Noah Baumbach, inspired by his own separation from Jennifer Jason Leigh a few years ago. Here we follow a couple at the end of their marriage as they try to figure out how to handle the new trauma of divorce. Scarlett Johansson plays Nicole the wife, an actor who was known for a hit college movie when she was younger and is now mainly working in the theater in New York City where they leave. Her frequent collaborator and director is Charlie (Adam Driver), the husband, who has his own issues.

Although the two start off thinking that they’ll handle it all easily and without lawyers, things change when Nicole moves back to Los Angeles with their son Henry to accept a new, exciting acting opportunity and where all of her family lives. Although Charlie often visits, and gets along with his soon to be ex for the most part, he gets served papers from Nicole in an awkward, amusing scene, as Nicole has decided to get a lawyer after all.

This is Nora (Laura Dern), and she presents a more potentially acrimonious and destructive side that gets mirrored when Charlie considers a lawyer of his own, first the equally harsh Jay (Ray Liotta) but then later the milder, less intense Bert (Alan Alda). As the two battle back and forth in ways small and large, old pains and arguments arise and things get inevitably worse. There’s an underlying theme and questions of LA vs NY, a fight of exaggeration and the secrets only someone who was truly close could say.

© Netflix
The couple isn’t simply hateful and angry, they still have something there between them, even if it isn’t romance any longer. Neither is a cliché or caricature, both seem like real people, caught up in the drama of the divorce but mainly wanting not to lose their son entirely. The movie builds and builds until it explodes, but it feels so real.

This a movie built on naturalistic dialogue with a hint of romanticism, impeccably acted by two attractive people fallen out of love with each other. Adam Driver plays his role as a man trying to balance precariously without falling over, always with a hint or patina of fear below his actions. I’ve been a fan of the dude for a while, and he’s someone who’s always had a great sense of his own physicality and how to channel emotion through it.

Scarlett Johansson continues her year of great performances (after Avengers: Endgame and Jojo Rabbit) with a wholly different role but one with significant emotional depth. Her loyalty to Woody Allen is really the only thing that I can possibly say against her favor, because she’s such an underrated talent, dramatically and comedically.

The movie skips along with an excellent pace despite being over two hours; this is easily my favorite of Noah Baumbach’s movies (I sometimes have found them a bit pretentious at times), but this feels the least cruel, cold, or hipster. This is a movie where you can’t help but root for two people that are fighting each other because they have no other idea what to do.

This is that time of year where there’s an awful lot of good movies coming our, and Marriage Story is definitely a good one to see. It may hurt at first, but it won’t leave you that way. 

Marriage Story has a run time of 2 hours 16 minutes and has is rated R for language throughout and sexual references. Click on the image below to view the trailer.

Marriage Story trailer

Monday, December 2, 2019

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Saturday, November 30, 2019

Movie Review - Away

© Subliminal Films
'Away' offers a minimalistic, immersive adventure in an escape from reality
by Jeremy Fogelman

Some movies are stuffed with too much plot to even preview in a review, but others have so little or are so basic that it’s basically a sentence or more to explain what it’s all about. The entire nature of a filmmaker being involved with a film often involves many layers between them and their final output, the various producers, studio notes, etc. There is something a bit different when the vision is an elevated student film.

Away comes from director Gints Zilbalodis, who also wrote and animated it. The style of the animation is all colors and no lines, although it’s not particularly impressionistic. There is no dialogue, only mild sound effects and an ever-present score. The movie follows a young boy crash landed (or so it seems) on a mysterious island by himself and with little help. In the style of a classic video game, he finds useful tools like a water canteen and a small motorbike, and the movie also switches between “stages” in a similar way.

You see all biomes here, desert and forest, jungle and mountain, snow and plains. Thus the feeling of showing off a different style of overcoming obstacles and solving puzzles. With a stark note of empathy, the boy rescues a small yellow bird, which is something to clearly pay dividends later. But as he explores, he sees a mysterious dark giant, shadowed and with two enormous white eyes, heading towards him.

It’s obvious that it’s something sinister or dangerous, or so it seems. The ultimate “point” or meaning behind the giant is a bit muddled, simplified to an extreme design and nature, assisted by the occasionally creepy score. Just like a game, the boy passes through various circular gates of stone, symbolic of the new places he must visit, with title cards to indicate the newest adventure or puzzle to be overcome.

The movie isn’t very long at all, more impressive as a feat of coherent story together than anything like a wonderful feat of animation and meaning since it came from one person. To me, the fact that there is a particular vibe and energy to the movie speaks well to the creator, a sort of sleepy, heightened reality of mysterious circumstances.

There’s a lot of design choices that remind me of all the various mysterious islands I’ve seen over the years, but this movie is more interested in trying to get you to empathize with the boy with no name who never speaks. For the most part, this is successful, even if some of the weird parts don’t quite work; they are often too weird or not weird enough.

Still, I think the ambience flows well and the movie isn’t boring, leaving an impression of something with mild substance if not depth. I think it bodes well for the future of the animator/director/creator.

© Subliminal Films

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Dancing With the Stars S28E10: Semi-Finals

DWTS Semi-Finals Night Was Redemption Night for Front-Runners
By Kim Krober

It was Semi-Finals Night on Dancing with the Stars. The first round was the Redemption Round, during which each couple was given the chance to redeem a previous dance the judges felt could have benefited from more precision or traditional dance content. The second round was a regular round of competition. Rather than experiencing the usual pang of sadness, I'm almost relieved that the competition will be over next week, as this season has felt exhausting to rally behind at times. Let's see how your favorites did during this tenth week of competition:

Lauren Alaina & Gleb Savchenko, Paso Doble
Lauren and Gleb were tasked by Len to redeem their Paso Doble. Set to Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger", their redemption Paso Doble was full of attack. Len felt it had a lovely mix of expression and aggression with improved shaping. Bruno admired the way Lauren handled all of the men in the routine, saying she looked more centered and so much stronger than the last time. Carrie Ann could tell how far she has come, saying she commands the dance floor now. Erin Andrews complimented her for owning her black velvet outfit, to which I would have to agree.
Score: 27

Kel Mitchell & Witney Carson, Tango
Kel and Witney were asked by Bruno to redeem their Tango to The Temptations' "Get Ready". I didn't care for the disjarring way Kel kept changing facial expressions between intense and fun-loving Kel. Bruno was proud of him though, saying he delivered on everything he asked, praising him for ejecting his personality into the dance. Carrie Ann admired the way he's become more refined in his movements and how he applies every criticism into making  improvements. Len said it had an intensity he liked and he complimented Kel for really attacking the dance.
Score: 27

Ally Brooke & Sasha Farber, Viennese Waltz
Ally and Sasha were asked by Len to improve their turns in the Viennese Waltz. Set to Ed Sheeran's "Perfect", it looked pretty perfect to me. Len thought it was wonderful with a lovely gentleness and better technique, saying she went from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Bruno enjoyed the emotion, saying it was a joy to watch. Carrie Ann commended her ability to convey so much emotion in the dance. It earned her two 10's and a 9 from Len.
Score: 29

Hannah Brown & Alan Bersten, Rumba
Carrie Ann challenged Hannah and Alan to redeem their Rumba from Week Three, which failed to show enough hip action. I could appreciate how Hannah felt about the judges personally attacking her week after week. At times, their critiques did feel a bit harsh this season. Set to Sam Smith and Normani's "Dancing with a Stranger", it sparkled beyond just their outfits, as Hannah proved she has earned her spot in the Semi-Finals. Carrie Ann appreciated seeing Hannah's journey, saying she was more noticeably open in her movements. Len thought she married the hip and arm actions perfectly. Bruno said it worked for her, praising the serious body motion. It was another trio of 9's.
Score: 27

James Van Der Beek & Emma Slater, Cha-Cha
Len tasked James and Emma to improve their Cha-Cha from Week Two, which marked his lowest score of the competition. Len told him to cut out the gimmicks and concentrate on the dance moves. Set to "Canned Heat" from Jamiroquai, James' redemption Cha-Cha was a lot of fun with a disco vibe. Len didn't seem to love the routine ... he apparently felt it still had too many gimmicks. Bruno called it a disco Cha-Cha extravaganza, but he noticed James was off the beat. Carrie Ann felt it was entertaining, although she thought his posture was broken during the dance. Why did the judges suddenly throw a trio of 8's at the show's clear front-runner?
Score: 24

Round Two

Lauren Alaina & Gleb Savchenko, Viennese Waltz
Set to "Humble and Kind" by Tim McGraw, Lauren's Viennese Waltz illustrated why she deserves to be in the Semi-Finals. Her pink dress and movements were absolutely gorgeous. Len thought it was elegant and graceful, while Bruno called it classy and sophisticated with a sizzling chemistry. Carrie Ann said they had become one and admired Lauren for growing up and blossoming in this competition.
Score: 27

Kel Mitchell & Witney Carson, Contemporary
Set to Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You", Kel's Contemporary was dedicated to the memory of one of his close childhood friends whose life was cut short by gun violence. Contemporary dances are always full of raw energy and emotion, and Kel did not disappoint. Bruno called it pure art with fluid lifts and a sincerity about it. Carrie Ann was brought to tears by the riveting storytelling. Len did something truly surprising and gave Kel a standing ovation without any words. Unsurprisingly, he earned a perfect score for his Contemporary.
Score: 30

Ally Brooke & Sasha Farber, Charleston
Set to "Sing, Sing, Sing" by Benny Goodman, Ally and Sasha's Charleston was full of swing. I'll never understand why she's been in the bottom two so many times this season, as she's clearly one of the best dancers on the show. Carrie Ann praised it for being an in-sync show-stopper, while Len said it was fun, fabulous, and joyful with lots of Charleston references. Bruno called it a tonic for the spirit with elements of swing, Lindy Hop, and classic Hollywood musicals. It was another amazing bit of choreography on Sasha's part and another perfect score from the judges.
Score: 30

James Van Der Beek & Emma Slater, Foxtrot
I had a feeling James' bad news was going to be that he and his wife, Kimberly, lost the baby they were expecting, but it didn't stop my heart from pouring out tears on his behalf after they confirmed that suspicion in his package. Dancing a Foxtrot to "Take Me to Church" by Hozier, James dedicated his dance to his wife for pushing him out on the dance floor this week, saying, "When there are no words, you dance." Len admired his ability to come out and dance with so much feeling, with Bruno echoing the sentiment and praising his flow and lines. Carrie Ann said she felt silly for talking about his posture after everything he was going through but wanted to compliment him for it anyway. He may not have been at the top of his game, but I still think he has the heart of a champion. He didn't deserve to be at the bottom of the leader board this week.
Score: 27

Hannah Brown & Alan Bersten, Contemporary
Dancing a Contemporary routine to "Lose You to Love Me" by Selena Gomez, Hannah was able to channel a lot of emotion for one of her best dances this season. Bruno liked the wonderful dynamic with the lifts and drops. Carrie Ann loved seeing the trust between Hannah and her partner. Len admitted he doesn't normally like Contemporary dances, but he felt this was a great dance with a real connection between the couple. It was a great end - or maybe a beginning - to her journey.
Score: 27

With five deserving couples remaining, I knew this was going to be the toughest elimination yet (although I didn't know just how tough). It was revealed that Ally & Sasha and James & Emma were in the bottom two. Carrie Ann and Bruno both voted to save Ally and Sasha (Len chimed in he also would have saved Ally and Sasha for the record). In one of the most noble and sincere gestures I've ever witnessed on the program, a visibly shaken Ally kept asking if she could go home instead of James, but of course that isn't allowed (not that James would take that honor away from her anyway).

Ally earned her spot in the Finals so I'm not upset by the judges' decision, but James also deserved to be there. He may not have had the best week, but he was dealt some of the most heartbreaking news a person can be given and still came out and gave it his all. No disrespect to any of the other couples, but this was the final straw that broke the camel's back. I think I need a break from this show. I'm torn between rooting for Kel & Witney and rooting for Ally & Sasha next week, but in my heart of hearts, James & Emma deserved to be in that third spot duking it out for the Mirror Ball Trophy and you're never going to convince me otherwise. Any win is going to feel a bit empty now.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Dancing With the Stars S28E09: Boy Band & Girl Group Night

DWTS preps for Semi-Finals with Boy Band & Girl Group Night
By Kim Krober

Dancing with the Stars dusted off some familiar favorites for the star-studded opening of Boy Band and Girl Group Night, but the best thing was seeing guest judge Joey Fatone dancing and lip syncing to an *NSYNC song (right before he split his pants in an ambitious jump). Scheduling conflicts prevented Baby Spice from appearing. The Semi-Finals are next week, and everyone found themselves scrambling to learn two routines this week. Let's see how your favorites did during this ninth week of competition:

James Van Der Beek & Emma Slater, Jive
James set an enthusiastic pace for the evening with his opening Jive to "I'm So Excited" by The Pointer Sisters. Len thought the kicks were sharp and aggressive, while Joey admired how easy he makes it look week after week. Bruno loved the frenzied excitement, but he did note it could have had more pumping in the legs. Carrie Ann said he once again achieved a smooth excellence, but she thought he was a hair ahead of the music.
Score: 36

Sean Spicer & Lindsay Arnold, Argentine Tango
Jenna (filling in for Lindsay) was back with Sean to dance an Argentine Tango to Destiny's Child's "Bills, Bills, Bills". I think he looked better this week, striking a serious facial expression for a serious dance made him look less goofy. Joey said his frame was good from the waist up, but his feet could use work. Bruno said it was more of an Argentine straggle than an Argentine Tango. Carrie Ann appreciates his hard work, but she said the artistry and storytelling through the nuances of the dance are missing. Len said the best thing about it was that it wasn't very long.
Score: 26

Hannah Brown & Alan Bersten, Salsa
Hannah's Salsa to TLC's "No Scrubs" looked difficult to me, but she seemed to be enjoying herself. Bruno said it was good to see her confidence continuing to grow, but her timing was off. Carrie Ann called it fierce, but noted the lifts were out of sorts. Len liked the lifts, but he could tell she was ahead of the beat. Joey could tell the tricks were a bit sloppy, but felt she did a great job overall.
Score: 32

Ally Brooke & Sasha Farber, Samba
Ally channeled her inner Spice Girl for a Samba set to "Wannabe". I really hope she isn't in the bottom two again! Carrie Ann said being in a girl group paid off, although she called Ally and Sasha "The Wonder Twins" for dancing perfectly in sync. Len said there was plenty of recognizable Samba and fantastic technique. Joey told her she did an amazing job, while Bruno said he wanted more of that - a proper, technically right Samba. It was another perfect score from the judges!
Score: 40

Lauren Alaina & Gleb Savchenko, Quickstep
Lauren and Gleb got to do an adorable Quickstep to The Supremes' "Can't Hurry Love" and Mary Wilson was back to show support. Len loved the spin turn and some other special steps though the dance wasn't perfect, while Joey thought the energy was good but the frame wasn't quite right. Bruno said she captured the joy of a timeless classic perfectly, but the precision of the Quickstep just wasn't there. Carrie Ann called it fantastic, saying she loved it. It was enough to garner two 8's and two 9's from the judges.
Score: 34

Kel Mitchell & Witney Carson, Paso Doble
Kel's Paso Doble to "Free Your Mind" by En Vogue was full of attack. Is there anything Kel can't do? I wasn't aware that he was also a youth pastor. Joey thought it was an awesome job. Bruno said he set off the seismographs in California with the power of the performance. Carrie Ann told him he needed to free his arms and dance bigger, while Len told him it had too many gimmicks and not even Paso Doble content for his world.
Score: 34

James Van Der Beek & Emma Slater, Jazz
James used to hang out with *NSYNC when they were underage? I loved his Jazz routine to "Bye Bye Bye". Len said it was too much of a Boy Band routine with too much aggression and too much solo dancing. Joey said if he could give it a 100, he would. Bruno loved it and the body language, though he did admit he could've paid a little more attention to Emma. Carrie Ann admired his perseverance, although his elbows didn't quite match everyone else's. It was a mixed reaction from the judges. Thankfully, Joey was there to give him a 10.
Score: 36

Hannah Brown & Alan Bersten, Tango
I've never heard of the current Boy Band that Hannah's Tango was set to, but I thought her dance turned out well. Joey thought it was the best dance of the night. Bruno was purring like a kitten afterwards, calling it pure, undiluted pleasure with elegance and passion and old school glamour. Carrie Ann could feel the pressure of the competition, thanking her for bringing back her "A" game, while Len said it had great frame.
Score: 39

Sean Spicer & Lindsay Arnold, Foxtrot
Sean and Jenna attempted a Foxtrot to One Direction's "Story of My Life". I loved their costumes. Bruno said his dancing always goes in one direction, but it was a bit clumpy instead of fluid. Carrie Ann could tell he lost his step, but she knows he's doing the best he can. Len said it flowed, and then splattered with a few drips, before flowing again and then ultimately stopping. Joey admires his ability to keep going and that he's been on a journey.
Score: 24

Lauren Alaina & Gleb Savchenko, Rumba
Lauren and Gleb did the Rumba to Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way". Carrie Ann was blown away by how much she's grown during the competition, admiring her vulnerability and artistic explosion. Len liked the surefooted movement. Joey said he would give it a 0 based on the song choice, but all joking aside, told her she did a great job. Bruno called it smoldering, saying if you were ordering a hot Rumba, call Lauren because she delivers.
Score: 36

Kel Mitchell & Witney Carson, Viennese Waltz
Kel looked debonair for his Viennese Waltz to Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You". Len thought it was terrific, calling it a polished performance. Joey said it was amazing, while Bruno told him he danced like a perfect gentleman with a soft touch and musical phrasing. Carrie Ann agreed, admiring how he incorporated her comment about his arms from the first dance into this dance.
Score: 40

Ally Brooke & Sasha Farber, Jazz
A Jazz routine to New Kids on the Block's "Step by Step"!? Yes! Joey said their energy was amazing and he loved the fun storytelling. Bruno called it "pure pop delight" and praised Ally for channeling his friend Paula Abdul. Carrie Ann felt it was flawless, while Len could tell her bubbly personality was reflected in the fun routine.
Score: 40

Lauren and Sean were in the bottom two. To the surprise of no one, the judges saved Lauren and Gleb, although they admired Sean for being a good sport. Finally, Sean went home! How is it time for the Semi-Finals already? How did your favorites fare this week?