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Mr. Holmes

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****

A man abandoned his family and wrote his son a story. He wouldn’t be the first to cloak his cowardice in a flag of sacrifice.

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This is a depressing movie about a retired Sherlock Holmes whose mind is failing him. It promises to be very sad, but then you get to go on one final adventure with him. But you then realize why he is retired and that is sad. The movie is well filmed and well acted, although everything is rather reserved — not shocking for English and Japanese cultures.

The highlight was a two part interaction between Tamiki Umezaki—Shingen, The Wolverine—and Holmes—Ian McKellan, Gandalf/Magneto. All their scenes were great, really. When Holmes writes his last letter to him it is a masterstroke, perfectly done by director Bill Condon—Beauty and the Beast. This was a tragic story, little, but compact and powerful.

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Sing Street

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****

Rock and roll is a risk. You risk being ridiculed.

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Raphina–Lucy Boynton–is the best character in this movie about teen boys trying to be cool. The timing jumped all over the place and seemed a bit like a fantasy. That she was more than a pixie dream girl was a pleasant surprise. The way she made 18 seem like an adult was also impressive. I have not seen many Irish movies before, but the accents were pretty fun.

The premise was that at his family is falling apart a younger teen boy has to enroll at a crappy school now. His older brother was cool, but is now just a layabout failure. His sister is pretty normal. He has a lame principal who tries to prevent him from wearing makeup and being a cool musician. The story is not unique, but it’s well made and feels good. A couple of the songs are actually really good tunes. For me it’s the bits with Raphina really add depth and give the story some legs, just as she gives Conor a reason to be more than some lame teen who lies to impress a girl. To be fair she becomes more than a girl who is too ashamed to admit when she has failed to make it big and had to come back.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

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The story is ludicrous. The premise that gets Lucas Black to Tokyo is not good. I know this movie takes place before F8, or at least after F5 & F6. I am writing this as I watch, so I want to just start making a list of all the awful things in this movie. (Any positives will change the number in the other direction. Got it? Good.)
1. WOW it’s sexist from the start. A girl literally offers herself as a prize.
2. Nobody looks like a high schooler in this movie.
3. The costumes are as ridiculous as the racing scenes that the recent movies cut down on.
4. The music is half bad.
5. The sexualization of teenage girls in this has remained annoying, but maybe I’m 20 years older than the target audience for Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift!
6. Watching Lucas hit the wall over and over sucks. Watching Han–Sung Kang–not care as his car gets messed up makes me care less.
5. I do like how Japanese people are just people, and not stereotypes. I mean, none of the characters are great, but it’s not worse.
6. There’s no reason Han would want Lucas Black around.
7. Tokyo is really empty for having about 15 million people.
8. I haven’t said this part yet, but the acting has not been stellar.
9. Does Lucas even still attend school? Does he sleep?
10. From the first scenes in the US there’s a character with lines and her name in the credits is “Cindy – Clay’s Girlfriend”. You can’t make this up.
11. Not all the dialogue fits the characters who are saying it.
12. Driving tight circles around a car with two girls isn’t flirty or cute, it’s super f’n creepy. The messages in this movie are so messed up.
11. The multi-ethnic cast in a Hollywood movie is a nice change of pace.
12. This montage is painful. I feel bad for the actors.
13. Why these Japanese people would cheer for the Gaijin is beyond me.
12. This is like a modern Bond movie, a travelog.
13. All that matters is what you really want, and going after it.
14. The romance between Lucas Black and Nathalie Kelley is painful. She’s beautiful, but not great.
15. Lucas Black just got the crap beaten out of him in like 10 seconds by bad guy DK—Brian Tee, Noburo in The Wolverine.
14. DK’s uncle looks/dresses kind of like Edward James Olmos in Blade Runner. Seriously the highlight of the film so far. I hope I can find a photo to use! And his “for want a nail” speech was legit great.

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13. The action has picked up and people are drifting for a reason.
14. It took 85 minutes for the action to pick up.
13. That head-on collision was awesome. I don’t know if I’ve seen a better one in a movie.
14. Extra cars smashed into their cluster.
15. The dumb decision to kill off Han is why he had to die again in F7, or the end of F6, I really don’t remember. Noooo!!!!!
14. The Uncle Edward James Olmos is Sonny Chiba. Awesome.
15. I know what will solve this…a race!
16. Oh he forgot how to drive, better change the spark plugs??
17. The road is faster than gravity?
18. The stakes of this are still not clear.

Maybe I am being too harsh on this film, but it is nowhere near the glory of the later ones.
**

Home Alone

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Christopher Columbus directed this. The same CC who ably directed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. John Hughes wrote this. The same JH who scripted Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. And they both did okay. But really it was the man who received the Oscar nominations that really sold this film—John Williams. You may know him better as John “Jaws” Williams, or John “Star Wars” Williams, or perhaps John “Indiana Jones” Williams. Williams presents the problem of wondering if he elevates films by having great music, or if we think his music is great because music brings us back to moments and directors like Steven Spielberg have actually provided the emotion, and not the sounds Williams recorded. Well Home Alone firmly demonstrates that JW’s music can make you care when the film has almost played defense against its viewers rooting for its characters.

**

Santy don’t visit the funeral homes, little buddy.

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Most people like this movie. I personally remembered it as being cute, but apparently it has not aged well. None of the acting is particularly good, and this includes Macaulay Culkin’s star making performance as Kevin McAllister, or, what I call the frightening results of poor parenting. Allow me to give some examples:

  1. Punishment by starvation. That will teach the child a lesson! If you make a mistake you do not eat. Who runs this family, a middle manager at a sweatshop?
  2. Letting siblings and an uncle speak very rudely. Kevin’s siblings call him names and treat him like crap. This probably comes from negligent parents who did not stop this. Even worse, they probably do it too when they get angry. From Uncle Frank, “Look what you did, you little jerk.” (Note, as this is said, Mr. McAllister is wiping up the spilled soda accidentally along with Kevin’s ticket, which is apparently not always noticed by the viewers.)
  3. Shoplifting. Growing up white in suburbia, Kevin seems to think that taking things and not paying for them is okay. When a police officer chases after him instead of facing up to what he has done and alerting the authorities to his abandonment, he runs away with his stolen goods.
  4. Not watching for cars. Kevin runs through traffic and almost gets run over in a driveway by the Wet Bandits. He is growing up in Chicago and does not know to look out for cars! How is he not dead yet?
  5. Walks in the middle of the street. Again, HE LIVES IN CHICAGO! A surprisingly suburban part of Chicago, but it’s the third largest city in the country and teeming with angry drivers.
  6. Destroys shelving without cleaning anything up. Remember when he takes things from his brother’s room by just trashing the shelves? His brothers are jerks and I am not saying they deserve better than this, more than anything this is a double indictment of how crappy the McAllisters are as parents.
  7. No moderation. Think about how much pizza he orders.
  8. Wastes food. Think about how much pizza he orders.
  9. Never calls the police. I am not saying the Chicago Police have the best reputation, but when a white kid does not call them when he knows he might be murdered you once again have to look to the parents for what, if anything, they taught him. Would he call the fire department after starting a fire? Probably not either. He did not after he lit that one guy on fire.
  10. Sets up elaborate traps to maim and injure people. I am not a psychologist, but this kid at least needs therapy. Either he has a deadly mental condition or his morality has been warped so much by his parents that he thinks thieves deserve torture, and probably death. He is just a kid, so he probably doesn’t realize how lethal his traps are. Does he think that people are Wile E. Coyotes? Has he learned nothing of human life?

With such clearly bad parents and such rude siblings, why does he want his family back? I mean, I can see wanting one or two members to come back, especially the mother he clearly feels most attached to, but why the lot of them? The lesson of the movie is how we need to appreciate the people around us and not take them for granted. Or it is a warning about children who will grow up to become villains in the Saw movie franchise, one or the other. In the end, for me, this was mostly just a waste of a good John Williams score.

Creed

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Like most people, I expected this to be a documentary about the rock band Creed.

Part of me wants to just leave that as the entire review.

****

You didn’t tell me your uncle was Rocky Balboa.

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Instead I will say that this was a solid movie that gets you behind the main character. Creed is about Adonis Johnson, the son Apollo Creed never knew he had. Creed, of course, died fighting Ivan Drago in Rocky IV after preventing Rocky from throwing in the towel. So there is that layer of guilt built into their relationship when Adonis moves across the country to get Rocky to train him.

The love interest in the movie is Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson. Bianca has a hearing disability, but that wasn’t her whole character; she mostly just happened to be that way. Our introduction to her is that she listens to music very loudly. Then we learn she is a hearing impaired musician so she had to listen to music very loudly, which led Adonis to knocking on her door. While she consistently has her disability it does not come up again as a plot device.

Wholly unrelated to the plot is the fact that the director, Ryan Coogler, and the top three billed actors were in MCU movies. Coogler directed Black Panther while Michael B. Jordan played Killmonger in that movie—and yes they worked together first on Fruitvale Station. Tessa Thompson was Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok and even Sylvester Stallone was a Ravager in Guardians 2. I did not recognize Thompson as being the same actress, so that was cool to learn.

Moana

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***

If you wear a dress, and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.

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This pretty movie does a good job of not casting famous people for the voices, except Dwayne Johnson, whose casting I will never complain of. The oddest casting goes to Villager #1 – Troy Polamalu. You may know him from the Pittsburgh Steelers, or perhaps from his work as NFL player in a Head and Shoulders Commercial with long curly hair. I think that the overall diversity in the casting was a good call.

What I determined the message of the film was that we are our own worst enemies, and all deeply flawed. Still the movie is bright, colorful and the characters succeed, or fail, but each character seems to epitomize some tragic flaw. I found this to be cute, but  underwhelming. Still it is a movie for kids and it turns this flaw premise into a good message by showing how the heroes overcomes their flaws to prevail. It also posits that cultures must move forward, but that they should also return to their roots. This is done in a positive and not in a hateful white suprematist way that old man Walt Disney might have wanted.

Doctor Strange

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***½

The bill comes due. Don’t you see? Her transgressions led to the Zealots to Dormammu. Kaecilius… was her fault! And here we are… in the consequence of her deception. A world on fire.

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It just dawned on me that Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Cumberbatch, who play Marvel’s mystic arts students who become masters, were in a movie together before this one—12 Years a Slave. Can you think of two less similar movies? In that movie Ejiofor plays the hero and Cumberbatch the villain who does not know he is a villain because he is less evil of a slaveowner than some others. The reverse is done in Doctor Strange, where Ejiofor’s Mordo goes from valiant champion for good to feeling betrayed by the Ancient One—Tilda Swinton. While on its surface Doctor Strange was the eponymous hero’s origin story, which served to reveal an infinity stone, it is simultaneously Mordo’s origin as a villain, for Doctor Strange 2. I find that alone to be more interesting than the actual superficial movie itself.

Doctor Strange’s origin is far less famous than most superheros, but since I was familiar with it, I felt like I was just paying my dues for the first 30-40 minutes. At least the opening action scene was cool and Inception-esque. Plus Mads Mikkelsen—Le Chiffre in Casino Royale—is always a treat and really delivers as the villain in this. When he unlocks Dormammu I was surprised, since Dormammu is like Doctor Strange’s strongest foe. So how Strange manages to save the day is really ingenious, and I appreciated that.

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I cannot end my review without tackling the controversy surrounding the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. In the comics the The Ancient One is a very old Asian man, not a bald white woman. The director, Scott Derrickson, thought he was moving in the right direction by casting a woman into a movie that otherwise had no powered female characters. He did not realize how removing an Asian character to have a white actor take the role would be a step backwards. Apparently now he does, so we will see what his next MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) movie does with its casting choices.

N.B. – Since I write these and schedule them, instead of just posting them, I started to re-review this movie. This caused a false memory that lead to me to start my re-review with a letter to you:

Dear Reader,

You may have noticed how I review almost every movie I watch. Be it in theaters, on Netflix, on DVD, Blu-Ray, TV with commercials, DVR, On Demand, or DivX, if I watched it to completion for the first time since May 24, 2004, then I rated it, and sometimes reviewed it. Then starting on August 27, 2010 I began reviewing every movie under those rules. The first one was Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse. I bring this to your attention because I wanted to piggyback on the work I had done for the 2007 animated Dr. Strange movie. This was going to be useful because the MCU came out of the mid-2000s animated Marvel movies’ success, which in turn came from the success of the Heroes Reborn comic books. Or not. But it makes sense to me this way. Yet somehow when I watched that DVD somewhere around the summer of 2010 or 2011, in either Toledo or at my grandparents’ house in Buffalo on my laptop, no review was made or no score given. This is a long way of saying I have to do more work than I want to do. Also, that I want to credit this as a double review since I’m giving both movies…

And at that point my search revealed my folly.

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