Vic’s Flix Movie Review: On The Basis of Sex

As prominently displayed on screen during a recent viewing of On The Basis of Sex, the year is 1956 when Ruth Ginsberg enters Harvard law school, one of nine women allowed to do so in a class of 500 men. And “allowed” pretty much captures the sentiment of the men in charge in that dark time. It was also the year I turned two, so I find it amazing that I grew up completely immersed in a culture of unenlightened people and archaic laws. I thought the 1960s were pretty cool. Guess not.
Flash forward to 1970, and several other dates along the way. I have a problem with stop action cinematic history, especially when filmmakers can only explain a timeline with titles on screen. It results in a film that lacks nuance, desperately seeking anecdotal highlights in a person’s life to develop a story. But this is quite a story.
Although women won the right to vote in 1920, the Equal Rights Amendment, first introduced in 1971 was never ratified by enough states to become a constitutional amendment. In the early 1970s hundreds of antiquated laws remained on the books, limiting jobs for fear of women leaving their “intended role” inside the home. Queue Ginsberg, who buys into the notion that, concerning the law, “We must not be guided by the weather of the day, but by the climate of the era.” She decides to tackle a key case that establishes precedent for future cases, literally changing history in the process.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg is all the rage right now. RBG, as she is known, is hip, fierce, smart, tenacious and really, really old. She’s a living legend who vows to keep on living and serving on the Supreme Court as long as a Republican president is in power. Her seat on the court is priceless. Played in the film by a very youthful Felicity Jones, age 35, I had trouble reconciling the RBG we see on the news with the actress playing a young RBG, especially during love scenes. I had to force myself not to see the image above on the right and assume that Ruth was once young and Felicity-like. And in fact, she was. Roll tape.
Married to fellow law student Martin Ginsberg, played by Armie Hammer, who could be a stand-in for Captain America, the power couple takes on Harvard, even when Marty is so ill that Ruth sits in on his classes as well as her own, typing his papers and conveying lecture material while he rests on the couch. Maybe SHE is Captain America!
One unacknowledged character in this film is the typewriter. We see it evolve from a fully manual Smith-Corona to an IBM correcting Selectric, all in the capable hands of women, because that’s what women were allowed to do. Somewhere along the line there must have been a male secretary. I was one, but not until 1986. In fact, I related to those who pounded out legal briefs, since I typed some of my best friend’s papers while he worked in the Appeals Division of the Cook County States Attorney’s office. They are cumbersome typing jobs.
Justin Theroux plays Mel Wulf, an over-acting (or maybe just over-scripted) aggressive ACLU legal director who teams up with Ginsberg at her request to take on a seemingly unwinnable case. Perhaps he was this animated in real life, but he seemed exaggerated and kind of corny.
Sam Waterston is in his usual form as Erwin Griswold, Dean of the Harvard Law School who later became Solicitor General of the United States, an intense Washington-type character he was born to play. He’s good in just about any role.
Kathy Bates plays the quirky feminist and civil rights attorney, Dorothy Kenyon, who once lost a key case, and is now somewhat reclusive and combative. She wants nothing to do with Ginsberg, who idolizes her, but reluctantly comes around when she needs a favor from Wulf.
Jones is not entirely convincing as the brilliant and aggressive young Ruth Bader Ginsberg and seemed to have trouble consistently emulating her New York accent, if any. There it is. Oh, now it’s gone. Was I hearing things? She is also frequently seen rapidly walking through crowds, a counterpoint to her diminutive stature (she’s short), having “Aha” moments that light up her face and cause her to change direction. Oh boy, something cool is about to happen!
The Ginsberg character in this film was seemingly caught between the influence of a demanding mother, who wanted her to change the world, and her budding feminist daughter, who asks, “Why change the world, if not for me?”
On The Basis of Sex (or should we say gender, as one sensitive typist suggests) is recommended if you think you’ll enjoy a bio-drama about lawyers. They throw around enough legal jargon to engender authenticity, almost to the point at which you’ve had enough and would rather they just tell the story. And I think they fall short of completing the story, since the film ends long before Ginsberg’s eventual appointment as the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court. For that perhaps you need to watch CNN’s movie entitled simply RBG.
On The Basis of Sex (2018) runs 2 hours and is rated PG-13

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Vic’s Flix Movie Review: Mary Poppins Returns

I honestly wasn’t looking forward to seeing Mary Poppins Returns. But now that I have, I almost feel as if I need to see the original again to review it fairly, given that I haven’t seen it in 55 years. But this is not a remake, after all. It’s the return of Mary Poppins, so it needs to stand on its own. And as I watched, I found that somewhat ancient memories leaped to the forefront of my mind like Lin-Manuel Miranda jumping from a ladder onto a cobblestone street.
When Disney gets it right, it’s as if they step into a time machine with all of the available current talent and technology and take a trip to the past. First, they made a stop in 1964, capturing the essence of the original film, then they took a trip to depression era London in 1910 to film live action. But of course, they didn’t, and I would love to hear the pitch some visionary made to suggest they make this movie. Is Mary Poppins still relevant in an era like ours, where special effects require that things blow up or fly at high speed around and through obstacles?
The sets look like they were borrowed from Disney’s version of A Christmas Carol, made in 2009. But wait, that film was made entirely with 3D computer generated imagery, so these sets are all new, real and beautifully done. Lighting in dreary London, especially by lamp light at night must have been a huge filming challenge. Darkness, fog and flame all integrate beautifully around choreographed lamp-lighters in a scene reminiscent of the rooftop chimney sweep sequence in the ’64 Poppins.
To avoid spoilers, I’ll skip details. The songs are new, catchy and delivered beautifully by Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda. And I’m just guessing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Miranda had a hand in the writing of at least one of them. Think Snow White meets Hamilton.
When the first animated sequence began my heart sank. I hate when 2D characters are superimposed over live action on screen, much like the dancing penguins in the original. But that’s just where it started, and within about a minute I was impressed by the seamless integration of the two media. I also realized that the blended approach was a necessary part of telling the story. Several minutes later it became absolutely stunning during a lengthy and intricate chase scene through an imaginary world. Don’t tell me how they did it. I just want to enjoy the magic of it all.
There are numerous clever and subtle nods to the 1964 incarnation of Poppins. Short musical phrases, spoken statements, images and of course, several cameo appearances that are really special.
Emily Blunt is perfect as Poppins. She’s a talented singer, and as a British actress stepping into some very large (Julie Andrews) shoes, she nails the somewhat snarky personality of the flying nanny perfectly. Speaking of Julie Andrews, she does not make a a cameo appearance in this film. She was offered an unspecified role and immediately turned it down, not wanting to step on Emily Blunt’s shoes. Always gracious, that queen of Genovia. And if comparisons had to be made, there is something more delicate about Julie Andrews face. Side by side, they are both very pretty, but Emily Blunt has a subtle hard edge, perhaps caused by coming to grips with a monster that required absolute silence in her last role as Evelyn Abbott in A Quiet Place.
Lin-Manuel Miranda can apparently do anything. The Hamilton genius sings, dances, and raps his way through the streets of London with a suitable Cockney accent and a grin that betrays how much he’s enjoying this role.
When I saw that Meryl Streep was in Mary Poppins Returns I was disappointed. Can’t they make a successful film without her being in it? But she was almost unrecognizable, and did a great job with a truly quirky character called Cousin Topsy.
Take the family to see Mary Poppins Returns, no matter how loud the protests. The audience applauded when it was over. High praise for a PG rated film that runs two hours and ten minutes. It flew by, so to speak.
And if you’ve completely lost your inner child, perhaps you’ll like Colin Firth’s evil character. There’s always a thoroughly dislikeable villain in a Disney film. If you still don’t care to see it, well pish, posh, go fly a kite.

Mary Poppins Returns (2018) runs 2 hours, 10 minutes and is rated PG.

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Vic’s Flix Movie Review: The Mule

Massive spoiler alert: I’m going to reveal most of the content of The Mule, so you don’t have to sit through it yourself. It’s not horrible, but I turned to my wife half way through the film and whispered, “This movie is stupid!”
That said, I really like Clint Eastwood movies. At least, I used to. But imagine if your favorite professional baseball player was allowed to continue running the bases well into his 80s. At 88 years of age, Clint continues to produce, direct and star in movies that draw crowds primarily because of his legendary career and star power. He still has that “Do I feel lucky?” attitude he became famous for in 1971’s Dirty Harry, his perennial scowl and chiseled good looks, even with wrinkles and thinning white hair. But he’s almost become a parody of himself, and I think he realizes it. It’s a shame, because he’s directed many fine movies, starred in countless classics, and is responsible for several iconic sayings, not the least of which is, “Go ahead, make my day,” from Sudden Impact in 1983. Perhaps the movie Gran Torino in 2008 should have been his acting swan song.
The film starts at a frantic pace with a series of short segments that had me wondering if the movie might only be thirty minutes long. Clint plays aging horticulturist Earl Stone who has chosen career over family his entire married life. Only his granddaughter has a good relationship with him, but he later risks ruining that too. It’s at her engagement party that he makes a connection that leads to his new job as a drug mule. He starts taking cross-country trips and making wads of cash that he spends as fast as he’s paid. Some of it is to help friends and family. Much of it goes for jewelry, women, a new truck, and his wreck of a foreclosed house. A fool and his money…
It was as if they were in a hurry to fully explain the key relationships and the main character’s personal history, and then get on with the story. That these details couldn’t be revealed along the way is just lazy scriptwriting. I wondered if Eastwood also wrote this script, given the number of attractive young women he has scenes with, dancing, or, well, other stuff. Maybe that’s just why he liked the script.
Speaking of that, I really didn’t want to see the legendary Clint Eastwood with his shirt off at almost 90 years of age. Not even while he quipped about needing a cardiologist as two Mexican prostitutes showed him a good time at the behest of a drug kingpin. His old age becomes a vehicle for inappropriate humor. The old guy doesn’t realize, or care, that society has advanced beyond the offensive terms and comments he tosses casually around, seeming perversely charming at the same time. Nick Schenk, who wrote Gran Torino, delivered this script as well. You don’t need to be a great writer if you score Clint Eastwood’s directorial support. And the plot itself is fairly interesting given that it’s loosely based on a true story.
By now we all know that drug kingpins sit in chairs waiting to be visited by characters in movies, smoking cigars, drinking heavily and acting like a favorite uncle until they get angry. Then they suddenly toggle into sinister, explosive monsters that frighten all the tattooed, muscle-bound Mexicans that work for them. The swimming pool filled to overflowing with bikini-clad chicas is always right there in the background. I can’t even imagine the wild fluctuations of pH and chlorine levels in that sex soup.
But Eastwood seems to thrive on clichés, because he has sort of become one. I hated when Hollywood scriptwriters realized that catchphrases could go culturally viral and started trying way too hard to come up with the next big line. If there was an attempt to create one in this film, I missed it. But it was sort of amusing when Bradley Cooper commented that, “You guys (meaning old) get to the point where you don’t have filters” and Eastwood responds, “I never thought I had one.”
I’m sure Bradley Cooper agreed to be in The Mule for the honor of being directed by Clint Eastwood – again. His first turn was in American Sniper. Brad may be the heir apparent to Eastwood’s place on the silver screen, hopefully right after The Mule. Brad plays a DEA agent whose boss, Laurence Fishburne, is repeatedly on his back to “get more busts. We need busts.” Oh, he’s under pressure to make arrests? I get it.
In The Mule we get to meet Alison Eastwood, Clint’s real life daughter, who plays…his daughter. And Diane Wiest plays Clint’s wife, haranguing him all the way to her grave about his absence as a husband and father, with a death scene in which her overly Botoxed lips looked like a series of duck mouth selfies as she gasps for her last breath again and again. Taissa Farmiga, who plays the granddaughter, has possibly the most awkward, worst acted scene in the movie.
Earl is eventually caught in a very non-climactic police chase and barricade. By this time, police and cartel members all seem to sort of pity or like him, displaying their well known sympathetic sides. I guess caustic old guys just have a way of worming their way into your heart.
The final scene of the movie is filmed at Marion Correctional Center in Illinois, where Earl is happily tending the prison gardens. It’s reminiscent of Bird Man of Alcatraz, which is ironic, since Eastwood starred in Escape From Alcatraz in 1979 – 40 years ago!
If you like hardy-har-har casual racist humor and an endless road trip with Clint Eastwood, this film’s for you. If you’re a diehard Eastwood fan, and you’ve seen every one of his films, wait for this one to come out on TV to complete your viewing portfolio. As his daughter quips when Earl is escorted away to prison, “At least we’ll know where you are.”
The Mule (2018) runs 1 hour, 56 minutes and is rated R

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Vic’s Flix Movie Review: Vice

Our viewing of the movie Vice left us with a coating of slime on our senses that showering couldn’t resolve. After leaving the theater we vocalized our intent to see an uplifting movie or two to nullify the experience. Fortunately, The Upside cleansed our palates for the next disturbing feature, to be determined.
When you watch a documentary about events that happened during your lifetime, you find yourself frequently thinking, “Oh yeah, I remember that.” Just not in this kind of detail, or with blanks filled in from multiple perspectives. I can only wonder how younger viewers will respond to this film.
For instance, I worked in a hospital lab during the early 1980s, a time that saw the introduction of Ronald Reagan’s DRGs (diagnosis related groups) that broadly impacted the way hospitals billed for services, and how insurance companies coded and approved payments. It was a big change that eventually trickled down to those of us working day to day in health care. It raised awareness within the workforce of how political matters, well, mattered. At that time, Donald Rumsfeld, president of the G.D. Searle Company near Chicago reduced his own workforce by 60%. Happy days were not here again, and Rumsfeld’s name got lots of negative attention by those of us who feared being the next target of expanding consolidation or outsourcing.
This is the same Donald Rumsfeld, portrayed with uncannily accurate creepiness and his nails-on-a-blackboard voice by Steve Carell, who later selected his own protégé Dick Cheney to succeed him as the Secretary of Defense for George W. Bush.
So that’s enough personal history to make the point that this movie makes so effectively: What if your life doesn’t matter? You are simply an exquisitely small part of a large military business machine called the United States of America that fortunately is the big kid on the block and allows many of us to enjoy our lives immensely without getting our hands dirty.
Dick Cheney, as the embodiment of paranoia and megalomania, is frighteningly portrayed in Vice by Christian Bale, who stated upon receiving an award for his role at the Golden Globes (best actor in a comedy) that he credited Satan for inspiration in this role.
A couple of points about Bale: His intensity as an actor led him to lose 63 pounds for his role in The Machinist, and gain 40 pounds for his part as Cheney. He transforms himself physically for his characters, and is unrecognizable in Vice, where Dick Cheney appears on film. I mean, I swear it’s Dick Cheney! It is also surprising that Bale is British. No accent here. Yet another transformation from this outstanding actor.
That Vice is considered a comedy is a bit misleading. There are a couple of sequences in which the director takes us down a brief comedic path, painting a picture of lives lived happily ever after, then just as quickly yanks us back into reality as if to say, “Ok, enough, I’ve given you some ice cream, now finish your liver and brussel sprouts.” It’s worth mentioning that Director Adam McKay wrote for Saturday Night Live for two seasons.
Obviously, this film is not autobiographical, but McKay did his best to get into Cheney’s head and extract a few lines. Such is the case when Cheney (the character) turns to the camera and delivers a self-righteous soliloquy about how he fought for our freedoms in his do-whatever-it-takes style. The audience is left cringing, shamed and blamed as if an abusive father just sent us on our way out of the theater with our tails tucked between our legs, having implicated us for making him do dirty deeds on our behalf. We wouldn’t want it any other way, would we?
The danger of diving too deep in this review is that it becomes a review of Cheney himself, so for more on this particular history lesson, see the movie. Subplots abound, including the revelation that Cheney’s daughter Mary is gay. Cheney’s handling and then mishandling of that personal drama played out on the nightly news. Lynne Cheney, played by Amy Adams, illustrates the adage that “behind every great man”…is a woman running the country. Sam Rockwell is less creepy than usual, wearing his George W. Bush good ‘ol boy persona. He is suitably affable, seeking daddy’s approval and trying to manage the most powerful country in the world, after having been dealt a severe blow on September 11th.
LisaGay Hamilton, who has done a ton of TV and movie work, having been acting since 1970, plays a spot-on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I don’t recall her having a single line in Vice, but her facial expressions betray her thoughts loud and clear as she sits in cabinet meetings saying nothing, appalled while Cheney manipulates loopholes in the Constitution and the law to usurp president Bush’s power.
Of course, this film is biased, and those on Cheney’s side of the aisle are outraged to the point of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump walking out of a screening. The potential for modern comparisons abounds. Vice is narrated by an on-camera character, similar to the style of another McKay film called The Big Short. Perhaps decades of tangled history require this spoon-fed approach, or just maybe it results from a purely cursory recounting of only the most sensational news stories to reach the public about this complicated man.
Perhaps Vice is worth seeing as a reminder that there are people in the news, leaders of our country, who have families and jobs and emotional flaws just like we do. It’s just that we don’t have the ability to send thousands of young soldiers to their death, for good reason or bad. And after seeing Vice, maybe watching the nightly news needs to be a mandatory daily exercise so that we stop demanding so much of each other, and start demanding more of our leaders.
Is Vice a good movie? I’m not entirely sure. I feel that great writing, film production or art has the ability to evoke emotion from viewers, to elicit laughter, tears, or outrage. Or maybe just make you squirm and lose a bit of sleep, which is what Vice did to me.
Vice (2018) runs 2 hours and 12 minutes and is rated R.

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Vic’s Flix Movie Review: Beautiful Boy

Steve Carell has been a busy guy. We’ve seen three movies in the past several weeks in which he stars or costars, to great effect. Welcome to MarWenVice and Beautiful Boy, were all released in 2018. His deep dive into dramatic acting since The Office proves once again that comedians are often driven by a reservoir of darker, inner resources they call upon when they drop their comedic masks.
The first film I recall being impressed by was Foxcatcher, a 2014 release that chronicled John Du Pont’s descent into madness. Carell has an uncanny ability to capture cringe-invoking behaviors with a broad portfolio of facial gestures and body language. He leveraged this skill to the utmost in The Office. That outlet provided cringes on steroids, and the show was never the same without him. How many of us have ever said, “That’s what she said” with the enthusiasm, joy and quick-wittedness of Michael Scott?
But this is not just a tribute to the leading man in Beautiful Boy. In fact, most of the many and various award nominations for this film deservingly went to 23 year old supporting actor Timothee Chalamet, whose portrayal of the drug-addicted son is, frankly, difficult to watch. Carell’s performance was solid, though a couple of times I heard Michael Scott’s throaty outbursts sneak through the cracks in what I’ll attribute to a faulty line in the script. Perhaps I admire Carell too much.
And maybe I’m just avoiding the topic at hand, which is so excruciatingly portrayed that halfway through the movie (at home) I was the one with an outburst, “Oh, this is horrible.” Not the movie, the drama onscreen.
I am fortunate not to have experienced first hand the process of spiraling downward physically and emotionally of the characters in Beautiful Boy. But each month that goes by, I hear yet another story from a dear friend or family member of a tragedy that has befallen or is unfolding – very seldom with a happy ending.
I remember a friend who was diagnosed with manic depression long before it was known to be as prevalent or as understood as it is currently. Let’s call her Mary. She looked like Mary, talked like Mary, acted like Mary. But then her Mary-ness became exaggerated and took on either a frantic happiness and randomness, or a sludgelike departure from her norm. She had to be rescued by her husband numerous times, hospitalized, diagnosed and medicated. And they lived happily ever after – so far. Therein lies the ongoing challenge of drug addiction and mental illness. When will it surface again, if ever?
And that’s the gut-wrenching element so responsibly conveyed in Beautiful Boy. At some point the drug takes over, leaving parents, friends and a widening circle of horrified onlookers to react and respond to the “un Mary-ness” of the person who, zombie-like, is no longer making sense.
So that leaves the characters (parents, divorced) blaming each other, and the audience being fed circumstances that make us wonder – did the divorce cause it? Was it their wealth? The helicoptering parenting, humor and risk taking behaviors of the father? No, it was none of those things. Like horrific cultural events that evoke conspiracy theories in the minds of those who can’t grasp the simplistic horror of a random gunman or event, there must be something to blame, something deliberate and complicated.
In a scene with Carell and his new wife, played by Maura Tierney, who we remember from Television’s ER, a group therapy session has a prominently featured wall poster that reads, “You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, you can’t cure it.” The three C’s. The underlying helplessness of that message is the page that has to be turned – together – by those who care for and love the victim of this illness.
This is a film based on a true story. In the closing credits it is revealed that the father and son each wrote best selling memoirs that contributed to the creation of the film.
One decision I questioned was the casting of Amy Ryan as Steve Carell’s ex-wife. The second she appears, you’re thrust back into The Office relationship between Michael and Holly. Her own respectable filmography since The Office indicates that she hasn’t been typecast by that role, and in fact, once I moved beyond my initial reaction, Holly was forgotten. Perhaps Carell had something to do with that casting choice.
If you’re looking for a feel good movie, Beautiful Boy is not for you. Brace yourself before viewing, but by all means, see this film. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid noticing, our country has a drug crisis on its hands. Only by understanding can we move forward, together. This is an educational opportunity that will leave you thinking long after you see three more explosion-filled superhero movies.
Beautiful Boy (2018) is currently available for free to Amazon Prime members. It has a running time of 120 minutes and is rated R.

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Vic's Flix Movie Review: The Upside

I’ll be sensitive to the need for spoiler alerts in this review since The Upside made its debut in theaters very recently. I won’t reveal anything that isn’t in the trailer.
First, a word about trailers. So many previews of late reveal so much about the plot of the movies being promoted, along with key lines and funniest gags that it isn’t really necessary to see the full length feature. I worried that this trailer might suffer from yet another case of broadcasting the punch lines.
Not so with The Upside. It’s been years since I’ve heard an audience respond to a film so boisterously, heartily laughing out loud to the point at which other lines are so obscured I may need to see the movie a second time. In an era when the acronym LOL is so ubiquitous as to be annoying, you’ll find yourself literally laughing out loud.
The odd couple starring in this film – Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart – work surprisingly well as a comic duo. Even Nicole Kidman seems to enjoy subjugating her considerable talent as a subdued but powerful third leg in the onscreen relationship. It’s an achievement in itself to have these actors in a PG-13 rated film.
By now we should be used to comedians demonstrating competent dramatic acting skill. Michael Keaton’s evolution from Mr. Mom to Batman comes to mind. And dramatic actors are more frequently expanding their portfolios with comic roles. But who would ever have imagined Walter White in episode one of Breaking Bad, having just dissolved a human body in a bathtub, ever taking on a comic role? (In fact, that scene was darkly humorous if you weren’t too grossed out.) Yet the character he plays in The Upside, Philip Lacasse, has serious dramatic screen time as Hart’s comic foil. And he gets to deliver his share of not-so-subtle, snide and hilarious remarks - without the aid of arms or legs.
It helps to know that The Upside is based on a true story. Otherwise, it has potential to seem ludicrously contrived. Anyone who has spent even a few moments with someone paralyzed from the neck down will appreciate the sensitivity with which Cranston’s limitations are portrayed. Enter Julianna Margulies in a cringe-worthy scene I won’t reveal further. The catheter sequence aluded to in the trailer on its own makes the movie worth the price of admission. Kudos to Hart for playing it straight. I’m sure there’s a substantial blooper reel somewhere.
If you need to check my references, this is the funniest movie I’ve seen since Game Night. It is the best unexpected comic pairing since DeNiro and Stiller. And if you’re feeling, as I do, that we could all use a good laugh right about now, see The Upside before someone ruins it for you. You know those people: “Oh, let me just tell you this one thing…”
Despite early reviews to the contrary, I highly recommend this joyride of a movie. Can you recall the last time a theater audience applauded at the end of a film?

The Upside (2018) runs 2 hours, 6 minutes and is rated PG-13.

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Vic’s Flix Movie Review: Aquaman

When a movie is projected to earn over a billions dollars worldwide, your expectations tend to be high, and we couldn’t wait to see this movie. Previews were enticingly played for months ahead of release, promising a winner for DC films at a time when Marvel is cranking out mega-successes faster than can be consumed by mere mortals. And a winner it is, as decided by votes cast in currency.
But mere mortals we are. We cannot breathe under water, deflect bullets or battle sea creatures as can Aquaman. Neither can we constantly crack jokes that hit their target. But wait, neither can Aquaman. His best lines were used in the trailer. Many others fall flat.
This was a long movie. There is an entire subplot with a character known as the Black Manta that begins early in the film and evolves into a ridiculous and unnecessary diversion from whatever story you choose to follow. I suspect that DC is trying to launch a universe of future hits from a cobbled together amalgam of origin stories that each might not make it solo.
And that story you choose to follow may be a bizarre version of The Little Mermaid or Pirates of the Caribbean or something else that’s entirely lost in a swirl of underwater fire and uber-technology. Yes, there are laser weapons being used by robo-suited warriors of the deep. While visually spectacular, the special effects department seemed to have trouble with underwater hair. But in their defense, at times it’s not certain if characters are flying through the air, or swimming in the sea. Or both.
A lot of explaining goes on in Aquaman. Why is it that he can breathe under water? How does an underwater laser cannon work? If you’re wondering, they explain it during awkward and distracting scenes that lengthen the movie further. And locations? There are so many of them flip-flopping through time and across the globe that titles are necessary. “Somewhere in the Sahara Desert.” Ok, thanks. What is Aquaman doing there?
I imagine that a lot of budget was set aside to youthenize (bad choice of word), or de-age, Nicole Kidman and Willem Dafoe. The result is always a bit creepy, as was the case in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, when Kurt Russell was magically transformed into a 20-something version of his former self. This was also applied to Michael Douglas in Antman with similar “what the heck?” disturbing results.
There is no chemistry, either water soluble or airborne, between Aquaman and his very red-haired mer-girl Mera. They exchange one unconvincing kiss. No submersible MeToo moments here. That chemistry is reserved for the relationship between the characters and the audience. Thus, the sideward stance of Jason Momoa, hair flowing, golden eyes sparkling as he glances seductively over his shoulder at the camera. He does this frequently. But boy, is he hot.
And Mera, all green/blue spandex and scales, has freakishly red hair that really does make her mother, the Little Mermaid, seem like a people-pleasing wimp. She clearly thinks Aquaman is a dope, but after some decidedly good ass kicking and rescues, she grows fond of the big guy. And boy, is she hot.
Just look at this list of characters I copied from an entirely public domain search of the Internet: Orm / Ocean Master, Queen Atlanna, King Orvax, King Atlan, Nuidis Vulko, Murk, Atlantean Soldiers, Mera, King Nereus, The Fishermen, King Ricou, The Fisherman Princess, The Brine, The Brine King, The Trench, Tylosaurus, Karathen.
I get tired just reading that list. A bit of study before the film will serve you well.
Just tell me one thing. In the five kingdoms of the sea, in particular, the Brine Kingdom, does Sebastian the Crab have a role, or are jumbo shrimp just oxymorons that suffer from low self-esteem and anger issues? They are quite uncooperative.
So, I’ve been very hard on this movie. I am clearly wrong if box office receipts are a measure of a good film. Aquaman was entertaining for a while. But if it were up to me, I’d deep six this to Davy Jones locker. Not the sailor. The ex-Monkee. The show I saw him put on before his untimely death was much more entertaining. And as Marsha Brady knows, his eyes sparkled too.

Aquaman (2018) runs 2 hours, 23 minutes and is rated PG-13.

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Vic’s Flix Movie Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

Every so often a music genre biopic comes along that leaves you feeling remorseful when you leave the theater. The feeling isn’t one of disappointment in a poor film, but rather the realization that something amazing happened in the world during your lifetime, and you either missed it completely or were only marginally aware of what many others relished in real time.
For example, perhaps you also drove by the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco as I did during the "Summer of Love" in 1967, blissfully unaware of the cultural significance of the location, and wondering aloud, “Is that a Hippie, Mom?” Yeah, and I could have gone to Woodstock too if I was a couple of years older.
So, I have to consider the era of Queen as portrayed in the movie Bohemian Rhapsody as one of those experiences. I was never much of a Queen fan, but it was hard to miss their stadium rocking, anthem-stomping presence in the 1970s and 80s. My all time favorite Queen song is “39.” I consider it the third song in a space trilogy comprised also of Elton John’s “Rocketman” and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (Major Tom.)
I learned a couple of things about Freddie Mercury (Farrokh Bulsara) in this film. First, that he was considered to be Pakistani, “a Paki,” and was raised in England following his early childhood in India. Second, Mercury married Mary Austin when he was only 24. She inspired the song, “Love of My Life” that later became a traditional sing-along by audiences, almost to the exclusion of the band itself.
I was struck by Mercury’s self-confidence. He knew how talented he was (extremely), and quickly became the leader, main vocalist, writer and producer for the band. The falling out with their first manager, if portrayed accurately, was a risky move for a band that was virtually broke despite early successes.
Rami Malek recently won a well-deserved best actor Golden Globe award for his portrayal of the rock icon. How he avoided choking on the mouthful of teeth that the British (jokingly in the movie) and Mercury, in actuality, never had straightened was a challenge in itself. Malek conveyed the complexity and genius of his character through to the climactic Live Aid concert re-creation, which is so close to the original it leaves you wondering if some of it is original footage.
I recall learning about AIDS in the late 1970s as a medical technologist. We received earlier briefings than most of the public due to our daily handling of potentially contaminated blood specimens. An initial soft warning quickly became a dire and unusually rigid protocol within the lab. The disease, of course, entered Bohemian Rhapsody as Mercury’s tragic killer a couple of years after the Live Aid concert. It cut his career short at age 45, and it leaves you wondering what more he was capable of.
Of course, the writing and recording of the title song is prominently featured, in intriguing detail, at length, but not to the point at which interest is lost. The experimental nature of the lyrics and music is revealed layer by layer, and you get the sense that Mercury’s somewhat mystified band mates inevitably go along for an exciting ride, in awe of “Freddie’s thing” as the song came to be known.
This movie is probably not an example of great filmmaking. It has some script weakness at points, and it probably sugar coats the dynamic within the band. But it is certainly worth seeing, even if you’re not a fan, and you may find, upon returning home, that you ask Alexa to play the album A Night at the Opera in its entirety, as I did.

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) runs 2 hours, 14 minutes and is rated PG-13.

Should you see this movie?

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