Vic’s Flix Movie Review: Yesterday

We’ve been looking forward to this movie since first seeing the trailer several months ago. The premise is enticing and creative. Unfortunately, previews now give so much away there’s always the risk of seeing a film and then feeling as if the trailer would have sufficed.
While there’s an element of that at play here, I can say that enough surprises, twists and tangential plot lines are carefully woven in along the way to make this a thoroughly enjoyable ride. And then there’s the music. If you don’t like the Beatles, don’t read further, don’t see the movie, and please don’t tell me. I don’t want to know that about you.
Out of respect for my daughter (the ultimate Beatles fan), I will not spoil or reveal much at all about the content of Yesterday. Also for the sake of the twenty or so people who may read this review.
The band’s impact on popular music and our culture are dreamlike, and Yesterday does a good job of recreating that evolution from the inside out, through the eyes and experiences of Jack Malik, played by Himesh Patel. There was no need to explain how Malik, upon being struck by a bus during a mysterious twelve second global power outage, became the only person on Earth to remember the Beatles. As a failing musician, his struggle becomes choosing to reconstruct and play the band’s extensive portfolio of hits as his own. Or not.
And I will say that I feared before viewing the film that it would be revealed at the end of the story that it all happened in a dream or a coma. That would not only be disappointingly lame, but incredibly weak screenwriting. They did much better.
Ultimately this becomes a love story. Jack’s manager and long time friend Ellie (Lily James) have become so mired in their respective “columns” through the years that there seems no way to cross boundaries. Complicate this with Jack’s sudden fame and departure from their tiny English seaside town and we have a second through-line that periodically intersects Jack’s journey.
Ed Sheeran plays a significant role as himself throughout the film. This lends a current musical sounding board to the script along with observations like, why would a modern musician write a song about the USSR? And who the heck is “Jude?”
 Danny Boyle (127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire) is the director of this charming, feel good movie.
The casting of Kate McKinnon as a predatory L.A. manager was a distraction. Just about anyone could have played this role. Her association with Saturday Night Live pulled me out of the film and into a lengthy comic sketch. Other than that, she did a fine job with the part.
If you want to see this movie, go quickly, before someone tells you “just one thing” that you’ll otherwise receive as a gift on your own. And in case you find yourself wondering, the surviving Beatles have embraced and approve of the film.
Yesterday runs 1 hour, 56 minutes and is rated PG13.
Should I see this movie?  

Vic’s Flix Movie Review: Shaft

“You see this cat Shaft is a bad mother (Shut your mouth!)”
We all remember that iconic line from the Oscar winning Theme From Shaft by Isaac Hayes in 1971. And it is repeated in the latest Shaft movie, with less polite editing. Whether you like the original Shaft movie or character, the song is unique, powerful and playful. It evokes imagery of the time, Afro-style.
If you’re looking for polite, this film is quite the opposite. It is loaded from curb to gutter with N-words, F-words, M-words, C-words, B-words and whatever other letter-word you can imagine. Even John Shaft’s Millennial son John Shaft Junior is offended, and asks his dad to stop using the N-word.
Junior also apologizes for Dad’s behavior, “He thinks he’s the black James Bond.” Dad responds, “If that dude was real, he’d wanna be me.”
What is it about Samuel L. Jackson that’s so fun to watch? He’s become a virtual parody of himself. His badass self. You expect him to be foul, fierce and forgiveable, and he always delivers.
But wait, you say, Richard Roundtree played Shaft in the original movie. Did he get too old to reprise the role in 2019? Heck no, he’s just Grandpa Shaft now at age 76, a dapper, fine looking fellow who keeps an arsenal in a secret closet in his apartment. Interesting, since Jackson is 70, but a young 70 who can pull off the generational divide.
The story is fairly ludicrous, and is thus considered an action crime comedy. You know those bad guys who can’t seem to hit the broad side of a barn – in the barn? They unload hundreds of rounds to Shafts single clip, and he decimates entire gangs. You realize you just need to duck when a machine gun is being unloaded into your car? Shaft knows. Right on! Oh, and Junior can shoot, he just hates guns.
So John Shaft Junior (Jessie T. Usher) seeks his Dad’s help solving the murder of his best friend. This leads into a world of alleged Muslim terrorists, drug dealers and dance clubs. Yes, to Dad’s surprise, Junior knows the art of Brazilian dance-fighting. That gets him out of one scrape, and then he throws up on two hookers. Dad just roles his eyes and continues to mentor him in the ways of street violence and sex. After all, he thinks Junior’s mama raised him to be a white boy. He’ll have none of that.
Tim Story is in the Director’s chair for this, the 5th film in the Shaft series. About the only credit attributed to him that I recognize is Fantastic Four in 2005. Other than that, he’s done mostly TV work.
By the end of the movie, the three generations of Shaft men are seen striding through the streets of Harlem in matching shades and burgundy suede dusters, ready for the sixth film in the series.
I need to say at this point, do not bring your kids to this movie. Recently I saw two parents taking their perhaps 6 and 8 year old daughters to see John Wick III. Come on people!

Shaft (2019) runs 1 hour and 51 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie? 

Vic’s Flix Movie Review: Men In Black International

So, what’s different about Men In Black International from its predecessors and why doesn’t it work? A number of things, actually. The MIB franchise, parts I, II and III were all directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. They all starred Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. And rather than produce Men In Black IV, faced with declining box office revenue, even when adjusted for increasing ticket prices, they chose to stop while they were ahead. So is this a reboot or simply a fourth chapter?
Calling this film Men In Black IV would have been a disservice to the original triad, which struggled even with the on screen charisma of Smith and Jones to maintain audience interest and compelling stories. Granted, Liam Neeson has a very particular set of skills, as we now understand, but as the head of the London MIB organization, “Agent High T” lacks resolve and caves under pressure from his subordinates. And there’s a reason for that, as we discover later.
There’s some cool tech in this outing. Weapons that are magically extracted from the trim of a flying BMW and a proprietary super-fast subway system transports agents under the ocean to London by way of the Thames (which would actually be the long way around) in…well, they don’t actually say how long, but it’s fast. There are lots of floating displays and holographic projections that have become so ubiquitous in science fiction films that it seems like we should be using them in the real world by now. And of course, the infamous “neuralizer” is used frequently to cover tracks with induced memory lapses and planted suggestions throughout the movie.
Chris Hemsworth, looking lean and unlike Thor in a suit and tie, plays Agent H, reluctantly alongside partner Agent M (Tessa Thompson), a newbie who talked her way into the MIB organization after succeeding in a lifelong quest to find their headquarters. Oh, and she’s a girl! So, we have a couple of obligatory nods to feminine power that come off as patronizing. “I had that conversation,” quips Chief Agent O, the steely Emma Thomson, about the team’s “Men” moniker. And Agent H credits his partner by stating, “We’re the Men…and woman…In Black.” Wink, wink, meet you for a drink later babe. “Who is that guy?” M asks a colorful female, time-shifting alien. “I don’t know but he’s yummy!”
He may be yummy, but he’s no Thor. He’s kind of lost his mojo on the team, but in a fun nod to the Thor character, and as an Easter egg for Marvel fans, he desperately reaches for a one pound sledgehammer during a fight, skidding along the floor as if it might jump into his grasp, but alas, has to pick it up like a mere mortal and toss it ineffectively at a battling alien.
The star of this film is a non-human animated chess piece named “Pawny.” He’s got Baby Groot cuteness and most of the funny lines in the film. I’d pay to see a Baby Masters of the Universe starring these two animated characters. And ultimately Pawny literally saves the world, which goes pretty much unnoticed by the insecure human agents. He is voiced by Kumail Nanjiani, with a subtle Indian accent that makes him sound vaguely like a young computer help desk specialist or Uber driver (which he actually plays in the upcoming Stuber.)
The film seems to lose its footing, heading off on a tangent to an evil ex girlfriend of Agent H named Riza (Rebecca Ferguson.) The most interesting thing about her is a third arm, which she uses to great effect in a fight scene with Agent M. But she really doesn’t seem all that evil, and is defeated far too easily.
Aliens abound in Men In Black International. This has always been a hallmark of the franchise. But minus Tommy Lee Jones’ deadpan demeanor and Will Smith’s na├»ve enthusiasm, the chemistry of the first three films was entirely lacking. F. Gary Gray, a director with a meager film repertoire and mostly music videos in his portfolio, is a puzzling choice to take the lead on this film. Box office take during its first weekend was respectable but not impressive. It remains to be seen how long it stays in theaters.
Kids might like this, but after spending $20 on tickets and an equivalent amount on snacks, I would have appreciated being shot with a neuralizer on the way out of the theater.

Men In Black International runs 1 hour, 54 minutes and is rated PG-13

Should I see this movie? 

Vic’s Flix Movie Review: Rocketman

On October 12, 1986 we saw Elton John at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, a mere five miles from the legendary Troubadour music venue where he exploded onto the scene on August 25, 1970. By this time, his greatest hits, those from his classic period between 1970 and 1976 were all part of the set list. It’s one of those shows you pull out of your portfolio when comparing concerts with friends. Yeah, I saw Elton John in L.A.
And that said, I don’t consider myself a huge fan, although the song Rocketman is one of my all time favorites. I think we have a greatest hits cassette somewhere, but the Elton John I experienced when I was coming of age in the early 70s was as an inescapable, integral fabric in the soundtrack tapestry that soothed our journey from the late 60s into a fabulous and turbulent decade. 
His songs evoke that “where were you when you first heard…” visceral reaction. He was always on the radio (remember radio?) with a range of tunes that spanned from the beautiful Your Song to the raucous Crocodile Rock. Pick your mood, he and lyricist Bernie Taupin captured raw emotion in music and words. I was washing windows at my first job when the haunting, synthesized strains embedded in the song Rocketman, like fuel expending on ascent, sealed an association within me of flashback proportions. That the song was inspired by the amazing science fiction writer Ray Bradbury of suburban Waukegan Illinois, for me lays another piece of rebar in the concrete of this musical creation. It also harkens back to David Bowie’s Space Oddity, another of my favorites. 
But this is not a music review, so now lets talk about the film that attempts to capture this amazing life and talent.
Like so many other rock ‘n roll biopics, most recently Bohemian Rhapsody, Elton John’s life seems to have followed a script: child prodigy struggles for acceptance and recognition, spends time supporting other musicians, bursts onto the scene, is taken advantage of by producers and adoring fans, copes with drugs and alcohol, and if not dead by 27 from drugs or AIDS, winds up in rehab hoping for a second act.
The movie Rocketman dutifully captures each of these phases, playing alongside a through-line of parental disdain, neglect and emotional abuse. Perhaps the phases in John’s life are segmented in this way, but you can almost hear the pages of the storyboard turning – ok, now the Troubadour segment – like a series of music videos, at times awkwardly strung together.
A youthful 29-year-old Taron Egerton, known from the Kingsmen films, plays Elton John (born Reginald Dwight) as an adult throughout most of the film. His John pales by comparison to Rami Malek’s Freddy Mercury. Other sequences rely on child actors (Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor) to portray his formative, restrictive upbringing as a musical prodigy. Bryce Howard is very un-Jurassic World in her portrayal of his cold-hearted mother. Given John’s full participation in the film, with a nothing-is-off-limits carte blanche to director Dexter Fletcher, the severity of interactions with his parents was apparently represented with full approval. It leaves you feeling very sorry for him, despite his phenomenal transformation and success.
Probably the most powerful sequence in the film, an awe-inspiring debut performance at the Troubadour, is enhanced to fantasy proportions by having John literally float away from his piano, the audience defying gravity and likewise floating upward from the floor of the small club. Those in attendance have bragging rights over a legendary moment in pop music history. In the audience sat Neil Diamond, Stephen Stills and Leon Russell.
When I saw this in the preview I came to expect a more fantasy-like treatment throughout the film. A couple of other fantasy sequences were injected during songs that needed visual embellishment. And how do you tell the story of Elton John without a Grease-like story through song? But the songs were retrofitted to fit the story elements, not originally inspired by them. 
To say that the film was more ordinary than fantastic is unfair. But when a biographical film is more mundane than its subject, it leaves you wondering if it could have been better made in someone else’s hands. In fact, Dexter Fletcher was called in to finish Bohemian Rhapsody when its director was fired for bad behavior. The two films have a similar feel.
Interviews with the cast reveal the general feeling that John is a very nice man. You get this sense in the film as well. He can’t even yell at Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) without immediately apologizing.
During the summer of 1976, the song Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, a duet with Kiki Dee seemed to be played every 30 minutes on top-40 radio. Dee is faithfully played here by Rachel Muldoon, complete with auburn bangs and jumper straight out of the music video. It was an enjoyable scene that was sadly cut short by the entrance of John’s lover/nemesis John Reid (Richard Madden), who came to dominate and control John during his most productive period. So, add him to the list of people you come to hate while learning about Elton.
I always thought (and so did many others) that Bernie Taupin was Elton’s partner. The film straightens that out. They were like brothers, and this is repeated several times. But they were the Lennon and McCartney of early 70s pop music, a partnership so effective they became a single entity.
Like other true-life films with living subjects, a few photos and credits at the end reveal a happy ending. Elton has been sober for 28 years and is married to David Furnish. He has stopped touring to focus on raising their two adopted children.

Rocketman (2019) runs 2 hours 1 minute and is rated R.

Should I see this movie? 

Vic’s Flix Movie Review: Ma

We all enter the crucible of terror known as high school and emerge after four years ready for adulthood. Correct that. We emerge ready for another four years that change us forever. But some never recover from the trauma suffered between ages 13 and 17. Some are kind and some are cruel. And cruelty plays a significant role in the film Ma.
Octavia Spencer is one of those actresses you just want to hug. Thus, she is perfectly cast as Sue Ann (nicknamed Ma), the cuddly adult willing to buy booze for a car full of partying teens. Or the hostess who offers her home as a safe place to drink, “to keep you off the road” she pleads. Who would suspect she’s a psychopath?
Spencer is an academy award winner we all remember from The Help and Hidden Figures. But she has had an extremely busy career, frequently playing nurses on TV and in film. She turns the mood from laughter to horror on a dime in Ma, manipulating the impressionable teen victims she befriends outside a liquor store.
And then it quickly gets creepy.
This is a tale of a deeply traumatized young girl seeking revenge on those who abused her decades earlier. Now, the classmates who bullied her have teens of their own. And did they learn anything along the way? Seems not. So they are ripe for revenge, and temptation is being fostered at every turn. Just DO NOT go upstairs!
From the onset, you find yourself glad to have survived this period of your life, glad that your own kids made it through, and worried about the grandkids’ turn if you are so blessed.
The stomach churning tension experienced during the recent film Greta ( reviewed previously) or Get Out, build analogously toward the evening that Carrie went to the prom, complete with flames and destruction. Unfortunately they skip the “Carrie effect” once the psychopathic main character has gotten her come-uppance. It somewhat disappointingly ends there, minus the nerve jangling, jolting reappearance of the monster who most certainly was destroyed a few moments earlier.
Diana Silvers, whose short career is off to a great start, plays Maggie, the new girl in town whose random act of kindness plays a pivotal role late in the film. Other than that, no bad deed goes unpunished in Ma, and Ma is doing all the punishing.
Director Tate Taylor, who also directed The Help, has directed three actresses to Oscar nominations. He frequently casts Octavia Spencer in his films.
Oral sex, violence and language earn this film its R rating. Its not one for the kiddies, unless you care to do a lot of explaining.

Ma runs 1 hour 39 minutes and is rated R

Should I see this movie?   

Vic’s Flix Movie Review: Aladdin

Here comes “The Summer of Disney” - but we have to wonder, with recent acquisitions, isn’t it all-Disney all the time?
The animated Aladdin was a fun family favorite in 1993. And the new live action release is no less engaging. But I have to get this out of the way up front and then move on: I miss Robin Williams. He brought his trademark energy and humor to the Genie character and was clearly the star of the show. Genie is Robin. Robin is Genie. A tough act to follow, and no doubt to cast.
Enter Will Smith and his computer enhanced blue muscles to do an admirable job in the central role, singing and seeming to really enjoy himself in an updated portrayal of Genie. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, the popular particle-smoke effect is used throughout the film when letting the Genie out of the bottle or putting him back in place. Many other transformative moments benefit from this multimedia effect.
This is a colorful romp through Agrabah, a product of a Middle Eastern folk tale that featured Aladdin in the One Thousand and One (Arabian) Nights. Directed by Guy Ritchie (Madonna’s ex), whose most noteworthy successes cast Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes (2009) and a sequel two years later. Perhaps this is another attempt by Disney to develop a relevant base of directors in the wide net they’re casting. Or maybe they’re just spread too thin.
Whomever is in the Director’s chair, Disney films remain solidly Disney-esque. Villains are over the top evil and ultimately defeated. Boys get girls, lose girls, save girls, all while said girls are expressing their fierce and feminist natures. With a bit of courage, Disney could have named this film Jasmine. She’s the pivotal character, aspiring to be the first female Sultan of Agrabah, but she has to be literally swept off her feat on a magic carpet, convince Daddy and marry Aladdin to make it happen. The music has been nicely updated and a few new songs added.
The non-human characters deserve a mention. Abu is adorable, a typically wide-eyed Disney creature. The equally amazing animated parrot, Iago, is presented here minus the voice of Gilbert Godfried, which was core to the bird’s minion nature. Now he’s just a big-mouthed ordinary red parrot.
Marwan Kenzari plays Jafar, the power hungry Grand Vizier to the Sultan. Unfortunately his voice is an octave too high and makes him sound less evil than he should.
The sets of this movie are wonderfully over-stuffed Disney prop explosions that lead to a Bollywood dance sequence as the final credits roll. Fast motion was used during chase and dance scenes. Humans can’t move fast enough to keep up with the musical back beat. The colors are vivid, pervasive and a treat for the eyes. But I couldn’t help but feel that the designers were building sets that could easily be transformed into the next DisneyWorld ride. And of course there will be tons of merchandise.
Aladdin is played by Mena Massoud, an Egyptian who grew up in Canada. Handmaid Dalia is played by Nasim Pedrad, an Iranian born Muslim and a face familiar to Saturday Night Live fans during the years 2009 to 2014.
Frankly, Erin Moran and Scott Baio could have spun Joannie and Chachi into a Jasmine and Aladdin production. But the new stars are loaded with talent, particularly Naomi Scott, who sings up a storm while those around her are simply competent. She has an Indian mother and British father, a plate full of work and a long future ahead of her.
And then there’s Will Smith, known as the most powerful actor in Hollywood, among other titles. His is a long multidisciplinary career full of blockbuster performances and record box office grosses, awards upon awards and the ability to seemingly do anything. This was clearly a fun project for him.
Definitely see this on a big screen. Although a bit long, it’s a fun adventure for the whole family. Wholesome entertainment from the masters of wholesome entertainment.

Aladdin (2019) runs 2 hours, 8 minutes and is rated PG
Should I see this movie? 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Marvel fans are pushing this film to huge box office receipts. I’m not sure it’s deserved.  I recommend that you see  Iron Man 3  before see...