The Goldfinch

They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky...
Oh, wait, I have to save that for the upcoming Adam’s Family movie.
Ok, they’re rich and sadly boring, they live in New York, intellectually walled off from each other, and this doesn’t rhyme.
Once again, I was led to believe a movie is about something entirely different than how it’s portrayed in a trailer. The Goldfinch looked to be an exciting whodunit about a terrorist event and a stolen masterpiece. While there was an unexplained explosion, and a 1654 painting goes missing, the entire middle of the movie drags on about a grieving boy coming of age among seriously broken people.
For the record, I looked up the painting. The Goldfinch is a 1654 work by Carel Fabritius of a chained goldfinch. It is a 13 by 9 inch oil painting that belongs to a collection in The Hague, Netherlands.
I did not read the Pulitzer Prize winning book from which this movie originated, but have read that this interpretation is a disappointment, losing much in translation.
The beginning and end of the movie, if the entirety of the span between those two segments could be reduced by about an hour, would have held my interest. Although beautifully filmed and filled with details that art, music and antique furniture aficionados might enjoy, the characters are shallow, temporary caretakers of their beloved collections.
Nicole Kidman’s character (Mrs. Barbour) is just weird, staring vacantly at those around her, speaking in near whispers and raising a family of similarly strange children.
Oakes Fegley and Ansel Elgort play the young and older central character Theo Decker, who survives an art museum explosion that kills his mother. He is cared for by the wealthy Barbour family until his delinquent father (Luke Wilson) appears with his girlfriend Xandra, played sufficiently skanky by Sarah Paulson. They whisk him away to a desolate, mostly foreclosed neighborhood in Las Vegas. (An interesting side note, Paulson’s father works in the Lowe’s store near our house. He sells windows. Hey, people have parents.)
Theo’s new friend Boris, who mostly raises himself, is a drug using, heavily traveled, abused son of a Russian merchant of some sort. He is also played by two actors, Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things, and Aneurin Barnard who was in Dunkirk and tons of other TV series. Unfortunately, Wolfhard seems to have trouble maintaining a consistent Russian accent.
Luke Wilson suffers from typecasting in comedies early in his career that make him a misfit as a raging alcoholic. He and Paulson are just too recognizable for roles that would have benefited from unknown faces.
On the chance that you might choose to see this movie, I don’t want to reveal anything that turned out to be surprising. Those were the films only redeeming features.
The Goldfinch (2019) runs 2 hours, 29 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?


Ad Astra

A personal disclaimer: I liked Star Trek The Motion PictureDune2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien. I did not like Star Wars the first time I saw it, mostly because I expected something more cerebral. The bar scene full of goofy aliens, which most people LOVE, seemed silly to me.
I was looking forward to Ad Astra, based solely on the trailers we’ve seen for a couple of months. It looked thoughtful, exciting and spectacularly imagined. And in fact, it was very thoughtful and visually stunning. So why did I come away somewhat disappointed?
The film is set “in the near future” according to opening titles. How near is subject to speculation, since a vast metropolis exists on the Moon, commercial space transportation has become routine, and a subterranean government base is established on Mars. Visitors on the Moon move via escalators past a DHL shipping outlet and Subway sandwich store. It looks much like a large airport does today. This is the stuff of 100 to 300 years from now.
Unfortunately, as mankind has moved off-Earth, all human failings have hitched a ride. The Moon is at war, complete with raiding bands of pirates, and the furthest outpost in the solar system near Neptune has become the scene of a lunatic’s mass murder. That lunatic is the preeminent U.S. astronaut, H. Clifford McBride, played by Tommy Lee Jones. He is the father of Ad Astra’s primary character, his son Roy, played by Brad Pitt.
And where have we been introduced to this? Ah, yes, over fifty years ago when Stanley Kubrick had flight attendants working in weightless conditions on board a moon shuttle. There hasn’t been a ton of imaginative progress since that visionary masterpiece. But on this trip, Brad Pitt is charged $125 for a blanket and pillow pack. And it all feels very real if ubiquitous corridors and airlocks still satisfy the requirements of construction on other worlds.
It seems that Pitt’s real life quest to tear down the emotional walls that keep him safe from vulnerability are similar to those that make Roy McBride a supremely stable space ranger. His pulse fails to exceed 80 beats per minute even when falling to his death from a towering space antenna, parachuting to a landing at the last moment. Throughout the film he is subjected to frequent psychological assessments during which he professes to be “feeling good and ready to do my job to the best of my abilities.”
Several long sequences in Ad Astra had the feel of Kubrick’s long journey to Jupiter, minus the psychedelic colors. There’s not a lot of dialogue, and the feeling of isolation within confined spacecraft and space suits runs pretty much throughout the film.
A running gun battle in rovers on the surface of the Moon, an attack by released research baboons on a scientific vessel, and a hand-to-hand combat sequence aboard the ship bound for Neptune are inserted to add periodic excitement to the otherwise monotonous plot. We’re never really sure why Tommy Lee Jones is using antimatter to generate “surges” that threaten to wipe out all life in the known universe. He just wants to identify intelligent life somewhere, anywhere. The government’s goal is to destroy him at all costs. The 1956 film Forbidden Planet made better use of the human psyche – The Tempest style – to parlay human frailty into cosmically sinister forces. The senior McBride just seems to have gone space-mad from self imposed loneliness and ambition.
Ad Astra, Latin for “to the stars” might have been more aptly titled Ad Nauseum, given the droning self-talk of the main character and the anti-climactic ending. Sure, young McBride saves the universe, but along the way he discovers that his father never cared about him (he tells him this) and the government is secretive, duplicitous and has used him as an unwitting tool.
If you like science fiction, this is probably worth seeing. I’d be surprised if it does well in theaters once people start talking about it. The pace is similar to 2016’s Arrival. Don’t go into it expecting the excitement of 2013’s Gravity 2015's The Martian or even the original Planet of the Apes.
At the end of the day, no intelligent life was found. But maybe the negative tone of this review is just the result of my wife calling Brad Pitt “dreamy” while I was sitting next to her sharing a bag of M&Ms.
Ad Astra runs 2 hours 3 minutes and is rated PG-13.
 Should I see this movie?  

Brittany Runs a Marathon

If you’ve ever needed to lose a few pounds, wanted to get in shape or had friends who let you down, Brittany Runs a Marathon will be a relatable, possibly cringe-worthy two hours that either makes you want to go work out or visit the concession stand so you can eat your feelings.
If you’ve ever successfully reinvented yourself, you’ve recognized the changes that happen all around you, and realize that the things most worth changing aren’t on the outside. The person you need to be and love is, well, you.
Jillian Bell plays Brittany, a fun-loving underachiever whose roommate and best friend is at her best when Brittany is at her worst. Success for Brittany is a direct threat to Gretchen’s (Alice Lee) drug-pushing, alcohol bingeing, outer physical perfection. When she engages in physical activity she "loses too much weight." Really? She’s not much of a friend at all, which becomes apparent when Brittany begins to pay attention to herself instead of Gretchen.
Most doctors don’t tell you to lose weight and exercise. They eagerly write prescriptions for cholesterol lowering medication and focus only on what’s bothering you. If being fat makes you happy, so be it. So imagine Brittany’s surprise when she goes to a doctor who suggests that her BMI is too high and no, he won’t give her Adderall. She should consider getting some exercise.
Thus begins Brittany’s quest to get in shape. Her semi poverty drives her outdoors where exercise is free. Running one block is her first goal, but she gradually increases distance and eventually decides to train for the New York City Marathon. She makes new friends along the way, and ultimately the one friend she needs most – herself.
Some initial comic scenes energize the beginning of this movie. Here we have another fat girl whose humor shields her from criticism, intimacy and responsibility. But her sadness shines through, and the dramatic side of the movie takes over. Both sides of the equation are sensitively handled, intelligently scripted and well acted.
Paul Downs Colaizzo wrote this screenplay based on the true story of his close friend Brittany O'Neill. It is his first film in the Director’s chair. Casting of Jillian Bell in her first lead role paid off. She lost 40 pounds for the role and took up running to better understand the character she was to play. A difficult scene in which she takes to task another heavy woman for being impossibly happy led Bell to be less self-deprecating about herself going forward. The scene is as uncomfortable to watch as the one in Family Stone in which Sarah Jessica Parker inadvertently insults a gay couple. But in this case, Brittany is drunk and deliberate.

So if Brittany Runs a Marathon doesn’t sound like a fun run through Central Park, it’s not, but it does have some likeable characters and endearing moments. Perhaps it should be categorized purely as a drama, and the trailer should downplay the comedy.

Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019) runs 1 hour 44 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?  

Overcomer

My first thought when we considered going to see this movie was, “What a dumb title,” and I still think they could have come up with something more grammatically clever. With a cast full of unknowns and a budget of only five millions dollars, I longed for a sports-related movie similar to 1979’s Breaking Away, a feel good sleeper that inspired and excited with half the budget.
What isn’t apparent, either in the trailer or until about half way through this film is that the production company, Affirm Films, makes movies that appeal to Evangelical Christians. The religious tone of the film was kept under wraps until the plot needed the help of a higher power to succeed. At that point, the spiritual message becomes very heavy handed and I felt that the movie could be used in a confirmation class or Sunday school.
They say that God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle. So, I guess when a local employer shuts their doors, resulting in the school basketball team being depleted of athletes who defect to another town, it becomes too much for coach Harrison (Alex Kendrick) to handle. Adding to his troubles is a pay cut and his reassignment to the school cross-country team. The team has only one member, young Hannah (Aryn Wright-Thompson) who has asthma and no parents. The grandmother she lives with is aware she’s stealing things, demands that she return her latest acquisition, and then goes to work. She seems a bit angry, perhaps resentful of the role she’s taken on as guardian.
A coincidental meeting leads Coach to the hospital room of a dying patient who turns out to be Hannah’s supposedly dead father. The coach and his wife take it upon themselves to introduce the two, unsure of how simmering Grandma will react. Of course she explodes. The father was a drug abuser who walked out when Hannah was a baby, and Grandma has been “protecting” her from his further influence ever since. In real life this subterfuge would have led to litigation.
A little further research finds that Alex Kendrick, an ordained Baptist minister and his brother Steven, are the Kendirck Brothers who produced this and other similarly inspirational films like FlywheelFireproof  and Courageous. Alex not only stars in, but writes, directs and produces. And he’s not a bad actor.
Honestly, I felt that I’d been tricked into seeing this movie, and I guess by saying that I’m admitting that I wouldn’t have attended had I known what I learned along the way. That said, it was a nice movie, a feel good experience, adequately scripted, filmed and acted, but could have achieved the same result without several cringe-worthy scenes in which people fall to their knees and beg God for help. To examine the script further requires a philosophical debate that serves no purpose. But I also wonder about the motivation behind somewhat disguising the film’s nature. Was it for wider distribution, increased ticket sales, or the hope of spreading the good word further than they might, had they been more forthright, leaving them preaching to the choir?
Forgiveness and redemption are served in heaping helpings in Overcomer. If you have a couple of hours free because you skipped church this week, consider opening your heart, mind and a box of popcorn to this helpful message movie.

Overcomer (2019) runs 1 hour 59 minutes and is rated PG.

It Chapter 2

"How long IS this movie?" my wife whispered in my ear.


“Eight hours,” I replied, having reached a point where I wondered similarly.
If you’ve read much Steven King, you know he can write long stories. 1990’s The Stand was 1152 pages in hardcover. 2017’s It tops that slightly at 1168. So, what do you cut out of ponderous tomes like these to fit them into a two-hour movie? Apparently, not much.
Even Steven King himself appeared in a speaking part during It Chapter 2. It was lengthy for a cameo, not like Alfred Hitchcock silently lurking in the background. But King is creepy enough looking to do a spot-on job of playing a creepy storeowner.
We watched It Chapter 1 the night before seeing the sequel. We felt it was important to understand what was going on 27 years earlier, which is the setup for this encounter with Pennywise, the insane clown monster and title character. And as expected, they shot a lot of extra footage during the filming of the first movie in order to rehash the relationships between the seven kids from King’s fictional Maine town of Derry.
And rehash they did. Old footage galore, used and new, revisited many scenes in order to make sense of the new chapter for new viewers who missed the old one.
Both films are scary, gory collages of ultra creepy killer clown encounters, the underlying plot being to destroy the evil that surfaces in Derry every twenty-seven years. We find in this go-round that the clown is actually an alien “eater of worlds” that crashed into Earth millions of years ago. We discover that this was chronicled by Native Americans that attempted to ritually rid themselves of the periodic evil to no avail. The creature feeds on fear, and is quite adept at creating fear-provoking situations, customized to individuals, and seemingly causing ripples of psychotic behavior among the town’s citizens. That, or else Derry is one abusive, messed up place to begin with.
A lot of time is spent establishing the fact that the previously identified time limit has expired, Pennywise is back, and the “losers” as they call themselves in the first film need to regroup for a second attempt at killing the beast. Of course, the original 13 year olds are now 40, which leads to some fun casting challenges. Bill Hader is perfect as Richie, equally adept at comedy and drama, and often switching gears several times in a single scene. Apparently I’m not the only one to confuse Jessica Chastain with Bryce Howard, but it doesn’t matter. Chastain plays the grown up (red-headed) Beverly, the only girl in the group. Stanley commits suicide rather than return to Derry, so Andy Bean doesn’t get much screen time.
That's Howard on the left, Chastain to the right.
Each character must retrieve an “artifact” from the first film to sacrifice in the ritual that Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has decoded over the years. He was the only member of the team who remained in Derry during the intervening time.
To get into any more detail risks this review becoming a further perpetrator of the Steven King long story trap. Suffice it to say that each character experiences a lengthy close encounter with Pennywise, one after the other, until the group attacks en masse, and is then divided by the creature for easier predation. 
It becomes clear that nothing can destroy the fear-eating force, not even love (yeah, I thought it might go there), so eventually they humiliate it to death. Yes, the eater of worlds becomes the victim of group bullying and name calling, making the monster feel small. If this is a public service message of some kind, it gets totally lost in the resulting gore and special effects. It just seems kind of lame.
The good news is, there will be no Chapter 3. There was really no need for Chapter 2, but without it the first film would have been five hours long. Maybe without all the flashbacks it could have been trimmed to four. After all, both films had the same Director, but writing duties shifted to include Steven King for the finale. Ah, there’s the problem. Stick to books Steve. Screenplay becomes screen time.

It Chapter 2 (2019) runs 2 hours 49 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?  

Bennett’s War

We are clearly scraping the bottom of the available movie barrel thanks to our Regal Unlimited Movie Pass. This is not a film we ever would have paid to see, nor is it one that I’ll recommend. Not being awful is not the same as being good.
You know you’re on the margins of the film industry when Trace Adkins has the longest acting portfolio among the cast members. Here he plays a tough guy (of course) farmer named Cal Bennett, father of the main character Marshall. He has a ponytail and a failing farm. He needs money to keep things going.
Marshall Bennett (Michael Roark) is a motorcycle commando, blown up in the Mideast and recovering from leg injuries that threaten to end his Motocross career. His wife Sophie (Allison Paige) is going to make sure of that. After all, she almost lost him once and they have a new baby.
A series of scenes show friends and family hovering over Marshall out of concern for his recovery, but effectively preventing him from reclaiming his dignity. And then he tries to change a light bulb by standing on an unstable stool. I’m not kidding. He falls and cries in his Dad’s arms.
At long last, Marshall defies Sophie by winning a local race and saving Dad’s farm with the prize money. Dad has a heart to heart with Sophie that turns things around. We suddenly find ourselves watching a Rocky-like against-all-odds training sequence to get Marshall ready to compete and go pro. Chin-ups in the barn sort of stuff with a little wifey exercise afterwards. This is the point at which I leaned over to my wife and whispered in my best Burgess Meredith impression, “Women weaken legs, Rock!”
Go Pro is a key choice of words above. This movie felt as if some Motocross fans got together with a helmet-mounted camera and decided to edit it into a story. I can just hear it, “Dude, we got Trace Adkins and Tony Panterra to sign on!”
Yes, Tony Panterra, is apparently sort of playing himself. He is a Motocross racer, stuntman and actor whose largest claim to fame is his daughter Lexy Panterra. I’d never heard of either of them, but it appears she has a large following for shaking her booty in a video workout program called The Twerkout. You can’t make this stuff up.
The Director and most of the actors have only TV and short film credits prior to this picture. The story is corny and predictable, but otherwise gets the job done and generates a little excitement. At least it’s short, and to their credit they managed to keep the rating down with an almost total lack of profanity. I doubt this will be in theaters for long, so if you like Motocross, you may want to zoom over to the theater soon.

Bennett’s War (2019) runs 1 hour 34 minutes and is rated PG.
Should I see this movie? 

Toy Story 4

It’s hard to believe that Andy headed off to college in Toy Story 3 nine years ago. By now he might have completed his Doctorate. Harder yet is realizing that the Toy Story franchise has been with us for twenty-four years. Many of us have children who grew up with this cast of characters, headed off to college, and perhaps had children with their own favorite toys.
If you’ve been to Orlando’s Disney World since June of 2018, you’ve most likely been caught up in the maddening crush known as Toy Story Land. Created to the usual irresistibly colorful and immersive standards we’ve come to expect, you’ll want to ride the Slinky-Dog Coaster, pose alongside Buzz Lightyear with the kids and then run screaming in another direction after the giant Tinker-Toys and crowds of families with kids become too much.
But at the movies it’s like a trip back in time. After all, while we’ve been relentlessly aging, our extended family of characters have remained frozen in 1995, when the original Toy Story announced that “You've Got a Friend in Me.” One wonders why the theme park took so long to come to fruition. The second movie came out within four years. The third after a much longer pause of eleven. And finally, nine years evaporated prior to this most recent incarnation. It’s not like they had to create new characters or new voices (still Tom Hanks and Tim Allen).
But, forgive me for getting a bit misty during these films, and I know I’m not alone. Revisiting these old friends reminds us of, well, a lot. What a different world we lived in during the first two chapters. Perhaps a delay was in order post-911 as we adjusted to a daily diet of war and apprehension. Or did we need Toy Story even more because of it?
If you’ve seen one movie, you’ve seen them all. The original look and feel has been preserved by Pixar despite astounding advances in photorealistic 3D technique. That’s comforting, but just how long can they carry on this franchise? Perhaps as long as new kids are born to watch them? It’s refreshing to see a G-rated movie, an increasing rarity in our NC17 world. And it’s nice to hear fun new music in Randy Newman’s increasingly gravely voice.
Little Bo Peep has a larger role in this Toy Story. And a new character named Duke Caboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves) is a fun addition. He’s like an Evel Knievel partner to Buzz Lightyear’s ongoing failed attempts at flight and fantasy. The new comic star of the show is “Forky” – a living spork created by young Bonnie at her Kindergarten orientation. A subplot involving ventriloquist dummies has parents squirming, but maybe not the kids. That particular fear is an acquired taste, much like clowns. Woody is aging nicely but having something of an identity crisis. And his time in the back of a closet has resulted in “your first dust bunny.” It’s a testament to his own passage of time as adroitly commented upon by a toy alarm clock.
And speaking of parents, this story has a diverse and more present adult couple. “Dad” is referenced several times by the toys, and again by Mom, who ushers Bonnie away before, “Dad is going to use some words” regarding a flat tire on their RV. Animation within a long carnival segment is as good as any filmed amusement park. The lighting is brilliant, the colors vivid and the games come to life in an amusing way.
I’m leaving out details to avoid spoilers, but the setup for a fifth film is definitely in place should they choose to keep this particular money making machine running for another decade or so. It seems everyone wants to be part of this animated treasure. Voices include Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Carl Reiner, Betty White and even the late Don Rickles retrieved from archival audio. There are so many characters it’s hard to sort them all out. But with animated stars like these, it’s easy to see how they might go…to infinity and beyond.
Toy Story 4 (2019) runs 1 hour 40 minutes and is rated G.
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...