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.

Should you see this movie?

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.

Should you see this movie?

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?

No Time to Die

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