Black Panther The Polka King The Post Lady Bird The Disaster Artist Coco Jim & AndyDaddy's Home 2Baby DriverKingsmen - Golden CircleAmerican MadHitman's Bodyguard Detroit Dunkirk The Big Sick War for the Planet of the Apes Spider-Man: HomecomingDespicable Me 3 The House Cars 3 The Mummy Baywatch How to be a Latin LoverSnatched

[Review archive 2]

[Review archive 1]
Black Panther
Film reviewers who normally dismiss superhero movies and columnists who don’t review films at all are falling over
Superheroes of color

     Heroes come in all hues.
 themselves to virtue signal their love for Black Panther, the latest Marvel comic-to-screen blockbuster.

(Complete review to follow.)

The Polka King

I need more accordion.
Polka is an acquired taste. Anyway, it’s one I acquired as a kid, osmotically. A month didn’t go by that there wasn’t some kind of Slovak celebration at Chicago’s Polonia Grove. While the fossils were rolling out the barrel in the pavilion, us kids were running around the grounds but never far enough that Joe “Joe Pat” Paterek’s upbeat music or a chorus of stomping feet could not be heard. The men enjoyed beer, brats and chest pains; mama and auntie would show off their new wigs. Those were good times.
The Man Who Would Be Polka King

     The 2009 folksy documentary, The Man Who Would Be Polka King — also currently on NetFlix — is a good companion piece. In it, Lewan’s son takes-on the “greedy” victims who themselves say of Lewan’s prison assault, “they should have finished the job.”
     Together these two films paint a complete picture.

Eventually, we too would embrace this music that was “so square it was hip” and even today I am convinced that the Milwaukee Rascals (arguably the U2 of Polka, by the way) hit, Don’t Throw Beer Bottles at the Band was the inspiration for the iconic Bob’s Country Bunker scene in The Blue Brothers (1980).
And just to make the lead-in to my review of Jack Black’s The Polka King even that much more unnecessarly long, consider this: It’s not possible to be unhappy listening to polka music. Cops don’t hassle people, trailers don’t blow away in tornados, spouses don’t do their significant others wrong. It’s right there in band names like Jolly Joe and Whoopee John. And in 1984’s The Last Polka, SCTV’s John Candy and Eugene Levy brought their Happy Wanderers — Yosh and Stan Schmenge — to the big screen (if you had a TV with dimensions that qualified, I guess; otherwise they just brought it to HBO). Need more proof: they don't do concerts, they do Polka Parties. (Mic drop.)
It’s with that fondness that I approached NetFlix’s The Polka King with Black as the perpetually optimistic Jan Lewan, who, as it turns out, was quite the flim-flam man even if his intentions were ostensibly noble.
Having struck-up the music for several years, the Polish native had become something of a Pennsylvania personality — he wed a one-time local beauty queen (Jenny Slate), and earned himself a Grammy nom — but it wasn’t enough. Lewan envisioned a Polka empire beyond modestly-paid gigs and his tchotchke shop. To fund it, and provide his band with a decent wage, Lewan began selling unregulated promissory notes offering fans, most of them pensioners, the unheard of return of 12%, and later 20%.
Among his enterprises was a European tour the highlight of which was a wangled private audience with Pope John Paul II (because he’s y’know, Polish) apparently facilitated by bribing a priest close to the Holy Father.
Alas, like all the best best Ponzi schemes, this one came tumbling down and Lewan served time in prison where an attempt on his life was made.
He returned to music on his release and quickly sold-out the Hazleton Philharmonic Hall (I am not familiar with the venue so that may or may not be a big deal) for his reunion tour.
Black’s Polish accent is at times wacky but he otherwise sells Lewan’s optimism, charm, and financial innocence as he pursues the Polish-American dream.
Moja droga jacie kocham, I loved this one so.

The Post

It’s films like this (and 2015’s Spotlight) that inspire some 15,000 fresh journalism grads every year to aspire to the same six seven (Matt Lauer’s job just opened-up) available positions. Of the dozens that land entry-level positions, many will find themselves writing obits, used car ads, or covering the occasional breaking local story (“Soil Supervisor Neglects to Sign Requisition for New Yardstick”).
What they all have in common is a calling to accept the great responsibility of taking on the government (or providing cover for it if they really, really, like the president and he’s really cool). It’s a savoir complex and they see themselves as heroes. Some of us see them that way too. After all, the greatest superhero in the world was, for his day job, a mild-mannered reporter.
Steven Spielberg plays on this image in the last few minutes of The Post which mimics every Marvel film with its sequel set-up.
Before that, we’re treated to a rather bland tale that for classic newsmen is the crack-cocaine of a breaking story but for the rest of us was actually “Meh!” It all centers on the Washington Post’s “daring” decision to print the so-called Pentagon Papers, a secret study that revealed the unwinability (yea, I know, my spell-checker complained about that one too) of the Vietnam War over several administrations both Democrat and Republican.
The thing is, it wasn’t such a big deal. Long before the 1971 publication, Americans soured on the conflict. Newspapers bucked White House persecution and in the case of the Post, risked financial ruin for something most everyone knew, anyway. Regrettably, this is doesn’t make for riveting drama though I suspect there is a message here about media’s role today that the fourth estate will seize on to herald this one rather than focus on the squandered talents of Spielberg and principals Tom Hanks and Merle Streep for whom in this ensemble piece there is very little meat.

Hardly the masterful riveting storytelling we’d expect from the director of the likes of Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.

  The Post has received the #CriticsChoice Seal of Distinction from the BFCA!

Lady Bird

Review coming soon.

  Lady Bird has received the #CriticsChoice Seal of Distinction from the BFCA!

The Disaster Artist

Though I had seen more than enough bad films over the years (for some reason 2010’s The Last Airbender comes to mind) I was unfamiliar with the 2003 gem The Room (not to be confused with Brie Larson’s remarkable Room).
The preposterously bad The Room starred and was written- and directed-by the mysterious Tommy Wiseau who claimed to be from New Orleans (mental flashback: Beldar Conehead, “We’re from France”). The genesis of its ersatz popularity goes like this: the self-financed and self-promoted film was DOA but saw a resurgence as something so bad it was/is entertaining (precisely my definition of Emo Philips, by the way).
The target audience for this one, evidently, are the hipster mockers. But the magic of The Disaster Artist is that you don’t have to be even familiar with the calamity of a film on whose development this one is based. Nor will you be piqued to check it out afterwards. It is for all a delicious examination of an enigmatic “auteur” and for fans of The Room it is that and a backstory.
That is to say you can appreciate Tim Burton’s Ed Wood and Johnny Depp’s brilliant portrayal of the cult filmmaker without having seen — or succumbing to the urge of seeing — Glen or Glenda or Orgy of the Dead which this one eclipses anyway. In the same way we can appreciate the pathetic efforts of Norma Desmond to bring her Salomé to the big screen. Sometimes the backstory is the story.
Here James Franco channels the titular “Disaster Artist” himself directing and starring as Wiseau. Franco’s brother Dave (21 Jump Street, Neighbors) is Wiseau’s protégé Greg Sestero (Sestero with Tom Bissell wrote the book on which The Disaster Artist is based).
For the typically comical James Franco this might seem a stretch but he delivers a peculiarly interesting introspective, handily his most substantial performance, in one of the year’s best and most engaging films.
I think that’s a fair assessment though Wiseau might tell me, “Leave your stupid comments in your pocket!”

  The Disaster Artist has received the #CriticsChoice Seal of Distinction from the BFCA!


Review coming soon.

  Coco has received the #CriticsChoice Seal of Distinction from the BFCA!

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

Review coming soon.
Man on the Moon (1999)

In case you didn’t know, Andy Kaufman was a hit-or-miss entertainer. But when he hit it was amazing. “You're insane,” Danny DeVito, as manager George Shapiro, concludes, “but you might also be brilliant.”
In truth, Kaufman, who Jim Carrey masterfully channels here, was both and this film, like the similarly titled R.E.M. track, is a dignified tribute.

Daddys Home 2
Not all the jokes land in Daddy’s Home Two but those I blame on Russian bots.
This sequel rejoins (see what I did there?) irascible badass Mark Wahlberg and lovable wuss Will Ferrell. Though, to be fair, Ferrell was kind of a badass as his character’s former wilder self Gator in The Other Guys, another film that paired the same duo and shone the due’s comic chemistry.
2015’s Daddy’s Home left little ground to cover. Ferrell, as Linda Cardellini’s second husband, was so in touch with his and others’ feelings … I was going to make a Harvey Weinstein joke but it’s all about timing and the moment passed. Anyway, their new world collapsed when first-husband Wahlberg returned. Laughs ensued. Really. They ensued. It was a funny film.
Two years later, the co-dads are back and Wahlberg is now as obnoxiously polite as Ferrell. Plot-writers need to bring back the original magic which they do – in a none-too-original Hollywood maneuver (refer to: Meet the Fockers) – by bringing in the parents so that the entire extended family can celebrate (and, predictably, clash) for the holidays.
Walberg’s dad is… wait for it … Mel Gibson. Sure there are a few others I would have cast (Liam Neeson comes to mind), but Gibson turns-in a convincing performance as a man’s man to the inspired casting of Ferrel’s fussy and fastidious begetter John Lithgow. Lithgow makes an airport entrance to Barry Manilow before sloppily kissing Ferrel like a crazy dog lover and their Bull Terrier named “Bosco” (OK, it’s me I’m talking about right now).
What follows is largely formulaic but not unsatisfying. Let’s just leave it at that.

Baby Driver
Review coming soon.

Kingsmen: The Golden Circle
Review coming soon.

American Made
Review coming soon.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard
So, OK, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is another “gotta keep the witness alive and get them to court to testify in time” buddy film. But just as there are many variations of the hot dog (though Chicagoans know there is really only one) so too are there several ways to execute this reliable plot. Reese Witherspoon’s 2015 Hot Pursuit, for instance, was an example of how not to.
This one, thankfully, rises about the formula. The action is consistent and engaging; bodyguard Ryan Reynolds and hit-man Samuel L. Jackson share great chemistry. You almost forget you've seen the same film many times before.
Here, Jackson needs to testify against Gary Oldman (who deserves better than this movie) in the International Court of Justice in order to secure the release of wife Salma Hayek. Because so many prior witnesses never made it alive, Interpol brings-in Reynolds who, despite some history with Jackson, agrees to get him to the church on time, as it were. Notwithstanding a few twists, things go as expected.
Jackson’s trademark MF-this and MF-that gets old fast so it’s up to Reynolds to really carry this one, which he does with his wry delivery.
Not great, but great fun.


America was afire in the 1960s. Literally. For nearly a week in 1965 the South-central Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts was ground zero for rioting and arson amid chants of “Burn, Baby, Burn” after a motorist there was arrested for drunk driving.
In Newark, not too long afterwards, 26 people died over four days of rioting and looting that was precipitated, apparently, by police beating an area cab driver.
And in my hometown of Chicago, when the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. sparked violence that actually reduced some streets to rubble, legendary Mayor Richard J. Daley issued the famous edict to police to “shoot to maim or cripple looters” and, “shoot to kill arsonists.”
In the heat of the fight   
For my money, the best film to depict the turbulent times of the 1960s is Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night based on John Ball’s novel.
Sidney Poitier is a Philadelphia detective who finds himself in the deep south reluctantly helping a racist police department (who begrudgingly accept his aid) solve a murder.
Even today, fifty years later, it feels edgy and authentic. I can only imagine how powerful it was when first released back in 1967 at the height of racial tensions.
In the Heat of the Night  went on to win five Oscars including one for Rod Steiger yet surprisingly nothing for Poitier whose 1963 performance in Lilies of the Field earned him one.

In reality, what begat the unrest was much more complex than the events that triggered it.
Unfortunately, Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow and her frequent collaborator writer Mark Boal (the two worked together on The Hurt Locker and 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty) miss an opportunity to delve into those causes instead focusing on one particularly egregious incident during Detroit’s 1967 12th Street Riot.
Minimal backstory — e.g., many of those that came north in the Great Migration had yet to benefit economically — introduces the riot’s flashpoint: Detroit police, tipped by an informant, raid an unlicensed neighborhood club. On the following night, one of two Detroit policemen pursuing a fleeing looter, shoot him in the back. Remarkably, and a testament to the grim times, the officer is permitted to remain on active duty.
At the onset of the riot, the Michigan Governor dispatched some state police and activated the National Guard. The militarization was a powerful vision to longtime Rochester Councilwoman Sandra Means who lived in Detroit at the time and wrote on Facebook, “It was beyond horrific with the sound of bullets, curfews and the presence of army tanks” though she lamented that little of this comes across in the movie.
The film’s raison d’être unfolds as law enforcement gather not far from the neighborhood’s Algiers Motel where one of the borders there thinks it might be fun to shoot a starter pistol out his window towards the officers.
The police, already on edge from incidents of active snipers, react, or rather over-react, in full force. Two particularly sadistic cops line-up all of the guests in the motel’s annex and terrorize them in order to learn the location of the weapon and the identity of the shooter killing three of the suspects in the process; state police and other agencies opted not to get involved. In the epilogue we learn an all-white jury exonerates the police.
And that’s it.
With obvious parallels to recent incidents there is no deep exploration of the root causes, no examination of the psychology of police in crime-ridden areas. No talk of the fog of war, chaos, misguided attempts to keep the peace and preserve property.
Attenuated where it could have been provoking, Detroit is a poor execution of a critical chapter in our history. Perhaps the usually capable Kathryn Bigelow was not the best choice to bring this story to the big screen.

  Detroit has received the #CriticsChoice Seal of Distinction from the BFCA!


Dunkirk has a problem and it’s not the bizarre claim that a beclowned reviewer leveled at director Christopher Nolan for siding with history rather than political correctness to depict an embattled military clash absent women and people of color.
Nearly 400,000 allied troops were pinned-down by Germans in the small town on France’s northern border in the early part of WWII. With bigger fish to fry (i.e., more winnable battles), the allies were slow to commit the resources necessary to evacuate them. So desperate soldiers and area loyalists miraculously rallied locals (most of them fishermen) and their more than 800 small boats to execute the rescue making several trips back-and-forth to safety  — though we don’t really get a sense of that scale save for a small vanguard against which we are left to extrapolate.
An ensemble of mostly unfamiliar faces (except for pilot Tom Hardy) makes it difficult to call-out a particular standout which is not necessarily bad though it highlights Dunkirk’s miss: none of the characters appear to have a backstory. Cohesion is paramount to victory but each of even the most reluctant individuals there had a life and a motivation to get back home.
Nolan opts for a you-are-there feel with many intense moments that don’t quite rise to the opening of Saving Private Ryan but nonetheless feel authentic. I was struck by the selflessness and wondered if the products of today’s culture could boast the same mettle, make the same sacrifices, as the greatest generation. Maybe. Let’s hope we don’t have to find out.

   Dunkirk has received the #CriticsChoice Seal of Distinction from the BFCA!

War for the Planet of the Apes


   War for the Planet of the Apes has received the #CriticsChoice Seal of Distinction from the BFCA!

The Big Sick


Spider-Man: Homecoming

I O.D.’ed on superhero movies, like, eight or nine films ago. So when the latest chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe opened — yet another reboot of Spider-Man, to make it even more agonizing — I was ready with a one word review: “Meh”
What I was treated to instead was a fresh take on the youngest in the spandex squad. This one, with just enough connective tissue (Tony Stark mentoring and Captain America in some clever high school PSAs) to the franchise while keeping a safe distance from that which has been done and redone in the Avengers series.
Peter Parker’s not happy being just a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, he wants to be an Avenger and is accepted into an internship with Stark Industries. So a lot of this one has him angling for the attention of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) whose Iron Man has to bail out the young arachni-kid more than once.
Donning wings again (remember 2014’s Birdman?) is Michael Keaton as supervillian Vulture.
Great pacing, amazing score (I mean, who uses Traffic’s Low Spark of High Heeled Boys?!), and a few surprises.
Lots of fun.

Despicable Me 3
Let me start with this: I could do without the Minions — the little yellow suppository-sized sidekicks to the one-time super villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell). Gru, a formidable body on toothpick legs, is a hoot just to watch but when Carell adds a muddled Baltic accent I’m on the floor with even the most mundane dialog.
In this 3rd installment (the original Despicable Me opened in 2010), Gru has joined the Anti-Villain League and is on the trail of a bitter child-star turned madman named Balthazar Bratt (South Park’s Trey Parker) out to get revenge on a Hollywood that turned its back on him. Along the way, Gru is reunited with Dru (also Carell), a handsome mega-successful twin brother whom he didn’t know existed.
Dependably fun, vibrant and well-paced though at times Despicable Me 3 relies too much on nostalgia for 1980’s pop-culture. There are other ways to appeal to a broad audience.

The House
When their daughter’s scholarship craps-out, Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler (with degenerate gambler-friend Jason Mantzoukas) start a home casino to raise money for her tuition.
Things progress predictably with the pair gradually becoming caricatures lifting bits from the iconic Casino.
The laughs are consistent and the over-the-top moments hysterical.
Watch for living-room comedian Sebastian Maniscalco whose exquisite purposeful drawn-out timing needs to be seen to be appreciated.

Cars 3
Count on Pixar to turn a trite plot (essentially Rocky 3) into a thoroughly enjoyable ride.
This go-around Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is feeling obsolete as the high-tech rookies look to sideline the classics with lines like, “Can I get you a drip pan, old man?”
Most of the original cast returns (Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, and thanks to some unused original footage, the late Paul Newman as Doc Hudson) and the film maintains the same vibe as the 2006’s Cars.
Typical Pixar broad appeal (the Forklift band plays Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days) buoys this one and for some reason I got a huge kick out of McQueen’s alias: Chester Whipplefilter

The Mummy
Serious question: who thought this was a good idea?
I mean, Brendan Fraser’s 1999 reboot had the right mix of plot, humor and effects. (Not to mention my fellow St. Laurence High School alum Kevin O’Connor whose character “Beni” stole the show.)
This Tom Cruise version is derivative and dark. I get this is a just a part of Universal’s larger Dark Universe so taken as a whole — Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s Monster, Johnny Depp’s The Invisible Man, a rumored Dwayne Johnson as The WolfMan, and the as yet uncast Creature From the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, and Hunchback of Notre Dame — so it may be unfair to pick on an individual episode. But I will.
Here Dr. Jekyl (Russel Crowe) heads a secret organization battling evil which is a common premise. Kong: Skull Island did it earlier this year, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen brought together several legendry bodies years ago as have nearly every superhero film since.
Cruise is a tomb raider a preserver of antiquities. With his sidekick (the usually hysterical Jake Johnson) the two stumble on an ancient tomb after which Cruise is cursed and Johnson becomes a zombie who subsequently hectors him in an almost frame-by-frame rip-off tribute to An American Werewolf in London.
Like Fraser’s Mummy, this plot unravels (ha!) in modern day as the reconstituted body seeks to fully reanimate itself on the living.
The usually bankable Cruise delivers nothing new or, for that matter, engaging. Fans of the vintage Universal Monsters, especially, will be left unsatisfied.

The big screen treatment of the mock-worthy 1990’s mainstay Baywatch is nearly two hours of preposterous crime-solving, goofy gags, and babes in tight swimsuits running in slow motion. In other words, while this one is not great, of how many movies can you honestly say, “It was exactly what I expected”?
Touch that dial
   It’s never been unusual for film to exploit the popularity of shows on the little screen. A few of the serious executions like Mission: Impossible, The Fugitive, and, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., have even eclipsed their tubular progenitors. Most of them, unfortunately, to borrow the words of Maxwell Smart, “Missed it by that much.”
Click here are a few of the popcorn-worthy ones

Well, yea, but I could have done without the tsunami of F-bombs and the predictable cameos (David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson) that felt too much like afterthoughts.
From Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief director Seth Gordon, this one would have been flotsam without the wry comic art of Dwayne Johnson. Co-star Zac Efron is a disgraced Olympic star and one of several new recruits under Johnson who happens on an exotic drug ring headed by a local club owner.
What ensues is nominal sleuthing and optimal cleavage.
Not the best TV-to-silver-screen treatment but not the worst, either.

How to be a Latin Lover

“I don’t want to be him,” young Maximo says of a wealthy older man in a magazine ad. “I want to be her,” he tells his sister pointing to the much younger woman beside the man.
Fast forward many years, and as many pounds. Maximo (popular Mexican actor/comedian Eugenio Derbez) is not the gigolo he once was. And when he’s pushed out of his cushy gig by Michael Cera, insult is added to financial injury.
With nowhere to go, he first takes-up residence in a playhouse on the estate of a flush grandmother serviced by another gigolo (brilliantly played by Rob Lowe) before eventually landing on the doorstep of his sister (Salma Hayek) and her son Hugo (Raphael Alejandro).
Predictably, he takes young Hugo under his wing to school the boy in the art of manipulating women. But, in fact, Maximo is only interested in the billionaire grandmother (Raquel Welch) of the boy’s crush.
Lots of PG-13 laughs, sight gags, and witty dialog (“I’m looking for someone with a big heart,” Maximo poignantly confesses at one point, “but not necessarily a strong heart.”)
How to be a Latin Lover  works on so many levels in part because laughs are smartly mined from even the smallest roles like mobile advertiser Rob Riggle or perky Yogurt server and cat lover Kristen Bell.

Goldie Hawn gave me my start in show business — my wife and I were extras in one of her comedies, seems like, a hundred years ago. So I am being especially generous when I say, with all due respect… this film is not good.
Penned by Katie Dippold, who wrote The Heat, the laugh-out-loud 2014 comedy starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, Snatched teams perennial funny-girl Goldie Hawn (her first film in 15 years) and the popular Amy Schumer.
Schumer’s banter is always fresh and she doesn’t disappoint but Hawn, as her “careful” mom, seems uncomfortable in the role. Joan Cusack (Toy Story 2/3,  School of Rock ) co-stars as a former special ops agent who cut-out her own tongue to prevent her from leaking secrets if tortured, and the always reliable Wanda Sykes as her partner.
The four meet in Ecuador where Hawn and Schumer are vacationing before the mother/daughter are kidnapped.
Not without laughs but the headliners deserve better. And so do the moviegoers.

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© 2008, 2017 Chris Miksanek, The Med City Movie Guy
  Last updated: 2018 February 6
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