Archive 4
Hobbs & Shaw  — Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood  — The Lion King  — Stuber  — Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse  — Yesterday Toy Story 4 Men in Black: International Rocketman Ask Dr. Ruth Shazam! Unplanned Green Book Bohemian Rhapsody Gotti The Equalizer 2 Won't You Be My Neighbor? Incredibles 2 Ocean's 8 Life of the Party I Feel Pretty Terms and Conditions May Apply Chappaquiddick  Death Wish Early Man Black Panther The Polka King The Post Lady Bird The Disaster Artist Coco Jim & AndyDaddy's Home 2 Darkest Hour
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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Let me tell you about spinoffs. Some, U.S. Marshals, for instance, have been terrific, eclipsing even their antecedents. Others, like American Pie Presents Band Camp, not so much. Hobbs & Shaw, a one-off from the Fast and Furious franchise, I would put in the middle, somewhere between The Scorpion King and Minions.

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Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood


“That’s a bold statement.”
My favorite line from Quentin Tarantino’s landmark Pulp Fiction is John Travolta delivering to Eric Stoltz, “That’s a bold statement.”
Well, here’s another bold statement: Tarantino’s 9th film, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, is his best, Brad Pitt’s best, and possibly even the year’s best. That Leonardo DiCaprio, as has-been western TV actor Rick Dalton, turns-in another masterful performance goes without saying.

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The Lion King

I used to joke that I wondered if Hanna-Barbera brought-in Jane Goodall to consult on Magilla Gorilla. It was funny because it was as obvious that they didn’t as that they didn’t need to.
Well, it’s not funny anymore since a chorus of joyless cavillers have labelled problematic The Lion King, apparently because the leadership model over at the imaginary Pride Rock is a patriarchy rather than a matriarchy. I would concede that the film takes a kind of Hakuna Matata attitude towards zoological science were it a documentary. But it’s not. Let me repeat that: The Lion King is not a documentary.
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Disclaimer: I’ve not ridden Uber since having a less than 5-star experience last year in an Amish area when they sent me the confirmation message, “Jedidiah is your driver, he will arrive in a day and a half.”
Part-time rideshare driver Stu Prasad (The Big Sick’s Kumail Nanjiani), on the other hand, will do whatever it takes to elicit a top rating from his passengers — from offering chocolates and cool water to taking a bullet for them.


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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I’ll never understand why they felt the need to reboot the original OMG-has-it-been-17-years-already Tobey Maguire Spider-Man franchise. Yeesh, what studios’ll do for a couple-hundred million dollars — it’s almost like they’re a business or something.

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And check-out my micro-review of theis one’s predecessor
Spider-Man: Homecoming

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I’ve always imagined a scenario where I went back in time to forestall atrocious pop songs like “Playground in My Mind” and “Run Joey Run.” Danny Boyle — the Oscar-winning director of 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire — went in another direction. He envisioned a world devoid of the joy of the Beatles and refused to let it be. (See what I did there?)

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

Toy Story 4

You might think that when a franchise has to dig to the bottom of a KFC bag to find a new protagonist maybe, just maybe, it’s time to wrap things up. But Pixar somehow managed to transform a discarded spork into a quaint hero in the latest, and reportedly last, chapter of “Toy Story.”

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  Toy Story 4 has received the #CriticsChoice Seal of Distinction from the BFCA!

Men in Black: International

When it comes to the aliens-among-us genre, you’re not gonna beat 2009’s District 9, a tale of galactic alien refugees housed in a squalid internment camp in South Africa. Only incidentally science fiction, the Peter Jackson-produced film posed a sociological conundrum. It was (and don’t let this turn you off from watching it) a think piece.

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I think it’s gonna be a long, long, time until I recommend this one.

Ask Dr. Ruth


One of the best documentaries of the year!





Groups that value life have become ubiquitous sights across the country, peacefully praying in silence in front of every threat to heartbeats from abortion clinics to prison death houses. But no one would have ever guessed Abby Johnson would be among their ranks.
Johnson was, for years, a fixture of Planned Parenthood, her career there beginning when the organization recruited her at a college job fair for an unpaid position and peaking eight years later heading a Texas clinic and being named PP’s employee of the year.   Then she, as the kids say, got “woke.”
Unplanned documents Johnson’s experiences working for the controversial organization and coming to terms with her own complicity in what her mother consistently reminds her are “immoral acts.” The film is an adaptation of Johnson’s popular memoir of the same title and stars Ashley Bratcher.
The picture Johnson paints of the organization is not a flattering one and her experiences, supporters say, have been the motive for concerted efforts to quash the film: Twitter banned their account on the film’s opening day, “mistakenly,” the social media giant claimed; various TV stations refused to run ads for it; and, the MPAA gave it an R-rating to limit teen audiences.
Yet the film proved an unlikely success though it remains to be seen whether this one will change minds.
Still, props for this brave movie that speaks frankly and confronts a topic most films avoid. But be forewarned, Unplanned is uncomfortable to watch at times and hard to unsee — specifically the sonogram images that were Johnson’s revelation and the somber prayers over the plastic waste barrels.
Inspiring and/or infuriating.

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Green Book


Walt Disney so obfuscated the core message in 1964’s Mary Poppins that it took another more recent telling to explain why the titular character descended from the clouds, communed with the children, performed miracles, and returned to the heavens when the job here was done. And in that film — 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks (Emma Thompson as author P. L. Travers, Tom Hanks as Walt Disney) —  we learn why Travers was so protective of her characters that it took Disney years to pry-away film rights. Her apprehension was not unfounded for, lost in the supercalifragalistic narrative of the original with its atrocious cockney accents and dancing penguins, was the essence of Travers’ tale: Poppins did not come for the sake of little Jane an Michael but to save George Banks who had lost himself in the tedious grind of Dawes, Tomes, Mousley, Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. He needed redemption.
Cinematically, many protagonists have. Though in recent decades, the theme seems to resonate less with a demographic swath who see as the highest calling raising awareness on Twitter. To such moviegoers, or rather movie eschewers, the self-sacrifice demonstrated, for instance, by Clint Eastwood’s cantankerous marginally-racist Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino was inconceivable. Yet, ironically, misanthropists who crap on the genre are most in need of its message of hope that individuals can change, that conditions can change. Cynics who don’t subscribe to that uplifting theme will absolutely hate what was arguably the best film of 2018, Green Book.
Named for the small printed pamphlet which listed businesses that served African-American motorists in the South a half-century ago, the Oscar winner is an affirmation that the racial divide that infected communities across America could be transcended, admittedly an effort that remains a work in progress.
In New York City, at a time when the boundaries between the Italian- and African-American communities couldn’t be starker, club-bouncer Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortenson) finds himself driving and protecting brilliant pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on the musician’s tour of southern cities.
As the odometer turns, that which separates the men breaks down and the pair predictably bond. Shirley, who trudges under the weight of a Baldwin-sized chip on his shoulder (his own identity is ambiguous: his classical playing is not appreciated by his people and social mores prevent whites of the era from socially embracing him) becomes less guarded while Vallelonga gets, as they say, woke.
[An unfortunate distraction for some is just how right Green Book gets the actual facts. That, apparently, depends on which set of descendants one believes. This one’s co-penned by Vallelonga’s son though director Peter Farrelly never claims his dramedy to be a documentary so I am OK taking the entertainment at face value.]
Both Viggo Mortenson and Mahershala Ali turn-in impressive performances (Mahershala Ali won both an Oscar and Critics Choice Award) in this amazing journey filled with dignity, fresh humor, and optimism.
Best of all is the comity and respect in the storytelling: in the end, Shirley accepts himself, Vallelonga finds redemption. In saner times, that would be the classic Hollywood ending. Yet detractors have dismissed this wonderful charmer as “just another cliché white savior film” ... a specious and uninformed claim.
Racism and the navigation of racial minefields are complex, no doubt. But that’s no reason to avoid them cinematically, or condemn success stories like those of Tony and Doc.

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Bohemian Rhapsody


One of the fun moments in Bohemian Rhapsody – the amazing biopic focusing on Freddie Mercury, front man of the popular 70s band Queen – is when Mike Myers, as a record executive, turns down the titular song.
As fictional exec Ray Foster, and behind a beard that makes him almost, almost, unrecognizable, Myers chides them that their operatic mash-up will not be the kind of song “teenagers can crank up the volume in their car and bang their heads to.”
Of course it is precisely that moment in Myers’ own 1992 comedy Wayne’s World where he, Garth, and three friends do just that in Garth’s 1976 AMC Pacer.

Before he was Freddie Mercury in the amazing Bohemian Rhapsody, Rami Malek was the Med City Movie Guy’s table buddy at the 2016 Critics’ Choice Awards.

It’s funny there and it’s funny here. But it’s also a testament to the timelessness of this song anthem that defies categorization (“There’s no musical shell than can contain us” Mercury says in the film) yet is part of our pop culture spanning generations of fans. Go ahead, pretend you don’t sing along when it pops up on your mix tape.
Rhapsody basically follows the mercurial (tee hee) Freddie Mercury from his wannabe days through to the Queen reunion at the 1985 Live Aid performance (during which, BuzzFeed says, “you are ugly-crying so hard”) delicately navigating the performer’s AIDs struggle in a time when the disease was relatively new to the world. Pressed to out himself, Mercury maintains with dignity, “My business is my business;” refusing to be reduced to the face of a discease or lifestyle.
All that said, Bohemian Rhapsody might otherwise be just another pro forma biopic were it not for one thing: Rami Malek. The Mr. Robot actor does for Mercury what Val Kilmer did for Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, The Doors. He breathes life into the character beyond merely eerily capturing his ostensible essence. Malek lip-synchs, it is true, but after watching the film, the moviegoer will find it remarkable how irrelevant that is. Especially that Malek so adeptly captures Mercury’s trademark mannerisms.
But Bohemian Rhapsody is about more than just classic rock, obviously.
Like many creative genii, Freddie Mercury lived a life free of convention, a lifestyle we all might envy, yet it was not free of consequences including, most evidently, isolation; isolation from his mates and from his family. Yet he persists because he must.
This one does right by the subject matter and Rami Malek’s Oscar-bound performance will leave us wondering if this is the real life [or] is this just fantasy?

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Rule #1 of the Seven Laws of Comedy Writing goes like this: be willing to throw-away your best joke.
If you’ve written creatively, you understand that an intrinsically clever gag too often directs the effort rather than merely peppering it. Yet this applies to so much more than joke writing and it explains how Gotti, John Travolta’s ten-years-in-the-making biopic, came to be known as the worst mob film in history.
To be fair, it’s not the worst. In fact, it’s solidly mediocre (your HR department would say it meets expectations) notwithstanding some ghastly dialog — Travolta’s Teflon Don proclaims at one point, “I could steal from the church and come out with the steeple sticking out of my ass and I would deny it”). But somewhere along the line, legions of reviewers settled on the hackneyed “Fuggedaboudit” and tailored their coverage so as to not to betray their clever lynchpin.
Travolta’s Gambino boss is serviceable, essentially an aged Vinnie Barbarino, but more to the point seems unnecessary with above-average versions already out there like HBO’s 1996 Gotti: The Rise and Fall of a Real Life Mafia Don with Armand Assante as John Gotti and the 1997 TV miniseries Witness to the Mob with Nicholas Turturro as Underboss Sammy “The Bull” Gravano to Tom Sizemore’s Gotti.
Still, even with worse films like The Last Don, The Godson, and, OMG Skidoo – films that make Corky Romano and Mickey Blue Eyes look like the Godfather and the Godfather: Part II, respectively, I am still hard pressed to actually recommend Travolta’s Gotti.
And that’s too bad. With a little better writing and a better supporting cast, let’s just say it could have been a contender.  Oh!

If you love the genre, check out my round-up of the best gangster films here

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The Equalizer 2


Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Back in 2003, the Chicago Tribune ran a contest, “Meow meow meow there goes the neighborhood, Mister Rogers.”
     It invited readers to “play program director and find a replacement — serious or satirical — for the late Fred Rogers, beloved host of the PBS children’s mainstay Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Yours truly skipped away with first prize for this gem:
    Kids have lost a calm and nurturing voice. Who better to help them feel secure again than the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge?
    There will be a few necessary changes: The sweater’s not wool, it’s Kevlar; every fifth person in line for the trolley gets a once-over from the metal-detector wand; and King Friday is lining up allies to support Neighborhood Resolution 1441.
    All in all, the show is comforting and educational as Ridge introduces children to the wonderful colors of the Homeland Security Advisory System chart. “It’s an Elevated Risk day in the neighborhood.”
— Chris Miksanek, Rochester, Minn.

Halfway into Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — the well-deserved documentary on everyone’s favorite surrogate dad, Fred Rogers, whose Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ran from 1963 to 2001 (with a regrettably necessary post-9/11 revival) — you realize that you’re watching what will go on to win the top accolades for Best Documentary of 2018.

Yes, it’s that good. It wins for subject matter, for execution, and because it’s just so damn pleasant, much like Rogers’ own persona.

If you grew-up with Rogers (I didn’t), watched your kids grow-up with him (I did), or were only peripherally aware of his impact (like Encino Man), director Morgan Neville’s wonderfully engaging treatment here will reacquaint or win you over. (Nevelle’s equally-amazing 20 Feet from Stardom also earned critical acclaim capturing an Oscar and the Critics Choice Award Best Documentary Feature in 2004.)

Can you say “this one’s special?” I knew you could.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? has received the #CriticsChoice Seal of Distinction from the BFCA!

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Ocean’s 8
Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 reboot of the Rat Pack classic Ocean's Eleven was a master class in stylized heists. Every character from George Clooney’s Danny Ocean through Bernie Mac’s Frank Catton was fleshed-out, well cast, and so comfortable in their roles that their relationships were genuine and their banter organic.
Fast forward to the unnecessary reimaging of the franchise with the normally comically adept (though not here) Sandra Bullock as Danny’s younger sister Debbie, also just recently paroled, and you have what is commonly called in the industry: screwing-up a good thing.
To be kind, Ocean’s 8 is bland. Keystones Bullock and Cate Blanchett are supposed to be reminiscent of Clooney and Brad Pitt but they’re not. The six other players are mostly one-dimensional millennials condescendingly tossed-in to reflect their target demographic. None have the cachet of the archetypes. None seem comfortable-enough in their own character skins to have fun.
The film’s only glimmer is James Corden who comes on the scene in the 3rd act when the film finally gains traction. Maybe if the cameos were better… Nah.

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Life of the Party
Complete review coming soon.

I Feel Pretty

When it comes to body image, our culture is schizophrenic. On one side former First Lady Michelle Obama incessantly rallied our youth with, “Let’s move!” On the other end are the Twitterverse trolls who claim it’s wrong to display concern for obesity (for so-called social justice warriors body-shaming is one of the 4000 deadly sins).
Thus Amy Schumer’s latest (and one of her finest) comedy I Feel Pretty is “controversial” though it isn’t really.
If Hollywood and our parents have taught us anything it’s that we oughtn’t let anyone define us, good or bad. In both 1989’s Lean on Me and 1986’s Stand and Deliver, for example — both true stories, by the way — leads Morgan Freeman as Principal Joe Clark and Edward James Olmos as math teacher Jaime Escalante implored students to have respect for themselves, eschew the stereotypes our culture has inflicted on them and recognize that self-confidence is an essential ingredient in success.
Now, two decades later, Schumer brings a similar though clumsier message in I Feel Pretty as Renee Bennett, the webmaster for high-end cosmetics company Lily LeClair. Though she does not have the requisite figure, which of course fuels her insecurities, Bennett hasn’t given up the dream of moving up in the glamor industry. But then she suffers a head injury and everything changes. Suddenly she believes she’s hot and there’s no stopping her. In short time, her self-proclaimed beauty and condescension move her up the ladder but alienate her longtime friends who’ve always accepted each other the way they are.
The message of self-confidence and being comfortable in one’s skin, though, is steady throughout and one of the reasons I liked that this one could reach a wider audience with its PG-13 rating.
Unfortunately except for Schumer and SNLer Aidy Bryant (who’s joy is always contagious) the cast is a calamity. Both the normally adept Michelle Williams who currently runs Lily LeClair and Lauren Hutten as LeClair herself don’t seem to belong.
For me, this one conjured-up the image of Vince Vaughn’s end-credits commercial in 2004’s DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story:

  Hi. I’m Peter La Fleur, owner and operator of Average Joe’s Gym. I’m here to tell you you’re perfect just the way you are. But if you feel like losin’ a few pounds, gettin’ healthier, and makin’ friends in the process, Joe’s is the place for you.  

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Terms and Conditions May Apply
For me, at least a couple of times a week, it goes something like this: As long as it doesn’t cost anything, sure, what the hell, “I agree” and on proceeds the download, app access or Wi-Fi connection. I mean, it’s free, right?
It is. I suppose. The same way that the feed is free to the chickens.
The recent Facebook scandals — that the social media behemoth’s development partner sold user data to a Trump campaign surrogate and that Zuckerberg’s team had previously colluded, likely in violation of FEC rules, to get “their guy” Barack Obama elected — makes even more relevant this 2013 documentary from investigative filmmaker Cullen Hoback. Not surprisingly, then, as now, the devil is in the 8-point Arial Narrow.

“Don’t talk to me about contracts, Wonka; I use ’em myself.  They’re strictly for suckers.”
And of that there are tons. Facebook’s terms and agreement (not including abundant external links) runs more than 6,100 words and requires a 12.8 grade-level to comprehend. Google’s terms and conditions: 4,700 words and a 12.1 grade level. And get this: Do you check your email while you’re waiting for an oil change at Walmart? Their “agreement” is 4,300 words and clocks-in at a reading level of grade 17.6 — that’s grad school! … at Walmart! Have you seen the 3 a.m. pajama-pants crowd at Walmart looking for hemp boating accessories? (To put things into perspective, this review is 600 words and a reading level of 8th grade.)
It’s a stretch to believe anyone reads, let alone understands, the contract they are entering into. One such agreement, Hoback’s documentary tells us, had for more than a year the clause that the user was agreeing to the “assignment of your immortal soul.” No one noticed. Who has the time, anyway? To read all of those that we routinely dismiss would take 180 hours per year to read.
Frankly, I was nonplussed. Post-9/11 we gave up a lot of privacy but what was stunning was the extent to which companies have partnered with intelligence agencies and thanks to the so-called “3rd party doctrine” we’ve all but conceded our 4th amendment protections.
Municipalities have used data from our TomTom GPS to develop speed traps, the CIA has replaced several older data gathering sources with Facebook, thousands of CCTV cameras dot the public landscape and where whistleblowers have attempted to expose these privacy invasions, governments have come down on them. For instance, the Obama administration has filed more charges against whistleblowers than all prior presidents combined.
The film leaves little hope that things will improve. Europe has stronger privacy laws, but the filmmaker is quick to note the credo of the free services, “anonymity is not profitable.”
As to how we got to this point, there’s a lot of blame to go around but some masters of the universe make themselves easy targets. For fun, though ostensibly to make a point, Hoback tracks down Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at his home, which he’s calculated based on one of Zuck’s posts and catch him, it looks like, bringing-in his trash bins from the curb (I guess they have garbage day in Palo Alto, too.) “Please don’t record me,” he stiffly tells the cameraman. But when he thinks no one is watching he lets loose a rare smile.
But someone’s always watching; always collecting our activity. Profiling. Monetizing.
And it isn’t so much the atrocious things they do with our information, but that we permit them to do so in the smallest unreadable fonts possible.
Terms and Conditions May Apply is definitely worth checking out. But don’t watch it with one of those online services where you have to click a bunch of agreements to do so. That’s. just. wrong.   

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Let’s cut to the chase here. Ted Kennedy, the reluctant scion of the Kennedy clan, killed young campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne, one of several so-called “Boiler Room Girls” (I don’t even want to know what that means) the very week that a man first walked on the moon.
Writer Joyce Carol Oates, who penned Black Water imagining the tragedy on the small island in tony Martha’s Vineyard from Kopechne’s perspective, wrote: “Kennedy chose to flee the scene, leaving the young woman to die an agonizing death not of drowning but of suffocation over a period of hours. Incredibly, it was 10 hours before Kennedy reported the accident, by which time he’d consulted a family lawyer.”
The diver recovering her body would later say that had authorities been notified, Kopechne could have handily been rescued.
Instead, here we are.

Director John Curran’s Chappaquiddick is not the hit job the hard right expected nor is it the vindication that a left-leaning writer/director’s hagiology would have invented (this tweet from former President Obama hasn’t aged well but illustrates the latter point: “What if we carried ourselves more like Ted Kennedy? What if we worked to follow his example a little bit harder?”) Still, Chappaquiddick is more evenhanded than Ted Kennedy deserves.
Jason Clarke (The Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty) stars as the man who would be the Lion of the Senate. Kate Mara (whose Zoe Barnes was similarly discarded for political convenience in House of Cards) is Kopechne. Both turn-in perfunctory performances, as do the curious castings of funny men Ed Helms and Jim Gaffigan. Only Bruce Dern, as the convalescing patriarch Joe Kennedy, stands out.
In the end, the film is merely a manifestation of the larger social issue: the divide between morals and politics and how for too long and on too many occasions we’ve overlooked one to achieve success in the other.
Chappaquiddick is the reckoning then, not just for the storied legacy of the Kennedys, but our tolerance, or worse, the embrace of success at any cost.
The neck-brace was a nice touch, though.

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Death Wish
Opens March 2. Meanwhile, Let's talk genres.  

Early Man
Now showing.

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.

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.

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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!

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Lady Bird


  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!

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Darkest Hour

After watching Critics’ Choice for Best Actor Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour, you’ll understand why former President Obama’s first action was to remove the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. Obama’s feckless foreign policy of dithering and #hoping things would work themselves out sans involvement stood in stark contrast to Churchill’s mettle and decisiveness.
To wit: pressed when nearly their entire military is pinned-down at Dunkirk (the Christopher Nolan film of that same title, and Their Finest, by the way, are two of 2017’s other finest hours), the Brits are faced with a choice: continue the failed policy of appeasement championed by Neville Chamberlain or stand as the David to Hitler’s Goliath.
They choose wisely.
But soon after Churchill is elected, he finds that many of his colleagues lack the stomach to do what it takes to win as Chamberlain continues to insist that “Hitler will be reasonable to negotiate with” and that co-existence is possible. His predecessor’s reckless naivety notwithstanding, the conflicted new PM remains apprehensive. But a marvelous subway sequence — ordinary Brits addressing his queries — removes all doubt.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Perhaps what is most outstanding here is Gary Oldman’s performance. He is the consummate actor having played everyone from Sid Vicious to Lee Harvey Oswald. He elevates any film in which he’s a part including this one which owes most of its luster to him (and his prosthetist).

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

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond


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 that don’t 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 their 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.
Wahlberg’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 Ferrell’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.

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© 2008, 2019 Chris Miksanek, The Med City Movie Guy
  Last updated: 2019 June 21
  Contact: chris @