Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

"Money Monster" Review

The most surprising thing about Money Monster is the director: Jodie Foster, making only her fourth feature film in a quarter-century and, omitting 2011's The Beaver (which had its released nuked by star Mel Gibson's image problems despite having good reviews), her first in 21 years. The surprise is compounded by the subject matter and brisk handling its tale requires; nothing she'd done before indicates a taste for such fare.

George Clooney stars as Lee Gate's a Jim Cramer-esque host of a cable TV financial show called Money Monster patterned after Cramer's Mad Money. Schlocky, with sound effects, video clips and even backup dancers, Clooney dishes out stock tips and bromides. However, one hot pick he'd pushed, an outfit called IBIS had experienced what was being called a glitch where its high-frequency trading algorithm supposedly had a problem causing the company's stock to plunge $800 million instantly, severely damaging investors.

One such investor is Kyle (Jack O'Connell), a poor sap who put his meager inheritance into the stock only to be wiped out. Wanting an explanation as to how such a "glitch" could happen, he passes himself off as delivery man and makes his way onto the set where he produces a gun and an explosive vest which he has the hostage Clooney don on live TV.

As the police lock the building down, the show's director Patty (Julia Roberts) tries to track down the MIA CEO of IBIS (Dominic West) in order to appease Kyle. Assisted by IBIS's suspicious communications officer (Caitriona Balfe), the race is on to figure out just how so much money can disappear and no one seems to really care since the ultra-wealthy are still rich and the shlubs like Kyle are invisible to the Masters of the Universe.

Despite some provocative themes - rich vs. poor, connected vs. serfs, rigged vs fair markets - Money Monster doesn't take the path down Occupy Wall Street too far, opting for a swiftly-paced thriller with corporate shenanigans plot on the side. Foster's tempo in the beginning is too brisk as they race onto the set with implausible banter, but once Kyle arrives with his delivery of the plot, things calm down and the pace digs in and the tension ratchets up. When all is revealed, it all seems a bit far-fetched, yet not that unique for a movie. Some valid targets about voyeuristic audiences and how they react to watching life-and-death situations could've had more teeth, but as with the financial games aspects, I don't think they wanted to bite too hard, settling for entertainment over incitement.

Clooney is good enough, though I never really bought his show's shtick. Roberts is good at being tense and drab. O'Connell has a weak hand dealt as a stereotypical lower-class New Yawker and looking at his bio, I see my nagging suspicion as to why he seemed cliched is confirmed: He's another English actor playing an American because we've apparently stopped making actors in NYC. Pffft.

Glossily shot by Matthew Libatique (Iron Man, Straight Outta Compton, The Fountain, Josie and the Pussycats!), Foster's foray into popcorn-level drama is ultimately as insignificant as the DJIA going down 3 points, but there are worse ways to spend an afternoon on the couch watching it.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"Sully" Review

No, Sully it's a movie about the big blue guy from Monsters, Inc. It's a surprisingly bland and unengaging biopic by Clint Eastwood about Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, pilot of the "Miracle on the Hudson" flight in January 2009 in which he landed his plane with 155 souls on board on the frigid Hudson River (between Manhattan and New Jersey) with no loss of life after a herd of birds knocked out both engines of his Airbus.

Focusing on the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation which is portrayed as a witchhunt seeking to blame Sully for ditching the plane when computer and pilot simulations indicate he couldve made it back to LaGuardia or landed at Teterboro in NJ, Sully jerks around from focusing on his nightmares, sometimes waking, about how it could've crashed in the city, to calling his wife, to coping with strangers going "You're that guy!, to a couple of random flashbacks of his piloting as a youth and in the military, to a recreation of the incident itself (which has some sporadically sub-par CGI VFX). 

Events seem randomly tossed out and there is no real narrative coherence as if Eastwood and writer Todd Komarnicki really didn't have a central thesis to hang everything else off of. The series of reveals and turnabouts at the culminating public NTSB hearing are clearly intended to rouse the audience to cheer for our hero against the mean government inquisitors, but it beggars belief that it would've gone down this way. It rings phony.

Tom Hanks is good with the limited material he's been provided, conveying the rock solid stoicism that allowed him to pull off such a piloting feat - sure, it's not as spectacular as the crash sequence from Flight, but that was total make-believe - and subsequent self-doubt as to whether perhaps he had screwed up because those government fellers sure seem pretty certain he did. Aaron Eckhart doesn't have much to do as Sully's co-pilot, but he rocks a bitchin' porn 'stache that makes him look like a baseball pitcher.

While competently made, Sully misses the points I suspect it was trying to make about how heroes are treated in a cynical world or something; it's all too scattershot and lackluster to stick, never gripping, just floating along like a plane on a river.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Pet" Review

How many times have we seen a variation of the "creepy stalker dude is obsessed with woman and kidnaps her to make her love him" story? At first blush, it seems that Pet is just another misogynistic torture porn movie until the end of the trailer has an eyebrow-raising moment. But while the trailer for Pet implies one kind of movie and hints at another angle, it manages to not give away its real surprise, which while pretty nifty, is undercut by lackluster and tired execution. They had one bright idea and didn't know how to really handle it.

Dominic Monaghan (Lost, Lord of the Rings) is Seth, a creepy loner who works in an animal shelter. He's obsessed with Holly (Ksenia Solo - Kenzie on Lost Girl; Black Swan), a waitress whom he approaches on the LA bus and then proceeds to pester at her job, following her to the bar, basically creeping her out. As indicated in the trailer, he eventually kidnaps her and puts her in a cage because of course.

While Pet takes its sweet time to set its familiar table, just over halfway through comes the whammy and while I am normally loathe to even spoil that there are twists in movies - it has driven me crazy how movie ads blatantly proclaim there's a twist so you spend the whole time looking for and trying to figure it out before it happens (the upcoming Split by Mr. Movie Twist himself, M. Night Shyalaman is being touted this way) - in this case I'm making an exception because I really didn't see it coming and even if I'd known something was coming, I would never have guessed it.

The problem is that after the twist, it all proceeds pretty predictably. Seth's efforts to hide that he's got a girl caged up in the basement of the shelter under the suspicious eyes of a security guard play out predictably and then there's the issue of Holly's ex-boyfriend or employer never seeming to notice she's been off grid for weeks, especially when Seth's contacts with her were known. No one is looking for her?

Solo is really good as Holly, providing a side of her that wasn't really shown off on Lost Girl. Monaghan is OK, limited by the script by Jeremy Slater. Spanish director Carles Torrens tries to imbue the story with a thin script with some noirish visuals, but mistakes slow pacing for dramatic buildup (a flaw of Denis Villaneuve's films).

If not for the twist and Solo's performance, there's not really much to recommend Pet because it's surrounded by familiar stock elements we've seen too many times before. It's a pity, because there is a bright idea caged up on the medocrity.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

"Nerve" Review

Even the most ridiculous movie premises need a kernel of grounding in reality to work and the supposed critique of social media, shallow celebrity and risky thrill videos, Nerve, doesn't seem interested in playing by those rules as it tells its silly story about daring to break the rules for fun, fame and profit.

Emma Roberts is a high school senior on Staten Island with Sandra Bullock's Syndrome (a condition in movies where we're supposed to believe a traditionally attractive woman can't get a guy because reasons). Dithering about whether to go an art school in California and unable to tell the hot jock she's crushing on him, she watches as her bestie, a trashy party girl stereotype, moves on him instead. Upset, she signs up to play Nerve, a game her friend has been playing and gathering followers.

Copypastaing from Wikipedia here, "The game collects her personal data and explains the three rules: all dares must be recorded on the player's phone, earned money will be revoked if a player fails or "bails" a dare, and a player must not report the game to law enforcement. In addition, the top two most-watched players will compete in a highly sought-after final round." This is Nerve's first credibility shark jump: We see her Facebook profile and other data slurped into the system which eventually is revealed to include total bank account access to deposit and drain money which is the technophobe's vision of what the Internet is like. (Since the target market for this movie is tech-savvy kids, it's as if an Amish person living in the jungles of New Guinea dreamed up this plot.)

Her first dare is to kiss a stranger at a diner for five seconds which brings her in contact with Dave Franco, the Jim Belushi of the Franco family. They quickly team up as it's clear the game is steering both of them into parallel and colliding paths. This is the next BS detail: As dares are issued and payouts remitted, who is ultimately controlling the game. While its open-source nature becomes a plot point, the anonymity of players and viewers (which becomes the lynch pin of the finale) doesn't jibe with the deliberate manipulations going on.

Also floating out there is her bestie, offended that Roberts has blasted past her in followers and ranking, risks her life on a dare and starts macking on the jock to pay her back. Because mean girl, man. If this is the commentary on fame and friendship part of the show, it's too stupid to land a punch.

Of course, it ends up in a scary showdown in a public place where somehow everyone knows to gather without the authorities catching wind. Did I mention that Roberts has a Platonic friendzoned boy pal who is a super nerd and likely to be involved in saving the day with his mad h4x skillz? Yeah, that happens.

While colorfully shot and generally entertaining in a not-hating-myself-for-watching-this way, Nerve doesn't suffer from a lack of that, but a typical lack of brains.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"The Shallows" Review

This is 10 months after she had her first kid.

They should've called The Shallows something more descriptive like Girl vs Shark because that's literally what it is, not that it's a bad thing.

Blake Lively is a surfer chick heading for a secret beach in Mexico that her recently-deceased mother visited while pregnant with her. She's debating dropping out of med school because everyone ultimately ends up dying and someone read some Nietzsche. A scene of her talking via FaceTime to her father, Basil Exposition, basically exists to let us know she's a med student because she's a med student and it will sure be good that she's a med student in case she were to, you know, be in need of medical assistance for some reason.

Like being bitten by a gigantic Great White shark. Whoopsie!

Chomped on the thigh and stuck on an exposed finger of rock that's in danger of becoming submerged when the tide comes back in, she's royally screwed because the beach's isolation means there are few others to see she's in need and she's too far out to swim to shore while the shark is in the neighborhood, even if she wasn't leaking blood into the water.

It's a tidy little scenario and it works because Lively's character is resourceful and not a damsel. Did I mention she's a MEDICAL STUDENT which makes her survival plausible. Sure, the premise is goofy, no blonde hottie should be hitting secret Mexican beaches alone (her friend was too hung over to join her) from a basic safety standpoint, and she somehow manages to still look smoking hot at the end of ordeal baking on the rock in the sun without fresh water, but it's still a taut and tense flick. Worth watching.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.

Don't watch this VFX breakdown until after seeing the movie in order to have your mind properly blown as to how it was filmed. (Hint: Life of Pi)

"Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping" Review

The Lonely Island gang - most notorious for their fake rap SNL Digital Shorts - are back with their first feature film since Hot Rod, the music mockumentary Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

Andy Samberg starts as Connor4Real, a Justin Bieber-ish pop singer who started off as part of a rap group, The Style Boyz (played by fellow Islanders and directors Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer), before going solo and hitting big with his first album, Thriller, Also. Now on the verge of the release of his sophomore joint, Connquest, the documentary is meant to record his triumph, but of course it turns into a Spinal Tapesque debacle. Instead of collaborating with his DJ Owen (Taccone), he's written all the lyrics himself (bad call) and worked with a hundred different producers and the resulting album is both stupid and offensive (in a bad way) and critically savaged.

Popstar's targets - marginally talented pop idols surrounded by yes men, living in a bubble divorced from reality; tabloid journalism as embodied by a running TMZ spoof fronted by Will Arnett, etc. - are easy fish-in-a-barrel stuff, but they managed to hit most of the marks. The music spoofs aren't as good as their SNL-era material, but suffice.

Samberg is OK doing his thing, but the surprise MVP is SNL alum Tim Meadows as Connor's long-suffering manager. Meadows has never really had much of a movie career after SNL - The Ladies Man did about as well as It's Pat and Superstar (i.e. not good) - and he's quite good with the material he has here as a man who used to be part of New Jack Swing-era band Tony! Toni! Toné! as the forth Tony with a question mark: Tony! Toni! Toné! Tony? There is also a parade of real musicians playing along with the gag as well as surprise cameos I won't spoil here.

Sweetly raunchy - it is co-produced by Judd Apatow and if you liked the gratuitous penises in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story you'll be happy here, too - and innocuously amusing, Popstar never real pops hard, but it's worth watching for music spoof and Lonely Island fans.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.

"Sicario" Blu-ray Review

As we're told in an opening title card, Sicario means "hitman" in Mexico. It could also mean (according to me) "somewhat overrated movie."

Emily Blunt stars an FBI agent who as lead of a hostage rescue team leads a raid on a drug den in Arizona and after narrowly escaping death discovers the walls are filled with bodies of victims of the cartels. (While it's a striking image, it doesn't make much sense. Why stash rotting corpses in your walls when there's plenty of desert out the back door to bury them?) Recruited to a join a DEA task force run by Josh Brolin with his mysterious sidekick Benicio del Toro, she rapidly suspects this is a CIA operation (which would be illegal on US soil) and is sucked into the violence of life fighting the brutal cartels.

There was a lot of praise for Sicario upon its release, but I attribute that to director Denis Villeneuve's constant simmering tone of dread. But like his previous film, Prisoners, that dread is in service to a script that is frustratingly thin under the gloom; it's as if playing the scenes slowly - bordering on monotonously - lends the impression of depth where little exists. It's not that the movie isn't great looking - with Roger Deakins' Oscar-nominated cinematography, how couldn't it? - with well-staged scenes and strong performances, it's just not as profound as the tone conveys, a problem with Prisoners as well.

Taylor Sheridan's script fancies itself a meditation on how far should good people go to fight truly evil people, but undermines the complexity by making del Toro's motivations so obvious that their attempts to cloud him with mystery insulting and having Blunt's by-the-book Girl Scout persona undermine her supposed kick-ass chick veneer by having her come off as naive more than idealistic. As she does one dumb thing after another against the advice of people whom she should be listening to, you start to wonder if dumb luck has kept her alive this long. Some struggle with her being seduced by the efficacy of drifting into the gray ethical terrain would've done Sicario a lot of good.

On the AV front, the transfer is nice and sharp with even the darkest scenes clear without banding. (Which is why properly-encoded physical discs will always trump streaming.) I don't have the speakers to judge the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, but on an old 5.1 system the low-end menace of Jóhann Jóhannsson Oscar-nominated score (it was also nommed for Sound Editing) came through to amp Villeneuve's dread.

Extras are thin with a quartet of brief features discussing the look of the film, the stars, the score and the background of the cartel wars which inspired the screenplay. The signature border crossing shootout (it's in the trailer, so no spoiler) required building a replica of that stretch of road because using the actual crossing was impossible, but while we see blue screen walls off in the distance which would be replaced by CGI extensions, they never go into how that was done. There is no commentary, which may've been because Villeneuve is from Quebec and has an accent, but why not have scripter Sheridan talk?

Not as good as the hype and frustrating in it dumb bunny lead, Sicario is one of those movies that make people leery of films with tons or critics' pull quotes on the poster. It's still worth a watch as long as you temper your expectations going in and don't mind being a bit annoyed the next day.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. (It is currently on Amazon Prime.)

If you watch(ed) the movie, check out this analysis of the border crossing scene which also, surprisingly, calls out the Villeneuve's dragging out of things.

This video condenses most of the info bits from the extras in case you watch it on TV instead of renting/buying the BD. BTW, the rental versions don't include extras, only the retail copies.

"It's So Easy and Other Lies" Review

Rock star memoirs are a dime a dozen, but for some reason Duff McKagen's tome It's So Easy: and other lies got the documentary concert treatment in It's So Easy and Other Lies. (Don't ask me why the capitalization and punctuation.

Part standard documentary with interviews and part concert film as McKagan sits reading excerpts from his book while backed by an band strumming mellow lounge versions of Gun 'n' Roses tunes, It's So Easy (itself a GNR tune title) follows McKagan from his DIY punk roots in Seattle, his exodus from the heroin death zone in 1984 to LA and his meeting up with Slash and company (you'll notice a distinct lack of anything Axl even in band footage), onto his nearly dying from alcohol-induced pancreatitis, sobering up, getting married and starting a family, Velvet Revolver, falling off the wagon, the usual Behind The Music drill.

McKagan's stage readings are stiff compared to his voluble offstage interview persona and I'm not sure what this mixed media presentation provides that a straight documentary couldn't have. It's different, but not necessarily an evolution of the format and frankly, I think the method constrains the story from delving deeper into some parts of his life that would've merited more attention. You'll also notice that while there are several members of GnR interviewed and historical footage, Axl is never shown. Weird.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on Netflix.

"Gravity Is Just A Habit" Review

Since oddternative (I just made that word up!) band OK Go became a viral sensation maker with their video for "Here It Goes Again" (the one where they're on treadmills), they've been in and escalating race to top their previous videos which work the theme of one single shot with wildly complex Rube Goldberg machines or complicated framing and props that are like Michel Gondry on steroids.

Earlier this year, they dropped this eye-popper for "Upside Down & Inside Out":

While they state up front that they shot it in an airplane flying parabolic arcs - the same method for parts of Apollo 13 - the limitation of creating weightlessness this way is that you only get about 27 seconds of zero-G per arc and the song was three-minutes-long.

So how did they do it? That's what the brief (19 mins) documentary Gravity Is Just A Habit (the title is a line from the lyrics) details, showing how the band connected with Russian filmmakers and used a huge cargo plane with the airplane set inside to film this epic in brief chunks, splicing it together to present a seemingly seamless whole.

While it looks like it'd be fun, it was actually grueling, nauseating work that took weeks of flights to pull off. The ending "Thunderdome" segment (where they burst paint balloons) is a point of drama because they'd thought they'd gotten a perfect take only to discover paint had landed on the lens, ruining the end. The debate about whether to take one more flight is complicated by one member, who looks absolutely miserable, not wanting to do it but knowing it has to be done.

If you're a behind-the-scenes junkie, this is well worth the time to check out.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on Netflix.

UPDATE: This video actual does a better job in explaining how they did it in a quarter of the time.

"Amanda Knox" Review

As someone who doesn't really follow tabloid hype stories very closely, the name Amanda Knox meant very little. I was vaguely aware that she was an American exchange student who has gone to Italy and then some girl (her housemate) turned up brutally murdered and there were intimations that Knox and her Italian boyfriend had killed her in some weird sex game gone super wrong. It seemed like I was always hearing her name pop up over and over as she was convicted, had that overturned, then reconvicted in absentia, etc.

Hot off the success of their stunning Making A Murderer documentary series, Netflix is clearly hoping for similar cultural buzz for Amanda Knox, a cursory primer of the case which dragged on eight years from the time of the murder to her final exoneration. With interviews with Knox, her lover, the British reporter leading the yellow journalism charge, and the chief investigator from the town's police, it superficially recaps the investigation and trial and subsequent reversals.

The problem Amanda Knox has is that her case was widely disseminated with every tawdry detail and how the police totally screwed the pooch with their investigation, basically convicting two people with tainted evidence. The shock power of Making A Murderer came from the fact that outside of Wisconsin, no one had really heard of this case and with 10 hours to work with, there was tons of video footage of the trials which laid out the case that some serious miscarrying of justice was going on and no one should be feeling good about how those convictions were secured. Amanda Knox is a brief hour-and-a-half with which to address years of events and there's simply not enough there there.

If you know little about Amanda Knox's excruciatingly slow slog through the Italian justice system, then Amanda Knox is a tidy catcher-upper. Otherwise, there's nothing new other than inconsequential interviews with the players.

Score: 6/10. Watch for a primer on the case.

"Mad Tiger" Review

While scrolling through Netflix I was surprised to see there was a documentary about NYC-based cartoon-punk band Peelander-Z called Mad Tiger. I'd been seeing them when they came through town for about 15 years and casually followed their career (i.e. went to shows; never bought records), noting when drummer Peelander Blue (they go by color-coded names and outfits) returned to Peelander Planet and was replaced by Peelander Green, etc.

I've photographed their shows several times - you can see those shots here, here and here - and while they always had a theatrical/audience participation element to the band, over the years they tilted heavily into the show and the music itself became almost an afterthought as almost every song would break down into some sort of bit.

The surprising part of Mad Tiger is that it documents their final tour with Peelander Red as he was exiting the band in 2012. My last set of photos were from that tour and I had no idea Red had left. Other revelations were that the girl (Peelander Pink) who'd been around the latter tours as a keyboardist/hype woman/merch girl was Peelander Yellow's wife; that Red worked as a bartender and was quitting to get married himself and open a bar (which apparently happened without him; it's two businesses later according to Google searches and he's not mentioned in any stories); they imported another bassist from Japan (they're all Japanese ex-pats living in NYC) who lasted one show and drummer Peelander Green decided to quit, too.

All well and good, but the fundamental problem with Mad Tiger is that unless you are familiar with the band and its shtick, there is very little to grasp onto. We never see complete songs - merely impressionistic snippets from shows in an attempt to convey chaotic energy - and the way they dole out revelations about their private lives (the Yellow-Pink marriage is like whispering a state secret) and cover the band stifles any narrative flow.

By the end, you will know a few things about some aging Japanese fellows who had a band that eventually disbanded, though that's misleading as YouTube had videos of them playing in the past month with Pink now on bass (though one has another bassist on stage, too). While I learned some things, I didn't learn much more than trivia and those unfamiliar with the band will be perplexed as to why this movie exists.

Score: 6/10. For Peelander-Z fans only. (Everyone else, 4/10 - skip it)

"ARQ" Review

For the first 15-20 minutes of the new Netflix Original movie ARQ, it felt like a riff on the excellent (and crippled by its release title of Edge of Tomorrow) Live Die Repeat, but like it should've been a short film, not a 90-minute feature. But then it started adding layers and twists which made it a tense and unpredictable treat.The trailer below does well to not spoil the fun, but has a few too many shots which out-of-context may not spoilers, but rather than risk it, I'll synopsize as little as possible. You'll have to trust me on this one.

Robbie Amell (the original Firestorm on The Flash TV show; Steve of Arrow's cousin, though they look like brothers) wakes up with a startle. It's 6:16 AM according to the clock. He looks over on the bed and caresses the face of a woman (Rachael Taylor, Trish from Jessica Jones). Suddenly, men in gas masks burst in and drag him away. He breaks free, but tumbles down the stairs, hitting his head with a THUD and...

He wakes up. Men break in. He's reliving the day again. They drag him down to the basement where a massive metal cylinder is rotating like a lathe - this being the titular ARQ. Eventually he gets killed again. And again. Annnnnnnnnd AGAIN!

While this rapidly seems like a direct, much smaller-scale remake of Live Die Repeat, it makes the savvy decision to get Taylor in on the "I can remember the last time loop" fun as her backstory comes into play. One person being able to play Groundhog Day and redo things over and over and over until you get it right has been done before, but not when there is a second player with their own agenda who know that you know and is able to compensate. And that's not where it ends.

Once the reveal occurs, ARQ becomes more than just a rehash of the aforementioned movies because of the unknown factors that not being the only one remembering what happened causes. While the ultimate end of the movie is sort of necessarily by the movie's premise a foregone conclusion, I had no idea how it was going to resolve because eventually there are too many variables and that's what makes the movie ARQ hum like its machine.

Written and directed by Tony Elliot, who has been a story editor and writer on the wonderful Orphan Black, it makes the most of its low-budget bottle episode trappings and doesn't resort to cheats to keep the tensions taut. The doling out of info about the world outside that house avoids Basil Exposition Syndrome though the milieu isn't particularly innovative. (Dystopian wasteland with rebels and all-powerful corporation has been done to death.) The performances are very good and the pulsing electronic score reinforces the mood.

Movies like ARQ are too small for theaters and the usual home for such fare, SyFy, would be inappropriate due to commercial breaks wrecking the flow of escalating stakes.Thanks to Netflix for tossing a far better movie than Talullah onto the pile of content we're paying for.

Score: 8/10. Watch it.

"Florence Foster Jenkins" Review

While surfing YouTube on my TV late one night, up popped this trailer:

It's a hoary cliche to say one's jaw dropped, but in my case it was true. How was this a thing?

Some backstory: I was raised by an opera-loving mother who took me when she could to see the Metropolitan Opera when they toured. I saw Tosca with Plácido Domingo as Scarpia and Luciano Pavarotti as Cavaradossi (two of the Three Tenors before they were a thing!) and when we went to Rome, we spent and afternoon walking to visit the locations of the three acts. (Fun Facts: Scarpia's place is the French Embassy now and there is no way in hell Tosca could've made it to the Tiber River from the roof of Castel Sant'Angelo as portrayed; it's too far.)

Back when Detroit still had a classical radio station (WQRS), the afternoon drive DJ, Dave Wagner, would occasionally throw on a tune by the titular Florence Foster Jenkins and it To cut to the chase as implied by the trailer, she sang worse than Axl Rose filling in for AC/DC. Hard to believe, but true. But because/despite her.....uhhh...."limited" gifts, she had somehow managed to become the stuff of legend. Which is now a movie. Starring Meryl Streep. Duh. Fuh?

Set in the last year of Jenkins' life, 1944, Florence Foster Jenkins is viewed through the eyes of her accompanist Cosmé McMoon (The Big Bang Theory's Simon Helberg), hired by Jenkins' husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant). The audition scene is a hoot as he's not sure if he's the victim of a prank or whether this woman is crazy. Bayfield tucks his wife into bed every night and heads to an apartment he's keeping with a mistress which is weird, but there's a pretty shocking reason as to why this arrangement is a thing.

Jenkins' performances were limited to small groups of fellow socialites with no press permitted and it's never really made clear as to whether these people were quietly laughing behind their silk-gloved hands at her, but it's been a workable business model and everyone has seemed happy. However, this arrangement is threatened when Jenkins takes some phonograph records she recorded as a lark and sends them to a radio station which has begun playing them to huge reaction leading to her booking a recital at Carnegie Hall (capacity 2,804) and giving a thousand tickets to servicemen who are highly unlikely to restrain their critiques in her presence.The gig goes down (in flames) as could be expected and Bayfield's unsuccessful efforts to shield her from the press reviews make up the final segment of film.

While lovingly crafted with the usual great performance from Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins never really answers the question that I had when I discovered its existence: How is this a thing and, more relevantly, why is this a thing. In its efforts to be light and entertaining, it never seems to want to take a position on whether this woman was a loon or not so as to not pass too harsh a judgement on the long-departed dowager. It doesn't need to be a hard-hitting expose of the ritzy NYC vanity performance scene during WWII, but a little sharper focus would've been nice to prevent this from being a pleasantly forgettable trifle.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

After the screening, I noticed a cute, underplayed bit of promo swag left out for exiting viewers: tiny poster cards with a packet of foam ear plugs attached.

"Sky Line" Review

Not to be confused with the 2010 alien invasion flick Skyline, Sky Line is a documentary about the quest to build a space elevator to open the final frontier in a way that's simply impossible with using rockets to lift materials from the ground to orbit.

Popularized by Arthur C. Clarke's 1979 novel The Fountains of Paradise, the space elevator would be a ribbon of carbon nanotubes, most likely, stretching from Earth tens of thousands of kilometers into the sky where a station would be built facilitating all sorts of wonderful things. Freed from the costs and risks of using rockets, projects like placing massive solar energy farms in the sky - above the clouds, collecting sunlight 24/7 and beaming it down to the ground - could be achieved.

But inventing, developing and building the means of constructing such a fantastic thing are major stumbling blocks and Sky Line introduces us to several men who are tackling the challenges with variable levels of success.

While it's a good primer for the subject, it feels padded and vague at a relatively short 74 minutes. Trimmed back to under an hour, it'd be a good Nova episode, but with too much emphasis on generally inconsequential drama - one guy went bankrupt in a day and voices concern that the landlord of the building his company operated in would call the sheriff, but it's never explained why - it feels formless at times.

Score: 5/10. Watch it on Netflix if you're a science nerd; otherwise skip it.

"Knock Knock" Review

While talking to my girlfriend, she exclaimed, "You have to watch Knock Knock!" I was surprised by the enthusiastic recommendation and said that all I knew was that a couple of hot chicks knock on Keanu Reeves door and hijinks ensue. "Yes! Don't read anything about it. Go in cold." So I did and if you're interested in, you should too because the trailer gives away pretty much the whole movie.

The plot is that simple: Keanu is an architect with a beautiful artist wife and two lovely kids. The family is going to the beach for a few days, but he's staying behind working on a project. That night, during a cats-and-dogs downpour, there is a knock at his door and when he answers it, he's greeted by this sight:

Yeah. What do you think happens next? Yes, hijinks definitely ensue.

Despite the missus' enthusiasm, there's not really much surprising or shocking about Knock Knock. Director/co-writer Eli Roth - remaking a 1977 flick called Death Game (which starred Knock Knock producer Colleen Camp and executive producer Sondra Locke as the girls at the door) - keeps cranking up the tension and putting the screws to Keanu, but other than specific details, there's not much that will blow your mind.

Special mention must be given to Keanu's performance. He has always been a stiff, monotone blank with an emotional range from A to B, but here he actually seems alive and kicking; it may startle some viewers. The girls are hot, but to say more would spoil what happens. (Seriously, the trailer gives everything away.)

After watching it, I asked the missus why she was so enthusiastic about it and she explained with something that I can't relate here without spoiling the "surprises." Don't take my reluctance to discuss the plot as a sign that something magical is lurking within. There isn't. In fact, the fact that there is so little to Knock Knock beyond the premise that I've spent half of this review saying "spoilers prevent me..." is the ultimate bottom line: If you come across it as it's starting on cable while channel surfing, give it a look for some trashy, tawdry minor-league entertainment.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

Beware! The trailer gives away pretty much the whole movie.

"The Lazarus Effect" Review

Ah, may favorite kinds of trailers - the ones that save me the effort of synopsisizing the movie. Watch this:

That's the movie: Doctors playing God bring pooch back to life, but something's off about it; try to recreate experiment, but an accident kills Olivia Wilde; they resurrect her because YOU DON'T LET HOTTIES LIKE THAT DIE WITHOUT A FIGHT!!!; she's extremely not right; hijinks ensue.

Despite being pretty predictable and overly reliant on BOOM! NOISE! jump scares, it's well-acted beyond what's necessary and has a stylish look. The premise could've gone deeper if they'd had some ambition and a longer run time and it really goes off the rails as it rushes to its conclusion, but the biggest shock is that it was directed by David Gelb, who did the sublime documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

As far as The Lazarus Effect goes, it's more or less a dead film walking. Har.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" IMAX Review

Note: This review is SPOILER-FREE and nothing will be discussed in-depth that isn't in the trailers or well-known from press reports. After it opens, I may add additional spoiler thoughts at the bottom, clearly marked.

While DC Comics has done well for themselves in their direct-to-video animated features and TV shows like Arrow and The Flash (I gave up on Supergirl after four episodes), they have been gazing with envy at the Marvel Cinematic Universe's seemingly unstoppable success. (A common dig was that while Batman and Superman were constantly rebooting and treading water, Marvel was making movies with a machine gun-toting talking racoon.)

With The Avengers series raking in record-breaking bank, DC's desire to catch up and get their own all-star team-up Justice League series up and running has been a priority and the plan is for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) - more of a sequel to 2013's Man of Steel (MoS) than Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy - to get them into the game and also launch a series of stand-alone movie series introducing Aquaman, The Flash, Wonder Woman (whose movie is coming in 2017) and eventually taking another crack at Green Lantern.

While that may've been the plan, they've run into a little problem: BvS is a grim, dark, miserable, noisy, unfun, depressing and simultaneously overstuffed and underdeveloped slog that makes MoS feel like Ant-Man in comparison for entertainment.

The movie opens with the 79,000th retelling of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, disproving the haters) becoming an orphan in case no one knew it (oddly, we don't see Krypton blowing up, so you'd better know Supe's backstory) and then Bruce's experience of the finale of MoS as Metropolis is leveled by the Planetary Engine and Superman's battle with General Zod, killing and maiming many.

It then jumps ahead 18 months and we find Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in Africa getting herself into a scrape which Superman (Henry Cavill); Batman brutally dealing with crime in Gotham City, actually branding criminals, marking them for death; and Lex Luthor Jr. (Jesse Eisenberg) up to something shenanigansy. A Senator played by Holly Hunter is questioning whether Superman can be trusted and Supes is trying to balance playing house with Lois with his guilt for all the carnage that occurred.

It's difficult to explain what goes so wrong with the thin plot without spoilers which is odd because there is actually little not alluded to in the trailers. Before the screening a video message from director Zach Snyder was played welcoming the audience and begging for social media not to be awash in spoilers, but other than a couple of cameos and perhaps the ending, there wasn't much surprising, which was deeply surprising. I was expecting a shocker like, oh, discovering S.H.I.E.L.D. was infiltrated by Hydra in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but nothing really happens that anyone with a passing familiarity with the comics and broad happenings. The movie is pretty much a 60 times longer version of the trailer.

The problems, as so often they do, begin with the script which is surprising since it was co-written by Oscar-winner Chris Terrio (Affleck's Argo) and David S. Goyer, who co-wrote the Nolan movies and MoS. Disjointed, sketchy, shockingly devoid of substance despite the meaty potential of the subject of what responsibilities do heroes have in their conduct. (It doesn't help that the second season of Netflix's Daredevil series dropped a few days ago and features a riveting debate about vigilantism between the Punisher and Daredevil in the first few hours that's better then the entirety of BvS.) The first hour lurches around as subplots and McGuffins seem to have no connection to one another and then the back half is noisy punching and CGI mayhem, this time obscured by rain and smoke and darkness without even a touch of Pacific Rim's neon lights.

There is a heavy reliance on dreams, visions and nightmares which make for crazy moments, but mean little. There is also some of the most painfully telegraphed dialogue like Lex's trailer moment with Bruce and Clark saying you wouldn't want to fight him. Har-har. (Ahem.) And the teases of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg are just lame - the appearance of Spider-Man at the end of the final Captain America: Civil War trailer is so much better.

Affleck's casting was roundly sneered at three years ago, but he does well as an older, jaded, over it Batman. We're shown a defaced (presumably by the Joker) Robin costume, but know nothing of what happened there, but Affleck carries all that off-camera history well. He's mad and fed-up and you get why he wants to whup Superman's butt. Jeremy Irons makes Alfred possess more gravitas than the script provides and he's sort of a mashup of Alfred and Lucius Fox this time. Gal Gadot is intriguing as Wonder Woman, but the script does a terrible job explaining why she's even there, but it's no worse than all the other poorly-drawn details. The big fight itself could've been prevented if one guy simply stopped and listened to the other for 5 seconds.

Everyone else in the cast is pretty much wasted starting with Cavill and Adams. Laurence Fishburne returns as Perry White but seems to be channeling J.K. Simmons' sublime J. Jonah Jameson from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man series as he grouches yellow headline copy. Eisenberg's Luthor is really up a creek as we never really get what his deal is or what his goals are. He does stuff, but there is no rationale or motivation. At least previous movie Luthor had some far-fetched real estate scheme in mind.

After 2-1/2 hours of loud, thudding grimdark and bummer - there's no post-credits scene - I drove home feeling beaten up and not entertained. A fine fellow whom I struck up a conversation with in line and sat a couple seats over from responded to my negative take with, "I don't know how to feel about this." There was literally ONE laugh, ONE applause moment, ONE collective "Ooooh!" at something that had happened. That is a terrible entertainment ratio.

Not to sound like a Marvel fanboy, but it sounds like Captain America: Civil War is going to do battling heroes with philosophical differences a hundred times better than Batdude vs Superdude: Grit Gritty Dark Darker Night of Just Us did. Snyder and the gang are tackling Justice League next and frankly, I'm not interested. I don't need Joel Schumacher schlocky colored foolishness, just some well-written storytelling that rise to a higher plane than what a kid with action figures and the desire to bash them together could provide. A huge disappointment. 

Score: 4/10. Rent the Blu-ray.

Oscars 2016 Livesnark

These are the tweets I fired off from my @DirkBelig Twitter account while enduring the 2016 Oscars.
  • Opening montage of everything that didn't get nominated. Bring on the black rage!  
  • Cops shooting black people joke gets applause from self-hating white liberal Hollyweird audience.
  • Rock's monologue was funny, but Hollyweird will take their lumps and go on with their usual racist liberal biz as usual tomorrow.
  • Actual African-American Charlize Theron presents Original Screenplay to Spotlight. Hint of upset already? No token for Compton.
  • Interesting change-up in the sequence of Oscars tracing the production process starting with writing. Ironic terrible banter.
  • Adam MacKay commands everyone to at . I guess he missed the part where he got wealthy serving big corporations.
  • Hilarious montage of black actors trying to get into movies, esp. Leslie Jones, followed by terribly unfunny Sarah Silverman.
  • Sam Smith. Snack/bathroom break! He's the Oscars version of John Kasich.  
  • Wasn't this gawdawful Bond "tune" originally "Puberty Love" in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes?
  • Robot girl Alicia Vikander wins Supporting Actress for playing a woman who allowed her husband to cut his junk off because men suck.
  • Costume design winner shares her expertise on ManBearPig because Mad Max was created back when we thought another Ice Age was coming.
  • Mad Max has won three craft awards so far which is what genre movies get at the . Period.
  • Cheevo turns the hat trick for Cinematography. Poor Roger Deakins falls to 0-13. Mad Max wins Editing, rightfully so.
  • Whoa. Angela Bassett is 57-years-HAWT! Hubba to the hubba.
  • Ex Machina (aka Hottie Non-Terminator) upsets the Mad Max caravan for Best VFX - a surprise for a little arthouse sci-fi film.
  • Now Girl Scout cookies are weapons in exploiting Hollywood's white liberal guilt at the . So fun. /s
  • Inside Out wins Best Animated to the surprise of no one because Pixar doesn't have to be good to automatically win. Lame.
  • Another terrible song that not even goth bondage chicks can make interesting. Where's Gaga with that rape tune?
  • These Kohls commercials with civilians lipsynching acceptance speeches are a very special kind of stupid. And Ward's went under?
  • That woman in the Compton bit with the hair over one eye is saving money on 3D tickets.
  • Whoa! Major shocker as Mark Rylance wins Sup Actor over Stallone (sentimental fave) and Ruffalo (many noms). Patsy new Palance?
  • The have the orchestra in the theater orchestra pit after a few years down at Capitol Records studio. Louis CK was funny.
  • So who got left off "The People Who Died" montage (which once again failed to use Jim Carrol's perfect-for-it song)?
  • If Kurt Cobain had known that Dave Grohl would end up ubiquitous, including the , he may have made a different life choice: Shot him!
  • FACT CHECK: TRUE! Slow Joe Biden says he's the "least qualified man here" to cheering libtards before preaching about the campus rape hoax.
  • Funny, I don't recall Tori Amos' "Me and A Gun" being nominated for back in 1991. Isn't having all the rape victims as props wrong?
  • Ennio Morricone wins the Lifetime Achievement Catch-Up for Hateful 8. How high is Jennifer Jason Leigh? She's Ambien spokesmodel.
  • Old: Sappy Bergman ballads won New: Social Justice Warrior anthems win Oscars Out: Good songs need not apply.
  • Aaaaaaaand you can just ignore that last tweet as the craptacular Bond theme wins Best Song . So gay trumps rape. Keep track.
  • Inarritu wins Best Director for the 2nd year in a row for making the lowest-reviewed movie nominated. Bleah.  
  • Brie Larson wins Best Actress for Room bringing the total of stars in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World with to one.
  • Leo wins Oscar.  
  • Leo gets to run waaaaaaaaaaaaay over time at to preach the lies of ManBearPig. Give up your private jet first, hypocrite!
  • Spotlight Best Picture at , derailing Revenant train. Ironic praise 4 reporters when journalists are just DNC operatives these days.
  • That the were marginally more entertaining than the horrible Grammys is nothing to be proud of. Public Enemy over the credits.

"All Things Must Pass" Review

Colin Hanks' wildly entertaining All Things Must Pass isn't about George Harrison's seminal solo album, but as it is subtitled, The Rise and Fall of Tower Records. Founded in Sacramento, CA in 1960 by Russ Solomon, Tower Records gradually, then rapidly, expanded into a globe-spanning retail empire which clocked a billion dollars in sales in 1999 only to go bankrupt and disappear by 2006.

Packed with interviews from almost everyone involved from the earliest days - the celebrity interview from Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl (who worked at the Washington D.C. store), and Elton John prominently featured in the trailer are a tiny part of the overall movie - it traces how Solomon was able to capture the music zeitgeist and sell it to rabidly loyal fans with a decidedly non-traditional approach to staffing and management. Somehow it succeeded and thrived, though unbeknownst to them, the seeds of doom were planted as the absence of only a couple of crucial people set the dominoes tumbling toward ruin.

While the MP3/Napster revolution was a contributing factor to Tower's (as well as the record industry's demise), All Things Must Pass and the participants don't make it the scapegoat. Everyone is remarkably clear-eyed as to what happened beyond the digital "free music" tsunami as the culture about collecting music changed. While some subjects become quite emotional in their recollections, they don't lash out in angry nostalgia for the bygone glory days.

Brisk, fun and informative, you shouldn't pass on All Things Must Pass.

Score: 9/10. Catch it on cable.

"Sisters" Review

Nothing makes my job easier than trailers which spell out almost the entire movie, so watch this:

That's right, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, last seen in the unsung 2008 comedy classic Baby Mama (note: sarcasm), are back except this time Amy is the straight-laced good girl and Tina is the wild child trainwreck (this actually works well enough) with a disgusted estranged teenage daughter (Madison Davenport) who won't tell her mother where she's living. When their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) announce they're selling their childhood home, they decide to have one last rager and invite their old high school friends. Hijinks naturally ensue.

Written by SNL veteran Paula Pell (her feature debut), Sisters is the latest entry in the "raunchy women's comedy" genre following the likes of Bridesmaids and The Heat where middle-aged women swear and act obnoxious. If you like those flicks, you'll like Sisters because the laugh ratio is on the positive side even if the tropes are familiar and some gags run on too much like Bobby Moynihan's over-featured party guest.

Of course it gets sappy at the end and Everyone Learns Something, but despite the laxness of the ending which makes The Lord of the Rings seem taut in comparison, you'll have a decent time partying with these Sisters.

Score: 6.5/10. Catch it on cable.

"The Man From U.N.C.L.E." Review

After the dreadful tag team of Revolver and RocknRolla I demanded that Guy Ritchie's career be ended. Yeah, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch were pretty good, but these two were whack and his former producer, Matthew Vaughn, had become a much more interesting filmmaker directing Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class (and the lesser Kingsmen: The Secret Service).

Unfortunately for my wishes, Ritchie had a pair of hits with the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies and thus got to make this stylish and dull rehash of the Sixties TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Superman Henry Cavill as former thief-turned-spy Napoleon Solo and The Lone Ranger/Winklevoss Twin Armie Hammer as KGB agent Illya Kuryakin who first encounter each other when Solo is helping an East German auto mechanic (Hollywood's hot It Girl Alicia Vikander, star of Ex Machina and The Danish Girl) defect from 1963 East Berlin.

Facing some sort of threat from nuclear weapons or something - the actual plot is so slapdash and thin - the foes are forced to bro-team up with Vikander posing as Hammer's fiancee and something involving a beautiful shipping heiress or something; it's all quite forgettable as Ritchie pours on the period style.

There are a handful of laughs from throwaway gags like when the pair are told they'll be working together and when their bosses get up to leave the cafe, everyone else gets up as well because they were all agents, too, but they're not enough to compensate for an unengaging plot and cheesy one-upping dick-measuring by the leads. It's also clearly intended to set up a series of films because we can't possibly not want more of these wacky brotagonists, right? Fortunately, the lackluster box office take will probably prevent that from occurring.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

The exceedingly long and give-the-whole-movie-away Comic-Con trailer:

"Time Lapse" Review

While perusing my Netflix app I spotted Time Lapse co-starring Danielle Panabaker (Caitlin Snow from The Flash) as a young woman living with her artist boyfriend and their slackerish roommate. The boyfriend is also the super for their seemingly unpopulated apartment complex and as such as keys to the units including that of their neighbor across the way.

When his mail piles up, Panabaker goes into his place and discovers a huge camera which is pointed out the window into their place's window and thanks to no one ever closing curtains is spitting out Polaroids which they determine as being from the next day. The man's mysteriously burned body - he clothes are untouched - is found in a store room and combined with a diary entry about attempting to change the future they are afraid to deviate from what is portrayed in the photos.

As anyone who would have knowledge of the future and has seen Back to the Future II would do, they start making bets on dog races to make all sorts of easy money. Of course, things start taking a turn for the worse as the suspicious bookie comes around wondering why the slacker is always winning and tensions rise as more disturbing images start issuing from the Magic Camera like Panabaker getting physically involved with the slacker while her boyfriend appears to be sleeping. (Again, open curtains?)

Time Lapse is a frustrating movie because the premise is intriguing, but the execution is weak. The performances by the men are flat and unnatural, hampered by unrealistic dialog and increasingly ludicrous behavior. A character appears about 2/3rds of the way through who seems to know what the man was doing, but just as those possibilities are presented, that plot thread is ended. There is a security guard character occasionally patrolling the grounds of this tiny complex where we never see another tenant only to have him become a plot detail later. (I live in a bigger complex than seen in this movie and there's no roving security man and I see my neighbors even if I don't interact with them.)

Then there's the usual bugbear of time travel movies, causality, as the characters are slavishly living to end up where the pictures portray them being even if they mean she's got to kiss someone she's not dating "because that's what's in the picture." The artist has been creatively blocked, so he solves that by painting what's in the photo even if he doesn't know what the images mean. They have to post the winners of that day's dog races in order to appear in yesterday's photo; it's all a confusing mess, but may've worked if the execution was better.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"The Transporter Refueled" Review

Let's make this quick: the first Transporter film was a fun lark with Jason Statham kicking ass and a hot Asian babe; the second one was sillier, but had Jason Statham kicking ass and a crazy machine gun hooker chick who looked like Pink and barely worked again in it and was also fun. The third time wasn't a charm as they forgot to bother getting Statham's shirt off when he fought (as my girlfriend complained) and the leading lady was such an annoying twit that we were both rooting for her to be run over by Statham.

Well, Luc Besson and company apparently thought that all we needed was a new guy in a suit and some silly plot about hookers ripping off their Russian mob pimps and car chases - it's a glorified Audi commercial half the time - to restart the franchise. They were wrong and The Transporter Refueled is out of gas and up on blocks pretty much the whole time. Go watch the first two again instead.

Score: 2/10. Skip it.

DirkFlix. Copyright 2010-2015 Dirk Omnimedia Inc. All rights reserved.
Free WordPress Themes Presented by EZwpthemes.
Bloggerized by Miss Dothy