Everything Must Go

Article first published as Everything Must Go on Blogcritics.
Everything Must Go
was directed by Dan Rush. This is his debut as a director. Will Ferrell (Nick Halsey) lends an everyman face to suburban failure and renewal in this dark comedy. Alcoholism and depression are addressed in this movie, hefty topics for an independent film but they are handled deftly and respectfully.

It begins with Nick Halsey losing his job. If you think it can’t get worse than that for a suburban married man in a mortgage, it does. When he gets home, he finds all his possessions, including clothes, strewn across the front lawn. Can’t get worse? Yes it can. Soon after he arrives home he finds he cannot get into the house as his wife has changed the locks. This is when we begin to see he is an alcoholic. He plops down on the easy chair in the yard and decides to have a yard sale. The course of events that follow involve a young kid who visits him on the lawn (Kenny Loftus played by C.J. Wallace who is the son of Notorious B.I.G. in real life). Their interplay is marvelous because it is tender and human.

Kenny doesn’t judge Nick for his misgivings. Instead, they find a common ground where they share a love of baseball and a common theme of loneliness. For me, this relationship was the most significant. There are other ones in the movie though. Samantha (Rebecca Hall), Nick ex-wife, is adamantly against him. Though we don’t know the details it can be boiled down to the well-known failings of an alcoholic in a marriage. Details show us that Nick was not just a casual alcoholic but a raving black-out type. He’s quite lucid and sensible in the movie though. The cop that drives by and has befriended Nick, Frank Garcia (Michael Peña), seems to have Nick’s best interest at heart but that remains to be seen. Needless to say, Nick’s days on the lawn must come to an end. When they do, we see a transformation. While a bit predictable, it is the journey that held my attention. What would you do if you lost everything in a day? This movie let’s that “what-if” play out to a clear conclusion.

I enjoyed this movie immensely, it was an image of our humanity. Who has never been afraid of living out in the street? At a time in history when so many people are being forced out of their homes, it can be cathartic to watch this. Will Ferrell shows us in this film that he can act. Sure, he is funny but his acting makes it easy to believe he is homeless.

Watching Nick and Kenny together is touching. With all the bad going on in Nick’s life, he takes the time to get to know Kenny. I know from personal experience as a teacher kids require patience. The other relationships are a little flat and I thought could have been developed more. Still, this movie was valuable in the way it portrayed Nick’s relationship with Kenny. There is a lot to take away from that and it makes Everything Must Go highly entertaining.

A Christmas Story (1983)

I think most Americans, happy with their upbringing, are delighted to tell stories about their childhood. If we tell them, they become immortal. Such is apparently the case with humorist Jean Shepherd. His semi-fictional memoir In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash is the basis for this lovely, wonderful film.

Looking at this film on face value alone may cause it to appear like a Hallmark channel move or a strictly family film. The truth is it’s more than that. A humorist lends his life supply of experiences growing up to produce family-friendly comedy, with a slightly twisted bent. I know I wouldn’t have liked it if it was simple a family Christmas film.

It takes place in the 1940’s when American life was a lot simpler. Even still, you see the father come home from work getting mad at the broken furnace, cussing at it. You see that daily dilemma of Ralphie and his little brother trying to get to school in sub zero temperatures. And then of course, there are the bullies to and from school to worry about.

Why the hell do we tell our kids to believe in Santa Claus? This question is indirectly raised but never answered. In fact, it raises gender role issues, peer pressure, and American traditions. It reminds us of our traditions, even ones we’ve taken for granted all our lives. As we laugh at Ralphie and this family, we are really laughing at ourselves.

Bob Clark directed this amazing piece. He will be remembered by some as directing the coming-of-age film from 1982, Porky’s. While not as racy as that film, this one deals with boys growing up and poking fun at our human situation.

Some of the cast should be mentioned: Peter Billingsley played Ralphie. Before that, in America he was recognized as the Nestle Quick chocolate Milk kid. Darren McGavin plays “The Old Man,” Ralphie’s father. His role is superlative. He plays the somewhat detached aging father so well. When he cusses at the furnace, you swear you’ve heard that somewhere before! The whole cast is amazing and it’s an excellent script they use to deliver the jokes and message in the film.

When seen for the sarcastic, dry, deadpan humor it offers, this film is a winner! Some may be put off by its seemingly traditional appearance but please remember it is poking fun at tradition as much as reminding us of it. Give this incredible memoir film a chance, you won’t regret it.

Reasons to Vote for ‘Breaking Away’ as June 2017’s Movie of the Month at The Large Association of Movie Blogs!

It’s about being young and chasing your dreams.
It stars a very young Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern.

It’s NOT only about a cycle race but also love and coming of age.
It’s a coming of age story about All-American boys you won’t soon forget!
It’s my entry and if I win, I get to appear on the podcast to discuss this wonderful film.

Please go and vote now at this link.

Real Steel

Last night my wife and I sneaked out leaving the brother to babysit and saw Real Steel, the new movie out about robot boxing. I have to say, I wasn’t too excited to see it. The idea of robots punching each other for 2 hours didn’t really pique my interest. But I am happy to recommend it now as a fun family film, with some fight scenes, that has all the charm of the Karate Kid and cgi as good as Transformers.

It was directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the MuseumBig Fat Liar …) and stars Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, and newcomer Kevin Durand. Jackman plays Charlie, an ex prize fighter who now slums as a robot coach (of sorts). Jackman discovers he has a son, Max, and try as he might to do otherwise, he is destined to partner up with his 13 year old son throughout the movie. Charlie and Max try their hand at robot management and coaching but it has mixed results. It isn’t until they have a few shared experiences that they acquire a new, plain, yet mysterious powerful robots. What that power is remains to unfold. Together they discover the worth of teamwork and the analog body in sync with the digital robot technology. I won’t give away anymore about the plot but know that it’s quite a fun ride.

Evangeline Lilly plays Bailey, Jackman’s ex. She is the calming force in his life even now that they are not together. They share a little romance that sizzles off the screen. Max is just happy-go-lucky. He ends up getting a dad and a prize fighting robot in the deal. There is not a while lot of real life character development but for what this movie is, an action movie, that isn’t required. Atom is the robot. You end up feeling like he is an actual person. He is the classic underdog fighter with no chance and a small physique. The twist is that he is not a human, like Rocky from the 70’s, but rather a steel fighting machine. He never says to his corner man to “cut me” but several comparisons are obvious, as well as to the Karate Kid.

All in all, this movie isn’t very real amid the steel. That being said, you will cheer when the good robots win fights. It is just the right time for this sort of movie to be made. Technology makes these things seem like real chunks of 1,000 pound metal to watch, enjoy, and give a high five to. While weak on the storyline and character development, this is the ideal underdog movie for the kids of today. And for those of us in our slightly older years, we should suspend disbelief so this movie can please us as well.

Article first published as Real Steel: The Underdog Fight Ensues on Blogcritics.

The Theory of Everything

The-Theory-of-Everything-Poster-2I went in to see this movie while on vacation in Las Vegas with my lovely wife. I expected a romance. Having known of Stephen Hawking and his ultimate divorce, I imagined the film would delete that and sugar coat his romance prior to him becoming confined to a wheelchair. I had it only partly right. The director focused on their romantic relationship in the early years, the late sixties and seventies. You see how they meet and get a feel for what he was trying to with his theory of everything. It is quite touching and certainly the stuff of chick flick type of movies. At the same time, I enjoyed watching that part so it may be suited fpr guys as well, or guys that want to cuddle with girls. It’s after all that is established and they are in a relationship that the disease hits and it hits powerfully. You might call it exquisite pain for the protagonist and the invested audience.

After doctors give Hawking 2 years to live, you see he and his wife have learned to get along. The movie is still a love story but takes on a new dimension of a family. Yes, they are able to have children. Hawking becomes a famous author we follow him through more and more sophisticated wheelchairs. My wife at one point said to me, “This is where you say thank God for technology.” Through the use of a special machine, he learns to speak again through typing. There is also a running theme throughout about religion. She has it, he doesn’t. It makes for some interesting interplay at chosen points in the movie. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if he ever renounces atheism or not. Either way, he delivers a powerful speech on the topic. This is a tear jerker, a romance, and an inspiring film to boot. I give in 5/5 stars.

Slow West

Title: Slow West
Genre: Action, Mystery, Romance
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2015
Director: John Maclean. Known now for writing and directing this film. A newcomer to watch!
Top Billed Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” Michael Fassbender, “Prometheus,” and much more, and Ben Mendelsohn, known for the tv show “Bloodline.”
Brief Synopsis: When traveling across territory, it helps to have a partner. Everyone has different gifts and needs so choose as your needs require. In the West, anything can happen and often does.
My Word to the Wise: A succinct, plain but totally enjoyable Western movie with amazing actors and pistols! Just what a western aspires to be.

The rest of this review may contain spoilers.

My only final thought for you on this movie is the freshness of it. It isn’t bland in any way but the elements of the classic Western roll off like a conveyor belt onto a claim jumper’s plate. It is a strong story brought to life with incredible sets and costumes. Finally, the director is taking his first shot at writing and directing and I declare he has scored a bullseye. This film aims to be a thoughtful Western and on those criteria, I say it succeeds. It lost no star with me.

Oz the Great and Powerful

Lower your standards for acting and dialog but not for CGI and cinematography. It started very slow and laborious but the middle and end were actually a lot of fun.

If you want to bring people in to see your movie, make it a prequel or sequel to a box office explosion like the Wizard of Oz. Additionally, cast mega actors in the lead roles. Oh, and of you really want to blow it up, get the best CGI into it. Voila, you’ll have a monster hit. Will Oz, the Great and Powerful be “monstrous” successful at the box office? Probably but time will have to tell. On opening day, the critics are divided. Some are saying it’s bad writing but should that matter with a fantasy family movie like this?

This Disney film was directed by Sam Raimi, known for the Evil Dead and the Spiderman Trilogy. It stars James Franco as Oz, Mila Kunis as Theodora, Rachel Weisz as Evanora, and Michelle Williams as Glinda. In addition to those giant-name actors, there is cast of lesser-known known yet famous actors.

To summarize the plot with minimal spoilers: Oscar Diggs is whisked away from Kansas and ends up in Oz (familiar?). He meets three witches who he must contend with to stay alive. In the process, her learns about believing in himself as he saves the Emerald City. He uses his skills of illusion to foil the bad witches impress the inhabitants of Oz. An important note is that he never returns to Kansas.

Prequels contain certain unavoidable things. For sure you are bound to hear the origins of things. Oz the Great and Powerful is no exception. My wife was surprised there was no backstory of the slippers but no other stone is left unturned. It’s as if the screenwriters had a checklist and went right down the line. Even though the script seems canned and simple at times, the movie doesn’t need depth to please viewers. We are talking about a prequel to the Wizard of Oz here, the name along with the Disney moniker is enough to bring in the minions. I was there opening night and I have never seen our small town Cinemark that packed. Will it have staying power? Time will tell but I think but probably. It started very slow and laborious but the middle and end were actually a lot of fun. Lower your standards for acting and dialog but not for CGI and cinematography.

The Damien Riley Podcast – A Nightmare on Elm Street

In just over 4 minutes running time, I preview this horror classic for you all, especially those who haven’t seen it yet. I urge all horror fans to do so … It’s now streaming on Netflix

Blogging Mistakes, My Apologies

I noticed my post today Christine (2016) had some errors after I posted it. I want to apologize and let you know I will be proofreading better. I’ve struggled with this for years and years. Thank you readers for your patience and generosity in reading my posts warts and all.

Above are gravatars of past years that represent how errors can work pave the way to good things and nobody’s perfect. Behind every perfect picture is an imperfect story. I know my backstories! Enjoy your day, may it be perfect.

Please Vote for Breaking Away as Movie of the Month on the LAMB

I’m championing this film as Movie of the Month on the LAMB (Large Association of Movie Blogs). Please help me win! If I do win, I get to be on a podcast discussing why it’s so great. Trivia: Did you know the AFI voted it #8 Most Inspirational Movie of all time? Vote for Breaking Away Here.

Breaking Away (1979) [Damien Riley, Riley on Film]

From the archives: My review of Breaking Away