Coming 2 America

This is pleasant sequel that tries to do way too many things, but still ends up being a pretty enjoyable comedy.

Thirty years after Prince Akeem of Zemunda journeyed to Queens in search of a bride, he’s back, and he has a lot on his plate. He finally takes the throne from his father played by Janes Earl Jones. He faces off a rival kingdom lead by Wesley Snipes. He discovers he has a long lost son in Queens. His daughter wants to rule the kingdom but can’t. He must train his son to be king. His son falls in love with the royal stylist. And his sons uncouth family gets a taste of the royal life. And Akeem must reckon the man he wanted to be with the man he’s become. Phew. I think I got them all, but there’s probably a few plot strands I missed.

There’s way too much happening in this movie. Because our attention is so divided no one plot line really stands out or makes an impact. This movie feels like eating a samples pack. There’s a lot of good stuff mixed in there, but once you taste something you enjoy it’s gone. You have to move on to the next sample which isn’t as good, but it’s over soon. You move on to the next thing. The overall impression is positive. I enjoyed enough of the samples that I had a good time. But I don’t feel satisfied. I definitely don’t feel full.

I like Eddie Murphy in this role. He plays Akeem and brings charm and humor. His daughter Meeka is played by KiKi Layne, and she’s a really strong presence. Arsenic Hall is back playing multiple roles and he’s having a great time. It’s a lot of nostalgic fun seeing the entire original cast together again. And the new cast members especially Wesley Snipes and Jermaine Fowler turn in really fun performances.

The movie wasn’t laugh out loud funny for me. It’s more of a soft chuckle kind of affair. I smiled a lot. I blame the editing for this. The movie is cut within an inch of its life. The editing just zaps the comedic timing out of a lot of these scenes. I don’t know why the editor didn’t trust the actors to make the jokes land.

Overall the movie is really fluffy. It’s bright and breezy and goes down easy. It’s not good storytelling. It’s too crowded and distracted. There are way worse movies out there you could watch. I’d recommend checking out the original. It’s a superior film. However if you’re looking for something pleasant to fill out an empty afternoon this movie will fit that bill.

Its currently streaming on Amazon prime. Its half a cup of tea for me. B

Chaos Walking

Charming leads and an intriguing premise can’t save this movie from being a rushed somewhat generic young adult adventure.

Todd Hewitt, played by current Spider-man Tom Holland, is a young man who lives in a world where people’s thoughts appear floating above their heads in cgi clouds. They call it the noise. Todd is described as a young runt by the men in the village. All the women have disappeared until one day, Viola, played by Daisy Ridley, crash lands nearby in a space ship.

I love the premise. All your thoughts are on display at all times. Nowhere to hide.

Teen boy finds a girl. Maybe the only girl on the planet.

Mysterious and dark forces at work in the village drive these two out on a wild adventure.

Sign me up. The problem is the execution. The movie is based on a trilogy of young adult books and this movie ends up feeling like one of the many Hunger Games cash grabs that littered movie theaters a few years ago. I can picture the studio notes now, “make it more like Hunger Games!”

The movie is less about what it would be like to have your thoughts on display and more about what cool sci fi action stuff can you do with the noise. This person thinks about a snake, and a snake jumps out and attacks! Cool. I’d rather see what that constant exposure and lack of privacy would do to a person.

There’s a lot of running around in the woods while our heroes are chased by adults who just can’t stand that these young ones are different. Where have we seen that before?

Just like all the other young adult adventures of recent years, it has a great cast. Mads Mikkelsen is always a fantastic villain. David Oyelowo brings a bonkers intensity. Demian Belchir is great as Todd’s adoptive father. But Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley are the standouts. Tom Holland is a really terrific actor. He is open and expressive and does a great struggling to hide his true feelings. Daisy Ridley brings a nice stoicism to her role that offsets the Holland’s wide open performance. These two ring real emotion out of the few quiet moments they’re given.

The real problem I had was with the story telling. The movie needed to take its time creating this world. It took until about the halfway point before I realized the movie doesn’t take place on earth. It wasn’t supposed to be a surprise or a twist. They just never made it clear. Where does the noise come from? Who are these people? How does this world work? The movie brushes past all these questions to get to the adventure. I don’t think you can have gripping action if you don’t even know what planet you’re on.

All in all the movie isn’t terrible. It’s very watchable, and it’ll play nicely on TV some lazy Sunday. It’s not a good movie, and it’s not worth spending the money to rent it right away. Which is too bad because I really wanted to like this movie.

Not my cup of tea. B-

gIVE

This low budget psychological independent film employs a good score and some stellar cinematography to explore grief and loss.

Shot in and around Eau Claire WI, the story follows a father named Jay, played by Jason Anderson, as he deals with the unexplained disappearance of his daughter. His wife is overcome with grief, and he finds himself trapped in a forest that he can’t escape.

It actually took me a minute to get into this movie. It doesn’t give the viewer a moment to get acclimated to its world and characters. It dives right in and that feels a little disorienting at the start.

However, it didn’t take long before I was invested. There’s a really lovely little scene in which the Jay and his wife Louise , played by Suzette Murty, are making dinner together and the chemistry and rapport between them is infectious. It’s a wonderful scene that really anchors the film through all the twists and turns that follow.

After losing his daughter Jay finds himself in the woods completely lost and disoriented. He hears voices that taunt him and wanders desperately trying to find his way out. The sound design during these scenes is really lovely. The whispers and silences create an eerie tension that works wonderfully.

What really stunned me was the cinematography. The movie is beautifully shot. The movement is motivated and adds so much to the story. This movie is less about the facts than about the overall experience. This movie feels like a poem. A lot of what happens doesn’t make any logical sense, but it does make emotional sense. The camera shows a long way to give the film its emotional impact.

There are scenes that go on too long for me. Scenes in which Jay is demanding to know where his daughter is just feel like they could have been trimmed. They hit the same emotional beat throughout the scene and a growth or change in the emotion would have gone a long way for me. These moments are designed to make us feel the characters frustration, and it works. I just felt a sharper edit would have made the point stronger for me.

Jay’s missing daughter is played by Iris Dayton and my goodness was she good. She had a natural charm and delightful banter with the actors playing her parents. I was very impressed by her.

It’s a non traditional narrative. The story is mostly conveyed through visual metaphors. A bald plastic bust floats through the woods. An orange pill bottle makes repeated appearances. And the lost daughter Jenny appears throughout the woods at different ages. If that doesn’t sound like your kind of movie I don’t think you’ll enjoy this one. I got into it. It has strong visuals and a great score. The performers do solid work across the board. It’s a very interesting and engaging depiction of grief that I think is worth checking out.

gIVE is currently streaming on Amazon prime. It’s worth your time. It’s my cup of tea.

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Tom and Jerry

After the heavy and emotional Pieces of a Woman, I decided it was time for some lighter fair. It just so happened that Warner Bros. released Tom and Jerry yesterday on HBO Max. I figured there couldn’t be a more to ally opposite movie out there, so I gave it a shot. Honestly it’s a bit of a mixed bag for me.

I grew up loving Tom and Jerry. They were some of my favorites on Saturday mornings, and this movie is firmly aimed at kids. The pitch and pace of this movie is one hundred percent for the under 10 set. The characters are pretty one note. The acting is heightened to a cartoonish level. The storyline is incredibly simplistic and the emotions are all at 11. No nuance or subtext here.

I wish I could say that the movie follows Tom the Cat and Jerry mouse as they engage in their constant battles. Unfortunately the movie decides to sideline them in favor of a slew generic hotel employees preparing for a celebrity wedding. The movie should be called The Royal Gate Hotel (featuring an appearance by Tom and Jerry)

Tom and Jerry exist kind of on the periphery of the hotel drama taking place. Occasionally the movie launches into a classic Tom and Jerry style sequence of madcap slapstick. These moments are pretty fun. I didn’t laugh out loud, but they made me smile. And I felt that warm nostalgia for my childhood that can be so intoxicating.

What really caught me was the animation. This movie is a combination of live action and animation. All the animals in the movie are animated in a way that mimics the classic 2D hand drawn style of the original cartoons. The interaction between the animated and the real is a lot of fun to see. They take an almost Roger Rabbit approach to the way the animated characters interact with real objects and real people. It’s technically brilliant and quite fun to see.

All of these criticisms are kind of moot in the face of the big question: will kids like it? I kept asking myself “would I have liked this as a kid?” I tried to get into the mindset of 8 year old me. As I looked at the movie through his eyes, I enjoyed the Tom and Jerry bits, and was disinterested in the human bits. I think that’s the same reaction a lot of kids will have to this movie.

I think Tom and Jerry works so well is because it’s such a heightened elemental conflict. Tom wants to eat Jerry. Jerry wants to live. Tom wants to kick Jerry out. Jerry wants to stay. That is just so much more compelling than a hotel event planner trying to preparing a wedding for a celebrity who is in disagreement with her fiancé about the scope of their wedding. I’d rather watch a cat try to smash a mouse than a generic 20 something try to plan the wedding of two spoiled billionaires. And 8 year old me agrees.

All in all it’s not great. If you have little kids they might get enjoy some of it. If you love Tom and Jerry, you might get a nostalgic twinge during it. If you’ve just watched an emotionally devastating independent film it might the perfect way to recalibrate your broken heart.

It’s not really my cup of tea. C

Pieces of a Woman

If you’re looking for a harrowing emotional experience look no further than this Netflix drama.

The film stars Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf as a couple dealing with a deeply traumatic incident that shakes them and their family to their core.

Im being somewhat cagey in my description because I experienced this film without knowing anything. I had it was good and saw the Golden Globes it was nominated for, so I put it on. I was totally taken by this movie. It’s a gripping story told in a unique way.

Vanessa Kirby is really astounding here. The emotional places she’s goes with this character are so authentic it never feels like a performance. She inhabits this woman’s pain, her grief, and her hope.

The centerpiece of the film is its opening sequence. It’s a twenty minute single take style shot. It’s designed to look like one unbroken take. As it began I thought about how often this trick is used and how the one take is a trend like shaky cam was years ago that must be on its way out. But this one was different. This one told a story. This one encapsulated the entirety of the characters experience and absolutely broke my heart. By the end I was extended one takes can stick around forever as long as they are done this well.

Ellen Burstyn has a fantastic part as Vanessa Kirby’s mother. she’s a controlling woman who is beginning to forget things. She’s slowly losing control and watching Burstyn navigate this character is truly fascinating to watch. She’s incredibly authentic in the small moments like finding her cell phone in the salad bowl, but she’s also fierce when she pulls it together to challenge her daughters choices in a stunning speech. She’s excellent here.

The movie has a kind of fragmented structure. It keeps jumping forward in time. It created a real disconnect for me. I struggled to get back in touch with where the characters were. I think this was the intention. It made me feel the way this fragmented family must feel. They are struggling to keep up with each other and recreate the bonds that they shared. This might be too much for some people. They might just feel a disconnect and shut the movie off. I’d advise against that. The movie comes together really well.

For me the squeaky wheel is Shia LaBeouf. He seems to be striving so hard for authenticity whereas the rest of the cast simply is authentic. His performance is effortful. He’s trying hard to give the impression of not trying at all. It’s hard to describe, but watching him opposite Burstyn and Kirby he looks like he’s trying way too hard.

The more is a gut punch. It deals with loss, grief, and despair. It’s not a fun Sunday afternoon movie. It’s not a date night or a dinner and a movie kind of experience. It is however a really good movie that’s worth watching if you have the heart for it.

I’d definitely recommend it. It’s for sure my cup of tea. A-

Nomadland

A woman living out of her van travels the country in search of inner peace in this lovely collection of moments anchored by Frances McDormand’s performance.

The film opens with two titles explaining that there was a factory town in Empire Nevada. The factory shut down in 2011, and within six months the town was empty and their post code was discontinued.

The film follows Frances McDormand as Fern. She travels all over the country, living out of her van, and taking any work she can find. Along the way she encounters challenges and makes friends and comes to terms with the life she used to have.

This movie is difficult to describe because there is no plot. It’s really just a collection of vignettes. Brief moments that add up to a whole experience. It is made up of incredibly short scenes. One scene involves Fern working a job cleaning a bathroom. A guy enters. She says it’s closed. He ignores her and uses the urinal next to her. She rolls her eyes and walks out. That’s the whole scene. On its own it’s nothing, and honestly a lot of the movie is forgettable to me because of that. While not much on their own these tiny little moments do add up to an experience that is felt more than anything.

Frances McDormand does good work, but she’s up against real people. she’s striving for authenticity where the rest of the inhabitants of the movie are authentic people. It often feels like an actress has stepped into a documentary about nomads.

There is only one truly dramatic moment. It comes at the 55 minute mark. I know because I had a strong emotional reaction. My heart stopped, and my stomach sank. It came out of nowhere which is why I checked the time. The funny thing about it is that in any other movie it wouldn’t have been anything. But because of the way this movie works it really hit me.

The movie feels as if it was assembled from deleted bits of a different movie. Like they shot a and edited more traditional film, then took all the bits they cut out of that film, and put them together to make this one. I kept saying to myself “there should be more to that scene” and “they cut away too soon.” Especially toward the end where the film is building to its conclusion and ultimate thematic point. I wish it had given us more.

This movie is a quiet collection of tiny moments that add up to a picture of a lifestyle. If that sounds like your cup of tea then please give it a watch on Hulu or in theaters. If it’s not what you’re into then it’s going to be a challenging viewing experience.

For me this type of movie isn’t my cup of tea. They’re usually too artsy and self important. This one worked better for me than most. I give credit to the director Chloe Zhao for weaving it together. That said it’s only like have a cup of tea for me. B

It’s just been nominated for a slew of Golden Globes. You’ll be hearing about this one all through awards season.

I Care A Lot

Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage give great performances in a mediocre that isn’t saying nearly as much as it thinks it is.

The movie follows Marla Grayson played by Rosamund Pike. She is a professional care giver and legal guardian to dozens of elderly people. She takes legal guardianship of those with dementia and declining mental health. She ticks them away in a Carr facility. She sells their property and drains their bank accounts until they die.

The problem of abuse within the guardianship system is very real in this country. People are having their freedom taken away and their finances ruined by a deeply flawed system.

The movie vividly depicts this system of abuse in its opening half hour in which Marla finds Jennifer Peterson, played by Diane Wiest. Jennifer is getting older, but she’s lucid and in control of herself. But that doesn’t stop Jennifer’s doctor from declaring Jennifer unwell and in need of help after Marla pays her off.

This early depiction of the guardian system is horrifying. I was in knots watching this woman’s life get dismantled by these people. knowing that this kind of thing happens in real life gave it so much more weight and horror for me.

Unfortunately the movie diverts from reality from there. I try not to spoil things in my review, but I’m probably going to get into spoiler territory from here on out.

It turns out that Jennifer has ties to the Russian mafia. Peter Dinklage is the head of the mafia and wants her out of Marla’s control. The rest of the film is a battle of wills between Marla and Dinklage.

The movie launches headfirst into thriller territory and it totally lost me. It squandered so much potential to tell a real story about the human cost of this kind of amoral greed, but it went the fantastical route. There are scenes of mob bosses making big threats and torturing people. There’s a gunfight in an old folks home. There’s a scene stolen straight from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. The movie could have said so much about the guardian system and instead turns into a generic crime thriller.

It’s especially generic in the way it’s shot. This is some of the most bland cinematography I’ve ever seen. Everything is shot in bright even lighting. There is no style to any of the shots. It’s just mediums and closeups in generic daylight. Toward the end there are some night shots, but even these are shot with bland light. There’s not subjective camera work or story telling going on.

This is indicative of a bigger problem for me. The movie seems to have no point of view. It doesn’t condemn the guardian program. It doesn’t look down on its protagonists or even its antagonists. Peter Dinklage is involved in drug smuggling and human trafficking, but he isn’t depicted as evil or even scary. Marla does horrible things, and her only justification is that she wants to be rich. and she’s supposed to be our hero! Maybe this lack of point of view is supposed to be some kind of statement, but it doesn’t feel like it. And whatever message is totally unclear which nullifies it.

All that said Rosamund Pile really is fantastic as Marla. She is an awful person, yet she’a vividly watchable. She’s charming and engaging despite her villainy. She gives a wonderful person in a movie that doesn’t deserve her.

This movie really isn’t my cup of tea. It squanders its opportunity to say something and it stumbles as a thriller. It has a Golden Globe nominated performance from Pike, but otherwise there’s not much here. It’s currently streaming on Netflix if you want to check it out, but I think you can skip it. C+

Palm Springs

Propelled by explosive energy and a driving pace this movie takes a little bit of every time loop movie that has come before to create a vibrant romantic comedy.

Released on Hulu over the summer this movie follows Nyles and Sarah two wedding guests who get stuck in an infinite time loop and relive the wedding day over and over.

Sarah, played by Cristin Milioti, wakes up on her sisters wedding day with a messy past and a lot of regrets. She meets Nyles played by Andy Samberg, a guest at the wedding who seems a little off.

When Sarah’s maid of honor speech goes horribly wrong Nyles swoops in the save her. They head into the desert for a little canoodling when Nyles is inexplicably attacked. He is injured in crawls into a glowing cave. Sarah follows him and finds herself trapped reliving the same day on repeat. She and Nyles band together to survive their current situation.

There’s a concept in screenwriting about paying off the promise of your premise. It’s also called fun and games. It usually happens in the second act, and Palm Springs has one of the best payoffs I’ve seen. It’s second act is so much fun. These two explore everything you can do in a time loop. They party. They explore. They play pranks. They get arrested. They learn a dance routine and perform in a bar. It’s a ton of fun.

What Sets this one apart for me is the way it explores what comes after all the fun and games. These two begin to feel the hopelessness of their situation and start to really grapple with the consequences of their actions. The time loop becomes a metaphor for moving on from your past mistakes and breaking free from cycles of self destructive behavior.

Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg are spectacular. Samberg tones done his doofier impulses and commits to a worn down guy stuck in this one day. Milioti gives a stellar performance as a woman who is lost and realizes she has to break herself free from her mistakes. She’s fierce and determined and just bursting with energy. I love these two.

There are moments that don’t work and scenes that fall flat. I hate big embarrassing speeches in front of crowds. It gets off to a bit of a rocky start for me. I had to warm up to it a little, but once I got into it, I was all in.

It is a hard R movie. There is sex, violence, and some gross out humor. If you’re looking for a sweet good natured time loop movie The Map of Tiny Perfect Things might be more your speed. If you want a more hardcore time loop experience check our Palm Springs. (Streaming on Hulu)

It’s definitely my cup of tea. A-