The Last Blockbuster

Now streaming on Netflix this highly nostalgic documentary covers the rise and fall of an industry and those who refuse to let it die.

In the late 1970’s, VCR’s and VHS tapes revolutionized the way people watched movies. However the cost of a single VHS tape was so exorbitantly expensive that most people couldn’t afford more than one or two movies. Some enterprising individuals saw a need and a massive industry arose in the 80’s renting movies. The largest was Blockbuster. They were an absolute Goliath until they all but disappeared. What killed Blockbuster? The answer is more complicated than you’d think.

I had a lot of fun with this movie. It really lured me in with its early reminiscences about the excitement of entering a video store as a kid, the very particular smell of a Blockbuster, and the agony of finding out somebody else has rented the movie you really wanted.

If any of that rings true for you, you’re going to get a real kick out of this movie. It’s a lot of fun reveling in the past and glorying in those old days when people came together to rent movies and get recommendations from the staff. However the irony was not lost on me that I was watching a film about renting movies on a streaming service.

The heart of the film follows the family that owns and operates the last Blockbuster store in the world. The film follows a countdown of stores from 9,00 down to one. The family that runs the store treats everyone as part of the family, and that is what keeps the place running. The family feeling can’t be duplicated and keeps the experience special.

For me the most interesting part of the film is the light it shines on what actually killed Blockbuster. The quick answer everyone assumes is Netflix killed Blockbuster, but that’s not the case. I really enjoyed getting the behind the scenes look at what went on.

A couple of problems hold the film back for me. The first is how low stakes the film feels. Really, what is at stake? The nostalgia of a generation for a bygone era and an obsolete industry. The movie could have examined its nostalgia and really interrogated the idea of this golden age thinking, but it doesn’t. It keeps everything real low key.

My other problem is the subjects they chose to interview. It’s a lot of celebrities who used to work at or go to Blockbusters as kids. They aren’t experts so much as recognizable personalities waxing nostalgic. The movie could have benefited from a different perspective. Someone other than a celebrity telling us how great Blockbuster was.

In the end, this movie is a lot of fun. It’s not deep or challenging. It’s just a fun nostalgic ride. The perfect accompaniment to a quiet Sunday afternoon.

It’s my cup of tea. B

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

This movie is an overly long, self indulgent, slog, but it’s also a lot better than the originally released Justice League movie.

A little history for those who haven’t been following the Snyder cut saga… Zack Snyder directed Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, and he had a grand plan to complete his superhero trilogy with Justice League. As principal photography was wrapping up, Snyder ensured a family tragedy that took him away from the production. Warner Bros., the studio behind the film, took advantage of Snyder’s absence to hire a new writer director to complete the film. The result was a very bad Justice League movie that satisfied no one. Snyder began teasing his fans by saying he had a nearly complete version of the film that he would give them if only Warner Bros. let him. What resulted was a years long fan campaign to release the Snyder cut. Finally after all these years, $70 million dollars in additional filming and cgi work, we have the Snyder Cut now dubbed Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Clocking in at 4 hours and 2minutes and presented in the baffling 4:3 aspect ratio which means it’s a square image not a rectangle like all other movies today. Is this film worth checking out?

That’s a complicated question. If you are a die hard Snyder fan, you’ve already watched it twice. If you are a DC fan? You’ve probably already checked it out or will be checking it out regardless of what I say. If you’re a movie fan and curious about the filmmaking process the difference last between the original and this are so fascinating that I’d say you have to check it out. If you are a casual viewer looking for a movie to watch this weekend you can skip this. It’s not worth your four hours.

To break it down, the film follows the same plot as the original. There are three mother boxes, super powered cubes hidden on earth. The alien villain Steppenwolf comes to earth to unite the boxes and destroy earth as we know it. Batman brings together a team of super powered individuals to stop him.

I don’t like to compare one film to another, but the comparisons are the most interesting part of this movie. For instance the plot is given more time to breath and unfold naturally here than in the original. The character arcs and storylines actually make sense and work here. And tonally the film feels cohesive as opposed to the jumble we got the first time around. These are massive improvements.

The character of Cyborg has a really compelling personal journey here. He’s played by Ray Fisher. He was a star athlete who after a horrific accident is transformed into something less human and more machine. He provides a strong emotional heart as he grapples with his identity and place in the world.

Aquaman is given a more serious and internalized quality here than in the original. Wonder Woman is less hung up on her ex boyfriend but given little else to do. The Flash is still the goofy comic relief character although he does have a nice compelling moment toward the end that really works. Batman isn’t funny in this one unlike his depiction in the original. It’s a much better performance from Affleck too.

All in all the performances are strong. The look of the film is solid Snyder has a strong visual aesthetic. He also handles the action well. There are some genuinely exciting moments and cool action that surprised me.

That said this movie is so self indulgent! After every other scene I said to myself they could’ve cut that. There’s a three minute scene in which a trio of women readily sing a folk song over Aquaman’s sweater that he leaves behind after he swims away. Why was this included? What did it add? Next to nothing. There’s a 10 second reaction shot of Gal Gadot’s face as she stares at a wall. We could’ve cut after three seconds. There’s a slow motion sequence of Aquaman walking into a storm. It takes forever and feels like a perfume ad was accidentally cut into the movie. I excepted the sensual voice over to cut in telling us about Dolce and Gabbanas latest scent. It was so long and just felt like Synder was rubbing our noses in it. He had all the time in the world and decided to use it.

For me the biggest improvement in the film is with the villains. Steppenwolf has a stunning design. He looks really unique and cool here. He also a really interesting motivation. He is a servant of Darkseid an intergalactic warlord who conquers and enslaved worlds. Steppenwolf failed him and is trying his hardest to get back in his good graces. It’s a really compelling motivation for a villain.

The climactic confrontation feels streamlined and more exciting. I quite enjoyed the finale and really got into it. It feels like anything could happen and that the happy ending isn’t a foregone conclusion.

However, there’s another half an hour after that climax. The last half hour of the movie is absolutely insufferable. It’s just scene after scene of fam service and sequel setups that will never happen. It’s just Snyder indulging himself and wasting our time on badly written scenes that amount to nothing in this narrative and setup movies that don’t exist. Maybe I was just in a bad mood after spending 3 and a half hours watching a movie I had already seen, but that last half hour was agony.

The advertising for the film promised a brand new movie. I didn’t get a brand new movie. I got 75% of the same movie and 25% deleted scenes and shots being held longer. It’s tonally consistent and that 25% does add a lot of character, but it’s so much the same it doesn’t feel worth it to me.

A note about Snyder’s superheroes. They’re all vicious sociopaths. Wonder Woman murders a lot a dudes in this movie. Aquaman stabs a villain in the back. Superman pins a guy down and pummels him almost to death then lasers him in brutal fashion. These are brutal almost cruel versions of these characters. I know it’s a different interpretation of the characters, but do you really have to cut a guys head off after he’s been killed?

In the end, would I recommend this movie to anybody asking? I would definitely recommend it over the theatrically released version. It’s a much better movie. There are a lot of improvements made here. It’s undeniably a stronger film. But it does have a lot of problems. If you’re on the fence about checking this out I don’t think you’ll miss much if you watch something else. If you’re interested in the changes made it’ll be fascinating and frustrating.

This is such a hard one to rate. Is it my cup of tea? It’s somebody’s cup of tea that’s for sure. How do I give it a letter grade? A fit effort? F for wasting so much time? For me, some of it is my cup of tea, a lot of it isn’t. Half a cup of tea. Letter grade? Middle of the road… B

The Father

I really dislike this poster, but it’s pretty much the only one.

This deeply affecting film features powerful performances and nimble, skillful direction that create an empathetic portrait of memory loss.

Roger Ebert once said, “movies are like machines that generate empathy.” That could not be more true of this film. It puts us in the shoes of an aging man, played by Anthony Hopkins, suffering from a memory loss disease. It’s never outright given a name like Alzheimer’s but the parallels are clear. The film shows us exactly what it feels like to live with something like this and helps us feel for the man and his daughter who does her best to care for him and understand him.

The film opens with a scene between the man (Anthony) and his daughter Anne, played wonderfully by Olivia Colman. Anthony doesn’t want to leave his apartment. Anne informs him that she’s met a man and is moving to Paris. The next day it seems Anthony finds a strange man in his apartment who informs him that he is Anne’s husband and that this is his flat. Anne walks in and she is played by Olivia Williams. We feel just as bewildered as Anthony does. What is real? Who do we trust? What is going on?

I found myself so immersed in Anthony’s experience. I really empathized and felt every frustration and confusion that he did throughout his journey. Hopkins never overplays his hand. He gets to go through some emotional highs and lows, but it feels like a performance. It feels like a genuine reaction to the world around him. I found myself believing that Anthony Hopkins had Alzheimer’s and was just existing on screen. It really was stunning.

He’s not alone though. The incredible Olivia Colman plays his daughter as a woman struggling with her resentment for her father and he love for him. Her inner tug of war is beautifully communicated here as she explains and reed plains herself, as she helps him with his clothes and food, and as she listens to him ramble about his favorite daughter who never comes to visit him anymore. She is stunning here providing a much needed anchor. She keeps the audience grounded in the real.

The directing in the movie really struck me. It’s subtle and full of nuance. I wasn’t bowled over by flashy shots and artsy angles. It sort of crept over me slowly as I realized the little changes in angle, the subtle shifts in perspective, and the use of steady long takes broken by sudden edits. I loved the use of production design the show how the world could slip out of Anthony’s grasp. His apartment and his daughters apartment are so much the same, yet the little differences make them completely new locations. The film is written and directed by Florian Zeller adapted from his own play.

The subject matter might turn people off. I don’t want anyone to think that this is a depressing slog through mental illness. Neither is it a gimmicky film using memory loss as a storytelling device for fun antics. It is an emotional journey that gives us a new perspective and shows us the small moments of hope and joy to be found in life.

When Anne helps Anthony with his sweater and he thanks her for everything is a tiny moment that explodes on the screen here. Anthony feeling overwhelmingly lost and receiving a comforting embrace is such a powerful moment of hope and light in what could be a dark tunnel really elevates the movie.

I was carried by this film and its story telling. I would watch this again anytime to study the nuances of the acting and directing or to simply experience the emotional impact the film has.

The film was just nominated for a slew of Oscars. It’s well worth checking out. I definitely recommend it. It’s my cup of tea for sure. A

The United States Vs. Billie Holiday

This movie is all over the map, but it is anchored by some stunning cinematic flourishes and a truly phenomenal performance by Andra Day.

In the 1940’s, the singer Billie Holiday endures drug addiction, abusive men, and a targeted campaign against her by the U.S. government. Andra Day plays Billie Holiday as a defiant woman with a raw vulnerability that lies just under the surface.

Lee Daniels has directed a movie that hops skips and jumps around in a decade of Billie Holiday’s life. Stylistically, the movie is all over the map. Almost every scene in the film is shot and edited in a different style. Some scenes are presented in black and white, some in color. Some scenes look like period accurate newsreels, some are shot in a very modern shaky cam style. This keeps the film visually engaging and often thrilling, but it does feels a distracting. It definitely pulled me out of the story.

The film is also told from a strange shifting point of view. Some scenes are from Billie’s perspective. Some are from her bands point of view, and others are from the point of view of the government agents trying to take Billie down. This shifting perspective makes the movie very hard to follow at times especially at the start. There are traditional character introductions, so each new person remains a bit of a stranger until their relationship is established. Once the introductions are made and the relationships are firmly established, the movie really starts to cook. The stylistic choices really shine through and the movie becomes something special. The trouble is how long it takes to get there. It’s a difficult way to begin a movie and a little more stylistic calm at the start would have helped me follow the plot and get into the story.

When I think back at the film all of those issues fade away in comparison to Andra Day’s performance as Billie Holiday. She is truly incredible. She won the Golden Globe for best actress, and she definitely deserved it. This performance is emotionally raw. She runs the gamut from wildly ferocious to mean and broken. This is Day’s first acting role. She is originally a singer, and she puts her voice to work her to beautiful effect. She gives stunning renditions of Holiday’s classic songs. Her voice has a smooth stunning quality that slowly becomes more and more raspy and hard throughout her arduous journey. Every inch of this performance is stunning.

My favorite section of the film is truly transcendent. After witnessing something traumatic, Billie walks into a room, a character appears to try to console her, she takes some comfort but ultimate breaks away. She moves into a different room and sees her friends. She takes some comfort from them, but quickly breaks away and enters a room where a man is preparing heroin for her to take. It is a stunning bit of surreal expressionism. The movie breaks free from the objective reality of the film in order to give us a visual representation of her internal world and her emotional experience. It feels like one continuous take, and it beautifully utilizes this dreamlike single take effect to give us a glimpse into her inner life. I love it. It’s worth watching the movie just for this scene.

All in all, this is a flawed yet worthwhile film. Day’s performance and a few of these expressionistic directorial flourishes elevate this film above its flaws for me. I can recommend it but with the caveat that it is a little scattered in its style and storytelling. You can find this movie streaming on Hulu.

It is my cup of tea. B+

Moxie

At times ham-handed, at times wonderfully genuine, this coming if are story is a big old feminist anthem that is pretty good.

Directed by Amy Poehler, Moxie tells the story of high school junior Vivian, played by Hadley Robinson, who is struggling to find something she’s passionate about. After witnessing the blatant sexism on display in her school, she starts publishing a zine calling out the wrongdoers in.

The story is really a drama, but tonally it operates as a comedy. It deals with privilege, sexual violence, and unjust power structures, but it feels at all times like a goofy comedy. Ike Barinholtz hams it up as an inept teacher. Amy poehler wrings laughs as Vivian’s mom. And the dorky mascot is genuinely funny, but they feel out of place considering the subject matter.

When the movie becomes sincere I think it really shifts into gear. Vivian’s struggle with self doubt and her disappointment with failure is really affective and heart wrenching at times. She has a delightful romance with a doofy but sincere dude named Seth, played by Nico Hiraga. He likes skate boarding and that’s about it, but he’s supportive and earnest. And I love the tender moments between him and Vivian.

Some of the feminism and girl power moments feel forced. The movie shifts into sermon mode on a couple of occasions, and that really didn’t work for me. It’s not that I disagree with the sentiments expressed. I just wish they came about more organically and elegantly. The shift from naturalistic teen movie to political speech just feels false and pulled me out of the movie.

The cast deserves a lot of credit here. Lead by a great Hadley Robinson as Vivian these characters really come alive.

Patrick Schwarzenegger is chillingly effect as the Golden boy quarterback who is nasty and sinister toward anything he can’t have.

And my favorite was Lauren Thai as Claudia. She’s Vivian’s best friend since infancy and wants to support her feminist movement but fears the consequences. She has a lot of pressure from home to stay out of trouble. She gives a great performance, in an interesting part, offering a unique perspective.

The movie culminates in a really great moment that I loved. That was almost instantly cut down by an awkward and forced denouement. It felt like they didn’t want to add any additional scenes, so they just mashed all the subplots together to wrap things up neatly. I really disliked that ending. I felt genuine emotion follows by disappointment by the ham handed conclusion.

All that said, I enjoyed the movie. It’s a mixed bag, but you can do worse this weekend. Entertain by flawed. It’s half a cup of tea for me. B

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-