3 Stars Movies

Judy (2019)

It is more than likely true that other Hollywood stars had problems behind the scenes before the arrival of Judy Garland, but few would become as well known. As a young teen, Francis Gumm became Judy Garland, and the ruby red-slippered star of The Wizard of Oz had a tumultuous and wild start, to say the least. At MGM (where she stayed until 1950), she was looked over by the tyrannical Louis B. Mayer (who referred to the 4 ft 11 Garland as his “little hunchback”).

After the death of her father, the family was run with an iron fist by Judy’s domineering mother. The pills that Garland had to take at a young age started her down the path of drug addiction, and her cries for help to her mother fell on deaf ears, making it a surprise to no one that she would later refer to her mother as the “real wicked witch of the west.” Future husbands (she would marry five times) only added to a crushed soul in desperate need of care and understanding.

But hot dog, could she carry a tune.

1 Star Movies

The Goldfinch (2019)

It was film critic Gene Siskel who normally would ask “Is this movie as interesting as the same actors having lunch together?” Had he lived to see The Goldfinch, the answer would be a short and direct no. With actors like Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Oakes Fegley, Finn Wolfhard, Sarah Paulson, and Luke Wilson, it can be safetly assumed that the making of this film would almost be riveting (not to mention some of those behind the camera). Oh how I wish these people were in a different movie.

Alas, that is not the case, and we are stuck with The Goldfinch, based off the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Donna Tart (unread by me). The film starts in the aftermath of a (fictional) terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, leaving few survivors. One of which is 13 year old Theo (young talented Oakes Fegley), whose mother was killed in the attack. He is taken in briefly by an upper class family, the Barbour, and finds a somewhat newer mother figure in Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman).We learn that one of the other victims in the attack was an acquaintance of a antiques dealer named Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), who takes young Theo under his wing as the young soul is more than intrigued by “old things” (not to mention Hobie’s adopted daughter Pippa, who also survived the attack and was catching Theo’s eye before the explosion). It is soon discovered by the audience that Theo has stolen a priceless artwork from the rubble, known as The Goldfinch.

He is soon taken away from his deadbeat dad (Luke Wilson) and his girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson) to live with in the outskirts of Las Vegas. Though both seem loving, it does not take much to see that these two only want Theo for the money that his mother left him. The only light in Theo’s young life is his new friend Boris (Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things and the IT films), a Russian immigrant (though he mentions he is from many places).

There is a lot (to say the least) jumping around in this movie, as we fast forward to an adult Theo (Ansel Elgort), who now deals in antiques, and finds pieces of his past childhood experiences, which were mostly nothing short of bad, as certain people of the past have died (and in tragic ways). It is melodrama cranked to the max. I forgot to mention how, when he first moved in with the Harbour family, Mrs. Harbour introduced him to a prescription drug that helped with the affects of the aftermath of the attack (PTSD I guess). This starts Theo into a drug habit that escalates even more when he meets Boris (whose own home life is chaotic with his father). The end of the film shows a crime caper of sorts, which legit makes no sense.

I am sure this film had all the best of intentions (and I am sure the book is great), but the translation from page to screen is not merely lost: it vanishes. There was a lot of source material to work from (I found out the book is in the 700-800 page range), but the film still drags on for too long. Sure, the run time is long (two and a half hours), but even films at that length don’t always seem to drag as much (the first film to come to mind that had about that same length of runtime is The Dark Knight, which never dragged on). The Goldfinch had me checking my watch constantly, and that started about 20 or 30 minutes into the film.

Parents, the film is rated R mainly for language and drug use. There is no sexuality (though it is inferred that some characters have slept with each other). High School and above.

The film is directed by John Crowley, who was at the helm of 2015’s criminally under seen gem Brooklyn. He is clearly a talented filmmaker, but even the best of them have flops. The one bit of light for The Goldfinch is (somewhat poetically) that the man behind the lighting (i.e., the cinematographer) is the legendary Roger Deakins, meaning the film is indeed wonderful to look at.

Toward the end of the film, one character mentions how some good can come from bad. It will be sometime before I discover what good has come from seeing this film.


Rating: 1 out of 5.

4 Stars Movies

Ad Astra (2019)

In my mind, the two elements that are best exemplified in science fiction is that of fantasy and of the philosophical. We are intrigued by the technical wonder, yet still have reflections of our own life and world as we leave the theater. Certain movies make us think of one of said elements over the other (Star Wars is more fantasy), but others can balance them well (the all time great sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey does this, though it leans a bit more slightly on the philosophical side). The same is the case with Ad Astra, and while it is not up there with 2001 (to be fair, very few are), it is still a wonder to behold.

Set in the near future, Ad Astra (which means “to the stars”) centers on veteran astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), who also narrates. When a power surge occurs that affects all of mankind, he is approached to undertake a top secret mission and contact the leader of a past mission, Project Lima. The crew of that project was sent to the outer reaches of the solar system in search of extra terrestrial life. It launched nearly three decades prior, led by Roy’s father, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones).

Roy is told his father has made it as far as Neptune, where the source of the power surge occurred. Along the way, he gets some help from an old friend/collegue of his dad, Thomas Pruitt (Donald Sutherland) and Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga).

Nearly the whole movie revolves around Roy, and Brad Pitt is no stranger to being able to carry a movie (he ranks up with Tom Cruise and Will Smith as one of the biggest stars in the world). He is much more subdued here than he was in Once upon a time…in Hollywood, and that is because the script demands it. Roy is required to keep self check ins, making sure he is fit emotionally and psychologically for each mission (it is said his heart rate has never exceded past 85 during a mission). He is so focused he is barely there mentally for his wife Eve (Liv Tyler).

What’s more, Roy must also live the life of knowing his father is a hero in the public eye, somewhat riding the coat tails. He has indeed looked up to his father, but soon realizes that being like him will indeed take a heavy toll on his life and soul.

Undoubtably, the film is breathtaking in how it handles its visuals. Long before the movie started, a part of me wondered if I should have taken the chance to see this in IMAX, and how I wish I had! Consider the scene on the service of the moon, where the Pitt and Sutherland characters are chased by pirates (since the moon has been colonized) on rovers. We know it is fiction, but it seems like it could actually happen in a century or so. The dangers of space travel are always shown in film (most notably 2013’s Gravity), but the views one would see make those dangers almost worth the risk.

Parents, the film is a very moderate PG-13. There is no sexual content of any kind, and only a few curse words (at least one F bomb I remember). There is also some violence, but nothing too much that would scare a preteen senseless.

There are still many questions raised that will puzzle some audience members (how an animal test subject was alive when the crew wasn’t was confusing). Still, the end result is more than satisfactory. The best part of the film I won’t give away, but it is what Roy discovers at the end of his journey, is something all of us need to remember, and what makes it unique among nearly any science fiction film I have ever seen.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
5 Stars Movies

The Witch (2016)

When it comes to paranoia, very few historical events are brought up before that of the various witch hunts (actual ones) that have occurred throughout human history (Salem being one of the most popular). I am not an expert (though I was rather intrigued when I did visit Salem), but it is hard to think that many of these incidents actually involved truth behind the accusations that were deployed. Of course, the fear behind the accusers would be more than understandable if they had been witness to the events of Director Robert Egger’s The VVitch, one of the best horror films of the decade (which has produced quite a good amount of horror classics).

Set in New England during the 1600s (a prime time of witch hunting), God fearing William (Ralph Ineson) and his Katherine (Kate Dickie) are kicked out of the local puritan village after accusing the villagers of being false Christians. Along with their five children, they set out to edge of the forest to start anew (“We will conquer this wilderness. It will not consume us.”). While it is clear that the family tries as hard as they can to be humble servants of God, things begin to slowly fall apart for them, as their newborn baby Samuel vanishes without a trace.

While the family believes a wolf had taken the baby, we the audience learn right away that it is indeed a witch (no real spoilers, since that is the title). What causes the sudden mysterious acts soon leads to the members of the family blaming each other, including Katherine, the oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) and even the young twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson). The only two who seem to start having a cool level head about it is William and his second born son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw).

The imagery of the film is terrifying (only amped up by the searing soundtrack). What Eggers does so wonderfully (alone with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke) is there is little to no added light to any of the scenes: it is all purely natural (which is fitting, since electricity was nonexistent at the time). When you revisit the film (if you are not too frightened), you can honestly almost stop paying attention the narrative and just look at the artistry of the landscapes and texture of all that is onscreen. It is said that there needs to be darkness in order for light to shine, and the example here is pitch perfect. In short, it is breathtaking.

One of the true hidden gems of the film is how the script (also written by Robert Eggers) uses the common speech of the times, yet it does not confuse us. When we hear phrases like “Wouldst thou…” and “thy”, we may at first be a bit uneasy (since no one uses those phrases anymore). However, it does not take us long to put that aside and realize that we not just watching some English pilgrims talking weird: we are watching humans experiencing emotions both relatable and terrifying.

When it comes to horror films, one of the crucial elements is the pacing. A close friend of mine (and horror film fan) told me that, while he likes this film, he thought it went a little slow. I told him I thought it was perfectly paced. While other cheap horror films try to give you a lot of “gotcha!” moments all over the place, the true great horror films build the suspense, and (as Hitchcock would say) play you like a piano.

All of the performances are highly affective, but the three that stand out are Ineson, Taylor-Joy, and Scrimshaw. Ineson’s William is indeed loving but still firm, making sure his family knows he will put God first in any circumstances. Though I have not seen him in anything since, Scrimshaw still shows talent beyond his young years (especially in one scene). Overall, it is Anya Taylor-Joy who steals the show, and is still showing promise of being a star in the making (since this film, she went on to star in 2016’s Split and 2019’s Glass, both by M. Night Shyamalan).

Parents, this film is High School and above, by far. There is haunting imagery that will scare people of any age, not to mention some rather graphic (albeit brief and mostly non sexual) nudity. Kids today may think of witches as something intriguing (no doubt due to Harry Potter), but this deals with the true horror of the nature of witches. It makes you realize for certain why the bible did say to stay away from witchcraft.

As the movie progresses, we find out that each member of the family has hidden sin to confess (even Caleb). For Christians, unconfessed sin is a bad thing, and something that Satan always will feed off of (not just a witch).  While God always wins over Satan, the movie shows what can happen when true evil takes over. That is the true horror of the film.

That, and the goat and rabbit. Those will plague you for sometime.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

2 1/2 Stars Movies

It Chapter Two (2019)

I have often stated that, for one reason or another, I have yet to read a single Stephen King book, meaning I am not always sure if the films are entirely faithful to the material (thought it is wildly known that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was not, resulting in King vocally hating the film). It is true that most (if not all) film adapations will differ from the original source, so I feel compelled to judge the film as a whole rather than just how well the film was accurate or not. Whether or not IT Chapter Two is in the loyal category or not, the end result is still rather disappointing, especially since the first IT film two years ago was one of the better horror films of recent memory (I even went to declare it as the best film of 2017).

The film (directed by Andy Muschietti, who also directed the first film) opens twenty seven years after the events of the first film (2016, so modern day in some form), we see the return of the terrifying Pennywise (once again, played radiantly by Bill Skarsgard). We see that only one member of the Loser’s Club, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has decided to stay in the town of Derry, Maine (in flashbacks, he is played by Chosen Jacobs). He begins to call the remaining members back.

As expected, a lot has changed in twenty seven years, which is shown through a good number of flashbacks (where all the child actors from the original return). When last seen, young Bill (Jaeden Martell) was the leader and getting over his stuttering problem (let alone the death of his little brother Georgie). Now as an adult, Bill (James McAvoy) is a writer who seems to have problems coming up with good endings. Young Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) was last overweight yet still kind hearted. Now, the adult Ben (Jay Ryan) has clearly been working out, yet his heart is the same as ever (and still turned toward the one person who signed his yearbook twenty seven years ago). Ever the comic relief, young Richie (Finn Wolfhard) has grown up to be a comedian (played by Bill Hader). There is still the hypochondriac Eddie (James Ransone, who looks the most like his younger self when played by Jack Dylan Grazer), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff as a child, and Andy Bean as an adult), and, finally, Beverly (Sophia Lillis as a child and Jessica Chastain as an adult).

One of the shocking parts to me (which I believe was in the book) was that it takes the characters a good amount of time to remember the events of the past (with the exception of Mike, who, due to staying in Derry, has remembered everything). I guess it would make sense that, due to the oddities of Derry (“I’m kind of used to it by now”, Bill says), memories may have faded in time (all of us have faded memories as well). However, some seem to take a long time for the characters to remember (it does not seem to cross Bill’s mind for sometime that he once had a little brother).

It is said that, in order to defeat IT, each member must retrieve a piece of their past, which must be done by themselves. This results in the flashbacks to the parts of that summer when the kids were not on speaking terms (after Eddie broke his arm and Bill punched Richie in the face). While the first film showed how we have to face our fears, the second film dives deeper, as it shows we sometimes do all we can to bury our fears and insecurities in the past. Facing our past mistakes can be scary in itself (think of Moses).

While I know there are parts of the story that needed to be told, the film still runs too long. There are some moments that are well done, but don’t really drive the story at all. One main scene I can think of is with a little girl who discovers Pennywise under the bleachers of a local baseball game. The scene is well done and affective, but what does it add to the story? We already knew that Pennywise was taking bloodcurdling to the next level.

Another one of the flaws of the film was the return of a certain character from the first one. While I won’t give it away (and the new actor looked like this character would in the future so well I was borderline flabbergasted), I will say how this character manages to escape predicaments and interact with the other characters is too bizarre to take into account.

As was the case with the first film, the cast is practically pitch perfect. Everyone fits their roles like a glove (I read that, when the child stars were asked who they would like to play their roles as adults, both Finn Wolfhard and Sophia Lillis picked the performers who would eventually play them). We also get two nice cameos that I for one was not expecting at all.

Parents, it should not take much thought to know that this is not a film for children. The movie deserves its R rating, though if your kids did see the first film, they would probably be okay here.

One thing the sequel has more of is CGI, which tends to dampen the scares down a bit (though there are still a good amount of “jump scares” to go around). While the CGI is not bad in a sense, the very idea of seeing Pennywise in his true form takes away some of the imaginative properties we had going into the theater. There is a point in the film where Mike talks about how, sometimes, we tend to keep the memories we like and not the bad ones. That being said, I plan to remember the greatness of the first film and not a lot from the second film.


Rating: 2.5 out of 5.