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Dark Phoenix rises. [MOVIE REVIEW]

X-Men, the mutant subspecies of humans born with superhuman abilities returns to the big screen.

In Dark Phoenix, the mutants do battle with one of their own, Jean Grey who possesses telepathic and telekinetic skills. While on a space rescue mission, Jean barely escapes death after being hit by a mysterious cosmic force. When she returns home, a routine exam shows that this force gave her power beyond what any gage could measure. But this force leads her to react in ways she neither understands nor can control. Not only are her loved ones at risk, but she disrupts a fragile peace with both the humans and other X-Men communities.

There have been 11 X-Men films which in total produced almost $6 billion in revenues. The studios and writers strain to come up with new and interesting stories from the Marvel comics concept. This story of the powerful and out of control Jean Grey works and Dark Phoenix gets a See It! rating.

I really liked the plotline of a woman being the kick-ass, strongest character in the heavily male-dominated X-Men series!

Fundamental to the X-Men story is the battle with humans. And then there’s the intragroup debate with some mutants supporting a peaceful coexistence with humans, while others see fighting it out as the answer. It has been written that this debate was patterned after Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence in dealing with American racism versus Malcolm X’s more aggressive and confrontation approach. These recurring conflicts have served this series well. And there are elements of these controversies in Dark Phoenix.

Much the appeal of the sci-fi genre is the mind-blowing special effects and this film like most of the big-budget productions doesn’t disappoint.

Diversity, or the lack thereof, has always been an issue with the X-Men series, which is not surprising considering the characters were created over 50 years ago. Men of color are especially lacking in the series. There is the introduction of a black character, Jones, played by Ato Essandoh, who is an X-Men adversary. Dark Phoenix earns a “C” for diversity.

It’s rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images) and brief strong language and is 113 minutes in length. It gets a See It! rating.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 Is Worth A Look [MOVIE REVIEW]

Once again Max (a Jack Russell Terrier), and his sidekick, Duke (Newfoundland mix), take viewers on a journey into secret pet world. In this film, Max faces a potentially radical life change: his owner Katie gets married and has a child, Liam. Originally unsure about how Liam’s coming on the scene will affect him, Max prepares for the worst. Only to have Liam love him as much as Katie does.

On a family trip to his grandparents’ farm, Max meets Rooster, a Welsh Sheepdog, who teaches Max lessons that will help in the countryside and beyond.

Before leaving, Max leaves his favorite toy with his pal, Gidget (a Pomeranian) for safekeeping. But the toy bounces out the window into a cat-packed apartment. She has to figure out how to get it back. Snowball (a rabbit) visits a circus and decides to free an unfairly treated white tiger named Hu.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 has the same characters featured in the start-of-the-art 3D animation which made the original film a success. But it has more plots than you’d see in a two-hour drama. The market for this film is children; however, I have to wonder if they want to see all of this on-screen busyness.

There’s a star-studded cast providing the voices: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Dana Carvey, Bobby Moynihan, and Harrison Ford. Kevin Hart’s voice just doesn’t fit the little white rabbit named Snowball.  Maybe a Pitbull. But not a small bunny.

As I have said before I don’t understand why studios spend bundles hiring big name stars to do the voices. Kids don’t care. The characters’ voice can be from unknown performers.

Ultimately, The Secret Life of Pets 2 provides the visual stimulation and characters that viewers would like to see, and it musters a See It! rating.

It’s rated PG and is 86 minutes in length.

Rocketman. It takes off.

Rocketman is quite simply the evolution of Reginald Kenneth Dwight from a shy lonely kid into the internationally known music phenomenon, Elton John. It’s a difficult process starting with his childhood where Reginald is reared by cold and distant parents. However, even at that early stage, he shows musical brilliance, getting a scholarship to the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in London. The story examines his depression, substance abuse, and acceptance of his sexual orientation. His story unfolds as he shares the key moments of his life with a therapist and members of a group counseling session.

Rocketman is an exceptional film worthy of Oscar consideration. And it’s a See It! It proves the saying, adulthood is that time in life when we get over our childhood. Because despite his rare talent and worldwide fame, Reginald/Elton struggles through his adolescence and through his adulthood trying to gain acceptance, love, and respect from his parents.

Getting Rocketman to the big screen was a lengthy process. Originally, set to go into production in 2001 with Justin Timberlake as John, Elton battled with studios’ wanting to tone down the sex and drugs, to garner a PG-13 rating. But John felt strongly that his story could not be accurately and fully told without the decadence.

In April 2018, the project moves forward with Taron Egerton as Elton. There has never been a better casting choice! Egerton does all of the singing, while not as strong as John in his heyday. But along with his acting and dancing, Taron is nearly perfect. Overall, the entire cast is superb. Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron Howard’s daughter and an accomplished actress in her own right, plays Elton’s cold and verbally abusive mother. Jamie Bell stars as the silent force behind John’s success; his songwriter, Bernie Taupin and one of the few people who cared about Elton as a friend and not a source of money.

Rocketman succeeds because it’s not preachy or heavy-handed. Viewers will sympathize with Elton, but that’s not the film's intent. It’s the natural response to seeing his story. It also includes his vast library of songs and how Taupin’s lyrics were often relevant to what was going on in their lives at the time. For example, Yellowbrick Road is about when Taupin needed a break from the demanding travel schedule John maintains. Taupin returns to his farm as the lyrics state.

There are other interesting facts. Like despite being gay, Elton had a four-year marriage to a woman.

It’s difficult to give Rocketman a cast diversity rating. With truth based stories, the casts have to reflect the races of the people involved. Then as today, there are many African Americans in the music industry. That’s shown in the film. John got his start in the 60s, a time of the Beatles and Motown. He interacts with black groups and according to the film, it was black entertainers who introduced him to the gay (homosexual as it was more often referred to then) lifestyle.

Rocketman is just over two hours and is rated R for obvious reasons. It is truly an exceptional production. And you really should “See It!

Ma. You really should go and see her. [MOVIE REVIEW]

A group of teens sitting in the parking lot of a liquor store, take turns trying to get adult strangers to buy alcohol for them. Finally, Maggie (Diana Silvers) the newest member of the group convinces a local veterinarian tech, Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) to make the purchase for them. A few days later, Sue Ann does it again. This time she invites them to hang out at her house and tells them to call her “Ma”. At first, it seems too good to be true: being able to have Ma buy them booze and drink in the comfort of her basement that she even renovates for them. However, soon they learn this Ma is not the nurturer they thought she was. Her generosity is all part of a much larger and devious plan.

Ma, while she has her flaws, entertains. It gets a See It! rating. Octavia Spencer dominates in the leading role. And if she doesn’t, this film doesn’t work. As the center of the story, she embodies the full range of necessary emotions and behaviors. She’s warm, cold, hostile, perverse, sympathetic, and of course, evil. She’s the complex yet sympathetic villain. Approaching middle age, she harbors some long-simmering resentments going back to her high school days. Having been in the same town as her former classmates for decades, it’s not fully explained what suddenly sets her off.

The rest of the cast led by veteran actor, Juliette Lewis, is more than adequate in their various supporting roles.

The story is by Scotty Landes who co-wrote the screenplay with the director, Tate Taylor. Credit is due to these filmmakers for not having the usual absurd character reactions and behaviors usually associated with horror films.

There’s no going into a dark scary room where others have disappeared when logic dictates one should get the hell out of there!

One leap that writers take is with Ma’s lifestyle, or, one could say it could have been further developed. She’s a vet tech in a small Ohio town. But not only does she have a nice home, as mentioned, she remodels her basement and while initially the kids buy the liquor, but she takes over that duty, dishing out large sums to make sure that there’s plenty to drink. Again, all on a vet tech’s salary. Perhaps, she had an inheritance or hit a lottery.

The film set in Ohio was actually shot in Mississippi.

Ma gets an “A” for cast diversity scoring major points with an African American actress in the lead role in a horror film, which by itself is unusual.

Black actors Dante Brown and Tanyell Waivers have major supporting roles. Considering this is small-town Ohio, the high school scenes are appropriately diverse.

At a budget of a measly $5 million, in filmmaking terms, Ma is bound to make money!

Ma is rated R and is 99 minutes in length and you should See It!

A Dog’s Journey, a mediocre adventure. | WHAT'S THE 411 MOVIE REVIEW

Hannah (Marg Helgenberger) mourns the loss of her son who was killed in an auto accident. The fact that his wife, Gloria (Betty Gilpin) and their young daughter CJ, are staying with her and her husband, Ethan (Dennis Quaid) helps the grieving mother get over her loss. However, Gloria becomes unhappy with the arrangement, takes CJ and leaves. At the same time, Ethan’s dog Bailey dies. As the canine departs this world, Ethan asks him to always look after CJ. Bailey keeps that promise. Living and dying multiple times, sometimes as a big dog, sometimes as a small one, he always manages to find and protect CJ.

A Dog’s Journey, a moderately entertaining film. Written by four screenwriters, the story is predictable and often drags along. This is not a film for kids. It covers mature and often painful topics.

The best part of A Dog’s Journey is the cast's extraordinary acting. Kathryn Prescott who plays the adult CJ and Gilpin in the role as her mother, are exceptional. Gilpin, 32, whose character ages throughout the film is only five years older than her on-screen daughter, Prescott who is 27.

What is also exceptional is cast diversity. This film gets an “A”. Asian American actor, Henry Lau has a substantial role as CJ’s lifelong friend. There are other people of color with important supporting slots.

A Dog’s Journey is rated PG for mature content, perilous situations, and off-color humor.

A Dog’s Journey is 108 minutes in length, and it gets a Rent It, rating.

Breakthrough comes through for viewers | What's The 411 Movie Review

If you’ve been watching TV over the last few weeks, you’re likely to already know the story of Breakthrough. The film is based on the true story of John Smith (Marcel Ruiz), a young teen, who falls through the ice which formed on a local lake. Underwater for 15 minutes, he incredibly survives what doctors call a miracle. His mother, a deeply religious woman, credits her prayer and faith for his survival.

To succeed, Breakthrough had its own obstacles to overcome, keeping viewers’ interest in a story in which the outcome is already known. Like John, it comes through.

Leading the cast is Chrissy Metz in the role of John’s mother. Metz is amazing! She dominates every scene she’s in, with determination and when necessary, confrontation. If you didn’t know better, you’d think this was real life and she really did have a kid whose life was at risk. Director Roxann Dawson or whoever is responsible for casting Metz should be commended. Metz like John’s real-life mother is full figured. Hollywood often opts for thin actresses when the real-life characters they play are overweight.

This story tugs on the viewers’ heartstrings. In this day of constant conflict among groups, it’s good to see this diverse community come together and root for John. But some of the locals asked John, why you? His school teacher pondered about the death of her husband who had no such miraculous recovery from an aneurysm.

John is on the high school basketball team and is also a fan of the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry. Of course, it had to be that way; Curry is Breakthrough’s executive producer.

Breakthrough earns an “A” in cast diversity. Dennis Haysbert plays the doctor who shepherds John through his miraculous recovery. And Mike Colter, who plays the first responder, had his own incredible experience when a voice spoke to him as he tried to rescue John. He thought it was his boss; it wasn’t.

Breakthrough gets a See It! rating. It comes together in an intriguing and heartwarming way. Breakthrough is rated, PG (for thematic content including peril) and is 90 minutes in length. And appropriately opens during the Easter holidays.

Little is Big on Entertainment | WHAT’S THE 411 MOVIE REVIEW

She’s the ultimate Alpha female, Jordan (Regina Hall) runs her highly successful tech enterprise mercilessly. She insults and constantly threatens her staff. She’s condescending to everyone else in her world. One day Jordan offends the wrong person who magically transforms her back to her 13-year-old self. After getting over the shock of this transformation, she realizes that even as a teen she has a business to run. So, she turns to the primary target of her abuse, April (Issa Rae), her personal assistant to serve as her guardian and to run the day-to-day operations of her business.

Little is simply a lot of fun and it gets a See It! rating. It’s funny and even as a comedy serves up superior acting. Marsai Martin of Blackish fame who plays the younger Jordan, rules! She personifies the teenage version of the iron-willed executive that we saw in the adult Jordan. Her performance is key to the success of Little. She also works her natural “do” throughout the movie. Marsai who will soon be 15-years-old in real life also is one of the film’s executive producers, and according to NPR that makes her the youngest one in Hollywood.

Marsai Martin as a preteen Jordan Sanders in the movie Little photo courtesy of Universal Pictures 700x487

Marsai Martin, as the preteen Jordan Sanders in the movie, Little. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

The rest of the creative team includes Tina Gordon, Will Packer, Kenya Barris, and Tracy Oliver. This group of African Americans should be commended for the creation of such positive black characters: Jordan has two married parents. There’s nobody on welfare or in jail. And no one calls each other the “N” word. Jordan definitely behaves like what many would call the “B” word, yet no one says it! (And they shouldn’t.) While this is definitely a female dominated story, the black men are upbeat and supportive of the ladies as they deal with their myriad of issues.

Little earns a solid “A” for cast diversity. It’s frankly one of the most diverse casts you’ll see. Which is also consistent with the fact the story is set in Atlanta. Little is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and is 109 minutes in length.

Take a little time to see Little. You won’t regret it!

Pet Sematary, gets better with age | What’s The 411 MOVIE REVIEW

It’s been 20 years since the first film based upon Stephen King’s bestselling novel, Pet Sematary, was first released. In the 2019 remake, like the original story, Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), relocates from the fast pace of Boston, with his wife, Rachel (Amy Seimetz), son and daughter, to a quieter and more relaxed, rural Maine. Immediately, they find a pet cemetery burial ground hidden deep in the woods near the family's new home. A place where the locals have entombed their deceased pets and livestock for decades. When the family’s pet cat succumbs to a roadside accident, Louis turns to his reclusive neighbor, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), for help in disposing of the feline. Jud, wanting to help relieve the family’s pain, sets off a chain of events leading to nightmarish results.

Pet Sematary, the handiwork of master scary guy, Stephen King, will entertain, scare and fascinate you! And it’s a See It! The fact that viewers are likely to have varying degrees of familiarity with the story is not a problem; as just the right amount of the original plot has been changed. And this familiarity piques viewers’ interest as to when, what they know will happen, is going to happen. Those who know very little about this film will still find it gripping.

The producers dug up a great group of performers. Horror films generally don’t require any acting range beyond a well-timed look of fear and authentic sounding screams. But Pet Sematary, demands more and Clarke, Seimetz and Lithgow provide it. Each character deals with his or her demons requiring them to behave in a way that convinces viewers of the deep anguish they each suffer.

Of course, there are some leaps in credibility. Like trucks driving at highway speeds on a narrow, country road where children and pets might be crossing. And why are horror films always set in remote areas? Why not in a high-rise apartment?

As to cast diversity, Pet Sematary gets an A-. The cast is small, and the film is set in an area which would likely have a small minority population. However, a black man has a major supporting and other people of color, smaller supporting roles.

It’s rated R for horror, violence, bloody images, and some language, and is 101 minutes in length. Pet Sematary is worth your while!

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