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Good Boys is sort of good. [MOVIE REVIEW]

Twelve-year-old, Max (Jacob Tremblay) has a lot to worry about. He’s invited to his first kissing party and panics because he doesn't know how to kiss. His friend Thor (Brady Noon) convinces him to spy on a teenage neighbor and her boyfriend, to get lessons on how to smooch. So Max, Thor and another friend Lucas (Keith L. Williams) decide to use Max's dad's drone -- which Max is forbidden to touch -- to spy on the couple. Their plan goes awry and the drone gets destroyed. Leading the kids on an arduous adventure to replace the device before Max’s father gets home - while also learning how to kiss.

Good Boys, directed by Gene Stupnitsky, combines coming of age humor with a bunch of crazy events happening in a short period – in this case, one day. A filmmaking style made famous in 1983 by Tom Cruise’s Risky Business. Most of the laughs center on the boys’ swearing and trying to figure out what the purposes of the devices Thor finds in his parents’ bedroom.

The film also touches on serious topics like parental divorce.

But ultimately, Good Boys is just a series of funny screens, but nothing filmgoers need to see right away. It gets a Rent It rating.

Good Boys scores an “A” for cast diversity. This is a highly diverse group in this film. Max’s dream girl is an adorable teen of color. Good Boys is also diverse in character roles. Max’s friend Lucas, the black kid, is not the stereotypical thug. Rather he’s a nerd. A rule follower. The nice guy in the group. Additionally, the Alpha Male, the coolest dude at their school is a petite, Asian American (Izaac Wang).

While Keith L. Williams is a head taller than his two Good Boys co-stars, he’s actually the youngest of the three.

Good Boys is rated “R” for strong crude sexual content, drug, and alcohol material, and language throughout and is 95 minutes in length. Again, no need to take the time and spend the money to see this at the theater. Wait and Rent It.

Luce is a loser [MOVIE REVIEW]

Despite being only a teenager, Luce (Kelvin Harrison, Jr) has had an eventful life. Rescued from a war-torn country and adopted by an American couple, (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth), he becomes an excellent student, stellar athlete, and the pride of his school. But all he has worked for is in jeopardy when one of his teachers (Octavia Spencer) makes a troubling discovery in his locker. The question becomes is Luce the person everyone thought he was or does his teacher have a vendetta against him?

In my rich and varied experiences as a black man in America, I sometimes see films with African American casts and storylines, and I find myself asking, “Who wrote this?” Because in Luce, as in others, the behavior and dialogue lack authenticity. And almost always I find the writers are not people who know the African American experience. And such is the case with Luce, written and directed by Julius Onah, who was born in Nigeria and raised there as well as in the Philippines, Togo and, the United Kingdom. Onah did go to high school in Virginia while his father served as a diplomat in the U.S.

He creates three black teens in the story, Luce, who as the story references, is Obama-like – at least as it appears. The two others are thugs, fighting, swearing – every other word is MF and N. These young men are stereotypes. As a person who has taught and worked extensively with urban youth, I know that young black men are so much more diverse and complicated than this film shows- one good kid, maybe, and two hoodlums.

Octavia Spencer’s character, in addition to being at odds with Luce over the locker incident, has a mentally ill sister who shows up at the school one day and behaves in a disturbing fashion. This entire subplot adds nothing to the film.

Another problem with this story is one which is common in screenwriting when writers use dialogue to share information with viewers. There are discussions between people such as spouses who have been in longterm relationships, revealing information as “new” that any real couple would have talked about before.

Tim Roth and Naomi Watts who play Luce’s parents have a close relationship. But Roth who has no trouble being frank with his wife, states that from the beginning he had apprehensions about adopting Luce. His wife is surprised. But wouldn’t a husband who communicates with his wife have brought up these concerns before delving into the difficult process of adopting a child from another country? Or talked about it sometime in the over a decade and a half they have had Luce as part of their family? These doubts help viewers to understand the father’s view but are not credible because as devoted as this couple is betrayed to be, they would have had this discussion before.

This film shot in grainy 35 MM, leaves some questions about who’s right and who’s wrong in this story. But neither of those issues deflect from the quality of the movie. Luce is done in by its overwhelming lack of credibility.

It’s 109 minutes and R (for language throughout, sexual content, nudity, and some drug use). It gets our lowest rating, “Dead on Arrival!” In other words, skip this film.


Stuber Stumbles [What’s The 411 Movie Review]

Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), a mild-mannered sporting goods clerk, moonlights as an Uber driver. When a hardened, veteran detective, (Dave Bautista) crashes his car in hot pursuit of a sadistic, bloodthirsty terrorist, he calls Stu to pick him up to continue the chase. At the same time, Sara (Karen Gillan) the woman of Stu’s dreams, texts him to come over and spend the night with her. For the rest of the evening, Stu is torn between aiding the detective and responding to Sara’s pining for him.

Stuber is a collection of funny scenes which never truly come together as a successful comedy. And it gets a “Rent It” rating. Patterned after highly successful films, such as The Hangover, where individuals endure an unbelievable series of events in one night, Stuber takes viewers through sometimes humorous and almost always implausible incidents. (Like a cop calling Uber to chase criminals.)

Stuber the movie lead characters Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani in Uber vehicle photo courtesy of Walt Disney 710x400

Dave Bautista (left) as the veteran cop and Kumail Nanjiani, as the Uber driver in the movie, Stuber. Photo courtesy of Walt Disney.

The film includes the standard dubious storytelling devices, like ruthless criminals who kill others without hesitation, but when they get the chance to blow the heroes away, they engage in lengthy dialogue, giving the good guys time to figure out an escape or an opportunity for rescuers to arrive.

Kumail Nanjiani is superb in the lead role. He’s so credible as the super nice, very principled guy being held “hostage” to this situation. Kudos to Dave Bautista as well, playing the type of cop that isn’t much different than the bad guys he pursues!

Stuber also gets an “A” for cast diversity. People of every race play lead and supporting roles.

Stuber is rated R for violence and language, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity. It’s 93 minutes in length. No need to see it right now. Wait and “Rent It”.

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.

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