Flashback Friday: Bring It on Again (2004)

When a film is successful, the obvious next step is a sequel. The question is, does it hold up or is it nothing more than an easy cash grab for the studio?

The 2004 straight-to-video movie Bring It on: Again is the follow-up to Bring It On (2000). Whittier (Anne Judson-Yager) and Monica (Faune Chambers Watkins) are college freshmen who want to join the cheerleading squad. When they are rebuffed by the team captain and queen bee Tina (Bree Turner), Whittier and Monica decide to form their own team.

The challenge is the following: only one squad can go to nationals. Will Bree and her establishment team win or will misfits and outsiders have their chance to shine?

There is a reason it skipped theaters and went straight to video. The generic “David vs. Goliath” narrative is predictable almost to the point of becoming boring. While its predecessor had at least some tension, there is none to speak of in this movie.

Do I recommend it? Only if there is nothing else to watch.

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Disenchanted Movie Review

Most fairy tales end with the words “happily ever after”. While this is certainly a satisfying conclusion, there is always room for more.

The new DisneyPlus movie, Disenchanted, was released last weekend. The sequel to Enchanted, it has been fifteen years since the first film ended. Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and Giselle (Amy Adams) are happily married and have a baby girl of their own. Robert’s daughter Morgan (played by Gabriella Baldacchino) from his previous marriage is now a teenager and dealing with what we all went through at that age.

The story starts when the family leaves New York City for the suburbs of upstate NY. The nice way of describing their new home is that it is a fixer-upper. While Giselle tries to make friends with Malvina (Maya Rudolph), the town’s unofficial social queen, they are visited by Edward (Jason Marsden) and Nancy (Idina Menzel).

The gift they bestow leads Giselle to make a wish for her previous fairy tale life. As usually happens when this kind of yearning, it all goes to h*ll in a handbasket. It is up to Giselle and Morgan to save the day and return their world to what it was before.

I loved the movie. It was entertaining, funny, and the perfect follow-up to its predecessor. The easter eggs are fast and furious in the best way possible. As with Enchanted, Disney is lovingly mocking itself while recreating a narrative that fans know and love. My favorite character is Malvina. Rudolph is clearly having fun with the role, hamming it up to the nth degree.

All in all, it was a blast to watch and well worth the fifteen-year wait.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. I would also not be surprised if it was on any top ten lists at the end of next month.

Disenchanted is available for streaming on DisneyPlus.

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Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence Book Review

Rape and sexual assault are unfortunately a part of human history. For as long as anyone can remember, women have dealt with this reality on a daily basis.

Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence, by Ken Auletta, was published in July. This biography tells the story of former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the 2017 revelation of the numerous women he forced himself on.

Born to a Jewish family in Queens, Weinstein was an insecure boy who grew into an insecure man. Though this business acumen is notable, how he treated people (and women specifically) is another story. Though there were instances of kindness and generosity, those events were few and far between. He was temperamental, impatient, arrogant, and threw his power around like a frisbee.

The stories of the women Weinstein assaulted are basically the same. He would turn on the charm and make them believe that he was genuinely interested. He would then invite them to his hotel room to discuss possible career opportunities. Once that hotel room door closed, it was just a matter of time.

For obvious reasons, this book is hard to read. It is a long read and the subject is obviously a difficult one.

The psychological profile that Auletta presents is that of a bully. Like all bullies, he has unresolved issues. Instead of dealing with them in a healthy manner, he lashes out and takes his anger out on others.

If nothing else, it should get us all angry. The problem is not just Weinstein’s actions, it is the complicity of everyone around him. As Auletta points out, his sexual reputation was not unknown. Instead of rallying around his victims, the majority stayed silent. If they had the gall to speak out, there were consequences. It was only after the initial revelations in 2017 that the silence was acknowledged and genuine change started to occur.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. I would also state that this is one of the top five books of the year.

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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Movie Review

When Chadwick Boseman passed away two years ago, it was more than the loss of an actor whose gifts were once in a generation. His portrayal of T’Challa/Black Panther in the original Black Panther film was groundbreaking and universally applauded.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was released in theaters this past weekend. It takes place a half dozen years after the first movie ended. It starts with T’Challa’s off-screen death from an unknown illness. The loss of both the King and protector leaves Wakanda in a state of mourning. While his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) steps up to lead the nation and deal with pressure from the outside, her daughter Shuri (Letitia Wright) tries to pretend that everything is fine.

Then a new threat emerges. Namor (Tenoch Huerta) is the king of an underwater Indigenous people. His ancestors were nearly exterminated by Spanish colonizers. Like the Wakandans, vibranium is part and parcel of their culture. Namor is threatening to wage war against the surface world. The only way to appease him is to bring him a young wunderkind scientist, Riri Williams/Ironheart (Dominique Thorne).

Ramonda and Shuri have a tough decision ahead. Do they sentence this young girl to death or do they work with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Okoye (Danai Gurira), and M’Baku (Winston Duke) to stop Namor?

Wow. Like its predecessor, the film balances action, emotion, and timely social issues. This is Wright’s film. She carries it with everything she has. I was floored by her abilities as a performer. In addition to dealing with the grief (and the connected mental health issues) that come with losing a loved one, Shuri must protect her country.

As in Black Panther, it is the women who are in leadership roles. Each is human and powerful in her own right. She is also an important part of the narrative and is dealing with the loss of T’Challa in her own way.

My only issue is that it was a little long.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. It is one of my favorite movies of the year.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is presently in theaters.

P.S. As usual, stay for the mid-scene credits. It will make you cry.

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Flashback Friday: 3 Ninjas (1992)

The bond between a grandparent and their grandchildren is an important one. It has the potential to forever have an effect on the younger generation, regardless of their age.

In the 1990s film, 3 Ninjas, Rocky (Michael Treanor), Colt (Max Elliott Slade), and Tum Tum (Chad Power) spend every summer with their grandfather (Victor Wong). Grandpa is a Ninjutsu master who has taught his grandsons everything he knows.

They are kidnapped by Snyder (Rand Kingsley), a former pupil of their grandfather’s. Snyder plans to use the boys to get to their FBI agent father Sam (Alan McRae). He thinks that his plans will work. He has no idea that the kids can fight back.

Obviously, this is a kid’s movie. Anyone over a certain age will likely pass on it.

Looking back, I was the perfect age for the film when it was released 30 years ago. But as an adult, I obviously look at it with different eyes. Beyond the lack of female characters outside of the traditional roles, the narrative is simplistic and almost too predictable.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Enola Holmes 2 Movie Review

Representation is a powerful thing. If we can see it, even if it is only in fiction, then we can strive toward being it in real life.

The new Netflix film, Enola Holmes 2, was released last weekend. This sequel to Enola Holmes takes place right after its predecessor ends. Our title character, the eponymous Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown) has just opened her own detective agency. But being young and female does exactly bring in a tidal wave of clients.

The one person who does walk through the door is Bessie Chapman (Serrana Su-Ling Bliss). Her older sister Sarah (Hannah Dodd) is missing. Enola follows the trail to the Bryant & May Match Factory. The majority of their employees are women and young girls from the lower classes who are mistreated and underpaid.

With the help of her elder brother, Sherlock (Henry Cavill), her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), and possible boyfriend Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), Enola must uncover the mystery of Sarah’s disappearance.

I like this movie more than I did the first one. Bringing together fact and fiction, the true story of the strike adds another dimension to the tale. I also enjoyed the slow-burning romance between Enola and Tewksbury. The “will they or won’t they” question is representative of Enola’s growth, but it is a secondary narrative to her investigation.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Enola Holmes 2 is available for streaming on Netflix.

Armageddon Time Movie Review

There are certain genres that are universal. Regardless of labels, we are able to connect with the characters and understand where they are coming from.

The new movie, Armageddon Time, was written and directed by James Gray. Paul Graff (Banks Repeta), is a young man coming of age in 1980’s Queens. His favorite things to do are drawing and spending time with his Grandpa Aaron (Anthony Hopkins). Coming from a middle-class Jewish family, his parents Esther (Anne Hathaway) and Irving (Jeremy Strong) are doing the best they can.

The story gets going when Paul starts to hang out with Johnny Davis (Jaylin Webb). Johnny is one of the African-American students in his class. Due to racism and other issues, he has already been held back. Bonded by their mutual sense of rebellion and dislike for their teacher, Paul and Johnny become fast friends.

Paul is idealistic and stubborn, but also a little naive. When he is forced to transfer from public school to private school, the economic and societal differences between the boys become evident. The choice he has to make will define the rest of his life: speak up or stay silent.

Gray’s film (which is based on his own life), is half coming of age and half a family drama. It is well-written, well-acted, and absolutely fantastic. Repeta, as our young protagonist, blew me away. This young man was brilliant in the role and truly made me want to go on Paul’s journey with him.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Armageddon Time is presently in theaters.

Throwback Thursday: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

The title of “classic” is sometimes thrown around without considering whether or not an IP is worthy of the distinction.

The 1982 film, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, is one of those films that is deserving of that honor. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it is the story of a young boy, Elliott (Henry Thomas) who befriends a lost alien. Drew Barrymore plays his adorable younger sister, Gertie. When the authorities find out about their outer space visitor, Elliott must find a way to help him get home.

This is one of those movies that has become a cultural touchstone. We all know and hopefully, we all love it. What makes it special is the story of the character’s friendship and loyalty, in spite of their differences. It is a lesson that after forty years, is still timely and universal.

Do I recommend it? Of course.

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Call Jane Movie Review

Though it seems as Roe was settled law (that is until this past June) forever, the truth is that it was just a hair’s breadth away from the half-century mark.

The new movie, Call Jane, is based on a true story. It takes place in 1968 in Chicago. Joy (Elizabeth Banks) is a middle-aged, happily married homemaker with one child and another on the way. During a visit to the doctor, she is told that her pregnancy is endangering her life. She has two choices: end the pregnancy or take a chance that both she and the fetus survive.

Naturally, the procedure is denied by the hospital board. Taking the underground route, fate leads Joy to the Janes. Among them are Virginia (Sigourney Weaver) and Gwen (Wunmi Mosaku). The Janes are a collective of women whose goal is to provide safe (and illegal) abortions.

Joy quickly gets involved with the Janes, causing her husband, daughter, and neighbor/bestie Lana (Kate Mara) to wonder what she is up to. The question is, when will Joy fess up and will she have to be bailed out of jail?

I hate to say it, but I have mixed feelings about this film.

What’s good about the movie is that it is not about politics, but the story of an average woman having to make an incredibly difficult decision. Then, as now, it points out the obvious: those who have money will have the ability to end the pregnancy safely. Those who don’t will have to resort to dangerous and life-threatening methods.

What’s bad about it is the lack of tension and the slow pacing. I wanted to feel Joy’s anxiety and apprehension about what she was getting involved in, but I didn’t. I also wanted to feel like the police were forever on their heels and the Janes had to be one step ahead of them.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Call Jane is presently in theaters.

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Yesterday was the 4th Anniversary of the Tree of Life Massacre

The massacre or murder is a moment in time that is forever frozen in our individual and collective memories. Though time may pass and things may change, we can never forget who we were and where we were at that point in time.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the Tree of Life massacre.

A new HBO documentary, A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting, tells the story of that day and the people who were affected by it.

Accompanying the film is a music video for the song “The Tree of Life“. Sung by Idina Menzel, it is both a heartbreaking reminder of the death of 11 innocent lives and the inner strength that it takes to live with that loss.

May the memories of those killed that day be a blessing. Z”L.

A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting is available for streaming on HBO Max.

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