Category Archives: Movies

RIP Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis

A good comedian is more than the joke coming out of their mouth. A good comedian makes us laugh, brings people together, helps to create understandings and heal the wounds that hate and prejudice create.

Yesterday, we lost comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory. A few hours ago, Jerry Lewis passed away.

In the 1960’s, Dick Gregory was the face of black comedy in America. Breaking the color barrier, he used his platform to speak of the injustice that African-Americans faced. He use his celebrity to fight not just against prejudice and hatred that were part of daily life for African-Americans, but he also protested against the Vietnam War by going on a hunger strike.

He was 84.

Jerry Lewis is more than an actor/comedian/philanthropist. He is an icon. Pairing with Dean Martin in the 1950’s, Lewis was the goofball compared to Martin’s straight man. When they professionally parted ways, Lewis became a star in his own right. One of his most beloved movies (and my personal favorite) Jerry Lewis film is The Nutty Professor. While on the surface, it is slapstick comedy, there is a more subtle message about self-esteem, finding love and being brave enough to show the person who you love your real self.


He was 91.

RIP.

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Flashback Friday-Flubber (1997)

The archetype of the professor who is book smart, but street dumb has existed for many generations and has been used by multiple writers over the years. The question becomes how does a writer use this archetype without creating a 2D, predictable character?

In 1997, the late Robin Williams starred in Flubber (a reboot of the 1961 movie The Absent Minded Professor starring Fred MacMurray). Professor Philip Brainard (Williams) is working on creating a substance that will save on the energy bills for the college in which is he is employed by. While the creation of the substance called Flubber is a success, his personal life is taking a downturn. His wedding to his fiance, Dr. Sara Jean Reynolds (Marcia Gay Harden) has been postponed twice. Will he choose his career and his creation or will he finally walk down the aisle?

This movie is very interesting. On one hand it is a reboot with Robin Williams playing the lead as only he can. But on the other hand, it feels like a generic family comedy without any elements that make the film standout.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Throwback Thursday-The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

When a film is adapted from a comic book, it must two serve purposes and two masters. It must please the comic’s core fanbase while appealing to new fans. It must also, as best as the creative team can, full transplant the narrative and characters from the page to the screen.

In 2003, the film adaptation of the comic book The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen hit the big screen. In an AU (alternate universe) Victorian era, a group of heroes from famous novels must come together to save the world. The group includes Tom Sawyer (Shane West), from the classic Mark Twain novel, The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, and Mina Harker (Peta Wilson) from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Led by Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery) from H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, this band of adventurers and heroes must save the world from a villain known as the Fantom.

Bear in mind that I have never read the comic book and when I saw the movie, I was unaware that the source material comes from a comic book. As a standalone movie, it’s ok. It’s just the run of the mill film adaptation of a comic book that is top-heavy on special effects and light on both character and narrative.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice Book Review

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the BDP (British Period Drama) genre, like most genres is mostly bereft of characters of color.

In 2013, the movie Belle finally broke the color barrier for the BPD genre.

Paula Byrne’s 2014 book, Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, is not just about Belle, but the events that led her uncle, Lord Mansfield’s ruling on the Zong massacre.

I adore the movie Belle. It is much more than the standard BPD. It speaks to a modern audience about race issues, women’s issue and other human rights issues that are just as relevant today as they were in the 19th century. That is reason I read the book. The book and the movie, however are vastly different. The book reads like a college textbook and not like the entertaining movie that subtly speaks to the audience about issues that 300 years later are still being discussed.

Do I recommend it? No.

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Landline Movie Review

For those of us of a certain age, the 1990’s invoke nostalgia for what appeared to be a simpler time.

The new movie, Landline, is set in New York City in 1995. Alan (John Turturro) and Pat (Edie Falco) are a married couple with two daughters: engaged twenty something Dana (Jenny Slate) and teenager Ali (Abby Quinn). The film starts out with a Norman Rockwell-ish image of a family who will soon be tested. Dana has been engaged to Ben (Jay Duplass) for a while, but it seems like their wedding day may not happen. Ali is the typical rebellious teenage girl. The drama really starts to ramp up when the girls discover that their father is having an affair and their mother struggles with the work/life balance that many women deal with.

This movie is refreshing and real. The characters that make up the family feel like any other family who love each other and try to make it work, despite their individual imperfections. It also feels nostalgic, not just because the film is set in 1995, but because it was just before computers and the internet took over the world.

I recommend it.

Landline is presently in theaters.

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Throwback Thursday-With Honors (1994)

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I received 2 educations: one inside the classroom and the other outside of the classroom.

In the 1994 movie, With Honors, Monty (Brendan Fraser) has just completed his thesis, which he hopes will get him on the right track to a healthy and successful career. Then his computer dies on him (as usual at the most inconvenient of times). With only one physical copy of the thesis back to his name, Monty runs to the library to make a copy. But before he can get to the library, Monty slips and falls. The envelope holding the single copy of his thesis falls through a grate.

Desperate to locate it, Monty goes through the building that is connected through the grate. In the basement he finds homeless drifter named Simon (Joe Pesci) burning the pages to stay warm. Simon makes Monty a deal. Simon will give Monty a page a day. In return, Monty will house and feed Simon until he gets back what is left of his thesis. Monty hopes to get his thesis back, what he surprisingly gets is an education that goes far beyond the classroom.

What I like about this movie is not just the dynamic between Fraser and Pesci, but also the idea that education and learning does not stop when we leave the classroom.

I recommend it.

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The Big Sick Movie Review

Like every genre, the romantic comedy genre has it’s standard narrative: the meet-cute, the will they or won’t they, the obstacles to the potential couples happiness and finally the happily ever after. While some movies keep to the standard narrative without doing anything new or different, some movies do.

In The Big Sick, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a first generation Pakistani-American Muslim. In his world, marriages are arranged. His family sets up a series of meet and greets with potential wives, but none of them click. An Uber driver by day and a stand up comedian by night, Kumail lives a life that is far from the traditional way of life his family is used to living.

Emily (Zoe Kazan) is a grad student. She meets Kumail at one of the comedy clubs he works at and they start dating. Two problems quickly arise: the first is that Kumail is hiding his relationship with Emily from his parents and Emily gets sick. Her parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano) at first are not too pleased to have Kumail hanging around with them at the hospital, but then they slowly warm up to him. By the end of the film, two questions must be answered: will Emily and Kumail have some version of a happy ending and will Kumail tell his parents the truth about Emily?

The film is based upon the early relationship of it’s male lead and his real life wife, Emily V. Gordon. Among romantic comedies it stands out not only because of the diversity of the characters, but it also speaks to a modern audience. Regardless of religion or family background, there are many young adults and adults who have chosen move away from the traditional life that they were raised with. There are also many who have married outside of their culture and/or religion, to the dismay of their relations.

While it was a little long for my taste, it was funny and romantic because it felt real and normal. It was not over the top, it was not kitschy and it was just predictable enough without seeing the ending a mile away.

I absolutely recommend it.

The Big Sick is presently in theaters.

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Menashe Movie Review

Single parenthood is never easy. It can be made especially harder when your own community is forcing you to re-marry.

In the new release, Menashe, Menashe (Menashe Lustig) is a widower and a member of New York City’s Hasidic (ultra-orthodox) Jewish community. After the recent death of his wife, his son was sent to live with his in-laws. Working at a grocery store, Menashe is told that he can only raise his son after he re-marries. The problem is that he has no interest in re-marrying. He needs to prove that he can raise his son without re-marrying.

Directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein, the film is set in Brooklyn. Containing English subtitles (with a rare exception, most of the characters speak entirely in Yiddish), the film is both charming and universal. While it is set in a very specific community, it is universal because speaks not only of the ups and downs of single parenthood, but also of the value of faith.

I absolutely recommend it.

Menashe is presently in theaters.

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Throwback Thursday-That Old Feeling (1997)

Divorce is the last thing on many couple’s minds as they repeat their wedding vows. But sometimes divorce is for the best.

In the 1997 movie, That Old Feeling, Lilly (Bette Midler) and Dan (Dennis Farina) have been passionately divorced for years. Nothing makes their skin crawl more than to be around each other. Their daughter, Molly (Paula Marshall) is getting married and Lilly and Dan have to find a way at least pretend to be civil for their daughter’s sake. What once was hate turns back in lust between Dan and Lilly. Molly freaks out and hires a paparazzi (Danny Nucci) to find her parents.

This movie is interesting. The narrative goes beyond the standard romantic comedy. Still it is a little predictable, even for a genre built on predictability. Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Thoughts On The 30th Anniversary Of Spaceballs

Mel Brooks has made a career out of lovingly satirizing our sacred cows. Whether it is history (History Of The World Part I), The Nazis (The Producers) or classic horror films (Young Frankenstein), he has knack for finding the satire in the sacred.

30 years ago, he satirized Star Wars and other science fiction films in his own version of a space adventure: Spaceballs. The planet Druidia has an abundant amount of fresh air. President Skroob (Mel Brooks) from the very polluted Planet Spaceballs send his henchmen, Lord Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) to capture the Druidian princess, Vespa (Daphne Zuniga). King Roland of Druidia (Dick Van Patten) must either give his planet’s air to the Spaceballs or lose his daughter. Enter Lone Star (Bill Pullman) who is sent by the king to rescue Vespa.

This movie is like most Mel Brooks movies. It borders on the absurd, takes easy pot shots at the revered and most of all, it makes us laugh.

30 years on, this movie is just as funny as it was in 1987.

May the schwartz be with you!

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