Category Archives: Reviews

Film Reviews

Review: ‘Judy Blume Forever’

Early on in Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok’s Judy Blume Forever, the best-selling author recalls growing up during the waning days of World War II and hearing about the atrocities the Nazi regime inflicted on the Jewish population of Europe. Being Jewish herself, she felt threatened by the news, but her parents always hushed it away and never elaborated or explained anything. The unwillingness by her parents and the adult world at large made her curious, creating a drive to give meaning to the secrets they harbored…. a drive that would eventually make Blume one of the most beloved authors in modern history for the way she laced her stories with pubescent truths. This simple anecdote is one of the most succinct explanations of what drives someone to become a writer that I’ve ever heard. It’s one of the many pleasures found within the documentary Judy Blume Forever.

That Blume herself is still alive and kicking (and looks fabulous) at the age of 83 only gives Pardo and Wolchok’s deep dive analysis of the author that much more spring in its step. Following the fairly rudimentary and accepted streaming service documentary frame (lightweight at times, full of talking head interviews etc), Judy Blume Forever doesn’t really need anything more because Blume’s life and works are the impetus here for a thought provoking spotlight.

From highlighting her beloved classics to the inevitable showdown of truth versus political machinations in the 80’s as her books were being challenged by the right wing pundits of the day (sounds familiar), Judy Blume Forever would be enough to satisfy on its own. But then the film brings in another dimension to Blume’s life as she wades through 50 years of correspondence with young fans and the intrinsic bond she formed with some of them outside of her fictional works. It’s hard not to get emotional seeing how Blume showed up for one of her pen pals’ college graduation, or how she might have (literally) saved the life of another. That Blume is an exceptional human being is just another wonderful example of the necessity of strong, talented people to put down truths on paper.

As a bookstore manager in my other life, Judy Blume Forever would have settled nicely, regardless. But as a celebration of someone who has impacted so many lives, the film becomes a living document of proof that we need people to nurture and imagine with us, no matter how old we are. And seeing the state of our country today and the war still being waged around the fear mongering of literature and its impact, it’s clear we need people like Blume now more than ever.

Judy Blume Forever begins streaming on Amazon Prime on Friday April 21st.

Review: ‘Showing Up’

Michelle Williams and Hong Chau star in director Kelly Reichardt’s gentle, lovely slice of creative life.

We are surrounded by creativity. How did it get there? 

Hard work and perseverance, according to Showing Up, the newest film by director Kelly Reichardt. The title, apparently quoting Woody Allen — “Ninety percent of success in life is just showing up” — is apt, though it only begins to explain what drives the titular artist (Michelle Williams), a sculptor making final preparations for her next show in Oregon. 

The artist sculpts out of her home studio with her roommate, a cat. To support herself, she works as a commercial artist at an arts & crafts combine, managed by her mother (Maryann Plunkett). She visits her father (Judd Hirsch), a retired artist, and worries about her brother (Jean-Luc Boucherot), an artist with an unsteady grasp on life. 

She crosses cordial paths with fellow artists all day long, though she has become angered as of late with Jo (Hong Chau), an artist on the rise. Their point of contention is a hot-water issue in the house owned by Jo, of which the artist rents space for living and working.

All these are little matters that only become bigger issues when they veer from distractions  to obstacles that impinge upon the artist’s free flow of creativity. They may seem small, if not outright petty, yet they grow into mountains when ignored. 

Written by frequent collaborators Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt, Showing Up flows by with casual grace, capturing the gentle push and pull of daily life for an artist. She’s not a ‘struggling’ artist, in that she has food to eat and a safe place to live. Still, hers is a modest life, like that of many of her fellow artists. Occasionally, some may break through and start to enjoy greater success, as Jo appears to be doing. 

More often in life, the artist does not have greater success; the only success they can hope to achieve is to do the work, to finish the work, and then live for another day, so they can start on a new piece of work. The end goal is not necessarily to achieve great success, but to express what is inside, what they may not be able to explain to anyone else, except for showing the work. And to do that, first they just have to show up. 

Director Kelly Reichard does that better than most, as expressed delicately, yet with great passion, in all her films to date. Without the noise of genre films, she captures great big slabs of life, and then distills them into tasty slices that resonate and echo, like a flat stone skipped on a calm lake, rippling quietly yet memorably.

The film opens Friday, April 21, Angelika Film Center (Dallas), Cinemark West Plano, and Alamo Drafthouse Richardson, via A24 Films. It will expand April 28 to additional theaters in Addison, Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Hurst and Plano, . For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Somewhere In Queens’

Ray Romano might have father issues. In his long-running sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, Peter Boyle’s portrayal of a father who only seems to care about eating and watching sports isn’t quite to Archie Bunker levels of cringe, but it sure gives him a run for his money with slants of homophobia and domineering 50’s authority. In Romano’s latest film, Somewhere In Queens, the great character actor Tony Lo Bianco embodies a father who rarely gives Romano’s Leo the time of day, except when Leo screws up and allows a theft of all the company’s tools.

But even further than those gruff archetypes of macho indifference, Romano’s directorial debut is all about fatherhood and how we fumble through the motions of trying to do the best we can with life’s impervious situations. Thankfully far removed from recycling any sitcom emotions that Romano seems most comfortable within, Somewhere In Queens does this through a strong supporting cast and an insistence on not fully answering all the messy curve balls of life.

Firmly establishing milieu within its opening minutes, Somewhere In Queens opens on Leo with his middle class existence in a very Italian family. Working for his father’s construction company and lunch paling it every day, the only respite his hum-drum life seems to give him is the casual flirtation by a client (a wonderful Jennifer Esposito) and the glory of watching his son Sticks (Jacob Ward) embark on a promising high school basketball career. The fans even have a chant for Leo’s dogged determination to be in the stands each and every game… something that even his wife Angela (Laurie Metcalf) notices goes right to his head too often.

Ultimately, the film isn’t about Leo’s lost legacy, or trying to live athletic dreams vicariously. It’s at one of these games that his son’s awkwardly quiet personality shines through and mom and dad find out Sticks has a girlfriend (Sadie Stanley). Things move quickly for the high school couple, and for a good portion of the film, it focuses on the awkward passions of young love and the crushing swings of heartbreak that often make no sense at that age. Sticks falls hard for Danielle, and while she doesn’t get the cutesy manic pixie girl flourish (actually, Romano’s film is smarter than that), lots of Somewhere In Queens examines the lengths that proud papa will go to ensure Sticks makes it out alive…. which means all types of moral sacrifices and, naturally, the loud arguments of family over a meatball dinner.

Written by Romano and Mark Stegemann, there’s enough humility and heart to carry Somewhere In Queens and create a winning effort. At times a bit maudlin, other times genuinely cutting, and often full of whip smart little doses of fine comedy (Metcalf’s delivery of the film’s final line is simply brilliant), it’s a film that makes us forget any daddy issues and root for Romano to pass from the shadows of his patriarchal misgivings.

Somewhere In Queens is a Roadside Attraction and will be released in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday April 21st at the following locations: AMC Parks @ Arlington, Stonebriar 24, Firewheel 18, Grapevine Mills 30, Mesquite 30, Cinemark West Plano 20

Review: ‘Air,’ Just Do It, Sonny

Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, and Ben Affleck star in an absorbing drama, directed by Ben Affleck. 

Kudos to Ben Affleck for starring in and directing the first movie I can recall that revolves entirely around … a shoe-endorsement deal. 

It’s not just any shoe, though, and it’s not just any athlete. To be precise, Air whisks the audience back to 1984 and the small circus that surrounded the signing of pre-G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) Michael Jordan, then an 18-year-old college freshman, and soon to be a professional basketball legend. 

In that ancient era — which Affleck and his production crew take pains to recreate lovingly, repeatedly, and incessantly — a pudgy, 40-something salesman named Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) relentless pursued the signing of Michael Jordan to an endorsement deal with Nike, then only the #3 shoe company in the world. Brought on by Nike’s founder Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) to boost the basketball division, Sonny has proven to be unsuccessful in doing so and may be in danger of losing his job if he doesn’t improve the basketball division’s financial performance. 

A born gambler, Sonny bets everything on convincing Jordan to sign, even though the kid reportedly hates Nike and loves Adidas, the #1 shoe company in the world. (Converse lags at #2 and barely figures into the film.) In a desperately bold move, Sonny even flies to North Carolina in order to pay an impromptu visit on Michael’s parents, Deloris and Julius (Viola Davis and Julius Tennon, husband and wife actors who are acting together in a film for the first time), bypassing Jordan’s irascible and incredibly foul-mouthed agent, David Falk (Chris Messina).

If all this sounds like a movie made for streaming, and not necessarily a traditional cinematic experience, it’s hard to disagree. Yet what makes the movie consistently absorbing — and, I would say, quite cinematic — are the marvelously low-key performances by Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker (?!), Matthew Maher, Ben Affleck and Viola Davis. 

Damon takes the lead as the persistent, never-say-die salesman who is convinced that he has seen early glimpses of a man who will become the greatest basketball player of all time, who also oozes charisma and confidence. Bateman and Tucker play Nike execs, with Maher as the nerdy genius shoe designer/engineer/artist, and Afflect as the genius barefoot executive Phil Knight, who is Weirdness Incarnate, yet also pretty relatable and surprisingly supportive. 

The film positions Michael Jordan as a god-like creature who has already soared beyond the confines of puny humans. With only a single line of dialogue, and without his in-person face being shown, it’s as though he emits beams of light that would blind anyone who foolishly dares to look upon his face. 

As silly as that may sound, it’s absolutely essential to the manner in which director Affleck tells the story. Everyone and everything in the movie revolves around a god-like creature. Everyone, though, knows this; they acknowledge that they are lowly people who don’t deserve to be in Michael Jordan’s presence, and will do anything to bask in his reflected light. 

What makes all this tolerable, and even charming, is that genuflection sounds and plays as genuine, authentic, and kind of funny, especially when you know how this all plays out. It’s a key, authorized chapter in the corporate lives of Nike and Michael Jordan, playing out to its finish like a warmly-remembered basketball game with an incredible buzzer-beater.

The film opens April 5 in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities, via Amazon Studios, ahead of its eventual global premiere on Prime Video. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Living With Chucky’

I can’t imagine that in the mid 1980’s, the creators of Child’s Play (1988) would have envisioned the sizable cult adoration and financial benefits the horror franchise has evolved into over the past 35 years. I suppose it just goes to show that all one truly needs is a killer idea. And even though I’m not a huge fan of Chucky’s murderous rampage, I do remember the hysteria such a film caused with my parents and the VHS box covers that haunted the shelves of every video store I entered as a teenager.

And haunted is a good word for Living With Chucky, but not in the literal sense. Directed by Kyra Elise Gardner, she has first hand involvement with the Chucky films as her father was one of the original creators of the animatronic doll that eventually came to life on-screen.

Interviewing pretty much everyone involved in the seven Chucky films as well as admirers and acolytes, Gardner’s documentary spends a good portion of its running time recapping the films with insight from some of its biggest movers and shakers, including the voice of Chucky, Brad Dourif, and its late-career savior Jennifer Tilly. Also adding some context and anecdotes are its producers/creators such as Don Mancini and Alex Vincent, the young actor from the first two films.

But beyond this simple history lesson that feels minor and something akin to a featurette on a DVD, Gardener shifts the scope of her documentary to more interesting subjects towards the end when she inverts the terror within the films to how it impacted her as a young child. Basically having the Chucky doll in her house (and positioned perfectly on her couch no less) impacted her greatly.

Also sharing how the Chucky films influenced (or warped) her vulnerable psyche is Brad Dourif’s daughter, Fiona, who herself got into the Chucky arena in Curse of Chucky (2013) and Cult of Chucky (2017). Reminiscing about watching her father do voice-over work during a scene where he’s burned to death (as the doll, of course) pierces the nepotism veil that supposes it’s all roses for children of Hollywood on the stages of make believe.

With these stories and more, Gardner hints at something visceral behind the fictional world of a horror franchise. Parts of this documentary and other films such as Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen’s Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street (2019) shine a spotlight on the human vulnerability behind a genre that rarely has room for anything else. I only wish Living With Chucky got to these points quicker instead of the idolization of the films themselves. I found the introspection much more interesting than a doll being imbued with the spirit of a murderer and killing scores of people. Go figure.

Living With Chucky begins streaming on all VOD platforms on Tuesday April 4th, including Amazon Prime, Apple, Google Play, VUDU, Screambox and more.

Review: ‘Tetris,’ Video-Game Cold-War Thriller

Taron Egerton stars in a nostalgic film that gradually becomes a thriller. 

Who knew falling blocks can be so much fun? And serve as building blocks for a retro cold-war thriller? 

The opening scene establishes Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) in a high-rise office building, making a sales pitch to a Japanese bank executive (Rick Yune) who looks bored as Henk tells what sounds like a slight variation on his usual sales pitch. The difference is that Henk is genuinely enthusiastic about the true potential of what he’s selling. 

As Henk makes his pitch, his globe-hopping is dramatized as he narrates his introduction to an instantly-addictive video game at a trade show, followed by his relentless pursuit of the sales rights. Frankly, even though the narrated sequences are handsomely produced and propulsively sown together —  Colin Goudie, Ben Mills, and Martin Walsh are credited as film editors —  the ceaseless globe-hopping of what appeared to be a video-game origin movie was starting to wear out my patience. 

Then, as Henk arrives in Russia, sometime around 1988, director Jon S. Baird slows the pace down. Written by Nick Pink, the opening portion of the film is merely a prelude to what happens to Henk when he seeks the sales rights from the game’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), stumbling into a hornet’s nest, where Communist Party security officials, the Russian beauracracy, Japanese interests, a software salesman, and Nintendo all compete against each other to acquire the rights to publish a video-game that would become a worldwide smash. 

After one viewing, I could not decipher the many layers of legitimate business dealings, as opposed to those cloaked in duplicitiy and criminality. How much of this “inspired by a true story” movie is, in fact, true, and how much is pumped-up artifice?

By the end of the movie, I did not care. 

Taron Egerton is very convincing as a good-hearted family man, married to a loving and supportive wife (Ayane Nagabuchi), with multiple adorable children, and doing his very best to pull off a deal to ensure their financial future. He’s the owner of a small software copmany in Japan, where he met his wife, has a working knowledge of the language, and also wants to keep his company viable for the sake of his devoted employees. 

Multiple other colorful supporting characters populate the film, which moves at a pace that slowly picks up speed and resembles a video game. 

But it’s a good video game, and one that is irresistible. 

The film opens Friday, March 24, in select theaters nationwide. In Dallas, it opens at Alamo Drafthouse Lake Highlands. It will be available to stream March 31 on Apple TV+. For more information about the film, visit the official site.