Tag Archives: movie review

Review: ‘It Ain’t Over,’ Reclaiming Baseball Heritage

Sean Mullin’s documentary pays loving tribute to baseball great Yogi Berra. 

If you grew up playing or watching baseball, It Ain’t Over holds immediate appeal. Even if you’re not a fan of baseball in any way, shape, or form, though, the name Yogi Berra may spark a nod of recognition. 

Born in 1925, making him a member of my father’s generation, Lawrence Peter Berra became known as “Yogi” Berra, thanks to his propensity for sitting in a yogi-like position on the playing field. He signed with the New York Yankees shortly before volunteering to serve in the military. Upon the conclusion of World War II, he returned to baseball, making his major-league debut in 1946 and quickly becoming a cornerstone of the Yankees’ championship years throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s before becoming a coach and manager. 

Berra’s life and career is recounted in loving detail by director Sean Mullin, who has made both documentaries and features. It Ain’t Over follows a well-trod path for documentaries, skillfully assembling a slew of new interviews with archival footage, interspersed with the ‘Yogi-isms’ for which Berra became renowned. 

What sets this apart from other, similar documentaries is that Yogi Berra burrowed his way into popular culture in the 1950s without even trying. His friendly, gregarious personality, modest demeanor, and shorter stature than most professional athletes at the time — even though he was taller than me! — invited disparaging or demeaning comments by fellow players and the press, which he took in good humor. 

In striking contrast with many pro athletes today, who freely boast and mock and preen, Berra’s personality comes across as incredibly relaxed and refreshing. As popular as he became as a commercial spokesman in his time, his self-mocking personality threw up a smoke screen around his singular accomplishments as a baseball player, lessening his reputation in the popular imagination. 

With the passage, it becomes easier to reflect upon his place in the history of the game. The documentary goes further by presenting him as a man about whom nobody ever said anything negative. His children and grandchildren all speak lovingly of him, and so do a host of fellow players, from his and succeeding generations.

By not calling attention to itself, It Ain’t Over ensures that all interest accrues to Yogi Berra and his legacy as a husband, father, player, coach, manager and commercial pitchman. It’s a distinguished record that doesn’t need much burnishing, and director Sean Mullin pays tribute in a fleet and fast-moving 98 minutes. 

The film opens Friday, May 26, via Sony Classics, at the following locations: Angelika Dallas, Angelika Plano, AMC Grapevine Mills, AMC Firewheel 18, AMC Stonebriar 24, and Modern Art Museum of Ft Worth. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘The Little Mermaid,’ Altogether Charming, Thoughtful and Romantic

Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Melissa McCarthy and Javier Bardem star in director Rob Marshall’s live-action version of Disney’s animated classic.  

Stage veteran Rob Marshall has built a successful big-screen career by directing musicals with multiple stars and elaborate production sequences: Chicago (2002), Nine (2009), Into the Woods (2014), and Mary Poppins Returns (2018). He has made occasional forays into non-musicals, with much less success: the dismal Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and the forgettable Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011). 

Sticking to his strengths, Marshall helms the live-action remake of Disney’s animated version with his usual vim and vigor. Scripted by David Magee (Mary Poppins Returns), the film is altogether charming, thoughtful and romantic. 

Disney’s Academy Award-winning film set a pattern for the animated musicals to follow. The live-action version follows a different pattern, though, as established by the success of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010), which revolves around making the films themselves longer so as to include, not only all the most memorable moments and songs, but also new songs, which has often led to lumbering films without much distinction. 

Occasionally, though, they get it right, as with Robert Stromberg’s Maleficent (2014) and Craig Gillespie’s Cruella (2021), creating something fresh and new. Rob Marshall’s The Little Mermaid is a lesser film than those two, but it’s a step above what might otherwise be expected. 

Perhaps it’s my lowered expectations. I enjoyed the 1989 version, but was never that enamored with it. The new version keeps the problematic issues that the original raised, for reasons I cannot fathom. (Why does Ariel need to remain mute after she is transformed into a human? Why must she abandon her family and friends in pursuit of a romantic crush?) 

The first question is ignored; apparently, the evil Ursula rendered Ariel mute to prevent  her from using the power of her magical singing voice to command the Prince to kiss her and thus foil Ursula’s evil plan. (It’s complicated, especially if you haven’t seen the original.) 

The second question is softened with the film’s approach, placing Ariel’s father, King Triton (Javier Bardem) into the role of an overprotective father, mightily concerned that his youngest daughter might run away (?!) with a member of the human race, which he holds responsible for the death of his beloved wife years before. 

The varied evils portrayed by Melissa McCarthy, taking great joy in playing the diabolical Ursula, and the range of vulnerabilities exposed by Javier Bardem as the ultimate father figure, make up for the dramatic limitations of the lead roles. Halle Berry is a fine singer as Ariel, which bolsters her performance. 

Truthfully, few romantic sparks fly between Halle Berry as Ariel and Joan Hauer-King as Prince Eric — they seem more like good pals rather than anything more — but that’s part of what makes this version work: it’s soft and gentle and entirely suitable for family viewing. Awkwafina provides comic relief as diving bird Scuttle; Daveed Diggs is serviceable as Sebastian the crab. Solid support comes from Art Malik at the helpful royal butler Grimsby, who deserves his own spin-off series. 

Approaching the film with lowered expectations definitely helps. The Little Mermaid swims quite comfortably in calm seas without calling too much attention to itself. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, May 26, via Walt Disney Studios. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3,’ Closing the Book

James Gunn directs Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautistia, and Bradley Cooper. 

Consistently chaotic and confusing, the film is the kind of mess that only a mother could love. 

Director James Gunn’s first stab at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, released in August 2014, inspired me to write: “Fine, if anonymous big-screen entertainment from a company that appears intent on a course that is slowly flattening. As long as the money keeps flowing, expect more of the same in the future from Marvel Studios.” 

His second entry, released in May 2017, indeed featured more of the same. In essence, I wrote, it is “an animated film, well-integrated with live-action players, that is targeted at the young adult audience. Its sole purpose is to entertain, not to disturb or question the order of things; it’s a goal that it meets quite well.” 

Thus, it’s no surprise to report that his third entry heaps more of the same, only in greater quantities and with less humor than before. There are more creatures, more characters, more visual effects, and more pop songs, yet the whole thing feels tired and obligatory, as everyone goes through the paces of what is intended to kick off the box office season on a high point. 

Writer/director Gunn shows new characters arriving with the assumption that viewers will already know and be invested in said characters, presumably from Marvel comic books, when those of us who are not dedicated Marvel fans whose entire universe revolves around Marvel characters will not have any idea what is going on. 

Truly, this is a movie that only a die-hard fan could love. Occasionally, things happened or words were spoken that made me smile or even laugh, especially those related to the “stupid idiot” Drak (Dave Bautista) — his words, not mine. And I suppose Vin Diesel should be commended for dreaming up 1,000 ways to say “I am Groot.” 

But, for some reason, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) spends the entire movie moping about his lost love, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), all while he is moving heaven and earth to try and save his “best friend,” Rocket the self-denying raccoon (Bradley Cooper), who lies mortally wounded while he recollects his tragic origin story. *sigh* *sob* Oh, yes, many, many people die, or are at least shot with “phew” “phew” weapons, the sounds kids make to mime bullets or laser explosives. And so it goes. 

Only a “stupid idiot” would watch this movie with the expectation, nay, hope, that it would be better, more enjoyable, or funnier than the previous two entries. So call me a stupid idiot. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on May 5, via Disney. For more information about the film, ask your children. 

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: ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,’ Much Ado About Nothing

Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathryn Newton and Michael Douglas star in a three-quel without equal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

O Ant-Man, Ant-Man, wherefore art thou Ant-Man? Oh no, not the Quantum Realm again!!

The latest Marvel movie extravaganza cleverly disguises itself as a continuation of the Ant-Man saga, rather than an introduction to the so-called Phase V of the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe. It features a slew of talented actors doing their very best to treat the extremely silly movie as though it were Serious And Actually Meant Something. 

The first few minutes are perfectly fine, as Scott Lang, the tiniest Avenger of them all, jauntily walks the streets of San Francisco, timed to the rhythm of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” as though it were the opening sequence for an updated, comic West Coast version of Saturday Night Fever (1977), only starring Paul Rudd rather than John Travolta. Instead, though, we hear “Welcome Back, Kotter,” which prompts comparisons to the sitcom, debuting in 1975, that served as a breakout role for … John Travolta. 

It’s not long before Ant-Man and his nuclear family — Hope van Dyne, aka the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), her parents, Hank and Janet (Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer, respectively) and Ant-Man’s daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton) — get sucked into the Quantum Realm, aka Several Large Indoor Studio Lots in Atlanta that are filled with colorful lights and shapes, representing millions of hours of dedicated artistry by thousands of workers throughout the world.  

The family is trapped there for centuries, aka Nearly The Movie’s Entire Running Time, where they perform magnificently under pressure and extreme stress, and also crack jokes, when time permits. They encounter Kang (Jonathan Majors), aka The Next Big Bad Villain Who Is Even More Evil And Powerful Than The Last Guy Who Destroyed The Universe. We don’t know why he’s so evil, except that Marvel needed a new villainous character to build their movies around. Also Jonathan Majors is a fierce presence, able to leap tall mountains in a single bound and also Do Anything He Wants To Do Before He’s A Marvel Supervillain. 

Really, the movie is divorced from reality, logic, and common sense, but I’m sure that everyone involved tried very, very hard to make a movie that everyone would want to see in movie theaters. Occasionally, the combined star power manages to pierce the animated atmosphere by wisecracking or evincing genuine humanity. And the story revolves around the importance of a strong family unit, which isn’t a bad thing at all in fighting off evil villains from another realm, if your entire family is superpowered. 

Moments of joy are few and far between for jaded adults, though younger ones may well find unbounded delight in the light show, as did one young person at the critics screening I attended last night. He continually beamed, often broke out in laughter and displayed not one iota of cynicism throughout the endless running time, which made it pass a little more quickly for me. 

Indeed, this movie may be perfect family entertainment. The IMAX presentation looks smashing and sounds spectacular. Never mind the ceaseless death and destruction. Let the kids go and enjoy. Just keep repeating to yourself: “It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie.” 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, February 17, via Walt Disney. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘A Man Called Otto,’ Lovable Grouch

Tom Hanks stars as a grumpy old man in a remake of the Swedish original, directed by Marc Forster.

A funny thing happened on the way to committing suicide. 

The film opens in Dallas movie theaters Friday, January 6, via Sony Pictures.

Tom Hanks has a Tom Hanks problem, darn it. 

By this point in his long and distinguished career, in which he has played (almost) entirely heroic roles, it’s difficult to take him seriously as a grumpy old man. Indeed, he must do his level best not to be entirely charming; it feels disingenuous for him to play a disagreeable so-and-so who, even before he attends his retirement party, is already making arrangements for his own suicide. 

Truthfully, though, that’s one of truly tragic things about suicide: people who are clinically depressed, to the point that what they want most is to end the pain, whether it be physical or emotional in nature, do not always present as soneone you could point out in a crowd as suicidal. Often, the pain comes from deep inside, and the individual is either unwilling or, more frequently, unable to deal with the pain on their own and, especially, seek someone else’s help. 

Remaking Hannes Holm’s “shamelessly sentimental” — quoting myself — 2016 Swedish-language adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s popular novel En man som heter Ove, script writer David Magee (Finding Neverland, 2004) carries over the original’s kind-hearted character construction, moving the action to a mid-sized town in Ohio or Pennsylvania (where it was filmed) and changing the new neighbors from Middle Eastern to Mexican. The film spends less time in the past, reducing Otto’s memories to fond and/or bittersweet nostalgic highlights that inform his present, and allowing Tom Hanks to carry the primary emotional baggage to dramatize how Otto moves beyond his decision to end it all. 

Director Marc Forster keeps the shamelessly sentimental tone, however, and how could he not? Tom Hanks is a treasure, and even though the first half of the film requires a minimal investment in The Exceedingly Obvious, the latter half allows the elder Hanks to show, by the merest dampness in his eyes, a stiffening resolve in his face, or an adjustment in his body language, that he is, indeed, a very fine dramatic actor who also wrings every last laugh possible out of his familiar comic persona. 

Truman Hanks does his best to play Otto as a younger man who meets and marries Sonja, who is played by the wonderful Rachel Keller. As she has shown in her other roles, especially on the small screen in recent years (Legion, Fargo, Tokyo Vice), Keller is a vibrant performer who is capable of extreme fire and fury. Here, the role doesn’t call for that; consequently, it’s a much quieter performance that she modulates, probably to match more easily with Truman Hanks’ limited experience as an actor. It’s the relatively rare case in which an actor is called upon to play his real-life father as a younger man, and yes, the resemblance is uncanny. (His mother, Rita Wilson, also serves as one of the producers.)

Mariana Trevino has the rather thankless role of Marisol, pregnant mother of two darling girls and a mother of sorts to her own husband, Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), who’s a bit of a lovable fool, but a loving father and a support to Marisol, to the extent that he can be. Marisol carries all the emotional burdens of her family, as well as Otto, which is a big load, but she has a big heart, so it’s all good. 

By reducing the dramatic load on Truman Hanks, the film loses out on creating an Otto who is entirely believable; lost in translation is his brilliance as an engineer and how that impacted his life and his relationship with Sonja. In its place, we have Tom Hanks, which is not a terrible thing to have, even if the film in which he stars ends up being a little bit less than it could have been, and lesser than the original adaptation.