Month in Review: June ’19

To those people still reading or starting to read me:

This month, as in July, I’m being told by the folks behind the scenes that it’s my eighth year of “flying with WordPress” which is a pretty amazing thing. I’m not sure whether I’ll be doing anything in observance of that landmark — in the past I couldn’t help but wax lyrical about that specific day, but at eight years old this blog just isn’t quite as spry as it once was. It can’t party like it used to. Things might get as crazy as a possible new Top That! post about eight favorite movies this year or eight moments when Johnny Depp looked most like Johnny Desperate. I don’t know. Something along those lines.

The month that’s now somehow over marks the halfway point in the movie year, which is kind of crazy too. It’s as good a time as any to take stock of the year of blogging that’s been.

Thus far in 2019:

  • Most popular new post (posted this year): The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot (64 views) — who knew, with that title . . .
  • Most popular old post: TBT: Men in Black (90 views)
  • Reviews for theatrical releases: 10
  • Reviews for streamed/rented content: 8 (7 Netflix, 1 Redbox — including June’s streaming-only posting schedule)
  • Alternative content/posts: 10

Twenty-eight total posts (not counting monthly wrap-arounds) doesn’t exactly set the world on fire (not when considering back around 2013-’14 I was putting up about that many in a month!) but this more relaxed pace has been nice. With my local theater still being closed (so long, summer profits!) and the closest one being more than 30 minutes away there’s more than the usual amount of deliberating about going out these days. Plus, a number of my fellow trusted bloggers have really been making a strong case for staying home and catching up with some streaming stuff.

And that’s just what I did on Thomas J for the month of June. Let’s get into it, shall we?


New Posts

Streaming: Hold the Dark; The Wandering Earth; Unicorn Store 

Alternative Content: Top That: Seven Most Dramatic Scenes from the 2019 NBA Finals


Bite Sized Reviews 

Uncle Drew · June 29, 2018 · Directed by Charles Stone III · I enjoyed this movie apparently enough to deem it necessary to weigh in, because it was so totally unforgettable right? If you do recall, the movie basically amounts to Kyrie Irving and a bunch of other famous basketball players, both current (Orlando Magic’s Aaron Gordon) and retired (Los Angeles Lakers’ Shaquille O’Neal), dressing up as old geezers who come together to form a squad at the behest of a desperate inner-city basketball coach (Lil Rel Howery — one of the movie’s few actual actors). He needs to field a team worthy of taking down that of his arch-nemesis, Mookie (a bling-ed out Nick Kroll) in the upcoming Rucker Classic, a tournament that takes place in Brooklyn every year. If he wins the big cash purse, he may just win back the love of his ex (Tiffany Haddish) — or at least earn back the right to keep paying rent. What ensues is nothing short of the types of shenanigans you would expect from a movie that casts the “big fella” (his actual name in the movie) Shaquille O’Neal as the least-convincing karate instructor in history and Nate Robinson as a dude who’s both confined to a wheelchair and can dunk the ball like Vince Carter in his prime. A movie that is just littered in NBA-approved product placement stuck on every flat surface in the frikkin’ frame. But hey, I can’t go too hard on this road-trip comedy because while there’s not as much actual balling to be found, there was a lot more heart than I was expecting. For this basketball fan, the combination of some well-chosen NBA personalities and the script’s permanent winking at the audience — “hey, look at these seven-foot-tall men in geriatric make-up” — made for a resounding win. (3/5)

Polar · January 25, 2019 · Directed by Jonas Åkerlund · For the record, I wasn’t peer pressured into this, I watched the notorious Polar (an adaptation of some online graphic novel) on my own, albeit with more than a little morbid curiosity fueling what would turn out to be a terrible, terrible decision. Polar is one of the stupidest, most over-the-top trashy movies I have seen in some time. It’s a masturbatory aid for people with violence fetishes that made me pine for the artistic restraint of Rob Zombie. It’s about an assassin on the run after being marked as a “liability” by the very firm he was once employed by (and led by Matt Lucas’ astonishingly bad big bad). While bunkering down on the outskirts of Seattle or some shit he crosses paths with a troubled teen (Vanessa Hudgens) who happens to be the lone inhabitant of a cabin across the secluded lake. Wouldn’t ya know it, they both come into the crosshairs of Lucas’ roaming henchmen, a gaggle of tattooed idiots who kill fat people badly for pleasure and torture accountants like jackals before ultimately killing them while laughing about it. That’s the kind of movie Polar is. Utterly without class. It doesn’t have to be clean like James Bond but its sole purpose seemingly is to drive up the crassness at every single turn. It’s a one-note movie that’s badly acted, poorly conceived and just ugly all around. Director Jonas Åkerlund introduces himself as an angry infant. (0.5/5)

Fighting with My Family · February 22, 2019 · Directed by Stephen Merchant · Stephen Merchant, like many of us, probably wouldn’t last many rounds in the ring but he apparently knows his way around the arena of the uplifting sports biopic. Fighting With My Family is a familiar story about an underdog struggle but the level of conviction in the storytelling helps set it apart. British actress Florence Pugh emerges as a true star in the lead role of Saraya Jade-Bevis (better known by her ring name, Paige), a British female wrestler with aspirations to take her talents and passion beyond the rink-a-dink family business (they’re all wrestling fanatics, too). But it isn’t just her dream to be one of those famous stars she sees on American wrestling programs like the WWE, and that’s what makes Fighting with My Family deliciously (and heartbreakingly) complicated. Merchant handles the divergent paths of Saraya/Paige and her older brother Zak (Jack Lowden) with a harder than expected truth, stopping short of being manipulative or overly sentimental. While Pugh rarely puts a dramatic foot wrong as she goes from a local celebrity in her home town of Norwich to a lost soul bleaching her hair and tanning herself unnaturally in an attempt to fit in to a strange land, the performances all around are very strong and likable. From Nick Frost and Lena Headey chipping in with fun turns as the roughneck but always supportive parents, to a hilariously antagonistic Vince Vaughn as a wrestling promoter/trainer, to Lowden matching Pugh stride for stride as he handles the crushing disappointment, Fighting with My Family may tell the story about an individual’s success but it takes a true team effort to make a movie about it as enjoyable as this. (4/5)


Beer of the Month

I’ve never met a sour that I actually liked . . . until now. Flying Fish’s Salt and Sea Session Sour is quite a delight. Brewed with strawberry and lime. Extremely drinkable. I’m stoked. What’s your favorite beer? Is it a sour?


What movies are you most looking forward to in July? 

30-for-30: This Magic Moment

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Release: Thursday, April 14, 2016

[Netflix]

Directed by: Erin Leyden; Gentry Kirby

What happens when big money and even bigger egos obscure a clear path to victory? You get This Magic Moment, a documentary filled to the brim with ‘what-if’s and ‘what-could-have-been’s. In it, the flashy Orlando Magic finds itself under scrutiny for handling the Shaquille O’Neal-Penny Hardaway era with butterfingers.

Many questions are raised here, but none linger quite like the one concerning the very fabric of what the Magic were and what they could have been. How could a team that slammed the brakes on the damn near unstoppable locomotive that was the Chicago Bulls, also make so many consecutive playoff appearances without ever bringing back the hardware? Even given Shaq’s infamous superstition, there was something else going on, something other than bad luck. Senior ESPN Films producer Erin Leyden and producer Gentry Kirby, sharing directorial credits here, seek tangible explanations.

This Magic Moment jettisons viewers back to the early days of the franchise, where we see a much younger (and trimmer) Shaq being courted like the new Prince of the Magic Kingdom. His noncommittal attitude at the time foreshadowing the uncertainty that lay ahead. These days weren’t all gloom and doom of course, and while Shaq doesn’t dominate the narrative quite like one might expect, he certainly gives us plenty of reasons why the years in Orlando were the most cherished of his 19-year career. The film is as much about the organization’s failures as it is about Shaq’s trajectory from collegiate talent to world-famous personality. (In the ’90s he was breaking backboards. Now he’s the seal of approval for at least 50 products, including essentials like Dove For Men, Drone watches, Vitamin Water, Gold Bond, and — oh yes — sleep apnea masks.)

Indeed this is more Shaq’s show than anyone else’s. Even still, Leyden and Kirby budget their time efficiently enough to make room for Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway — the jelly to Shaq’s peanut butter — who, as he steadily worked his way into the national spotlight, threatened to take some of it away from the Magic’s most prized possession. Moving away from the formative years, This Magic Moment delves into the veritable pissing contest that developed between Shaq and a second burgeoning superstar, an off-court game of one-upsmanship that threatened to derail the whole enterprise. As per the life of a professional basketball player, success is typically measured based on their commercial appeal: shoe deals, new commercials, international trips to foreign lands to spread the goodwill of an American monopoly.

There’s also the whole debate swirling around whether Shaq made the right decision to bail for the sunny beaches of southern California in 1996 to become Kobe Bryant’s partner in crime on the Lakers, leaving Hardaway as the sole alpha male back in Orlando. Comments he makes in the present seem to suggest that Shaq at the very least thought it wasn’t the right one. He’s left pondering poolside with a 40-something-year-old Hardaway about what they could have done together had he stayed. How many titles could they have won if certain other things had worked out differently?

There’s a lot of emotion to be invested in this story, even if you’re not a diehard supporter of the glitz-and-glam of the Orlando Magic. Amidst all the talk of numbers, odds and probabilities, there lies a fundamentally human story about what it takes to be successful in life. And just because you find that success doesn’t mean it’s going to last.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews.

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Recommendation: This Magic Moment isn’t exactly the definitive story of Shaq but it gives viewers and fans of the game some insight into his beginnings as an NBA star. The film is made so much more watchable due to the personalities involved, and for anyone who calls themselves a fan of basketball they can’t deny Shaq was one of the biggest players in NBA history, in more ways than one. This is a commentary on the business of the NBA as much as it is a personal journey for a big-time player. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 101 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.espnmediazone.com 

The Lego Movie

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Release: Friday, February 7, 2014

[Theater]

The 7-year-old in me nearly wet his bedsheets in anticipation of the first ever full-length feature film involving his favorite toys from childhood. The essential. . . . . . . . . .e-hem. . .building blocks of my youth have come to life on the big screen in 2014 in ways I never could have imagined.

In light of this special occasion, let’s make things a little more fun in this review. I am going to style this piece in an interview format, with my 7-year-old self asking my future self what a film would be like if it were ever made, and me in the present now being able to answer all (or at least most) of his questions. In the process, I’ll let him know that the many hours he spent on the carpets building up and destroying Lego villages and whatnot were not spent in vain. (Not that they were without this film, but the arrival of The Lego Movie proves that grown-ups can have just as much fun with the stuff as kids have had for years.)

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Do you think they will ever make a movie with my Legos? I really like them, and I hope that they do that. I think it would be so cool!

 

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Hey buddy, you know what? That is a really great question. And I am here to tell you that yes, yes they will. You are going to someday be watching a movie with all of your toys and characters — and a bunch of new ones you never even thought about — brought to life.

 

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Really? Do they have any of my favorite characters in it?

 

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Well, who were your favorite characters? I seriously can’t remember who those were! Haha. If you mean things like Spaceman Benny, the little put-together shark and maybe an alligator piece, then yes. You’ll recognize a few guys. But the rest is a bunch of insanely imaginative characters that you are just going to have to wait to grow up a little more to fully appreciate. That’s a good thing, though pal.

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What happens in the movie?

 

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Welp. It mostly focuses on this regular, average-Joe Lego man named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt. . .I don’t know why I just told you that, you don’t know him). He’s an obedient little construction worker who stumbles into a most unusual situation. After a typical day at work, Emmet discovers a secret power that has been lost through the ages. He comes across this thing called the Kragle, which is a huge, enormous super-weapon that, if in the wrong hands, could destroy the entire world. When he finds it, he becomes the target of the evil Lord/President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell — don’t worry, you’ll know him later), who sends his good cop/bad cop henchman out to get him and inadvertently sets the guy on a date with destiny.

 

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. . .I’m confused.

 

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Tee-hee. It is pretty complex. But just wait until you see this thing, and learn how many different people this ordinary guy meets! He may seem like a boring old fart (like your older self is going to inevitably become) but he’s really pretty exciting to watch. Don’t be put off by the complicated situation. Little Tom, it’s actually even better because I enjoyed the film as much as you would. . .maybe even more. And I often can’t get out of my mind sometimes and think in terms of innocent things like Legoland anymore. Although, that place is pretty awesome. . .Granddad is going to take you there sometime.

 

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Is there a really bad guy in the movie? Am I going to be scared of him?

 

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There is a pretty nasty villain in the movie, yes. Scared? Hmm. . .I don’t think so. He has some funny parts and yes, he’s a real mean guy but he’s not that scary. That’s what’s so good about this movie, bud. It’s really, really clever. You’ll know who’s evil and who’s nice but there’s never a point where you get really scared. It’s just good old-fashioned fun. I swear, I didn’t think they’d be making kids films like this ever since Toy Story, but I was wrong.

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Toy Story, I don’t know what that is. . .

 

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Damn it! Nevermind. . .I had a really awesome follow-up reference there but. . .apparently YOU’RE TOO YOUNG!!!

 

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I guess. So, would mommy and daddy like this movie? To me, if they make a movie on my Legos, I don’t know how they would be interested. . .

 

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Oh man. How they would be! The Lego Movie is going to be just as much fun for them as it’s going to be for you. In fact, I’d even argue that there’s more material here for them to think on and laugh about than little kids. There’s a lot of stuff here that could go right over you youngsters’ heads. Themes like corporate greed and monopolization (big word, right?) are just as clear as the themes of believing in yourself, and not giving up on dreams and living your life as you want to. This is a classic film for all ages, in my snobby opinion. Tee-hee.

 

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Who’s the best character in the movie?

 

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Wow buddy, you’re just firing out all sorts of good questions, aren’t you? That’s a tough one to answer since there are so many people to like here. But. If I just had to make a choice, it would be the Batman character, who is voiced by Will Arn. . .you know what, it’s just someone you don’t know yet. And maybe won’t ever know. But he’s awesome because he makes fun of the Batman legend so much. It’s great!

 

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Does anyone die? I hope not.

 

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Now that is one I can’t answer man. There’s a little thing in the movie reviewing  business that we call ‘spoilers,’ information that can possibly reveal too much information about a movie so as to ruin the fun of the whole thing. So I won’t answer that one. Sorry buddy.

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What was your favorite part about the movie, and do you think I would think the same thing? Do you still like Legos twenty years later?

 

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Wow. Gosh. You know, my favorite thing about The Lego Movie was something so very simple. And so I guess I’ll answer the third part of that first: I loved, loved, loved Legos then, and I still love them to this day. The creators of that product are simply geniuses. I don’t think I have any laying around anymore, which is kind of a bummer, but I tell you, this film made me want to break out any boxes that I might still have stored at the ‘rents house. My favorite part of this movie was the way the simple shapes were realized. Those awkward, cup-shaped hands; the basic facial expressions. . .actually, some of those become more complicated in the movie, which is even better. And the fact that everything, and I do mean everything in this film is either made out of pieces of Legos or is edited using stop-motion to make the non-Lego elements move realistically (or like Lego pieces would). I’m pretty sure this is the biggest appeal for kids your age, is the Lego men. Their faces, their movements and their actions. The dialogue and story is almost more appropriate for us grown-ups.

 

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Was there anything about it you didn’t like?

 

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In all honesty, this was a pretty perfect little diddy. Actually, I shouldn’t call it ‘little.’ It is very much large-scale. It’s epic, and the marketing for it is a little unclear. Is it for kids of the now generation, or for the 80s? My guess is, given the amount of stuff covered here it’s meant for both. But sometimes it gets overwhelming. That’s not really a bad thing, but it’s definitely at times too much for a little kid like you to handle! Sorry buddy! Wait until that brain of yours develops a little bit more and maybe when you grow up you’ll understand it more. Oh wait. Too late.

 

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Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.14.20 PM What a precocious little dude you are! Aw, and that really kind of breaks my heart, because I know this isn’t possible. But yes, I absolutely would take “you” with “me” to this movie. I guess, in a way I have. Watching this movie was one of the most nostalgic film experiences I have ever had. It was remarkable what these guys have accomplished. I so badly want to be back where you are. You may not like where you are now because you have to go to bed early, but trust me. Things get a little harder later on. This movie is a nice reminder that things don’t always have to be so serious.

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4-5Recommendation: The Lego Movie is a jolt of energetic vibrance the film industry has needed for awhile. On several levels. First of all, it’s only February, so to have a movie released that is of this kind of quality seems like a rarity; secondly, it’s probably the best animated film I have seen since Toy Story, almost without question. And third, there were so many red flags I saw before this movie was coming out. My main concerns were: how could they possibly animate such limited figurines in a full-length movie? How could they maintain interest for that length of time? And even if they did that, would they just submit to being a silly, childish story that doesn’t really appeal to general audiences (which, of the three concerns I had, was the least problematic. . .sometimes dumb kid fun is what you need from a film). But Warner Brothers struck gold with this. Good for them. This is a must-see.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “A house divided against itself. . .would be better than this.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com