Space Jam: A New Legacy – A Movie Review

I found myself thoroughly entertained by Space Jam: A New Legacy as I watched it with my kids.

Look, you know what you’re getting with this. LeBron James is playing basketball with Looney Tunes characters. What more can you expect from a movie with this premise?

Is LeBron the world’s greatest actor? No, but he’s not bad. He really isn’t. And you can’t deny he’s got real charisma both on the court and on the big screen.

Furthermore, the Looney Tunes gang is hilarious. Who doesn’t love Bugs, Lola, Porky, Daffy, and the rest of the crew?

Of course, I love Warner Bros. Entertainment and all of their properties, so seeing character cameos from Harry Potter, Batman, Justice League, Wonder Woman, Iron Giant, Flintstones, Jetsons, Mad Max, Game of Thrones, Scooby Doo, and Lord Of the Rings, among many, many others, proved a delight. I hit pause several times to see who all stood courtside during the big game. Is it corporate synergy at the maximum level? Yes, absolutely. But, again, I’m not asking for much from Space Jam: A New Legacy other than to be purely entertained.

You know who was great, though? Don Cheadle. Of course, this should come as no surprise. I won’t spoil it, but he plays a major role in the movie and he gives it his all. In the span of a few weeks, I’ve seen him in a Marvel movie, a Soderburgh film, and now this. Talk about multifaceted!

And, okay, yes, LeBron isn’t winning an Oscar anytime soon (though–again–he was not bad), but the film’s plot and actual story held up. I found the tone consistent, the ending logically concluded the events preceding it, and the climax struck me as fairly emotional. For a Space Jam movie, I thought it was pretty tightly written and executed with a positive message.

In the end, I think Space Jam: A New Legacy is a fine family movie. I laughed the whole way through, loved all the character cameos, and remembered why I enjoyed Looney Tunes so much as a kid.

Gunpowder Milkshake – A Movie Review

There’s a lot to like about Gunpowder Milkshake. It’s a star-studded action movie with plenty of style and pop. Karen Gillan has paid her dues since Dr. Who, and it’s wonderful to see her in a big-budget starring role. Let’s not forget about Hollywood stalwarts such as Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, as well as up-and-comer Chloe Coleman. (Seriously, check out this young lady’s IMDB page. She’s 13 years old.) Paul Giamatti is even in this thing!

Karen Gillan plays Sam, a prestige assassin who finds herself stuck in a moral dilemma when she takes responsibility for a young girl’s safety. Though she hasn’t spoken to her assassin mom or her mom’s … eccentric … friends in years, she reluctantly goes to them for help. They help her, there’s a ton of violence, we see huge action scenes, and we get plenty of chuckles along the way.

While I appreciate the film’s verve as well as the above actors giving it their all, the tone of the movie truly confused me. Sometimes it was very heartfelt, sometimes it seemed to be a satire, sometimes it wanted to be a pure action flick, sometimes it tried to prove itself as a hyper stylized piece of art, and sometimes it came off as a comedy. I’m all for bending genre, but Gunpowder Milkshake created a jarring experience that ultimately distracted me to the point I couldn’t settle in.

Honestly, there were moments when I felt as though I was watching a bad imitation of Quentin Tarantino.

It’s such a shame, because I wanted to like Gunpowder Milkshake so much more than I actually did. I was rooting for it to be great. However, there’s plenty of room for a sequel. I will definitely give it another chance if they keep the story going on the basis of the actors alone.

HBO Max’s All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star – A Few Thoughts

HBO Max continues to air shows from BBC, this time with All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star. We picked this show to watch as a family. Like with Full Bloom, The American Barbecue Showdown, Blown Away, and The Great British Baking Show, we are fascinated by makers making things and being very nice to one another while doing so.

All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star isn’t something I initially thought I would enjoy. I honestly brought it up to my daughters because they are crafty and what could be more crafty than making jewelry, right? However, as soon as they started their first task, I was hooked. As I watched, I realized I had no idea how jewelry got made–I always took it for granted. Seeing the process proved fascinating. I couldn’t get enough.

Best of all? Like with the above mentioned shows, all of the contestants are both very talented and very cordial. They support each other, encourage one another, and conduct themselves respectably. I won’t spoil the ending, but my favorite contestant actually won, and I also believe this contestant to be the most pleasant of all the very pleasant people.

Each show is broken into two parts. The first part is a “Best Seller” challenge. The jewelers are given a brief, and then they must craft a piece of jewelry that both fits that brief and would be a bestseller in a jewelry store. This can be a difficult task because while the piece must be skillfully made and original, it also has to be mainstream enough to appeal to the masses.

The second part of each episode is always my favorite, and it’s called “The Bespoke.” In this portion, the jewelers must create a sentimental piece specifically made for a special person. Seeing the joyful reactions of the recipients, as well as the winning jeweler’s emotional response, is always a moment guaranteeing the feels.

I understand that on paper this show may not sound like your thing, but trust me when I tell you that it is well made, the participants are engaging to watch, the pieces are exquisite to behold as they evolve from nothing into heirlooms, and the whole tone of the show is simply a joy.

You can find All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star on HBO Max.

Black Widow – A Movie Review

Let me put it simply–it was worth the wait.

We just finished watching Black Widow on Disney+. It’s full of story, full of action, full of humor, and full of heart. I have to be honest–I’m stunned.

I honestly didn’t think we needed a Black Widow movie. Obviously, I was wrong.

I promise not to spoil anything here as I review the film.

Though I won’t reveal when Black Widow takes place, I felt it was perfectly positioned in the MCU timeline. It answered a lot of questions about Natasha’s past, but it also revealed a fresh, captivating look at the character as we knew her. The story, in other words, did everything it needed to do and more. It exceeded my expectations.

The action blew me away. The first half of the film felt more like a spy movie such as Bourne or Bond than a super hero film. Tons of fight scenes, tons of car chases, tons of things blowing up–incredible. Truthfully, there were moments when I said to myself, “She’s got to have a concussion by now,” but I didn’t care. I suspended that disbelief and simply had a great time.

Speaking of having fun–it’s a fun movie full of humor. Yes, you read that right. Somehow, amidst all of the action and serious story concepts, there’s a lot of laugh-out-loud moments. It was nice to see Scarlett Johansson get to let Natasha breathe a little. The stakes were always so high for the character in the Avengers movies, other than a few one-liners, we never got to see her like we do in Black Widow. You’ll understand what I mean.

Think about the fact that, other than Scarlett Johansson, virtually everyone else in Black Widow is new to the MCU. Yet these new names include actors such as Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and Rachel Weisz. These are very, VERY good actors who are, more or less, sharing the screen with Johansson in some capacity for the majority of the film. The chemistry between these four actors is a blast to watch, and without them Black Widow would have virtually none of its heart. I knew Harbour could be funny, but I had no idea Pugh had such comedic timing. Plus, Pugh is keeping up step for step with Johansson in terms of action. And Weisz? She’s been showing us how it’s done since The Mummy over twenty years ago.

Finally, I will NOT reveal anything about Taskmaster other than to say it was so cool to see the mimic aspect of the powerset. I loved this character in the comics and, while you simply can’t translate Taskmaster directly to film, I thought they did a great job with the imitation abilities.

Black Widow absolutely holds its own as an MCU movie. If this is indeed Scarlett Johansson’s last performance as Natasha Romanoff, she’s ending with a peak performance!

The Tomorrow War – A Movie Review

I honestly had no idea what to expect from The Tomorrow War. Chris Pratt is always a little hit or miss with me. I love Sam Richardson, but I’ve only seen him in funny movies. I also love J.K. Simmons. I only knew Betty Gilpin from GLOW, a dramedy. I’d never heard of Yvonne Strahovski. The director, Chris McKay, sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place his name.

Anyway, I figured what the heck. The trailer showed time travel and monsters, so that’s really all it took for me to give it a shot. (In addition to Sam Richardson, of course.)

Though The Tomorrow War is FAR from perfect, I still very much enjoyed it.

The premise is that soldiers from the future come to the present in order to recruit ordinary citizens to fight aliens back in the future. They’ve literally run out of people, so now they are drafting those from our era in order to keep fighting. Chris Pratt, a science teacher and former combat soldier, is one such draftee. He must leave behind his little daughter and loving wife in order to save the future, and none of them believe they’ll ever see each other again.

Once Pratt’s character arrives in the future, things get both visually spectacular and a little hard to accept. On the one hand, the special effects look amazing with horrifyingly beautiful aliens. On the other, I simply could not believe that a platoon of regular men and women from 2021 would be able to fire an automatic weapon, much less operate as a cohesive unit. After all, they had virtually no training and still wore their street clothes.

However, after that initial hiccup, the movie took some very interesting twists and turns. Yes, The Tomorrow War is part comedy, part sci-fi action film, part drama, part horror movie, part war flick, part family saga, and part social commentary, but it’s ALL entertaining. Really, in the end, isn’t that what you want?

By the way–Chris McKay? He directed The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie. Things are making more sense now, right?

Truthfully, The Tomorrow War triggered far more emotions that I anticipated. I don’t care for Chris Pratt as a sex symbol, but I really liked him as a dad just trying to do the right thing. I also found the dynamic between J.K. Simmons and Chris Pratt quite interesting. And, as you know, Sam Richardson owned every scene that featured him. Unfortunately, Betty Gilpin found herself underutilized. If you want to see her full range, check out GLOW.

Furthermore, I mentioned that I didn’t know Yvonne Strahovski. She ends up doing a LOT of emotional work in this film, and she pulled it off well. I still don’t know where she came from, but I think she’s got a solid future in acting ahead of her. (UPDATE: I’ve since realized that she is Serena Joy Waterford from The Handmaid’s Tale. No wonder she’s so good! Obviously, she’s already had a very successful career and will continue to do so.)

The Tomorrow War is literally all over the place. Yet, I have to say that it delivered a fairly tightknit story that, as far as these kinds of stories go, mostly made sense. Obviously, when time travel is involved, nothing makes sense, but you know what I mean.

One more thing–The Tomorrow War looks great. The effects are amazing, the aliens appear grounded in reality, and the cinematography is visually striking. Sometimes these heavy effects movies don’t quite look right on the small screen, but not so with The Tomorrow War. Amazon got it just right for our living rooms.

If you like action movies, Chris Pratt, time travel stories, J.K. Simmons, special effects, or monster movies, I think you’ll get a kick out of The Tomorrow War. If nothing else, just watch it for Sam Richardson.

No Sudden Move – A Movie Review

I watched No Sudden Move on HBO Max last night frankly because I wanted to watch an actual movie and it seemed like the best option available. I also knew Steven Soderbergh is a celebrated director, and that fact, coupled with an impressive cast, made it an easy choice.

Set in the early 1950s, No Sudden Move is about two men hired (along with a third) to hold an accountant’s family hostage as the accountant retrieves a document from his boss’ safe. At that point, things move oddly fast for a movie called No Sudden Move and the story becomes more and more complex with each passing moment.

In the end, I can certainly say that I enjoyed No Sudden Move. However, I enjoyed it primarily due to the cast. Don Cheadle put on quite a mesmerizing performance. He’s understated in No Sudden Move, yet captivating at the same time. Benicio Del Toro was also interesting to watch. Furthermore, you’ll see Brendan Frasier, Julia Fox, Kieran Culkin, Amy Seimetz, Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta, and a surprising performance by David Harbour.

The cars, set pieces, and clothing also gave the movie a sense of reality that helped the audience to engage. Furthermore, Soderbergh, as is his fashion, consistently chose unique angles and perspectives for his shots. At times I thought they were a little overdone, but for the most part it’s a beautifully shot film. You’ll also notice that he seems to play with lenses to some degree.

I can’t claim to have been smitten with the story, though, because half of the time I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on. Soderbergh does not reveal the big picture until the very end, and while it ultimately (mostly) made sense, I felt as though the audience could have been clued in a little sooner. It is only because of Cheadle and Del Toro that I just rolled with it–I simply enjoyed watching them act.

In the end, I recommend No Sudden Move for the performances. Watching all of these gifted actors will move the film along even as the plot is not clearly evident.

Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine – A Book Review

Though Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine is one of the wackiest books that I’ve ever read, it has burrowed into my heart and will stay there for quite some time.

It won’t reside in my heart because it’s sentimental to me or because it imparted upon me some important life lesson. No, it’s special to me because it is so bold, so outlandish, so concise, and so awkwardly funny.

The story revolves around an unnamed and incredibly unreliable narrator who is in her early twenties. She’s decided to use the classic novel Treasure Island as her “how-to” guide in life. However, the book doesn’t really delve into Treasure Island as much as you might think.

Rather, we witness our narrator steamroll her way through life while mistreating her sister, mother, father, boyfriend, boss, friend, and former friend. She would fit right in among the characters of Seinfeld, but she would be the one without even a hint of self-awareness or morality.

As the book progresses, Sara Levine, the author, keeps upping the stakes in terms of ridiculousness. At times, Treasure Island!!! is laugh out loud funny, yet it never crosses over into the impossible. Absurd? Definitely. Unlikely? Maybe. Possible in real life? Yes!

Part of what makes Treasure Island!!! so charming is its brevity. This a short book–a novella. Truthfully, I don’t think I could spend more than 172 pages with this narrator; she would overstay her welcome. However, because it’s such a quick read, the narrator manages to worm her way into your heart before you can become totally disgusted by her antics.

I applaud Sara Levine for creating such a character. Despite all of her unlikable traits, the narrator is quite charismatic, and though the story is borderline ludicrous, it manages the balancing act well enough to be an enticing read.

As you can plainly see, I recommend Treasure Island!!! as your next read.

Luca – A Movie Review

Quite honestly, when I sat down with my daughters to watch this movie, I had virtually no idea what it was about. We wanted to do a movie night, we all generally like Disney Pixar films, Luca was pretty new, and so we decided to go for it.

The animation immediately caught my attention–it is beautiful. This, of course, is in large part due to the scenery. Most of this movie takes place in brightly lit underwater locales, on a lush island, or in a quaint little town I assumed to be somewhere in Italy. Every scale, every pebble on the beach, every thread of clothing, every wave–it’s all exquisite.

I also loved the timelessness of the film. Other than the Vespa and a train, there is no real indication of a specific time period. I believe the Vespa arrived in 1949, if Google is to be trusted, and so that gives Luca a very wide range, which, to me, was very much part of its charm.

However, I have to admit that the story took a while to really catch my interest. Once the primary theme became evident, though, I found myself captivated. I won’t spoil the specific plot, but the movie ends up examining childhood friendships that take place in those early teen years. Those are the years when one is still a bit of a child, but also a bit of an adult, and friendships can be very complex as a result. I adored the complicated friendship between the three main characters, the loyalty they had to one another, and the difficulties each experienced as they had to ultimately walk their own path.

Of course, I’ve just made Luca sound far heavier than it actually is. Disney Pixar is notorious for inducing tears, but, in the case of Luca, if one does cry, it will be due to joy. To me, this is a feel-good movie celebrating everything that is good about friendship.

By the way, there’s some great voices in this film. Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan were inspired casting as Luca’s parents. The kids–Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Emma Berman–delivered the emotional and comedic beats quite well. Oh, and I challenge you to pinpoint Sacha Baron Cohen as you watch Luca. I couldn’t believe it when I saw his name in the credits!

I definitely recommend Luca as a fun, wholesome, funny movie for the whole family to enjoy.

The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of the Wild – A Few Thoughts

You may remember that I recently got back into video games. I started with The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I then moved on to Super Mario Odyssey. After beating both of those games, I decided it was time to take on the one game that seems to be everyone’s favorite on the Switch – Breath Of the Wild.

I’ll admit that I was initially intimidated to play this game. I don’t have a ton of patience when it comes to video games, and I’d heard that Breath Of the Wild takes hours upon hours upon hours to learn, much less beat!

What I didn’t realize was that all that time spent learning the game would actually be an amazing experience. Breath Of the Wild teaches you how to play it incrementally and subtly to such a degree that you don’t even realize it is happening. You’ll go from having no idea what to do next to suddenly having an instinct for each new move you should make.

Be aware that the game is epic. You are freely roaming a landmass that – I’ve read – is equal to about 26 miles. However, as you’re walking through prairielands or following a forest trail or climbing a mountain, you’ll marvel at the sheer beauty of the graphics, the intricacy of the details, and the ease of gameplay.

Furthermore, this is not a button-masher game. You will learn strategy, and you’ll use that strategy. You have to find and cook food to restore health. You have to both buy and sell goods in order to replace supplies. You’ll even have to collect every weapon you can find because almost every single weapon you have will eventually break with prolonged use. I even bought and furnished a house in the game!

If you think you’re an impatient gamer, like I thought I was, do not be alarmed. Though that all may sound tedious, it’s absolutely quite fun.

Believe it or not, I actually beat the game. Of course, if you personally know me it will come as no surprise that I did so by total accident. I was simply exploring the area where the final challenge resided and suddenly found myself face to face with the supreme villain. I opted to just go for it, and, to my own surprise, managed to defeat him.

If you have a Nintendo Switch, I wholeheartedly recommend The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of the Wild. You will spend weeks – if not months – playing it, and you will love every minute.

P.S. I absolutely used the Internet to figure out some aspects of the game. The teenagers in my life told me there’s no shame in doing so. If you’re a causal gamer returning to the fold like me, use those tools the Internet provides.

Mare Of Easttown – A Few Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoy listening to Chris and Andy from The Watch, and they immediately lauded Mare Of Easttown as soon as they could–before it even debuted, if I’m not mistaken. Because they were so excited for it, my wife and I made sure to catch it as soon as the first episode aired.

We were instantly hooked.

I promise not to spoil anything when I say that Mare Of Easttown is about a small town detective who is personally battling difficulties even as tragic events continue to unfold around her. There are two major mysteries to be solved in this series, which may or may not be connected, yet the show is more about Mare and her fellow Easttowners than anything. These are people who have grown up together, laughed together, cried together, lived together, and died together. The story drives relentlessly forward with the mystery plots, but it also gracefully takes the time to reveal nuggets of history among all of these characters. Yes, the show does indeed reveal the solution to both mysteries, but, perhaps more importantly, it offers a resolution for Mare and her fellow cast of characters.

Speaking of characters, everyone is superb on this show. Kate Winslet plays Mare as tough, plain, damaged, and charmingly unlikable. However, Julianne Nicholson, Jean Smart, and Evan Peters also deliver expert performances. In fact, everyone–and I do mean EVERYONE–truly makes every piece of dialogue count. This is a show performed by talented professionals.

I won’t lie–Mare Of Easttown is sometimes hard to watch due to violence and gore, yet it never crosses the line. It never veers into the gratuitous, nor does it become blatantly distasteful. It is a show for grownups, though, so be advised.

Mare Of Easttown initially flirted with the Broadchurch method of making everyone seem like they could be guilty from episode to episode, but they relaxed that tendency as the show progressed. In fact, many viewers were probably surprised by how quickly things started wrapping up by episode five (of seven).

If you’re looking for a satisfying show that has real heart as well as an interesting story, I strongly recommend Mare Of Easttown on HBO. In fact, you can watch the first episode for free HERE.