Movie and Music Reviews
As a homeschool mom who wants to make history come alive for my kids, I appreciate Michael Woods' The Story of China.
With this latest installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, it struggles, and fails, to entertain.
Baby Driver is an action-packed thriller of a movie that also gives you a taste of good music, fate, love, comedy, and the life of crime all wrapped up in one.Â
PBSâs Food: Delicious Science is an educational film about both the taste and chemistry of food, and how food keeps our bodies healthy.
Diane Lane, Alec Baldwin, and Arnaud Viard star in Paris Can Wait. The movie starts out in the South of France at the Cannes Film Festival with all three characters on their way to the airport to leave for the next movie shoot. Anne (Diane) has an earache, and the pilot of the private plane warns she should not fly with ear problems.Â Jacques (Arnaud), the provincial French man and business associate of Michael (Alec), offers to drive Anne to Paris.Â She hesitantly accepts the offer and from there Jacques and Anne travel through France on a two-day road trip.Â Â They stop at various historic sites, have lunch along the river bank and slowly make their way to Paris. The scenery is beautiful and the food looks decadent and delicious.Â While the movie is a bit slow at times and the plot line is somewhat predictable, this sleepy romantic comedy didnât disappoint. Taking the time to stop and smell the roses in this hurry- and- go lifestyle was a nice change of pace.Â I would recommend this movie to anyone looking for a lighthearted film to watch. Overall Rating : B
The Mummy (2017) is the first film in Universalâs newest franchise, The Dark Universe. The movie focuses around Nick Morton, a womanizing thief of antiquities played by Tom Cruise, and Princess Ahmanet, a 3000+ year-old woman â played by Sofia Boutella â who was mummified alive as punishment for making a pact with Set, the god of Death.
Shin Godzilla is a satire of Japanese bureaucracy and a vaguely nationalistic underdog story about politicians uniting in the face of disaster, which all sounds like a terrible idea. It sounds very people-centric, and people are never the point of Godzilla. People exist only to string together the real meat of the thing, the guys in monster suits stomping on miniatures, so that the final product can pass for a halfway coherent story instead of just some chaotic scenes of rampaging monsters strung end to end. But people are also what make Shin Godzilla so fascinating. Though the film has its share of traditional Godzilla destruction, it zeroes in on the government response, which is unprepared and largely inept and also fascinating with touches of subtle comedy. Through quick cuts, dynamic camera angles, breathless dialogue, and tons of characters, the film gives the politicians their own engrossing brand of chaos. And as a commentary on the Japanese response to the 2011 earthquake/tsunami, Shin Godzilla is aspirational in a way few movies in the franchise have been since the original. It loses some steam toward the end and itâs certainly not what people expect from a monster movie, but it can easily count itself as one of the best. Overall Rating: A
When I feel like seeing what is available in new music, I check the library's website as a resource. Another, since I have Amazon Echo, is to ask Alexa to play some music; and, for example, she will respond with, "Here is some music by âThe Head and the Heart.â" That is how I learned about this group, and I have enjoyed their music. They are in the rock category, but their music is controlled, not with loud guitars or heavy drums. The vocals are controlled as well, without the yelling or screaming of lyrics that seems to be prevalent in much of today's music. Lead vocals are good, as are the harmonies. It is an enjoyable, very listenable album, well worth the try. Overall rating: A
As a fan of British movies and reader of British novels, Iâve long wanted to view the great country estates of the nobility, take a trip to the ever-mentioned Bath, and see the English countryside Iâve read about so often. The DVD England: Castles, Cottages, and Countryside promises this and more. The segment on the English âtreasure housesâ is narrated by a typically understated British narrator; the other segments are hosted by Smart Travelsâ Rudy Maxa. All episodes cover their subjects well. In the homes we are treated not only to thorough scenes of the grounds and the most splendid rooms of castles dating from Medieval times to the 1760s, but we also get to see the treasures for which each castle is famous, such as works of art, furniture, armor, an antique car collection, and hothouse plants. In some of the homes we also get to meet the current owners and even see some of the family rooms. At times the background music interferes with the narration, but Iâm not one to complain about classical music while Iâm viewing pictures of some lovely homes and countryside. This DVD delivered on its purpose of offering a better acquaintance with places often mentioned by Jane Austenâs characters or seen in British television and movies. Overall rating: B
Snatched, starring Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn, will definitely give you some laughs. I was expecting it to be more hilariously funny than it was, but I did chuckle here and there. I am not a huge Amy Schumer fan, but she does make me laugh sometimes when she is not trying to âover-doâ her jokes. Emily Middleton (played by Amy Schumer) has just lost her job and been dumped by her boyfriend right before they were leaving for their exotic vacation. Feeling impetuous, she decides to persuade her mother (played by Goldie Hawn) to take his place and go with her on the vacation to South America. Even though Emily and her mother are complete opposites, they decide to give it a try and go have a fun, adventurous time together. When they arrive, Emily meets an attractive man named James. They begin to hit it off, and he persuades Emily and her mother to go sightseeing with him. Even though this seems like a harmless invitation, they do not know what lies ahead. After they get caught up in this unbelievable, frightening situation, itâs up to the mother-daughter team to figure out a way to get out of it, and of course the end results are done with quite a bit of humor along the way. I do not want to spoil the fun, so I suggest you watch it and see what happens! If youâre feeling down, grab this flick and get a laugh or two. Overall Rating: B-
The television series Bull, created by Phil McGraw and Paul Attanasio, stars Michael Weatherly as trial consultant psychologist and licensed pilot Dr. Jason Bull, who dislikes prosecution attorneys. Dr. Bull heads the Trial Analysis Corporation team. The Trial Analysis Corporation members include a former narcotics police detective, a retired All-American football defensive lineman who has become a fashion stylist, a former New York City prosecutor, a neurolinguistics expert who is also a sex therapist, and a computer hacker. I found the methodologies used by the team to select jury members for criminal defense cases the most fascinating part of this television series. In Bull, serious criminal cases are defended; however, the mood of the show is lightened by comical interpersonal conflicts between the team and the legal community.Â Sometimes too much time is spent on interpersonal stories; more court-time drama would make the show better. Overall rating: B
Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin and Michael Caine star in this funny and timely remake of âGoing in Style.â Retirement is going well for these three gentlemen until the bank starts sending out foreclosure notices. After doing some investigating, they discover the company they had all worked for has been sold and their pension funds frozen. What develops from there is a plan to get their money back by robbing the local bank. They practice by robbing the local grocery store, and that does not go according to plan. When the store manager decides not to press charges, the plan continues to evolve with the help of a professional con artist. While the plot becomes a bit predictable, the acting is well-done and there are many laugh-out-loud moments in this film. Additional cast members Christopher Lloyd and Ann Margaret add talent in their supporting roles. Even though this movie appeals to retirees, younger generations would enjoy this film as well. Overall Rating: A
Before watching Boss Baby, I wasnât exactly certain that it would be my type of film. After watching it, I can certainly say that it wasnât. Boss Baby (featuring the voices of Alec Baldwin and Steve Buscemi, among others) is your standard childrenâs movie where the exceptional kids are required to save the bumbling parents. (The storyline was a bit more developed than just that aspect, but not by much.) While I did like the fact that the movie highlighted the importance of having an imagination and featured scenes from other works, such as Mary Poppins, Indiana Jones, and Moby Dick, I was less than impressed with some of the movieâs other qualities. For example, I was surprised (and appalled) at the amount and graphicness of the body-function humor included in the film. I was also disappointed with some of the movieâs messages involving the stereotyping of various groups of individuals, including types of company employees and those individuals that went to community colleges. In general, families with children might enjoy the film, but, personally, I was happy that my daughter is too young to have understood some of the filmâs content. Overall Rating: C-
T2 Trainspotting was probably never going to live up to its predecessor. The first Trainspotting is an undisputed classic gifted with a perfect soundtrack/sense of humor/style blend that would be just about impossible to replicate 21 years later. The fact that director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge, both returning, seem to know this is not a point in their favor. Their film uses self-awareness as a shield, with overt references to the originalâs iconic scenes and speeches to disguise a thin concept where Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh, Scotland two decades after running off with the cash his dysfunctional friends made from a drug deal. They havenât changed much â Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is in jail, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) runs both a bar and a blackmail scheme, Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still addicted to heroin. Outside some vague gestures toward what theyâve all done in the intervening years, T2 mostly relies on our memories of these characters as they were. As a commentary on aging and nostalgia, it has little to say, and as a character piece, itâs more concerned with the groupâs legally dubious antics (some of which are, admittedly, great fun) than with who theyâve grown to be. Itâs more footnote than sequel. The original Trainspotting worked because it was about learning who these people were, about how their actions affected their own lives and the lives of others. In the absence of that, T2 Trainspotting isnât about much of anything. Overall Rating: C
I saw T/N/A/FÂ on the cover of a music CD and was puzzled. T/N/A/F. No further information was available inside the case, as no booklet was included, and the rear cover only listed the songs on the disc. Itâs this kind of a mystery that leads me to do a media review. Turns out the letters mean The Naked And Famous. While it might have been interesting to learn how this group became Naked And Famous, I'm told that this is not the purpose of a media review. I am supposed to review what I thought of the music on the CD. Well, OK.Â These two words actually apply both to my acceptance of the duty I have to fulfill in doing a media review, and to my thoughtsÂ about this particular CD.Â It's better than just OK. On the first play I was not all that interested in the first song or two, but by the end of the album I liked it and feel it will be enjoyed more with a few more playings. In other words, it will grow on you. Not like a fungus, but the music was good, and the vocals were, as well. I could ramble on and talk about each song and how it may or may not affect global warmingÂ or the economy, but such evaluations should rest with the people who listen to the album. It is worth the effort. Overal rating: B+
After watching Eight Days a Week : The Touring Years, this non-fan of the Beatles has been transformed into a Beatles fan. Seeing original videos of their performances and interviews, learning about their history, and understanding their interest from the point of view of expert commentators developed my appreciation for these entertainers. The movie was a delight to watch. Director and producer Ron Howard has included photos of the young men and video of some of their appearances before they were famous; abundant concert footage of the group performing during the touring years (1964 through early 1967) and before, with many of the songs featured performed in their entirety; and footage of them composing in the recording studio. Seeing them perform and respond to interview questions, it is easy to understand their appeal. Often recent commentary from one or more of the surviving Beatles accompanies the pictures, and their observations and recollections (Paul: âWe were actually appealing to girls!â or Ringo: âFor some reason, whatever we put out â they loved!â) add to the enjoyment. The movie also revealed interesting facts about the Beatlesâ impact on segregation in the American South during the Civil Rights Movement. As a non-fan, I was interested in the movie because I wanted to understand the fascination with the Beatles. This movie answered my question well: their energy and fun are contagious. Other than some limited obscene language, it is suitable for all ages. Overall rating: A+.
With Paramoreâs newest album, the pop punk band that embodied all of our middle school angst changes up their sound. After Laughter pulls heavily from the 80s and early 90s, evoking all the neon and windbreakers your heart could desire by pairing the synth and electronica of those bygone eras with lyrics of classic emo Paramore. âRose-Colored Boyâ is a great example of the contrasting tempos and themes, and it also happens to be one of my favorite songs on the whole album; Haley Williams sings about her loss of idealism in the face of recent events while backed by a springy snare drum and keyboard to cancel out the morose tone. Similarly, âHard Timesâ strikes the listener as a feisty anthem about the difficulties in life juxtaposed with a tropical track of marimba and maracas. This change is a welcome one which, in my opinion, breathes new life into a tired genre. With two hit songs already released from this record, it seems Paramore has just hit their stride; After Laughter is sure to become a fan favorite in no time. Overall Rating: A-
I have to admit I was skeptical before watching Get Out. I had heard many mixed reviews, but I decided to watch it for myself. Get Out is definitely a mystery/thriller movie that will you keep you on the edge of your seat and wondering what is going to happen for the entire movie (minus a few unbelievable parts here and there)! The movie follows an interracial couple, Chris (DanieL Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams), who go to meet Roseâs white family for the weekend at a secluded estate in the woods. Chris feels uneasy about this visit from the very beginning because he worries that Roseâs family will not welcome or accept him since he is black. Rose assures him that her family is not prejudiced and everything will be perfect. Not too long after they arrive, Chris begins to notice some strange, disturbing situations that make him feel very uncomfortable. As the movie progresses, the welcoming, friendly ambience that he felt at first begins to disappear. Chris becomes on-edge and he begins to question if this is an environment that he wants to stay in or âGet Outâ of as quickly as possible! I will leave it at that and I recommend you watch this movie to see how it unfolds â believe me, it is quite unimaginable. If you love thrillers, I think you will enjoy this. Get ready to be very surprised!Â Overall Rating: B
Tanna is based on a true story from a Yakel village, where chiefs arrange marriages but two lovers choose a different path. Dain, the chiefâs grandson, and Wawa want to marry each other, but the Yakel and Imedin chiefs tell Wawa that she must marry a man from the Imedin village. Only the young couple can bring peace to the Imedin and Yakel people in the lush, beautiful, and dangerous surroundings of their Australasian island home.Â I enjoyed the supporting actors and the beautiful scenes in the island of Tanna.Â I found the story compelling and saw universal themes of manâs treatment towards each other. This foreign language film deservedly won Best Foreign Film by the African-American Film Critics Association. Overall Rating: B+
I have watched the animated version of this film many times over the years. I was excited to see the previews for a new version of Beauty and the Beast, and after watching the movie, I was not disappointed. Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (the Beast), and a cast of many other talented actors brings the sleepy village in France to life. The elaborate scenes, big musical productions, and the Beastâs visually stunning effects made me feel like I was watching a Broadway Play on the big screen. While the original animated version was made for a younger audience, this updated film is for an older audience.Â Gaston is more sinister and Le Fou is still comical yet with misgivings about Gastonâs actions to win Belle over. The fight scenes between the Beast and Gaston are fairly intense, especially the one at the end of the movie, and the wolves in the forest are more menacing. Some new scenes were added, such as a new song and Belleâs discovery of how her mother died. This movie was a joy to watch and I recommend it for everyone who loved the original version. Overall Rating: A+
To start this review in a completely honest fashion, I must say that I have not seen the first two films in the xXx franchise (xXx from 2002, or xXx: State of the Union from 2005). To continue the theme, I must also say that Iâm not sorry I havenât seen them. xXx: Return of Xander Cage is everything you would expect an action film to be: violent, full of bad guys, and filled to the brim with stunts. Insane stunts. Stunts that would not (and cannot) be believed. And therein lies my issue with the film: nothing in the film was within the realm of believability. For example, Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) traipsed across four separate continents and was, of course, able to speak the local language in every single one. He also skied through a rainforest, skateboarded down a mountain road, performed dirt bike kung-fu, and held a footrace in (and ON) traffic. (My husband commented that he thought my head was going to fall off from all the shaking it was doing). As far as the plot goes, the premise was a promising one: Cage was supposed to acquire a device that can control any satellite orbiting the Earth called Pandora's Box, but even that ended up being sort of lackluster. Entertaining for a while, annoying for longer, xXx: Return of Xander Cage is not something I ever need to experience again. Overall Rating:Â A+ for action, D- for believability
The word that best characterizes Spoonâs music is âsolid,â both in their ever-present backing layer of thick, punchy drums + keyboard and their general sense of reliability. Hot Thoughts is their ninth album in just over 20 years, and that workmanlike quality can sometimes overshadow what is otherwise pretty good songwriting. Though itâd be a disservice to the quality of their work to label them another Adequate Indie Rock Band, they can provoke about the same level of investment â often, their music is to be admired rather than engrossed by. Barring a handful of electronic touches and semi-experimental tangents (âPink Up,â âUsâ), Hot Thoughts finds Spoon in their comfort zone: brief, catchy, vague, and artsy without being inaccessible. Itâs not a bad place to be when it produces songs like âShotgunâ or âCan I Sit Next to You,â even if it isnât particularly exciting. Itâs not much of a jumping-in point, either â for that, see Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga or Kill the Moonlight. Overall Rating: B-
I'm a music man. Â I generally do not pay much attention to lyrics. Â But when I began a listen to "Going Backwards," the first cut on Spirit, some of the lyrics hooked my attention. I viewed the lyrics as the music progressed song to song. Â Another interesting cut for me was "Poorman." All in all, the album was good. I enjoyed the music and the singer had a decent voice and he did not scream the lyrics. Â If you have headphones and some time, this album should be an enjoyable experience. Overall Rating: B+
There are many mysteries in life and finding our reason for being is one of them. The new movie, A Dogâs Purpose, explores this quest from a dogâs point of view. The comedy-drama stars Dennis Quaid as Ethan, (with eight-year-old Ethan played by Bryce Gheisar), who saves a puppy from a hot car and names him Bailey. The two go through serious life challenges together and form a deep bond that ends when young adult Ethan (KJ Apa) has to say goodbye to the aged Bailey. But thatâs not the end â Baily reincarnates and has a wide range of life experiences with new owners, all the while holding on to his memories of Ethan and wondering what life is all about. Some perilous and touching moments take place as the movie heads toward its emotional conclusion. I thought the movie was definitely worth watching; the canine performers did an excellent job! I have to say this filmÂ did make me look at my cats a little differently. Overall Rating: A
The Icelandic indie/rock band Kaleo is back with their second album titled A/B. This quartet has been slowly garnering attention in the music scene since their debut in 2013 at South by Southwest, and the tracks on this record blend the very different genres of indie, rock, and country together into a soulful, passionate album. âNo Goodâ is the perfect song for a little confidence pick-me-up â just add black leather boots and some attitude. Slow down with the mournful rock hymn âWay Down We Go,â which laments the singersâ journey through the fiery underworld for all their misdeeds. After the lament, rebound with the clear, sweet voice of lead vocalist JJ Julius Son in âAll the Pretty Girls,â where he sings about greed and all things love. Finally, listen to the lyrical lilt of the bandâs native Icelandic in their cover of âVor Ă VaglaskĂłgi," a song about the gorgeous, green, springtime forests of VaglaskĂłgur, one of the largest forested areas in Iceland. This band has a song for just about every listener, and there is something on this CD for everyone to enjoy. Overall Rating: B+
Collateral Beauty is about a well-liked New York advertising executive named Howard (played by Will Smith) who turns into a clinically-depressed loner after the tragic loss of his six-year-old daughter. Â While his friends and co-workers begin to worry about his well-being and try to re-connect with him, he further retreats from his life. As Howard continues to mourn his daughter, he writes letters to Love, Time, and Death seeking answers to what has happened in his life. To Howardâs surprise, these abstract concepts that he writes to for answers somehow find him and respond in-person. Even though Howard is displeased to meet Love, Time, and Death, he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully-lived and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty. The storyline was a bit melancholy and not very uplifting, but it did teach good life lessons and made you appreciate the good things life can bring you along with the not-so-good things. I liked the movie and recommend it, but make sure you are ready to shed a few tears here and there. In addition, it has an all-star cast of well-known actors that keeps you intrigued. Overall Rating: B
The romantic comedy musical La La Land takes place in late 90s Los Angeles and stars Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, a struggling Los Angeles jazz pianist, and Emma Stone as Mia, an aspiring actress. The two California dreamers find each other, fall in love, and experience many ups and downs while pursuing their respective careers. The period music and dance scenes have a wonderful old-school Hollywood vibe, but this award-winning production also has wide audience appeal due to the charisma of the two lead actors. The story, the classic wardrobe, the beautiful California sets, and the skilled acting were superb. The timeless themes in La La Land will make this film a classic. I recommend this film for all ages. Overall Rating: B
Buster Moon has one last chance to save his beloved theater. His idea is to hold a singing contest with a $1,000 prize. Buster's assistant, however, mistypes the prize amount and offers $100,000 instead, so everyone wants to participate in the show. It sounds like an ordinary plot thatâs been done before, except in Sing the characters are all animals voiced by some of Hollywoodâs most talented performers. Matthew McConaughey is Buster; Reese Witherspoon is Rosita, a proud mother of 25 piglets; Seth MacFarlane is Mike, a Rat Pack era mouse; Scarlett Johansson is Ash, a punk rock porcupine; Taron Egerton is Johnny, a teenage gorilla; Tori Kelly is Meena, a shy elephant. The movie has multiple story lines that follow the characters as they all prepare for the competition, with many twists and turns and laughs throughout. The soundtrack has well-chosen songs from a variety of genres. I enjoyed this movie. Overall Rating: A
Hidden Figures focuses on the true story of three African-American womenâ Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson â who struggle to become leaders in their scientific fields while America attempts to beat the Soviet Union into space. Katherine, a mathematical genius, works as a âcomputerâ for the Space Task Group at Langley Research Center, but her male coworkersâ views of her gender and skin color force her to repeatedly fight to receive acknowledgement of her work. Dorothy becomes fearful of keeping her job due to the recent acquisition of an IBM electronic computer, so she teaches herself the programming language FORTRAN so that she might be one of the individuals who can run the new machine. Mary is forced to plead her case in front of a judge in the hopes of attending night classes at an all-white school to help her become NASAâs first black female engineer. At a little over two hours in length, Hidden Figures was a phenomenal film. The costuming and set design helped to paint a vivid picture of the Space Race era, and the all-star cast â including Taraji P. Henson, Janelle MonĂĄe, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, and Kirsten Dunst âplayed their parts exceptionally well. In addition, humor was woven throughout the storyline, which helped offset some of the filmâs heavier themes. Appropriate for the whole family, Hidden Figures in a film to be enjoyed time and time again. Overall Rating: A+
Lone Wolf and Cub is a series of six samurai films following IttĆ Ogami, a wandering assassin-for-hire who pushes his young son, DaigorĆ, along the road in a baby cart. Ogami relies on his considerable fighting skill and resourcefulness to overcome opponents, and though all the films feature simple plots, theyâre notable for their stylized, increasingly cartoonish fights. Characters leap to impossible heights. They signify their deaths with absurd red fountains. Ogami constantly reveals that heâs booby-trapped the baby cart with bladed wheels and machine guns and other weapons. Tomisaburo Wakayama portrays the character with a constant scowl and a piercing glare alongside a credible fighting ability, and in fitting with the character, the actor looks more like a villain's most powerful henchman than a traditional hero. The series does, however, fall pretty constantly into scenes of troubling sexism; you start to expect something horrible any time a woman appears onscreen, and it feels exploitive even when you consider the time period portrayed. And though the movies are filmed with style (all sweaty close-ups and striking colors and harsh shadows), they do peak early â the first looks the best, and the second is the most engaging with near-constant action. While the others (except maybe the fourth) remain quite entertaining, inventive, and admirably consistent, they donât recapture the quality of the series when it was fresh. All the films are available in subtitled Japanese, though this release also includes Shogun Assassin, an English language version that edits together parts of the first and second films. Overall Rating: B+