Archive for August, 2021

Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed

Posted in Documentary with tags on August 29, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Whenever I need to relax and unwind, I queue up an episode of The Joy of Painting. There’s nothing more therapeutic than listening to the reassuring voice of Bob Ross as he manifests one of his spectacular landscapes. It’s as if he’s talking directly to you and only you. His official YouTube channel has nearly 5 million subscribers and features all 31 seasons. Best part? It’s all free! Fun fact: “Island in the Wilderness” (Episode 1, Season 29) is the most-watched segment with over 37 million views.

If this were an appraisal of his television program, I’d give it a perfect 5 stars. I am a fan. This however is a review of a documentary that debuted on August 25 on Netflix. Bob Ross was an artist on television who did an instructional program on how to draw from 1983 to 1994. Sadly he is no longer with us, having died in 1995 from cancer. Bob was talented to be sure because he could finish a beautiful oil painting in under 30 minutes right before your eyes. What made him a personality was his unbelievable calm and placid demeanor and his soothing voice. He also loved nature and this was evident when he was rendering one of his landscapes. He charmed the audience with his artistic skill but also with his gentle presence.

The words “betrayal” and greed” in the title would imply some salacious reveal that the man wasn’t as saintly as he seemed. I’m happy to report Bob Ross was just as kindly off-screen as he was on. There are some tidbits of information about his life, but nothing uncovered here is shocking. As far as I’m concerned, the biggest bombshell — dropped less than 10 minutes in — is that his signature Afro was a perm. His hair wasn’t natural! I’m gutted.

The provocative title refers to the fact that his company — which includes his image and likeness — is now owned by people who do NOT include his son Steve Ross. This has occurred through some bewildering legal shenanigans. Some of this is a bit murky because — as the investigation points out — many people declined to participate due to the fear of being sued. Bob’s half-brother, Jimmie Cox, turned his majority interest in Bob Ross Inc. over to the people now in charge of his company: co-founders Walt and Annette Kowalski. They refused to appear as well. As such, it’s an incomplete picture.

As an admirer of Bob Ross, I enjoyed the movie because I am fascinated by the man, but I wanted to know so much more. There are some biographical details I learned, so it is indeed interesting. Bob Ross and his “happy little trees” were never taken seriously by the art world. Yet director Joshua Rofé interviews art historians who respectfully discuss his wet-on-wet approach. Also known as alla prima the technique speeds up the oil-painting process considerably by applying pigment to still wet layers. The Impressionists (among others) utilized the style.

One day a more definitive profile will decide to focus more on what made this man tick. Conversely, this feature creates more questions than it answers. Then ends on a distressing note. There’s a great documentary to be made about this individual. Unfortunately, this portrait falls short.

08-26-21

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on August 29, 2021 by Mark Hobin

I’m talking about movies on talkSPORT radio with the UK’s Martin Kelner. On Sunday, Aug 22, we discussed OLD (theaters), CODA (Apple TV+), and BECKETT (Netflix). My segment begins 2 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 section (about 28 minutes from the end). Click below and enjoy!

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on August 29, 2021 by Mark Hobin

I talked about movies on talkSPORT radio with the UK’s Martin Kelner.  On Sunday, Aug 15, we discussed two playing in theaters: FREE GUY and STILLWATER. My segment begins 8 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 section (about 22 minutes from the end). Click below and enjoy!

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

Vivo

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Family, Music, Musical with tags on August 26, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Vivo has staying power. The release from Sony Pictures Animation debuted on Netflix back on August 6. Three weeks later and it’s still in the Top 3 of all movies on their streaming site. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s a brightly colored cartoon musical with catchy songs and an original story. A family looking for convenient entertainment at home could do far worse.

Vivo (Lin-Manuel Miranda) is a kinkajou that sings and dances while old and humble bandleader Andrés (musician Juan de Marcos González of Buena Vista Social Club fame) is the organ-grinder/guitarist. The charismatic duo entertains street audiences in Havana, Cuba. Then one day Andrés receives a letter from Marta (Gloria Estefan) — his ex-singing partner for whom he always carried a secret love. The Celia Cruz-esque entertainer is about to retire and requests his presence at her farewell concert in Miami. Finally! The ideal opportunity to tell Marta how he truly feels in a song he wrote just for her before they parted ways. Tragically Andrés dies that night in his sleep. Now it’s up to his pet Kinkajou to fulfill his master’s dream and deliver the tune to his unrequited love. At the funeral, Vivo meets Andrés’ widowed niece Rosa (Zoe Saldana) and her offbeat teenage daughter Gabi (Ynairaly Simo). They’re both headed back to Florida. The mammal stows away in their luggage.

Vivo is the heart of a tale that features a rather unconventional star. We the audience can understand the creature as he speaks perfect English but it sounds like unintelligible chitters to everyone else. The “honey bear” is a member of the raccoon family that is native to the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. So what’s he doing in Cuba? Well, he answers that question in the captivating ditty “One of a Kind” where he raps: “Maybe I fell in a shipping crate as a baby.” You see this is a musical with music and lyrics courtesy of none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda. The Emmy-Grammy-Tony Award winner also voices the titular personality. (No Oscar yet although he came close with “Best Original Song” for Moana). This isn’t exclusively his picture though. Kirk DeMicco who gave us The Croods directs and co-wrote the movie with Quiara Alegria Hudes (In the Heights).

Vivo has a great foundation. A flashback presented in traditional 2D animation elicits the much needed romantic nostalgia that the cold modern textures of CGI lacks. An unorthodox beginning that features the death of a beloved character is so unexpected. I was ready for something singular and bizarre. No such luck. Don’t get me wrong. It’s pleasant entertainment and the fact that this is a musical elevates my review into a recommendation.

You can best believe the creator of In The Heights and Hamilton has offered up a plethora of hip-hop and Latin music-inspired tunes. When the melodies kick in, the narrative shines. The surging “Keep the Beat” while Vivo and Gabi drift their way through the Florida Everglades is a highlight. The same goes for Gabi’s prideful declaration “My Own Drum” where she asserts her individuality.

The first half overshadows the second. Gabi’s hyper disposition grows tiresome. Seriously people who solely think they alone are distinctive (she has purple hair) while deeming everyone else to possess a cookie-cutter personality, suffer from narcissism. News flash: every single person who ever lived is a unique human being. This account succumbs to tropes and clichés as it devolves into a banal road trip adventure. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to appreciate. Those less inclined to dissect and ponder the narrative are likely to enjoy this even more.

08-11-21

CODA

Posted in Drama, Family, Music with tags on August 22, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The term CODA was coined in 1983 by Millie Brother while founding the support organization Children of Deaf Adults. However, the word can also describe a concluding passage or event. That meaning is equally relevant here. This is a heartwarming tale about a hearing girl named Ruby played by Emilia Jones with Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur as her parents and Daniel Durant as her brother, all of whom are deaf. Writer/director Sian Heder’s picture is a remake of the French film La Famille Bélier whose plot bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1996 German movie Beyond Silence.

Because Ruby is the only one in the household who can hear, she assists in the family fishing business as an interpreter with the outside world. She plans to do it full-time after finishing high school. However, Ruby can also sing and tries out for the school chorus. It turns out she is quite good. Choir teacher Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) is impressed. She’s paired up with a fellow student named Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) for a duet and a sweet romance blossoms.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. CODA is a simple saga that is honest, wise, and unassuming. The chronicle concerns a girl who triumphs through different challenges by juggling her talents and interests with the demands of her family. It’s a formulaic account, but it gives the audience exactly what they want. A powerful reminder that the most enduring movies are derivative. Three Amigos, A Bug’s Life, and Galaxy Quest are all based on the same narrative. Their blueprint — The Magnificent Seven — is an inspiration which itself was a remake of Seven Samurai. The westerns of director John Ford inspired director Akira Kurosawa. It never ends. Formulas don’t negate an artistic work. It’s HOW these elements are creatively put together that matters. CODA poignantly captures the heart with sincerity — a human life artfully presented in a way with which anyone can identify.

My empathy was fully engaged. I admit I teared up at several points. In the final 20 minutes where Ruby sings the Joni Mitchell chestnut “Both Sides Now” I was on the precipice of full-blown waterworks. The screenplay is funny too. Earlier in the story, there’s a moment where the parents are discussing Ruby’s singing career. Mother is worried. “And what if she can’t sing? Maybe she’s awful,” she says and the father quickly responds, “She’s not awful.” The mother counters with “Really? Have you heard her?”

That deft mix of emotions is a big part of why this warm and earnest movie works. Also, credit goes to a charismatic ensemble. Special mention for newcomer actress Emilia Jones in the starring role. I was surprised to learn she is from the UK. Another Brit who can do a spot on American accent. She is just fantastic. CODA won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and has gotten a limited release in theaters and through Apple TV+. It’s one of the highlights of the year for me.

08-15-21

Respect

Posted in Biography, Drama, Music with tags on August 20, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Let’s start with the fact that the Queen of Soul herself handpicked Jennifer Hudson to play her before she passed in 2018. She knew what she was doing. Jennifer Hudson is an entertainer whose life story could also form the basis of another fascinating biography. Hudson initially rose to prominence as a finalist on the third season of the singing competition American Idol in 2004. She even sang two Aretha songs on the show: “Share Your Love With Me” and “Baby, I Love You.” Despite making the Top 12, she struggled to maintain popularity with the audience and only placed seventh. Then somehow turned that relatively mediocre finish into a feature film debut as Effie White in Dreamgirls in 2006. The role garnered widespread universal acclaim. A slew of awards followed including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The accomplished Grammy-winning singer has continued to appear in films.

If it wasn’t obvious from my introductory paragraph, Jennifer Hudson is the heart and soul of Respect. She is incredibly compelling. Conversely, the production follows the rote story beats of a traditional biopic. It begins with Aretha (Skye Dakota Turner ) as a 10-year-old girl circa 1952 growing up in Detroit. We meet a domineering father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker), and a sympathetic mother Barbara Siggers (Audra McDonald). They are separated. The young girl performs to the delight of partygoers at her father’s behest with luminaries like Dinah Washington and Sam Cooke in attendance. It sounds idyllic, but her childhood was tainted by trauma and tragedy.

Aretha’s adult life had its share of difficulties. She gained notoriety but was also fraught by dark periods. These episodes are referred to as her “personal demons.” After a string of 9 albums with Columbia and no hits, she changed labels. At Atlantic, she meets veteran record producer Jerry Wexler (Marc Maron) and eventually achieved mainstream success in 1967 with her 10th record Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. The title track and the #1 “Respect” were both smash hits. Her career would take off from there. The chronicle recounts an abusive relationship with husband and manager Ted White (Marlon Wayans). After they break up she dates tour manager Ken Cunningham (Albert Jones). Along the way, the pressures of fame predictably drive her to drink. The trials and tribulations culminate with her biggest selling disc, the live gospel recording Amazing Grace in 1972.

Aretha Franklin would continue to have hits well into the 1980s. A string of successes for Arista Records included the classic 1985 album Who Zooming Who. A follow-up would include her duet with George Michael. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” was a #1 single. That kind of achievement for women of a certain age is such a rarity. I wish the film had touched on that decade.

Respect is a conventional account that offers a smattering of wonderful numbers. Of course you’ll hear the title track, which was recorded by Otis Redding first, but you’ll also learn the genesis of the arrangement. The recreation of an iconic concert where she performs the song at Madison Square Garden is mesmerizing. There’s a host of other performances each one a joy in their own right. Aretha Franklin sings “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “Chain of Fools”, “Think”, and “Amazing Grace” among them. The vocals are so good that you’ll be fidgeting in your seat waiting for the next tune. This is a 2 hour and 25-minute movie. There’s a lot of information packed in this chronicle. Truth to tell, I didn’t know much about Aretha Franklin’s life. I did learn some things, although her Wikipedia article is just as informative. Respect is a serviceable biopic that presents the highlights of a career. This works best as a Broadway-style jukebox musical where the songs are the point. Jennifer Hudson makes it worth watching.

08-17-21

Free Guy

Posted in Action, Comedy, Science Fiction with tags on August 15, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Give people a reason to go to theaters and they will. Audiences went to see Free Guy opening weekend. The prediction was that it would only do $15M-17 million due to a recent surge in the Delta variant. The reality is that it debuted well above expectations with $28.4 million. The fact that it wasn’t available on streaming — that you had to see it in a theater — certainly helped.

Free Guy is the story of a random bank teller that lives in a video game called Free City. He’s merely a background character, but then one day he becomes self-aware after seeing Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer) from afar. In the game, his best friend is Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), a security guard who works alongside him at the bank. Outside in the real world, he’s supported by computer specialists Keys (Joe Keery), Mouser (Utkarsh Ambudkar), and Millie (also played by Jodie Comer). This peripheral cipher decides to break away from his programming and make himself the hero of the game and pursue the woman he loves.

Ryan Reynolds is an actor that has made a career out of playing the talkative sarcastic smart-aleck. Here his generic personality is simply known as Blue Shirt Guy — a cheerfully upbeat nonentity with a vapid demeanor that has never thought for himself. He is a blank slate of a man whose eyes are suddenly opened. Reynolds doesn’t give a performance so much as deliver his lines loudly while mugging for emphasis. He affects the same persona he always has and this doesn’t come across as a well-rounded individual. Yet that’s exactly what the script calls for. He’s not playing a human being after all, but rather a video game character. It’s easy to laugh AT him but difficult to have empathy FOR him.

The deconstruction of one’s reality is an idea presented on the weighty shoulders of other better movies. Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Real Steel) is working from a screenplay by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn. The boilerplate story even throws in a romance solely because it’s expected. The repetitive nature of the game gently evokes Groundhog Day while the themes of repression recall Pleasantville. Meanwhile, the tale about a good-natured everyman whose life is broadcast to people throughout the planet is like The Truman Show. Given their philosophy, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that the megalomaniacal boss of Soonami Studios (insufferably overplayed by Taika Waititi) would be friends with Christof (Ed Harris) of The Truman Show.

Free Guy is a hyper-exaggerated saga so you’ll have to warm up to the film’s tone. I did but gradually. This is a self-conscious production that is constantly winking at the viewer. The account inserts numerous celebrity cameos. Most of the “stars” are from online streaming platforms YouTube and Twitch. I was blissfully unaware of their fame. There were a couple of major personalities that I did recognize. Unfortunately, the mass media callbacks kept my emotional connection at arm’s length. This is a release from 20th Century Studios. The fact that Disney is their parent company will be obvious given several high profile pop-culture gags that are fan service and nothing more. Meta-humor and Easter eggs (insidery jokes for fans) threaten to overwhelm the narrative at times.

The highest praise I can give Free Guy is that it’s an original movie. This isn’t a sequel, a remake, based on a comic book or a pre-existing video game. The action takes place in a completely new computerized action-adventure. Although, it’s inspired by violent open-world interactive titles like Grand Theft Auto. The thing is, the chronicle is not about video games per se. It concerns the way we exist and how we aspire to break out of the rut in which we may reside. The moral is “Seize the Day!” but pitched toward gamers. Overall the message is extremely lightweight, but I appreciated that Blue Shirt Guy was a force for hope and good in a city of chaos. I can get behind that.

08-12-21

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on August 14, 2021 by Mark Hobin

I reviewed two major releases on talkSPORT radio with the UK’s Martin Kelner on Sunday, August 8.  We discussed JUNGLE CRUISE (Disney+) and THE SUICIDE SQUAD (HBO Max). My segment begins 7 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 section (about 23 minutes from the end). Click below and enjoy!

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Drama with tags on August 14, 2021 by Mark Hobin

I’m still extolling the virtues of the documentary SUMMER OF SOUL (Hulu) because it’s one of the best films of 2021. That was the main movie on talkSPORT radio with the UK’s Martin Kelner on Sunday, August 1st.  Also, we discussed SILK ROAD (Hulu) which is a crime drama about the infamous website of the same name. My segment begins 3 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 section (about 27 minutes from the end). Click below and enjoy!

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

Stillwater

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on August 12, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Bill Baker (Matt Damon) is an oil worker from Stillwater, Oklahoma. He periodically travels to the port city of Marseille in France to visit his estranged daughter. Allison (Abigail Breslin) has been serving a prison sentence for the past four years. While attending university, she was charged with killing her roommate and lover for being unfaithful. Allison maintains she is innocent. She has recently learned from Patrick (William Nadylam) – a professor at the university – that a student in his outreach program overheard a man brag at a party about stabbing someone and getting away with it. In a detailed letter that she gives to her dad, Allison pleads for her lawyer Maitre Leparq (Anna Le Ny) to reopen the case. Leparq deems it hearsay and refuses. Unbeknownst to Allison, her father decides to investigate himself.

Stillwater is best appreciated as a character study. As such, it features a handful of good performances. I begin with Abigail Breslin as Allison Baker. Bill’s daughter is in jail for most of the picture. She only appears in a few key discussions during her father’s visits. Though the part is small, Breslin effectively conveys the dependence on but also alienation from her dad. Matt Damon is the blue-collar Bill. He sports a thick goatee and a tattoo of an eagle-clutched skull, but he also prays before every meal. He’s a doughy monolith dressed in plaid and always wearing a baseball cap. He rarely smiles. The misguided marketing even highlights this generic image on the poster.

Damon’s stoic mood is a choice. While it may embody an authentic person, it isn’t particularly charismatic. This is the same actor who played the sociopathic preppie in The Talented Mr. Ripley. It is a stretch given how different it is. Conversely, French actress Camille Cottin is overflowing with personality. She plays Virginie, a woman staying in the hotel room next to his in France. The woman would seem to be an unlikely ally. “Did you vote for Trump?” her friend Nedjma (Naidra Ayadi) suspiciously asks him one point. Virginie also has a young daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud) who is a memorable presence as well. Virginie agrees to help him in his quest.,

The accomplished filmmaker Tom McCarthy gave us the prestigious Best Picture winner Spotlight. The director of Stillwater himself has acknowledged that the screenplay — which he co-wrote with Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain, and Noé Debré — was inspired by the real-life Amanda Knox trial. To further emphasize that point, there was an American woman who spent time in a foreign prison. However, the developments and characters are all invented. To explain how it diverges would be to spoil what happens. I only mention these facts to emphasize this is not “The Amanda Knox Story.” The coverage of the movie has implied it contains more facts without acknowledging the major distinctions. It’s a work of fiction.

A father will do anything to prove his daughter’s innocence. That concept is the inertia that propels the account. Bill’s crusade is fascinating. Yet the narrative is a lot of other things. It’s a character study, a murder mystery, a father/daughter drama, a fish out of water tale, and even a romance. That last development occurs at a moment where the chronicle already had a clear direction. Then it exasperatingly goes off the rails before returning to the matter at hand. Stillwater is a patience-testing 2 hours 20 minutes. It’s easy to see where a half-hour could have been excised to present a more focused and powerful saga. I’ve always maintained the screenwriter plays the most important role in a film. Stillwater makes me question that idea. Some judicious editing could have made this great.

08-10-21