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My Top 10 Films of 2019

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2019 by Mark Hobin

On this, the last day of 2019, I reflect back on 365 days of movie watching and pick the 10 films that affected me the most (PLUS an additional 10 that just missed that list).  I keep a ranked list throughout the year, but it can be a bit arbitrary when deciding between two films that each got 4 stars and you have to place one above the other.  Needless to say, I enjoyed everything on my “Best of” list very much.

Click the link to reveal…

* MY TOP FILMS OF 2019 *

It has been great seeing all of these movies, but it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have an audience with whom to share my passion. To all who read my blog, like my posts and keep the conversation going, I am truly grateful.

Thank you!

Wishing you a HAPPY NEW YEAR in a fresh decade that begins with 2020!


My Top Films of 2018

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2018 by Mark Hobin

On this, the last day of 2018, I reflect back on 365 days of movie watching and pick the 10 films I enjoyed the most (PLUS an additional 10 that basely missed that list). I re-read all of my reviews to jog my memory, but it can be a bit arbitrary when deciding between two films that each got 4 stars and you have to place one above the other.  Needless to say, I enjoyed everything on my “Best of” list very much.

Click the link to present…

* MY TOP FILMS OF 2018 *

It has been great seeing all of these movies, but it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have an audience with whom to share my passion. To all who read my blog, like my posts and keep the conversation going, I am truly grateful.

Thank you!

Wishing you a HAPPY NEW YEAR in 2019!


My Top Films of 2017

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2017 by Mark Hobin

On this, the last day of 2017, I reflect back on 365 days of movie watching and pick the films I enjoyed the most. I re-read all of my reviews to jog my memory, but it can be a bit arbitrary when deciding between two films that each got 4 stars and you have to place one above the other.  Needless to say, I enjoyed everything on my “Best of” list very much.

Without further ado, click the link to present…

* MY TOP FILMS OF 2017 *

It has been great seeing all of these movies, but it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have an audience with whom to share my passion. To all who read my blog, like my posts and keep the conversation going, I am truly grateful.

Thank you!

Wishing you a HAPPY NEW YEAR in 2018!happy-new-year-2018-greetings


Patti Cake$

Posted in Drama, Music, Uncategorized with tags on September 14, 2017 by Mark Hobin

patti_cakesSTARS4Allow me to sing the praises of a film nobody saw. I’ll play a little defense first though. Patti Cake$ doesn’t present an original plot and chances are if you’ve seen any showbiz tale, you’ll know where this is headed. I could summarize the premise with a sentimental slogan: rags to riches, a triumph of the spirit, follow your dreams. Take your pick.  They all apply. Even the hip-hop milieu doesn’t really make this unique. Hustle & Flow and 8 Mile did this too. That still doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. We already know pizza tastes good and yet we still keep eating it. It’s all about the ingredient and Patti Cake$ is made from dope fresh ingredients.

A New Jersey woman seeks fame and fortune as a rapper. As Patti Cake$, one of her many aliases, this heavyset white girl comes from humble beginnings. She’s a bartender at the local watering hole. Actress Danielle Macdonald is the arrival of an exciting new talent. As Patricia Dombrowski, the Australian actress slips into the role of this American girl like she’s lived it all her life. Patti has a facility for rhyming. She is a naturally charismatic performer. An impromptu rap battle in a parking lot is a lively game of one-upmanship. Her vocal defeat of a bully in a war of words is truly rousing. It’s fun to watch this plus size talent put one over on her critics. We truly care about her and that’s perhaps the key component as to why this film is so successful. She also can rap with style and skill throwing down beats with the facility of a pro. You never question her authenticity as an artist.

Patti is surrounded by an appealing cast. Her best friend is Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay). His announcement of her entrance over the loudspeaker at the pharmacy where he works is an amusing bit. He calls her Killa P but her local haters call her Dumbo, a cruel shortening of her last name. Nihilist punk performance artist Basterd, the Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie) unexpectedly becomes a member of their inner circle later on. He conveys a lot by saying very little. There’s also Patti’s mother Barb. She often drops by the bar where Patti is working.  She always has a few shots and then she sings for the patrons. New York cabaret performer and comedian Bridget Everett plays a part that invites both admiration and pity.  You see she also once had dreams of being an entertainer as well.  Barb has a great voice but her musical sets usually end with her in the bathroom, head over the toilet bowl.  Barb’s mother, who Patti’s calls Nana, lives with them as well. She’s memorably portrayed by Cathy Moriarty, who was Vicki LaMotta in Raging Bull.

There’ a reason why these inspirational stories keep getting made. When they’re good, they inspire the soul. Patti Cake$ has heart, joy, and emotional heft.  This is simply a heartwarming story about woman becomes a rapper. The tale is predictable, but it’s done as well as any I’ve seen detailing this kind underdog tale. A key element is the music. The songs are fantastic. Her rag tag group of friends come together to make her debut CD, yes a CD, this girl is old school. The film does a great job at showing the creative process. The way the songs come together is very organic. Even her grandmother has some input. “PBNJ” is the standout cut but “Tuff Love” is the climactic song that underscores an emotionally poignant finale. I will concede rap may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, it’s difficult not to get caught up in this young woman’s journey. There’s something rather affecting about this unassuming hero. It’s hard not to root for the longshot. I was really taken by Danielle Macdonald as this young woman. I hope to see much more from this remarkable actress.


My Top Films of 2016

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2016 by Mark Hobin

On this, the last day of 2016, I reflect back on 365 days of movie watching and pick the films that were among my favorites. I did use my star ratings to guide me, but how do you place one film above another when they both got – let’s say 4 stars?   Two films right next to each other may be a somewhat arbitrary ranking.  Needless to say, I enjoyed everything on my “Best of” list very much.

And so without further ado…

(Drum roll please)

* MY TOP FILMS OF 2016 *

It has been a fun year going to the movies, but it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have an audience with whom to share my passion. To all who read my blog, like my posts and keep the conversation going, I am truly grateful.

Thank you!

Wishing you a HAPPY NEW YEAR in 2017.

Good Luck!

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Love & Friendship

Posted in Uncategorized on June 5, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo love_and_friendship_ver2_zpsddbpzlbk.jpg photo starrating-4stars.jpgLady Susan is a fairly obscure, early novel by Jane Austen written around 1794. Never submitted by the author in her lifetime, it was later published in 1871, well after her death.  Given that background, you might think this is inferior Jane Austen. Compared as written works to Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice, that is undoubtedly true. However as a production in the hands of Whit Stillman, it becomes a superlative rumination of Regency manners and mores.

Love & Friendship is a period piece that concerns the widowed Lady Susan Vernon. The woman is a bit of a coquette. She seeks a second marriage that will be beneficial for herself. She has set her sights on Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel). Meanwhile she attempts to push her less polished daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) into a relationship with wealthy idiot Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). The central role is a most peculiar creature — a woman to despise for her scheming but also to admire for her perseverance. She possesses a societal reputation for flagrantly manipulating men regardless of marital status. The Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearain) has benefited from her company. In the hand of the beautiful Kate Beckinsale she is a devious flirt. The actress, all too often found in skin tight leather gear, gets a chance here to actually act and show her formidable talent. Her sister-in-law Catherine Vernon, as played by the excellent Emma Greenwell, sees through her charade while her brother-in-law Charles (Justin Edwards), does not.

Love & Friendship is a wonderfully crafted story that will charm Austen fans with its wit and sparkling wordplay. The script is a marvel with pleasantries and barbs doled out in equal measure. The individuals Jane encounters are sophisticated, educated and polite, but overly mannered to the point of being finicky, almost uptight.  Director Whit Stillman exploits an erudite segment of society that other filmmakers would relegate as side characters for comedy. Yet Stillman, like Woody Allen or Wes Anderson, brings them to the fore. He has such love for these people. Even when he is making fun of their foibles, there is a palpable admiration for their temperament as well. That makes his comedy less hostile and more satisfying. The age of Jane Austen is perfectly suited to Whit Stillman’s aesthetic. His The Last Days of Disco in 1998 was a period piece set in the 1970s.  Regrettably, the director has never made a costume drama from the 18th century until now. It’s about time he did. The era suits him to a T. Let’s hope he returns.



Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family, Uncategorized on March 6, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo zootopia_ver3_zpsel0s8nq8.jpg photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgDisney has long been a force to be reckoned with – a studio with a laudable history that invented the idea of a full length animated film. I am a fan. A career resurgence began in 1989 with the release of The Little Mermaid and continued on through the ensuing decade. Since 2000, the Mouse House has released respectable work of various highs (Big Hero 6) and crushing lows (Chicken Little) but nothing that has really pushed the medium to the next level. As great as beloved titles like Tangled and Frozen were, they were still a reworking of traditional princess fairy tales. Since 1995, Pixar has taken on the mantle of raising the bar. Now with Disney’s 55th animated feature film, they have done something innovative. They’ve brilliantly captured the political zeitgeist and manipulated it into an entertaining adventure involving the police, race relations, and diversity. A lot of people contributed to Zootopia. Jared Bush and Phil Johnston wrote the screenplay but a jaw dropping group of eight writers receive story credit. That’s usually cause for alarm, but their vision remains surprisingly focused. That the achievement feels effortless and light is an amazing balancing act that deserves kudos.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is one message, but the narrative is rather astonishing in its ability to a tackle a seemingly simple moral with utter depth. It’s the tale of an anthropomorphized animal kingdom starring one “dumb bunny” Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and one “sly fox” Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). But those nicknames aren’t who they really are. This concerns how each must transcend the stereotypes that they are beset with. Predator vs. prey is the line that divides them, but this is a new age. In Zootopia, predator and prey exist side by side. They have learned to set aside their differences and co-exist in peace. The smartly crafted story has a distinct moral. This thriving metropolis separated into distinct communities. Like New York City, Zootopia is a dazzling municipality divided into boroughs.

The filmmakers have fun with these settings. The fantastic world designed is a character in and of itself. The breathtaking depth to which they have created a fully realized world is impressive. The districts feel like living breathing environments. Each habitat sustains the climate required by the animals that live within. There’s Little Rodentia, a neighborhood that caters to mostly tiny rodents. Polar bears live in freezing Tundratown. Desert mammals like camels exist in hot Sahara Square. Jaguars, otters and sloths live in Rain Forest District and then there’s Savanna Central which is the downtown central hub where everyone converges.

According to Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons), “In Zootopia, anyone can be anything.” The cast is a splendid collection of characters each imbued with a captivating personality that uniquely enhance their visual design. Particularly memorable are Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) as the blustery head of the Zootopia Police Department (ZPD) and Assistant Mayor Bellwether (Jenny Slate) a sweet sheep, sympathetic to Judy Hopps plight. Judy wants to be a cop but no rabbit has ever done that line of work. The ZPD is run by large mammals, such as rhinos, elephants and hippos, and lions. Through sheer determination and an assist by the diversity program Judy achieves her dream. There’s a lot jokes that use scale as a way to highlight how challenging it is for these various animals to co-exist in the same world. When Judy Hopps became the first rabbit on the police force, you truly appreciate why her accomplishment is so commendable. Conversely watching Judy pursue a suspect around Little Rodentia, it gives you an appreciation for how tiny this district really is. She’s initially assigned parking detail but soon circumstances intervene and she’s on a real case to help Mrs. Otterton locate her missing husband.

The fun is in the way Disney employs the DNA of pop culture to produce this massive homage. Inside jokes abound that will require multiple viewing to catch them all. Previous Disney films that appropriate animals with human qualities are inspirations. The Jungle Book and Robin Hood are obvious influences. Nick Wilde could be Robin Hood’s fox twin. Like that feature, the animals are completely anthropomorphic. They walk upright, wear clothes, drives cars and converse with one another exactly like people, yet still keeping their bestial behaviors – like a twitching nose – intact. Some individuals recall other cartoons as well. Officer Clawhauser (Nate Torrence), a police dispatcher, is a cheetah that suggests Snagglepuss’ upbeat temperament. I was getting Pete Puma vibes from a laid back yak named Yax (Tommy Cong). His scruffy mane covers his eyes while flies buzz around his head. Far out man. But the pop culture allusions don’t stop with animated titles. Some personalities even cite live action. A diminutive mole Mr. Big is a mob boss straight out of The Godfather. A drug operation is run by two rams named Walter and Jesse. Even some adults will miss that as a Breaking Bad reference.

Zootopia manages to address racism, the crack epidemic and how authorities use scapegoating to supplement their power by instilling fear of marginalized groups.  Whew!  No it’s not subtle, but it isn’t heavy-handed either. What makes the lesson so palatable is in the details. Visually it’s a marvel and if it my review were based solely on spectacle, it would be enough. Zootopia goes deeper by catapulting the ongoing discussion of prejudice to the front and center of a Disney cartoon. There’s so much subversive wit. Calling a bunny “cute” is not acceptable, unless it’s coming from another bunny. Judy finds Nick “articulate” but he finds the remark more condescending than complimentary. A characters can’t refrain from touching the woolly sheep’s hair. The way the observances are manipulated into the animal world is funny and incisive. It’s difficult to be both.

For all its ability to undermine established stereotypes, the film isn’t above exploiting them as well. There’s good natured ribbing at the expense of clichés of the zoological kingdom. Faraway rural Bunnyburrow is affected by a wildly expanding population. Wolves can’t resist baying at the moon the second someone howls first. The sloths are slow and work at the DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles). The “sly”fox is indeed a con man. Oh but he wasn’t always this way. He transcended that stereotype as a child but ultimately succumbed to it thanks to overwhelming societal pressure to be anything more. Disney’s most politically motivated movie ever is a trenchant reflection on diversity. No the predator vs. prey allegory doesn’t stand up under intense scrutiny. What then do the carnivores eat if not other animals? That is never addressed. It’s easy to get bogged down in how the symbolism to our world doesn’t hold up. The fable is better appreciated as a morality tale that addresses topics very much in the zeitgeist. Living in harmony is possible. Our strengths and weaknesses can complement each other. The takeaway is – respect your fellow man.


Daddy’s Home

Posted in Comedy, Uncategorized with tags on January 6, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo daddys_home_zpsmwctg3sm.jpg photo starrating-halfstar.jpgI wasn’t going to review Daddy’s Home. I absolutely hated it. So much that I didn’t even want to ever think about it again. But then it became a hit. Since Dec 18th Star Wars: The Force Awakens has loomed large over everything else at the multiplex. That makes the success of Daddy’s Home even more incredible. While Oscar hopefuls like Concussion, Joy, The Big Short and The Hateful Eight all compete for an audience, this meager comedy outperformed them all with $120 million dollars. I can no longer ignore this. It has incurred my wrath.

It’s a sad coincidence, but Will Ferrell actually managed to co-produce the 3 worst movies I saw in 2015. No joke. Daddy’s Home, Get Hard, and Welcome to Me were the very dregs of everything I saw. It wasn’t always this way. Will Ferrell was once a favorite of mine. I consider Elf, Blades of Glory and Step Brothers to be among the funniest comedies of the 2000s decade. I even liked The Other Guys, the last flick he made with Mark Wahlberg – his onscreen co-star here. That makes his recent output all the more depressing. He can do better.

Brad (Will Ferrell) is married to Sara (Linda Cardellini). Right from the start we learn Brad cannot produce children of his own because his groin was subjected to x-ray radiation at the dentist. The script thinks it is important that we know he is infertile. The implicit-association is that he is defective and enfeebled. He is, nonetheless, a loving stepdad to her two young children. The children, who come across as ungrateful brats, hate him anyway simply because he isn’t their real dad. Megan draws a picture of Brad with “homeless man poop” on his head. However after 6 months of sycophantic behavior, Brad is finally starting to fit in with the family. That is, until the kids’ biological dad (Mark Wahlberg) decides to show up and re-enter the picture. Dusty is presented as a more handsome, athletic, macho dude that rides a motorcycle and knows the coach of the Lakers. He ingratiates himself back into their lives much to the consternation of Brad.

This is probably a good time to point out that that the entire narrative is based on a battle of egos to determine male superiority. Brad is unceasingly shown as not being able to measure up to stereotypical standards of masculinity. Will Ferrell has built a career on being an affable buffoon. He’s always been a passive milquetoast, a cloying entity desperately seeking approval. Daddy’s Home relies on those character traits, but here he amps up the obsequious sensibilities of his character to the point it becomes embarrassing. As his feeble attempts to win his stepkids’ love intensify, the more pathetic he seems.

I’ve never been a fan of comedies that derive laughs at the expense of a poor sap who is the obvious butt of jokes. It’s a very low form of humor because it relies on the degradation of another human being. Will Ferrell is a virtual whipping boy of ugly and mean-spirited humiliation. In fact, he’s emasculated to such a degree it becomes excruciating to watch. Despite the evidence that Brad is a nice guy, everyone comes to favor Dusty over Brad. This includes his boss (Thomas Haden Church), the handyman (Hannibal Buress), and the fertility doctor (Bobby Cannavale). Even his own wife (Linda Cardellini), who originally wanted nothing to do with the freeloader, is seduced by Dusty’s self serving ego-driven shenanigans. Here’s where the plot defies logic. Apparently Dusty thumped his chest the loudest.

Tonally Daddy’s Home is an unholy union of raunchy humor unconformably shoved into an account concerning children. Nowhere is this more disturbing than when Dusty improvises a fairy tale to the kids about the “real king” and the “step-king” in a way that paints Brad in a negative light, including the relative sizes of the men’s “swords”.  I’m trying to figure out where the script hits rock bottom and I think sexual innuendos in a children’s bedtime story is the nadir. If this schizophrenic mishmash were only guilty of being painfully unfunny, then I could have dismissed it as just another lowbrow farce. Yet the screenplay has the unmitigated gall to tack on an inspiring coda at the eleventh hour that retrofits this dirty adult comedy with an uplifting moral. You see Brad’s fathering skills ultimately redeem all of his male deficiencies. That this appalling piece of filth eventually shapeshifts into a kid-friendly sermon makes the film too pernicious at which to even gaze. No one should see this vile film. Avert thine eyes!


My Top Films of 2015

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2015 by Mark Hobin

On this, the last day of 2015, I reflect back on 365 days of movie watching and pick the films that were among my favorites. So now without further ado…

(Drum roll please)

* MY TOP FILMS OF 2015 *

It has been another fantastic year for movies, but it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have people like you that share my passion. To all who read my blog, like my posts and keep the conversation going, I am grateful.

So thank you!

Wishing you a HAPPY NEW YEAR in 2016.

May it be your best ever!

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Posted in Uncategorized on November 5, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Legend photo starrating-3stars.jpgIt’s 2 Tom Hardys for the price of 1. That should be the tagline of Legend, the new biopic about the Krays from American director Brian Helgeland (A Knight’s Tale, 42). He also adapts the screenplay from John Pearson’s 1972 book The Profession of Violence. Twin brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray were two of London’s most notorious gangsters in organized crime. Going from protection rackets and extortion in 1950s to West End nightclub owners in the swinging 60s, they mixed with celebrities and politicians alike becoming personalities in their own right. Legend is a fairly entertaining tale that recounts the rise and fall of the Kray twins. Thankfully our chronicle begins with the brothers already in power so we don’t have to suffer through some hackneyed stuff about their childhood. They’re a formidable entity right from the start, instilling fear into everyone with whom they do business. They’re even seeking to expand their bid for supremacy with some mobsters from across the pond.

Tom Hardy is hands down the MVP of the picture. He plays both brothers in separately shot scenes aided by the use of some digital trickery. Ronnie is an unstable gay paranoid schizophrenic and Reggie is his equally unstable, but much more suave and debonair brother. Reggie pursues pretty ingenue Frances Shea (Emily Browning), the sister of his driver. As the girlfriend, she is a pleasant girl who ultimately becomes his wife. However the decision to make her the narrator for everything that happens is odd. Having her recount their inner-gangland affairs is awkward since she’s rarely present during those events. It’s a simplistic style choice that trades on an overall lack of depth for beaucoup gloss.

Clearly the main selling point of Legend is a pair of gangster performances from British actor Tom Hardy. The scattered and superficial biography is sustained by juicy twin roles that impressively come across as two totally different people. The framework allows for him to really chew scenery in a compelling way. Reggie is by far the better characterization in terms of charisma. He’s a brooding, commanding presence. Impatient Ronnie, on the other hand, is a bit cartoonish. He tosses off intentionally funny one-liners that appropriately induce laughter but also cheapen the seriousness of the rest of the production. Hardy ‘s garbled elocution is actually reminiscent of his portrayal of the supervillain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.

A few of the Krays’ criminal dealings are depicted. For example, the murders of George Cornell (Shane Attwooll), a member of the rival Richardson gang, and criminal hitman Jack the Hat (Sam Spruell), do occur. Unfortunately all too often Legend focuses on the less interesting subject of Reggie’s marriage to Frances Shea. Certainly there is no derth of bloodshed. The account is indeed violent. It’s just that the narrative is fashioned around a triad of performances that occasionally veers into soap opera when it should focus on the twins rule of terror. In addition to the aforementioned Emily Browning, Tom Hardy is supported by an able cast including actors Colin Morgan, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, David Thewlis and Chazz Palminteri. They’re all great, but make no mistake. This is Tom Hardy’s show.