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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Is Fred Rogers the same as his character on tv
Positively ten buck worthy. Is it possible to make an intriguing, 94-minute documentary about a man who was filled with positivity and goodness — without a scandal arc to the story? 

Yes it is.
While the production of this film involves nothing revolutionary, the subject was. Old footage of Fred Rogers is the real star of this doc about about the beginnings of his PBS show and its noble purpose — giving children the tools they need to navigate the world.
The words shared in the film are good advice for adults too. Everyone alive in 2018 can benefit from seeing this huggable film and I hope it’s a success when it opens in theaters this June.
In a nutshell: Zip up your cardigan and join this neighborly good time. It's more lovable than artful, but contains a message everyone should hear. It, like you, is special.

Award potential: Filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) has won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. His clout. plus this lovable subject, should have this film on all short lists for nominees. 

It’s an unlikely winner however, as it’s not a deep subject and drags on about ten minutes too long — not that inappropriate given that Mr Rogers never was one for hurrying.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Super disappointing.  

(No spoilers.) I never expected The Avengers (2012) to be a good superhero film. Usually when one or more heroes or too many villains joined a series, it ended up like the dreadful Batman and Robin (1997), a franchise-ender filled with superstars, multiple plots and lots of reasons to look at my watch.

I was wrong. That first one, with a smart script and a balance of humor and action with characters we care about, raised the bar for the genre. It's the best one, period.

That talented team has their work cut out for them with Avengers: Infinity War, for all the reasons I thought the first one would fail. With too many heroes, each with about 10 minutes of screen time each, there is no soul to this film. Clearly, this is a film that intentionally culminates in hero-gathering chaos, to end a 10-year chapter in the Marvel Universe, but what does that leave the viewer? 

There are moments to enjoy. Seeing Cumberbatch's Dr. Strange interact with Downy Jr.'s Iron Man is delightful. I had the same reaction watching Pratt's Star Lord's inferiority complex when paired with Hemworth's Thor, and  it was riveting when they all assembled for battle. And the crowd in my cinema roared with applause when two characters just showed up. However, this does not make a movie.

My usual critique of the superhero films is that the crap ones always end with the bad guy growing large and someone throwing a special thing at it. 

The good news is — that does not happen. The bad news is that this two-parter ends on a cliffhanger, and I'm guessing that next summer, time travel is going to force us to see this whole bluh battle again, watch you-know-who die as sacrifice, and big baddie Thanos will get large just in time to have something thrown at him. 

Those Marvel geniuses have met their match. Although I know you're gonna see it anyway, the smart move is to watch this for free on cable next summer and shorten the cliffhanger time. It's a long film that puts the Infinity in Infinity War, so skip the credit closer and just read about it online.

In a nutshell: If you think the celebrity-stuffed We Are The World is a quality song, this movie is for you.

Award potential: Iron Man (2012) was nominated for Best Sound Editing. The Avengers (2012) was nominated for Best Visual Effects. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) got a nom for Best Makeup. And Logan (2017) was nominated for Best Screenplay. But there will be no Oscar nominations for Infinity Mess.

The ten buck review: Not worth ten bucks.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Quiet Place

Quiet scary.  

Listen up, horror movie lovers, the spring movie to see has landed. Director John Krasinski and his wife, actress Emily Blunt, have noted their love of Jaws (1975), and it shows in their first film together. It’s a quiet shark attack that never lets up. 

Kraskinski and Blunt portray parents of one of the few families left on an earth, which has been overrun by beastly creatures that hunt based on sound. One of the reasons they are still alive is having known sign language for their child who cannot hear. 

Emily Blunt communicates everything viewers need to know without many words to speak. Surprisingly a buffer new Kraskinski resembles action hero Ben Affleck more than The Office’s Jim Halpert. They make a great pair for this thriller. 

The nightmare begins in the first minute of the film and it is relentless until the last second. Mercifully, the film is only one hour and thirty-one minutes long. Extra good because I was afraid to eat my noisy popcorn during. 

In a nutshell: A beautifully crafted thrill ride that is best seen in the theater. (I won’t reveal why.) 

Award potential: Unlikely that a spring movie would get a nomination. Of course, I would have said the same thing about Get Out, so leave some room for Best Sound.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

Monday, April 23, 2018


For the privileged.

Prior to seeing this docu-drama, I knew only a few details about Chappaquiddick, and I sure couldn’t pronounce it.

I was age two in 1969, and I don’t think my history classes ever got past World War II, so I should note up front that my interest in this film was higher than anyone who was more studied about that infamous car accident.

Director John Curran’s film, Chappaquiddick, dramatizes the late-night drive off a bridge in Martha’s Vineyard, and the days that followed. The film is a mix of facts and speculation, told (thankfully) without melodrama. It’s a slow, thoughtful film that threatens to bore, but smartly wraps up at a relatively short 101 minutes.

It wouldn’t be a Kennedy film without leaving room for conspiracy theorizing of course, and in this telling there is only non-romantic friendship between Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke from Zero Dark Thirty and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and Mary Jo Koepechne (Kate Mara from House of Cards and Fantastic Four), and the wreck was clearly an accident.

It’s an interesting choice. By avoiding a story of infidelity or perhaps a murder cover up, the film can focus on a story of political privilege and the man who would consider a career and family legacy over rushing to save a friend.

In a nutshell: A slow burn visualization of a completely somber story. Not a lot of fun for a Friday night, but it's a great set up for coffee chat after.

Award potential: You don't release a historical drama in April if you think it has a chance of Oscar attention.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Ready Player One

Great Scott! That was fun.

In my Wishes For 2018 blog this past January, I noted that if Ready Player One was anything less than "this generation's Back To The Future," I'd be disappointed. Well, I'm not the teenager like I was in 1985, but I expect I would have loved this film if so.

Director Steven Spielberg returns to his blockbuster popcorn movie making skills again, as well as his inability to lose those Spielberg sappy endings. No matter. Eighties movie fans will love this.
Those who loved Ernerst Cline's book, such as I, can exhale. They will likely enjoy the film version as much, and appreciate that the '80s references were kept to the perfect amount of sights and sounds. A literal version of the book would have been too much. Book lovers will likely appreciate one addition not in the book— a movie-inspired twist that translates to some bloody good, lean-forward movie magic.

Those who love CGI and gaming movies should have their new favorite film as well. 

And more importantly, everyone else should get wrapped up in this story about a glimpse at a VR-obsessed future and a boy and a girl in search of three clues that could bring some 2018 back to their world.

Spielberg has expertly and lovingly captured the spirit of '80s cinema in this modern adventure. All that, and we get to see that famous Delorean in action once again. Great Scott, that was a fun movie treat for April!

In a nutshell: Get Ready. A well-loved book gets the movie it deserves.

Award potential: While this movie may qualify for Best Animated Film, Academy purist Spielberg probably won't let that happen. If remembered, it has a chance for a Best VFX nomination.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Love, Simon

Totally awesome. Whether it’s Romeo and Juliet being pulled apart by family drama, any John Hughes character battling social cliques or the Duff finding her place with the pretty people at school, teen love is filled with conflict. Yup, from West Side Story and Pretty In Pink to Clueless and Bring It On, every generation has their “high school film.” Love, Simon falls nicely into in that lively lineup. 

The conflict at hand in 2018? Simon, a gay teen in the closet, finds a social pen pal from his school who has the same secret. Neither are confident about coming out during their high school years, even in 2018.

Simon is a light comedy with no harsh edges, but with sharp writing. This is not a gritty film about the LGBT experience today. It’s a feel good, crowd pleaser with a tone not unlike Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and it's breezy fun. 

Super producer Jack Antonoff curated the soundtrack which, like his work, borrows a few beats from the eighties. Perfect for this totally awesome film. 

In a nutshell: Is it a formulaic story or this generation’s classic teen comedy? It's both.

Award potential: It's not that type of film, and too early in the year for the Academy to remember Antonoff's "Alfie's Song."

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

Friday, March 23, 2018

MoviePass - is it worth ten bucks?

MoviePass, the service that allows you to see one movie every day in 91% of the theaters in the U.S., recently dropped its price to $6.95 a month. Is it worth it? What’s the trick? 
I signed up in early 2018 and here’s what I found out about the top 12 rumors surrounding a MoviePass membership.

Rumor #1: MoviePass is difficult to use.
Answer: False 

If you can download and app and keep track of a credit card, it’s a breeze. (Sorry, Greatest Generation.) 

Here's how it works: 
After you sign up, a Movie Pass Mastercard arrives in the mail. Next, you'll download an app to search theaters, movies and times. 

Once you are set up, it’s a two-step process:
1. When you are within 100 yards of the theater, open the app and click on the movie you want to see (similar to a social check in). 
2. Step up to the ticket counter, swipe your MoviePass card and leave your money in your wallet. 

Rumor #2: Most of the good movies are blocked.  
Answer: False. I’ve seen blockbuster movies on opening night.  

You can see most any 2D movie, even popular ones on opening weekend. However, you can’t use it for 3D or IMAX movies. During my first month, the price of my opening week Black Panther ticket would have been $11.99. I covered the cost of my membership and saved myself a few bucks too.  

Rumor #3: Only a few theaters will accept MoviePass, and AMC has banned its use. 
Answer: False. Most theaters accept it at their ticket booth, gladly.  

MoviePass claims that it is accepted in 91% of the theaters in the U.S., and that matches my experience. In Dallas, AMC, Alamo Drafthouse, Angelika, Studio Movie Grill, Regal, Cinemark and others take MoviePass. Only Landmark Theares (Magnolia/Inwood) and LOOK Cinema do not participate. While AMC corporate is not a fan of CEO Mitch Lowe and his company, their public beef doesn’t trickle down to ticket booth employees who swipe your MoviePass card like any other credit card. 

Update: As notified on April 4, 2018 Landmark Theaters are now accepting MoviePass. Additionally they are offering e-ticketing so that you can reserve your seat.

Rumor #4: You wind up going to movies you normally wouldn’t. 
Answer: True  

MoviePass calls their product “bad movie insurance” because when you see a dud such as Mother, you feel better knowing that you didn’t have to pay for it. More positively, the pass does encourage you to try movies you might have waited for such as a curious documentary or a comedy that might not be worth ten bucks.  

The week before the Academy Awards, I was able to craft an event week of Oscar encores. I treated myself to second showings of Oscar-nominated films that I had paid for the year before. Yup, I saw five movies for under ten bucks that were especially enjoyable as a build up to the awards show. 

I saw some old faves too. My local Alamo Drafthouse Cinema shows classics on weeknights, so I treated myself a showing of The Fugitive to see that train crash on the big screen one more time.

Rumor #5: It’s $10 a month. 
Answer: False.  

The general answer is $10 a month. However, my own sign up was for $7.95 a month and I can cancel at any time. At the time of this blog entry, the price for new users is $6.95 with a one-time startup fee of $6.55.  

Rumor #6: You have to show up in person to get tickets — so you risk a movie selling out 
Answer: True.

This is the toughest pill to swallow and will likely separate whether MoviePass is worth it for you or not. As a city dweller, I’ve been trained to get my tickets early (and reserve my seats). MoviePass requires you to get your tickets at the theater. That can be a hassle, but I’ve been able to hack this with a little extra effort. Recently, I used the pass to get a ticket and reserve a seat for myself (and buy one for a friend) during lunch, allowing me to show up at 9:25 p.m. for the 9:30 p.m. sold out show. There are a few theaters that will allow you to reserve a seat without being yards away. In Dallas, all Studio Movie Grill locations allow you to reserve tickets from your couch at home.

April 5, 2018 Update: Landmark Theaters in Dallas now do eticketing as well as Studio Movie Grill.

Rumor #7: You can’t see the same movie more than once. 
Answer: True.  

If you were planning to see Avengers: Infinity War 30 times next month with your pass, your Spidey sense is failing you. You can only see a movie title one time, darnit.  

Rumor #8: It’s great for solo moviegoers, but not so much if you prefer group outings.
Answer: Depends.  

As a singleton, MoviePass has also made me more likely to go to movies by myself. I can make the spontaneous decision to see a movie in theaters if I have a few hours to kill.

I’ve used the pass with friends too, it just takes some coordination that is worth it some times, and not worth it other times.

If you have a significant other or bestie with MoviePass, it’s a no-brainer, gift each other a pass. If you're in your twenties, it’s likely all your friends have both Netflix and MoviePass.

Rumor #9: MoviePass collects info on its users, tracks them and sells the data.
Answer: Not exactly.  

At SXSW, CEO Mitch Lowe gave a keynote at the Entertainment Finance Forum entitled “Data is the New Oil: How will MoviePass Monetize It?” that frightened audiences. He has backtracked since, stating he misspoke at a recent industry conference. MoviePass, which is controlled by Helios and Matheson Analytics, only when checks locations when users are checking for a theater in their area and when they check in to a theater. While the company is unlikely following you for sinister reasons, MoviePass plans to use geographical information to push dinner and a movie offers from nearby restaurants. To the uninformed, this is no different than opening up Google on your mobile. Users have been able to control their tracking options within the app, but the “track all the time” option has recently been removed.

Rumor #10: It takes from 2 weeks to 2 months to receive your card 
Answer: False  

While they aren’t on par with Amazon delivery times, MoviePass seems to have recovered from their slow-to-mail stigma and their CostCo promotion overload that had the internet boiling. My card arrived in my mailbox in less than a week.

Rumor #11: MoviePass can’t buy everyone movies and it will be bankrupt soon. 
Answer: We’ll see.  

Clearly, MoviePass is losing money this year and hope that the moviegoer average (4.5 movies a year) kicks in once everyone has overused their new pass.  

While they’ve said nothing of the sort, I expect that their end game is to have a card in every hand of folks in the U.S., and then control what MoviePass pays theaters, forge deals with pre-orders on concession sales, strongarm studios for ads, sell local restaurant ads and more. Yuck overall, but this doesn’t affect you the user as much as it does your theater chain.


Rumor #12: Everyone is doing it. 
Answer: Almost true. 

It sure feels like it. At a recent visit, the ticketbuyers at the booth to my left and to my right were using a pass. 20somethings are definitely using it. MoviePass claims it is now paying for one in every 20 movie tickets purchased in the U.S., and if its projections are accurate, that figure could rise to one in every eight by 2019. Wowza.

I was suspicious of MoviePass’ too good to be true promise, but the $7.95 monthly price delivered on value, ease of use, experience — and I’ve enjoyed the flexibily of seeing a few movies I never would have seen on the big screen. 

However, my popcorn budget is up for the year.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.