THE FALLOUT (2021) – Tale of Two Students Who Survive a School Shooting One of the Best Movies of the New Year


THE FALLOUT (2021) is a difficult movie to watch. But everyone should watch it.

It’s the story of two high school students who survive a school shooting and then have to deal with its aftermath. The movie is painful and raw, yet tender and funny, and it does a commendable job covering a terrifying topic, school shootings, and at the end of the day does a brilliant job capturing the individual’s fight to take back their lives, to survive the fallout of living through a trauma, all the while having to face the fact that the adults in their world are doing so very little to prevent these events from happening again.

In THE FALLOUT, which is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max, Vada (Jenna Ortega), a quirky, awkward high school student, leaves class for the girl’s bathroom and there strikes up a conversation with Mia (Maddie Ziegler), a popular and very beautiful dancer who is making herself up for picture day, when suddenly they hear gun shots exploding from the hallways. In a panic, they both huddle and hide in one of the stalls, and over the next few minutes, hear repeated gunfire and screams, believing that at any moment they will die, as the gunfire grows louder and closer.

This sequence is absolutely chilling. Writer/director Megan Park captures the terror and the trauma of the moment.

Vada and Mia survive the shooting, but what comes next is its aftermath, and having to deal with processing the emotions of knowing they almost died, of knowing friends who died, and the fear that it could happen again. Vada asks Mia if she is having awful nightmares, and Mia answers by saying you have to be able to sleep to have nightmares.

Life changes dramatically for Vada. She has two supportive parents, her mom (Julie Bowen) and dad (John Ortiz), who want to be there for their daughter but don’t really know how. She has a precocious younger sister Amelia (Lumi Pollack) who thinks Vada hates her now because Vada has stopped talking to her. Her parents encourage her to return to school, but Vada doesn’t feel safe.

Instead, she spends most of her time with Mia, as the two girls— who didn’t really know each other before the shooting— admit to sharing a bond after the tragedy and find comfort in spending time with each other. As such, Mia’s other relationships suffer, like with her best friend Nick (Will Ropp), who decides that enough is enough, and sets out to become the public face of a student drive to stop future school shootings from happening. He wants Vada’s help, but she is nowhere to be found as she spends all her time with Mia. She also turns to alcohol and drugs, as the pain becomes so intense.

But with counseling, a strong sense of herself, a supportive family, and her newfound relationship with Mia, Vada keeps fighting through the demons and pushes her way towards getting her life back.

THE FALLOUT may be traumatic to watch, but it is not an exercise in hopelessness. The lack of legal and government efforts to stop school shootings may be hopeless, but the spirit and fight in both Vada and Mia is not. It’s a difficult process, but they both deal with the fallout.

THE FALLOUT is Megan Park’s directorial debut, and it’s as powerful a debut as one would want for a writer and director. THE FALLOUT takes a tragic topic, school shootings, and tells a true and human side of its story, about two high school students who have to go on with their lives after experiencing something awful that nobody should have to endure. The film doesn’t get political, doesn’t get into the gun control argument, it just tells the story of these two girls, and as a result works very, very well.

Jenna Ortega is wonderful as quirky Vada, and if the rest of the cast wasn’t also just as good, she would have stolen this movie. It’s an honest, humorous, and spot-on performance. Ortega does what the best actors do, which is in spite of the difficult emotions inside of Vada, she makes it so the audience knows exactly what Vada is thinking and feeling.

Maddie Ziegler makes Mia a sensitive student who in spite of her good looks and supposed confidence, is in reality someone who is just as insecure as Vada. The movie works so well because of the performances of these two leads.

Julie Bowen and John Ortiz add find support as Vada’s parents, and both get some of the best scenes in the movie. The sequence where her dad takes Vada to a quiet spot in the country and proceeds to encourage her to shout and swear her feelings into the countryside is one of the more empowering moments in the film. And later, when Vada tells her mom that she is finally prepared to be honest with her about what’s been going on, her mom smiles, until Vada unleashes everything she’s been doing recently in a rapid-fire monologue which leaves Mom speechless and grasping for a large glass of wine. It’s one of the few laugh-out-loud moments in the movie, which in spite of its subject matter, does make full use of some well-timed humor.

Don’t be pushed away by its traumatic subject matter. THE FALLOUT is definitely worth your time.

It’s early in the year, but THE FALLOUT is one of the best movies I’ve seen in 2022.


NO TIME TO DIE (2021) – It’s No Time to Miss Daniel Craig’s Last Bond Movie


I finally caught up with NO TIME TO DIE (2021), the fifth and final Daniel Craig James Bond film.

Released in November theatrically, it then made its way to OnDemand/streaming services for a rental price of $19.99, and now you can rent it for a more welcoming price of $5.99. Anyway, one of the drawbacks of seeing a film a while after its initial release is word of mouth is out there and so you hear an awful lot, and what I was hearing about NO TIME TO DIE was how good a movie it was. So, there were some expectations here.

Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase. I’m happy to say that the word of mouth was accurate. NO TIME TO DIE is an excellent James Bond movie. I loved it. It’s the perfect send-off for Daniel Craig’s take on the character.

NO TIME TO DIE opens with a scene right out of a horror movie, with a young girl and her mom being terrorized by a man with a mask. The action jumps ahead to events following the last movie, as we find James Bond (Daniel Craig) and the new love of his life Madeleine (Lea Seydoux) enjoying a new life together, having survived the ending of SPECTRE (2016).

Now, the Daniel Craig Bond films tell an ongoing narrative, and the movies have all been connected in terms of plot, which is something that the previous James Bond movies really did not do. I’ve always like this, as it added some freshness to the series. However, SPECTRE is my least favorite Craig Bond movie, and so I can’t say I was excited to be sitting down to watch more of the story between Bond and Madeleine.

Anyway, as you might imagine, their new life is short-lived, as the bad guys show up to put a stop to it. Worse yet, Bond suspects Madeleine of leading the bad guys to them, decides he doesn’t trust her anymore, and puts her on a train telling her she will never see him again. Then it’s time for the opening credits. Yup, nearly thirty minutes pass before we even get to those opening credits. Sometimes these James Bond movies just need an editor! Although truth be told, in spite of the overlong prologue sequence and a total running time of two hours and forty-three minutes, NO TIME TO DIE is paced rather well, has a decent story to tell, and for me passed by quickly and didn’t feel at all like it was nearly three hours.

Back to those opening credits. NO TIME TO DIE has a theme song sung by Billie Eilish, a song that hasn’t really been shown much love. But I like it, and the lyrics definitely tie into the events shown in the movie’s pre-credit sequence.

As for the rest of the plot, it all does come together and makes sense (even the bizarre opening bit with the masked killer!), bringing closure to events from all the previous movies. Even though Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is in prison, he and his SPECTRE henchmen are still trying to kill Bond, but a new bad guy is in town, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek)…. the name sounds like Lucifer Satan with a lisp….who hates Blofeld even more than Bond does. Safin has developed an incredibly dangerous biological weapon which uses people’s DNA, and he uses it to wipe out SPECTRE, but since he can also use it to wipe out anyone he wants with ease, he’s caught the attention of MI6. M (Ralph Fiennes) is personally interested because MI6 was secretly working with this biological formula, but Safin stole it from them and weaponized it. So, M sends the new 007, a female agent named Nomi (Lashana Lynch), and Bond himself once he returns to active service, to find and stop Safin.

Which makes for strange bedfellows. As Bond tells Blofeld, if Blofeld gives him the information he needs, he will actually have to use it to save Blofeld’s life, to which of course Blofeld shrugs him off. Madeleine is also brought back into the story because she has ties to both Blofeld and Safin, and so once more Bond has to deal with his feelings for her.

At the end of day, all of these story elements work, making for a story that remains strong throughout the movie. And there are more plot points which I have not mentioned here. Overall, it is an excellent screenplay by a bunch of people: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, who directed, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Where does NO TIME TO DIE rank with the other Craig Bond movies? The best remains the first, CASINO ROYALE (2006). Most folks love the third film SKYFALL (2012), but for me the first two thirds of this movie are exceptional, but the third act drops off dramatically and just doesn’t work for me. I actually prefer the second film in the series QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) over SKYFALL. The weakest of the serious was the previous installment, SPECTRE (2015) with writing and a story that didn’t make much sense.

The other reason the previous two Bond films didn’t work for me was due largely in part to Daniel Craig’s lackluster performance as Bond in both those movies. In both those films, SKYFALL and SPECTRE, it seemed as if he had mailed it in. Gone were his sharp cold killer instincts from the first two movies. In their place was indifference. He seemed bored with the role.

Here in NO TIME TO DIE, Daniel Craig is back at the top of his game, turning in his best performance as Bond since CASINO ROYALE. It also helps that the character is placed in some new situations, and Craig is more than up to the task of taking Bond in new directions. As such, getting back to ranking, I would rank NO TIME TO DIE as the second best of the Craig Bond films, coming in right behind CASINO ROYALE.

And a large part of this is Daniel Craig’s performance. He’s an older Bond here, he’s in love, he’s bitter over what he believes is a betrayal of love, and later when he takes on the villain it’s with a deep sense of understanding of the world. In short, James Bond has learned a lot over the years, and he uses this knowledge to take down a lesser experienced villain.

I enjoyed Lea Seydoux more as Madeleine this time around than I did when she played the character in SPECTRE. Again, the writing here helps. She’s in a much more interesting and compelling storyline. In SPECTRE, she just seemed too young for Bond. But here, due largely to her performance and the writing, that thought didn’t cross my mind at all.

Lashana Lynch caught some well-deserved buzz for playing Nomi, the first female 007. She’s really good here.

I’m a big fan of Ana de Armas, and she has a small role as another agent, Paloma. She’s excellent, and the brief action sequence she gets to share with Bond is one of the best in the movie. I really wish she had been in this one more.

Rami Malek is fine as main villain Safin, although he’s not in the movie a whole lot, and so he’s not really a game changer. But when he is onscreen, he’s very good. As is Christoph Waltz as Blofeld, reprising the role from SPECTRE, although he’s in the film less than Malek.

I really enjoy Ralph Fiennes as M, and he’s every bit as good here as he always is. Jeffrey Wright returns for the third time as CIA agent and Bond buddy Felix Leiter, and like Bond in this one, gets a dramatic memorable send-off.

And Naomie Harris is back as Moneypenny, and Ben Whishaw is back as Q. It was also good to see Rory Kinnear back as Tanner.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga does a nice job with this one, and there are plenty of exciting action sequences, as you would expect to find in a James Bond movie. Car chases, thrilling fight scenes, assaults on buildings, and a very intense conclusion all contribute to A+ action sequences from start to finish.

The music also utilized the main theme from the George Lazenby James Bond movie ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969). The most memorable part of that movie, other than of course it was the first Bond film not to star Sean Connery as Bond, was that James Bond gets married, and his wife is shot dead by Blofeld in the film’s final reel. Every time that theme played here in NO TIME TO DIE, it served as deadly foreshadowing that the love story here with Bond and Madeleine was doomed to a tragic ending, and while the ending here differs greatly from the one in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, the foreshadowing is real.

And strangely for a James Bond movie, it was the love story here between Bond and Madeleine that works the best and really drives this movie along. It gives Bond motivations above and beyond what audiences are used to and shows a side of the character we rarely get to see. And it’s also realistically told from both characters’ perspectives.

NO TIME TO DIE is an excellent James Bond movie. The action sequences are second to none, and even better, the story works on a much deeper level than most Bond films, its main love story is really good, and Daniel Craig delivers one of his best Bond performances ever.

In short, it’s no time to miss NO TIME TO DIE.


Worst Movies of 2021


Welcome back! As promised, here is my list of the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021.

As I did with my Best Movies List, I’m placing an asterisk next to this one, as once again, the pandemic has prevented trips to the movie theaters from being a safe activity, and so with this in mind, I know we haven’t all seen the same movies since we are not all heading out to the movie theaters to see the same national releases. I know there are plenty of movies I missed this year.

Okay, let’s get on with it. Without further hesitation, here is my list of the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021:

10. CRY MACHO – probably the dullest movie I watched all year. Clint Eastwood directs and stars in this tale of a former rodeo star (Eastwood) who goes to Mexico to bring back his boss’s teenage son to the States, and along the way, the two form a bond in this underwhelming buddy movie. While I am in awe of Clint Eastwood, who at 91 years old, is still making quality movies, the story here in CRY MACHO doesn’t do him any favors. The storytelling is muddled, and Eastwood seems to be playing a character who is much younger than 91, although the script never makes this clear. Not much to like about this one, even for Eastwood fans.

9. FEAR STREET: PART TWO – 1978 – Yeah, I know. For a lot of folks, this second installment in the Netflix FEAR STREET horror movie trilogy was the best of the lot, but for me, it was the worst. Each part served as an homage to a particular horror movie genre, and here in FEAR STREET: PART TWO – 1978 that genre is the FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH movies. I’m going to ruffle more feathers here as well when I say honestly that I’ve never liked the FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH movies and have found them all to be particularly bad. FEAR STREET: PART TWO does a nice job capturing the feel of these movies, but at the end of the day, it’s yet another variation of teenagers at a summer camp being slaughtered in the most unrealistically gruesome of ways. If that’s your cup of tea, you probably love this movie. But it’s not mine. I prefer intelligence in my horror.

8. GODZILLA VS. KONG – Again, this is one that a lot of people really liked, but for me, even as a fan of giant monster movies, especially King Kong movies, and Godzilla movies as well, this one was simply bad. I find it difficult to understand why this movie has so many fans when its script is so weak. The human characters are all forgettable, the situations unrealistic and uninspiring, and the dialogue is pretty poor. So, all you have left are the giant monsters in combat. And even those scenes didn’t do much for me. I know the argument is out there that that’s how the old Toho Godzilla movies all were. That’s a fair argument, up to a point. What always saved the Toho films was that Godzilla and his friends all had personality. The monsters in these modern-day versions do not. Plus, movies like KING KONG (1933) and THEM! (1954) did have superior scripts. These new giant monster movies do not. Instead, the modern-day giant monster movie (mostly Godzilla and Kong these days) has been reduced to special effects only, without any interest in creating any kind of a story worth telling.

7. COMING 2 AMERICA – the original COMING TO AMERICA (1988) starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall was very funny. This sequel, in spite of the return of Murphy and Hall, is not. Next movie…

6. TYGER TYGER – this was a movie that I fully expected to like, because it was so different and quirky, with a sense of style that I thought would make it a winner. But this tale of a pair of selfless robbers who kidnap a drug addict before they all find themselves hiding out in a bizarre psychedelic city is probably better enjoyed when you’re high! Seriously! The longer this one went on, the less sense it made, and by the time it was all over, it largely had become a wasted opportunity. No pun intended!

5. THE LITTLE THINGS – in spite of the presence of Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto this one just doesn’t work. Washington plays a former detective who’s called in to help with a serial killer case, and the character he plays is known for spotting the little things others miss in these cases. Trouble is, the script barely shows him doing this. Malek plays the hotshot detective who calls in Washington for help, but the choices he makes throughout the movie make him seen anything but a hotshot detective. And Leto plays the man they suspect is the serial killer. This one should have been awesome. Instead, it’s a muddled meandering tale that gets worse as it goes along with a particularly weak ending.

4. WITHOUT REMORSE- With a script by one of my favorite screenwriters, Taylor Sheridan, I fully expected to like this adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel, but instead it proved to be Sheridan’s first real misfire. Michael B. Jordan plays an elite Navy Seal who’s gone rogue to solve the murder of his wife, only to find— of course— that it’s all part of a larger conspiracy. What. A. Surprise. Yawn.

And now, the drum roll please. Here are my Top 3 Worst Movies from 2021:

3. SWEET GIRL -Hands down, the worst action movie of the year. Jason Momoa plays a man who vows revenge against a pharmaceutical company after its “business decision” pulled a drug from the market which could have saved his terminally ill wife. So, hubby goes insane and plots to kill the heads of this company, who, while they are undesirable, probably don’t deserve to be killed. So, there’s that initial problem. But wait, there’s more! There’s a larger conspiracy! Of course, there always is. Plus, Momoa’s character against his better judgement is constantly bringing his teenage daughter with him and training her to protect herself and be an assassin vigilante like him… and then, thanks to a bizarre plot twist, his character disappears from the second half of the movie. So, yes, you have an action film headlined by Jason Momoa, that halfway through ditches its star. Ugh.

2. MADRES – the worst horror movie of the year. This tale of a Mexican American couple who move to a new community in 1970s California that seems to have a weird sinister secret involving pregnant women, doesn’t know how to get out of its own way. The film aims for a ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975) vibe but fails on both counts. This one is based on true events, and its reveal at the end is actually very good, but the problem is the film tries so hard to hide this reveal with a supernatural tale that is so lame it makes the movie completely ineffective. Had the filmmakers chosen to focus on what this film is ultimately about, it would have been a far darker, more memorable movie.

And now, drum roll please, the Worst Movie of 2021:

1. THUNDER FORCE – by far, the worst comedy of the year. Melissa McCarthy plays a woman who inherits superpowers thanks to her scientist friend played by Octavia Spencer. They then take on the world’s supervillains. Should have been funny. But it’s not. Jason Bateman fares the best as a supervillain known as The Crab. Written and directed by McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone.

And there you have it. My picks for the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021. Now, let’s move on to 2022.

As always, thanks for reading!


THE TENDER BAR (2021) – George Clooney’s Heartwarming Drama Provides Ben Affleck with Best Role in Years


THE TENDER BAR (2021) is… well, a tender drama.

Directed by George Clooney, THE TENDER BAR, now available on Prime Video after a theatrical release in December, tells the story of a young man who as a boy idolized and looked up to his uncle, played here by Ben Affleck, and rightly so, because Uncle Charlie, who’s a bartender, is there for his nephew throughout his life.

The movie opens in 1973 with nine-year-old JR (Daniel Ranieri) and his mother (Lily Rabe) returning to live with his grandfather (Christopher Lloyd) in the house his mom grew up in, and they’re doing this because things have not worked out for his mom. As JR explains in a voice over, his mom has had a very tough life, made worse by the fact that his father (Max Martini), who’s now a famous radio deejay, walked out on them and left them with nothing. While his mom is sad and depressed about having to move back in with her parents, JR is overjoyed, because it’s a home where all his cousins and aunts congregate, so he’s surrounded by family every day, and it’s also the house where his Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) lives.

JR looks up to and worships his uncle, and it’s hard for him not to, because the guy cares for him and is always there for his nephew. Charlie is a bartender, but he’s also an incredibly well-read and self-taught bartender, and so when JR tells his uncle he wants to be a writer some day, Charlie tasks him with reading every book he can get his hands on. JR is also a frequent visitor at the bar, and he enjoys a friendship and camaraderie with the regulars there. And while Charlie is well read, his philosophy of life and advice to JR, while commendable, is certainly a bit dated for the here and now in 2022.

But what makes the story in THE TENDER BAR work so well is in spite of all the hardships JR’s family endures, they are there for each other and pull for each other. The only one who isn’t there is JR’s father, who turns out to be quite the low life of a person. But not Uncle Charlie, who is always there for his nephew.

The second half of the movie jumps forward nine years to 1982 and follows a college bound JR (Tye Sheridan) adjusting to college life while questioning his future, all the while still seeking friendship and advice from his caring uncle. And while the first half of the movie works better than the second, the script by William Monahan, based on the memoir by J.R. Moehringer, remains sharp throughout and offers plenty of spot-on insights, like JR’s musings about becoming a writer, for example. He comments that to become a lawyer, you go to law school, and your degree declares you a lawyer, and all professions work like this, except a writer. No one declares a person a writer. A writer has to go out and do it, prove themselves, become published, and then they’re a writer.

I really enjoyed THE TENDER BAR, although I have to admit a personal bias to this story. The character of JR in the movie is my age, and I easily identified to the look and feel of this story in 1973, especially the scenes of his crowded grandparents’ house, as I also grew up with a grandparents’ home that was a bustling hub of relatives and was the place I loved being at. Similarly, I went to college the same years as JR, from 1982-1986, and so the look of these scenes also resonated.

But more importantly, I also grew up with an uncle like Charlie, who I looked up to and who was always there for me during these years. No, he wasn’t a bartender, but he was a supportive fan of my wanting to be a writer and shared my love for horror. So, there’s definitely a personal connection for me to the story told in THE TENDER BAR.

But even without this connection, THE TENDER BAR works.

George Clooney’s direction is spot-on. He captures the periods of both the 1970s and 1980s perfectly, and he also allows the story to be told without distractions. It’s told through the eyes of JR, both as a young boy and as a college student, and the film is consistent with this point of view. Like JR, the audience feels the caring from Uncle Charlie and the rest of JR’s family. As I said, this one really is a tender story. While Clooney is known in the business more as an actor than a director, he has directed a handful of movies. I didn’t see his previous directorial effort, THE MIDNIGHT SKY (2020), but I did see THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014), his World War II adventure, which I really liked. That being said, I enjoyed THE TENDER BAR even more than THE MONUMENTS MEN.

Clooney also just captures certain sequences so perfectly. The bowling sequence, for example, looks and feels exactly the way bowling alleys looked and felt in 1973, right down to what it felt like to be there as nine-year-old boy bowling with your uncle and his friends.

The best part of THE TENDER BAR however is Ben Affleck’s performance as Uncle Charlie. He exudes sincerity and straightforwardness. As JR says, everyone needs to have an Uncle Charlie in their lives, and Affleck’s performance makes that easy to see. He also is very comfortable playing Charlie during two different decades. It’s been a while since I’ve really enjoyed a Ben Affleck performance, probably going back to THE ACCOUNTANT (2016). This is probably Affleck’s best work in years, going back to ARGO (2012). I like Affleck a lot and hope he continues to have more roles like this.

Almost matching Affleck is young Daniel Ranieri as the nine-year-old JR. He’s fabulous, and I wish the story had been all about 1973, because then he would have been in the entire movie.

Tye Sheridan plays JR when he goes off to college, and Sheridan is fine, but this part of the story just wasn’t as interesting or as compelling as the first half. Plus, his infatuation with a fellow classmate who he wants to date and marry, is a head-scratcher because she treats him awfully throughout.

I really liked Lily Rabe as JR’s mom, and Max Martine makes for a brutal, arrogant, and thoroughly unpleasant deadbeat dad, who stands out in this story because he’s the one person in JR’s life who is a genuinely awful person.

And Christopher Lloyd delivers a fine supporting performance as Grandpa, enjoying many fine scene-stealing moments. The sequence where he agrees to go with JR to school to celebrate “dad’s day” is heartwarming.

William Monahan’s screenplay is exceptional. The writing is tight throughout, the situations realistic and agreeable, and much of the dialogue sharp and humorous. Monahan also wrote the screenplay to THE DEPARTED (2006), one of my favorite Martin Scorsese movies, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson. The one knock on the script is other than JR’s mom, there really isn’t a strong female character in the movie. THE TENDER BAR is definitely a male-oriented story. But since it is the story of a young boy and his relationship with his uncle, I didn’t have a problem with this.

THE TENDER BAR is a coming-of-age movie that tells the inspiring and touching story of the relationship between a young man and his uncle. With all that is going on in the world today, it was nice to watch a movie about people who truly looked out for one another and cared for each other.

So, stop by Charlie’s bar after work and hang out for a bit, feel the camaraderie and friendship, and watch your favorite bartender always be there for his bright young nephew.


Best Movies of 2021


Here’s a look at my TOP 10 LIST of BEST MOVIES from 2021.

As I did last year, I’d like to put an asterisk next to this list due to the pandemic. One of the drawbacks of not seeing movies at the theater, is that we don’t all get to see the same movies, as lots of smaller, obscure releases don’t always make it to the various streaming services. So, as much as I enjoyed watching movies once again this year on Netflix, Prime Video, HBO Max, and Disney +, to name a few, I didn’t get to see many of the movies that didn’t make it to these streaming services.

Hence, I know there are a lot of films from 2021 that I did not see, that I would have seen had I been able to go to the movie theaters like I used to before the pandemic struck in March 2020.

So, with that being said, here are my TOP 10 movies… all watched at home on streaming services…. from 2021:


One of the things I miss most watching movies at home, is that movie theater feeling. THE TOMORROW WAR, a science fiction action movie from Amazon Prime starring Chris Pratt, was one of the few movies I saw this year that by itself captured that movie theater feeling. This action-packed tale of humans travelling into the future to help battle invading aliens didn’t always make sense, but it was a fun ride, so much so that I could almost smell the buttery popcorn wafting through the air!


My take on this Netflix horror trilogy was completely opposite most folks, who found the third installment to be the weakest. For me, it was the best, mostly because the trilogy’s wraparound story about a witch’s curse I thought was pretty lame until this final installment where we find out its origins, and the writers flipped the story on its head, giving new insight into what really cursed the town. I really liked this revelation. The entire trilogy is uneven at best, but it finishes strong, so much so that it’s the only horror movie from 2021 to make it into my Top 10 List.


Atmospheric crime thriller by director Steven Soderbergh, starring Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, and Brendan Fraser, makes for a compelling flick.

7. MOXIE (2021)

I really enjoyed this comedy drama directed by Amy Poehler about an awkward teen played by Hadley Robinson who draws inspiration from her mom’s activist past to take on sexism at her high school. Very satisfying, strong screenplay by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, based on the novel by Jennifer Mathieu, well-directed by Poehler, who also plays the mom.


Sandra Bullock delivers a transformative performance in this Netflix drama about a woman, played by Bullock, who after serving a twenty-year prison sentence for shooting a sheriff, tries to reunite with her younger sister who has lived with a foster family the past two decades and has no memory of her older sister, while fending off threats from both those who hate her in general because of her crime, and from the adult sons of the man she killed. Dark, depressing stuff, but fiercely acted by Bullock.


One of my favorite action movies of the year. I loved this movie! It’s basically nothing more than female assassins kick ass, but the action is all so stylized and expertly choreographed. It contains some of the best action sequences I saw all year. Wonderfully directed by Navot Papushado, who charges this one with energy and pizzazz.


Wonderful period piece from Netflix, this one is much better than it sounds. Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes co-star in this tale of the historic archeological dig in the English countryside at Sutton Hoo at the outset of World War II. Awe-inspiring, awesome movie.

And now, drum roll please, for my TOP 3 MOVIES from 2021:


Another period piece, THE COURIER was actually filmed in 2020 but wasn’t released until 2021. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Greville Wynne, a British salesman who because of his dealings in the Soviet Union becomes an unlikely spy for Britain just before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Another topnotch performance by Cumberbatch, who seems to be able to play these dramatic biographical roles in his sleep.


Hands down, both my favorite action movie and superhero film of the year. Hailing from the DC Universe (sorry, Marvel, they bested you this year!) this “sequel” to 2016’s SUICIDE SQUAD is far superior to the first film. While Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, it’s Idris Elba as Bloodsport and John Cena as Peacemaker who steal the show. The real star however is writer/director James Gunn, who works the same magic he wielded with Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies, creating an energetic, innovative, and nonstop laugh-out-loud actioner that never quits. This tale of supervillains turned superheroes is a must see for all superhero movie fans, although it is rated R for some pretty intense violence and language. A helluva fun ride.

And now, drum roll please: my Number One movie from 2021:


Adam McKay’s sharp satire is so on-point that it is far more disturbing than funny. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as scientists who discover a large meteor on a collision course with Earth that will wipe out all life when it strikes in six months, but the President, played by Meryl Streep, won’t have any of it and plays fast and loose with their science, while the media simply isn’t interested in a negative story. Try as they might, they simply can’t get their message out. Eventually, when the meteor becomes visible to the naked eye, the president’s political party and followers adopt the ideology that those who want people to look up are doing so for political reasons, and their rallying cry becomes, “don’t look up!” A sad commentary on where we are as a nation in 2021 after suffering from four years of a presidential administration that also played fast and loose with the facts during a world crisis.

So, there you have it. My top 10 movies from 2021.

Coming soon, my Worst 10 Movie List from 2021.

Until then, as always, thanks for reading!


ZONE 414 (2021) – Tepid Science Fiction Movie Inspired by and Inferior to BLADE RUNNER


ZONE 414 (2021), a new science fiction movie which was just released on Netflix, plays out like BLADE RUNNER LITE.

As in oops I spilled half the cream into the coffee-kind-of-lite. Or would you like some coffee with your milk?

Yup. There’s not a lot going on here.

ZONE 414 takes place in the near future where a private detective David Carmichael (Guy Pearce) is hired by the eccentric Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel) to find his missing daughter Melissa in Zone 414, a place also known as the City of Robots. And Veidt knows a lot about this “city” because he’s the guy who created it. He is a reclusive scientist who successfully created exceedingly realistic artificially intelligent beings, and the government decided to give these beings a test run in a special area, a city now known as Zone 414, the only place on Earth where these A. I. beings exist.

It’s an insanely expensive place to visit, so only the very wealthy go there, paying for these artificial beings to satisfy their every fantasy. Veidt’s daughter, unhappy at home, and perhaps jealous that her weirdo scientist daddy spends all his time creating robots, runs away and disappears somewhere in Zone 414. Veidt doesn’t want to involve the police because he wants no negative publicity regarding 414, and so he hires David to get the job done, and he gives the detective a place to start, the name of an A.I. being, Jane (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) who was friends with his daughter.

When David finds Jane, she tells him she doesn’t know where Melissa is. She also tells David that someone out there is trying to kill her, and David decides to help her with her problem so that she will help him find Melissa. Together, David and Jane navigate through the seedy streets of Zone 414, looking for clues to find Melissa and the man who is targeting Jane, and as they do so, they begin to learn more about Zone 414.

Which would be really interesting if there actually was something to learn about! The biggest knock against ZONE 414 is its screenplay by Bryan Edward Hill. The set-up is fine. Hard-boiled detective on the case to find a missing woman in a dark underworld known as 414. This one had me at the outset. But the deeper David gets into this underworld, the only major surprise is how much isn’t there! The deep dark dirty secret behind ZONE 414 isn’t really all that deep dark and dirty.

And what is there— the highly advanced A.I. Jane struggling with her feelings and wanting to be human, for example,— has been done before and done better.

There’s a conversation in this movie between David and Veidt that perfectly sums up the problem with this story. David tells Veidt the results of his investigation, and Veidt goes off on this insane supervillianish rant about how he won’t allow David to use this information to take down Zone 414, to which David just shrugs and tells him he’s not interested in taking down anything. He just wants his money.

I felt the same way. I wasn’t interested in Veidt’s ravings either. Mainly because his creation Zone 414 is a snooze. Who cares? The real interest in this movie is simply David’s search for Melissa. It’s as simple a story as that. The rest isn’t fleshed out at all.

As such, David is the one interesting character in the movie, and he actually has a rather compelling back story involving his terminally ill wife. Guy Pearce is a really good actor, and he is solid here as the hardened former cop turned private detective David. Pearce keeps this movie from being a total snooze fest. Pearce has a ton of credits and has been in all kinds of movies and TV shows, including films like PROMETHEUS (2012), THE KING’S SPEECH (2010), and THE HURT LOCKER (2008), and shows like MARE OF EASTTOWN (2021).

I also enjoyed Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz as Jane, but her role is kind of a cliche at this point, the A.I. who wants to be really alive, and the writing doesn’t add anything new or original to her character.

The rest of the cast is okay. Jonathan Aris plays Joseph Veidt, Marlon’s creepy brother, a character who becomes more involved in the plot as the film goes along, but revelations about the character are simply meh.

Olwen Fouere enjoys a couple of interesting scenes as Jane’s weird handler, Royale, and Ned Dennehy is memorable in one scene as one of the slimy patrons of 414 who tries to bargain with David to buy Jane for a day.

The look of ZONE 414 borrows heavily from BLADE RUNNER (1982) but doesn’t look nearly as comprehensive or mind boggling, and that’s pretty much all you need to know about ZONE 414, that a film made here in 2022 pales in comparison visually to a movie made in 1982!

Director Andrew Baird does a decent job here. I mean, the film looks good, but as I just said, within seconds of watching it, BLADE RUNNER immediately comes to mind, and then as it goes along one realizes that in terms of both visuals and story it is far inferior to the 1982 Ridley Scott movie. Baird also does a good job framing David’s story, which I enjoyed. It’s just that what David uncovers is hardly worth a look, and any deep dark mysteries or secrets waiting to be revealed just aren’t there. It’s a simple crime drama mystery about a missing girl dressed up as a science fiction flick, with some tired A.I. angst thrown in for good measure.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate ZONE 414. Most of the time I was watching it I was enjoying it. Guy Pearce is strong throughout and makes David a very watchable hero, and Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz as Jane is equally as watchable as Pearce. But once David and Jane find their answers, at that point, it’s like a big shrug of the shoulders and a loud, “so what?”

ZONE 414 is a tepid science fiction movie that borrows heavily from BLADE RUNNER while remaining far inferior to its source of inspiration.

It’s worth a visit, but you probably won’t find yourself going back any time soon.


BEING THE RICARDOS (2021) – Follows One Very Stressful– and Somewhat Fabricated- Week in the Life of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz


Who doesn’t love Lucy?

With apologies to SEINFELD (1989-1998), I LOVE LUCY (1951-1957) is arguably the greatest television comedy series in the history of American television. It was a staple for me as a kid growing up, and that was in reruns twenty years after if first aired. Lucille Ball’s zany personality on the show was infectious, and her knack for physical comedy hilarious.

Today’s movie, BEING THE RICARDOS (2021), written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, is not really about the entertainment phenomenon which was I LOVE LUCY, but rather about a single dreadful week in the lives of its two stars, Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem), a week where Lucy was accused in the national press of being a Communist. And while parts of Lucy and Desi’s relationship, like how they first met, are shown in flashbacks, the film really remains hyper focused on this one very dramatic week.

And writer/director Sorkin plays fast and loose with the truth, creating a week like no other for the two stars that in reality really didn’t play out this way at all. So, you could say that it was loosely based on true events.

As such, while I certainly enjoyed BEING THE RICARDOS, I can’t say that I loved it.

As Lucy and Desi prepare to film the week’s episode, “Fred and Ethel Fight,” a radio broadcast by Walter Winchell announces that Lucille Ball is a Communist. Lucy admits to the CBS executives and sponsors that there is a shred of truth to the story, that twenty years earlier she had checked communist on a ballot in honor of her communist grandfather who raised her, but that was it, and she was never active in the party or had any interest in it other than that one checking of the box. While she is believed, everyone holds their collective breath because they know that if the national press picks up the story and sways public opinion, this could mean the end of the show and Lucy’s career.

Meanwhile, Lucy is also upset over another newspaper story, one that says Desi is cheating on her, which he of course denies. And if that wasn’t enough, Desi and Lucy announce that Lucy is pregnant, and they want Lucy’s pregnancy written into the show, which at the time was controversial for American television. The movie takes place over the course of this one exceedingly stressful week, and focuses on how it affects both its stars, as well as co-stars Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) and William Frawley (J.K. Simmons) and the series’ writers and producer. Eventually the communist story is picked up by the national newspapers, and Lucy and Desi need to come up with a strategy to deal with it, which Desi ultimately does.

As I said, this one is loosely based on a true story. While most of the events in this movie did happen, they didn’t all happen in the same week, and references to specific episodes in the series are all over the place, meaning some are mentioned that wouldn’t have even been filmed yet during the week chronicled in this movie.

I found this to be somewhat of a distraction.

I also found Nicole Kidman’s performance as Lucy somewhat of a distraction as well. Kidman is a terrific actress, and her performance is generally receiving high praise, and I somewhat agree. However, there was something about the make-up which just didn’t capture Lucille Ball to me. And as much as I enjoyed Kidman’s performance at times, most of the time I just didn’t feel like I was watching Lucille Ball. She seemed artificial.

Javier Bardem, on the other hand, fared very well as Desi Arnaz. I think he was helped here by the fact that Sorkin didn’t go out of his way to try to make Bardem look exactly like Desi Arnaz, which is what they tried to do with Kidman and Lucille Ball. As such, Bardem is free to play the role unencumbered by make-up restrictions. His performance is more natural and as a result comes off as more realistic.

I also really enjoyed J.K. Simmons as William Frawley and Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance. Simmons is always good no matter what role he plays, and Arianda made for a convincing Vivian Vance. And while Arianda has been good in such films as RICHARD JEWELL (2019) and STAN & OLLIE (2018), she’s more memorable here as Vance.

One of the themes that runs through this movie is Lucy’s love for “home.” Not a house, but the feeling of having a place to return to at the end of the day, surrounded by loved ones, and it’s something she feels she is losing during this week. Her professional “home” is threatened since her fans may abandon her, and her personal home is also in jeopardy, as she feels Desi is cheating on her.

As such, the week as depicted here in BEING THE RICARDOS is one of the worst weeks is Lucille Ball’s life. In short, she’s not at her best. In fact, she’s pretty awful, meaning that she does not come off as that likeable a character. It’s an odd choice for a story about Lucille Ball.

It also doesn’t come off as overly authentic. The week is so full of conflict and drama it doesn’t seem real. Turns out, it wasn’t. This week from hell was put together by Aaron Sorkin for dramatic purposes, and while I usually don’t mind creative license, this time it didn’t work all that well for me.

It just wasn’t handled all that smoothly. For example, Desi Arnaz’ solution to Lucy’s communist problem was to place a live phone call to J. Edgar Hoover in front of the live studio I LOVE LUCY audience where the FBI director could declare loudly that Lucy was cleared of any communist connection. Did this really happen? If you know anything about J. Edgar Hoover, in spite of the fact that he was a reportedly a fan of the show, this sort of thing just seems so out of character for a man who kept files on so many people, including Lucille Ball.

BEING THE RICARDOS should have an asterisk after its title, with the explanation that this story is being the Ricardos during the worst week of their lives.

Followed by a double asterisk.

Which says: Only, it’s a week that didn’t really happen, at least not the way it is depicted in this movie.

So, while I love Lucy, I can’t say that I love BEING THE RICARDOS, mostly because after this movie, I’m not sure I really know what it’s like being the Ricardos.