June 17, 2019



Wishful Thinking

3 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

film critic


Three wishes. It sure seems like a lot. One would think you could solve all the world’s problems as well as a few of your own if a genie granted them to you. But after mulling director Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the “One Thousand and One Nights” Arabian folktale Disney first treated us to in 1992, I’m still not certain how I’d proceed. Are you sure you can’t wish for more wishes? Yeah, I know, I know. That’s the way it has to be. You see, it’s all part of a built-in lesson about hopes, aspirations and the human condition, brought to the silver screen here in fine fettle.


Rated PG and boasting a bevy of positive beliefs, with special emphasis on the leadership roles it passionately affirms are rightfully waiting for the fairer sex to assume, it’s just the sort of film I’d want to take my daughter, Erin, to when she was little. Surrounding and intertwining the ennobling messages with engaging music, several wittily conveyed performances and bedazzling art direction, it all makes for a fulfilling experience at the Bijou. Plus, for folks like me who are always looking for parodic jabs at our current powers that be, replete with a happy path to extrication from their besmirching of all that is good and decent, like the commercials for Prego proudly asserted, it’s in there, too.


Fact is, this age old tale, with roots speculated to emanate from both Chinese and Arabian cultures, brims with political science theory that, alas and alack, never grows old. In this permutation, the elderly Sultan (David Negahban) bemoans having no male heir to his throne. Thus he falls vulnerable to the evil, inveigling spell of his Grand Vizier, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who not only wants the old dude’s job, but the hand of his comely daughter, Jasmine, effectively portrayed by Naomi Scott. Making no bones about it, not just yet, except in melodic soliloquy which essentially intones ‘I am woman, hear me roar,’ Jasmine is confident she’d be a sultan extraordinaire and a godsend to the good citizens of Agrabah.


Of course this Grand Vizier doing his Rasputin/Sherriff of Nottingham riff on government overthrow just won’t do…not if Jasmine and Aladdin, a clever street urchin masquerading as a prince courtesy of one rub of the magic lamp, have anything to say about it. Though at first led to believe that the apple of his eye is but her majesty’s handmaiden, our title hero, invigoratively played by Mena Massoud, soon agrees with the princess that she isn’t just chopped liver, and that there’s no reason why the royal succession should shun her. But as the Sultan reminds, the constitution says it’s a no-no. While you have to give His Majesty credit for revering the document before then convincing him to amend the chauvinist rule for the good of his kingdom, we can’t help but reflect on how our own grand document is being marginalized.


Whereas “Aladdin” has a brilliantly astute genie to intercede and direct wishful traffic, it occurs that we in the 50 states might benefit from some wise and altruistic intervention. And truth be told, I’d be all for Will Smith, who plays the genie with scene-stealing aplomb, to step from the screen, “Purple Rose of Cairo”-style, and give us a bit of a hand out here…perhaps toss his hat in the ring, and then, at an opportune moment during the Big Debate, flourish some of his genie powers. That’d give ‘em what for.


Such is how my mind wandered as I watched “Aladdin’s” richly filled treasure chest of enlightened dreams….each scene in one way or another aimed at convincing us that hope prevails. The idea is, once people make up their minds to do the righteous thing, it’s only a matter of time before they’re on the road to realizing their profound potential.


Note that history has been perennially punctuated with fables of every stripe to remind us of our inalienable rights, just in case some narcissist comes along and tries to convince us that we exist only to adulate him. The would-be oppressor invariably promises a great future as only he and he alone can provide, right then and there quashing any thoughts of a glorious destiny courtesy of our own self-determination. It is a dark part of human nature that must be battled regularly.


Hence, a cheery, uplifting illumination like “Aladdin,” both spiritually beneficial and a reminder of our civic responsibility, should be seen at least twice a year, or every 5,000 negative thoughts…whichever comes first. A knowledgeable populace with the commonweal at heart, appearing en masse at the polls, is ostensibly as powerful as any genie’s lamp. And there, as all tyrants fear, is the rub.

“Aladdin,” rated PG, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Guy Ritchie and stars Will Smith, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott. Running time: 128 minutes





“John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum”

How Can I Kill Thee? Let me Count the Ways

1 popcorn

By Michael S. Goldberger

film critic


There are two things in this world that really confound me. Nope…it’s not wondering what the secret of life is. I’ve got that figured. It’s to get a Ferrari. And it isn’t how many angels can you fit on the head of a pin, either. Fifty-six, I reckon…same as DiMaggio’s hitting streak. No…the first of my dual quandary is, how anyone in America isn’t repulsed by the administration currently besmirching the sanctity of democracy down in Foggy Bottom? The second dilemma that really has me scratching my head is why on Earth someone would want to see director Chad Stahelski’s “John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum?” I concur with Hesh Horn, my longtime moviegoing companion, that this ignominious, violence-saturated cauldron of ugly swill should be listed in The Guinness Book of Records for possessing the greatest number of individually perpetrated killings in any one movie. It is mind-boggling.


Of course, parsing it all out, citizens used to scamper for tickets to the Roman Coliseum to see lions eat Christians. And while it’s not as openly popular as it once was in the U.S., I betcha there aren’t more than three degrees of separation between your Uncle Mel and someone who knows where there’s a good cockfight Saturday night. Yeah, yeah, it’s some sort of recessive gene that goes back to our days in the primordial mud, way before Shakespeare, Groucho Marx and Cole Porter illustrated that there are much nicer amusements than watching  two pelt-attired cavemen try to snap off each other’s heads. But I tell you, Skip, I’m a bit tired of making excuses for the rather patchy evolutionary trip we humans are taking to that ultimate goal of becoming a breed of humanistic menschen.


But worse than that despondency is the gnawing realization that the same percentage of folks unconcerned with the current yoke wrapped around the neck of our republic isn’t really into the idea of a greater destiny. Apologists for the Dog-Eat-Dog set contend that one has little time to ponder a higher realm of existence when it’s all they can do to put food on the table. Thus the frightening horror that I fear I’ll see if I lift the rock from this socioeconomic conundrum is that it’s just easier to eat lots of Cheetos, drink massive quantities of beer and watch mind-numbing movies like “John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum” than to be a Braveheart and make all sorts of sacrifices for a beneficent civilization that you may never even live to see.


Adding insult to the societal injury movies like the John Wick franchise commit, this is big business. It has grossed $53 million as of this writing, and it’ll play all summer before going on to the really big money that movies make in the post-theater convenience of our dens. Hey, I like a buck as well as the next guy. But even when the cigarette industry knew it was killing countless millions, they kept us puffing. And now, global warming is discounted, as Mr. Gore assured, as an inconvenient truth. Oh, no way am I saying we should ban films like “John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum.” That’d be agin the 1st Amendment. Actually, its ilk should be displayed in a museum, perhaps next to the torture devices they used in Olde Salem to make witches confess.


And while this concludes the socially conscious, ranting diatribe portion of the review, astute readers will note that there hasn’t been a smidgen of the film’s plot divulged yet. Fact is, there’s really no need. First off, John Wick devotees couldn’t care less what a critic from among the Great Unwashed has to say about their cherished snake pit of entertainment. Secondly, there isn’t much to tell…at least not that I could grok. But lest the Pulitzer Committee cites the one time I didn’t describe a plot to deny me their brass ring, I comply in the next paragraph.


Keanu Reeves’s title character, an assassin extraordinaire, is on the run for slaying a colleague without authorization from the International Assassin’s Guild. Tsk, tsk. But while employing a veritable cast of thousands worthy of a Cecil B. DeMille epic to delete him, the home office is flummoxed. From the ubiquitous, point blank shooting of skulls to slicing bloodthirsty adversaries off their speeding motorcycles with a samurai sword, the only thing that perhaps keeps Mr. Wick from employing every possible way to end the lives of his pursuers is the brevity of a two-hour feature film. All of which suggests that if our executioner were to one day write his memoir, he might title it with a variation on John Barrymore’s fabled lament by bemoaning, “So many people to kill, so little time.”

“John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum,” rated R, is a Summit Entertainment release directed by Chad Stahelski and stars Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry and Mark Dacascos. Running time: 130 minutes




Something to Cheer About

2 & ½ popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

film critic


The philosophical gist of “Poms,” a rootin’-tootin’ homage to Baby Boomer relevance about a former cheerleader who forms a cheer leading squad at her retirement community, reminded me of an illuminating exchange I had with my wife, Joanne, about twenty years ago. We were driving across the Neversink River in New York’s Sullivan County on the way to our daughter’s summer camp when The Rolling Stones’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” came on the radio. Funny how you remember where you were during epiphanic moments. Well, it occasioned me to opine, somewhat resignedly, “Could you imagine, we’ll be in the old age home someday and Mick Jagger will come to entertain?” I was completely surprised when, with an optimistic lilt in her voice, she quickly and enthusiastically responded, “Cool.”


Perhaps it’s that sort of heartening way of looking at things that spurs Diane Keaton’s Martha to make waves among the fuddy-duddy establishment at her new digs. While the powers that be at Sun Springs espouse a fun-for-all atmosphere, truth is that grand poohbah Vicki, played with comic wickedness by Celia Watson, likes to keep things status quo. Of course you know where this is going. Add a motley cast of familiar ladies, all with an individual bugaboo that just might be ameliorated via some female bonding and a lot of vigorous pom-pom shaking, and there you have the scenario.


True, the formulaic manipulation is obvious. But that’s what you sign on for, the tacit agreement you make to heartily invoke some suspension of disbelief in return for a healthy jolt of human spirit. And don’t worry: Director Zara Hayes, working from a script she wrote with Shane Atkinson, doesn’t take you for granted. In return for the willingness to have your soul tossed about in the name of greater understanding, she recompenses with several funny moments, a rather thoughtful look at advancing age and even a surprise or two just to keep you on your feet.


But the key here is Keaton. Ever still the never completely figured out Annie Hall, her Martha is anything but typical. Allowing only so much of herself to be divulged, the former teacher with no past life partner … at least not one we’re made privy to… remains a bit of a mystery. What we are sure of, however, is her determination and an altruistic sense of right and wrong. She exudes a likeableness not in a soft and fuzzy way, but through our respect for the je ne sais quoi that shapes her inner strength.


Thus it only follows that the establishment of a cheerleading squad that goes against the grain of those who would keep these gals in their pigeonholes is actually a metaphor about leadership and what it takes to stir people into action. But no need to get too cerebral about it, either. On the way to the noble principles neatly embroidered into the script, there is a modicum of uplifting, girly-girly, feminine compatriotism. It’s summed up neatly when the authoritarian Vicki asks Martha who they’ll be cheering for? “Ourselves,” responds Martha.


While Jackie Weaver as Sheryl, Martha’s libidinous next door neighbor, helps spin the story within the story, it’s the gaggle of latter day cheerleaders who establish the tale’s winning conviviality. The smattering of types, while stereotypical en masse, is redeemed by the individual bits of shtick each lady imparts. Particularly humorous is a rather deadpan portrayal by Rhea Pearlman as Alice, the golf widow whose domineering husband says the only way she’d be able to take up cheerleading would be over his dead body. No real spoiler here, that scene and the follow-up are in the trailer.


But while the coincidental liberation of Alice is humorously macabre, it actually signals “Poms’s” vital subtext. For in the process of singing a paean to the preciousness of life in the golden years, the film is a dead serious reminder that while we’ve indeed come a long way, baby, we Americans are still a shameful distance from securing equal rights for women.


So although Martha and her intrepid sisters are fighting for the right to express their joie de vie through cheerleading, in reality their crusade is an all-encompassing petition to human logic. In jest there being truth, their travail should remind all thinking viewers that if we are to ever consider ourselves a civilized society, there is still a sizable list of issues, from reproductive rights to equal pay for equal work to a realistic maternity leave law, etc., etc., that need addressing. And that’s worth a good hip, hip, hooray.

“Poms,” rated PG-13, is an STX Entertainment release directed by Zara Hayes and stars Diane Keaton, Jackie Weaver and Celia Watson. Running time: 91 minutes







“Avengers: Endgame”

What the World Needs Now

4 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

film critic


Y’know how I’m always looking for metaphors and clues in movies that might lead the way to saving our republic from the current rash of misanthropic evildoers? Y’know…those who would replace our democracy with autocracy for their own profit and narcissistic obsession. Well, someday I’m going to just review a movie. But this isn’t that someday. Nah…“Avengers: Endgame,” a surprisingly entertaining, jaunty ride to vicarious liberty is simply too rich with the stuff of the Four Freedoms to be treated as just another superhero movie. It celebrates and brims with the very idea of righteousness, replete with an utterly contemptible villain too hateful and too real to discount as mere comic book fiction.


Whether it’s because I’ve laboriously waded through and consumed way too much Marvel lore in the films leading up to “Avengers: Endgame,” or because the directors Russo wanted to reach the greatest number of viewers this go round, it seems the minutiae is kept to a minimum. While there are surely enough series details to satisfy those devotees who’ve practically eschewed all the conventional aspects of life in favor of total devotion to the alternate fantasy world Stan Lee created, I’d say this is the one you could recommend to your old Aunt Millie. Granted, it might be a bit of a lab experiment. I mean gosh, she hasn’t seen a movie since “Forrest Gump” (1994). Still, attired for the occasion in wig hat and high-heeled sneakers, it may be an epiphany for her.


Truth be told, I approached the newest “Avengers” with no small smidgen of trepidation. Weighing in at 181 minutes, that’s three hours and 60 seconds in human film critic’s time…meaning there’d be forces to distract me from my evaluative duties. Helpful pundits on the Internet offered all sorts of advice to potential viewers, including special guidance for moviegoers of a certain age understandably concerned with how nature might intervene. But the recommendation here is just go. You’ll catch up, or your sidekick will be happy to give you his or her subjective and probably erroneous take. No matter. As a parking attendant recently related on a totally different matter, “It’s all good.”


Fact is, though the seriocomic adventure tale, a panoply of the very latest computer magic to suffuse the silver screen, is rapid fire action most of the way, it is ultimately an exuberant kaleidoscope of technology, friendship and the separating of truth from the deceit of those who would bamboozle us. In a splash of inspiration so needed in our current state of affairs, wherein we agonize just who could smite the dragon (should it be a man, a woman, and what color of either?), the Avengers are an embarrassment of heroes.


Heck…there’s nothing much more fun than saving the world for democracy with some of your best pals, and our gallant, larger-than-life surrogates are especially adept at exampling that. Oh sure, they have their tiffs, and just enough soap-opera-like complications to prove they are indeed human and/or otherworldly. However, as is demonstrated time and time again when a group dedicated to a noble cause gets its head screwed on right, where there’s a will there’s a way.


Gee, you have to get a load of this bad guy. He is worthy of every effort our champions are able to summon in his defeat. But the depravity of Thanos (Josh Brolin) sways curiously from the usual. This baddy goes beyond the traditional antihero you love to hate. Grotesquely conjured, he is strikingly familiar in his zeal to destroy the world and remake it in his image. And of course he has the endorsement of the bootlicking grovelers and fawners who make the villain possible. Filmic heirs to the flying monkeys who backed the Wicked Witch of The West in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), they are the mob, ready to do the master’s bidding at any cost. But what’s their game? Are they so bereft of hope so as to support a monster that they know is at a minimum full of bunk, barely able to hide his disdain for their blind fealty, and at maximum just short of being the Devil incarnate? Those metaphors were giving me the willies.


But the group of teenagers behind me who nostalgically reminded of my nights at the Park Theatre with that old gang of mine, apparently feared not. Animated like a Greek chorus in their rousing, enthusiastic certainty that the title characters would prevail so long as they didn’t lose sight of the common goal that binds them, their optimism prodded me to indulge in yet one more metaphor. That they were young and cheering for morality to be victorious over corruption offered me hope that they might very well turn out to be the real-life Avengers we’ll need for a virtuous future.

“Avengers: Endgame,” rated PG-13, is a Walt Disney Studios release directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo and stars Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson. Running time: 181 minutes