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Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Summer 2018 Reviews 2

Here are my takes on CDs, movies, TV shows and more from the past few months.

CDs

Shawn Mendes — Shawn Mendes
Shawn is back with his 3rd major release. He won me over with his last album. This one is just fair to me. The first single “In My Blood” has grown on me. This is a more R&B tinged album than the predecessor. I am not sure I like that direction for him. I could hear Nick Jonas on some of the songs, but for me, it is not quite working for Shawn. Maybe it will grow on me. Grade: C

Sugarland — Bigger
Sugarland is back. After a few years apart and various solo projects — the duo of Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles is back with more music. They have some songwriting help from Taylor Swift on one song. I find that this one is on constant repeat for me. Catchy songs and beautiful melodies. I am loving it. Grade: A-

Eric Church — The Outsiders
This is the 2nd album I have from him. The first being “Mr. Misunderstood.” He’s got the country rock rebel thing down. Highlights include the title track as well as “Roller Coaster Ride” and ‘That’s Damn Rock & Roll.” Not sure what to make of the “Prelude: Princess of Darkness” — a long spoken word intro into another song. Grade: B

LeAnn Rimes — Lady & Gentlemen
LeAnn takes on the songs of male artists on her 10th studio album. She covers songs from Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard among others. Her voice sounds great as always. Vince Gill is one of the co-producers on the album. I like it. Grade: A-

Lisa Stansfield — Seven+
This is the remix album for “Seven.” Out of the 16 tracks, there are only 7 songs. So, there are multiple remixes for some of the songs. It is nice collection of silky smooth dance songs. There is a retro-soul feel to the production. And her voice sounds great as always. Lisa is coming to the US this fall, on her first tour in many years. I hope I can go! Grade: B

Toni Braxton & Babyface — Love, Marriage & Divorce
They have collaborated many times over the course of their careers, but this is the first time they have done a duets project. This is a concept album for sure. They are both given space to shine — Babyface has 1 solo song, to Toni’s 2. It is mostly slow to mid-tempo stuff, but there is one all-out dance number “Heart Attack.” I enjoyed it. Grade: B+

Kenny Chesney — Songs for the Saints
Sonically, this is a bit of a sequel to “Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates” which Kenny released in 2007. He was inspired by the hurricanes that hit the Caribbean islands this past year. It is a thoughtful, introspective collection of songs that celebrates life on the islands. It is more acoustic ,mid-tempo, folksy guitar songs than arena rockers. It does include one sure-fire hit “Get Along” — a feel-good anthem for these divisive times. Special guests include Ziggy Marley and Jimmy Buffett. Grade: A-

Boyz II Men — Collide
Boyz II Men mix things up some on this collection from 2014. It is strange collection of sorts — as the Boyz try their hands at modern pop, reggae, EDM, retro-soul and more on the album. They use Autotune on a few numbers, which I find really strange — they are good live singers and don’t need it. It is definitely eclectic — some of it works, some of it doesn’t. But I appreciate trying something different. Grade: C+

Movies

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
This is the 5th movie in the Jurassic Park franchise. Three years after the events of the last movie, the island is about to be destroyed by a volcano. Should the dinosaurs be rescued? A team comes in to help relocate them to another island. Instead, the dinosaurs are put on the auction blog to the highest bidders. The best I can say is that the movie is just OK at best. We’ve seen a lot of this before. And now I found myself not caring. Better luck next time. Grade: C+

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
This documentary about Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rodgers) is sure to be nominated for Best Documentary at next year’s ceremony. It tells how a selfless, caring man, became the star of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” on PBS. He was able to talk to and relate to kids like no one else can. He covered such heavy topics as death, divorce and diversity. I found myself tearing up a few times in the movie. In this day and age, we could use more Mr. Rogers in this world. I cannot recommend it enough! Grade: A

Incredibles 2
Fourteen years after the last movie, we catch up again the Incredible Family. Dad (Mr. Incredible) is a stay-at-home Dad, while his wife Elasti-Girl is out saving the world and trying to rehabilitate the image of superheroes. Baby Jack-Jack is discovering he has super powers and daughter Violet is showing an interest in boys. Samuel Jackson is again the voice of their pal Frozone. I had fun. Grade: A-

Ant-Man and the Wasp
The latest Marvel movie brings back Paul Rudd as Ant-Man. This time he is joined by Evangeline Lilly as the Wasp. There are 2 main story lines: finding Hank Pym’s wife (and Wasp’s Mom) in the Quantum Realm as well as fighting a new baddie named Ghost. Overall, it was just OK for me. There are a few cute moments. But at this point, I am experiencing a bit of superhero overload this year. And the villain was pretty boring too. Better luck next time. Grade: C

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Ten years after the first one, we get the sequel. It is as much a prequel as a sequel. Sophie is just about to open the hotel that her mother (Donna) was developing. Plus, Sophie finds out she is pregnant. There are flashbacks to her mother (Donna) as she was meeting and romancing the 3 guys who are the baby daddies (Sam, Harry and Bill). Then we get to see the old gang arrive for the hotel opening on the island. This time they go deeper into the ABBA song catalog with tracks like “Angel Eyes” and “I Kissed the Teacher.” Plus, you get some return favorites like “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen” and “Fernando” (sung by Cher and Andy Garcia). Overall, I was just OK on this movie. It is not as fun or inspired as the first one. And (spoiler alert) I hated that they built the movie around the idea that Donna had died in the time that had passed. Lily James is no Meryl Streep, and Meryl’s screen absence from most of the movie is deeply felt. Wait for video. Grade: C

Mission Impossible: Fallout
This is the 6th movie in Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible franchise. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is on a new mission to stop the sale of some plutonium cores to some bad guys who want to destroy the world. The globe-hopping story is filled with fantastic action sequences — on the streets, on the tops of buildings and in the skies too. Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett and Henry Cavill co-star. It is one of the better MI films and definitely something to see on the big screen. I recommend it. Grade: B+

Christopher Robin
Disney offers up this live-action fantasy film about a grown-up Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) and the animals from the 100 acre woods (Winnie the Pooh and friends). Christopher Robin has to leave the animals behind to go to boarding school. As an adult who is having struggles at work, the animals come back into his life — and remind him of what is really important in life. I liked the sequences with Pooh, Eyore, Piglet, Rabbit and Kanga the best. The humans not as much. I think the story could have been better. The movie wants to be Paddington, but it is not. Be sure to check out “Goodbye Christopher Robin” from last year — a drama about the creator A.A. Milne. That is a better movie. Grade: B-

DVD (or Streaming)

Loving Vincent
The life and mysterious death of Vincent Van Gogh are explored in this Oscar-nominated experimental animated movie. The whole movie is told through re-creations of some of his most famous paintings. Each of the film’s frames is an oil painting on canvas, using the same techniques as Van Gogh. This movie was definitely beautiful to look at. And the story is interesting too of a talented genius who only achieved success after his death. Grade: A-

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The sequel to 2015’s “The Force Awakens.” Considering how overrated that movie was, it is not surprising that this one is better. Rey is trying to lure Luke Skywalker back into the fight against the Empire. General Leia is trying to lead the Rebels despite a series of setbacks. Great special effects as always, the movie is too long by 30-45 minutes. Parts of it seem like ads for toys to me. I am ready to see a Star Wars without Luke/Leia/Solo. Grade: B-

All the Money in the World
Directed by Ridley Scott, and famous for having re-cast Kevin Spacey’s part with Christopher Plummer. This movie tells the story of the kidnapping and search for J. Paul Getty’s grandson — Paul. Michelle Williams is the boy’s mother and Mark Wahlberg is one of J. Paul’s employees — a negotiator and former CIA guy — who helps with the investigation. Plummer plays J. Paul Getty. An interesting true story that highlights the life of a very rich and complicated man. Grade: A-

The Disaster Artist
This is the true story of the movie — The Room. That movie is considered one of the worst movies of all time. James Franco stars as Tommy Wisseau (the star) and directs himself and his brother (Dave) as Tommy’s friend and co-star, Greg. James Franco goes all-in with his performance — is he retarded, delusional, or just crazy? Tommy was able to finance and produce his passion project — which has become a hit (if not the critical success he wanted) on the midnight screening circuit. You don’t have to have seen “The Room” to like or get this movie. Definitely worth watching. Grade: A-

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
This is the story of the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, and the 2 women who inspired his creation. It starts in the 20’s as he was a psychology professor, with his wife helping him out in the classroom. They hire a beautiful student, named Olive, as a research assistant. The 3 of them end up having a polyamorous relationship. And they continue their relationship through different trials with society. His relationship with the 2 women, plus his experience with creating the lie detector and DISC theory on relationships, helped him in his creation of the now-iconic super hero. It was an interesting story with good performances. Grade: B+

Stronger
This is the true story of Jeff Bauman, who was injured in the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Jake Gyllenhaal portrays the working-class man who lost his legs, and becomes a local hero and a face of “Boston Strong” during his rehabilitation process. Tatiana Maslany co-stars as his girlfriend. Jeff has to contend with the physical challenges, as well as the emotional challenges of being a sudden celebrity because of a terrorist attack. Gyllenhall gives another award-worthy performance. This movie speaks to the strength of the human spirit. Grade: A-

TV

13 Reasons Why (Season 2)
The ground-breaking show is back. Season 2 focuses on the trial against the high school brought by Hannah’s parents. There are also many issues and loose ends with Hannah’s classmates. You will learn about them over the course of the season. Hannah herself appears to Clay as a ghost. What I love about the show is it’s daring to talk about tough subjects. It is one of the most of-the-moment shows that I know. And it is a show that you need to talk about. I was skeptical at first too, but I enjoyed season 2 very much. Grade: B+

Queer Eye
This is the reboot of the series from early 2000’s — originally called “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” This Netflix show is basically a feel-good make-over show. The Fab 5 (Antoni, Tan, Karamo, Bobby, Jonathon) head out to make-over selected individuals — mostly guys. They did their first female make-over this season (which is season 2 already). Along the way, they help to break stereotypes and build bridges with the world at large. Worth watching. Grade: B+

The Kissing Booth
Netflix is getting into the romantic-comedy business. This teen movie has been getting a lot of press, so I decided to check it out. A teen girl (Elle) finds out that her crush is really into her. Complicating matters is the fact that the crush (Noah) is the brother of her best friend, Lee. Noah and Elle end up sharing a secret kiss at the kissing booth at the school fundraiser. The movie wants to be a modern take on a John Hughes movie — they even include Molly Ringwald in a supporting role and even play “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” during the prom sequence. It gets by on the likability of the cast (Joey King, Joel Courtney and Jacob Eloridi). I do think that Elle picked the wrong brother. She should have picked Lee. I liked this movie OK, the script definitely could have been better. But parts of it are cute and work — thanks again to the cast. Grade: C+

Books

Everybody Lies (Big Data, New Data and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are) — Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
Stephens-Davidowitz has written a timely book about the data gathered from Google and other big data sources. It covers everything from the 2016 election and unemployment numbers to abortion and sexual habits/preferences to predicting good baseball players. And it ends with ethical questions about how should we use the big data that we have access to. An interesting and informative read for these chaotic times. Grade: A-

That’s it for now. As always, comments are kindly welcomed. Thanks for reading.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

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Jennifer Hudson: Diva Rising

Jennifer Hudson in Concert
Saturday, July 7, 2018
Hollywood Bowl

With the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Thomas Wilkins, conductor

Songs performed: Dreamgirls (Theme), Love You I Do, Trouble, We Gon’ Fight, Spotlight, Where You At, Burden Down, Hallelujah, It’s Your World/Uptown Funk, Golden Slumbers, Saving All My Love for You, And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going, Never Enough, Dreamgirls (Theme)

Comments: Oscar- and Grammy-winner Jennifer Hudson made her Hollywood Bowl debut last weekend with 2 shows. It was a master class in showmanship and vocal virtuosity. The show was bookended by the main theme from “Dreamgirls” — the award-winning movie musical from 2006 that was her breakthrough. She was joined on onstage by her backing band, 3 backup singers she dubbed the Hudsonettes (including former Idol contestant George Huff), as well as 10 dancers.

Jennifer is one of those artists who doesn’t come in concert very often. I only remember her coming to town once — on a tour with Robin Thicke. So, when I heard she was coming to town, I knew I had to be there. She was one of my favorites on season 3 of American Idol — only to be eliminated in 7th place.

She covered all 3 of her studio albums “Jennifer Hudson,” “I Remember Me” and “J HUD.” Plus she had inspired covers of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love for You” — one of her biggest inspirations.

Dressed in a shimmery silver dress, Jennifer gave us the full diva concert we were wanting and expecting. She commanded the stage like the star she is. She seemed humbled at the idea of playing the Hollywood Bowl. It was a place she had dreamed about performing — and here she was doing it. She asked for the house lights to be turned on, so she could take it all in. Management seemed to ignore the request, but she asked again later in the show and they obliged.

Besides the dancers, there were also smoke and laser effects that were used throughout the night. I heard someone complain on the way out that she didn’t need such things. I agree — but she is such a force of nature that she deserves a big production. And the production details never let you forget that her voice was the real star of the show.

She showed her versatility — from Broadway to gospel — from dance songs to ballads — she proved she could do it all. And she did it all with style and flair. During “It’s Your World” she came down into the audience. The song added in some bits of “Uptown Funk” — as Jennifer danced her way across the Bowl floor. She wanted to see your best dance moves.

She sang “Golden Slumbers” (a Beatles cover) from the animated movie “Sing”. The Whitney Houston cover led into her big “Dreamgirls” song — “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” Interestingly, she only sang an abbreviated version of the song. She eliminated the quieter parts of the song and just delivered the meat. Those roof-shattering and glass-breaking high notes that come in the second half. It was an amazing vocal. She really has quite the gift. I was thoroughly impressed!

She ended the show with her take on “Never Enough” from “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack. She was dressed in a long red dress with extremely long train — such that it had to be carried out by 10 people.

The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, under the conduction of Thomas Wilkins, opened the show with a 30-minute set of orchestral tunes, including one Latin dance number. Thanks to all for an amazing concert!

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Summer Reviews 2018 Vol. 1

So what has been catching my fancy as far as entertainment? Read on for my latest take on movies, DVDs, CDs, TV shows and more.

Movies

Tully
Charlize Theron stars as overwhelmed mom in this comedy-drama from director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody. Theron plays Marlo who is just about to give birth to her third child. She is overworked and overwhelmed like many women are. Her brother suggests they get a night nanny to help them with the baby. In comes Tully, played by Mackenzie Davis. She is a young, free-spirited woman here to help Marlo through the difficult time she is having. Things do get better for awhile… but the movie takes some interesting turns as it comes to its conclusion. It definitely gets a bit weird and strange. Theron is all in — in her performance. Grade: B-

Avengers: Infinity War
The third Avengers movie has the team combating the biggest and most powerful villain yet — Thanos. All of your favorite characters are here: Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Spiderman, Black Panther and more. Plus the Guardians of the Galaxy also are part of the story. Thanos is in search of the Infinity Stones, which are scattered throughout the galaxy. Each stone he gets makes him more powerful. The movie ends on a bit of a sad note, as this is the first of 2 movies. We’ll have to see if everyone survives or not. I enjoyed this more than the last Avengers movie, but the first one, is still my favorite of the 3. Grade: B

RBG
RBG is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice. This is a documentary about her life. It tells of her humble upbringing, and her days as one of the few female law students in school. The movie recounts her pioneering cases in the 70’s that she argued before the Supreme Court — paving the way for women’s rights. Plus her stint on the Supreme Court starting in 1993 under President Clinton. We also find out about her personal life with her husband and children too. It is fascinating look at a woman who fights for what she believes in. Grade: A

Book Club
Four old friends (Jane Fonda, Candace Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Dianne Keaton) in a book club decide to start reading “Fifty Shades of Grey.” This light-hearted romantic comedy shows how it affects the ladies lives and their relationships. There are jokes about getting old and getting laid — not everything hits. But it is still an enjoyable movie. You will want to spend time with these women. Grade: B

DVDs (or streaming)

I am Not Your Negro
This documentary is based on the writings and interviews with James Baldwin. He talks about being a black man in the US and the struggles that come with it. The film also shows all the struggles that we are currently experiencing in this country with race. It is sad how little seems to have changed in the last 50-60 years. Grade: A-

Game of Thrones — Season 2
The Stark family is on a mission to avenge the death of the patriarch in Season 1. Everyone is scattered among the 7 kingdoms, dealing with trying to get by in the age of King Joffery. There are battles and drama a plenty. Plus, we start to see what the dragons are all about too. Grade: A-

It
This is the 2017 version of the Steve King novel. It takes a few cues from “Stranger Things.” You have a bunch of young kids, in the 80’s, this time being hunted by a killer clown versus an alien from the upside down. The kids come together as a bunch of misfits to help rid the town of this menace. There are some nice scares, and special effects. I enjoyed it. Grade: B

Victoria & Abdul
This movie details the extraordinary friendship between Queen Victoria and Abdul, an Indian immigrant who starts as her servant and becomes her mentor as time moves on. Judi Dench plays the Queen. It is an interesting story, with great performances. Grade: B+

Strike a Pose
This documentary catches up with the dancers from Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour — 25 years later. They were also featured in the “Truth or Dare” movie that was a behind the scenes look at the tour. Definitely a must see for Madonna fans. It was interesting to see how they have aged and what they are up to now. And to revisit how big a deal it was to see such openness and honesty with being gay back in the 90’s. Grade: A-

GaGa: Five Foot Two
Lady GaGa gives us a behind the scenes glimpse into her life. It covers the period of her recording the “Joanne” album, it’s promotion, as well as more intimate scenes with her family and her doctor visits. It culminates with her headlining the Super Bowl Halftime show in 2017. We see the real person behind the music — warts and all. I loved the topless chat with her stylists by her pool. The little monsters will love it. Grade: B+

Princess Cyd
This movie tells the story of Cyd — a teenager who goes to live with her aunt for a summer. While there she finds out about her mother, and falls for a local girl that works at a coffee house. What I found refreshing about it was how the aunt just let Cyd find her way, and did not judge her. It also touched on the power of the written word as the aunt was a writer and so were many of her friends. It was a refreshing take on a coming of age story. Grade: A-

Barbra — The Music… The Mem’ries… The Magic!
Available for streaming on Netflix, this video is the last concert tour for Barbra Streisand. It was filmed in December 2016 in Miami. She delivers a set that is strong on memories from her 6 decade career. It includes a duet with Jamie Foxx on “Climb Every Mountain” as well as “Jingle Bells” from her first Christmas album. Her voice is not as strong as it once was, but she is still a compelling performer. Grade: B-

CDs

Tim McGraw — Emotional Traffic
Tim is in fine form on his 11th studio album. He always seems to find a good mix of party tunes and ballads. It includes a duet with his wife on “One Part, Two Part” as well as duet with Ne-Yo. Stand-out tracks include: “Felt Good on My Lips” and “Right Back Atcha Babe.” I do wish he would mix it up sometime — but that doesn’t happen here. It safe, and enjoyable. Grade: B

Pentatonix — PTX Presents: Top Pop, Vol. 1
The latest from the a capella group finds them covering a bunch of today’s top hits including “Despecito” (Justin Beiber, Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi), “Perfect” (Ed Sheeran), “New Rules” (Dua Lipa) and more. The arrangements are nice, if not ground-breaking. Likeable, and forgettable at the same time. Grade: C+

Keith Urban — Graffiti U
Keith is continuing to push the boundaries with country and pop on his latest album. It includes the first single and timely anthem, “Female”, as well as his collaboration with Julia Michaels on “Coming Home.” He explores reggae sounds on “My Wave” as well as some EDM sounds on “Drop Top.” I could have done without the little 2 song intros. They don’t add anything to the mix. Same goes for the outro on “Steal My Thunder.” Overall, though, it is a solid effort. Grade: B

Jennifer Hudson — JHUD
This is Jennifer’s third album. This time she mixes it up. It is mostly R&B tinged dance music. Special guest include: TI, Iggy Azalea, Timbaland and R. Kelly. Her voice is amazing as always. I’m not so sure she has found her direction yet with her recording career. Grade: B-

Kylie Minogue — Golden
Kylie’s 14th album has a little bit of a country vibe going on — on several tracks including the first single “Dancing.” But it is still Kylie doing what Kylie does best — which is dance pop. Enjoyable, if not ground-breaking. Grade: B+

Dierks Bentley — The Mountain
This is Dierks’ 9th album. It features duets with Brothers Osbourne (who are touring with him this year) and Brandi Carlile. The sound is a mix of bluegrass and country rock. Thankfully it is a bit of a step forward for him. The last few projects it felt as if he was coasting to me. It includes the first single “Woman, Amen” — a tribute to the woman in his life. Grade: A-

Imagine Dragons — Night Visions
Their third album won me over. So now I am going back and getting some of their older work. This is the first album and features the hits: Radioactive, It’s Time and Demons. This one I would label more alternative than the third one. I got the Deluxe version and at 18 songs, it is a little on the long side. But overall it is a good collection and shows promise. Grade: B

TV

Champions
From Mindy Kaling, comes a new comedy on NBC. It concerns a little Indian boy, who dreams of being a Broadway star. He ends up living with his biological dad and his uncle in New York. So you have the culture clash between white and Indian. Add in the fact that the kid is gay too. And that the brothers work in a gym named “Champions.” I tried the first couple of episodes, and it was just OK at best. I wouldn’t bet on it to last. Grade: C

For the People
This drama from Shonda Rhimes, use her formula of pretty people in the workplace — this time focusing on lawyers. The show is set in NY, and features people both on the defense and the prosecution. So 1-2 stories are told each episode, from both sides of the equation. Racial diverse casting, with mostly newcomers — with some TV vets (Hope Davis, Ben Rappaport) in plum roles. Grade: B

Roseanne
She is back, and so is the rest of the cast too. Say what you want about Roseanne Barr, but Roseanne Connor is very relatable. And the show is still funny too. Struggles with paying bills, healthcare, and raising kids — are all universal themes. And then she is adding in some hot button topics like gender non-conforming kids, and Muslim neighbors too. I am enjoying the reboot. Grade: A- (Editor’s Note: This review was written before the show was cancelled).

Pose
The latest drama from Ryan Murphy details the ball scene of the late 80’s and 90’s in NYC. This is the scene where LGBT people of color came together to compete as “houses” (groups) of dancers. This is the scene where Madonna’s “Vogue” came out of. There are many transgendered performers in the cast. It is interesting to see how these people often came from nothing and made their lights shine once they were in the spotlight. Grade: B

Books

13 Reasons Why (Jay Asher)
I had to check this out, as I really enjoyed the Netflix series. The book is just as good. The story details the 13 reasons why teenager Hannah killed herself. It is told to Clay (a classmate and potential love interest) through a series of cassette tapes that Hannah made. It touches on topics such as self-esteem, rape culture, body shaming and more. It definitely makes you think about your actions. I highly recommend it. Grade: A

Arcade (Drew Nellins Smith)
Mr. Smith writes about growing up gay in the 1990’s. It’s billed as fiction, but it was inspired by his real life. He becomes obsessed with going to an adult arcade on the edge of town. That’s the place you can buy DVDs, sex toys and watch porn movies on monitors in little rooms. He describes the people and situations he encounters there. I liked it at first, but then got tired of it. The man in the story didn’t learn or grow — he was doing the same thing over the course of the entire novel. And it doesn’t really have much of a story structure — just 1-4 page antidotes — for each “chapter.” Grade: C-

Plays

West Side Story
We saw this at a local production on Mother’s Day weekend. The story and songs still hold up. There were a few contemporary touches added to the show: gun violence and migration were touched upon. The male lead was not as strong as the female lead. I can’t complain too much, I enjoyed it. Grade: B

School of Rock
From Andrew Lloyd Webber comes the Broadway adaptation of the Jack Black-starring movie. So you have a lovable loser, who fakes his way into being a teacher at a high-end kid’s school. There he teaches his kids how to rock — with his end game being for them to perform as his back-up band in a battle of the bands. The kids were amazing and played their own instruments as well as sang their own vocals. There were a few stand-out numbers including “Stick it to the Man”. I had fun. Grade: B

Thanks for reading. Please sound off in the comments — if you agree or disagree with my views. I would love to hear from you.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Spring Reviews 2018

Spring is in the air! So as the weather is warming up, what am I watching and listening to? Read on for my take on movies, TV shows, CDs and DVDs.

Movies

Love, Simon
A gay coming of age tale that is also a romantic comedy. Simon is a typical teenager who is hiding the fact that he is gay. He starts an online friendship with another guy who is also going through the same thing. After an acquaintance outs him online, he must rush to tell those he loves about his truth and reclaim his life. It was refreshing to see a story where being gay is seen as just another fact of life. His family and friends don’t need to fix him. Great supporting cast including a couple of alums from “13 Reasons Why”. Plus a fun fantasy sequence set to a Whitney Houston song. I enjoyed it. Grade: B

Ready Player One
From director Steven Spielberg comes the movie adaption of the best-selling book: Ready Player One. In the future, most people live for life in “the Oasis.” This is a virtual reality playground, where you can be who you want to be. When the creator of the Oasis dies, he sets off a contest where gamers compete to find 3 keys and become the solo heir to the Oasis. There are great special effects and fun references to tons of movie and pop culture moments: everything from Saturday Night Fever to Alien to King Kong. I enjoyed it. It is a pleasant diversion. Grade: B

Blockers
A raunchy teen comedy that flips the script on traditional movie roles. This time the girls are out to hook up on prom night, while their parents try to stop it from happening. John Cena, Leslie Mann and Ike Barinholt play the 3 parents — and a lot of the funniest parts happen in their scenes. The movie gets wrapped up in a sweet way, and the parents and kids have more in common than they thought. I had fun. Grade: B

Isle of Dogs
Director Wes Anderson’s latest is his 2nd animated movie after “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” In a dystopian future, there is an outbreak of dog flu in Japan. All dogs have been banished to Trash Island. The dogs all speak English, while the people all talk in their native languages (Japanese, or through an English translator). Atari is a young boy who flies a plane to the Isle to find his missing dog, Spots. There, he is assisted by a team of alpha dogs who help him on his journey. Definitely quirky and strange like you would expect. I found myself liking the story of the dogs more than the human stories. And the quirk factor overwhelms at times for me… he could have dialed it back. Likable, but “Mr. Fox” was better. Features an all-star voice cast including Edward Norton and Jeff Goldblum. Grade: B-

Beirut
Jon Hamm leads the cast as an American diplomat in this thriller set in the title city. The movie starts off in the 70’s, but is mostly set in the 1980’s. After an incident at his home in Beirut, Hamm returns to civilian life in the states. He gets roped into going back to Beirut to help out a former colleague who has been kidnapped. Rosemund Pike co-stars as a CIA agent, helping Hamm navigate the now-reality of a war-torn country. There are twists and turns as they race to save their friend. I enjoyed it. Grade: A-

 

DVDs

American Made
Tom Cruise stars in this movie based on a true story. It tells the tale of Barry Seal, who was an airline pilot, but ended up working for the CIA. He flies to Central and South America mostly and meets with some of the most notorious politicians and drug kingpins. He ends up running guns and drugs, and ends up embroiled in what becomes known as the Iran-Contra affair. Cruise is winning in this role, but I do feel we don’t fully understand what would make a family man risk it all to do what he did. So it was lacking for me in that respect. It is still a solid and enjoyable movie. Grade: B

Marshall
Chadwick Boseman stars as the title character, NAACP attorney (and future Supreme Court justice) Thurgood Marshall. Marshall takes on the cases of black people accused of crimes they did not commit. In this case, a black man is accused of raping a white socialite in Connecticut. The court refuses to acknowledge Marshall as an attorney and has to have a white lawyer (Josh Gad) be the primary council in the case. This was a fascinating true story about one of America’s great minds. Though the events occurred over 70 years ago, it still has relevance today with the state of race relations and the #metoo movement. Grade: A-

The Salesman
Ashgar Farhadi’s latest won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language movie in 2017. After a couple is forced to leave their apartment in a crumbling building, they find a new place in another building. But this apartment comes with a past, the women was a prostitute and left behind some possessions. When the wife is assaulted in the home, her husband sets out on a journey to find the perpetrator. Scenes from a production of “Death of the Salesman” (That the couple have roles in) are interspersed in the movie. Not as strong as Farhadi’s other movies, but still good overall. Grade: B+

Girls Trip
Four female friends reunite for a girls trip to the Essence Festival in New Orleans. The strong ensemble (Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish) are game for anything. There are lots of raunchy jokes about getting laid and getting wasted. It is basically a female version of “The Hangover.” I got some good laughs, but overall I was just OK on it. Grade: C+

Beyoncé — Live at Roseland
This concert was filmed at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC in 2011. It features Beyoncé’s greatest hits, as well as the full album “4” performed live. The greatest hits portion is pretty similar to the concert she did at the Wynn Las Vegas. “4” underwhelmed sales wise when it came out, but the songs are pretty great as far as I am concerned. There is a deluxe version also available with 7 music videos. Grade: B+

Shakira — Oral Fixation Tour
This DVD was filmed in Florida and comes with a bonus CD of 6 songs. It is the tour behind the 2-volume “Oral Fixation” albums (One in Spanish and one in English). The tour is mostly in Spanish: songs and the dialog too. But she is an exciting live performer who mixes Latin, pop, rock and world music textures in her music. Plus she can definitely move her hips. I enjoyed it. Grade: A-

Madonna — The Girlie Show: Live Down Under
Madonna was on the outs in the US when this was recorded. This show was filmed in Australia as part of her Girlie Show world tour. She was experiencing a backlash due to the Erotica album and Sex book. This is a great show, and I am disappointed that it didn’t come to Los Angeles — in fact, the tour was mostly out of the US. This show has great music, inventive staging and exciting choreography. It is a must for Madonna fanatics. Grade: A

 

CDs

Kenny Chesney — Live in No Shoes Nation
Kenny Chesney celebrates all of the success he’s had on the road with this generous collection. It gathers live versions of his biggest hits including some special guests too like Eric Church and Taylor Swift. I wish it was from 1 concert instead of it being from multiple shows. And I also find it a bit strange that the live versions fade out instead of coming to an end like they would in reality. It’s still a decent collection for fans. Grade: B

Shakira — Shakira.
Shakira doesn’t mess with her formula too much here. She has a mix of Latin pop, reggae, dance, rock and ballads. The album includes special guests Rihanna, Black Shelton and MAGIC!. There are 2 Spanish songs at the end, but it mostly in English. It is a solid effort. Grade: B+

Miranda Lambert — Four the Record
Miranda’s 4th album is one of her best. Trademark up-tempo songs and heart breaking ballads make for a winning combination. This album includes a few songs featuring Blake Shelton who was her mate at that time. Highlights include: “Safe,” “Baggage Claim” and “Better in the Long Run.” Grade: A-

“The Greatest Showman” Soundtrack
OK, so I was just alright on the movie. The music was good, but the story was a bit lacking for me. The soundtrack is excellent. Freed from the confines of the movie, the songs soar on their own. You will be singing along with them after a few listens. They are very uplifting and catchy as can be. I highly recommend it. Includes the award-winning song “This is Me” as all as many other fun tunes. Grade: A

Kylie Minogue — Kylie (Live in New York)
World superstar Kylie has never had the success she has had elsewhere in the states. That is why it is rare that she even toured the U.S. This recording was recorded in 2009 on her “For You, For Me” Tour. She sounds great, and it is obvious she was having a good time. Here’s hoping she comes to the US again. Grade: B+

LeAnn Rimes — Spitfire
LeAnn is past the days of making hit songs. Now she just wants to make music that she wants to. Which in this case — is a blues-rock-inflected country album. It includes special guests Rob Thomas, Alison Kraus and Jeff Beck. Plus she co-wrote most of the tunes too. Worth a listen. Grade: B

 

TV

Rise
This drama is from the people who brought you “Friday Night Lights” and “Hamilton.” A high school English teacher becomes the drama director. He decides to put on a production of “Spring Awakening.” Of course, we see the trials and tribulations in the students and teachers lives too. So far, there is not much music. And it is not holding my attention. Grade: C+

American Idol
Welcome to American Idol 2.0. So far the show doesn’t seem much different. It’s on a new network and a new date and time, but the format is the same. Yes, there are new judges: Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. I still find myself getting caught up with this show. It is a winning formula and should have never gone off to begin with. I really hope they find a superstar and show up “The Voice” like I know they can. Grade: B

Station 19
The latest entry on ABC’s TGIT night. The world of “Grey’s Anatomy” explodes on “Station 19” — according to the promos. So yes, this is a spin-off — but is set in a fire station versus a hospital. It is the most like Grey’s of any of Shonda Rhimes’ shows. It features a strong female lead (Jaina Lee Ortiz), multiracial cast, with good dollops of interpersonal and work drama. I am hooked and invested in it already. Grade: A-

Jesus Christ Superstar
Airing live on Easter Sunday, this NBC special stars John Legend as Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were the creators of the original concept album and musical. This version was a combination musical/rock concert. The staging, choreography, costumes were all great and made for an exciting show. The cast was fantastic: John Legend, Sara Bareilles, Alice Cooper and some talented people from Broadway in the supporting roles. I definitely enjoyed it. Grade: A-

That’s all for this time. Please sound off in the comments if you agree or disagree with my thoughts. Thanks for reading.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Winter Reviews Part 2 2018

It is time for some more entertainment reviews. Read on for my latest takes on movies, CDs and DVDs.

Movies

Darkest Hour
Gary Oldman give a tour-de-force performance as Winston Churchill in this gripping WW II drama. We see the man behind the masterful speeches — at home with his wife, dictating and editing his speeches and interacting with the British public during the rise of Hitler’s Germany. What is interesting is how this movie intersects with 2 others: The King’s Speech and Dunkirk (As there are overlapping story lines between them). Mr. Oldman is sure to win the Oscar for his performance. Go see it. Grade: A-

Molly’s Game
Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed this movie based on the true story of Molly Bloom. She was once an aspiring Olympic skier, and later became known as the Poker Princess. Jessica Chastain stars as Molly, with Idris Elba as her lawyer and Kevin Costner as her father. Molly falls into running hi-stakes, big money poker games in Los Angeles (and later New York). These games attract celebs, athletes, politicians, mobsters and more. Until she gets caught by the FBI. This is a well-written and -acted true story about one women’s fight for personal redemption. Grade: B+

Black Panther
The latest superhero movie from Marvel brings us the origin story of T’Challa (aka Black Panther). This character was first introduced to most people in “Captain America: Civil War.” Despite the fact that the comic book originally came out in the 60’s. Chadwick Boseman plays the title character, the newly crowned king of Wakanda, the most technically advanced country in the world. What I liked about the movie was that we finally get a movie with a superhero of color. Wakanda is a proud African nation with plenty of powerful and dynamic women. The movie has a great cast including Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett and Andy Serkis among others. It lagged a bit for me, as there was a lot of time spent setting up the story. And by the end, it is a bit of an FX overload like most of these movies. I liked it, I didn’t love it. But Black Panther is a refreshing addition to the Marvel universe. And I look forward to what they do with the character. Grade: B+

Annihilation
Natalie Portman leads the action in this sci-fi thriller. It is written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex-Machina). Portman plays a biologist with a military past. Her husband has just returned from Area X. And he is not himself. In Area X, there is this happening called ‘The Shimmer.” Portman leads an all-female crew into the Shimmer, to investigate it and get some answers. There are a few scares and run-in’s with interesting creatures and landscapes that have mutated. It all ends with a cerebral trippy finale that will leave you questioning what exactly is going on in the Shimmer. I enjoyed myself. Grade: B+

 

CDs

Shania Twain “Now” Shania Twain returns with her first new album in 15 years. I was skeptical at first, but I am getting into it now. Her songwriting is still as catchy as ever. Her voice does sound a little different, but hey, so do most singers this far into their careers. Stand outs include “Life’s About to Get Good” and “We Got Something They Don’t”. Grade: B-

Blake Shelton “Texoma Shore” A safe but forgettable set from Blake Shelton. Yes, the guy is a good singer and a nice guy. But after a few listens, I still couldn’t remember one song title on it. No Gwen Stefani duet this time. He can do better and has done better before. It’s time to shake up the formula. Grade: C

Justin Timberlake “Man of the Woods” Justin is back with his latest effort. It is not a groundbreaker or a game changer — but it is a solid pop album. Previews had people wondering if Justin was going country. But, no that is not happening here. It doesn’t suffer from the bloated feeling of the “20/20 Experience”. The first single “Filthy” was just OK, the second single featuring Chris Stapleton is better. Justin in content in his life and his wife and son are featured on the album. Grade: B-

Kelsea Ballerini “Unapologetically” After the success of her debut album, Kelsea is back with her sophomore set. She previewed some of these songs on her tour with Lady Antebellum last year. She is going for the pop-country girl slot that used to be for Taylor Swift and before her Shania Twain. She co-wrote most of the songs on the album. Highlights include: Miss Me More and Legends. Grade: B+

Imagine Dragons “Evolve” They are back. After stumbling a bit on their second album, Imagine Dragons have found success with their latest — by calling on some of today’s top hitmakers including Justin Trantor. Highlights include: Believer, Thunder and Whatever it Takes. The songs sound like hits… but I don’t think they are very rock at all. Grade: A-

Darius Rucker “True Believers” Darius is always solid. This was his 3rd country album and featured the hit single “Wagon Wheel.” He’s not going to win any new fans with this, but those that are already fans will eat it up. Grade: B-
Videos

Blade Runner 2049
This sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner takes place 30 years after the events of the first film. It is directed by Denis Villenueve and stars Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. Goslign plays K, a new replicant who is a blade runner. He uncovers something after terminating one replicant. It seems there are some bones that indicate that a replicant has given birth. This mystery leads K to seek out Decker (Ford) who is now in hiding. The production design and cinematography are both top-notch. The story is just OK to me, I can’t say I care so much about this version of the future. It is all a bit moody and dull. I liked this one about the same as the first. Grade: C+

Icarus
This Academy-Award nominated documentary starts out telling the story of a man who wants to improve his time in a bike race. So people tell him he should start doping. He then gets in contact with a scientist in Russia to help him do so. The movie switches about half way in, when the scientist comes to the US and seeks asylum. He divulges the truth of how the Russians have been cheating at the Olympics through doping for the past 50 years. It is definitely an eye opener for any Olympics fans. Grade: A-

Atomic Blonde
Charlize Theron stars as a secret agent in Berlin during the 1980’s. Set to a soundtrack of 1980’s new-wave hits, the movie asks why can’t a girl be a bad-ass like a Bond or Jason Bourne? I found the story to be a bit convoluted, but I enjoyed the action sequences. Plus there is a lesbian make-out scene too. James McAvoy co-stars as a fellow agent. Grade: B-

Roman J. Israel Esq.
Denzel Washington stars as the title character in this movie — for which he is nominated for Best Actor. Roman is a lawyer working for a firm in downtown Los Angeles. He’s the brains, and his boss who owns the firm is the face. After the owner has a heart attack, he is forced to take a role in the day to day business. You see Roman is a bit of nut, a social misfit with a great mind who is stuck in another era. Colin Farrell is a slick criminal attorney who becomes Roman’s new boss at another firm. Roman finds himself in trouble after trying to negotiate with a public defender. And the story takes some dark turns. Denzel definitely goes all in with his performance. I can see why they nominated him. Grade: B-

Strong Island
This Oscar-nominated documentary tells the story of William Ford. William is a black man who was murdered at the age of 24 — 26 years ago. His story is told by friends and family including his mother, sister and the filmmaker (who is also a sibling). We learn how the tragedy shattered the family and they have never recovered from it. His killer was never charged. There was no justice. This is a heart-breaking film to watch. You will be moved. Grade: A-

The Florida Project
This movie tells the stories of the families living in the budget hotels in Orlando, near Disney World. What is interesting is that the movie is framed around the lives of the kids. Willem Dafoe stars in his Oscar-nominated role as the hotel manager. A lot of the residents are working minimum wage jobs and living in the hotel barely getting by. It is a movie that is very much of our time. I highly recommend it! Grade: A-

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading. As always, comments are kindly welcomed.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Oscar Predictions 2018

I am a movie fan — pure and simple. I have even been known to take movie vacations, where I catch up on movies and see one every day. One of my favorite things is predicting who will win at the Academy Awards. It is not just about whether a performance was better than others, but you have to factor in such things as have they won before, are they or the movie too popular, have they been overlooked before, and so on. This is one of the most open fields in years. Here are my picks for the Top Six Awards.

oscars_shorts_2016-1280x600Best Actor (Timothée Chalamet “Call Me by Your Name”, Daniel Day-Lewis “Phantom Thread”, Daniel Kaluuya “Get Out”, Gary Oldman “Darkest Hour”, Denzel Washington “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” It’s newcomers versus veterans in this category. Denzel and Day-Lewis have both won before. Chalamet is nominated for his first starring role, ditto for Kaluuya. But is is Oldman who is getting all the early awards buzz, with his total transformation into Winston Churchhill in “Darkest Hour”. Final pick: Gary Oldman

Best Actress (Sally Hawkins “The Shape of Water.” Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Margot Robbie “I, Tonya,” Saoirse Ronan “Lady Bird,” Meryl Streep “The Post”) Meryl Streep has won 3 times before, so she is out. Cases could be made for the rest of the ladies too. Margot Robbie was incredible with her performance in “I, Tonya” and Sally Hawkins stile your heart in “The Shape of Water.” But McDormand looks to be on her way to her 2nd win. Final pick: Frances McDormand

Best Supporting Actor (Willem Dafoe “The Florida Project,” Woody Harrelson “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Richard Jenkins “The Shape of Water,” Christopher Plummer “All the Money in the World,” Sam Rockwell “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) Tough category! Plummer has won before, and Harrelson and Dafoe have been nominated but never won. It is Rockwell who is getting all the pre-Oscar buzz and awards. But with a backlash building against the movie and his character, I am thinking his buzz is running out. Plus Harrelson and Rockwell will cancel each other out. Jenkins may get it and ride a wave of wins for “The Shape of Water.” Final pick: Richard Jenkins

Best Supporting Actress (Mary J. Blige “Mudbound,” Allison Janney “I, Tonya,” Lesley Manville “Phantom Thread,” Laurie Metcalf “Lady Bird,” Octavia Spencer “The Shape of Water”) Blige is celebrating her first nomination. Spencer has won before, so she is out. Not much buzz on Manville. It is between the 2 seasoned actresses playing mothers— Metcalf and Janney. Janney has the smaller part, and it is a bit cartoony. So I am giving the advantage to Metcalf. Final pick: Laurie Metcalf

Best Director (Christopher Nolan “Dunkirk,” Jordan Peele “Get Out,” Greta Gerwig “Lady Bird,” Paul Thomas Anderson “Phantom Thread,” Guillermo del Toro “The Shape of Water”) Paul Thomas Anderson is the only previous nominee for best director — but it is not his year. Cases could be made for actors turned directors Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig. But I think it is going to be Del Toro for guiding “The Shape of Water.” Final choice: Guillermo del Toro

Best Picture (Call Me by Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ) The best picture winner always has some best actor nominees. For that reason, it is easy to drop “Dunkirk.” But then you start counting how many great acting roles in a movie, and after you do that it comes down to 2 movies both of which have at least 5 good roles: “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Yes, Three Billboards is more of the moment — with its frustrations and injustices. It is an angry movie for sure. But there is a backlash building against it. Del Toro gave us as interspecies romance-thriller, and give voice to those that don’t have any. It is a beautifully filmed modern fairy tale. I am picking “The Shape of Water” to win the night. Final choice: The Shape of Water

Those are my picks. If you think differently, then please sound off in the comments. And if you win big in an Oscar pool, please let me know too.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Winter Reviews 2018

So what have I been watching and listening to in the last few months? Read on for my reviews of movies, DVDs, CDs and TV shows.

Movies

Call Me by Your Name
An artsy take on a gay coming of age romance between a 17 year old (Timothée Chamalet) and a 24 year old (Armie Hammer). What I liked about the movie was how fluid the sexuality was and how there was no judgment. Shot in Northern Italy, the movie is beautiful to look at. There is an innocence to Elio discovering who he is. And I loved how supportive the parents were to their son in his discovery. Grade: B+

The Greatest Showman
This musical biopic tells the story of P.T. Barnum and how he came to create the modern circus. It stars Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum along with Michelle Williams as his wife. Zac Efron and Zendaya fill out the supporting cast. It has original songs from the Oscar winning team behind “La La Land.” I liked this movie, but felt that the screenplay was not as good as it could be. His rise seems too easy… while there are hints of darkness there, I wish the story was more gritty. And will someone please cast Zac Efron as a lead in a Hollywood musical? He is meant for it. Grade: B-

Coco
The latest movie from Disney-Pixar brings to life the tradition of Day of the Dead. Miguel is a young boy who finds himself transported to the Land of the Dead, in search of his great, great grandfather. This movie has all the heart and humor you have come to except from Pixar. It is the front-runner for best animated movie of 2017 for sure. You will be touched by it. Grade: A

I, Tonya
Disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding is the focus of this movie. The story of her life and career is told in a pseudo documentary style… sort of a true crime Hollywood story. Her mother and ex-husband also have their take on what happened. Margot Robbie is awesome as Tonya. She is sure to be an awards contender. There is also a groovy 70-80’s soundtrack to the movie. I highly recommend it! Grade: A-

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
This movie tells the story of a mother, played by Oscar winner Frances McDormand, who puts up 3 billboards asking why the police chief has not solved the mystery of her daughter’s death. Woody Harrelson plays the chief of police and Sam Rockwell is one of his officers. Great performances all around… I do think there are better movies than this one though as possible best picture contenders. I wish we saw more of the mother’s grief. And I do feel that her anger was a bit misdirected at the chief, when I would hold society at large more responsible. Grade: B-

The Post
The latest from director Steven Spielberg, this movie tells the true story of the Washington Post and their decision to run the Pentagon Papers. This report detailed the lies and the defeats of the Vietnam War. Though the story happened over 50 years ago, the story is very timely — A presidency fighting against freedom of the press. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, two of America’s favorite actors, are great in their roles as publisher and editor. Go see it. Grade: A-

Mudbound
Now available for streaming on Netflix, this movie tells the story of 2 families (one black and one white) around the time of World War II and just after. The black family has a son in the war, while the white family has a brother. Both families are working the land, which the white family owns. Both men return from the war, and are treated differently because of the color of their skin. The strong ensemble cast includes Mary J. Blige (in her Oscar-nominated role) as well as Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan. Check it out. Grade: A-

Phantom Thread
Paul Thomas Anderson directs the latest movie from Daniel Day Lewis (and supposedly his last). He stars as a temperamental fashion designer who falls for Alma, a waitress. Soon she is his muse and his lover. What follows is a twisted tale of control, love, domination and manipulation over the course of these 2 people’s lives and careers. It has echoes of Dangerous Liaisons and War of the Roses. I was entertained. Grade: B+

 

Albums

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill — The Rest of Our Lives
Finally the fans get the duet album they have been waiting for. Mr. & Mrs. Take turns doing the leads on the various songs. Highlights include “Telluride,” “The Bed We Made” and “Love Me to Lie.” Grade: B+

Sam Smith — The Thrill of It All
The male Adele is back with his second solo album. It includes the Top Ten hit “Too Good at Goodbyes.” At first listen, it was just OK to me. But I find myself going back to it over and over. I do wish that he mixed up the tempo some on it… it is all ballads and middle of the road. I do applaud him for the song “HIM” which deals with faith and sexuality. Grade: B-

Darius Rucker — When Was the Last Time
Darius is back with his 5th solo country album. He has some help from Jason Aldean, Charles Kelly and Luke Bryan on “Straight to Hell.” Highlights for me include “For the First Time,” “Don’t” and “Hands on Me.” Grade: B+

Fantasia — Christmas After Midnight
Season 3 American Idol winner Fantasia has released her first Christmas album. It contains a mix of traditional songs along with a few newer songs too. Nice, if unspectacular. Grade: C+

Straight No Chaser — I’ll Have Another… Christmas Album
The a capella group has released yet another holiday collection. It is entertaining, but not as inventive as some of their previous Christmas collections. Grade: B+

Taylor Swift — reputation
Taylor has another massive hit on her hands. And no thanks to the first 2 singles, which are my least favorite songs on the album. She has a way with writing hit songs for sure. Highlights include “End Game” (with Ed Sheeran and Future), “Getaway Car” and “Dress.” Grade: A-

Maroon 5 — Red Pill Blues
Once upon a time they were a rock band, not so much nowadays. The focus is on catchy pop songs now including the current hit w/ SZA “What Lovers Do.” Also good is the song with Julia Michaels “Help Me Out.” “Closure” is an interesting jazz exploration that lasts 11 minutes. Grade: B

 

DVDs

Game of Thrones — Season One
After enjoying past HBO shows like “True Blood,” I am finally getting to see what all the fuss is about. Yes, it is a good show. Lots of sex and violence like “True Blood.” Like that show, it is also based on a series of books. This time it is about warring families that control different areas of the world. So you have kings, queens, knights, etc. along with a fair amount of bloodshed and family drama. Though at times, I found it hard to follow along with who belongs to what family. Grade: B+

Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party
The indie movie tells the story about Henry’s 17th birthday party. Henry is a closeted gay guy who comes from a conservative Christian family. His parents throw him a birthday pool party, attended by classmates, church friends and other parents and neighbors. Besides Henry’s secret, it seems like most characters have a secret or 2. In fact, I thought a better title would be “Everyone has secrets.” Interesting concept and definitely brings up a lot of issues including faith and sexuality. Grade: B-

The Big Sick
This Academy Award nominated movie (for best original screenplay) is based on the true story of Kumail Nanjiani and his future wife. Kumail plays himself in the movie, and Zoe Kazan plays his love interest Emily. Emily and Kumail are dating when Emily end up in the hospital with a serious illness. The families of the 2 leads also factor into the story as it movies along. The movie wrestles some laughs from a difficult situation. It’s a new take on the romantic comedy. You’ll enjoy yourself. Grade: A-

Baby Driver
One of the summer’s brightest surprises is this movie about a getaway driver named “Baby.” He’s in the best in the business, he loves music and doesn’t say much. With support from John Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey, this is one of the wildest car chase movies I have ever seen. There are some wild stunts and some good laughs too. I enjoyed myself. Grade: A-

The Beguiled
This movie is the latest from director Sofia Coppola. It stars Nicole Kidman as the headmistress at a home for girls, and Colin Farrell as a wounded Civil War soldier who end up coming into the house. A sexy man with a bunch of lonely repressed women is not a good mix. He should have stayed outside. Grade: B-

 

TV

The Four: Battle for Stardom
This is Fox’s latest entry into singing-competition realty shows. Hosted by Fergie, with mentors Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, Meghan Trainor, Charlie Walk and DJ Khalid. So off to the side sit “The Four” — the four performers who are the one’s to beat. New challengers come and try to take their seat. Which doesn’t seem too hard, as ALL of the original 4 have been knocked out already, and that is after only 2 weeks. Last week the mentors and the studio audience put through singers they shouldn’t have. Diddy and Charlie Walk are the only ones worth listening as the mentors. Fox chose this over American Idol? This will go down as another failed competition show. Grade: C

The Assassination of Gianni Versace
The latest installment in Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story. This one delves into the death of fashion designer Gianni Versace. Edgar Ramirez plays Gianni, and Darren Chris plays his killer, Andrew Cunanan. With a supporting cast of Penelope Cruz and Ricky Martin. They delve into the hardships of being gay during the 90’s when things were not as accepting as today. Grade: B

That’s it for now. Please sound off in the comments if I hit the mark, or if you disagree with me. Thanks for reading.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

KiltMan’s Year-End Top Tens for 2017

Here is my list of my favorite movies, TV shows, albums, singles, DVDs and concerts from the past year. I will not bore you with descriptions. As always, comments are kindly welcomed at the end. Thanks for reading.

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Albums

  1. Maren Morris — Hero
  2. Kelly Clarkson — Meaning of Life
  3. Madonna — Rebel Heart Tour
  4. Ed Sheeran — Divide
  5. DNCE — DNCE
  6. Brett Eldredge — Brett Eldredge
  7. Lady Antebellum — Heart Break
  8. Miranda Lambert — The Weight of These Wings
  9. Kelsea Ballerini — The First Time
  10. Miley Cyrus — Younger Now

Singles

  1. Ed Sheeran — Shape of You
  2. Shawn Mendes — There’s Nothing Holding Me Back
  3. Kygo featuring Selena Gomez — It Ain’t Me
  4. Sam Hunt — Body Like a Back Road
  5. Naill Horan — Slow Hands
  6. Kelly Clarkson — Love So Soft
  7. Demi Lovato — Sorry Not Sorry
  8. DJ Snake featuring Justin Beiber — Let Me Love You
  9. Imagine Dragons — Thunder
  10. Portugal. The Man — Feel It Still

Movies

  1. Lady Bird
  2. Dunkirk
  3. Battle of the Sexes
  4. The Shape of Water
  5. Wonder Woman
  6. Brad’s Status
  7. Goodbye Christopher Robin
  8. Call Me by Your Name
  9. Wind River
  10. Beauty and the Beast

TV Shows

  1. Master of None
  2. 13 Reasons Why
  3. Modern Family
  4. Will & Grace
  5. The Mayor
  6. Riverdale
  7. Gotham
  8. Bob’s Burgers
  9. Empire
  10. How to Get Away with Murder

DVDs

  1. Noctural Animals
  2. La La Land
  3. Madonna — Rebel Heart Tour
  4. Denial
  5. Captain Fantastic
  6. A United Kingdom
  7. Patriot’s Day
  8. Beyonce — I Am Yours — An Intimate Performance at Wynn Las Vegas
  9. Sing Street
  10. The Founder

Concerts

  1. Lady Antebellum — You Look Good World Tour
  2. Sam Hunt — 15 in a 30 Tour
  3. Mary J. Blige — Strength of a Woman Tour
  4. Jason Mraz — 40th Birthday Party and Concert
  5. Katy Perry — Witness — The Tour
  6. Kool & the Gang/Morris Day & The Time/Village People
  7. Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey
  8. Queen Nation — A Tribute to Queen
  9. Quincy Jones— The A&M Years
  10. Pentatonix — July 4th Fireworks Spectacular

Thanks for reading. Please sound off in the comments if you agree or disagree with my selections.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

 

Winter Reviews Part 1

It’s that time for some more entertainment reviews. What have I been watching or listening to that I recommend or that you should avoid. Read on for my take on the latest movies, TV shows, DVDs and albums of the last few months.

Movies

Wind River
Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen star in this murder mystery from writer-director Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water). Set in the snowy mountains of Wyoming, the movie deals with a murdered woman on an Indian reservation. Jeremy Renner is the Fish and Wildlife guy who finds the body. Olsen plays the FBI agent assigned to the case. Who was this woman? And who could have committed such a horrible crime? Good writing, acting and directing. I recommend it. Grade: B+

Leap!
This animated tale tells the story of an orphan (Felicie) who dreams of a being a ballet dancer. She escapes from the orphanage along with her inventor friend, Victor. They travel to Paris and soon Felicie is impersonating another girl so she can study dance at the Paris Ballet. Of course, she gets found out, but she still has the dream. This is a movie for those of us who believe in pursuing their passions. You should never give up. Grade: B

Logan Lucky
Steven Soderbergh’s latest is a heist comedy with an all-star cast. Channing Tatum is a down on your luck loser who comes from a cursed family. He hatches a plan with his brother, sister and some friends to rip off a NASCAR race in North Carolina. This is definitely a redneck “Oceans 11.” Turns out they may be able to break the family curse after all. I enjoyed myself. Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, and Katie Holmes co-star. Grade: B+

Mother!
Mother is the latest movie from director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan). It stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as husband and wife. What seemed like it was going to be a cool horror movie, turns out to be more of a psychological mind trip. What a weird and strange movie… can’t say I would recommend it at all. I didn’t care for it at all. There are plenty of scenes that make you uncomfortable, as J-Law’s character is under attack for most of the movie. I had to Google what the movie was about. And once I found out, I still didn’t give a damn. A big misstep for all involved. Grade: D

Brad’s Status
Ben Stiller stars in this movie that is written and directed by Mike White. Stiller plays a man experiencing a midlife crisis. His son is going off to college soon. He starts to think about his friends from his college days and how he is the least successful member of the group. Filmed mostly in Boston, this is great movie that I can see being nominated for Best Original Screenplay. There are laughs and thought-provoking moments too. Go see it. Grade: A-

Home Again
Reese Witherspoon makes her return to romantic comedy with this movie. It is written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, daughter of Nancy Meyers (one of the top romantic comedy directors). The movie has a good cast: Michael Sheen and Candace Bergen among others. The story has Witherspoon returning to her childhood home after a failed marriage. She starts a flirtation/romance with a young guy at a bar. And the next day, him and his friends are moving into her guest house. See these guys are looking to make it in Hollywood, and she is the daughter of a famous director. All involved try, but in the end it doesn’t add up to much. Forgettable for sure. Grade: C-

Battle of the Sexes
Steve Carrell and Emma Stone star as Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in the tile tennis match that happened in the mid-70’s. Riggs is a male chauvinist pig who wants to keep women in the kitchen. King is the up and comer who is reshaping the world of women’s tennis and discovering her sexuality. Both stars do a great job, but it is Stone who has the juicer role. I expect to see her nominated for a Best Actress Oscar again. Despite having taken place over 40 years ago, the movie still feels very relevant to today. Grade: A-

The Mountain Between Us
Idris Elba and Kate Winslet star in this adventure-romance. After their separate flights to Denver are cancelled, the two join up to rent a charter plane to get to their destination. She is going to her wedding. He is going to a medical conference. The plane crashes in the mountains, and they must join together to survive all of their challenges: extreme weather, hungry wild animals, lack of food and water, and more. The tragedy brings them closer together. Will they make it out alive? And what will life be like if they do? It plays a bit like a Hallmark movie, but I still liked it. Grade: B-

Goodbye Christopher Robin
This true story tells the tale of author AA. Milne — the creator of “Winnie the Pooh.” The book series was inspired by playtime with his young son (Christopher Robin). Mr. Milne served in World War I, and was dealing with PTSD. His son became a celebrity in his own right after the books were published. And it was hard for him to outgrow his father’s shadow. Domhnall Gleeson and Margot Robbie star as the writer and his wife. I would expect to hear of this movie come awards season. Go see it. Grade: A-

Thor: Ragnorok
The third Thor movie has the character stranded on a trash planet, while back on Asgard the planet is being destroyed by Hela (played by Cate Blanchett). Thor is joined by the Hulk as contestants in a gladiator contest. Loki is back also. Will Thor get back to his planet to save it? This is definitely an improvement over Thor 2, but I still feel that the Captain America and Iron Man films are better. It is funny and action packed, but it becomes an overload of F/X by the end. Grade: B-

Justice League
DC tries their hand at the group superhero movie. So you have Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg coming together to fight off the villain known as Steppenwolf. Of course, Superman comes back to life. DC is still getting their movies wrong — this past summer’s “Wonder Woman” being the only exception. I was bored, and ultimately I just didn’t care. Grade: C-

Lady Bird
This movie stars Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) and is written and directed by Greta Gerwig. She’s a high school senior who can’t wait to escape her circumstances: living in Sacramento, CA, going to Catholic school and having a demanding mother (Laurie Metcalf). ‘Lady Bird’ refers to the name the girl wants to be known as instead of her boring birth name: Christine. This touching comedy-drama is definitely a must see. Excellent performances as well as writing and directing by indie star Greta Gerwig. Go see it! Grade: A

The Shape of Water
Guillermo Del Toro directs this modern fairy tale set in the 1960’s. It concerns a mute woman who falls in love with an amphibious creature that is being kept at the government facility she works at. The basic story is — I fell in love with the creature from the black lagoon. What was interesting were all the parallels to today… fearing those that are different, white male privilege, sexual harassment, government conspiracies and more. Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon are sure to get nominated for their roles. Also starring Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins. The movie looks great and the director presents some beautiful visuals. Grade: B+

DVDs

Blade Runner
So I had to catch up on this one as I never saw it when it came out, and a sequel is out soon. Harrison Ford stars and Ridley Scott directs. The story has Ford playing a detective tracking down replicants (artificial humans) . What is cool about the movie is the look of it. The story was just OK to me. I know that it bombed at the time, but is considered a sci-fi classic now. Grade: C+

Passengers
Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in this action-adventure movie. They are passengers on a space ship traveling to a new colony. Pratt’s character wakes up from the deep sleep he was in. He is alone, and he decides to wake up another person to spend time with — Lawrence’s character. The only “person” that they communicate with is a robot played by Michael Sheen. The stars have decent chemisty, but there is not much to the story for me. Much ado about nothing. Grade: C-

Office Christmas Party
A raunchy office comedy that stars Jennifer Anniston and Jason Bateman. T.J. Miller co-stars as Aniston’s brother — who is running the family business. He gets the idea to throw a wild Christmas party in order to nab a potential client. So there is sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. I got some good laughs, it was decent diversion. Grade: B-

Madonna — Rebel Heart Tour
Madonna’s last world tour is finally on home video after premiering on Showtime last December. What you get is another wild and wonderful spectacle from the Queen of Pop. She may have been 58 when it was filmed, but she doesn’t look like she is slowing down. She is still pushing the limits. Includes new songs as well as re-worked favorites too. The DVD also includes a highlights audio CD. A 2-disc full audio version of the show is sold separately. Grade: A

Dixie Chicks — DCX MMXVI Live
This is the DVD from last year’s tour by the Dixie Chicks. It was my #1 tour of last year. This concert was filmed at the Forum in Los Angeles. It was great to see this show again. The crowd is into it and the ladies are in fine form. Includes all their hits plus a few new songs too. They haven’t lost any of their edge. The nice package comes with 2 CDs of the show too. Grade: A

Colossal
Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis star in this comedic drama. The basic plot is that Hathaway returns home after losing her job and boyfriend. In a parallel story, there is a monster that is attacking Seoul, Korea. It turns out that Hathaway is the one who is controlling the monster. Every movement she makes when she is at the park, happens with the monster on the other side of the world. The makers get plus points for trying something different. But ultimately I just thought the movie was sort of weird and just OK. Grade: C-

Split
M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie stars James McAvoy as a deranged man who has multiple personality disorder. He kidnaps 3 teenage girls from a mall parking lot and keeps them in a bunker-like location. The personalities range from a little boy to a woman to a violent man. The girls are never quite sure who they are dealing with. Betty Buckley stars as his therapist. The movie is better than I thought it would be. McAvoy does a good job of playing crazy. Grade: B

The Founder
Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, the man behind fast-food phenomenon McDonald’s. Kroc was just a milkshake mixer salesmen when he met the McDonald’s brothers in Southern California. Kroc goes into business with them and ultimately steals the company right out from under them. It is an interesting story about greed, ambition and drive. Grade: A-

A United Kingdom
David Oyelowo and Rosemund Pike star in this true story. It tells the story of Seretse Kharma and Ruth Williams. He is the heir to the throne of a kingdom in Africa. She is a English typist who he falls in love with when he is studying in England. Their marriage gains international attention and causes both of them strife and instability. Would his homeland accept him as King with a white wife? I enjoyed it — good acting, writing and directing. Grade: A-

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
This is the sequel to Al Gore’s 2006 Academy Award-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Sequel.” That movie detailed the effects of global warming on the planet. Since then there have been some successes with the movement, but there is still a lot to be worried about. We are getting more extreme weather as well as national catastrophes. Plus we have politicians who are still denying that climate change is real. We need to keep talking til real change gets made. Grade: B+

CDs

Fleetwood Mac — The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac
I decided to get this as I had the “Greatest Hits” from them and felt that they had more to offer. This 2-disc retrospective has all the hits, plus classic album cuts and lost treasures too. It is a great career overview for them. Grade: A-

Thomas Rhett — Life Changes
Rhett’s third album follows his breakthrough “Tangled Up.” There are special appearances by Maren Morris and his Dad, Rhett Atkins. It is an eclectic batch of songs, most of which he co-wrote. So you get some modern country pop, a hillbilly tune with his Dad, and white-boy soul. I don’t think it is as good as “Tangled Up.” His voice sounds great. Maybe it will grow on me. Grade: C+

Miley Cyrus — Younger Now
Miley’s latest album takes a different path from her last major project “Bangerz.” She has made a folk-pop album with touches of country also running through the tracks. What I love about it is — is that she is doing what she wants and not trying to bow to the radio gods. She has help from Dolly Parton on one song. I can really sense her artistry on here. She is maturing as an artist. Go check it out. Grade: B

Glee – The Music — The Graduation Album
The original stars of the Fox musical comedy-drama are graduating from high school during this season musical highlights. The cover songs include songs by fun., Lady GaGa, Jason Mraz, Green Day and more. It was nice to hear my favorites from the show again including Rachel, Finn, Kurt and more. Grade: B-

DNCE — DNCE
First, Nick Jonas had a hit with his solo career. Now brother Joe and his band DNCE are releasing their first full-length album after last year’s EP “Swaay”. This album includes the hits “Cake by the Ocean” and “Toothbrush” as well as a bunch of other catchy, fun songs. I always said the brothers were talented. “Almost” is a nice mid-tempo song about a relationship that almost worked out. I recommend it. Grade: B+

Demi Lovato — Tell Me You Love Me
Former Disney girl Demi is all grown up and loving life. This is definitely better than “Confident” her last album. I love the title track as well as the first single “Sorry Not Sorry.” She’s sassy and sexy and she’s got herself some good songs that are worthy of her vocals. I am enjoying it. Grade: B+

Kelly Clarkson — Meaning of Life
For Kelly’s 8th album, she is going for a more R&B sound than her previous albums. The results are one of her best albums ever. The set includes the first single “Love So Soft” as well as plenty of great hook-filled songs like “Heat,” “Medicine” and “Whole Lotta Woman.” Her backup singers are given prominence during some numbers. She continues to be my favorite Idol winner. Grade: A

Pink — Beautiful Trauma
Pink’s latest album (her 7th) recently debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts. It contains the first single “What About Us” as well as the title track “Beautiful Trauma.” Sonically it is a typical Pink album, with some rock, dance, folk and pop leanings on various tracks. Through it all her voice sounds strong. They are some of the best vocals of her career. She walks the line between arena rocker and singer-songwriter for me. And that’s a good place to be. Grade: B+

 

TV

American Horror Story: Cult
The latest season of the horror anthology show takes the last Presidential election as a jumping off point for it’s story. Series regulars Evan Peters and Sara Paulson are the main stars this season. Peters is a right-wing nut, who voted for Trump. Paulson is one half of a lesbian couple that wanted Hilary to win. Peters seems to a be a messiah-like guy who is running for office; and he is amassing people for his cult. Paulson is one who is terrorized by some killer clowns who are part of the cult. I had my reservations after the first episode (about it being too close to reality). And I complained about it to my husband a few times after that…. I have since given up on it, it is too much for me — disgusting and sick. Grade: C-

Dynasty
From the producers of “Gossip Girl” comes the update of the classic 80’s soap “Dynasty.” As a huge fan of the original, I was looking forward to this. Grant Show (Melrose Place) leads the cast as Blake Carrington. So now the show takes place in Atlanta instead of Colorado. And they are in the energy industry not oil. Plus the cast is multi-cultural now too. What was surprising to me, was how closely it followed the story of the original. I was expecting more. The biggest change was changing Sammy Jo to a Latin guy. And that throws everything off, as Sammy Jo came into Steven’s life after Blake killed Steven’s lover. We’ll see where they go with the show. But so far, I am not impressed. I did love the flashback scene to Fallon and Steven’s childhood, with Steven playing the old “Dynasty” theme on the piano. Grade: C

The Mayor
A political newcomer suddenly finds himself elected to office. In this case, it’s an aspiring African-American rapper who becomes the mayor of small town in Northern California. He is aided by his 2 childhood buddies and his chief of staff played Lea Michele (Glee). Brandon Michael Hall stars as mayor Courtney Rose, who still lives at home with his Mama, a local postal worker. Yes, it’s a fish out of water tale in a new setting. It makes a good companion with “Black-ish.” I am rooting for this “Mayor” to succeed. Grade: B

Will & Grace
After 11 years, the ground-breaking Emmy winning series is back on NBC with all of the original cast members. I was skeptical at first, but I have enjoyed the first half of the season. The writing is sharp and funny. After the year we have had in the US, it is time to laugh again. And this is TV comfort food. Grade: B+

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon. As always comments are kindly welcomed.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Summer Reviews Part 3

It’s that time again for some more entertainment reviews. Part 1 will feature movies and DVDs. Part 2 will feature TV shows and music reviews. Read on for what I have been enjoying (or not) this summer.

Movies

Detroit
The latest movie from Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow. This movie tells the true story of the incident at the Algiers Hotel in Detroit during the summer of 1967 — a period of racial unrest and rioting. This is sure to be remembered come Oscar time: writing, directing, and acting. It is sad that given the incidents in VA this past weekend that we have not learned anything in 50 years. I urge everyone to see this! Grade: A

Dunkirk
The latest movie from director Christopher Nolan is about the little known battle of Dunkirk. The Germans trapped 400,00 British and French soldiers on the beach in Dunkirk, France. This is the first movie I have seen this year that will be nominated for an Academy Award. It is that good. You are given different point of views as the action unfolds — on the beach, in a boat, in a war plane. It is very intense and shows the horrific events as they are happening. I can’t recommend it enough! Grade: A

Wonder Woman
The DC Universe finally gets it right! Gal Gadot stars as the title character in this origin story OF Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. The movie is set during World War I, and stars Chris Pine as the long interest. It has some parallels to the First Captain America movie (Set in the past, in love with someone who you can’t grow old with). It has exciting action sequences and an interesting storyline. I enjoyed myself! Grade: A-

Cars 3
The latest from Disney/Pixar brings back racing car Lightning McQueen and some of his friends from Radiator Springs. Lightning is feeling his age and starting to lose some races to a younger faster car. So after a crash, he regroups and begins training to reclaim his former glory. He has a personal trainer named Cruz, a female car who never got the chance to be a racer. One of the funniest parts is when Lightning ends up in a crash derby race. The movie is paired with the Pixar short “Lou” which was very cute and has an anti-bullying message. Grade: B

Despicable Me 3
The third (or 4th movie in the franchise if you count “Minions) brings back lovable former-villain Gru and his family. This time he is after a former-child star who has become a super villain named Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). He loves 80’s music, clothes and dancing. Gru finds out he has a twin-brother named Dru, who is still a villain. Gru and Dru team up to get back a diamond stolen by Bratt. The Minions want Gru to go back to evil and quit, only to end up in jail. This movie felt very disjointed to me, there are at least 3 story lines vying for your attention. It all seems to be an excuse for more toys and theme park tie-ins. Grade: C+

Spider-Man: Homecoming
The latest Spider-Man movie has Tom Holland taking over the role last played by Andrew Garfield. The subtitle to me was more “The Teen Years” than “Homecoming” unless they we’re going for homecoming dance. This is probably the most light-hearted take on the web-slinger I have seen. It plays like a teen show on the CW. Imagine being a teenager with incredible powers while navigating your high-school years: classes, dances, debate team, fitting in, selfies and more. Michael Keaton plays the villain, Vulture. And Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) is there as his mentor too. Grade: B+

War for the Planet of the Apes
The third in the latest series of Apes movies and supposedly the last. The movie takes place a few years after the last one; Caesar and his band of intelligent apes are living peacefully in the hills. Woody Harrelson stars as the Colonel — The leader of a military group that is hell bent on getting rid of all the apes. What is interesting about this movie is how serious the subject matter is — the perils of war, living with others (in this case apes) who are different than you. You have overtones of the Holocaust, black lives matter, gun violence, family dynamics and political extremes. This is not a forgettable special effects movie. I definitely recommend it. Grade: B+

 

DVDs

The Magnificent Seven
This remake stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt in this action western. I would file this in the “unnecessary remake” column. While there is a good cast and some decent action, it doesn’t really add up to much for me. Grade: C-

La La Land
The film that almost won the Best Picture Oscar is a movie you will watch again and again on home video. Come for the romance, the fantastic leads (Ryan Goslin, Emma Stone), great songs and dance sequences — in a movie you won’t forget. Plus they make my home city look awesome! There are hints at a sequel when you rewatch it. Grade: A

Inferno
Tom Hanks stars in the third movie based on the books of Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code). Hanks stars as Professor Robert Langdon. Felicity Jones co-stars. I was entertained by this movie. There are enough twists and turns to make it interesting. Grade: B-

The Light Between Oceans
Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander star in this drama based on the book by M.L. Stedman. The story concerns a young couple who live on a deserted island off the coast of Australia. The husband is a lighthouse keeper. After struggling to have child for several years, a boat washes up on the shore with a dead man and a baby. The couple decides to raise the child as their own, only to have their secret unravel as the truth comes out. Grade: A-

Bridget Jones’ Baby
Reneé Zellwegger is back as the title character in this 2nd sequel to Bridget Jones’ Diary. Love interest Colin Firth is back along with new suitor Patrick Dempsey — one of whom is the father of Bridget’s baby. This was a likable movie, and I had a few laughs. Grade: B

Queen of Katwe
This fact-based movie tells the story of Phiona — a young Ugandan girl who becomes a chess champion. Of course there are troubles along the way with her family. David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o are the girl’s mentor and mother respectively. I liked this movie, but found it a little dull too. Chess is not that exciting of a game. Grade: B-

Nocturnal Animals
Tom Ford directed and wrote the screenplay for this dark and engaging movie. It concerns a woman (Amy Adams) who receives a manuscript from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). She starts reading the book and gets wrapped up in the story that is told — of a family that experiences a terrifying act of road rage. The husband in the book story is also played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays one of the bad guys in the book story, and Michael Shannon (in his Oscar-nominated role) stars as a police detective in the book story too. This is one of the best movies I have seen in the past year. It is very intense and disturbing at times. It is highly recommended. Grade: A

Celine Dion “Taking Chances World Tour — The Concert”
This is the video for Celine’s last world tour between her 2 Vegas residencies. It is filmed in Boston. It is a good show, but my main criticism of this is the sound mix. You barely hear the crowd in the show and you half-way feel like you are listening to a studio recording when you listen to the CD that comes with it. I am ready for her to retire “My Heart Will Go On.” Grade: B-

Beyoncé “I Am… Yours: An Intimate Performance at the Wynn Las Vegas”
This is Queen Bey at the top of her game. Filmed back in 2009, this up close and personal show, was shown in an edited form on broadcast TV. The first half is her unplugged and the second half is with the full band. She puts on a high-energy show and you feel the excitement in the room when you play it. Includes 2 audio CDs too. I loved it! Grade: A+

Allied
Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star is this war-time set movie. The stars play spies from different countries who fall in love and get married. Then the husband gets informed that his wife may be a secret spy for the Germans. I was bored with this movie. The stars try, but the script lets them down. Grade:C-

The Accountant
Ben Affleck stars as an accountant who is also a hitman with OCD. There are some great action sequences, as well as flashbacks to his life growing up (and why he is like he is). But it started to fall apart for me in the last third of the movie. They set up an interesting story but didn’t really know how to resolve it. Grade: B-

Patriot’s Day
Inspired by true events, this movie tells the story of the bombing of the Boston Marathon from a few years ago. Mark Wahlberg stars as a police officer who gets entangled with the events. He was there when it happened and helped the victims as well as helped to bring the brothers down. It includes footage at the end of real survivors from the event. Grade: A-

Stay tuned for the next installment that will feature TV and music reviews. As always, comments are kindly welcomed.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

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