*MOVIE RECAP: 8-BIT CHRISTMAS

I’m a sucker for nostalgia-driven movies and TV shows, especially 70s, 80s, and 90s stuff. So this movie is right on my side of the street.  

8-Bit Christmas is based on a book of the same name by Kevin Jakubowski, who also wrote the screenplay. It follows a father, Jake Doyle (Neil Patrick Harris), telling his young daughter, Annie (Sophia Reid-Gantzert), a story about his obsessive quest to get his hands on a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) during the 1988 Christmas season. 

The story is set around a working-class family in the suburbs of Chicago. Young Jake Doyle (Winslow Fegley) tells his parents that he wants a Nintendo for Christmas. But, unfortunately, his parents feel that video games are bad for kids. As a result, young Jake, along with his group of misfit friends, has to develop a plan to convince his parents to buy him an NES or find a way to get one on his own.

Jake and his group of friends are a hilarious and diverse bunch. Most notably, Jeff, the liar (Max Malas) who makes up wild stories and cannot stop lying about anything and everything. In addition, little Conor Stump (Jacob Laval) is a scene-stealer, this young actor was remarkable in the HBO limited series The Plot Against America (2020), and he is great here again. 

The egotistical Timmy Keane (Chandler Dean) is hysterical as the richest kid in the neighborhood who owns the only NES in town. Timmy makes all the kids jump through insane hurdles while selecting only a handful of them for the privilege of playing Nintendo with him. Also, the school bully Jagorsk (Cyrus Arnold) is pretty notable.

As the town parents come together to push for the banning of video games in their community, the kids have to pool all of their resources together and figure out creative ways to get a Nintendo console for Christmas. And at the same time, setting themselves free from Timmy Keane’s tyrannical hold on the one and only Nintendo in town. 

The adults hold their own amongst the little scene stealers here. Steve Zahn (John Doyle) delivers a convincing and heartfelt performance. Jake’s mother, Kathy Doyle (June Diane Raphael), is solid, and her comedic timing is excellent. David Cross is brilliant as this shady but lovable dealer of black market goods. 

Yes, the premise is similar to A Christmas Story (1983), and it borrows some elements from other similar holiday movies. However, it still manages to feel fresh and original. All of the nostalgic throwbacks hit on the mark — Like the infamy of the NES Power Glove, the scarcity and popularity of Cabbage Patch dolls, and other 80s pop culture stuff. But, it all comes together nicely.

Personally, I related to this movie in many ways. First, it rang true to me because for a short time, I was the only kid in my neighborhood who owned an NES, and my friends would come over and play with me. But I wasn’t a little prick about it like Timmy Keane was. Second, Nintendo dominated the late 80s and early 90s — Games like Mega-Man, Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Tetris, and The Legend of Zelda, among many others, were the obsession of kids from my generation as well as mine. So all of that resonated with me.

8-Bit Christmas is a fun and charming holiday movie, one of the best in recent years, and it belongs amongst the classics. It’s a good throwback to the 80s in the spirit of the Goonies and Stranger Things. It hit home for me; it brought back many memories growing up. I will definitely be adding this movie to my favorite holiday movies list.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

8-Bit Christmas (2021). Streaming on HBO MAX

*MOVIE RECAP: MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN

Here is another film I completely missed when it was initially released back in 2019. and it took me this long to finally watch it.

Motherless Brooklyn was a passion project for Edward Norton that took almost two decades to bring to life. Norton directed this movie and wrote the adaptation — a loose adaption that is, from the Jonathan Lethem 1999 novel of the same name.

The story is set in 1950s NYC, during a time when the city was run by a non-elected official Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin). This character was inspired by real-life New York city planner Robert Moses who from 1930-1968 had uncontested authoritarian power over NYC and NY state—and made every significant decision about infrastructure in New York. Like where the roads went, where bridges were built, which buildings were torn down to make way for developing projects, and so on. Moses used shady tactics masquerading as “community improvement” programs to displace poor and minority communities. Using “Slum Clearing” programs to condemn whole sections of the city—evict everyone who lived there and turn those empty neighborhoods over to his private developers to build whatever he wanted.

The housing policies created and enforced by Moses were based on racist principles. Even today, in our current timeline, there is a direct connection in most of the gentrification policies and practices plaguing Black and minority communities throughout New York City with some of the same methods that Moses implemented.

and by the way…. Moses was also responsible for the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn. 

All of that makes for a pretty compelling story; however, the movie suffers from the plot’s ambitiousness.

Lionel (Edward Norton) is a private detective who witnesses his boss Frank (Bruce Willis) getting murdered. Frank was Lionel’s mentor, a father figure, and closest friend. Lionel suffers from Tourette syndrome, which made life pretty tough for Lionel, considering this movie is set during a time when doctors had not yet diagnosed the condition by name. Norton’s portrayal of Lionel’s Tourette syndrome outbursts reminded me of how he delivered similar outbursts in the movie The Score (2003).

As Lionel digs deeper, he discovers more dark truths about conspiracies and sinister plots involving high-level officials in city government. The story moves pretty slow, but it works because it allows the audience to follow along with Lionel’s detective work, discovering things at the same time as Lionel does.

They tried hard to recreate the look and vibe of New York city of the 50s, but I never really felt like I was in the era while watching it. Many of the location settings felt contemporary and did not capture the essence of the 50s. The soundtrack, however, is terrific, and the Cinematography by Dick Pope is remarkable.

The all-star ensemble cast is incredible. Alec Baldwin delivers a powerful performance; his lines and dialogue are some of this movie’s best moments. Willem Dafoe (Paul Randolph) is brilliant, adding some background to the Moses Randolph character. There is a memorable scene at a diner between Dafoe and Norton that stands out to me.

I always enjoy watching Bobby Cannavale (Tony) in this type of role, but I felt like his character needed more screen time. The late great Michael k. Williams (Trumpet Man) is solid as usual. Coincidentally, both Cannavale and Williams were two of my favorites on Boardwalk Empire.

I really wanted to like this movie, and in a way, I kinda did. But I came out feeling a bit underwhelmed. Many things work pretty well here, and a few things did not work for me.

In any case, Motherless Brooklyn is an entertaining and ambitious film that merits some attention.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

Motherless Brooklyn (2019).

*MOVIE RECAP: THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK

Mob movies will always capture my attention, especially over the top, cartoonish, bumbling New Jersey mafia guys like the characters from The Sopranos. 

Many Saints means Moltisanti in Italian, which pretty much tells you that this movie is really all about Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) and indirectly about a young Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini).

Nonetheless, we still get to see a younger version of Anthony Soprano growing up in Newark, New Jersey, idolizing his uncle Dickie and becoming a man. As we slowly see young Tony picking up some street smarts — I found similar Michael Corleone overtones here, where both characters don’t want anything to do with their family businesses at first.

The casting is impressive across the board. It was fun recognizing the younger characters, and while some of the actors are obviously doing straight-up impressions, they all did an excellent job.

Vera Farmiga captures Livia Soprano brilliantly. Finally, we get to briefly see some of the early toxic relationship dynamics between Livia and Tony from the first season of the Sopranos. Further exploring the relationship between Livia and Tony in the next movie will be crucial — of course, if there is a sequel to this prequel — there should definitely be another movie.

Corey Stoll is outstanding here — he nails all of the Maneurismns from Junior Soprano. We get to see how petty and insecure Junior can be even as a younger man. And how Junior schemes and manipulates his way into more positions of power.

Ray Liotta delivers a convincing performance playing dual roles as twin brothers “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti and Salvatore “Sally” Moltisanti. Liotta makes both parts stand out; Hollywood Moltisanti is mean and abusive towards the women in his life. In contrast, twin brother Sally Moltisanti is more philosophical and reflective. Ray Liotta is mobster movie royalty, so having him involved in this movie gives it a sense of gangster movie legitimacy.

The power structure of the DiMeo crime family is not fully explained or broken down like I wanted to, but we still get to see early versions of Paulie Walnuts (Billy Magnussen), Pussy Bonpensiero (Samson Moeakiola), and Silvio Dante (John Magaro). The backstory of Silvio’s hair and eventual toupee is hilarious.

I wanted to see more of Tony’s father, Johnny Soprano (Jon Bernthal); he was relegated to more of a background character here. Hopefully, the next film will feature Johnny Soprano in a more prominent role.

Plus, we have a pre-teen and a teenage version of young Artie Bucco. Also, teenage versions of Carmela Soprano (Lauren Di Mario) and Jackie Aprile (Chase Vacnin), all of these three characters, provide some memorable scenes. The teenage version of Janice Soprano (Alexandra Intrator) stands out as a fascinating character to explore further as the Soprano extended universe moves along in other movies or TV projects.

However, the performance by Alessandro Nivola is exceptional — I think that this is an Academy Award-worthy performance. Dickie Moltisanti was always a present memory throughout the series, and Nivola’s performance cements Dickie’s importance and legacy in the general scope of all things Sopranos.

Dickie is a highly conflicted man, wrestling with inner demons, extremely menacing and out of control, while at the same time trying to do the right thing for the people in his life. Alexandro Nivola brings this character to life beautifully.

The women in Dickie’s life are remarkable; His wife, Joanne Moltisanti (Gabriella Piazza), his mistress, Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi), and even Livia Soprano — all of them assert a particular type of influence on Dickie.

On top of all that, we have a racial component that serves as the backdrop of the whole story. Harold (Leslie Odom Jr) runs numbers, collects money, and works as a street enforcer for Dickie. Through Harold’s eye, we begin to see the cultural and social changes starting to take place in New Jersey and the brewing racial tensions between the established communities living in Newark. Additionally, the 1967 Newark riots are a crucial plotline here, which is a pretty remarkable thing, considering that I cannot recall this historical event ever featured anywhere in cinematic history.

Anyhow, there is plenty of things to dissect here. There is lots of fan service with plenty of references to the TV series sprinkled throughout the movie, so you have to pay close attention — It is a lot more enjoyable if you are familiar with the show.

The voiceover of Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) at the start of the movie was cool. I know it is weird because he is dead, but don’t think about it too much or try to make sense of it — let it take you along for the ride. After all, there were many esoteric and supernatural themes throughout the series. So the movie opening this way and being narrated by Christopher throughout parts of the movie is right on brand.

Oh, and there is this brilliant scene of baby Christopher’s reaction to meeting his young uncle Tony for the first time.

Anyway, liking or not liking a movie is a concept pretty hard for me to put together in simple terms of like or dislike. So my measuring stick has always been based on whether a movie or TV series is engaging or not engaging. And whether it is memorable or unmemorable.

The Many Saints of Newark meets all those requirements; it is a fascinating and pretty memorable movie. In essence, it is a fascinating story as it relates to the Sopranos TV series.

So, yes, this Soprano story holds up as a standalone movie. It feels like an origins story; it is a film aimed at fans of the series, as it spends time setting up, putting pieces in place for things to make sense, primarily for fans of the show. It does not taint the legacy of the show, but it actually manages to extend specific themes and storylines from the series

This movie serves as the perfect setup for more Soprano movies and content, especially the impending rise of Tony Soprano within the DiMeo crime family. And the inevitable confrontation between Harold and Tony.

For one, there is tons of space between the end of this movie and the first episode of the Sopranos TV series, which is why David Chase should continue to make more prequels and more Sopranos-driven content.

In any case, I didn’t realize how deep and invested I got into this movie, that when the opening theme song from the series started playing, I was like, fuck, they got me!

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Many Saints of Newark (2021).

*MOVIE RECAP: THE SUICIDE SQUAD

I went into this movie feeling pretty skeptical and not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. However, I get the sense that the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is finally beginning to find its way. 

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) was an exceptional achievement. Birds of Prey (2020) was pretty fucking enjoyable. And now we have The Suicide Squad (2021), which is not really a sequel or a reboot of the 2016 Suicide Squad movie, but more of a fixer-upper slash relaunch of the series — Will Smith is out, and Margot Robbie is in; she is now the heart and soul of this franchise.

The original 2016 Suicide Squad movie wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t very memorable. I could tell that some editing issues plague the final theatrical cut. But, surprisingly, Will Smith was actually good in it, playing Deadshot — he was not as annoying as he usually is. And of course, Margot Robbie was excellent. She came to this role well prepared — she took this Harley Quinn character seriously and did some solid research before taking on this role. 

Here, what stands out the most is how director James Gunn uses many of the same elements from his Guardian of the Galaxy movies and how well those same elements work.

The premise is generally the same as the 2016 movie; the Suicide Squad is again comprised of a bunch of imprisoned super-villains who the US government recruits to fulfill a suicide mission. Some of these villains have unique superpowers, and some are just highly skilled at killing people and blowing shit up. 

The members of this new Suicide Squad are quirky characters with some very unique and odd qualities. Most notably, Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), King Shark (Sylvester Stallone ), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior), Savant (Michael Rooker), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), and Weasel (Sean Gunn). All of these new characters get a nice and quick backstory slash introduction at the start of the movie.

We also have newcomer Bloodsport (Idris Elba), who is essentially the same character as Will Smith’s Deadshot. Additionally, the main star of this franchise, Harley Quinn, is back along with Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney). 

Our anti-heroes are sent to a fictional Latin American island nation in a seek and destroy mission to kill an alien creature being kept in a lab. And of course, unexpected things go down, and no one is safe — everyone is expandable.

Spoiler alert! We have a few characters played by big-name actors who get killed almost immediately — that was surprising but also pretty cool.

The casting of super-criminals is solid. John Cena is hilarious, especially when making dick jokes — Cena is finding his niche as a muscle-bound action-comedy actor. 

Polka-Dot Man was a weird-ass character, but a pretty compelling one. He has this sad and tragic backstory with big-time mommy issues. Sylvester Stallone is outstanding voicing King Shark — This character is a more interesting version of Groot. Taika Waititi showing up as Ratcatcher’s father was an exceptional choice.

Rick Flagg was developed better here and was a lot more likable than in the 2016 movie. Amanda Waller is the most consistent character from both Suicide Squad movies. She continues to be a sinister force behind the scenes. 

But unquestionably, Harley Quinn is better as the lead character and not as a side character like she kinda was in the 2016 movie. Margot Robbie embodies this character beautifully, as we all got to see in Birds of Prey. 

I liked the whole thing of Harley getting kidnapped by dictator Silvio Luna (Juan Diego Botto). This plotline was crucial to develop Harley Quinn further as a character. Not to mention how lucky Juan Diego Botto was on having an on-screen hookup scene with Margot Robbie — Every geek in the universe was dying with envy.

My only issue with this movie is in the same old Hollywood-style representation of Latin American stereotypes.

First of all, whoever wrote the Spanish language dialogue and characters is a clueless asshole. Or maybe it wasn’t one person, and instead, it was a group of clueless assholes. It doesn’t really matter — the whole thing was beyond insensitive; it was dumb and irresponsibly stupid. Hollywood still doesn’t “get it” when it comes to writing Hispanic characters. They don’t really care to reach out to writers like myself or others like myself with real-life experiences and who can actually write legit Spanish language dialogue and write more believable and less cartoonish Hispanic characters.

In any case, Besides all the poorly written Spanish-speaking characters, The Suicide squad is a shockingly fun and wild ride, full of over-the-top, gruesome violence, with some cool and unexpected twists and turns. There is solid chemistry between all of these new characters. They are all bad guys but with some slight redeeming qualities, similar to Deadpool in terms of sarcastic tone. James Gunn needs to make more of these movies.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

The Suicide Squad (2021).

*MOVIE RECAP: ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (SNYDER CUT)

There is this unique pleasure for movie nerds like myself to watch a director’s cut of a movie — you know, watching a movie as originally intended to be seen.

My measuring stick determining how good a movie or a TV show is — has always been based on how memorable or unmemorable the movie or show ends up being.

Having said that, by my own personal metric, the theatrical cut of Justice League directed by Josh Whedon, or also known as the Whedon cut, was not a memorable movie. It was way over the top, cheesy, and unfocused in terms of storytelling, with plot holes all over the place. Nevertheless, the Whedon cut wasn’t as awful as most fans have expressed; it was actually pretty watchable and, at times, somewhat entertaining, but it was far from what it was expected from this ensemble cast of superheroes. It was very forgettable, to say the least.

I blame the studio for this meh version of the Justice League. First, they jumped the gun and rushed to make their own version of an Avengers type of movie. And, unfortunately, it was way too soon — Because they were still introducing and developing movies featuring the characters that make up the core team of the Justice League members.

Everybody reading this blog probably knows by now that Zack Snyder had to drop out of Justice League in the middle of the shooting of this movie due to a family tragedy. Josh Whedon stepped in, and the rest of the story lives on perpetually in motion picture infamy.

The controversy between the two versions of this movie prompted an online campaign to release the director’s cut, or the Snyder cut as it is now officially known.

There are people out there who are disgusted by the fandom for pushing Warner bros. hard to release the Snyder Cut. Calling these hardcore fans toxic and such. However, I don’t see it this way; Fans should absolutely have a say in how things are being presented and sold to them. We, the fans, spend our money on movies, toys, merchandise, and all kinds of media entertainment products. Mediocrity will not be easily accepted anymore. This is a lesson for movie studios to pay close attention and to learn from all the outrage this Whedon Cut created.

This version is 4 hours long; I watched the whole thing in 2 seatings — and I was very much engaged in it throughout the 4 hours. It is more than a Director’s cut; it is an entirely different movie. It is leaps and bounds better than the theatrical cut. I think this version could’ve worked in theaters as a two-part movie, just like the Avengers two-parts Infinity war and Endgame movies.

Although my comic book knowledge of the DC Extended Universe is far from being encyclopedic, this movie is the best and the closest thing you will ever get to a superhero comic book slash graphic novel on film. Sin City (2005), 300 (2006), and Watchmen (2009) are my favorite graphic novels adapted into films. Coincidentally, Zack Snyder directed both 300 and Watchmen. I have some issues with 300, but for the most part, I thought Watchmen was actually a pretty damn good adaptation (except for changing the ending from the graphic novel).

This Snyder Cut has epic vibes to it — the CGI looks clean and pretty. It is beautifully shot, a gorgeous movie to watch. And, it is darker, grittier than anything Marvel has released. Dark superhero stories are what I like to see.

Here are the main differences from the theatrical version:

Aquaman is way more involved in the story, and his character has Godlike vibes here, similar to the way Thor was presented in the Marvel universe.

The cyborg plotline here is another vast improvement from the Whedon Cut. Unlike the theatrical version, Cyborg here is an integral part of this movie. We got to see how Cyborg is a God amongst men in terms of his powers and how those powers are unique within the modern technological world.

The Flash is more compelling here and funnier. But I still don’t know much about him and his powers. So I’m looking forward to The Flash stand-alone movie.

Superman kicked ass. I loved seeing this version of angry, pissed-off Superman — and the black suit made things even more extraordinary.

Wonder Woman is also better here than in the theatrical cut; she is presented as an old God in terms of her level of strength and power. But there is zero continuity with the events of Wonder Woman 84. I have no clue how they are planning to make WW84 fit into the larger scope of things.

We get a much better version of Batman and Bruce Wayne. This is the version of Batman the fandom wanted to see or close enough to it. The nightmare scene between Batman and the Joker was incredible. — it teased us on what happened with Robin (it seems like Joker killed Robin). This version of Jared Leto’s Joker was impressive.

We finally get to see Darkseid and how powerful, menacing, and evil he really is. The fighting sequence between the old heroes and gods against Darkseid was terrific. Watching Zeus, Artemis, Ares, King Arthur, and even a Green Lantern in battle was fucking awesome.

The whole premise of the Mother Boxes was better presented. There was also more depth to Steppenwolf. Introducing Granny Goodness on film was an outstanding idea. Let’s remember that both Darkseid and Granny Goodness were original Jack Kirby creations.

The Snyder Cut was an excellent movie-watching experience. I was fine the 4 hours; it didn’t feel like it dragged too long. I think the 4 hours were just about right to move the story forward for the sake of storytelling and character development. This type of long format should be the standard from now on — Maybe even breaking them down in parts might be the way to go. It just feels like it is meant to be consumed that way.

Zack Snyder has pulled off something awe-inspiring here. As movie and superhero fans, we are fortunate to have seen a 4 hour never before seen version of all these unique comic book characters. The next online fan campaign should be for Warner to restore the Snyder verse.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021). Streaming on HBO MAX.

*MOVIE RECAP: MORTAL KOMBAT

It is hard to believe that it has been 28 years since the first time I played Mortal Kombat, the arcade game at an actual Arcade Center — Man, where the hell have the years gone?

I can still clearly remember how my friends and I would religiously meet up after school at my local neighborhood arcade center for a chance to play this groundbreaking video game. The ridiculous violence of the game was incredible; the blood, the gore — the fatalities. There was nothing quite like this game before 1993, and video game-playing kids from my generation were utterly mesmerized, to say the least. I loved playing Mortal kombat at the Arcade, I wasn’t good at it as my friends, but I still loved playing it.

Hollywood has never been good at adapting video games into movies. The first film adaptation of this game, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997), was cheesy as fuck and almost unwatchable. The video game adaptation of the other 90s sensational fighting Arcade game, Street Fighter (1994), was also a god-awful mess of a movie. Another clear example was the adaptation of Super Mario Bros (1993). The 90s were pretty rough for video game adaptations.

Notwithstanding, I came to this 2021 Mortal Kombat reboot completely open-minded. Still, my expectations were pretty low. 

Mortal Kombat 2021 is not all bad; many things worked well for me, and a few things did not. The opening scene slash fight sequence between Sub-Zero and Hanzo is terrific. I assume that this movie is supposed to be an origins story based on the original characters from the Arcade game, while at the same time adding new characters to the franchise like Cole Young (Lewis Tan).

The premise is pretty absurd and unclear. The main plotline here is that Earth’s greatest champions made up of mercenaries, martial artists, and super-powered fighters, have to fight Earthrealm’s supernatural enemies from the Outer world realm. The tournament rules are never clear, and the actual tournament never really takes place — the whole thing seems confusing.

There is this mysterious Dragon marking on the bodies of random people who are chosen to represent Earth against the supernatural warriors of the netherworld. If they have this Dragon mark on their body, they have to be recruited and trained to fight for Earth.

And while in their training sessions, these chosen warriors are supposed to unlock their unique superpowers and abilities. This Dragon marking concept is a new thing; this idea did not come from the video game.

The movie is a lot more enjoyable if you are already familiar with the characters. The casting is pretty solid, Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Kano (Josh Lawson), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang), and Shang Tsung (Chin Han) are all excellent.

All the original characters from the game are back except for Johnny Cage. Spoiler alert! A poster with Johnny Cage’s name shows up at the end of the movie. I assume he will be in the Sequel; if there is a sequel — there should be a sequel.

Sub-zero (Joe Taslim) was fantastic, and so was Hanzo Hasashi/ Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada); their fight scenes are awesome. The video game references like Scorpio’s “Get Over Here” phrase is fan service at its best. It is never really explained why Hanzo choose the new name slash new persona of Scorpio. This should be addressed in the next movie.

Also, the killing of crucial characters was weird and felt somewhat convoluted in terms of those characters possibly returning from the dead in future films. The killing of rogue mercenary Kano was unexpected — He lit up the screen in every scene he was in. And although Kano seemed to be used primarily for comic relief, his character was one of the highlights of this movie.

The same thing goes for the characters of Mileena and Liu Kang, they are fan favorites, and they felt wasted here. There was way too much time spent on the new character Cole Young. He was an uninspiring and underdeveloped character — Cole was by far the most uninteresting character here.

We still don’t know what set of rules we are dealing with, or if there are any, and how those rules can determine the return from the dead of the characters already killed off. Hanzo came back from the dead, so I have to assume other warriors will follow.

This movie packs lots of things and storylines — those things feel forced and awkward at times. This reboot was supposed to be the launching point for a new franchise and series of movies. However, the nostalgic connection to these characters worked best for me; if it weren’t for the fond memories surrounding this game, I probably would not have enjoyed this reboot as much as I did.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿

Mortal Kombat (2021.

*MOVIE RECAP: THE UNITED STATES VS BILLIE HOLIDAY

At first glance, this movie had the makings of a powerful story — sadly, it did not live up to my expectations. 

The United States vs. Billie Holiday takes its name straight out of the US government’s prosecution case of Billie Holiday, and it is based on the 2012 non-fiction book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari.

Decades have passed since Billie Holiday’s death. Yet, it seems like we still do not have a complete grasp and understanding of how important and influential she was in our culture, not just musically but also on civil rights activism. She died when she was only 44 years old. Suffering indignity after indignity and humiliated by her own government, handcuffed to a hospital bed as she was dying. 

At the center of the story, there is the song Strange Fruit. The song became controversial in the late 30s and 40s for being a protest song to the lynching of Black Americans, and it is considered to be the launching point in the awakening of the civil rights movement. The song drew the attention of the US government, most notably, the attention of a government agent and known racist Harry J. Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund), who was the first US official to declare war on drugs; targeting minorities and artists. Demonizing blacks and Jazz musicians as drug users and bad influences on the so-called authentic American culture.

Anslinger was the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and launched what has become known as the original version of the US war on drugs in the early part of the 20th century. One of Anslinger’s initial targets was Billie Holiday. He was obsessed with taking Billie Holiday down, primarily for her activism and defiance — but also as a symbolic gesture to any other potential civil rights activists out there. 

They used every tool at their disposal to destroy her life and career. They tried to censor her in multiple ways, even went as far as to block and deny her a cabaret license, which was crucial for performers; they needed a cabaret permit to perform at live music venues in those days. 

In this movie, we see how Aisnlinger assigns an undercover agent to infiltrate Billie Holiday’s inner circle to report and keep tabs on her. This undercover agent, Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes), becomes emotionally and romantically involved with Holiday.

The weird thing is that apart from Johann Hari’s book, there isn’t much verifiable evidence about this love affair between Billie Holiday and Jimmy Fletcher — and there seems to be an evident exaggeration of this story by this movie’s director Lee Daniels.

Andra Day is outstanding here; she Portrays Billie Holiday convincingly. Still, the highlight of this movie for me was the soundtrack along with Andra Day’s performance of Billie Holiday’s music. She actually sings all the songs herself and captures the essence of Billie Holiday’s signature sound.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday is a movie that comes across as messy, cluttered, and all over the place. There is way too much focus on the romance between Fletcher and Holiday. Their love affair gets in the way of the story a bit. I wanted to see more about Holiday and her band members and the relationship dynamics between them. There was a powerful story here to be told. Unfortunately, this movie missed a huge opportunity to convey the core story of Billie Holiday’s life and struggles. And on top of all that, it also wasted away Andra Day’s top-notch performance.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2020).

*MOVIE RECAP: ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI

It took a while for me to process this film properly, especially amid all the fantastic and well-made socially conscious films that came out between late 2020 and early 2021. Movies like The Trial of the Chicago 7, Judas and the Black Messiah, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the USA vs. Billie Holiday, Nomadland, and Da 5 Bloods — all of those films had a powerful and enduring social message to deliver.

One Night in Miami is based on a 2013 stage play of the same name by Kemp Powers, who also wrote the screenplay for this film version. Regina King shines as director here, making her directorial debut — And at first glance, I got the sense that this wasn’t her first film as a director — An impressive achievement by Regina King.

The story is set in February of 1964, the same night that Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight championship. Cassius Clay had not yet changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and the movie takes place when he was about to join the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X invites Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Cassius Clay to join him in his hotel room to celebrate the victory of the new world champ. It is a fictional account of a one-night gathering of all these 1960’s pop-culture icons.

Throughout the evening, the gathering turns into a discussion of politics, life decisions, identity, and empowerment—their unique role in pop culture and the line between celebrity and social responsibility.

We get to see how all of the things that took place throughout these men’s lives have led them to this particular night. And how their lives changed in the immediate aftermath of this evening together.

The performances are excellent; all of these historical personalities feel human and real. Kinglsey Ben-Adir (Malcolm X), Eli Goree (Cassius Clay), Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), and Leslie Odom Jr. (Sam Cooke); all provide an equal voice to each character, giving their singular take and perspective on things. All of these performances are intensely captivating.

One of my highlights from this movie was the powerful flashback scene between Jim Brown and Mr. Carlton (Beau Bridges). The location is set on Mr. Carlton’s Plantation style house — We get to see Jim Brown visiting his hometown and Mr. Carlton’s home. It seems like both of their families go way back. During their conversion at the front porch, Mr. Carlton tells Jim Brown that he’ll do anything for him except allow him to set foot inside his house because of his race. This scene was taken straight out of Jim Brown’s autobiography.

Another highlight for me was the scene where Malcolm X challenges Sam Cooke for his lack of acknowledgment of social issues in his music. Malcolm brings up Bod Dylan as an example — a white musician making socially conscious music. Malcolm and Cooke have some intense scenes together; however, Sam Cooke’s performance of the song “A Change is Gonna Come” on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show, as Malcolm X watches him perform the song, was profoundly moving.

I wanted to see more of the relationship between Cassius Clay and Angelo Dundee (Michael Imperioli). I think the film could have benefited from adding more of their relationship dynamic.

One Night In Miami is a fascinating, well-made film. It doesn’t feel confined like most stage adaptations feel like. It is an essential and relevant movie; It deals head-on with issues of racial divisions in the US and how those issues intersect between culture, politics, sports, and entertainment. It is unfortunate how relevant the issues and ideas raised in this film are today.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

One Night in Miami (2020).

*MOVIE RECAP: COMING 2 AMERICA

Ok, sad to say this but Coming 2 America sucks ass — It is a terrible sequel, and it failed to live up to the greatness of the original Coming to America movie (1988).

First of all, Coming to America is a classic comedy; if it’s on TV when I’m browsing through channels, I always stop and watch it, regardless of how deep in the story the movie might be on. The original was rated R, and this sequel is PG-13, a major red flag right off the get-go.

Our old friend Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) from the fictional African kingdom of Zamunda is now king, and Lisa (Shari Headley) is the Queen; they have three young daughters. The central plot conflict here is that their marriage has not given them a male heir, which tradition dictates that only a male heir can lay claim to the throne of Zamunda.

Warlord General Izzy (Wesley Snipes) from a neighboring nation wants to marry his son with one of Akeem’s daughters to unite both kingdoms, bring peace, and avoid war. Obviously, King Akeem, Queen Lisa, and their daughters are opposed to this idea.

Akeem discovers that he has a son living in New York from a wild one-night stand during Akeem’s first visit to New York City. So now, presented with this new fact, Akeem decides to return to Queens in search of his long-lost son and convince him to take his rightful place as the future ruler of Zamunda.

Returning to NY, Akeem tracks down his illegitimate son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and convinces him to move to Zamunda. But first, Lavelle will need to go through a training and learning process before establishing him as the future heir to the throne.

From this point on, whatever little promise this movie initially showed goes completely over a cliff.

Akeem becomes just another character here. The premise of this sequel entirely undoes Akeem’s journey of self-discovery from the original movie. Prince Akeem discovered something about himself through his 1988 journey while living and working in New York City, which he seemed to utterly forget 33 years later. His trip to America was also fun and hilarious, with the whole fish out of water angle. He was so unaware of the real world, hell-bent on finding his future wife in Queens. King Akeem spends almost no time in Queens or in NYC, which contradicts this sequel’s title. Maybe they should’ve just called this movie “Zamunda” or “Coming to Zamunda” instead of Coming 2 America.

I wanted to see a lot more of Semmi (Arsenio Hall), and we don’t really get much of him this time around. Wesley Snipes is hilarious; there is a level of Pageantry to his performance — I can tell he was having a blast with this role. Plus, the chemistry between Murphy and Snipes is excellent, probably my favorite thing from this movie.

Jermaine Fowler needed more time to develop his Lavelle character, similar to how Akeem was developed in the original film. Also, Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan are annoying as fuck, especially with what they are given to work within their characters.

This next generation of Zamunda rulers was also poorly developed. And the jokes delivered by the new cast members don’t hit at all and fall flat…. I think I laughed once and chuckled a few times throughout the whole thing.

Nevertheless, the throwbacks to the original film are pretty cool. Watching John Amos, James Earl Jones, and Louie Anderson return was pure nostalgic awesomeness. I wished Eriq La Salle (Darryl) and Allison Dean (Patrice) had returned in some capacity.

It was great seeing the Barbershop guys back, you know, the old characters played by Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy. Although, it is hard to believe that those guys could still look the same as they did in ’88 or even be alive 33 years later. But hey, sometimes you have to suspend disbelief and go along for the sake of mindless entertainment.

Now, here is the potentially redeeming storyline if this coming to America franchise continues—so hear me out.

Colin Jost shows up early in this movie, playing Mr. Duke, a direct relative of the Duke Brothers from Eddie Murphy’s first film, Trading Places (1983). The Duke Brothers (Don Ameche & Ralph Bellamy) had an important cameo in Coming to America, which brilliantly ended up linking the Trading Places slash Coming to America universes together. And, if they continue to build upon this connection, therein lies the makings of a potential reboot of those two movie universes. Get Dan Akroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Eddie Murphy on board, and here we go.

Despite taking 33 years to make this sequel, Coming 2 America is a sequel that we did not really need or wanted but expected to be better. It simply does not have the long-lasting comedic effect that the original 1988 movie had. Look, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a shameless exercise of fan service. Hell, I even welcome those types of movies from time to time. However, this movie just did not quite work for me. It is definitely a more family-friendly movie. But still, it comes off as lazy, unfunny, and not as edgy as the original.

One out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿

Coming 2 America (2020).

*MOVIE RECAP: DOLEMITE

This is one of those movies that always seem to end up getting buried in algorithm purgatory. If you missed it when it was initially released, you have to search for it on Netflix’s endless catalog of original content. If it were a non-streaming release, it would probably be in constant rotation on cable TV.

Dolemite was a character created by standup performer Rudy Ray Moore back in the mid-70s. He performed as this Dolemite character during his standup routines, becoming a popular underground comedy act, and he eventually made comedy records as this character. All of those Dolemite LPs became bestselling comedy albums, reaching the bestselling charts.

Dolemite has been cited as a source of influence for many hip-hop artists that came out of the 80’s and 90s rap scene (Snoop Dog has credited Dolemite as his most significant influence).

During the blaxploitation era, Rudy Ray Moore made and acted in a bunch of blaxploitation films. However, his Dolemite character became his most iconic role.

Eddie Murphy is superb here playing Moore. He brilliantly captures the essence of this middle-aged performer who is still figuring things out as an artist and will not stop chasing his dream of being a star at this late stage of his life.

Wesley Snipes is excellent playing D’urville Smith, the director of the first Dolemite movie, who was never really sold on the concept of Dolemite but seized the opportunity of directing this movie as a springboard into other jobs. D’urville Smith was an actor best known for playing Diego, the elevator man on Rosemary’s Baby — I’m glad to see Wesley Snipes back on top form here.

Dolemite was Directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow), who also directed Murphy and Snipes in the sequel to Coming to America. Seasoned screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote this movie; They are a screenwriting team that has made a name for themselves, writing biopics like Ed Wood, Man on the Moon, and The People vs. Larry Flint.

Dolemite is My Name is a very inspiring movie; Rudy Ray Moore teaches us that it is never too late to pursue your dreams. You get the sense watching this film that everybody involved in the making of this movie treated this story with much respect, appreciation, and reverence. It should be on everyone’s watchlist.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

DOLEMITE (2019). Streaming on Netflix

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