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Black Widow

Long before the Black Widow movie was even in the works, I thought that it was great subject matter for a stand-alone movie, outside of The Avengers franchise. Through previous MCU adventures, we’ve gotten hints that Natasha Romanoff’s life had been spent as a covert agent and assassin. In my head at least, I imagined what a great opportunity it would be to explore her early adventures, a sort of spin on the Bond and Bourne movies. Awesomely, the Black Widow movie is all of that and more.

For my family, this was our first outing to the theater post-covid. While we felt comfortable knowing that the theater we were going to was still taking multiple precautions for safety, we opted to attend the first show on a Monday, when we knew attendance would be fairly low. For further peace of mind, we purchased a buffer seat on either side of us. Since it was a matinee, it was more than affordable to do.

It was so great to be back, sitting in comfy recliners, chomping on buttered popcorn again. Our family loves going to the movies, and the pandemic really put a damper on that. Needless to say, we were very excited as the house lights dimmed.

If there was any handwringing at Marvel or Disney, over whether or not Scarlett Johannson could carry her own movie, the opening weekend box-office take of $215 million squelched that. Serving as both the star of the film and producer, she was able to flesh out a hero that was in need of fleshing out, beyond occasionally remarking, “Just like in Budapest.” 

As the following was revealed in the trailer, Romanoff meets up with her sister, who appears to have had a similar upbringing as an operative. While the two initially go for each other’s throats, they are equally inquisitive about the sister that they barely know. Their mission turns into tracing their own family tree, and trying to separate fact from fiction.

I really don’t want to say anything more about the plot, because it twists and turns in a few unexpected ways. Coupled with unbelievably first-rate action sequences, Black Widow more than holds its own against any of the Cap, Ironman or Thor outings. In fact, I can’t wait to see it again.

By Dan Pavelich

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The Thin Man on Blu-ray

It’s hard to believe that it’s taken Warner Brothers so long to release The Thin Man on Blu-ray. So many of the studio’s classic titles are still unavailable in the format, even though they’ve gone through at least one digital restoration over the years.

As a fan of The Thin Man series, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, I’ve been watching this title on DVD for years. The improvement in picture quality over the DVD is absolutely stunning. The opening scene, set on a snowy day, is so improved that it almost looks as if you could reach out and touch the falling snow, and all scratches and imperfections have been dutifully removed from the original celluloid.

Myrna Loy, Asta & William Powell

For those unfamiliar with the series, Powell and Loy play Nick and Nora Charles, a detecting couple so well-to-do that they seem to get involved in solving murders as a distraction from their humdrum, blue-blood life. Powell and Loy are the very definition of magic on screen, playing off each other as if they actually are a married couple. Astute fans are also able to spot instances where their chemistry resulted in improvised dialog and reactions that make them even more lovable.

With a supporting cast that includes Maureen O’Sullivan and reliable character actor Nat Pendleton, this film noir comedy is one of the very best. Hopefully, Warner Brothers will see fit to release the following four Thin Man movies in the series on Blu-ray. We’ve waited long enough!


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Tomb Raider

I had meant to see the new Tomb Raider in the theater, but its time on the big screen was short-lived, and I missed it. Thankfully, Amazon Prime is currently streaming it, so I was finally able to see how it stacks up against the first two, starring Angelina Jolie.

Whereas Jolie’s Lara Croft spent her days using her millions to become a lethal adventurer, Alicia Vikander’s Lara is content to turn her back on her silver-spoon heritage, working as a nondescript bike messenger. When she’s informed by the family lawyer that her ancestral digs will be on the auction block if she doesn’t assume control of her late father’s assets, she relents and signs on the dotted line.

As part of her inheritance, her father has left her a puzzle box, which leads her to discover a secret room, hidden in her father’s crypt. Unbeknownst to Lara, her father had been researching the location of the tomb of Himiko, The Queen of Yamatai, who supposedly possessed the powers of life and death. Although a message left by the elder Croft begs her to destroy all of his research, she can’t resist the temptation of the mystery. She packs everything into a rucksack and heads to Hong Kong.

Swedish actor Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft

Vikander’s Croft isn’t the over-sexed, video game version that Jolie perfected in her two films. This Lara Croft is usually uncertain of her abilities, even as she finds herself more-than-capable at removing obstacles, whether mental or physical. This Lara Croft isn’t an already-existing legend, she’s a young woman somewhere on the path to becoming a hero. In my humble opinion, that’s far more interesting.

This Tomb Raider is less comic book and far more real-world in its approach. A lot of the action sequences create the same tension and release see-saw that we’re put on by movies in the Bourne and Indiana Jones franchises. While it may be predictable at times, it’s also exhilarating. Isn’t that the reason we go to see this type of action movie? I really like this Lara Croft and reimagination of her adventures.

While Vikander’s vehicle only raked in 53 million dollars in the U.S., it netted a respectable 273 million worldwide. MGM and Warner Bros. confirm that that’s strong enough to warrant a sequel, estimated to arrive in theaters in 2021. I’m looking forward to seeing where Lara Croft takes us next.


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Mary Poppins Returns

I have to admit that I wasn’t all that thrilled to hear of a sequel to Disney’s “Mary Poppins,” starring Emily Blunt in the title role. My apprehension, however, was allayed as soon as I heard Julie Andrews talk about how much she loved Blunt, and thought that she was practically perfect in every way to fill her own button-down shoes.

It would be impossible to overstate just how much care Disney took over this production, getting absolutely every detail beyond just-right. Cherry Tree Lane and The Banks Family are alive and well, albeit in need of Mary Poppins’s saving graces once again.

Michael Banks is grown up and living as a widower in the house he grew up in, along with his three children and Ellen, the maid. Banks has had a string of bad luck, beginning with the passing of his dear wife, which has left him in the position of having the family home foreclosed on. This is a job for Mary Poppins, if ever there was one.

Just as in the original movie, Mary Poppins arrives on the wind via umbrella, with a discerning eye focused on setting right multiple family problems, including saving the Banks home. I won’t spoil the story for those who’ve not seen it yet, but it’s relayed through really wonderful musical numbers and dance sequences that really do live up to their legacy.

Blunt, Van Dyke & Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda is well-placed as Mary’s lamplighter pal, and with a bright smile and pleasant demeanor with the children, is instantly likable. His Cockney accent fares far better than Dick Van Dyke’s did in the original, so that what many have felt was a distraction (me, too) in the first film, is no longer. When Van Dyke puts in a cameo as the senior bank president near the end of the film, we happily find that his accent & dancing feet are both right where they need to be.

The closing scene of the movie is happy-tear-inducing, wrapping up an emotional sequel that hits all of the right marks. I haven’t ever seen a contemporary movie even come close to creating a sentiment and charm that so many golden-era movies do, until “Mary Poppins Returns.” Returning to Cherry Tree Lane is a dream come true.


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I have always been a big fan of Jane Austen, and Emma is my favorite book, so I was immediately interested when I heard there was going to be a new adaptation. Naturally, I watched the trailer, and to be quite honest, was quite taken aback by it. It was pitched as a comedy, and the characters seemed different than in the book (don’t worry this review has a happy ending). I knew I would still watch it, but wasn’t feeling too good about it at the time. Once it came out, I knew a lot of other Jane Austen fans who were not fans of the movie.

I started to take on all those preconceptions of the movie, and realized that I had made a decision about it before even seeing it. About a week ago, looking for something to watch (hi, pandemic, I’m looking at you), I decided to rent Emma. Here is what happened;

Once I started watching, I was immediately struck by how accurate the dialogue was to the book, and as a book nerd this is very important to me. Hmm. Then I began to listen to the music, and fell in love with how catchy and atmospheric it was (Johnny Flynn who plays Mr. Knightley is a great singer and musician and is included on the soundtrack). Hmm. The costumes and the set design were gorgeous and I couldn’t look away. Hmm…am I actually starting to enjoy this? (Spoiler: yes I was).  

The acting was interesting and different than any other adaptation of Emma that I’ve ever seen, and it was quite refreshing. The writing also began to take a different turn as the movie went on, and I wasn’t upset about that either. Eventually I just got swept up in the story and forgot about all the negative things that I’d heard, and all the things that I had decided it was going to be like. In the end, it was the exact opposite! 

The movie was nothing like I expected it to be, and by the end, I was singing its praises. Since watching it (twice), I think I can quite safely say that it is my favorite adaptation of Emma. It does new things with a beloved story, and yet keeps the essence of the characters and Jane Austen’s writing. I love it.

By Mari Pavelich

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Jumanji: The Next Level

I’m a little late to the Jumanji party, having completely missed the original installment. That being said, it’s not imperative for you to have seen the previous film, as it stands strongly on its own.

A mysterious game console from the ’80’s transports players into another world, where they inhabit the bodies of characters within the game, Jumanji. Therein lies the device for 90% of the comedy in this film, which, surprisingly, doesn’t wear thin.

Danny DeVito’s character Eddie, hilariously transforms into Bravestone, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson acting from DeVito’s viewpoint is amazing, and you don’t doubt for a second that the two are one and the same. Likewise, sidekick Kevin Hart’s Mouse character is inhabited by Danny Glover’s mild-mannered Milo, and the laughs seem to continually multiply.

The adventure that the the players set out on, along with Jack Black and Karen Gillan, is chock-full of absurd circumstances, like nearly getting trampled by a herd of ostriches in the middle of a desert. Without giving any of the plot away, I have to say that it’s a good, old-fashioned thrill ride, a la the Indiana Jones films.

My family watched Jumanji about two weeks ago, and last night, my daughter said she’d like to watch it again. I’m in.


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Knives Out!

Speaking as someone who loves the mystery genre, I couldn’t wait to see “Knives Out.” Set in an old Victorian mansion with a star-studded cast, the trailer firmly set the hook.

From the press kit: “The circumstances surrounding the death of crime novelist Harlan Thrombey are mysterious, but there’s one thing that renowned Detective Benoit Blanc knows for sure, everyone in the wildly dysfunctional Thrombey family is a suspect. Now, Blanc must sift through a web of lies and red herrings to uncover the truth. From acclaimed writer-director Rian Johnson comes this suspenseful, twist-filled whodunnit with an all-star ensemble cast including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Michael Shannon, Jaeden Martell, and more.”

Harlan Thrombey, who has accumulated a fortune writing mystery novels, realizes that he’s spent his life coddling his children and their families. Thrombey, played to perfection by Christopher Plummer, decides to cut all financial support, and leaves his estate to his kind nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), who is truly as coy as she seems.

As you might expect, Thrombey’s family is livid, and the lot turns on Marta, when Thrombey’s body is found in his study, throat slashed by a dagger. This is where the tribute to mysteries past ends, twisting more times than Chubby Checker in 1960.

Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a private investigator with an accent more ridiculous than Foghorn Leghorn, is on the case, but it’s not all that clear who hired him, or if he is even capable of unraveling the case to expose the murderer. His main suspect is Thrombey’s son, Ransom, played with prickly delight by Chris Evans. 

This is the best mystery I’ve seen since 2017’s “Murder On The Orient Express,” Kenneth Branagh’s brilliant interpretation of the classic novel. “Knives Out” edges it out, however, because it’s impossible to see the end coming. What could be better in a mystery?


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Spies In Disguise

You might ask, “How in the world does a movie about the world’s greatest spy turning into a pigeon get greenlit?” Cast Will Smith and Tom “Spider-Man” Holland as principals, that’s how.

Holland’s character, Walter Beckett, is one of the Q’s at the spy agency, who’s got an unorthodox approach to the gadgets that he creates to stop the bad guys. In short, his devices never harm anyone. Whether it’s an endorphin-inducing glitter bomb, or a bubblegum-like substance that renders villains unable to walk, all are designed to gently contain.

Will Smith’s Lance Sterling is the only spy cooler than James Bond, even when Beckett accidentally turns him into a pigeon. As you’d expect, his quips and one-liners rarely stop, keeping the pacing brisk.

Visually, Blue Sky Studios has another film that’s nearly as brilliant as anything Pixar has produced. In fact, some of the mid-century styling made this feel almost like part of The Incredibles  franchise, which is no small feat in itself.

Great for families, there’s really nothing objectionable in this. There is a scene where Sterling tries to use an airplane bathroom after he’s turned into a pigeon, but it’s not really rude, as whatever happens in the bathroom is left up to the imagination of the viewer. It mostly just comes off as silly.

I laughed out loud more times than I can count, which tells me that Spies In Disguise will be well worth seeing again in the future.


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The Rise of Skywalker

I’ve seen this film dissected to death online and in print, so rather than getting into the nuts and bolts of critiquing it for the millionth time, I thought I’d take a look at the emotional side of getting to see a new Star Wars movie.

Those close to me know that one of my favorite pleasures is going to the movies. When I arrive, I still get a charge out of looking at the backlit movie posters as I make my way to the concession stand. Waiting in line, I’ve always got a little twinge of nervous energy before I get my snacks and make my way into the theater. Snacks, you say? For me, it’s always buttered popcorn and a cherry Coke. If I’m in the mood for chocolate, it’s got to be either Snowcaps or Milkduds.

Just entering the actual theater still makes me feel like I did when my grandparents took me to see Peter Pan or The Apple Dumpling Gang, when I was a kid in the 1970’s. It’s one of my favorite places to be in the whole world. Before the previews start, I’m always in such a good mood that I even enjoy the trivia quiz and latest Coke commercial.

There’s almost always three of us; me, my wife and my daughter. We almost always see new Star Wars, Star Trek or Marvel movies together. My daughter was pretty young when the Star Wars prequels came out, so those are her favorites.

For us, these outings are as pleasant and happy as when we get to go to Wrigley to see our beloved Chicago Cubs play daytime baseball. We’re on vacation from politics, bills, work…most anything that occurs in everyday life. Our eyes and ears are focused on that beautiful silver screen, which has a way of bringing us together, as we share popcorn and Snowcaps.

While my daughter will always love the prequels the most, and my wife and I the original trilogy, we all agree that these new movies, including Rogue One and Solo, are really enjoyable. They could easily be picked apart, as they often are, but we’d just rather enjoy them. As imperfect as they are, they never stop being a vacation for us.

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Now Showing: Abominable

Chloe Bennet stars as Yi, a young girl, who lives in a small Shanghai apartment with her mother and grandmother. Yi spends her days doing the worst of odd jobs, and secretly stashes her earnings away for an adventurous trip across China. Her nights are spent on the apartment’s roof, playing the violin that her father gave her before he passed away.

One night, she discovers that a yeti, on the run from the captivity of the evil Mr. Burnish, is hiding in her rooftop sanctuary. Yi feeds him, tends to a wound on his arm, and decides to call him Everest. Everest becomes the friend that she’s always needed, and the duo set out to return him to his family home in The Himalayas.

Along the way, friends Jin (Tenzing Trainor) and Peng (Albert Tsai) join them. Through the various legs of their journey, their friendship is strengthened, and they learn of all the wonderful, magic qualities their yeti friend holds. They also begin to consider the importance of their friendship, and the relationships with their families back home in Shanghai.

As you’d expect, the showing that I saw was mostly families with small children. It was a joy to hear them laughing throughout this movie, which clearly showed that the target audience was pleased. The adults laughed quite a bit as well, myself included, making this family film a real winner. I wish I could elaborate on some of the funniest parts, but I really don’t want to be a spoiler.

Beautifully rendered, Abominable finds DreamWorks giving Pixar a serious run for their money. There were a couple of flying sequences that had such depth, they almost seemed three-dimensional. I would highly recommend this film for families spanning all ages, as there is nothing objectionable for younger eyes or ears.