So, it’s summer and our movie going choices are down to franchise films, remakes, and an occasional over- long examples of  ego, and self- indulgence (looking at you, Quentin Tarantino), or just a remake (cough, cough Disney’s Aladdin and Lion King) .With the exception of Yesterday, I haven’t seen a film that captured imagination or heart, at least among the major releases.

So, faced with the choice of The FAST and FURIOUS spin-off of Hobbs and Shaw – a franchise that started as an auto race-chase-explosion movie and now seems to have morphed, according to the trailer, into the standard implausible characters acting in implausible manners and  doing impossible things through CGI to save the world from total destruction – or the above referenced Once Upon a Time in Hollywood revisionist gore-fest… Perhaps the best choice was Spiderman: Far From Home.

  • Hobbs and Shaw
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Spiderman: Far from Home

Which could have been titled

Marvel’s Spiderman’s High School European Vacation.

It’s clear that Marvel intends to continue to extend the “Marvel Universe” into new and under -explored or hitherto unknown characters, while old friends fade away. RIP, Tony Stark, but worry not. Your legend, and your gimmicks linger, at least for a while.

Tom Holland’s undoubted charm in Avengers: Endgame, is wisely used here, to make a completely (almost) believable sixteen-year-old superhero who really just wants to be a teenager with a couple of very cool, better than skateboarding, tricks.  Unfortunately, while he is eagerly planning to be away with his high school classmates, including the very hot MJ (Zendaya) the superhero uberboss, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) needs his help to counter yet another threat to all mankind.  Nick Fury—I doubt if anyone has ever just called him Nick—is forced to rely on this inexperienced friendly neighborhood Spiderman, since all other Avengers have either joined Tony Stark in the great beyond, or are “off-planet” Which sounds a little like the movies I was dismissing as trivial. The difference is that:

1) Marvel clearly intends to venture further and further into its’ “Universe” and we might as well keep up with it

2) Tom Holland.

Make that 1) Tom Holland, the saving grace of this movie. He makes the struggle between….

“I just want to be a normal teen”

– Peter Parker


“with great power comes great responsibility”

– Ben Parker (Uncle Ben)

Choices Believable

Even though you know in the end he will do the right thing, and save the world, you  also empathize with his desire for a short vacation from that “great responsibility” thing.  He doesn’t want to save the world this week; he just wants to hang, and maybe pursue his attraction to MJ while in a foreign locale.

In a sort of coming of age as Spiderman story, it’s a decent plot line.  Ignoring all the pseudo-scientific mumble jumble, young Peter Parker learns that either choice, “normal teen” or “superhero” has consequences both big and small, for himself and those around him.  Nick Fury learns that being the awesome boss of a secret society of superheroes doesn’t necessarily provide him with the skills of coping with a sixteen-year-old. MJ and other high school kids and teachers provide some of the light touches of coping with adolescents and begin to understand about those who are different in some way.

In a sort of coming of age as Spiderman story, it’s a decent plot line.  Ignoring all the pseudo-scientific mumble jumble, it’s basically young Peter Parker learning that either choice, “normal teen” or “superhero” has consequences both big and small, for himself and those around him.  Nick Fury learns that being the awesome boss of a secret society of superheroes doesn’t necessarily provide him with the skills of coping with a sixteen-year-old. MJ and other high school kids and teachers provide some of the light touches of coping with adolescents and begin to understand about those who are different in some way.

All good reasons to see the film, which, if not still in theaters, should pop up on cable or streaming services in the not too distant future.

But mostly, see it for Tom Holland. He makes me wish that, like Peter Pan, he won’t grow up an will be my friendly neighborhood Spiderman forever.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Shelby Larsen Rating


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Yes, of course you should see this movie. After all, it’s about Mr. Rogers.  And on top of that, it has Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers is nice.
Tom Hanks is nice.

Why wouldn’t you go?

If you go, you too will be nice…. For a while.

Niceness is in short supply right now.  And, truthfully, this movie is not only all about nice, it is nice. Mr. Rogers was a hero to generations of our nation’s children.  Mr. Rogers taught that even when we grow up, it is still possible to be nice.  Unfortunately, we forget that lesson, somewhere in middle school and high school, when emotions run strongly.  It’s then, that what Mr. Rogers taught us, that though being human means having emotions, they can be managed. It is one of the tragedies of our time that so many people forget that. They forget to do what Mr. Rogers did best: listen.  Listen, without condescension, to children. Listen to their worries, their fears, their pleasures.  Listening to them leads to liking them, in his memorable words, “just the way you are.”

There is not a lot of listening, not a lot of liking “just the way you are” going on these days, evn in the movies.  Maybe especially in the movies.

The movie isn’t really about Mr. Rogers. Fred Rogers, in and of himself, is not inherently dramatic. This film is about the effect that Mr. Rogers had on the people whose lives he touched, which, due to the ubiquity of television, was pretty much the whole country.

Mr. Rogers Neighborhood made its national debut on February 19, 1968.  The country was fraught with controversy over the Vietnam War, the “flower power” youth revolution, and, in general, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It’s perhaps too simple to see the show as a comforting, culture -countering response to the fractures that roiled the nation’s adults.  Just so, it is easy to see character of Lloyd Vogel, a cynical, alienated from his family, emotionally conflicted journalist who sees himself as a righteous purveyor of truth, as a stand in for current culture.

But perhaps that is taking a metaphor a little too far. This is, after all, a movie, and a movie needs some plot, some drama.  Lloyd’s initially dismissive attitude towards the assignment—interview the iconic children’s host for an article about heroes in Esquire magazine—becomes, as he interacts more with Fred Rogers, a spiritual journey.  Spiritual journeys are notoriously hard to film, and so, the Vogel family dysfunction become the somewhat shaky (we’ve seen it all before) storyline to illustrate the values embodied by Fred Rogers.  Fred Rogers, Mr. Rogers, Rev. Rogers –yes, he was an ordained minister in the mainline Presbyterian denomination—his spiritual journey is unknowable.  He didn’t talk about himself much. He simply was who he was.

The film touches on Mr. Rogers faith, by showing him at prayer, a mention or two of God, and a reference to his reading of Scripture. I wish it had done a little more with his faith.

(Full disclosure. I too am an ordained mainline Presbyterian minister, and I always wish that films would show a little more of behavior deeply rooted in faith). Nevertheless, his faith, and his spiritual journey, whatever it was, made him who and what he was.

Today, we would probably label him as highly empathetic; he looked at people, saw them, and responded directly to them. He deflected questions about himself,  his methods, his creativity, his life, by asking about the lives of others.  If you want to get a feeling for him personally, go to  other sources. The 1998  Esquire article that served as inspiration for the film, Can You Say . . .Hero? recounts journalist Tom Junod’s interactions with Mr. Rogers.  The 2018 documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, directed by Morgan Neville, focuses far more on Fred Rogers himself.

This movie is about values; of seeing others, of listening to others, of appreciating others.  Of being present for others. That’s the message Mr. Rogers not only spoke but lived. Really. He wasn’t a saint, though we are never shown his failings. We don’t really care, because,  for a little while, kindness and niceness are appreciated.

So, this movie is about a thoroughly decent and nice man.

This movie has nice Tom Hanks doing a very good job of portraying this nice man.

Why wouldn’t you go see the movie?

Maybe it will make you think about being nice.

For more than a little while.

The world could use more niceness.


Avengers: EndGame

Are you thinking about a nice night at the movies in the next two weeks? Then you are about to see the long awaited and/or highly hyped, expected to break all box office records film, AVENGERS: END GAME. It will be playing at the Island Cinema, on both screens, for the next two weeks.

Upfront, I need to admit that I only have room in my head for one complicated mythology, full of interacting characters with detailed backstories, evolving and improbable connections, confusing narratives that seem to be designed only to fix up a previous plot issues, full of magic or faux science. The Avenger series has all that, but much of my headspace is taken up by the mythology, etc. of Game of Thrones. Also, full disclosure, I have only seen about half of the twenty-two films that now make up the MCU (that’s Marvel Comic Universe to the uninitiated). I did watch Avengers: Infinity Wars the night prior to seeing Endgame. It didn’t help me much. I am certain there were references, callbacks, locations and past relationships that I did not catch. I can, however, state definitively that Endgame is better than Infinity Wars. It may be the best MCU film I have seen, on a par with Black Panther and the original Iron Man. If you are not too bothered with details like “Who is that? He looks like the other guy?” Or, “What’s his/her powers? Whose posse are they?” Endgame will work for you as a stand-along feature.

I am Iron Man.

– Tony Stark

Endgame has all of the best features of a super-hero movie. Love of friends, of family, of great threat (to the end of civilization, as usual), discovery of limitations, sacrifice, supreme sacrifice for others, etc.  It also has touches of humor, some of which I missed because the audience chuckled when I didn’t, some of which I found funnier than they did because I wasn’t familiar with the reference, at least not in the same way. Some of the humor was sophomoric, 13 year old boy stuff. Some was funny in a wistful, nostalgic way, one of the many surprising layers in this movie.

It is a long movie. The first hour tends to be spent in setting up what is, what was, and planning for whatever is to come.  There’s a sort of “getting the band back together” vibe to it, plus a plot line constructing  a “time heist” that will fix all that has gone wrong.  This combination of tried and true movie themes, planning a heist, putting together the team, time travel, and saving the universe, combined with a few shots highly reminiscent of iconic shots from other films, brings the audience in synch with the basic premise.  Particularly enjoyable is the quick explanation of why all the time travel paradox rules from other films don’t apply here, thus opening up the possibilities for interactions usually portrayed as impossible, improbable, history-changing or worse.  This climaxes with Captain America giving the rousing pre-game, pre-battle speech seen hundreds of times before, ending with a variation of “be careful out there!”

The middle of the film cuts between various efforts to complete the mission. Things go right, things go wrong, our heroes are forced to improvise, and “being careful out there” is quickly discarded.

By this time, all bathroom runs should have been taken care of, because, even though there is a lot of running time left,  the film does not have as much of the prolonged video game type battles often seen in the genre.

Finally, after an old-fashioned fade to black, Endgame comes up with a moving and elegant tribute to the costs of abandoning a not-so-secret human identity to be a super-hero and save the world. It touches upon who people were, how life changes even for those with superpowers, what is achieved, what was lost, and what can be done to face the future.

For these Avengers, it’s the End, not the Game, that matters, both to them and us.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Shelby Larsen Rating


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

In a national review, the author said that there were two types of people;

1) Avid Quentin Tarantino fans

2) Those who weren’t reading the article.

I did read it, but I have always put myself in the “Not a Tarantino Fan” category. I have to admit I’ve really tried not to see it. Besides, I rely a lot on my movie going children and grandchildren. My sixteen-year-old said it was “terrible”. The fact that they were actually checking ID’s at the theater for age, as well as the focus of the film being on Charlie Manson and the Manson murders made me suspicious that Tarantino’s penchant for excessive and often gratuitous violence would be in full evidence.

“Mostly boring, though the leads were good, and Brad Pitt was looking like Robert Redford”.

by: Tonya Lawson

But when I thought about it, every one of those reactions was age-related. The Manson murders are as real to a sixteen-year-old as Lizzie Borden’s ax; his mother could remember some of the late seventies, and Robert Redford was her go-to handsome movie star.

And my husband and I were exactly the right age to have experienced 1969, and know the horror that put an end to the innocence of the Summer of Love. So, since it was apparently very popular, we went to see it.

It probably demands a certain amount of disclosure here. In addition to our age, mentioned above (we were both 22), my husband has worked in the television branch of the entertainment business all his life.  We live in Los Angeles. It probably gives us a somewhat different filter through which to view this film.

That said, I was wrong. I was wrong to avoid it, wrong to prejudge it based on reported subject matter, and wrong to worry about the violence. There was far more violence in Hobbs and Shaw, though Tarantino’s is undoubtedly more graphic.

It is definitely, as the title “Once Upon a Time. . .” implies, a fairy tale.  It is a group of separate, episodic encounters loosely strung together by Tarantino’s imaginative recreation of what Hollywood in the late sixties  was or should have been. The lives of Rick Dalton, former star of a 50’s-ish TV western that looks very similar to 1960’s Warner Brothers westerns, and his stand-in and buddy, Cliff Booth, intertwine with glimpses of the Manson “family”, the embodiment of dark side of the freedom bestowed by casual sex and even more casual drugs, loosely strung into vignettes of a time and place that no longer exists.

Tarantino has, though, wisely chosen locations that do still exist in one form or another. “We were there last night” my husband whispered to me at one point. “Look, that’s where we walked across the street.” I also recognized places I frequently drive by. This may  not be of much significance to others; after all, one restaurant, one movie theater looks very like any other, and none of the locations significantly move the plot, such as it is, along. But they make those vignettes feel very real.  My only real criticism regarding authenticity was that, even in 1969, not everyone was dancing all the time.  On the other hand, it’s a killer soundtrack.

I doubt , too, that the younger patrons appreciated all the references to old television shows and movies that permeate the script. I am quite sure, though, that choosing them, using clips, and even re-creating scenes was done with appreciation, attention to detail, and love for the past.

DiCaprio (Rick) and Pitt (Cliff) are more than believable in a best -friends, partners, co-worker kind of relationship. They are ably surrounded by a cast that includes Margot Robbie,

Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Damian Lewis and Al Pacino, among others. Cameo appearances abound. There’s not a discordant note anywhere in the performances.

Like all good fairy tales, it pits good against evil. The relentless, malevolent, inescapable nature of evil is tamed by bringing it down to human size, where it can be conquered by those who are the least likely heroes.

And everyone lives happily ever after.

Like I said, it’s a fairy tale.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Shelby Larsen Rating