MRS. SOFFEL (1984)

Based on a true story of two death-row-imprisoned brothers about to be hanged, and then rescued by the warden's wife... the titular character played by a classic-melodrama-suited Diane Keaton... these convicted killers have very little interesting about them, while the leader, played by Mel Gibson, looks like... well... a young Mel Gibson (opposite Matthew Modine), who just about any woman would fall for...


And being a likeable, wink-at-rebellion movie-rebel countered by a bullying guard, there's absolutely no edge (or glory) to his performance that would, in a better film, provide Gibson a possible Oscar nomination... he simply plays it too safe and affable here, as does the director... Who painted a deliberately bleak canvas nicely recreating turn-of-the-century rural America in its mahogany landscapes, dire factories and the actual prison... But what's here is more a Harlequin Romance montage than either an effective prison-plot-escape thriller or true story that needed telling: because storywise, MRS. SOFFEL is more whispered than spoken and, soon after, completely forgotten. Rates: **

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020)

The WONDER WOMAN sequel WW84 resembles a straight-to-DVD feature so much you'll want to enjoy that cheap time-filling aspect, which this bloated production doesn't even provide...

Taking place in the core of the 1980's, the town centered on has a colorful mall and a nearby museum, resembling BACK TO THE FUTURE had the old fashion 50's timeline morphed into the 1980's... After all, for this younger generation, the 80's is like the 50's was to 80's kids, with corny dated clothes and, best yet, without cell phones while the plot not only lacks action, there's no reason for any since the villain's a slimy oil salesman (a horrendous performance by Pedro Pascel, befitting a social drama parody) who finds the ultimate McGuffin in a Wish Stone, one of the most contrived plot-motivations in any modern superhero movie, which this hardly resembles...With Kristin Wigg as an ambiguous link between heroine and villain (like Richard Pryor in SUPERMAN III), and Chris Pine wedged into a romantic-comedy story that hardly exists, WONDER WOMAN 1984... although made right before the pandemic... bares the lifeless residual of that time: lazy entertainment for lazy viewers.. RATING: *1/2

BATMAN RETURNS (1992)

Something happened to the Tim Burton BATMAN films after the ultra-serious Christopher Nolan vehicles made many long for superhero simplicity, while the Joel Schumaker trainwrecks gave an impression that something good was turned extremely bad, and yet, BATMAN RETURNS is really a tiresome, eclectic mess, not quite certain who and what to center on since there are way too many cooks, all going drastically overboard...

Especially the director himself, who uses so many of his stylized Gothic popup-book visuals that the Jack Nicholson BATMAN seemed tame by comparison... which was more of a BATMAN movie directed by Burton while RETURNS is a Burton movie that happens to involve BATMAN... and not very much, which is why Michael Keaton, with too much screen-time centering on the villains, winded up quitting the role, yet it's difficult to tell who the real antagonists are since Penguin... played by an overacting, bad monologue-spouting Danny DeVito... is so pathetic with a genuinely tragic backstory that he's never quite as evil (or dangerous) as he should be... and Christopher Walken's corporate tycoon makes DeVito's creature as benign as Keaton felt in the titular role: Meanwhile, Michelle Pheiffer's CAT WOMAN seems like her own solo movie's being invaded by characters who should be more important here... but eventually, too much happens in BATMAN RETURNS for anything to really stick, or wind up mattering beyond the overdose of Burton's self-inflicted style over substance. RATING: **

A FEW FORGIVABLE FLAWS OF 'MAD MEN' (2007)

MAD MEN is a lot like BREAKING BAD, other than both being the greatest cable shows ever, with extremely flawed leading men who are borderline villains, or perhaps anti-heroes... with blonde wives fighting back, and being hated by audiences for it... But MAD MEN never seems to completely know where its true strengths lie, and that's in Jon Hamm as ad-man Don Draper, who, through two marriages, has flings on the side and, sadly, these become more important than the business at hand, which includes creative pitches to non-creative companies where, especially during rejections, we see the true power, and color, of Don Draper... 

More of this was needed to make MAD MEN a truly perfect series like BREAKING BAD and less of a nighttime-soap opera, despite an abundance of middle-aged women viewers dreaming they could initially sleep with the square-jawed Hamm to then be cheated-on... a less-is-more actor who has never been able to get near this kind of intensity on the big screen, for which... like Bryan Cranston... he doesn't seem suited quite like television... And other flaws include the producer's son in a reoccurring role (as a creepy kid turned robotic teen) that tilts the cringe meter, stopping the show in its tracks while the central ad men, other than Draper and scene-stealing Roger played by John Slattery, master of the one-line quip... are really boys, seeming far too young for their very grownup jobs... In fact, if you look at pictures of the real life ad-men: they are mostly in their forties, or else look that way, as opposed to being counter-culture whiners against capitalism... which wouldn't quite work in this kind of job (only Joel Murray as normal-looking every-man Freddy genuinely resembles one of the true advertising guys)... Also, the series has to flow evenly with not only the soapy bedroom diversions, but true stories taking shape, from JFK to MLK's assassinations, in which these fictional characters flow through history like Jack and Rose on the TITANIC... And in this, sometimes the whole series seems geared towards a political agenda of sorts, more than bordering on cliches and generic left-wing platitudes... the teenagers are all dropout hippies who are smarter than the parents who raised (and spoiled) them, all soldiers die in war, and every businessman has 100 affairs: with supermodels, no less... But for the most part, what works is that Don Draper himself stays the same, with the slick short hair and perfectly-suited stiff suit while those around him progressively wear late-1960's-driven costumes (one major reason the early seasons are the best)... And really, when it comes right down to it, MAD MEN is about one person despite all that's going on around him. Rating: ****1/2

THE WALKING DEAD: DARYL DIXON (2023)

Well if anything happens, and THE WALKING DEAD: DARYL DIXON doesn't become a big hit, then they could easily make a prequel taking place after the original about how exactly Daryl got from Georgia to France laying unconscious on an upturned canoe... and it's funny that Carol was originally supposed to be right alongside him... Although, taking place at a scorched-earth renaissance-era France (with a gigantic convent), the famous lone wolf fits better solo within this MAD MAX/Spaghetti Western hybrid: Making sense that Norman Reedus's primal, strong-silent-type would wind up on a series attempting to start an entire franchise from scratch... 

But there are too many familiar elements for that: like a seemingly innocent group (the nunnery) that eerily keeps very-dead walkers alive (Herschel's barn to The Governor's town)... or protecting a person who might one day save everyone, which was Eugene's initial purpose and a little boy's plight here: basically replacing Daryl's Dog as a chaste sidekick to protect (along with two pretty Frenchwomen that look almost exactly alike, except one's a nun)... And of course there's the vicious living-human antagonist, and that particular character... a dire shaved-head killer... is the most intriguing thing here, but, based on this pilot episode, there's simply not a lot going on for the viewer to keep tuning into... After all, since the entire WALKING DEAD world is so absolutely doomed, battling dead people or not trusting (or taking five minutes in order to possibly trust) the live ones really doesn't make a difference: Because no matter where Daryl wound up, it's all the same formula... one that this series, so far, fails to either rise above or stand apart from. Grade: D

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 3 (2023)

There's a point in MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 3 when, actually set in Greece this time... and right before a stranger's wedding... Nia Vardalos and John Corbett look at each other and realize, they need a vacation... together... away from everyone else...

Which might be the first time two main characters wanted out of their very own motion picture... and that's because they have very little to do with anything other than being parents of a college girl who's failing WHILE being pushed to date a mediocre dimwit college dude: neither interesting enough to be in a movie unless it was SUPPOSED to be about other people... and some of those people are also from the original... a romantic comedy that not only had an actual plot, but some tension and, what needs to happen in this particular comedy genre, an actual problem to resolve... which is completely missing here, and watching this bad sequel of a bad sequel... after a string of dead-end goofy-aunt jokes, cliche stereotypes, and some of the most awkward moments in cinema history... you too will need a vacation, and it's not even your movie. Score: 1/2

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