IT AIN’T OVER (2023, doc)

May 25, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. In a perfect world we would judge each other by character, personality, integrity, and accomplishments. Unfortunately, too many still judge the book by its cover, and therein lies the only explanation for why Yogi Berra was not on the field at the 2015 All-Star game with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, and Johnny Bench as one of the greatest living players. Berra, though he never cut the imposing athletic figure as those players, certainly fulfilled the four attributes listed above … including his accomplishments in the very game that was offering tribute to the greats of the game. Director Sean Mullin expertly proceeds to prove that Lorenzo Pietro “Yogi” Berra was not just one of the best baseball players of all-time, he was also a war hero, beloved father, grandfather, husband, public figure, and above all, a world-class person.

What Mr. Mullin does to elevate this documentary is not just focus on Yogi’s fabulous career as a player, but also on the rest of his life. This allows us to understand what a special man he was. Yogi’s granddaughter Lindsay frequently pops up for commentary, and she makes it abundantly clear that while Yogi learned to accept being baseball’s most overlooked superstar, she certainly has not. After all, Berra is the all-time leader in World Series championships as a player with 10, and has 13 rings total, including his time coaching. He was an 18 time All-Star and was voted onto the All-Century team. Remarkably, Yogi caught both ends of 117 doubleheaders in his career, and of course, caught Don Larsen’s World Series Perfect Game. As a New York Yankees player and coach, his presence in pinstripes linked the careers of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, and Don Mattingly.

Those are some of the pieces of a life that are indelibly linked to baseball history, and in this documentary, we learn even more. He grew up on the same St Louis street as (another future major league catcher) Joe Garagiola, and the Branch Rickey story involving the two is fascinating. After signing with the Yankees for $500, Berra enlisted in the Navy, and found himself in the middle of the Normandy landings. Lindsay recounts the story of why Berra never received his Purple Heart, and the process she went through to ensure that he received a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was married to Carmen for 65 years, and they raised three sons, Dale (a Major Leaguer), Tim, and Larry. The story of how Carmen named Dale is one of the highlights of the film.

Lest you buy into the image of Yogi as the cartoon character (Yogi Bear) in Yellowstone, or the lovable post-career pitchman for Amtrak, Aflac, YooHoo, and Miller Lite, pay particular attention to the segment on Jackie Robinson’s steal of home in the World Series. This will clue you in on what an intense competitor Yogi was – helping to explain his incredible track record of winning. Of course, none of this is meant to minimize Yogi’s creative use of the English language. He became iconic for his malapropisms … often referred to as “Yogiisms”. This includes the famous one from which this film’s title was derived, “It ain’t over till it’s over” … right up there with “I really didn’t say everything I said.”

Berra’s rift with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is analyzed, leaving us respecting Yogi’s years-long stance over being disrespected. Their eventual make-up led to an incredible “Yogi Berra Day” at Yankee Stadium, where the game remarkably lived up to the pre-game moment when Don Larsen threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Yogi. Director Mullin capitalizes on a long stream of former teammates, opponents, players, writers, and family members to provide insight into Yogi Berra. There is little doubt even more would have loved to contribute, as much in the way Yogi gives credit to Hall of Famer Bill Dickey for tutoring him on catching, so many are anxious to offer stories on how Yogi Berra influenced them. Let’s end this with more of Yogi’s wisdom. “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” And when it comes to this excellent and entertaining documentary from Sean Mullin, keep in mind that “You can observe a lot by watching.”

Opens in theaters on May 26, 2023



May 25, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s borderline unfathomable that someone who has worked for almost 20 years as a cinematographer and a decade as a TV director could be “unfamiliar” with the work and career of one of the industry giants, yet that’s the claim of director James Adolphus (“Soul of a Nation” mini-series) when it comes to Mary Tyler Moore. His film does play a bit as if he’s opening a Christmas present that everyone else in the room knows what’s under the wrapping, and it’s because of this, the film works as not just a retrospective of her career, but also a tribute to a woman who influenced so many.

“The Dick Van Dyke Show” ran for 158 episodes between 1961 and 1966, and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” ran for 168 episodes between 1970 and 1977. These were two immensely popular shows during their respective eras, and because of her characters in each, Mary Tyler Moore spent time as both America’s favorite wife and America’s favorite single woman. These characters were cutting edge (for different reasons) for their time. Director Adolphus also provides insight into her childhood and early career. Mary was first married in 1954, not long after high school graduation. She found work as ‘Happy Hotpoint’, the dancer on Hotpoint advertisements, and clips of the ads are included here. Even after she became a world-famous actor, she remained a dancer at heart.

Betty Friedan and “The Feminine Mystique” are referenced a few times, and the point is made, even if it’s in a subtle manner, that Mary’s impact on feminism has long been overlooked. We hear from such industry folks as Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ed Asner, James L Brooks, and Treva Silverman, as well as friends and family, but it’s really Mary herself that we see on screen for the vast majority of the two-hour run time. In particular, a loose structure is formed from clips of her appearances on “The David Susskind Show” and an interview with Rona Barrett. These segments allow for some rare personal insight into Mary Tyler Moore as a person.

So many rare pictures, clips, and home movies are included that we easily follow a career that spanned 50 years … and three marriages. The first marriage produced her only child. The second marriage, to Grant Tinker, resulted in MTM Productions and her greatest professional success. However, it was the third marriage to Dr. Robert Levine, where she found true and long-lasting love, as well as the motivation to find herself with a stint at the Betty Ford Clinic for rehab in 1984. We learn of her Broadway redemption with “Whose Life is it, anyway?”, after her setback on stage many years earlier with a musical “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Probably the most surprising segment here revolves around the original pilot for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” … it has great video and behind-the- scenes scoop.

Given her comedic chops displayed in her two most famous sitcoms, many of us were caught off guard with her Oscar nominated performance in Robert Redford’s ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980). What we discover here is that Mary’s personal life was nearly as rosy as Laura Petrie’s or Mary Richards’, and many real-life personal losses allowed her to reveal a bit more of her true self on screen. Most of us know that Mary was the female lead in Elvis Presley’s final feature film, CHANGE OF HABIT (1969), but we might not have known that Carl Reiner was her comedy hero, or that her own struggles with diabetes (over decades) led her to become International Chairperson of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). For one who seemed to constantly define the contemporary woman, Mary Tyler Moore’s story is impressive, and her personal archives bring more meaning to “Love is All Around.”

Beginning May 26, 2023, the documentary will air on HBO and stream on MAX



May 25, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. The tough road this film faces could be blamed on the unfortunate timing of release on the heels of a similar story in GUY RITCHIE’S THE COVENANT; however, that’s not the only reason the latest collaboration between Gerard Butler and director Ric Roman Waugh (ANGEL HAS FALLEN, GREENLAND) will likely struggle to find an audience. Other obstacles include a script with entirely too many storylines and character arcs that dead end, as well as an overall lack of intensity when it was necessary.

Since the script was written by Mitchell LaFortune, and drawn on his personal experience as a Military Intelligence Officer in Afghanistan, the lack of intensity and danger is quite surprising. Gerald Butler does Gerald Butler things here. He has patented this type of character in the same manner that Liam Neeson has perfected his familiar action hero. This time, Butler plays CIA Operative Tom Harris, whom we first see working at gunpoint to assist in bombing an Iranian nuclear facility. When his mission is exposed by a whistleblower through a female British journalist (Elnaaz Norouzi), it seems half of the middle east is contracted to kill him … and the reporter herself is kidnapped.

Soon Harris’ handler (Travis Fimmel, LEAN ON PETE) throws enough money at Harris to motivate him to perform one more mission before he heads home to a graduating daughter and a divorce-seeking wife. This “one last job” means Harris and his new interpreter “Mo” (Navid Negahban, “Homeland”) are on a road trip through the desert trying not to get killed as Mo searches for his missing sister-in-law. There are some cool drone shots showing the endless miles of desert desolation and some night vision goggle sequences that are better than what we’ve seen before, but the big-time weaponry doesn’t make up for too many characters and crummy music. To his credit, director Waugh doesn’t lean on an excess of action sequences.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the movie is that it was actually filmed in Saudi Arabia. Of course, that parcel of rare trivia doesn’t make up for the feeling that this film is just a bit too familiar with too many unfinished story lines.

Opens in theaters on May 26, 2023



May 18, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. The word of the day is “awkward.” Every character, every situation, every moment, and every conversation in this film can be described with that word. An attempt will be made to not overuse that adjective here, but yours truly offers no guarantees. Paul Schrader has had a long and impressive career as both writer and director. His early successes include screenplays for TAXI DRIVER (1976), ROLLING THUNDER (1977), RAGING BULL (1980), and THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988), as well as directing AMERICAN GIGOLO (1980) and AFFLICTION (1997). The past few years have been a bit of a resurgence for Schrader with the excellent FIRST REFORMED (2018) and THE CARD COUNTER (2021).

In his latest, Schrader gives us Narvel Roth, an expert horticulturalist played by Joel Edgerton. Narvel is responsible for the massive gardens on the estate of wealthy dowager Norma Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver). Narvel’s daily rituals are carried forth with his meticulous approach, including daily journaling in his sparse living quarters located on the grounds of the estate. As narrator, Narvel tells us, “a change will come in its due time”, and though he’s speaking of the garden, we understand the words also apply to him. Soon enough, we learn that this current lifestyle represents a significant change from his past, and it’s clear another is brewing.

The relationship between Narvel and Ms. Haverhill is quite unorthodox, and yes, awkward (she has nicknamed him ‘Sweet Pea’). She is filled with entitlement and thrives on her power over others, not hesitating to use Narvel for more than his gardening skills. In fact, his past likely provides quite an enticement for her. Ms. Haverhill soon charges Narvel with taking her estranged and off-track great-niece Maya (Quintessa Swindell, BLACK ADAM, 2022) under his wing and teaching her the profession of gardening. This creates the second and third of the three relationships at play in the film. Narvel and Maya hit it off, as her intelligence and work ethic win him over. However, things aren’t as smooth between Maya and Ms. Haverhill. Their first chat, though long delayed, epitomizes the awkwardness prevalent throughout the film.

Adding complexity to the story is Maya’s personal life which brings a couple of drug dealers to the forefront. It’s this development that uncovers the past Narvel has worked so hard to cover up. After a meeting with his Witness Protection contact (Esai Morales), Narvel begins his process of ‘saving’ Maya … a clear attempt at redemption from his past life, and this is where her being bi-racial is a significant plot point.

The first two acts offer an unconventional form of entertainment. Edgerton nails the Narvel role with his Steven Wright delivery, slicked back hair, SLING BLADE wardrobe, and fastidious procession through the day. Even his posture and stride change along with his character’s shifting outlook. The three relationships between the tormented characters weave quite the web, and as secrets are exposed, the dynamics of these relationships change as well. Schrader includes a few cringy lines of dialogue (perhaps by design?), and the drug dealers seem purposefully cartoonish, rather than intimidating or menacing. There are call-backs to earlier Schrader works, as it seems many of his characters over the years have battled personal demons, yet this one does offer a glimmer of optimism, which could be considered a step forward … even if it’s a bit awkward.

Opens in theaters on May 19, 2023



May 12, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is in its 18th year, having aired 165 episodes, not counting endless reruns in syndication. A huge part of the series’ success is the comedic talent and writing ability of Charlie Day. That success has put him in a position to direct his first feature film, and how does he proceed? By attempting to skewer and mock the same Hollywood system that has made him rich and famous. Fortunately for Day, many of his friends have joined in, and most of the mocking falls pretty flat. So, he hasn’t jeopardized the likelihood that he will, in fact, work in this town again.

Our first glimpse of Day’s character is in a mental hospital where he has been diagnosed as non-verbal with “the mind of a Labrador retriever.” With no means to pay and no government plan to compensate the hospital, he is unceremoniously dumped on the street. Before trouble strikes, he is picked up by a Hollywood Producer (the late Ray Liotta) due to his striking resemblance to a temperamental and troubled movie star (also played by Day). Despite having no comprehension of what’s being asked of him, he ends up with a whirlwind acting career and a new name … Latte Pronto.

It doesn’t take long for us to realize Day has attempted to blend the comic (and silent) genius of Charlie Chaplin with the ‘oddity’ of Chauncey Gardiner in the Hal Ashby classic BEING THERE (1979).  Those friends of Day who make appearances include Jason Sudekis as a big-time director, Common as an action hero, John Malkovich as a backroom power broker, Jason Bateman, Glenn Howerton, Edie Falco as a super-agent, Mary Elizabeth Ellis (Day’s real life wife), and Dean Norris. In more substantive roles we find Adrien Brody as an alcoholic actor prone to wild times behind the wheel, Kate Beckinsale as a movie star attracted to Day’s overnight fame, and Ken Jeong as Lenny, the struggling publicist who latches onto Latte Pronto as his only client.

Day certainly has a knack for physical comedy and it’s on full display during his “Wipeout” dance, however, without the use of his trademark scratchy, whiny voice, he lacks the charm of Chaplin (who doesn’t?). More significantly, the script lacks the sharpness needed to effectively poke fun at the lure of celebrity, and the greed, self-interest, and insecurities tied to the fluff of Hollywood. There is an attempt to make this about friendship and human connection, but maybe what it does best is remind us how most people would rather talk, and are therefore attracted to a listener … even if he doesn’t understand the words coming out of their mouth.

In theaters beginning May 12, 2023



May 12, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. With his Oscar winning AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006), and follow-ups including WAITING FOR SUPERMAN (2010) and HE NAMED ME MALALA (2015), Davis Guggenheim has proven to be one of the most important and effective documentarians working today. With his latest, he adds a creative touch that blends well with the emotional and personal aspects of this Michael J Fox biography.

Most everyone recognizes Michael J Fox as the popular actor from the BACK TO THE FUTURE franchise and/or his enormously successful TV series, “Family Ties” and “Spin City”. Along the way, there were numerous other films and appearances, and at one point in the 1980’s, he was likely the most recognized actor on the planet thanks to his box office winning movies, highly-rated TV series, countless magazine covers, and regular Talk Show appearances. On top of all that, in 1988, he married the love of his life, actress Tracy Pollan. He truly had it all.

A trembling pinkie signaled a life-changing event for Fox. At age 29, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease … a disease that typically strikes elderly folks, not otherwise healthy young adults in their physical prime years. For years, he was able to hide his symptoms by timing his medication and disguising his left-hand trembles – either by holding an item or keeping the hand stuffed in his pocket.

The creative parts of Guggenheim’s film are that he eschews traditional talking heads – and rest assured, there would be a stream of celebrities willing to talk about Fox – and the use of cool editing by cutting in clips of Fox’s acting roles into the stories as Fox tells them. That’s right … as Michael J Fox tells his own story. He is his own talking head in this film, and it works brilliantly to allow him to show us his sense of humor remains intact, and that he has learned to deal with the obstacles this disease throws at him. We even see his struggle to get toothpaste on his toothbrush. Yet none of this is designed to elicit sympathy for Fox. Oh no, he will have none of that.

We learn his patented perpetual movement dates back to childhood, and are reminded that he was often seen sprinting or moving quickly in his roles … movements he can no longer execute. In fact, his falls are often brutal, sometimes resulting in broken bones and a broken face (pins in his hand and eye socket). Michael J Fox is a 5-time Emmy winner who has been married to Tracy for 35 years. They share four kids and the obstacles created by Parkinson’s. Guggenheim includes a wonderful story regarding a lunch box and Brandon Tartikoff, the wunderkind President of NBC who initially was opposed to Fox being cast in “Family Ties”. The presentation of Fox’s workaholic nature is on full display during the sequence on his simultaneously filming “Family Ties” and BACK TO THE FUTURE.

Michael J Fox telling us his own story makes this so personal. He admits to “waiting for the bus” … a phrase he copped to describe waiting for the dopamine meds to kick in. He is one of the very few to live more than half their life with Parkinson’s Disease, and his sharing the obstacles for all to see is commendable, even if he forbids us from pity.

Opens May 12, 2023



May 12, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. There aren’t too many companies who have reached the pinnacle of their industry, only to later flop due to lack of innovation or a stubborn insistence on holding on to the past. Tremendous success and absolute failure are not typically associated with the same company. Blockbuster Video and Pan Am Airlines come to mind as examples of industry leaders whose refusal to adapt, culminated with closure, and it’s likely that Blackberry belongs in the category, at least as presented here by writer-director Matt Johnson and co-writer Matthew Miller, adapting the book by Jacquie McNish.

Socially awkward pals, Mike Lazaridis (played by Jay Baruchel) and Doug Fregin (played by the film’s director Matt Johnson), co-founded Research in Motion (RIM). The film picks up in 1996 when Mike and Doug are making their first presentation of their breakthrough handheld data delivery-email machine, which they have named Pocket Link. These are two genius nerds with no concept of how the outside business worlds functions, and the executive to whom they are pitching is so distracted that his only feedback is, “You need a new name.” In a fascinating twist, that same executive, Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) ends up saving not just the new product, but also the company.

Balsillie presents himself as a fireball, take charge, full-steam-ahead kind of guy. It’s quite a contrast to nerdy Mike and easy-going Doug. Mike is a quiet guy committed to perfection in his work, while Doug wrangles the tech developers with a culture of video games, movie night, and an overall fraternity environment. Balsillie’s arrival as a vocal outrage expert and brash businessman changes everything, and he and Mike drive the newly named BlackBerry to levels not previously seen. We do get a humorous anecdote from a shirt stain (even though it’s not a true story), and in fact, there is quite a bit of humor throughout.

We are informed that the film was “inspired by real people and real events”, so some dramatic license is expected. Perhaps the best comparison is THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010), and while that film was more polished, I personally found this one more entertaining and accurate from a business sense. An excellent supporting cast includes Cary Elwes, Saul Rubinek, Michael Ironside, Martin Donovan, Rich Sommer, and SungWon Cho, and the film’s real draw is the contrast between Jay Baruchel’s mousy but brilliant Mike, and Glenn Howard’s powerhouse portrayal of the egotistical Balsillie. Baruchel’s scene where he reacts to the new iPhone is alone worth the price of admission.

At its peak, BlackBerry had 45% market share and had earned it’s “CrackBerry” label in the business world. Apple’s 2007 introduction of the iPhone not only rocked the BlackBerry company, it shook up the world. The Canada perspective is noted (RIM was based in Waterloo, Ontario), as is Mike’s aversion to ‘made in China’, perhaps the ultimate reason for the fall. It’s likely that BlackBerry has become a Case Study in Business Schools, although the fast-paced and pressure-packed world of tech continues to require a balance of decisions focused on current markets and never-ending innovation for the future.

Opens on May 12, 2023


MONICA (2023)

May 12, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. The emotional strain associated with being estranged from one’s family reaches a level only those involved can comprehend. In this touching film from writer-director Andrea Pallaoro and co-writer Orlando Tirado, we focus on the return and attempted re-connection of one such person.

The first 15 minutes of the film move at an excruciatingly slow pace, as we get a feel for Monica’s (Trace Lysette, “Transparent”, HUSTLERS 2019) everyday struggles. It appears there is no joy in her life as relationships unravel, and she attempts to find her way. A phone call notifies of her mother’s deteriorating health due to a brain tumor. The news draws Monica back home for the first time since she left years ago. Greeted with a hug from her sister-in-law Laura (Emily Browning, SUCKER PUNCH 2011), Monica meets her nieces and nephews for the first time. A reunion with brother Paul (Joshua Close) is initially quite awkward. The siblings do get their moment a bit later, although it’s when Monica is by her mother’s side that the film excels.

Patricia Clarkson plays Eugenia, a woman whose brain tumor is wreaking havoc not just on her physical presence, but also her emotions. At times, she’s merely a child calling for her own mother, while at other times, she’s hard-headed and demanding that she can take care of herself … this despite the constant attention from her caregiver, Letta (Adriana Barraza, BABEL 2006). She doesn’t appear to recognize Monica, and a running theme is, “Are you going to tell her?” We feel Monica’s pain as she attempts to find solace in merely being close to her mother, but it’s in the bathtub scene where Clarkson’s incredible talent shines through, and the many webs of deceit and uncertainty reach a conclusion.

Lysette’s performance as Monica captures the vulnerability that allows the film to work. Is she isolated or trapped … or is it both? It’s a role that takes 45 minutes of screen time before she’s allowed a smile, though her Cocteau Twins t-shirt is appreciated. Pallaoro’s approach here is restrained (an understatement), and he gives up backstory hesitantly, and in small doses and hints. No scene is overrun with dialogue. Cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi uses close-ups effectively to convey the emotional strain and unseen barriers to closeness. The result is a strong family drama on relationships, decisions, acceptance/rejection, and health issues.

Opens on May 12, 2023


MERCY (2023)

May 12, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. Imagine if Liam Neeson’s character in TAKEN had also been a skilled trauma surgeon … and a woman. If so, the result would be similar to the main character here, Michelle, played by Leah Gibson. Michelle is that rare former military doctor with special ops skills. She’s also a mother to a young son, and experiences a traumatic event in the opening scene in this film from director Tony Dean Smith and writer Alex Wright.

Michelle (Ms. Gibson) returns to civilian life as a single mother and secures a job as a surgeon at a small suburban hospital where a former military affiliate is Chief of Surgery. She’s making the best of her new life, and has secured the night off work to take her son to a big soccer match for his birthday. Before they can leave the hospital, a gunshot victim arrives – one needing Michelle’s special skills. Of course, we have seen what she hasn’t … the gun shot victim is part of the local Irish mob known as the Quinn Brotherhood, and though his wounds occurred during a crime, there is a twist.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Sean Quinn, the hot-headed son of Patrick Quinn (Oscar winner Jon Voight). The two butt heads as the elderly Patrick looks for a negotiated agreement under duress, while the young Sean thinks everything can be solved with intimidation and violence. Not helping matters is a rookie FBI agent who has the youngest Quinn son (the above-mentioned gunshot victim) in custody.

There is plenty of noise, gunfire, and tough-talking throughout the film, but we never believe that Michelle is in much danger – thanks to her ‘very particular set of skills.’ Although she has acted regularly for the past 15 years, we wouldn’t call Leah Gibson a familiar face. She is, however, up to the challenges of this physically demanding role. Even Jonathan Rhys Meyers is all in as the psychopath gangster, and despite his turn in “The Tudors”, he has never reached the level of stardom I predicted after MATCH POINT (2005).

Jon Voight is now 85 years old, and his storied career includes key roles in MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969), DELIVERANCE (1972), COMING HOME (1978), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996), and a career renaissance with “Ray Donovan” … the role most similar to his character in this movie. Outside of Mr. Voight, the film has a distinct B-movie look and feel, although the clown in the hospital was a nice touch and almost made up for the lame ‘salutes’ we are subjected to.

in select theatres on May 12, 2023, and on demand on June 2, 2023



April 28, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. In 1904, J.M. Barrie finished “Peter Pan, or the Boy who wouldn’t Grow Up”, and since then the story has been re-imagined on stage, on the silver screen, and even with a live TV production. Every generation gets their version (sometimes more than one), and the most famous (or infamous) are the 1953 animated Disney classic, the 1991 Steven Spielberg live action version HOOK, the 2003 live action version that never really captured a wide audience, and the fairly recent 2015 flop PAN from Joe Wright. At the core of the story is that none of us really want to grow up and take on the responsibilities of adulthood, and to avoid such a wretched future, we’d be willing to fly off in the middle of the night to a place called Neverland and fight an evil pirate while chasing great adventures.

If you want to explore the optimistic and playful aspects of the story, then Walt Disney animation and director Steven Spielberg are your best bets. On the flip side, you wouldn’t expect the director of A GHOST STORY (2017) and THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021) to follow suit. Writer-director David Lowery and his co-writer and collaborator Toby Halbrooks (Polyphonic Spree) on those projects wouldn’t be expected to dwell on the cheery aspects of the story, and they certainly don’t. Instead, we get exactly what they expertly deliver in their work – lush photography and a slightly twisted perspective on what makes people (young and old) tick.

We first meet Wendy (the talented Ever Anderson, offspring of Milla Jovovich and director Paul WS Anderson) as she frets over being shipped off to boarding school, while still finding the energy to stage sword fights with her younger brothers in all corners of the upstairs bedroom they share. Yet another piece of broken furniture results in the parents (Alan Tudyk, Molly Parker) lecturing Wendy about how her time for fun has passed and she should set an example for her brothers. This is the same evening (and very early in the film) where Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi) and Peter Pan (newcomer Alexander Molony) show up to whisk the three kids away from drudgery and towards adventure and fun.

What to say about Neverland … the “lost boys” aren’t really living a carefree, desirable life, and fun seems to be a bit hard to come by. Their leader, Peter Pan, is certainly a moody dude. Adventure does strike every time Captain Hook and his band of pirates attack. Jude Law seems to relish the role and his handlebar mustache, gravelly voice, and grumpy demeanor is one of the film’s highlights – along with comedian Jim Gaffigan (underrated as an actor) as first mate Smee.

In this iteration, Peter Pan is a bit of a blah character, as the focus is on Wendy and Captain Hook. We do get the origin story for Peter and Hook, and the visuals (Newfoundland, Faroe Islands) from cinematographer Bojan Bozelli are matched by composer Daniel Hart’s score. Director Lowery has modernized the tale by having the Lost Boys include boys and girls of multiple nationalities, a biracial Tinker Bell, and a heroic Tiger Lily played by Alyssa Wapanatahk. Kids will enjoy the flying scenes, sword fights, and the giant crocodile, however, it’s fair to wonder if the film is too dark and joyless for youngsters … plus the focus on Hook’s disenchantment is more for grown-ups than kiddos. In fairness to Lowery and Halbrooks, they were also behind the excellent and underappreciated PETE’S DRAGON (2016).

We have come to accept that Disney classics are being re-made and re-imagined as live action flicks, and it’s no surprise that some are better than others.

Now streaming on Disney+