BLONDE (2022) – Netflix’ NC-17 Rated Fictional Account of Marilyn Monroe Major Disappointment

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Some movies have “it.” Others don’t.

BLONDE (2022), unlike its subject, Marilyn Monroe, doesn’t have “it,” which is too bad because Ana de Armas is terrific in the lead role as Norma Jean, aka Marilyn Monroe, but this fictional account of the life of Monroe based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates just never came to life for me. It didn’t grab me at the outset, nor did it pull me in later as it went along, and for a movie that runs nearly three hours, that’s a long time to be uninvolved. A very long time.

The first issue I had with this movie is why do we need a fictional account of the life of Marilyn Monroe? Wasn’t her real life fascinating and tragic enough? I couldn’t really wrap my head around the idea. Sure, it’s based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel, but again, why? I was especially distracted by this in this day and age where a growing number of political leaders make their living promoting fictional accounts as true, and so this whole notion didn’t sit well with me here in 2022. That being said, I went in with an open mind, and was ready to enjoy this one regardless, but the film itself prevented me from doing so.

BLONDE, which is rated NC-17 for strong sexual content, nudity, rape, and child abuse, is now streaming on Netflix and playing at some theaters. Most of the content here is typical of R rated films. The one exception is a rather vulgar scene between Monroe and JFK, vulgar in the way the President treats Monroe. But this is all fiction so… it doesn’t resonate as it otherwise would.

The film opens with a young Norma Jean living with her alcoholic and abusive mom (Julianne Nicholson), giving the film a very unpleasant first few minutes which seem to go on forever before finally cutting to an adult Norma Jean (Ana de Armas) as she first breaks into the film industry. And in this story, she gets her first role after being raped by the studio head. He has his way sexually with her, and then he gives her the role. Again, fictional account. This never happened.

The rest of the movie follows Monroe’s traumatic life and career, following its factual path through movies she made and the lovers she had, but all with a fictional twist, right up until her tragic death in 1962 at the age of 36.

BLONDE tries to be stylish, and director Andrew Dominik mixes black and white cinematography into the mix, as well as different variants of color photography, and even inserts de Armas into real scenes from Marilyn Monroe’s movies where de Armas stands side by side with the real actors from those movies. Yet, none of this worked for me. In terms of style, BLONDE is vastly inferior to another bio pic from earlier this year, ELVIS (2022) by Baz Luhrmann. That film had me hooked within its opening seconds and it never looked back. BLONDE, in spite of all its technical innovations, labors from start to finish.

A large part of the problem is its pacing. It moves like a snail, and never builds on what has come before it. It just moves from one plot point to another. It really could have used some serious editing.

There are some impressive acting performances. I’ve been a fan of Ana de Armas for a while, and she is making a ton of movies these days. We just saw her in THE GRAY MAN (2022) and before that in the James Bond movie NO TIME TO DIE (2021). Her performance as an A. I. being was one of the better parts of BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017).

Here, she gives it her all as Marilyn Monroe, and at times she is good enough to lose herself in the role, and you think you are watching the real Monroe. Other times, however, de Armas’ Cuban accent is still detectable. If BLONDE had been a better movie, this distinction would have worked better because it would have supported the notion that this is a fictional account and not a true biography, but the film just isn’t up to the task, and so I imagine de Armas’ accent will only irritate Marilyn Monroe fans.

Bobby Cannavale turns in a fine performance as the “Ex-Athlete,” based of course on Joe DiMaggio, who famously married Marilyn Monroe, and Adrien Brody is even better as “The Playwright,” based on Arthur Miller, who married Monroe after she and DiMaggio divorced. Neither one of these two have much of an impact here though, since neither actor is in the movie all that much.

The screenplay by director Andrew Dominik based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates falls flat, and then some. I was amazed at how much I did not like this movie. Considering the subject matter, Marilyn Monroe, the actor in the lead, Ana de Armas, and the impressive looking cinematography.

None of it comes together. The story struggles. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the narrative because it’s a fictional account of a real person, and so these traumatic events which shaped Monroe’s life— didn’t actually happen, at least not in the way as depicted in this movie.

For me, the bottom line is this: did this really happen to Monroe? No. So, why do I care?

The short answer? I don’t.

So, in spite of tremendous potential, BLONDE was a huge disappointment.

Monroe and her fans deserve better.

I give it one and a half stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

GOD’S COUNTRY (2022) – Powerful Drama Uses Subtlety to Ratchet Up Tension

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GOD’S COUNTRY (2022) is a slow-burn thriller that grows stronger the longer it goes on, using subtlety to ratchet up the tension the way other lesser-made movies use violence to do the same. As such, it’s a refreshing and resounding drama that packs a punch from start to finish.

What GOD’S COUNTRY has to say, that racial disparities and violence against women continue to be unchanged is disturbing, mostly because it is hard to argue that the movie is wrong.

Figuratively, the film plays out like a western of old, only the protagonist is a woman of color, alone on the prairie, dealing with bad men with guns, pushed to the limit, until she has to stoop to their level, like a classic gunfighter of yesteryear, and beat the villains at their own game. But GOD’S COUNTRY isn’t a “western,” nor an action movie, but a drama about a college professor dealing with both subtle racism and in-your-face violence.

It’s a masterful story and movie well worth the price of a movie ticket.

GOD’S COUNTRY takes place in beautiful western Montana, “God’s country,” where college professor Sandra (Thandiwe Newton) has recently moved from New Orleans, and with the passing of her mother, she is grieving. She lives alone with her dog in a farmhouse with stunning mountains and wilderness all around her. One morning after her morning jog, she finds a red pickup truck parked in her driveway. Her employer and dean at the college Arthur (Kai Lennox) tells her not to worry about it, that it probably just belongs to some hunters, and they never bother anyone.

But Sandra takes offense to their parking on her property, and when the truck is parked there again, she leaves a note asking for them not to park on her property. But they ignore her request, even after she speaks to them in person, and when they shoot an arrow into her front door, she calls the police. Acting sheriff Wolf (Jeremy Bobb) tries to tell Sandra that things are different in Montana than in New Orleans, and that most of the time, these issues are solved not by calling the police, but by the folks themselves. But Sandra says she feels threatened, and so against his better judgment Wolf agrees to talk to the two men. Sandra insists on going with him, which doesn’t make the situation any easier.

They meet the first man Nathan (Joris Jarsky) at his job, and he takes offense at Sandra being there with Wolf, and he worries that Wolf’s presence there in the store will cost him his job, which Wolf assures him it will not. Nathan reluctantly agrees not to park in Sandra’s driveway anymore. But when they visit the second man, Samuel (Jefferson White), the more unpredictable of the two, at his place of work, cutting down pine trees, they find themselves in the forest suddenly surrounded by hostile men wielding chainsaws, in one of the movie’s most riveting scenes, men who refuse to listen to Wolf, because, as we find out, the former sheriff is on a leave of absence for shooting and killing one of the men’s brothers, and so they do not trust the police at all. It’s Sandra who steps up and offers her sympathy and condolences to the men and gets them to agree that the man who shot the brother is not there with them, and so she convinces them to let her, and Wolf walk away, no harm, no foul. It’s here where Wolf recognizes that Sandra wasn’t a college professor back in New Orleans.

And later over a conversation at a party hosted by Arthur, Wolf learns that his suspicions are correct, that Sandra was a cop back in New Orleans. And in one of the movie’s best scenes, Wolf asks Sandra why she left the force, and he guesses that she shot someone in the line of duty, to which she replies, that’s the worst thing you can think of? When she goes on to tell him that the reason she left was because of what happened after Hurricane Katrina, how the authorities and the system failed her people, and her mother specifically, it’s a powerhouse moment, where the audience feels as dumbfounded and as foolish as Wolf, who offers a weak “I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” which causes Sandra to walk away.

The tension rises when Sandra begins to follow Nathan and Samuel to learn more about them, and they view this as an escalation, and the acts of violence against her grow more serious. Meanwhile, Sandra grows more frustrated at her job when Arthur fails to include a person of color for an open professorship. Things build to an explosive climax, and as I said, this one gets better as it goes along.

There’s a lot to like about GOD’S COUNTRY. Director Julian Higgins continually inserts brief snippets of close-ups of items inside Sandra’s home, soaking in pouring rain, giving the audience a sense of foreboding that something awful is yet to come. The entire film is beautifully shot in western Montana, and this natural scenery is at odds with the humans who inhabit it. The film’s title GOD’S COUNTRY has multiple meanings here. The literal, the setting, but it also refers to the recurrent theme of useless faith. Sandra’s mother put her faith in God yet was left to fend for herself in the hurricane in New Orleans. It also speaks to what God’s country ultimately is in the United States, a flawed unfair system that hides behind the notion of God while it does whatever the heck it wants.

Thandiwe Newton, who stars in the TV series WESTWORLD (2016-2022), plays Sandra as a sad, cautious, and ultimately fed-up woman who is sick and tired of being bullied by the folks around her. She comes off to the casual viewer as being somewhat of a pain in the backside, and early on in the movie the audience tends to agree more with her levelheaded boss Arthur, and the two hunters don’t at first seem all that unreasonable. But Sandra asked them not to park in her driveway, and they refused. That in and of itself needed to change, and when it doesn’t, the audience’s view on Sandra changes. It doesn’t matter that she might seem annoying, those guys should one, be off her property, and two, should leave her alone, and when they don’t, that’s when the problems get worse.

Jeremy Bobb as acting-sheriff Wolf is convincing as the laid-back country police officer who became a cop because his high school coach was also a cop, and he figured it was a worthwhile profession.

Kai Lennox is excellent as dean Arthur, the man who seems fair minded at first, but the more we learn about him, the more we realize he’s not as progressive as he says he is. The scene where Sandra has had enough and tells him to f*ck off, is one where the audience feels the same exact way.

Jefferson White is sufficiently slimy as the unhinged hunter Samuel, but Joris Jansky is even better as his buddy Nathan. In another of the film’s many powerful sequences, the scene where Sandra follows Nathan into a church is a perfect microcosm for the story this movie tells. When Nathan sees Sandra, he tells her she has to leave, but when she sees his mother playing the organ, she tells him that her mother also used to play the organ at church, and she also tells him that her mother has just recently died. The two converse quietly in the back of the church, on their mothers, and on faith, and they seem to gain an understanding of each other and bond, but moments later, he tells her in a harsh and threatening manner, that she has to leave the church now!

That’s what happens in God’s country.

The screenplay by director Higgins and Shaye Ogbonna is a real strength. It makes its points without hitting you over the head with them. It uses subtlety to great effect. When Arthur’s young secretary confides in Sandra and tells her that Arthur sexually assaulted her, when she gives the details, it at first sounds so harmless— in other words, it’s not a blatant rape or grope, but it is a massage, and the film gets you to realize, of course this isn’t harmless!

The film’s ending, in which Sandra realizes there is only one way to finally stop these men, which comes after they have inflicted great harm to her, hearkens back to the classic westerns of old. In a way, this seems disappointing, that this is the best we have as an answer. But that is what the film is ultimately saying, that as much as we want change, nothing is changing.

It’s a somber message, but it all works.

GOD’S COUNTRY is well-made drama that speaks volumes as to what life is really like in this nation some people call God’s country.

I give it three stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

DON’T WORRY DARLING (2022) – Utopian Thriller’s Reveal a Disappointment

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If you’re going to make a science fiction thriller with an anticipated “big reveal,” you’d best keep the “big” in the reveal.

DON’T WORRY DARLING (2022), a new quasi-science fiction thriller, fails to do this. It has a reveal all right, but it ain’t big! The only thing big about it is, it’s a big letdown!

DON’T WORRY DARLING takes place in the 1950s in an idyllic closed community located somewhere in beautiful sunny California, where the young husbands of the families who reside there all work for an ultra-modern, yet mysterious company run by the eccentric Frank (Chris Pine). It’s mysterious because no one seems to know exactly what the company does, as the husbands never talk about their work, and the wives don’t seem to care. They’re all wealthy and happy in their utopian community.

The story focuses on one couple in particular, Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) and her husband Jack (Harry Styles). They are the perfect couple, and life has never been better, until one of the wives and one of Alice’s best friends, Margaret (Kiki Layne) begins to act strangely and make unexpected accusations against the company, saying it took her son away from her. Her behavior is dismissed by Frank as delusions after the traumatic experience of losing her son in an accident out in the desert, an area the wives are told not to visit because of the hazardous materials there. But when Alice witnesses Margaret commit suicide, and when she is later told that Margaret is fine and is recuperating at the hospital, she pushes back against being told she only imagined she saw Margaret take her own life.

More strange occurrences ensue, and Alice realizes that this utopian community isn’t as it seems. There is something else going on. And the rest of the movie follows Alice as she tries to figure out what is really going on, while everyone else, including Frank and her own husband Jack, fights back against her, telling her that she is unfortunately dealing with her own delusions since she too ventured into the desert and was affected by the “hazardous materials.”

This all leads up to the anticipated “big reveal,” which as I said, isn’t all that big. Nor is it terribly new or exciting.

But before the reveal, the film has a lot of good things going for it.

Things get off to a lively start with some energetic and creative direction by director Olivia Wilde, who also plays one of the wives in the movie, Bunny. The cinematography is bright and cheery, and the homes, cars, costumes, music, and characters all capture the 1950s perfectly in an opening montage that has this film hopping in its first few minutes. The setting and the characters are established with gusto.

The performances are very good. Florence Pugh, who has never looked better, by the way, is perfect as the fully content stay-at-home wife Alice, until she begins to doubt that she is living in a utopia, and that something far more sinister is going on. The one knock here is we’ve seen Pugh play this type of role before, specifically in MIDSOMMAR (2019). Not a big deal, but as good as Pugh is here, it wasn’t quite as fresh as some of her other performances. Still, she’s a wonderful actor, who I first noticed in the wrestling movie FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY (2019), and who has since wowed me in the aforementioned MIDSOMMAR, in LITTLE WOMEN (2019), and in Marvel’s BLACK WIDOW (2021).

Harry Styles as Alice’s husband Jack is convincingly loving and supportive, until the plot takes a different direction, and his character takes on a ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) vibe, as he plots against his wife.

It was fun to see Chris Pine cast against type as the villain here, Frank, the man who coolly and confidently seems to have an answer for everything. Frank is super annoying, and he gets under your skin. Pine’s performance might be the best in the movie.

Timothy Simons makes for a dubious doctor who works for the company, Dr. Collins, whose stoic demeanor irritates as he counters Alice’s emotional accusations with calm comments to the contrary. And director Olivia Wilde is effective as Bunny, a housewife who seems to be one of the most loyal to the needs of the company.

The screenplay by Katie Silberman, based on a story by Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke, presents an interesting premise but then doesn’t deliver on that premise. From the get-go, the audience knows there’s going to be a twist, a reveal, as it’s pretty darn clear that this utopian society isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. And so, it’s not a surprise when that reveal happens, but worse, the reveal itself is something we’ve seen before, and this take on it is nothing new.

On a metaphorical level, the story tackles the issue of the husband who stomps on his wife’s autonomy, which is the most interesting theme the film has to offer, but it’s handled in such a superficial way that it really doesn’t resonate.

And while the characters are generally interesting, and the two leads Alice and Jack likeable, no one really drives this movie. Pine’s Frank is the most effective character in the film, but he’s the elusive villain, and so the bulk of the movie isn’t built on him.

So while DON’T WORRY DARLING starts off well, it actually slows down and becomes rather dull long before the disappointing reveal.

Director Olivia Wilde does a decent job here, but I prefer her previous directorial effort, the sharp and funny BOOKSMART (2019).

DON’T WORRY DARLING has some creative direction, and a couple of strong acting performances by Florence Pugh and Chris Pine, but none of it is enough to overcome its dull reveal or sluggish second half pace.

Don’t worry about missing this one.

I give it two stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

SEE HOW THEY RUN (2022) – Playful Murder Mystery Comedy More Amusing Than Funny

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SEE HOW THEY RUN (2022) brings together two of my favorite actors working today, Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan, and pairs them as Scotland Yard detectives in a playful mystery/comedy that is full of spirit and gumption yet has a script that only partially delivers.

And while Rockwell and Ronan do share some onscreen chemistry, it’s Adrien Brody who delivers the film’s best performance. Unfortunately, Brody’s character is killed off before the opening credits, and it’s his murder that the detectives have to solve. Now, we do continue to see Brody’s character in flashbacks, and while SEE HOW THEY RUN obviously isn’t on the same level as the classic SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950), in which the story was told by William Holden’s deceased character, Brody even in flashbacks pretty much dominates the film.

The opening pre-credit sequence, which just might be the best sequence in the whole film, introduces us to Hollywood film director Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) who is in London in the early 1950s to prepare for a film version of Agatha Christie’s hit play, The Mousetrap, and in this lively sequence, we learn of Kopernick’s contempt for the murder mystery trope which he views as cliche, and we also see that he is pretty much a complete jerk, insulting or getting on the wrong side of nearly all the players involved with The Mousetrap, and so it’s no surprise that someone jumps out of the shadows and kills him. Just before this happens, he laments that somehow, he unwittingly has become a victim in the type of story he disdains!

Enter Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) who are assigned to the case, and Stoppard has also been tasked with training the very green Stalker. It’s their job to solve the crime, and pretty much all the suspects are the folks involved in both the play and film versions of The Mousetrap, making this a mystery within a mystery.

Sam Rockwell, who has been brilliant in so many different roles, from George W. Bush in VICE (2018) to the racist cop Dixon in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017), to, going way, way back, the whiny “red shirt” crew member Guy Fleegman in the hilarious GALAXY QUEST (1999), to name just a few. Here, he has the thankless role of playing the straight man to both Ronan’s character and the rest of the supporting players, who are all over-the-top larger than life suspects. His take on the sad, dour Stoppard is of a man deep in melancholy and in need of a drink. While the other actors all appeared to be having a fun time playing their roles, Rockwell here was playing the heavy. He’s convincing, as you would expect. And we are spared any voice-over narration from the depressed detective.

Saoirse Ronan fares better as Constable Stalker who takes things so literally, she often seems like a bumbling Inspector Clouseau, but she’s no fool, and her meticulous notes actually help crack the case. But she is a source of a lot of the humor here, as she does take things literally, like when one of the characters steps up to Stoppard and says, “I did it!” in reference to something she just did, but Stalker misinterprets that as a confession and announces, “I arrest you for the murder…!” Ronan gets most of the laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. The only issue I had is most of these moments were shown in the film’s trailers, and they didn’t save all that much for the movie, so her best bits, I had already seen.

Still, it’s another terrific performance by Ronan, who has wowed me in such movies as LITTLE WOMEN (2019) and LADY BIRD (2017). This is the most fun performance I’ve seen her deliver.

And other than Adrian Brody’s scene stealing performance as a deceased director, it’s the best performance in the movie.

The rest of the cast is fine, although none of these folks, in spite of their eccentricities, really come to life as much as expected. David Oyelowo plays annoying screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris, and Ruth Wilson plays the arrogant theater owner. My favorite Ruth Wilson role remains her recurrent role as the explosive Alice Morgan on the gritty Idris Elba cop TV series LUTHER (2010-2019).

Director Tom George holds nothing back and has made a murder mystery that pokes fun at the genre and looks fabulous while doing it. However, the screenplay by Mark Chappell, in spite of going all out in an attempt to not be the genre it’s spoofing and doing creative bits like breaking the fourth wall at times, simply isn’t as sharp as it needs to be. Briefly put, the laughs simply aren’t there. SEE HOW THEY RUN is far more amusing than it is funny.

I loved the cinematography, and it nails the 1950s London look. I enjoyed all the characters, although with the exception of Brody’s Leo Kopernick and Saoirse Ronan’s Constable Stalker, they don’t really come to life. They remain caricatures of the characters they are playing. Even having Agatha Christie (Shirley Henderson) herself show up doesn’t cut through the surprisingly wooden characterizations.

There’s a lot to like about SEE HOW THEY RUN, even as a lot of it doesn’t work. I wish the jokes had been sharper. Let’s put it this way. It’s not Mel Brooks or Neil Simon. It’s not even Agatha Christie. But it sure tries like heck.

It does have a snappy music score by one of my favorite film composers these days, Daniel Pemberton, who wrote memorable scores for THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (2015) and KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017).

SEE HOW THEY RUN is fun and entertaining and doesn’t take itself too seriously. In a way, I wish that it had. It may have resulted in a stronger, tighter, and ultimately funnier script.

I give it two and a half stars.

—END—

PEARL (2022) – Horror Prequel Decent Follow-up to X (2022); Another Showcase for Mia Goth

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PEARL (2022), the new horror movie by director/writer Ti West, is a prequel to his earlier horror movie from this year, X (2022), which so far is among my favorite horror movies of the year.

X told the story of a group of people setting out to make a porn movie on a farm, but their plans were thwarted by the elderly couple who owned the farm, who seemingly took offense to an X-rated movie being made on their property. The story took place in the 1970s, and the main character was a young woman named Maxine (Mia Goth), who was making the porn movie because she wanted to become a famous movie star. Goth also played the elderly farm owner Pearl (under heavy prosthetics and make-up), who in the words of PSYCHO’s Norman Bates, just “goes a little crazy” at times. Pearl, seemingly upset that these young people were having sex, while she and her elderly husband were not, flipped out and went on a brutal murder spree in the film’s final reel.

PEARL is her story, explaining a little bit of her history and how she became the person we saw in X.

PEARL takes place in 1918, during World War I, amid the pandemic of the Spanish flu, and when we meet Pearl (Mia Goth) she is living on her farm in Texas with her parents, her excruciatingly strict mother Ruth (Tandi Wright) and her ailing father (Matthew Sunderland) who is now a mute invalid. Pearl’s husband Howard is away fighting in the war.

Life is hard. Money is tight, and Ruth believes they must make it on their own. She doesn’t trust other people, and she fears that their German ancestry will be held against them. However, making it “on their own” mostly involves making Pearl do all the difficult jobs, like feeding her invalid father and cleaning him after bowel movements. Pearl just wants to escape. She loves the movies and wants to become a dancer like she sees in the movies.

She befriends the local projectionist (David Corenswet) who encourages her to follow her dreams. He also introduces her to black market sex movies, which he says will become legal one day. When there’s a dance try-out at the local church, Pearl sees this as her chance to escape from the farmhouse. But her mother will have none of it, and she tells Pearl she’s a failure and she won’t succeed in her dreams. She also adds that she knows how Pearl really is, and that she sees the things Pearl does when she thinks no one is watching, and she pretty much tells Pearl that she’s not normal and that because of this she will frighten people and will never succeed.

Wow. Can someone say, Mommie Dearest?

Well, she’s not wrong, and when Pearl snaps later in the movie, we see just exactly how it is that Pearl frightens people.

PEARL is a decent follow-up to X, although I liked X better, as that film paid homage to the 1970s horror flicks as well as 1970s porn movies and captured the flavor of both. PEARL doesn’t have this added element. It takes place in 1918, but it’s not shot as an homage to that time period or to silent movies. It’s filmed in bright vibrant colors, which seem to embody Pearl’s wide-eyed hopes and dreams. At the end of the day, this one is about exactly what its title says it’s about, Pearl.

It’s all about Pearl. And to that end, it’s mildly interesting. Strangely, it almost feels like it’s a back story for the other character Mia Goth played in X, Maxine, as Maxine wanted to be a star more than anything. Here in PEARL, we see that Pearl too wants to be a star more than anything. It’s what drives her throughout this movie. When I saw X, I believed that the elderly Pearl flipped out over the characters making a porn movie because she and her husband could no longer have sex, and she wanted to have sex. That’s what the movie implied. I mean, we saw scenes of Pearl crawling into bed with Maxine. We didn’t see scenes of Pearl yearning to be a dancer.

Yet here in PEARL, that’s all Pearl wants, to be a dancer and to become famous, both in the hopes of getting off her farm. The sex angle is here, but it’s downplayed. There is one scene where Pearl has a romantic fantasy with a scarecrow, but when the projectionist shows Pearl the silent sex movie, she’s hardly aroused. Pearl behaves like any normal woman who’s longing for her husband to return would behave. While she displays various abnormalities, all of which lead to murder, her sex drive isn’t one of them. Yet, this is the side of her personality which seemed to be driving her to kill in X. But the events in PEARL say otherwise.

On the other hand, these two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I just find it odd that Pearl in X didn’t speak of wanting to become a star or react to Maxine’s wanting to be a star, and that when we do see the beginnings of Pearl’s violent side here in PEARL, none of it has to do with sex, which was the prevalent theme in X.

The best and darkest scenes in PEARL are between Pearl and her mother, and these are the most disturbing and painful sequences in the movie. The sequence at the dinner table where the two characters eventually come to blows is the most powerful scene in the movie. The subsequent murders are well-staged and elaborate, but they’re not all that scary. The murders worked better in X.

PSYCHO was mentioned in X, and there were hints in that movie linking Pearl’s behavior to Norman Bates’, and so I was happy to see some more PSYCHO references here in PEARL. In PSYCHO, Bates hides his mother’s body in the fruit cellar. Here, Pearl hides her mother’s body in the root cellar.

The alligator is back and swimming in the waters around the farm, and Pearl seems to be its best friend, as she feeds it regularly. Technically, it could be the same alligator from X, but with 50 years between the two stories, it would be plenty old. It’s probably a different alligator. Either way, the alligators sequences in X were scarier.

X also had stronger characters.

Both films have Mia Goth though, and she’s terrific in both movies. I’ve been a fan of Goth’s since I first saw her in A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2016), a horror movie I liked a lot. Goth is perfect as Pearl. At times, she seems so wide-eyed and innocent, and at others, she seems so very, very bad. Her expression during the last shot of the film, as the end credits begin, which is not a freeze frame, says it all, as we see the full gamut of emotions: surprise, happiness, tears, fear, and finally vulnerability and steadfastness. It’s a terrific performance. She’s the best part of the movie.

Goth also co-wrote the screenplay with Ti West, and it’s her first screenwriting credit. The script does a decent job explaining Pearl’s backstory, even if at times it seems as if it’s trying to tell Maxine’s backstory. The point I guess is that in X, Pearl would have seen a lot of herself in Maxine. But the overall composition of the film isn’t quite as solid as X, which had better characters and also served as an homage to two film types, 1970s horror and porn.

Tandi Wright is icy cold as Pearl’s mother Ruth, and I’m tempted to say the audience won’t feel much sympathy for her when she gets her comeuppance, but in that aforementioned sequence at the dinner table, when tempers flare, Ruth unleashes and lets out how unhappy she is now, and that she is supposed to be a wife not a mother to her husband. Wright allows the audience to see how she became the heartless woman she is in the movie.

David Corenswet is dashing as the confident young projectionist. He’s also one of the more underutilized characters in the story, as for a time it seemed as if he was going to have more of an impact with Pearl, but that’s not the case.

Ti West films PEARL with big bold bright swipes, embodying Pearl’s hopes and dreams, and so this one doesn’t look like a horror film. The violence and murders don’t come until late in the game, and they grow more gruesome as they go along, although none here are quite as powerful as the sequences found in X.

PEARL is a decent prequel, and although it’s not as good as X, it’s still a showcase for Mia Goth, and she’s the reason to see this movie, as her performance brings Pearl and all her madness to insane painful life.

I give it two and a half stars.

—END—

END OF THE ROAD (2022) – Netflix Action Thriller Doesn’t Go the Distance

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END OF THE ROAD (2022) opens with main character Brenda (Queen Latifah) having her credit card declined at the store, and then we see her moving her reluctant family, her teen daughter Kelly (Mychala Lee) and young son Cam (Shaun Dixon), out of their empty home, about to take a road trip with her brother Reggie (Ludacris) to the Southwest to stay with her mother. As the car pulls away from their home, the title credits emerge in bold letters, END OF THE ROAD.

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand what the title refers to, in terms of the lives of these characters.

The central premise of END OF THE ROAD, a new action thriller which just premiered on Netflix, I bought into and liked. Brenda, an ER nurse, is now broke because when her deceased husband took ill, all their money went towards his medical expenses. This plot point is very real, since it’s no secret that in the U.S. medical expenses are astronomical, and insurance plans are largely ineffective with ridiculously high deductibles. The angst she and her two children feel about having to leave their home is real and palpable, and since she’s the surviving parent, it makes sense that her kids kind of blame her.

Then there’s her loser brother Reggie, who can’t seem to do anything right, but he’s there for his sister and his niece and nephew, so at the end of the day, he’s not really a loser. So, I liked all these characters and their initial story, and as they travel through New Mexico, you know they are going to run into trouble, and they do.

In their motel room, they hear a fight in the room next door, and then a gun shot. Brenda and Reggie investigate, find a man who has been shot, and try but fail to save his life. They call the police, and after making statements, they continue on their way, and that is that. Except Brenda doesn’t realize that Reggie found a bag of money in the man’s bathroom, and he took it, thinking that it could solve all their problems, and Reggie doesn’t realize that the money is drug money which the local crime lord wants back badly.

Enter Sheriff Hammers (Beau Bridges) who is hot on the trail of this mysterious crime lord, and because the officers who first arrived at the crime scene allowed Brenda and her family to leave immediately, Hammers wasn’t able to question them, and so he’s also hot on their trail, guessing that they took the missing money and believing their lives to be in danger.

So far so good, and the first half of END OF THE ROAD is a pretty compelling drama, with a decent set-up for an action thriller. But then, in the second half of the movie, it all falls apart. Completely falls apart.

When forced to fight for her family against violent thugs and criminals, Brenda morphs into superwoman, making the action scenes in this one both ludicrous and far-fetched. This combined with an even more ridiculous plot twist involving one of the characters, and all the credibility which the first half of this movie owned, disappears like stolen money from a motel room.

END OF THE ROAD goes from being a compelling thriller to a laughable action flick in the blink of an eye, which is too bad, because the first half had a lot of potential.

It’s also a bit heavy-handed. Yes, race problems are real in the U.S., but the white folks in this movie are so over-the-top nasty they become cliche, and as a result, they simply don’t resonate. There’s nothing subtle about anything that happens in this movie.

The performances are fine at least. I enjoyed Queen Latifah in the lead role, and Mycala Lee and Shaun Dixon as her children, but most of all I enjoyed rapper Ludacris as Reggie, who’s the most interesting character in the movie, and also, sadly, the most underutilized. Ludacris gives the best performance in the movie.

Beau Bridges was fine for a while as Sheriff Hammers, at first playing a role similar to the one his brother Jeff Bridges played in the superior HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016). In that film, Jeff Bridges played a Texas Marshall hot on the trail of two bank robbers. Here, Beau Bridges plays a New Mexico sheriff hot on the trail of a drug lord. Both characters share a similar passion and drive. However, once the plot twist is revealed, Bridges’ performance goes out the window as it becomes part of a story which makes little sense and isn’t believable at all.

Millicent Shelton directed END OF THE ROAD, and technically there’s no problems here. The action scenes are all polished and slick. They’re just not very believable. I mean, Brenda is an ER nurse, not a law enforcement officer.

David Loughery wrote the screenplay, based on an original script by Christopher J. Moore. It’s a mixed bag, as it creates likable, sympathetic characters, and places them in a compelling situation, before it jettisons all believability as it deteriorates into a laughable action flick which by the time it ends no longer has any semblance of truth.

This one reaches the end of the road long before its end credits roll.

I give it two stars.

—-END—

BARBARIAN (2022) – Horror Movie Dragged Down by Strange Plot Structure, Far-Fetched Menace

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Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to think otherwise, a movie is just plain stupid.

This is one of those times.

BARBARIAN (2022), a new horror movie by first time director/writer Zach Cregger, who’s known mostly as an actor, is getting lots of buzz and love from fans and critics alike, and I have to admit, I’m scratching my head over all the excitement.

BARBARIAN opens well with a promising premise when Tess (Georgina Campbell) who is in Detroit for a job interview arrives at the Airbnb house she’s renting to find out that someone else is already there, and that someone is Keith (Bill Skarsgard), and he’s there because the rental was accidentally double-booked. Not knowing what else to do, Keith tries to be the gentleman and invites Tess to spend the night, promising to sleep on the couch, and that she can have the bedroom. Tess hesitates at first but eventually agrees, which sets up some nice early tension as Keith while certainly doing his best to seem friendly, does have that Norman Bates vibe about him, and so, the audience, like Tess, isn’t exactly sure what to make of him.

Later, things grow creepier when Tess discovers a hidden room in the basement as well as a series of very scary looking underground tunnels. When she tells Keith, he wants to investigate for himself, and when he doesn’t come back upstairs, Tess decides to go looking for him. When she hears him crying out for help….

…the film makes a dramatic shift from dark underground tunnels in a rundown neighborhood of Detroit to sunny California where we meet an actor named AJ (Justin Long) who’s flying high until he learns that his co-star on a new TV show that is about to launch has just accused him of sexual assault and rape. His life is suddenly turned upside down, and his assets are about to be liquidated as he will be spending lots of money on legal fees, and his job options in light of the accusations against him come to a screeching halt. He decides to sell some of his properties, some of which are located in Detroit, and he goes there to check them out before he sells them.

Yup, it turns out that AJ owns the house in which Tess and Keith were staying. When he gets there, he finds their stuff, but the house is empty, and so he believes he has squatters, but then, he hears noises coming from the basement…

There’s more, which I won’t go into here.

BARBARIAN has a strange story structure, and even stranger characters, which all add up to a mess of a movie that I’m guessing is receiving praise for its combination of violent scenes and some semblance of social commentary. But none of it worked for me.

The first third of the movie did work. I really enjoyed Georgina Campbell’s performance as Tess, and I bought into her plight of being stuck in a crappy situation, having to stay in a house with a man she didn’t know at all. Likewise, I enjoyed Bill Skarsgard’s performance as Keith. He possessed just the right balance of nice guy vs. too nice to keep the audience guessing as to which one he really was. And of course, his recent performance as Pennywise in the two IT movies tilted opinion towards the latter, that maybe there was something secretly sinister about him.

All of this worked well, and both Campbell and Skarsgard shared good chemistry together, so the start of this one was firing on all cylinders, and once Tess discovers the shadowy underground rooms and tunnels, the film really does enter some frightening territory.

But then just when the story is about to go to some very dark places, the action cuts away to the sunny west coast and the character of AJ, who at first seems to be providing comedic relief, and Justin Long is more than up to the task of generating some laughs. The scene where he takes a tape measure to the underground tunnels, trying to measure the square footage for financial purposes, had some folks in the theater laughing out loud. But the more we learn about AJ, the more we realize he’s an arrogant creep, most likely guilty of the rape he’s been accused of.

And he becomes a central character.

Now, and this is where the social commentary comes in, the film makes it known that he is a creep, and the commentary seems to be that this kind of person doesn’t even seem to realize the harm they are doing. Somehow, I didn’t really find this point all that interesting. I mean, so what, and who cares?

Then there’s more back story, as there’s a flashback to the 1980s where we learn about the original owner of the home, and we see how all this stuff started, as the guy is a genuine monster.

And lastly, there’s the main threat in this film, which is a being that seems to be there only as reason to give the story a menace. I thought this whole story and explanation was ludicrous, ridiculous, and without merit. The point seems to be there are some men who are monsters. True. And the “creature” here is the result of these male monsters’ actions. It’s a simple point, dragged out to create a supposed novel menace which in reality is a far-fetched plot point.

I also found the violent scenes of murder in this one to be all rather disappointing. They’re way over the top— arms being torn off, for instance— and they are not scary. In fact, other than a creepy first third, the rest of the movie in terms of scares falls way flat.

The scariest part of BARBARIAN is its setting. The underground room and tunnels are disturbing. What happens inside them is not.

And while critics and some fans are loving it, I know I’m not alone in my opinion that this one just didn’t work, as I saw it in a fairly crowded theater, and most of the folks on their way out were either shaking their heads or saying out loud, “That was stupid!”

The film’s title is most likely a play on words, as the house in the film is located on Barbary Street, while several characters in this movie act like barbarians.

Some are calling BARBARIAN one of the best horror movies of the year.

I completely disagree. For me, BARBARIAN is one of the worst horror movies of the year.

Conan the Barbarian would not approve.

I give it one star.

—END—

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: GORGO (1961)

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When you think of giant monster movies, you most likely think of Godzilla and King Kong, arguably the two most famous giant movie monsters of all time, and you probably think of Japan’s Toho Studios, who made so many of those Godzilla movies we love, as well as plenty of other giant monster adventures.

But today’s movie, GORGO (1961), hails from the United Kingdom, a country that historically did not churn out a whole bunch of giant monster movies. And while in some ways the plot borrows heavily from the original GODZILLA (1954), except in this case rather than Godzilla emerging from the ocean to destroy Tokyo, we have Gorgo emerging from the ocean to pummel London, GORGO is a good enough giant monster movie to stand on its own.

In fact, the special effects in this one depicting Gorgo’s assault on London are right up there with Godzilla’s more famous attack on Tokyo. Topnotch stuff! So much so, that this sequence which pretty much takes up the entire second half of the movie, ranks as one of the best monster-attacks-city sequences ever put on film! The movie is only 78 minutes long, and so at the end of the day, GORGO is one action-packed giant monster movie!

But it’s also rather odd in that it’s one of the few monster movies— or any movie for that matter— that doesn’t really feature any women! There are no female main characters, and I think there’s only two women in the film who even speak any lines of dialogue!

Then again, giant Gorgo is a female, as she is a mommy monster in search of her baby monster which gets kidnapped and taken to London. Hmm. Maybe Gorgo’s contract stipulated that she would be the only prominent female in the cast?

Anyway, GORGO is the story of Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and Sam Slade (William Sylvester) who helm a salvage vessel, and when they discover a sea monster off the coast of Ireland, they capture it and decide to bring it back to London in order to make money off it. These guys obviously went to the Carl Denham school of business! Little boy Sean (Vincent Winter), who lives on the island where Gorgo is discovered, tells Joe and Sam that they shouldn’t capture the monster and take him away, but the adults don’t listen to him. So, Sean secretly stows away on the ship, and when Joe and Sam discover him, they decide to take care of him and pretty much adopt him for the rest of the movie. Er, Sean, where the hell are your parents?

They bring Gorgo to London where he is shown off at a circus and much to Joe and Sam’s delight, makes them lots of money. But it turns out, this is only a baby Gorgo, and when mommy Gorgo emerges from the ocean, she’s none too happy about her son being abducted, and so she swims to London and attacks the city in order to get him back.

And there’s your plot!

GORGO was directed by Eugene Lourie, who must have loved giant monster movies, because this was the fourth time he directed a movie about a giant monster! His first, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), is probably his most famous, as it featured the special effects of Ray Harryhausen and was based on the short story “The Fog Horn,” by Ray Bradbury. Lourie followed this up with THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (1958), a film about a giant robot, and then he made THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959), which featured the special effects of KING KONG creator Willis O’Brien, which told the story of a yet another giant sea monster.

And then he made GORGO. Overall, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is probably his best movie, mostly because it did feature the effects of Ray Harryhausen, but GORGO is a close second, and the attack on London is far more intense than any of the scenes found in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS.

Even more interesting, these are the only four movies Eugene Lourie ever directed! He should have directed more, because all four of these movies are very good, and two of them, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and GORGO are downright excellent! Lourie passed away in 1991 from heart failure.

Robert L. Richards and Daniel James wrote the screenplay which tells a decent enough giant monster story, with the one glaring oddity being that there are no women in this story whatsoever!

Young Vincent Winter, who played Sean, would become disappointed with acting and turn to working behind the scenes where he would serve as an assistant director for many movies, including the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN (1978). Winter died in 1998 from a heart attack at the age of 50.

Also in the cast is Martin Benson, who played the circus owner who promotes Gorgo in London. Benson is no stranger to genre films, having played doomed Father Spiletto in THE OMEN (1976), and, in the role I remember him most for, playing the weasel-like Mr. Rash in NIGHT CREATURES (1962), Hammer’s pirate adventure starring Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed. Benson also had a “pressing engagement” in the Sean Connery James Bond classic GOLDFINGER (1964), as his character ends up being crushed in a car by Oddjob.

And speaking of Hammer Films, in the scene where baby Gorgo is paraded around London, you can see Hammer’s THE MUMMY (1959) playing at the theater at Piccadilly Circus.

The impressive special effects were created by Tom Howard, who would later work on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Interestingly enough, the same monster suit was used for both mommy Gorgo and baby Gorgo, and the size difference was achieved with different sets and models, as well as different roar sound effects.

When GORGO was released in 1961, there had only been two Godzilla movies released, the original and its sequel GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955), but the filmmakers must have had Godzilla in mind because they premiered GORGO in Japan rather than in the United Kingdom.

Japan returned the favor by basically remaking GORGO as MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET (1967) (Its original and better title is GAPPA THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTERS), a tale in which a mommy and a daddy monster attack Tokyo in order to bring back their baby monster which had been taken to Japan.

The lesson from both these movies is, if you’re going to put a young giant monster in a show, you’d best ask its parents’ permission first! You might also want to include them in the contract and give them a piece of the proceeds!

GORGO is one of the better giant monster movies of yesteryear. In spite of the dubious decision not to feature any female characters in its story other than the giant monster Gorgo herself, this one features really good special effects and a second-half giant monster assault on London that can’t be beat!

The title, by the way, comes from the Gorgon, as Gorgo is short for Gorgon, and it refers to the Medusa tale of the creature so hideous one look at her would turn people to stone. While Gorgo is not that hideous looking, the creature is indeed monstrous and is impressive to behold.

So, you don’t have to be afraid of Gorgo’s face. It won’t turn you into stone. On the other hand, you probably should be afraid of Gorgo’s feet, which will turn you into some itty-bitty pieces of crushed flesh and bone when they step on you.

—END—

ORPHAN: FIRST KILL (2022) – Horror Prequel Offers Pick-Me-Up Plot Twist but Little More

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ORPHAN: FIRST KILL (2022) is the sequel to the horror movie ORPHAN (2009), a film I enjoyed quite a bit.

In that film, parents Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Pete Sarsgaard) adopt a sweet little 9-year-old girl from Estonia named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), only it turns out Esther isn’t so sweet! Yes, ORPHAN was one of those “evil children” movies, made better by a knockout plot twist that turned out to be the best part of the movie! As far as plot twists go, it was one of the better ones.

ORPHAN came out in 2009, so it’s been a while. ORPHAN: FIRST KILL is actually a prequel, as it sets out to explain how Esther first arrived here in the United States from Estonia, and since ORPHAN is famous for its plot twist, you can rest assured that there is yet another major twist in this movie, and on that front, it doesn’t disappoint. Even so, ORPHAN: FIRST KILL pales in comparison to the first movie.

Isabelle Fuhrman returns as Esther, the only cast member from the first movie to return, and it’s interesting because she’s no longer 9 years old, and so the filmmakers had to use lots of creative methods to make Fuhrman, now 25, look 9, including make-up, forced perspective, and a body double in some scenes. Of course, what makes things even more intriguing is the plot twist from the original film involved Esther’s age, making this role for Fuhrman here in 2022 even more of a kick.

ORPHAN: FIRST KILL opens in Estonia with a pretty standard sequence that shows Esther, whose real name is Leena, escaping from a mental institution and making her way to the United States, where after some research on her part, she pretends to be young girl named Esther who had been missing for four years, her story being that she had been abducted and taken to Russia, before ultimately escaping. She is reunited with her “family,” a very wealthy set of parents, Tricia (Julia Stiles) and Allen Albright (Rossif Sutherland) and a teenage brother Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) in a luxurious home in Connecticut.

Allen is the most overjoyed of the three to have his daughter back, as her disappearance had pretty much ruined his life, and he hadn’t been able to cope with the loss. But now Esther is back, and all is well. Sort of. In the original film, sweet little Esther wasn’t as she seemed. In this prequel, it’s not only Esther, but someone else who isn’t as they seem.

As plot twists go, the one here in ORPHAN: FIRST KILL is pretty good. It certainly saves the movie, because before the twist, which happens about halfway through this one, the plot was in trouble. The family accepted Esther just a little too easily for my tastes, and I wasn’t buying it. Of course, the twist arrives and suddenly it all makes sense.

It was fun to see Isabelle Fuhrman return as Esther, but that being said, both her performance and the character lack the same edge they had in the first movie. And even with portraying Esther in a more sympathetic light this time around, she’s certainly not a character I’m interested in seeing a movie series built around.

Julia Stiles is okay as the colder mommy Tricia, but where that character ultimately goes is nothing more than a standard exercise in movie villainy. Rossif Sutherland, the son of actor Donald Sutherland, fares better as the dad who is overjoyed to have his daughter back. And Matthew Finlan is so very annoying as big brother Gunnar.

David Coggeshall’s screenplay while including a notable twist doesn’t really take it far enough. I liked the plot twist, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t do enough to affect Esther’s character. In other words, while the tables are turned on her, we don’t really get to see what that is really like for her. It’s all rather superficial. It also doesn’t help that this is a prequel, and so the audience knows that regardless of what happens, Esther is still going to make it to the family in the original film.

ORPHAN: FIRST KILL was directed by William Brent Bell, who also directed THE BOY (2016), a halfway decent horror movie, and its inferior sequel BRAHMS: THE BOY II (2020). While Bell does a good job with making Fuhrman look 9 years old again, the rest of the film is all rather average. It’s not scary, nor was I on the edge of my seat all that much. There was one decent sequence at a train station, but even that ended on a negative note. The print was also exceedingly dark, and even watching this on the big screen, there were many times where it was difficult to see what was going on.

I did like the subtext here, summed up by Gunnar’s line to Esther that this is America, and only his kind of people matter, and she doesn’t. So, watching Esther fight back and give these folks their comeuppance was mildly satisfying, but as I said, nothing that happens here is anywhere near as on point or as agonizing as it should have been.

While I really liked the first ORPHAN, this prequel, ORPHAN: FIRST KILL is merely okay. It’s a standard chiller with a pick-me-up twist in the middle, but it never rises above the material. Instead, it just moves towards a rather unexciting climax.

Here’s hoping FIRST KILL will also be the last.

—END—

SAMARITAN (2022) – Sylvester Stallone Kicks Butt as Grizzled Gray Superhero

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Sylvester Stallone as a superhero?

Who’s he playing? Senior Citizen Man?

And with that, we’ll dispense with the “old people” jokes for the rest of this column. I just think it’s funny that in this day and age, between CGI effects in the movies, and the healthy regimens of many actors who like Stallone are aging much better than previous generations, you can tell a story about an older superhero with a 76-year-old actor in the lead role and have it be believable! This is a good thing.

SAMARITAN (2022) opens with young Sam Cleary (Javon “Wanna” Walton) recounting the story of twin brother superheroes Samaritan and Nemesis, who fought to the death twenty years earlier when Nemesis went rogue and tried to kill his good superhero brother Samaritan with a special hammer he forged just for the job. Both men were killed in a massive explosion inside a warehouse, but Sam doesn’t believe Samaritan died. He believes the former superhero is just hiding out somewhere.

And when the garbage man named Joe (Sylvester Stallone) who lives in the apartment across the street from him shows up one day and saves him from some gang member bullies, showing off superior strength and fighting skills, Sam believes he has found his man. He believes Joe is Samaritan.

Meanwhile, local gang leader Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek) discovers Nemesis’ hammer and mask and decides to use them both as he begins a crime campaign to wreak havoc and cause chaos across the city. Sam is part of this gang, and Cyrus has taken a liking to him, but when things get more dangerous and Sam’s life is endangered, he turns to Joe for help, and he gets it, but not in the way he was expecting.

As superhero stories go, the one told in SAMARITAN, now playing in theaters and also available to watch for free on Amazon Prime Video, is pretty standard. It didn’t really do all that much for me, and the longer it went on, the less I was interested in it. Also, the big reveal at the end wasn’t that hard to figure out, because there were enough clues in place earlier in this one to see how it was going to go down. Bragi F. Schut wrote the screenplay, and other than a few good lines for Stallone, it’s nothing to write home about.

I like Stallone, and admittedly he’s the main reason I wanted to see this move, and on that front, it wasn’t a disappointment because he’s pretty darn good in the role. Of course, he’s been doing this for so long he can probably do it in his sleep, but that doesn’t mean it’s not another enjoyable performance. From Rocky to Rambo to a myriad of other action film performances, Sylvester Stallone has a presence and persona that serves him well. He’s the working man’s action hero, the blue-collar tough guy, who is more at home dishing out wisdom and advice over wise-cracking one-liners.

And he’s at it again here. Joe becomes a mentor and father figure to Sam, and late in the movie schools the boy on the nuances of good and bad in the world, of how people mistakenly believe it’s all about good vs. evil. Joe tells Sam it’s not that clear cut because there is good and bad in every person, and it’s all about the choices people make. It also goes without saying that Stallone is believable here as the grizzled superhero, as he efficiently kicks the butts of much younger villainous foes.

This also isn’t the first foray into superheroes for the Rocky/Rambo star. He provided the voice for the CGI-created King Shark in the hilarious THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021), a fun performance in a very fun movie. He was less memorable in a small role in Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017) as Stakar Ogord. Stallone is currently working on THE EXPENDABLES 4, due out next year, a series I’ve enjoyed.

I can’t say that I was all that impressed with Javon “Wanna” Walton as Sam. There was something rather annoying about his personality.

Pilou Asbaek is decent as the villain, Cyrus. He’s had plenty of practice. He’s played similar tough guy roles in films like OUTSIDE THE WIRE (2021) and GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017). He also played Euron Greyjoy on GAME OF THRONES (2016-2019).

I did enjoy Dascha Polanco as Sam’s mom Tiffany. She makes for a memorable hard-working single mom who because of her job can’t be there as often as she likes for her son. She’s as tough as nails, a side of her which she gets to show off later in the story.

Moises Arias also stands out as an annoying gang member named Reza who is a constant thorn in Sam’s side.

Directed by Julius Avery, SAMARITAN is a decent superhero movie, but not a great one. Its look is standard and didn’t offer anything I hadn’t seen before, and its action sequences, while okay, aren’t mind-blowing. It’s ultimately successful for a couple of reasons. It tells a simple straightforward story and doesn’t get lost in a convoluted muddled mess of storytelling like some of the recent Marvel entries, films like DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2021) and THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022). It’s also not overlong and doesn’t get boring.

Most of all, it benefits from the presence of Sylvester Stallone. Watching him play the lead role was a real treat. It’s like ROCKY meets UNBREAKABLE (2000).

He’ll not only go the distance; he won’t even be down for the count. Not ever.

Yo, Adrian! Look, no black eyes!

—END–