I finally caught up with ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (2022), a Netflix original which hails from Germany and is currently nominated for Best Picture.
It’s a worthy nomination. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is an excellent movie.
Released in October 2022, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is based on the book by Erich Maria Remarque, a novelist who based the book on his experiences as a German soldier in World War I. This is the third time Remarque’s novel has been filmed, the previous two were in 1930 and in 1979. This 2022 version is an all-German production, and you can watch it on Netflix in its original German language with English subtitles.
Directed by Edward Berger, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT tells a story of the horrors of war that transcends generations. While the horrors shown here are specific to World War I, the case can be made that the horrors of war remain consistent regardless of time or place.
Here the plot follows young German soldier Paul Baumer (Felix Kammerer) who is so excited to enlist and join the war effort that his wide-eyed expressions resemble a child opening gifts on Christmas morning. It doesn’t take long for Paul and his friends to realize that fighting in the trenches is anything but enjoyable and is an experience that has his friends shrieking that they want to go home once the battles start.
Director Edward Berger holds nothing back in the battle sequences. The ever-present mud is thick and relentless. When they’re not fighting, the soldiers are using their hands and helmets to dish out the cold water from the trenches. And when they are fighting, they are shot at, stabbed, hacked, and more. We see soldiers burned alive with flame throwers, trampled upon by tanks, and blown up by grenades. The action here is bloody, brutal, and relentless, and these sequences come in waves, at the film’s beginning, in the middle, and at the end.
Between battles, Paul bonds with some of his fellow soldiers, including Stan Katczinsky (Albrecht Schuch). We’re privy to conversations where they discuss their lives back home, and their fears that they will never return, which pretty much turns out to be true. The film also depicts the negotiations between German diplomats and the French for a ceasefire, as the Germans realize they are losing the war. They quickly learn that the French want total and unconditional surrender, and when the Germans protest to the conditions, claiming that they are too harsh, and the people will not like this peace, the French pretty much respond with a big fat “too bad.” And of course, it’s this approach that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler, as he was able to take advantage of the despondent German population to build his nationalistic Nazi regime.
The German military also bristled at this peace, believing the diplomats were giving everything away, and they ordered soldiers to fight right up until the 11:00 armistice.
Director Edward Berger also co-wrote the screenplay with Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell. The story told here describes in vivid detail the absolute horrors of trench warfare in World War I, and what war does to soldiers. Its message is also timeless, as here in 2023 the world continues to be at war in some place or other.
Not all of the movie works. It’s rather long, clocking in at two hours and twenty-eight minutes, and when the film isn’t showing in-your-face scenes of warfare, it’s less compelling.
The film will no doubt draw comparisons to another recent superior movie about World War I, 1917 (2019), by writer/director Sam Mendes. The two films are comparable, and in terms of quality and impact, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT certainly holds its own against 1917.
Overall, ALL QUIET ON WESTERN FRONT is a superb movie, one that delivers its message that war is hell, and that soldiers pay a high price for decisions made by generals and leaders not on the battlefield.
I give it three and a half stars.
Four stars – Perfect, Top of the line
Three and a half stars- Excellent
Three stars – Very Good
Two and a half stars – Good
Two Stars – Fair
One and a half stars – Pretty Weak
One star- Poor
Zero stars – Awful
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It’s no secret that Marvel has been in a slump since its much-heralded AVENGERS finale, AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019). Since that movie, Marvel has suffered through some missteps, misfires, and mediocrity. However, their recent sequel BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (2022) was a terrific movie, a perfect testament to both the late Chadwick Boseman and to the Black Panther character. Heck, it even earned a well-deserved Best Picture nomination!
Now comes ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA (2023), Marvel’s latest superhero movie and their third Ant-Man flick. I’ve always enjoyed the ANT-MAN movies, and this third installment is no exception. ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA is high quality entertainment and adventure, enjoyable throughout, and probably the most ambitious ANT-MAN movie yet, as the story takes place inside the quantum world.
Not that ambitious is necessarily better.
I still yearn for an old-fashioned superhero movie where the hero is fighting a supervillain in the here and now, but nowadays we’ve got stories involving the multiverse, the quantum realm, time travel, gods, and faraway worlds across time and space. Yep, superhero tales are becoming more entrenched in the world of science fiction and fantasy. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s just a more difficult thing to get right. You need exceptional writing to pull off these kinds of stories, otherwise you’re left with just striking visuals and no story. The good news is that the writing is up to snuff here in this third ANT-MAN movie.
So is the cast. Marvel superhero movies almost always sport fantastic casts, as they feature A-list actors in both lead and supporting roles. With the ANT-MAN films, it starts with Paul Rudd in the lead role. He’s made it his own, and he carries the fine supporting cast on his back for this fun adventure.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA is a family affair. Scott Lang aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), his now teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), his girlfriend Hope Van Dyne aka The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), her father and brilliant scientist Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and her mother, another brilliant scientist Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) are all having dinner when Cassie reveals that she’s been dabbling with the quantum realm herself, and she has developed a method of mapping out the entire quantum world. To do so, she’s been sending a beacon there to retrieve information. When Janet hears about this, she demands Cassie turn it off immediately. But before Cassie can do so, Janet’s worst fears are confirmed, and the five are pulled into the quantum world.
There, they discover a remarkable world of bizarre living creatures and civilizations which, of course, are at war because of a certain being who rules the realm with an iron fist, and he does so because he is intent on escaping the quantum realm and is building a war machine to help him do just that. It turns out that Janet knew all this already because during the thirty years that she spent in the quantum realm, she had met this ruler, but the whole experience had been so horrible for her she wasn’t able to tell her family.
The ruler is Kang (Jonathan Majors), and before Janet left, she had stopped him from leaving, because she believed he was too dangerous, and now that she’s back, Kang not only still wants to escape, but wants vengeance against Janet and her family.
Kang the Conqueror describes himself as master of the multiverse, as a being who understands, controls, and manipulates time. Yet, in spite of this, he still needs Ant-Man to get his power core for him so he can escape. Which had me scratching my head, because if he’s so powerful, why does he need Ant-Man’s help retrieving his much-needed power core? Couldn’t he do it himself?Hmm, not so all-powerful, are you Kang? Apparently, he is, as he’s going to be the focus of the next AVENGERS movie.
Anyway, that’s the plot of ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. As plots go, it’s okay. Honestly, I’m growing weary of stories about rebels and fights against oppressors, which we see all the time in STAR WARS and in the AVATAR movies. But that doesn’t stop this movie from being entertaining.
It has a fun script by Jeff Loveness which features just the right amount of well-timed humor without becoming entrenched in full blown and misplaced silliness. The laughs were genuine.
As I said earlier, Paul Rudd has owned the role of Ant-Man and made it his own. He’s the perfect ordinary guy— actually, he used to be a thief— who had no business becoming a superhero, yet he did. He embodies the recurring theme in the story that life doesn’t make sense, and that you just have to roll with the punches.
As good as Rudd is in the role, he’s actually outshined a bit by some of the other players in this one. Kathryn Newton brings a tremendous youthful energy to the role of Lang’s daughter, Cassie. It’s Newton’s first time playing the role, and she’s awesome.
And on the other side of the age spectrum, Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer add class and experience to their roles as married scientists Dr. Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne. Douglas has been in all three ANT-MAN movies, and his supporting presence has been a constant. He has a few memorable bits here. Pfeiffer joined the ANT-MAN cast in the second movie, and she’s a joy to watch here in the third ANT-MAN adventure. And when she shows off her fighting skills and takes on the bad guys, it brings back memories of her Catwoman days in BATMAN RETURNS (1992), still the screen’s finest Catwoman performance to date.
Marvel has also been on a roll with its villains of late. I thought Tenoch Huerta’s Namor in WAKANDA FOREVER was one of the better Marvel villains in recent memory, and Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror is equally as impressive. Majors definitely gives Kang a Thanos-type vibe, as he’s the sad and somber all-powerful villain who is capable of instilling so much harm and damage to the universe. I’ll be looking forward to seeing Kang in future Marvel movies.
Jonathan Majors is an impressive actor who has made his mark in recent movies such as in Spike Lee’s DA 5 BLOODS (2020) and in the western THE HARDER THEY FALL (2021) which pitted him against a gunslinger played by Idris Elba. He will also be starring opposite Michael B. Jordan in CREED III (2023) due out on March 3.
Evangeline Lilly returns for the third time as Hope Van Dyne/aka The Wasp, but even though her character’s name is featured in the title of this movie, her character seems to take a back seat to young Kathryn Newton’s Cassie character here. Heck, Cassie even has her own suit!
Bill Murray shows up in a glorified cameo as Lord Krylar, Janet’s former lover in the quantum realm. While Murray is fine, his scene is most memorable for giving Michael Douglas some of his best moments as he plays off Murray’s Lord Krylar, jealous that his wife had a relationship with the man.
Director Peyton Reed creates a memorable quantum world that is a visual feast for the eyes. Reed has directed all three ANT-MAN movies, and he does a fine job here. Of course, he’s also bailed out by the script, which gives this one a story and decent characters in order to prevent it from being just a visual experience. Technology in films has reached superior levels, where it is possible to create unknown worlds and bring them to life in ways that they seem real. And as long as the film has a decent script to go along with it, I have no problem with it. ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA has such a script.
It also has two post credit scenes, one in the middle and one at the end, so if you’re interested in the hints Marvel likes to give regarding their future movies, you might want to stay till the end.
I had a good time with ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. I enjoyed the visuals, the action, the characters, and the frequently funny dialogue. It also features a heck of a villain.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA is another excellent Marvel superhero movie, their second in a row. Here’s hoping their slump is over.
I give it three stars.
Four stars – Perfect, Top of the line
Three and a half stars- Excellent
Three stars – Very Good
Two and a half stars – Good
Two Stars – Fair
One and a half stars – Pretty Weak
One star- Poor
Zero stars – Awful
If you enjoy my reviews, you might enjoy my latest horror novel, DEMON AT THE DOOR, available at the link below:
It’s time now for a look back at the 10 worst movies I saw in 2022.
Here we go:
10. ORPHAN: FIRST KILL – this prequel to ORPHAN (2009), a horror movie I liked a lot, really isn’t all that bad; it’s just not all that good. It was fun to see Isabelle Fuhrman reprising the role of the dangerous “little girl” Esther, especially since Fuhrman’s no longer a “little girl” in real life, which meant the use of some forced perspective and a body double. This one has a brand-new plot twist, but overall, simply doesn’t work all that well. Two stars.
9. MONSTROUS – tepid horror movie starring Christina Ricci as a mom who flees with her seven-year-old son from an abusive husband. She moves into a new house and unfortunately, she has to deal with a supernatural presence there. Not awful by any means, but also simply not a lot going on here. Twist at end is predictable. Two stars.
8. THE BUBBLE – This comedy by writer/director Judd Apatow takes a fun concept— a group of actors stuck together at a hotel when their movie production shuts down because of a pandemic— and does little with it. More silly than funny, with just a few good laughs here and there. Two stars.
7. BLONDE – for me, the most disappointing movie from 2022. This Netflix film features an Oscar-nominated performance by one of my favorite actors, Ana de Armas, as Marilyn Monroe. Ana de Armas is indeed terrific, but the story is based on “imaginings” of Monroe’s life, as the screenplay is based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, and so events unfold here in Monroe’s life that simply didn’t happen. There’s a brutal scene, for example, showing JFK treating her horribly, yet it didn’t happen. I just found the story elements here head-scratchers. Andrew Dominik’s direction doesn’t help, as this nearly three-hour movie is clunky and uneven. Onr and a half stars.
6. WHITE NOISE – Weird, confusing movie with a script in which nobody seems to make sense when they talk. Funny premise and interesting cast led by Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig are wasted in this unfunny story about a family who for one third of the movie are faced with a seemingly apocalyptic event, but this “event” wraps up neat and tidy long before this one ends. And then the film goes on about something else. One and a half stars.
5. DAY SHIFT – pretty awful horror comedy starring Jamie Foxx as a modern day vampire hunter. Not funny, not scary, and action scenes don’t wow. Dave Franco plays one of the more pathetic characters I’ve seen in a movie in years. Pretty forgettable stuff. One and a half stars.
4.CHOOSE OR DIE – horror movie starring Asa Butterfield about an evil video game from the 1980s which can alter reality, and it uses this power to force its player to make horrific choices, to harm people around them or die themselves, hence the title, Choose or die. Sounds better than it is. Very little of what happens makes sense, and the horror scenes aren’t as scary as they should be. Most inspiring bit in the movie is the casting of Robert Englund as himself, as he provides the voice on the promos for the video game. Sadly, Englund doesn’t actually appear in the movie. One star.
3. VIOLENT NIGHT -David Harbour playing Santa Claus in a Santa Claus action/comedy. What’s not to like? Actually, a lot of things, mostly a story that features some of the most unlikable characters in a movie I’ve seen in years, and we’re supposed to care about these people when they find themselves held hostage by a baddie who goes by the name of Scrooge? A disgruntled Santa decides to save the day. While Harbour is very good, and John Leguizamo is even better as the villain, mostly because he plays things straight, the film ends up being a cross between HOME ALONE and DIE HARD, with very unfavorable results. One star.
2.BARBARIAN – some folks really liked this horror movie. I wasn’t one of them. It’s not an anthology film, but its one plot is divided into three segments. The first one starring Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgard is by far the best, and so the film gets off to a very scary start, but things change in the second segment starring Justin Long, as the entire tone of the film shifts to something much lighter and offbeat, and then for the third and final segment, which wraps everything up, things fall completely apart. You really have to suspend disbelief to buy into some of the plot points here. One star.
1. UNCHARTED – My pick for the worst movie of the year is the film I enjoyed the least. This silly action-adventure comedy pairs Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg as fellow treasure hunters seeking treasure. The script is ludicrous, the inane banter nonstop, and the plot, well everything these two knuckleheads do works, and so there’s no adversity or conflict, just banter, banter, and more banter. Have I said there was banter in this movie? One long snooze of a movie. Unless, of course, you like… banter. One star.
There you have it. My list of the 10 Worst Films from 2022. Overall, 2022 wasn’t really a bad year for movies. There were far more movies that I liked than I disliked this year,
Okay, let’s get back to 2023! See you at the movies!
The movie opens with massively obese English professor Charlie (Brendan Fraser) masturbating to gay porn. Not exactly an image designed to get folks feeling warm and comfy in their seats. In fact, later Charlie demands from another character, “Do you find me disgusting?” and the character’s answer is yes.
On its surface, THE WHALE is about a dying housebound man trying to spend the last week of his life getting to know his estranged teenage daughter. But beneath the surface, the main theme of this movie, which is hammered home a little bit too hard, is that people in spite of how much they say they hate, really do care about other people. As Charlie says, “people are amazing!”
The problem is that nearly every character in this movie is full of hate, which is the point, of course, as Charlie says, that even these people really care. But it makes for challenging viewing because there’s just so much ugliness abound. THE WHALE is a thought-provoking movie, the type of which I really enjoy, because I prefer movies that challenge its audience to think, but that being said, it was a challenge to sit through, and I have to admit, I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I thought I would.
There’s also a strong connection to Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick, hence the title THE WHALE, which is also a reference to Charlie’s weight, and this connection becomes stronger as the movie moves towards its conclusion.
In THE WHALE, Brendan Fraser, who was just nominated for an Oscar for this performance, plays English professor Charlie who teachers online writing classes, and because he is so obese, he keeps his camera off during these computer sessions. As he teaches, he constantly pleads with his students that the most important thing they need to do in their writing is to keep it honest, which is great advice. Charlie is in really bad shape. He’s insanely obese, can’t stand up or move without the help of a walker and eats nonstop. His friend and caregiver, Liz (Hong Chau) tells him the bad news that unless he gets himself to a hospital immediately, he will die by week’s end. Charlie pushes back, saying he has no money, and no health insurance, and he refuses to put himself in debt just to seek medical attention, so he accepts the fact that he will die within days.
As such, he does something he’s not supposed to do, which is he reaches out to his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) hoping to make amends. Ellie is a fiery force to be reckoned with, and Charlie learns that she is failing high school, she doesn’t want to graduate, she’s been suspended, and she’s full of hate towards him. Charlie offers to pay her to visit him this week, and to write her essays for her so she can pass her class. This piques her interest, and she agrees to come back to visit him under those conditions.
Meanwhile, a young preacher named Thomas (Ty Simpkins) begins visiting Charlie, believing that it’s his destiny to save the ailing teacher before he dies. When Ellie meets Thomas, she decides to have fun with him at his expense and engages in behavior which at first seems like she is out to ruin him, as she seems to do with everyone she meets, since she hates everybody, including her father. But Charlie doesn’t believe this about his daughter and in his final days tries to connect with her and teach her that she’s not a hateful person.
There’s a lot going on in THE WHALE, most of it as uncomfortable as watching a naked obese man take a shower. But it pushes its theme forward, that people really do care about other people, in spite of the hate spewing from their mouths, which is at the end of the day, a worthwhile and inspiring message to be sure.
Samuel D. Hunter wrote the screenplay, based on his play, and this film for the most part feels like a stage play. It primarily takes place inside Charlie’s home, and it’s very talky. In fact, it’s a little too talky. At times I thought I was watching a play, not a cinematic movie.
Director Darren Aronofsky, who also directed the controversial movie MOTHER (2017), a film I liked, NOAH (2014), and BLACK SWAN (2010) keeps things simple, and as I said, there’s not a lot of cinematic showmanship going on here from the director’s chair. Although the ending is neatly done, and very dramatic.
The best part of this one are the two main performances by Brendan Fraser and Sadie Sink.
I used to enjoy Brendan Fraser’s work back in the day, and while he’s been making movies and TV shows regularly, he hasn’t really done anything major in a very long time. He was memorable in a supporting role in Steven Soderbergh’s crime thriller NO SUDDEN MOVE (2021), but here in THE WHALE, he’s the lead, and he’s really, really good. Working under heavy prosthetic make-up to make him appear gigantic, Fraser delivers the one soft-spoken and sensitive performance in a movie filled with people who are anything but. He deserves his recently announced Oscar nod.
Sadie Sink is also tremendous as his troubled fiery daughter, Ellie. Sink, of course, is known for her role as Max on the hit Netflix TV show STRANGER THINGS (2016-present). Since she joined the show in its second season, she’s consistently been one of its best performers, and she had two of the best scenes in the series last season. In THE WHALE, Charlie keeps calling his daughter “amazing!” and really, the same can be said of Sadie Sink’s performance here. She’s lively, spiteful, funny, and completely unpredictable. I hope that Sink continues to get more movie roles, and that they become larger and more significant. She’s a promising talent.
Ty Simpkins plays the very white Wonder Bread preacher, and he gets bossed around and dominated by nearly every character in this film, especially by Ellie. Simpkins, as a child actor, played young Dalton who gets abducted by a demon in one of my favorite horror movies of the past twenty years, INSIDIOUS (2010). Simpkins also played the boy who Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark befriends in IRON MAN 3 (2013).
Hong Chau (also just nominated for an Oscar) is very good as Charlie’s friend and caretaker, Liz. Later in the movie we learn why she is so close to Charlie, as they are connected by another tragedy. This is the second straight strong performance by Chau, as we just saw her in THE MENU (2022), where she was outstanding as Elsa, the loyal right-hand person to Ralph Fiennes’s fanatical Chef Slowik.
And Samantha Morton is memorable as Charlie’s ex-wife and Ellie’s mom, Mary, another character who spews hate with her words and actually calls her daughter, “evil.” While Morton plays a somewhat coarse character here, the role is nowhere near as dark as the role she played on THE WALKING DEAD (2010-2022), where she played the murderous Alpha.
One thing the film doesn’t speak much on is obesity itself. This isn’t the point of the movie, and so Charlie eats tremendous portions of extremely unhealthy foods unchecked. Even Liz continually brings him fattening subs and sandwiches, with no discussion about healthier eating. But I think this is pretty much understood. For example, there’s a scene where Charlie is voraciously chowing down nonstop on two large pizzas, shoving slice after slice into his mouth, and I’m sitting there watching doing the same with a bucket of popcorn. I had to push the bucket away.
The connection to Moby Dick is an interesting one and stems from an essay which Charlie repeatedly reads throughout the movie. The writer of the essay is refreshingly honest in their understanding of the novel, which is one of the reasons Charlie keeps reading it, and one of its sentiments is that the writer feels sad for Ahab who believes wrongly that he can only be made happy by killing the whale, and also for the whale, who has done nothing wrong but is victimized by the obsessed Ahab. The writer then says that the long chapters in the novel which are just facts about whales were written because the author, Melville, was too sad to return to the story.
Like Ahab, people mistake what they need for happiness. Like the whale, people are victimized for no apparent reason. And like Melville, people often abandon things because they are too sad to continue.
Charlie sees all this in the essay, and he tries to get his daughter to see this as well, especially in terms of why he left her and her mother, and then stayed away, because the tragedies in his life made him too sad to continue.
While THE WHALE may not be easy viewing for most people, its thought-provoking story has a lot to offer its viewers. When asked by Charlie, “do you find me disgusting?” you have to be willing to answer no.
THE PALE BLUE EYE (2022) is a beautifully shot period piece thriller by writer/director Scott Cooper that tells the haunting story of a killer on the loose at West Point Academy, a killer who likes to slice out the heart of their victims.
But it’s more than just a serial killer story. It’s also a detective story, as the unconventional Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) is hired to solve the case, and he drafts as his assistant a young cadet by the name of Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling). It has as its prevalent theme the attachments we keep with our deceased loved ones, as most of the characters are influenced and oftentimes haunted by memories, spirits, what have you, of those loved ones who have gone before them. And it all takes place on the snowy West Point campus in 1830. It’s both a feast for the eyes and for the senses, as this atmospheric thriller now streaming on Netflix is definitely worth a look.
Christian Bale plays Augustus Landor, a man whose wife died after a long illness, and whose daughter ran away and never returned. He is a somber man who lives alone, yet each night when he’s on the case he has conversations with his deceased wife, who helps him with his deductions. He is hired by Captain Hitchcock (Simon McBurney) and Superintendent Thayer (Timothy Spall) to find out who is killing their cadets and cutting their hearts out. Landor doesn’t like the Academy, as he believes it robs men of their humanity, but he agrees to take the case.
He is soon approached by a young cadet named Edgar Allan Poe who offers his opinions as to who he thinks the murderer is and tells Landor he should be looking for a poet. Landor likes Poe and asks him to keep his eyes and ears open around the campus. The two detectives are both drawn to Dr. Daniel Marquis (Toby Jones) and his family, which includes his wife, his son, who is also a cadet there, and their daughter Lea (Lucy Boynton). There is something about them that troubles Landor, and he can’t put his finger on it. Further complicating matters is when Poe befriends Lea, he finds himself falling in love with her, eventually writing his poem “Lenore” for her.
Tensions rise as the murders continue, and Landor and Poe are no closer to finding the killer, but eventually their painstaking detective work pays off, and they begin to formulate answers.
I absolutely loved THE PALE BLUE EYE, but admittedly, I’m a sucker for period piece thrillers, and even though THE PALE BLUE EYE isn’t really a horror movie, although the argument can be made that it is, it did remind me enough of the classic Hammer Films horror movies of yesteryear that I enjoyed this one from start to finish.
Does it have one plot twist too many? Perhaps. Just when you think the film is over, it adds another element, another twist, that I don’t think the story needed, but when all was said and done, it still worked for me. I bought it. And I bought the characters’ reactions to it.
I really enjoy the work of Scott Cooper. His previous films include OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013), an unheralded crime drama that was my favorite movie that year, and HOSTILES (2017), a hard hitting western. Both movies also starred Christian Bale.
Cooper is a terrific writer. Here, he adapted his screenplay from the book by Louis Bayard, and he includes riveting, realistic dialogue throughout. The characters here are all fleshed out, and the plot hooks you in immediately and never lets go. Regarding the characters, it helps that Cooper also has a fantastic cast here, but his writing is still superior.
He scores just as highly as a director. The opening shot of the movie, a hanged body of man dangling strangely, as if he is sitting, starts the film with a haunting image and honestly never lets up. If you like visual thrillers, with creative direction and eerie photography, you’ll love Cooper’s work here with THE PALE BLUE EYE.
Christian Bale is always a pleasure to watch. He fully becomes the characters he plays, which enables him to portray so many different kinds of characters, a trait that makes him such an exceptional actor. We just saw him in AMSTERDAM (2022) as a World War I veteran and doctor in David O. Russell’s quirky comedy drama. He was the best part of the inferior Marvel movie THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) as its main villain, Gorr. He was just as memorable in his previous four movies, FORD V FERRARI (2019), VICE (2018) where he played Dick Cheney and was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his work, HOSTILES (2017), and THE BIG SHORT (2015), where he was also nominated for an Oscar. He won an Oscar for his supporting role in THE FIGHTER (2010), he played Batman in the Christopher Nolan DARK KNIGHT trilogy, and on and on we could go. Bale is one of the best movie actors working today.
Here, he plays Augustus Landor as a man haunted by his past, by his deceased wife, and missing daughter. He’s also an effective detective, but he is going about solving the case with an obvious heavy weight on his chest from things we don’t know fully about, other than the loss he feels and the hurt that goes along with it. As you would expect, Bale nails this role, and is captivating to watch throughout this movie.
And if that’s not enough, Harry Melling is just as captivating as Edgar Allan Poe. In fact, as much as I like Bale, I enjoyed Melling more here, because I enjoyed watching his take on Poe as a character and bringing the poet/author to life. He’s wonderful. Melling is also a terrific actor. He’s known to Harry Potter fans as the irritating Dudley Dursley, but years later as an adult, he has really stood out in a host of supporting roles. Melling has been memorable in the Netflix TV series THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT (2022) and in the Netflix movie THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020). He’s also appeared in THE OLD GUARD (2020), THE CURRENT WAR: DIRECTOR’S CUT (2017) and THE LOST CITY OF Z (2016). Here, Melling is phenomenal as Edgar Allan Poe.
Interestingly, Melling is the grandson of actor Patrick Troughton, who is famous for playing Doctor Who in the 1960s. Troughton also appeared in Hammer Films, such as SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) with Christopher Lee, and in the Ray Harryhausen classic JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963).
And in another Hammer Films connection, Toby Jones, who plays Dr. Daniel Marquis, and who’s one of my favorite character actors working today, is the son of actor Freddie Jones, who made his debut as the tormented creation of Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969). No wonder this one has such a strong Hammer Films vibe! As he always is, Toby Jones is excellent here as Dr. Marquis, playing a man, like Landor, haunted by a family secret.
Simon McBurney as Captain Hitchcock and Timothy Spall as Superintendent Thayer both stand out as cranky and crotchety officers. Lucy Boynton makes for a lovely yet troubled love interest for Poe as Lea, and as the story progresses, she becomes a much more integral character.
There are also a couple of major acting veterans in the cast. Gillian Anderson, known to X-FILES fans as Dana Scully, is fantastic here as Mrs. Julia Marquis. She gets some of the best scenes in the movie, especially the ones she shares with Christian Bale. The acting here, especially with Anderson and Bale, is so precise the characters almost leap off the screen. They are created with such precision.
And Robert Duvall also has a small role as Jean Pepe, a man who helps provide some historical information for Landor when he needs it.
I found THE PALE BLUE EYE to be an absolutely mesmerizing movie. I loved its story, its characters, and its overall mystery. I also enjoyed its theme of communication with the dead. As Poe explains in one scene, where he’s talking about his communications with his deceased mother, as he feels a connection with her and hears her voice often, in general he says, people forget their loved ones who have passed on before them, and these deceased spirits miss being remembered and reach out to the living in angst. But for those like himself who listen to the voices, much wisdom and caring is shared.
I love the work of Scott Cooper. His writing here, with the plot, the characters, and the dialogue, is superior, and his direction nearly flawless as he creates an eerie visual gem. And the cast, led by Christian Bale and Harry Melling, is a joy to watch.
THE PALE BLUE EYE is a masterful period piece thriller that will keep you glued to the screen, especially during a cold, winter evening.
SHE SAID (2022) is the type of movie that I don’t feel like criticizing one bit because its subject matter— sexual harassment of women in the workplace— is so important.
In other words, while the movie is far from perfect, it’s still a film everyone should see. Period. So, let there be no ambiguity about that. SHE SAID is a must-see movie for everyone.
SHE SAID is based on both The New York Times investigative reporting by reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, and their book She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, and while it chronicles their investigation into Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, an investigation which eventually led to his arrest and conviction, the story in general is really about how pervasive sexual harassment is in the workplace and how deeply rooted these attitudes against women are engrained in men, especially but not limited to, men in power. The screenplay by Rebecca Lenkiewicz makes this abundantly clear, and rightly so, as its take on this subject is spot on.
I found SHE SAID to be a very somber and unsettling movie because the story it told not only was true but exposes horrible things regarding the way men treat women that sadly are ongoing.
SHE SAID basically follows the two New York Times reporters, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) as they painstakingly and persistently follow leads and search for victims to speak on the record and for proof to back up their claims as they try to tell the story and expose the abuse and harassment propagated by Harvey Weinstein over the years.
The film gets this right, as we witness how frightened Weinstein’s victims are, and how not only are they afraid to talk, but so many of them signed settlements which legally prevented them from talking. It also prevented them from ever working again in the movie industry, as Weinstein would make sure they couldn’t.
The more Twohey and Kantor learn about Weinstein, the more emotional they grow, because they know what he has done and continues to do, but they can’t get anyone on record to speak about it, and so they persist and go to nearly superhuman lengths to seek out and find both the proof and on the record accounts they need. They also have to deal with Weinstein, who with his connections learns they are investigating him, and he intimidates the women who are thinking of speaking out, and there are also anonymous violent and vulgar threats against Twohey and Kantor.
What the film doesn’t get right— and again, because of the subject matter, I encourage everyone to see this movie in spite of this— is a cinematic style. While the content held my attention throughout, both the writing and by-the-numbers directing by Maria Schrader kept this from being a powerful film in its own right. For example, the movie SPOTLIGHT (2015), which covered the Boston Globe investigation into the Catholic Church’s child molestation crimes and its subsequent cover-up, was a phenomenal movie in its own right on top of its riveting subject matter. Not only did it feature a strong cast and powerhouse performances, but the writing dug deep into the reporters writing the stories, and the film also had villains, portraying the Catholic Church as being stubbornly out of touch with its victims. It never got melodramatic. It stuck to facts. But it also went for the jugular and really hit hard with its message of just what happened and was continuing to happen.
SHE SAID doesn’t quite do this. While I applaud the choice the movie made not to ever show Weinstein speaking on camera, and we only see the back of the actor’s head who is portraying him, the sad side effect of this is we never really feel the ugliness and vulgarity of the man. Not that we have to. In terms of story and making its point, we don’t need more of Weinstein. But we need something. Because the movie is almost all Twohey and Kantor and their reporting. Why isn’t this enough? Well, technically it is, but as a movie, the two hours spent watching SHE SAID are nowhere near as riveting as watching SPOTLIGHT.
And the story does give us some family background on Twohey and Kantor, but their backgrounds aren’t what is missing. It’s the process of their investigation which needs more dialogue and angst. The drama is flat.
Carey Mulligan is a terrific actor, and she nails the experienced Megan Twohey, who while growing increasingly rattled by this investigation also is dealing with a newborn at home. She also has a great scene in the movie, where at a meeting at a bar, a guy comes over and hits on them, and when she tells him they’re not interested, and he persists and becomes vulgar, she lets him have it and tells him to f*ck off! Mulligan has wowed me since I first saw her in DRIVE (2011) and THE GREAT GATSBY (2013). She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress for her phenomenal performance in PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020), and she also was pretty darn good in the more recent THE DIG (2021), in which she co-starred with Ralph Fiennes.
Zoe Kazan is also exceptional as Jodi Kantor, the less experienced of the two reporters, but the one who initially started the investigation. She also has her share of potent scenes, like when she inadvertently mentions to one of the victims’ husbands what supposedly happened with Weinstein, and the husband says his wife has never mentioned this to him. I’ve enjoyed Kazan in the horror movie THE MONSTER (2016) and even more so in the romantic comedy THE BIG SICK (2017).
The supporting cast is very good. Andre Braugher turns in a fine performance as executive editor Dean Baquet. The way he confidently pushes back against Weinstein provides some of the more satisfying moments in the movie.
SHE SAID is a very good movie, and while it has its flaws, its content is must-see viewing, and its perspective on sexual harassment in the workplace needs to be heard, acknowledged, and understood, and changes need to continue to be made.
Netflix has been able to attract A-list actors in many of their original movies. The results are fifty-fifty. Sometimes the films are disappointing, but other times they really work and make for solid movie viewing, all in the comfort of your own home.
THE GOOD NURSE (2022), based on the true story of serial killer Charles Cullen, a male nurse, who murdered dozens possibly hundreds of people while working at various hospitals, before he was finally stopped by a co-worker, the “good nurse” in the title of the movie, falls into the latter category. It’s really well done, and the two A-list actors in this one, Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain, both deliver compelling performances which carry the movie from beginning to end.
I was surprised how effortlessly THE GOOD NURSE plays out, and a lot of the credit here has to go to director Tobias Lindholm, who directs this one with a straightforward style that tells its story starting with the first frame of the movie, where we see a patient dying, doctors asking questions, and male nurse Charles Cullen in the room feigning innocence, and then moves forward without any diversions or wasted scenes.
Equal credit goes to screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who wrote the screenplay based on the book by Charles Graeber, as she outlines the story perfectly and includes superior dialogue throughout, which comes as no surprise, since Wilson-Cairns was nominated for an Academy Award for her co-written screenplay to 1917 (2019).
And then you have Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain, who both play their roles at the top of their games, and the result is THE GOOD NURSE is a really good movie, much better than I expected it to be.
Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain) is a single mom struggling to raise her two young daughters. She works long hours as a hospital nurse, and she also suffers from a heart ailment which could prove fatal, but she can’t stop working because she needs to work for at least six months longer in order to qualify for health insurance. Her supervisor can’t cut her hours, but she does hire an extra nurse to help out, and that nurse is Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne).
Amy and Charlie hit it off immediately. They are both single parents with young children, and once Charlie learns of Amy’s condition, he promises to help her, and he assures her that with his help she’ll make it through the six months to get her health insurance. When one of their patients dies unexpectedly, Amy is surprised, but hardly takes notice, and when several months later, the police are alerted, the two homicide detectives Danny Baldwin (Nnamdi Asomugha) and Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich) shrug their shoulders and wonder why they are even being called in. But after meeting with icy cold hospital administrator Linda Garran (Kim Dickens) and the hospital attorney, and having their questions go unanswered, Baldwin and Braun feel that something is not right. And when Garran refuses to hand over the internal investigative report, citing one delay tactic after another, the officers’ suspicions are heightened.
They do a random background check on the hospital staff who dealt with the deceased, and they find that male nurse Charlie Cullen has a record for assault. When they attempt to follow-up, they find resistance from every hospital where Cullen ever worked. And when during follow-up questioning with Amy, she tells them that another patient has died, they see a blazing red flag. Amy of course, since Charlie has been such a good friend to her, can’t believe he would be involved in the killing of a patient, but then she begins looking into the matter on her own. What she finds surprises her. She then risks her career and possibly her life as she agrees to work with Baldwin and Braun to finally put an end to what Charlie has been doing.
The story is told through Amy’s perspective, and the events in the movie are framed around her. Jessica Chastain is in top form as the nurse who legally is not allowed to talk about any of the hospital deaths, as her contract explicitly prevents this, and so by helping the police she is risking losing her job. Chastain captures Amy’s exhaustion, from her strenuous nursing position, in a hospital that isn’t funded enough or prepared to properly take care of its staff, to her heart condition, to dealing with difficult children at home. Chastain makes the weary Amy sympathetic and later heroic.
I like Jessica Chastain a lot. She’s been enjoyable in so many movies, from THE HELP (2011) to ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012) to THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE (2017), to name just a few. We just saw her in THE FORGIVEN (2021), where she co-starred with Ralph Fiennes, and she’s even better here in THE GOOD NURSE. And of course, she won the Oscar for Best Actress this past year for her performance in THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE (2021)
Eddie Redmayne kills it as Charlie Cullen. While he is soft-spoken, gentle, and polite, the way Redmayne plays him, there is something off about him, as if he is covering a deep wound, or harboring a sinister secret, which he is. He gets one of the best lines in the movie, when asked by the police why he did it, he answers simply, because they let me.
And that’s a huge part of the story told in THE GOOD NURSE. Hospital after hospital where Charlie worked knew what he was doing, but none of them sought the authorities to go after him, because as explained in the movie, that would make them vulnerable to expensive lawsuits. THE GOOD NURSE does a nice job painting a troubling portrait of the health care system and of hospitals in general, and this is before COVID!
Redmayne won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014), so I won’t claim that his work here in THE GOOD NURSE is his best yet, but it’s pretty darn good! He’s really convincing as a man who would be capable of killing that many people for no other reason other than he could.
I also enjoyed both Nnamdi Asomugha and Noah Emmerich as the two homicide detectives who go from initially feeling like the hospital is wasting their time, to hmm,that seemed like a cover-up, but we doubt it, but we’ll check it out anyway, to full blown holy sh*t! this guy’s been killing people for years and no one has brought charges against him!
I didn’t really expect much from THE GOOD NURSE, but it exceeded my expectations. Driven by two exceptional performances by Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, THE GOOD NURSE tells a riveting story that is about more than just a serial killer, as it also makes clear that the hospitals which knew of his crimes did nothing about them. And it tells this story through the eyes of one very hard-working nurse, Amy Loughren, who’s struggling to get through her life with a job that doesn’t give her health insurance— and she’s a health-care worker! —and as a single mom with two children. She’s in jeopardy long before she meets Charlie Cullen, and once she does meet him and learns what he’s been doing, she puts her friendship aside and her job on the line, in order to finally put an end to his killing spree.
Just before the end credits roll, the movie reveals what Amy is doing in the here and now, and after some family updates, concludes that she is still “a good nurse.”
THIRTEEN LIVES (2022), the latest movie from director Ron Howard, tells the extraordinary true story of the rescue of thirteen young soccer players from a flooded underground cave in Thailand in 2018, and it does so in a straightforward manner without fanfare or fuss.
This is both good and bad.
But since the story on its own is indeed so extraordinary, it’s mostly good.
In June 2018, a group of school-age boys on a soccer team decide to visit a cave before going to one of their teammate’s birthday parties, and they’re accompanied by their coach. Despite the fact that the cave has a history of flooding, it’s still before the monsoon season, so the boys feel they are safe. However, torrential rains hit shortly after they descend into the cave, flooding it and trapping them deep below. By the time their families arrive at the cave looking for them, it’s too submerged in water for them to go inside and search for the boys.
They call the local authorities, who quickly see they are in over their heads, both figuratively and literally. Soon, Navy Seals arrive, but they too cannot get far into the cave to reach the boys, as it’s all underwater in narrow passageways, and there is zero visibility. The call goes out worldwide for help, and two of the most skilled cave divers in the world, John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) and Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) heed the call and arrive in Thailand where they are looked down upon by the Thai Navy Seals for being too old, and while they certainly are older than the Seals, John points out that they train specifically for diving in and around caves.
John and Rick receive permission to dive into the cave, and after many trials and errors, they eventually, after a six hour plus dive, find the boys and their coach alive. They promise to return to the boys with help. When news breaks that the boys are alive, there is great joy and celebration, but Rick is not happy at all, and as he tells the authorities privately, the boys may be alive now, but there is no way they are getting out of the cave alive. For that to happen, each of them would have to be able to swim underwater with the divers for six to eight hours, and as Rick points out, even when earlier they helped an adult volunteer who had been trapped inside, he had panicked during a much shorter swim.
Faced with a no-win situation, the authorities go silent, frustrating the waiting families, but it’s Rick who suggests a very controversial plan, one that had never been tried before. Even though it is extremely risky, and he tells the authorities point blank that the boys may die, if they try nothing, they will die anyway.
Ron Howard directs this one without any frills, and it plays out like watching news footage or a documentary. It’s really well done. I’m not always the biggest fan of Howard’s movies, but he definitely taps into here the suspense of one of his best movies, APOLLO 13 (1995) starring Tom Hanks which chronicled the ill-fated Apollo 13 moon mission. I enjoyed THIRTEEN LIVES more than some of his recent movies, including SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018) and IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (2015). Howard won an Oscar for Best Director for A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001), which also won for Best Picture that year.
Here, the most amazing part of Howard’s work is the underwater photography. It’s breathtaking. The scenes of the divers submerged in the caves are claustrophobic, riveting, and heart pounding. And like I said, Howard doesn’t film these like a suspense movie. He simply lets the action unfold, and we are drawn in watching these volunteers risk their lives to save these boys. Just as astounding, the actors, including Mortensen and Farrell, did their own underwater stunts! Even though professional divers were there and available, Mortensen felt so strongly about the authenticity of the project that he and the others trained to dive in caves, and they convinced Howard to let them do it.
And while obviously it was filmed in a massive underwater set and not inside real caves, it was still a dangerous undertaking for all the actors. Their dedication pays off, because these scenes really work.
Viggo Mortensen is terrific in the lead role as diver Rick Stanton. His cool, aloof persona is perfect for a man who spends his time swimming in life-threatening, narrow underwater caves. And he’s not reckless. At one point, he says point blank that as much as he wants to save the boys, if he thinks they (the divers) can’t get out alive, he’s not going in.
Colin Farrell is also superb as fellow diver John Volanthen. He’s the more empathetic of the two, and as a divorced dad of a young son, his own child is always on his mind as he tries to rescue the trapped boys.
Equally as good in a supporting role is Joel Edgerton as Harry Harris, another diver who John and Rick call in to join them, as they assemble a team of the best cave divers in the world. And they are particularly interested in Harry because of his expertise, which is part of Rick’s controversial plan to rescue the boys. And when they first tell Harry of this, he refuses, because he knows it could kill the boys, but later, when he sees there is no other alternative, he relents and changes his mind.
The screenplay by William Nicholson based on a story by Don MacPherson is comprehensive and thorough and goes beyond just the story of the divers. There’s a whole other story of other volunteers led by a water expert who understands that the cave is not flooding from below but from the rains above, and so he assembles a team to find and plug up all the sink holes in the area, an undertaking that is nearly as impossible as the underwater diving mission. In fact, the sacrifice among the locals is just as great, as plugging up the sink holes means diverting the water, which will destroy the local farmers’ crops. The farmers agree, knowing they are helping to rescue the boys.
There’s the story of the families, waiting anxiously over the course of seventeen excruciating days, and of the local leadership who have to navigate around the politics of the lives and possible deaths of thirteen children under their watch. It’s a really good screenplay, which comes as no surprise, because William Nicholson has a ton of writing credits, including EVEREST (2015), MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (2013) and LES MISERABLES (2012) to name just a few.
If there’s any knock against THIRTEEN LIVES it’s that it runs for two hours and twenty-seven minutes, and with its no frills style, sometimes it seems a bit long. When the divers are underwater, the film had me on edge. When the action returned to above ground, things could have been edited a bit more tightly.
THIRTEEN LIVES is an Amazon Original movie and premiered on Prime Video and in select movie theaters. It’s one you definitely want to see.
Sure, you may already know the ending, but the story of human ingenuity, camaraderie, and bravery it took to rescue these boys under pretty much impossible odds, is one you don’t want to miss.
Thirteen lives could very easily have been lost that day. But they weren’t.
The movie THIRTEEN LIVES successfully celebrates this fact by so expertly telling this amazing story.
NOPE (2022), the latest genre movie by Jordan Peele, the man who brought us GET OUT (2017) and US (2019), goes out of its way to be puzzling and thought-provoking, but this creative zeal often gets in the way of its storytelling, to the point where its narrative never really flows, instead laboring from start to finish as it works through an otherwise interesting story.
In NOPE, OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) operate a ranch in California where they train horses to appear in movies and television, so right off the bat you have an interesting premise just with the main characters’ occupation, as this isn’t something we see in movies all that often. OJ hasn’t been right since the tragic death of his father Otis (Keith David), who was killed in a bizarre accident when he was struck by random debris which fell from a passing plane. But OJ was there that day, and he never saw a passing plane in the sky, although there was thick cloud cover and some strange noises overhead.
Soon OJ is hearing and seeing strange things through the clouds which seem to always permeate the sky above their farmhouse. When computer geek Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) arrives to help them set up surveillance cameras, he joins them on their quest to find out what is going on in the sky above their home. And when OJ gets a closer look at the phenomenon, he tells his sister that it didn’t move like a ship, implying that while it seems to be a UFO, it might be something different…
And that’s the premise of NOPE, as the main characters try to unravel the mystery in the skies above their home.
As stories go, I liked the one told in NOPE, but as I said, the way Jordan Peele tells it comes across as more labored than polished. Peele obviously chose to tell the story in this way to be more creative and innovative. Scenes often end in the middle, effectively teasing the audience, not letting them know answers and information needed to figure things out. The movie also opens bizarrely, with a scene from a cancelled sitcom after a tragedy struck.
We find out later that former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) who runs a western show not far from OJ’s ranch, was on the set of that sitcom when the tragedy ensued, something that scarred him greatly. Ricky’s story ties in directly with the main one in the movie because he too has seen the strange phenomenon in the sky, but his take on it is different from OJ’s, and a lot of his interpretation is based on his childhood trauma. So, it all connects. Eventually.
As does the plot point about OJ’s relationship with his horses. Everything that happens in this story is there for a reason. I don’t have a problem with that. But the convoluted way Peele goes about telling his story gets in the way of effective storytelling, and as a result, I had a difficult time warming up to this one.
It also gets in the way of the characterizations. No one in this movie really comes to life, in spite of some nifty acting performances.
Daniel Kaluuya, who won the Oscar last year for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (2021), and who was also nominated for Best Actor for his work in GET OUT, is a terrific actor, and his talents are on full display here in NOPE. He plays OJ as a brooding, grieving son who is not yet over the death of his father. He’s also the strong, silent type, and barely says much of anything throughout the movie. OJ’s personality reflects the feel of the entire movie: quiet, brooding, and not that exciting.
Keke Palmer as OJ’s sister Emerald is the opposite of her brother, as she is lively, outspoken, and anything but introspective.
I also enjoyed Steven Yeun’s performance as Ricky, the former child actor now running a family friendly western show in the middle of California nowhere. Yeun is very good in a role that at first seems tangent to everything else that is going on in the movie, but when the big reveal is made near the end, it makes sense at that moment how his story ties into the main one. Yeun, who played Glenn on THE WALKING DEAD (2010-2020) was also nominated for an Oscar last year for Best Actor in MINARI (2020).
It was fun to see Keith David for a couple of seconds (should have been more!) as OJ’s dad Otis. David has enjoyed a long career going all the way back to his performance as Childs in John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982).
Brandon Perea as geek Angel Torres primarily provides the comic relief throughout the movie, and Michael Wincott plays a dedicated cameraman who agrees to help them film what’s going on in the skies above their home to give them proof, in a role that should have been much more interesting than it ultimately was. While Wincott is fine, the writing is not.
Jordan Peele wrote the screenplay, and with the exception of OJ, the characters in this one do not come to life. Michael Wincott’s cameraman character, specifically, is left dangling in the wind. He comes in and does his thing, yet we know nothing about him. The other characters are shallow as well.
While the story is clever and creative, and the reveal is satisfying, the execution here is not. Peele seems to have decided that he wanted to make this movie feel like a puzzle, something for audiences to think on and figure out, and for the most part, that’s what NOPE is. But it gets in the way of the narrative, and it reminded me of a work in progress, where another draft of the screenplay was needed, one where things would be polished, to hammer points home and make sure the story works, because ultimately, it doesn’t work completely. Why not? The number one reason is there’s little or no emotional connection with the characters.
I liked NOPE better than Peele’s previous outing, US, which I didn’t like at all, but I still strongly prefer GET OUT to this latest outing by Peele.
It has its moments. Like one where OJ is terrified of something he’s seeing, and he turns away shaking his head muttering, “Nope!” which was a genuine laugh-out-loud moment, as well as a light bulb moment for the meaning of the title, and there are flashes of genuine suspense and intrigue, but more often than not, there are long periods of labored exposition and scenes that end before they should to keep audiences guessing, but when you do this too much, audiences lose interest in guessing.
I liked the reveal, but after this, the third act of the film continues to drudge through a long climax which strangely was the least exciting part of the movie, mostly because we were watching superficial characters deal with a somewhat interesting but never horrifying threat.
In its defense, NOPE has a worthwhile theme, and the story it tells is actually a good one, but the way it tells it doesn’t do it any favors. Simply put, it can’t get out of its own way.
I liked NOPE, but I didn’t love it.
It’s thought-provoking science fiction. It’s a fairly creepy horror tale. But is it an engrossing movie that I am going to want to watch over and over again?
ELVIS (2022), the new bio pic of Elvis Presley by director Baz Luhrmann, is a visual treat.
I’m a big fan of director Baz Luhrmann. I’ve really enjoyed his movies, films like ROMEO AND JULIET (1996), MOULIN ROUGE! (2001), and THE GREAT GATSBY (2013). I find his visual style and fast-paced energetic editing contagious, as his films draw me in immediately and never let go. I know some folks find his style too off putting, but I think he is a master at creative storytelling, using images and music often in a nonlinear way to tell a complete story. While my favorite movie by Luhrmann remains his version of THE GREAT GATSBY, I really enjoyed his latest, ELVIS, which perfectly captures the life of Elvis Presley, as Luhrmann’s spectacular movie making style is in lock step with the spectacle of Elvis’ larger than life career.
Luhrmann overcomes the somewhat odd screenplay which he co-wrote with Sam Bromell and Craig Pearce, which strangely focuses more on Elvis’ controversial manager Colonel Parker than the King himself. This might not be a fair statement, because the movie does cover Elvis’ career from beginning to end, but it’s seen through its entirety through the prism of Parker’s vision, who serves not only as the main supporting character but also as the film’s narrator.
ELVIS opens with Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) in a hospital bed, and in voice-over narration he’s reminiscing and says that people blame him for Elvis’ death, but he says, that simply is not true, and then in typical Baz Luhrmann style, the film explodes into a myriad of flashbacks as we meet a young Elvis (Austin Butler), and the film takes off from there bringing to full life with amazing images and electrifying music the career of the man who would become the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley.
We learn of Elvis’ roots and early influences from the jazz community, and we are there when Colonel Parker, a man who got his start doing promotions in circuses and is constantly looking for that act which will take him to the promised land, sees Elvis perform and witnesses the insane reaction Elvis gets from the women in the audience. As Parker says, the best acts are those which make people pay money to enjoy things in ways which they later realize perhaps they shouldn’t. He sees that Elvis has this power.
And once Elvis agrees to take the Colonel on as his manager and promoter, Elvis’ career skyrockets, with one hit song after another, and soon the Colonel has Elvis starring in Hollywood movies, but after a sensational appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, controversy ensues as conservative political leaders take offense to Elvis’ signature and what they deemed erotic dance moves. When they threaten legal action, the Colonel advises Elvis to play it safe, and he sends him off to the military for three years to change his image and show that he can be all-American and conservative.
In the late 1960s, when times change, Elvis begins to be viewed as a has been, but in one of the movie’s best moments, Elvis performs his 1968 Comeback Special on NBC, a special that was promoted and planned by Colonel Parker as a family Christmas event, but Elvis and the director of the show had other ideas. Elvis wore black leather and performed the way he wanted to, and the special was a huge ratings hit and inspired Elvis to start performing live concerts again. Suddenly, Elvis Presley was once again relevant.
This eventually led Elvis to performing in Las Vegas, because as the film shows. the Colonel had huge gambling debts, and as compensation for Elvis performing exclusively in Vegas, his debts were forgiven, and so the Colonel did everything in his power to keep Elvis performing there and only there, a decision which led to the King taking more drugs to keep him going to keep up with the incredible schedule, and eventually led to his early death at the age of 42.
I really liked ELVIS. As I said, Luhrmann’s style is energetic and captivating. There is never a dull moment. Its two hour and thirty-nine-minute running time flies by easily. He also captures the spectacle of Elvis’ career with big bright flashy numbers and musical montages.
There are some oddities. The emphasis on Colonel Parker is one of them. While the character is at the forefront throughout the movie and has an answer for everything, including that he was not responsible for Elvis’ death, the movie makes it quite clear what kind of influence Parker had on Elvis. Parker was always self-serving, and any decision he made which may have benefitted the rock star, always benefitted himself first. And, had Elvis broken away from Parker like he wanted, he probably doesn’t stay in Las Vegas, and chances are his life takes a different direction and perhaps he’s not dead by the age of 42.
And while the movie does provide a full comprehensive telling of the career of Elvis Presley, it does so largely on a superficial level. We see what happens throughout Elvis’ career, but the film never delves deeply into the thoughts and feelings of Elvis Presley, the man. For example, when in Las Vegas, doctors began pumping him with pills to get him through his shows, we see this happening, and we see Elvis readily taking these drugs without protest or question, but the film never really stops and takes a breath long enough for us to see what Elvis really thinks about all this.
As such, while Austin Butler delivers a notable performance as Elvis Presley, it’s not something Oscar-worthy. There’s not a lot of angst or insight or introspection, but there is a lot of performance. Why Butler is so good here is that he looks, moves, and sounds, just like Elvis Presley. So, his success stems largely from Baz Luhrmann the director, who creates this masterful visual work where we see the career of Elvis Presley recreated to perfection. On the other hand, he’s limited by Baz Luhrmann the screenwriter, whose co-written script never really delves into Elvis’s life beyond the superficial aspects of his career. I loved watching Austin Butler onscreen. But I wouldn’t say he will be up for an Oscar come Awards time.
On the other hand, Tom Hanks delivers a very memorable yet rather thankless performance as Colonel Tom Parker. Mostly unrecognizable under make-up and prosthetics which make him look older and heavier, Hanks plays the rather unlikable Colonel Parker as a man who knows who he is, a self-serving promoter, and who is comfortable walking in those shoes. Any loyalty he shows to Elvis throughout their time together is always connected to his own self-interests.
I also enjoyed Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley. Her spunky personality made it clear why Elvis fell so easily in love with her.
There are a lot of memorable moments in ELVIS, a lot that speak to racism, as Elvis received lots of push back and animosity for his friendship with the black music community, which he considered his roots and was the music he loved most. We witness the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy through Elvis’ eyes, and after Kennedy’s death, he wanted to make a public statement, but the Colonel dissuaded him, telling him that he was a singer and that he shouldn’t stick his nose in politics. It was a decision that largely led to Elvis’ later decision to ditch the Christmas format of the Comeback Special, as he wanted to let his singing do the talking to the nation.
At one point in a Las Vegas montage, while describing Elvis’ performance as being appropriate for the “older folks,” the narration mentions that for the younger folks, performing nearby are the young sensations known as The Jackson Five, and the juxtaposition of a young Michael Jackson with Elvis Presley in the same place at the same time is not lost on audiences, as Jackson would suffer a similar fate some thirty years later.
It also uses Elvis’ songs to great effect, like the sequence with “Suspicious Minds,” for example, when Elvis suspects the Colonel of not being straight with him.
I thought ROCKETMAN (2019) did a better job revealing who Elton John is as a person than ELVIS does with Elvis Presley. But in terms of visual storytelling, ELVIS is every bit as compelling as ROCKETMAN. There’s also more music, more scenes of Elvis performing, and just a museum quality of capturing history. Luhrmann’s storytelling style is that good.
If you want to experience the career of Elvis Presley… as long as you’re not expecting a deep introspective look into the man himself…. you can’t do much better than ELVIS.
It’s a hip-swiveling cinematic homage to the King of Rock and Roll.