My Top 10 Movie List for 2022

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Another year of movies has come and gone, and all things considered, it was a darn good year for celluloid.

I returned to the movie theaters this past year, after keeping away since spring 2020 due to the pandemic. I still wear a mask in the theater, except when eating popcorn, of course, and I’m usually the only one in the theater wearing a mask, but that’s okay. I have no problem wearing a mask in public places. If it was good enough for the Phantom of the Opera, it’s good enough for me!

Anyway, I returned to seeing theatrical releases in July, and so I pretty much saw films in the theater for half the year, and streaming releases the other half. An interesting thing happened during the pandemic. By watching movies at home, I discovered that streaming platforms like Netflix and Prime Video offer a lot of quality original movies, so much so, that I’ve now fully incorporated their offerings into my movie selection process. Sure, they offer duds as well, but so do the movie theaters.

I saw approximately 75 new movies this year, and the list below comprises my ten favorites of 2022. I am always amazed by the number of new movies that are released each year, which is a good thing, but there are so many that I know that you and me don’t see all the same movies, and so there are bound to be movies that you loved this year that I simply didn’t see. But of the ones I did see, here are my Top 10:

10. BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER – it’s been a rough stretch for Marvel. Even as a big Marvel fan, I’ve been disappointed with most of their recent movies of late. Not so with this superior BLACK PANTHER sequel. It pays respectful homage to late actor Chadwick Boseman and to the Black Panther character, while telling a compelling story, featuring a formidable villain, and nicely setting up the future of the Black Panther superhero. Three and a half stars.

9. BABYLON – I loved this tale of early Hollywood by writer/director Damien Chazelle, starring Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt. The movie has a lot to say, but my favorite part was its take on fans’ relationships to movies, how important movies are to people, and how film really is high art, and it says all this in the raucous, bawdy, unpredictable and unforgiving world of 1920s Hollywood. Three and a half stars.

8. THE WONDER – It was a great year for period pieces, and several of them made it into my top 10 list. THE WONDER is one of them. This Netflix original period piece thriller stars Florence Pugh as an English nurse sent to the Irish Midlands in 1862 to observe and either validate or disprove the claim that a healthy young girl has gone months without food, an event the locals are calling a religious miracle. Florence Pugh is one of the best actresses working today, and so her presence alone lifts this movie, but THE WONDER has more to offer. Where this story ultimately goes speaks to both the hypocrisy of religion, and faith in humanity. Three and a half stars.

7. THE MENU – a delightfully dark comedic thriller starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes about a select group of rich guests traveling to a private island to partake in an extravagant meal prepared by a team of chefs led by one of the world’s finest chefs, played by Fiennes, who just happens to have an agenda which he enacts on these folks, who mostly deserve the comeuppance he has planned for them. Like Florence Pugh, Anya Taylor-Joy is also one of the best actresses working today, and while there is a lot to like about this delicious thriller, her performance is the best part. Three and half stars.

6. THE PALE BLUE EYE – Another Netflix original, and another period piece. Written and directed by Scott Cooper, THE PALE BLUE EYE tells the story of a serial killer loose at West Point Academy in 1830 who likes to cut out the hearts of the young cadets there. Disenchanted detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) is called in to solve the case, and he receives help from a young cadet there named Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling). Beautifully shot, exquisitely written, and well-acted by a veteran cast, led by Melling in a phenomenal performance as Edgar Allan Poe, and by Christian Bale as the weary, somber detective with secrets of his own. Three and a half stars.

5. THE BANSHEES OF INERSHERIN – certainly one of the more unusual movies I saw this year, and another period piece, as it takes place in 1923 on an island off the coast of Ireland. Receiving lots of hype, deservedly so, but erroneously marketed as a comedy, this tale of a man named Padraic, played by Colin Farrell, who out of the blue is told one day by his best friend that he no longer likes him as a person and that he doesn’t want to spend any more time with him, ever, starts off light and humorous but grows increasingly dark as it goes along, building to a very somber conclusion. This one is offbeat to be sure, but you can’t beat the dialogue or the acting. Colin Farrell is superb as Padraic, the man who begins to question his very existence and being, when he is faced with an absolute and unforgiving rejection by a man who he thought was his best friend. Three and a half stars.

4. EMILY THE CRIMINAL – I loved this small market thriller starring Aubrey Plaza as a young woman struggling to pay off her college debt and pay her bills with one thankless low paying job after another, and when she says yes to taking part in an illegal credit card scheme, because it will pay her a quick $200, she finds that the criminals treat her better than her employers. The scams certainly pay her better, and as she discovers she has a talent for this sort of thing, she agrees to take on bigger scams, which earn her more money but also become much more dangerous. This is a tight, hard-hitting thriller with no fat on its bones. Much more satisfying than many of the big budget Hollywood releases and features an exceptional performance by Plaza. Three and a half stars.

3. ELVIS- I love writer/director Baz Luhrmann’s visual style, and he’s at the top of his game here with ELVIS, a glitzy rocking extravaganza of a bio pic of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. Featuring an energetic and uncanny performance by Austin Butler as Elvis, and Tom Hanks as Presley’s slimy self-serving manager, Colonel Tom Parker, ELVIS is a visual and musical tour de force. Don’t expect a deep insightful look into the inner mind and soul of Elvis Presley. This movie doesn’t go there. Instead, it plays out like an Elvis performance in Las Vegas, which artistically speaking, is a perfect way to tell Elvis’ story. Three and a haf stars.

2. LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER – Another Netflix original, and yes, another period piece. This latest film version of the D.H. Lawrence novel, scores so highly for me because of the way it honestly and unabashedly features sex in its story, something that Hollywood movies these days strangely shy away from. LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER is the story of Lady Connie Chatterley (Emma Corrin) who’s stuck in a loveless marriage with rich Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett), and when she meets and falls in love with the gamekeeper on their estate, Oliver (Jack O’Connell), she realizes that he’s the love of her life, and she decides that in spite of the odds against her– she’s married, and Oliver is of a different social status than her— she will not conform to social norms and instead will do whatever it takes to ensure her happiness and a future life with Oliver. Wonderfully filmed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, and perfectly capturing the World War I English countryside, LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER features fine performances by all involved, but the most captivating part of this one is the way de Clermont-Tonnerre films the story’s love scenes, as they are boldly realistic and passionate, showing physical love in a way that most other films these days don’t have the guts to do. Four stars.

1. EMERGENCY – My favorite movie of 2022 was this Amazon Prime original film which received very little attention this year. I liked it because it speaks to race relations here in 2022 in a way that is far more natural and effective than most, and it does it largely on a comedic platform. EMERGENCY tells the story of two black college friends, Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Sean (R J Cyler) who before a night of partying discover an unconscious white girl on the floor of their apartment. When Kunle attempts to call 911, Sean stops him, telling him that the police will never believe that they— two black men– had nothing to do with how an unconscious white girl ended up on their apartment floor. So, instead, they decide to take her to the hospital, and so they embark on an odyssey of an adventure trying to transport this girl across town to the hospital, while the girl’s sister and her friends try to find her, and what can go wrong, does go wrong in this comedic drama that will have you both laughing and trembling. The scene late in the movie where the police confront Kunle, and pull guns on him, is nail-bitingly tense. EMERGENCY offers a fresh and funny premise— yes, officers, this girl really did just appear on our apartment floor unconscious, and we really have no idea how she got here or who she is— thrusts it into the racially charged environment of our current culture and delivers it all in a tremendously thought-provoking and satisfying package. Directed by Carey Williams and written by K.D. Davila. EMERGENCY is my pick for the best movie of 2022.

And there you have it, my picks for the Top 10 movies of 2022. It was a great year for movies. Now it’s on to 2023!

As always, thanks for reading.

—Michael

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

And coming soon, my Top 10 List for the Worst movies of 2022. Look for it soon right here in these pages!

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AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER (2022) – Big Budget James Cameron Sequel Worth the Wait, Not the Price Tag

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Thirteen years?

Are you kidding me?

That’s the time in between the first movie AVATAR (2009), and its sequel AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER (2022) which just opened in theaters this weekend. I loved AVATAR. I remember being blown away by its 3D effects, which were the best I had ever seen at that point, and its story wasn’t half bad either.

But thirteen years? Why should I care about a sequel to a movie I barely remember? This has been my mindset leading up to the release of this sequel, but truth be told, I am only half serious, and that’s because I know the answer to that question. The reason I still care about this sequel is because it’s being made by James Cameron.

Cameron of course has directed a long line of innovative movie hits, including THE TERMINATOR (1984), ALIENS (1986), TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991), TITANIC (1997), and AVATAR. Cameron’s movies are always visually impressive, and sometimes, as was the case with the 3D technology in AVATAR, groundbreaking. So, while I poke fun at the gap of years between the two movies, I still was interested in seeing this sequel.

Speaking of which, let’s get down to business. Is AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER any good? Well, of course it is! The real question is, just how good is it?

Visually speaking, it’s tremendously good! This is a movie that is nearly one hundred percent animated, using motion-capture and CGI effects throughout, on the fictional planet of Pandora. It’s a visual treat for the senses. The film is beautiful to look at.

My favorite part, though, is actually the characters, who though animated, come to life through their expressions and mannerisms. You really believe the characters you are watching are real.

Now, I wasn’t able to see AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER in 3D this time around, and that was just fine with me. I mean, a movie shouldn’t need 3D technology to make it a success. It has to stand on its own. As such, even in 2D, the effects here hold up.

The story in AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER takes place several years after the events of the first movie, and we find Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) living with his wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) among her forest people, and as such they now have a family, two sons and two daughters. We find out that the villainous Quaritch (Stephen Lang) who Jake and Neytiri killed at the end of the first movie, has been cloned in the form of the indigenous people of Pandora, as have a bunch of other military soldiers.

The Sky People— people from Earth— continue their military mission to conquer the natives of Pandora because Earth is dying, and humans need a new place to live. The mission has been going badly because the native animals in the forest attack and kill the soldiers before they can even reach the native peoples they want to conquer. So, the thinking is, these new soldiers created to look like Pandorans will get by the animals because they will be perceived as natural to the environment. And Quaritch has an added mission, which is to find and kill Jake.

When Jake realizes they are coming for him, he moves his family away, and they relocate far away in a new community with the ocean people who primarily function underwater. But, as expected, Quaritch and his soldiers eventually track Jake down, setting the stage for a climactic battle.

As stories go, the one told in AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER is okay. The big picture stuff is all rather simplified, the evil soldiers who don’t care about the environment, the animals, and ultimately the people there, vs. Jake and his people who care about all these things. It’s simplified, but it makes its points, and it works.

The story works even better when it focuses on family, and I’m tempted to say that AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER is more about Jake’s and Neytiri’s children, but that would be an unfair assessment, because it’s also about Jake and Neytiri. But a bulk of this movie is about the children, who range in age from young adult, to teen, to school age, and their stories are every bit as interesting as the adult stories, especially their relationship with the children of the ocean people, and with the animals, especially the sea creatures. That all worked for me, and so when you get to the film’s conclusion, and all these folks are in harm’s way, it makes for some very exciting and emotional storytelling.

The screenplay by James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver works best when it creates these characters and allows the audience to get to know them and care for them. It doesn’t work as well when it comes to the nuts and bolts of storytelling. The film gets off to a sluggish start as little or no effort is made to connect events unfolding to the previous movie, and for me, it took a good twenty minutes before I started to settle in and feel like this movie was going somewhere.

The movie runs three hours and twelve minutes, which is an incredibly long running time, but honestly, it held my attention, and so the running time itself isn’t an issue. However, after sitting through a movie for three hours, you expect a finite conclusion, and AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER doesn’t really give us one. The major conflict between Jake and Quaritch isn’t resolved, and questions about Jake’s and Neytiri’s oldest daughter’s powers and heritage are left unanswered. Movie audiences deserve a finite conclusion, even if more movies are planned.

There are also some lapses of logic. It struck me as naive that the ocean people accept Jake and his family without realizing that doing so would threaten their own family, knowing that the Sky People are actively searching for Jake. Jake tells them as much when he explains why they fled their homeland. And at the end of the movie, Jake declares that with his newfound family, the ocean people having accepted them, that this is their new home, and their days of running are over. It’s better to stand firm and defend one’s home than run away, which begs the question, where was this attitude at the beginning of the movie?

It’s difficult to talk about the actors in this one because we never really see their human likenesses, but in terms of voice work, they all do superb jobs. Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, and many others all lend their voices and do great work. A lot has been made about Kate Winslet doing her own underwater diving and holding her breath for a record time, and while this is impressive, it’s weird to think about, because you don’t really see Kate Winslet underwater. I mean you do, but it’s her as an Avatar character. It’s just weird to think about. There’s a part of me that hopes this isn’t the future of movies, where you will have actors involved who are unrecognizable because the technology has completely changed the way they look.

Edie Falco appears in human form as General Ardmore, and she was fun to watch as she was one of the few characters allowed to talk down to Quaritch, but she’s only in the movie during its first half.

I enjoyed AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER quite a bit. However, this movie cost between $350-$400 million to make, and when you see the effects, you’ll understand why. And yes, admittedly, the visuals in this movie blew me away. But a movie is more than just visuals. There’s story, characters, themes, dialogue, and emotion. Now, AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER gets most of these right as well, or at least the characters and the emotion part. The story is as I said earlier rather simplified.

So, what’s my point? Simply this. A $350-$400-million-dollar budget doesn’t guarantee the best movie of the year, meaning there were plenty of other movies I’ve seen this year that I liked better than this one. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful that Cameron made this movie, but that’s a ton of money, and it will be interesting to see if this film makes enough money to turn a profit.

At the end of the day, I liked AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER a lot. Its visuals, especially the world it creates, is second to none. It also has a lot of likable characters and tells an emotional story. But it still plays like a sequel, or at least one small part in a bigger story arc that is set to continue with more AVATAR movies. Which for me is the biggest knock against AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. It’s just not a standalone movie. $350-$400 million dollars is a lot of money for just one chapter in a story.

I give it three stars.

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

TROLL (2022) – New Netflix Giant Monster Movie Monstrously Good

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My favorite part about TROLL (2022), a new giant monster movie from Norway now streaming on Netflix, is that it pays homage to the monster movies of yesteryear and gets nearly everything right about the subgenre, even as it tells a story about a giant troll.

It gets that right too, since trolls are a part of Norwegian folklore, and so the fantasy here is grounded in mythology.

TROLL also has a fabulous script by Espen Aukan, based on a story by director Roar Uthaug. It takes its monster plot seriously, while keeping the script lively and at times light, and includes references to Godzilla and King Kong. It also didn’t hurt to have a couple of characters be STAR TREK fans, and so some of the conversations are peppered with STAR TREK references that actually have bearing on the plot. So, for this STAR TREK fan, that was a lot of fun.

In short, I enjoyed TROLL more than some of the recent bigger budget GODZILLA and KING KONG movies of late.

TROLL tells the story of scientist Nora Tidemann (Ine Marie Wilmann) who is called in as a government advisor when there is an “incident” following a construction crew’s blasting of a major tunnel and there are what appear to be giant footprints in the ground leading away from the area. She is quick to point out the obvious, that they are looking at footprints, and while she can’t say what made them, she does tell the skeptical government officials that they should be looking for a creature of considerable size.

It turns out that what made them is a troll, and to help her with this situation, Nora turns to her estranged father Tobias (Gard B. Eidsvold) who is an expert on the subject but because of his intense belief in trolls has been labeled as somewhat of a crackpot. Tobias is only too happy to learn that proof of what he has been saying all his life has finally materialized, and while the government is only interested in destroying the troll, Nora and Tobias would prefer to learn more about it.

Nora gains more credence when traditional weapons fail against the troll, and her and Tobias’ expertise are again requested. Nora also gains two allies, government advisor and self-described STAR TREK geek Andreas (Kim Falck) and military captain Kris (Mads Sjogard Pettersen) both of whom come to respect Nora and value her insight on the threat.

The script nails all these characters, and everyone in this movie acts like real people, including the government officials. TROLL is not a giant monster movie where the characters are all cardboard and boring. They’re three dimensional and interesting.

And the actors all do standup jobs with their roles.

The special effects are excellent. The troll looks authentic and frightening. Director Roar Uthaug crafts some impressive giant monster scenes, some intense, some frightening, and others flat out exciting.

The back story for the troll also gives the creature plenty of sympathy. An intriguing subtext is the troll’s disdain for Christians, and the film almost takes a daring step to frame Christianity as a villain here, which would have been a gutsy and refreshing call, but the film stops short of completely developing this theme. There’s one scene in particular where a soldier is praying, and the troll can smell his blood, and that’s the soldier he targets and kills, but other than this, the topic is muted.

TROLL is available on Netflix in an English language version or in its original Norwegian language with English subtitles, which is how I saw it. Always go with the original language. As good as dubbing can sometimes be, the acting is always more natural in the original language.

If you like giant monster movies, especially those that take their subject matter seriously and know their cinematic history, you’ll love TROLL.

It’s a monstrously good time.

I give it three stars.

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RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

VIOLENT NIGHT (2022) – Violent Santa Claus Action Comedy as Ugly as a Christmas Sweater

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VIOLENT NIGHT (2022) lives up to its name.

It’s certainly violent. The killings in this Santa Claus action comedy… yes, you heard right. A Santa Claus action comedy… are over-the-top horror movie brutal and bloody. This one is not for the squeamish. Director Tommy Wirkola seems to use violence to get a reaction from his audience, hoping that the killings are so insanely gruesome the audience will laugh. It’s a gamble that only partially works.

And that’s because while VIOLENT NIGHT may be violent, it’s more vile than diverting. I didn’t really laugh all that much.

VIOLENT NIGHT stars David Harbour as Santa Claus, and in this movie, Mr. Claus is more comfortable drinking hard liquor than eggnog, and that’s because he’s depressed, fed up with the world’s children who he laments are all selfish, thankless brats, who are never thankful and only want the next best thing. They open their presents and two seconds later are already bored with them, wanting something else. This might be an interesting point, but the movie isn’t interested in developing it. Plus, methinks Santa in his drunken state may have forgotten that there are plenty of children in poverty in the world who don’t fit this description.

Again, VIOLENT NIGHT isn’t interested in any kind of social commentary, as it tries desperately to be a “fun” action comedy. Harbour as Santa Claus is fun at least, but even his wisecracking tough guy Santa shtick gets tired long before the movie comes to a close. Still, it’s an inspired bit of casting. Harbour is known these days as Sheriff Jim Hopper on the Netflix TV show STRANGER THINGS (2016-2024), and he is indeed excellent on the show. He’s been in lot of movies as well, and these days he’s a fun actor to watch. I enjoyed watching him here as the heroic action hero Santa Claus, even if the rest of the movie was pretty gosh darn awful.

And that’s because the plot of this one involves one of the most unlikable set of characters you can think of. We are invited inside the rich Connecticut home of a wealthy American family, who are as dysfunctional as they are affluent. None of these characters interested me in the least. The one person who seems not to be on Santa’s naughty list is young Trudy Lightstone (Leah Brady) who still believes in Santa Claus, and her one wish is that her mom and dad could get back together. Gag!

Anyway, a gang of ex-military types led by a leader who goes by the name of Scrooge (John Leguizamo) commandeer the estate and take everyone hostage, as they plan to steal all the money in the vault below the home and eventually kill all their hostages. Of course, Santa Claus also happens to be in the house at the time, and because Trudy reaches out to him, he vows to save her. Before you can say “ho, ho, ho,”… actually you may be saying “ho hum” long before that!…Santa springs into action and the fight to the death is on.

This one might have been fun if it could have figured out what kind of movie it really wanted to be. On the surface, it’s DIE HARD (1988) meets HOME ALONE (1990) meets THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS (1974). Leguizamo looks like he walked off the set of DIE HARD 20, and he and Harbour’s Santa square off throughout, with Santa filling in for Bruce Willis’ John McClane. HOME ALONE is referenced throughout, and at one point Trudy sets up booby traps for her pursuers, in a sequence which tries to pay homage to the iconic John Hughes movies. It’s one of the more violent and ridiculous sequences in the film. And Santa laments throughout the movie that dang it, no one believes anymore!

Blah, blah, blah.

All of this could have been fun had it been handled better. The screenplay by Pat Casey and Josh Miller creates some of the worst characters I’ve seen in a movie in years. The Lightstone family are as disinteresting as they are wealthy, and they are described as one of the richest families in the nation. So, there you go. Some of the characters are played for laughs, and others we are supposed to take seriously. They are all unwatchable. And the movie is built around these folks? Not a wise choice.

David Harbour’s Santa Claus is enjoyable for about half the movie, but he’s a one-note character, and he grows dull long before this one ends. Even his one-liners aren’t funny.

Other than Harbour, John Leguizamo gives the best performance in the movie, as the lead meanie, Scrooge. He plays things straight throughout, so at least we know where he is coming from. Leguizamo’s performance stands out because it’s too good for this movie. The rest of the film can’t figure out what the heck it is, but Leguizamo is on point from start to finish. He’s one guy you don’t want to mess with. This is the second straight movie where Leguizamo has played a character without a real name. His code name is Scrooge here, and just a couple of weeks ago he starred in THE MENU (2022) as a character known only as the Movie Star.

Director Tommy Wirkola lays the violence on thick, which would have worked better for me if the story and the characters had caught my attention, but they did not. Midway through this one, I was bored. Wirkola, known for his DEAD SNOW zombie movies, also fared better with his fairy tale actioner HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013).

And alternate takes on Santa Claus have been done before and done better. In fact, just a couple of years ago, Mel Gibson… yeah, I know he’s on most folks’ naughty list… starred in a movie called FAT MAN (2020) that was very similar thematically to VIOLENT NIGHT, as Gibson played a disgruntled Santa who supplements his dwindling Christmas business by freelancing for the U.S. government, and who then finds himself taking on a hitman hired to kill him by a child angry over receiving coal in his stocking. Both films are dark action comedies. But FAT MAN was much more subdued and was consistently moody and dark, and as such its subtle humor worked, and Gibson was actually really really good in the lead role.

VIOLENT NIGHT isn’t focused at all. Its humor is in your face and as a result not very funny. It has some of the worst written characters I’ve seen in a movie in a very long time. And its over the top violence only takes it so far. Even veteran actors David Harbour and John Leguizamo, in spite of their best efforts, can’t save this one.

VIOLENT NIGHT wants to be an adult version of HOME ALONE but ends up being a juvenile version of DIE HARD.

I can’t recommend this one. It’s as ugly as those Christmas sweaters you have collecting dust in your closets.

I give it one star.

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (2022) – Fitting Memorial to Chadwick Boseman and Tribute to Black Panther Character

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The best part about BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (2022), Marvel’s latest superhero movie and sequel to one of its all-time best, BLACK PANTHER (2018), is that it captures the right tone of mourning and respect for late actor Chadwick Boseman, who passed away in 2020. It also successfully handles the transition to the future of the Black Panther character.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER opens with the offscreen death of Wakanda’s young King T’Challa, aka The Black Panther, and so at the outset we follow main characters in mourning, most notably T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and close friend Okoye (Danai Gurira). Their feelings regarding T’Challa’s untimely death mirror the audience’s feelings of mourning for actor Chadwick Boseman, and so these early scenes have great resonance.

Wakanda is chastised by the United Nations for not sharing its precious natural resource, vibranium, an element which gives the nation all of its special powers. Ramonda pushes back saying Wakanda doesn’t trust other nations with this power, and also warns nations to think twice about becoming aggressive with Wakanda in light of The Black Panther’s death, as she says the country is still strong and quite capable of defending itself.

However, the United States launches a plan to seek out vibranium on its own, and locates some under the ocean, but their salvage mission is thwarted by a mysterious force of underwater fighters. The U.S. suspects Wakanda, but soon the Wakandans are invaded by these same underwater people, led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who, along with his people, possess superior power and threaten Wakanda with invasion unless they kidnap the young scientist who invented the device which helped the Americans find vibranium, which they also possess.

The Wakandans are not used to people being able to get through their defenses, and also do not take kindly to being threatened, and so eventually these two powerful races become involved in an all-out war, with the future of Wakanda and perhaps the world at stake.

Director Ryan Coogler, who directed the first BLACK PANTHER movie, once again presses all the right buttons here. The film’s somber tone is perfect, and it was also refreshing in light of the recent inferior Marvel movies which have all tended to strike comedic silly tones, which sadly haven’t worked all that well, movies like THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) and DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022).

The film plays out like an homage to both actor Chadwick Boseman and to the Black Panther character. It all works beautifully.

Coogler co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole, and the story told in this one is a good one. Both these guys co-wrote the screenplay to the first film as well.

First off, the story is rock solid, and the villain Namor, is as formidable as the come. Tension runs high many times during this movie, which was most welcome after the recent spat of silly Marvel movies in the past couple of years. I also enjoyed the way the film transitioned the Black Panther character into the future. The character who takes over is fitting, and it makes perfect sense for things to play out this way.

The main character in WAKANDA FOREVER is T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri, who was already a dynamic character even when she was playing just a supporting role in the earlier BLACK PANTHER movie. Letita Wright had already made her mark playing the character in BLACK PANTHER, and in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) and AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019). WAKANDA FOREVER simply gives her a bigger canvas on which to paint, and she doesn’t disappoint. Shuri is driven by vengeance and bitterness over her brother’s death, and she uses these feelings to her advantage, but it’s a complicated journey because in her heart she knows she can’t be confined by revenge or consumed by grief. There’s more to being a leader. It’s a great story arc for Shuri, and Letita Wright does a phenomenal job with it.

Much of the same cast from the first BLACK PANTHER movie return to reprise their roles and they all do admirable jobs. Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, who plays a particularly important role in this movie, and Winston Duke as M’Baku all return, and they all make their mark.

Martin Freeman returns as well as CIA agent Everett Ross, but it’s kind of a throwaway role in this movie, as his character only appears fleetingly. And then there’s poor Julia Louis-Dreyfuss who’s stuck in a terribly written role as Ross’ no nonsense superior, who also happens to be his ex-wife. It’s a pretty sad role, and Louis-Dreyfuss deserves better.

But it’s Tenoch Huerta who stands out the most in this sequel as the villain, Namor, who seems as all-powerful as Thanos at times, and like some of the best movie villains, his back story emits sympathy, and so the audience relates to where he is coming from, even as he causes ample death and destruction.

Speaking of death and destruction, the battle scenes in BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER are expertly handled and some are very suspenseful, especially the fight to the death between Namor and Shuri.

I really enjoyed BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER. It’s a step above the recent silly Marvel misfires, and also a step in the right direction towards getting the Marvel movies back on track.

It’s also a successful send-off to the original Black Panther character and a fitting memorial for Chadwick Boseman.

I give it three and a half stars.

Wakanda forever!

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

THE SOUND OF 007 (2022) – Documentary Chronicles the Stories Behind the Music to the James Bond Movies

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Bond. James Bond.

Bet you like the sound of that. And I bet you can’t hear those lines without hearing the signature James Bond theme playing immediately afterwards.

That’s one of the many on-target points made in THE SOUND OF 007 (2022), a new documentary by director Mat Whitecross that is now available on Prime Video, which chronicles the stories behind the iconic music in the James Bond movies.

The point that the music to these films is every bit as important as the James Bond character, the actors who played Bond, the action, and the overall adventures in each movie, is both true and pretty much unique to this film series. While other film series have notable and recognizable music— the STAR WARS franchise for example— more has been done with the Bond music, and it’s difficult to think of the movies and the character without the iconic theme.

THE SOUND OF 007 explains the origin of that signature theme, and tells the story how producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman hired Monty Norman to write the music for their first Bond movie, DR. NO (1962), and Norman, who till this day still receives sole credit for the James Bond theme, wrote many of the Jamaican songs for the movie, including the catchy “Underneath the Mango Tree,” but he was struggling with the overall music score, so Broccoli and Saltzman hired John Barry, and Barry took what Norman had started and tweaked it, and thanks to the efforts of the two, an iconic theme song was born, and the rest, as they say, is history.

THE SOUND OF 007 does its best to cover the music to all the James Bond movies, but there are so many, and so the film struggles to do justice to them all, and so I’m sure there will be certain fans who will be disappointed that their favorite score wasn’t given ample time in this documentary. But the film has its heart in the right place and does a decent job in its 90-minute running time covering most of the music in the James Bond movies.

It addresses multiple fronts: the actual scores, the theme songs, which became an entity in and of itself, and the process of hiring performers to sing these theme songs, which the film explains, for the producers, became almost as important as hiring the right actor to play Bond himself.

This process really started in GOLDFINGER (1964), which really is the quintessential James Bond movie of the 1960s Sean Connery era. Everything in this movie works, including the music, and it pretty much defined James Bond for a generation. GOLDFINGER was the first Bond movie where composer John Barry was allowed to also write the theme song, and when Barry chose Shirley Bassey to sing the song, it became a huge hit. Barry also incorporated elements of the theme song into the score for the film, a first for a James Bond movie.

THE SOUND OF 007 contains a lot of fun anecdotes. When Shirley Bassey asked John Barry what the song “Goldfinger” was about, since he really didn’t know, all he could tell her was it was about the villain in the movie, so think of the villain. Other anecdotes include Tom Jones nearly passing out when singing and holding the incredibly long note on the song “Thunderball,” Barry telling Bassey to think of the male sex organ when singing “Diamonds Are Forever,” and Michael Caine, who was John Barry’s roommate in 1964, telling a story of how he was kept awake all night by Barry playing the piano, and when he awoke the next morning and asked Barry what he was playing, he answered his new song, “Goldfinger,” and he played it for Caine; so Caine said he was the first person ever to hear “Goldfinger.” And he heard it all night.

The film talks about how the Bond music changed over the years, how Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” was the first rock song to be a James Bond theme song, and how Bill Conti’s score to FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) was the first score to use disco elements. The film makes the point that the James Bond music followed the trends of the time, and so the music changed with the different periods in history, taking on different sounds in the 1960s, 70s, 80s. 90, and 2000s.

The movie spends a lot of time on the music to the latest Bond movie, NO TIME TO DIE (2021), both on the theme song by Billie Eilish, and the film’s score by Hans Zimmer. While this makes sense since this is the latest Bond movie, I found these stories the least interesting in the documentary. I mean, they were fine, but they didn’t deserve nearly a third of the screen time of this movie. There’s a lot of other James Bond movie music that was barely mentioned here and could have been covered rather than spending so much time on NO TIME TO DIE, films like THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), which has a great theme song which wasn’t even mentioned, although singer Lulu, who sang the song, is interviewed, but not about her song, and Madonna’s “Die Another Day,” which also wasn’t covered.

But other than this, THE SOUND OF 007 is an excellent documentary and does a very good job covering its subject. Its coverage on composer John Barry is the film’s best part, and every James Bond movie fan needs to know the story behind the Bond movies’ most famous composer. It also does a nice job with the rationale behind the controversial scoring to Daniel Craig’s first James Bond movie, CASINO ROYALE (2006), in which the James Bond theme isn’t played until just before the end credits. I enjoyed this portion of the documentary because this decision in CASINO ROYALE has always been one that I really liked, and it was fun to listen to composer David Arnold explain the reasoning and tell the story of how emotional it was to finally blast that theme song just at the right moment in the movie, and as a fan of CASINO ROYALE, I have to say I completely agree with what Arnold did with the music in that film. It works tremendously well.

All in all, I really enjoyed THE SOUND OF 007. If you’re a fan of the James Bond movies, you will enjoy this one too. And even if you’re not a fan, it’s worth a look, as its stories of how John Barry in particular used some innovative methods to create his film scores, are both interesting and informative for all movie buffs and scholars.

To tweak a famous phrase from GOLDFINGER:

Do you expect me to talk?

No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to— SING!

THE SOUND OF 007 sings, and then some.

I give it three stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

WEREWOLF BY NIGHT (2022) – Marvel’s Werewolf Movie a Visual Treat but Not Exactly Horrific

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WEREWOLF BY NIGHT (2022) is a curious creature.

This very short movie, which runs only 55 minutes and is a standalone film, not an episode of a TV series, is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s also a horror movie. Based on Marvel’s Legion of Monsters comic series, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is being billed as an action, adventure, horror comedy.

Talk about your vegetable soup!

Anyway, I’d been hearing a lot of good things about this one, mostly from horror fans, who have been saying WEREWOLF BY NIGHT reminded them a lot of the classic black and white Universal monster movies. Sadly, I didn’t see or feel that connection. The only similarity I saw between the two was they were both shot in black and white. For me, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, which premiered on Disney Plus and is now streaming there, plays like a Disney/Marvel family friendly hybrid with a few mild and tame horror elements thrown in. While I appreciated the visual elements of this movie, I was basically unimpressed with just about everything else.

Indeed, the best part about WEREWOLF BY NIGHT and the main reason to see this one is the work by director and music composer Michael Giacchino. Giacchino is one of my favorite film composers working today, and he has composed a ton of memorable movie music scores, including music for THE BATMAN (2022) and THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022). He has written the scores for other Marvel superhero movies, for the recent JURASSIC PARK films, for the recent PLANET OF THE APES series, for the recent STAR TREK movies, and on and on! Two of my favorite Giacchino scores were in horror films, the Hammer vampire movie LET ME IN (2010), and one of the all-time best giant monster movies, CLOVERFIELD (2008). His very memorable theme in CLOVERFIELD doesn’t appear until the end credits, but it’s worth the wait. He also wrote a pretty memorable score for ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016).

So, yeah, he’s scored a few movies.

WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is Michael Giacchino’s directorial debut, and it’s a good one. Visually, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is a real treat to watch. The black and white photography is atmospheric and effective, and Giacchino even includes a la STRANGER THINGS the grainy look of film, even inserting the infamous cigarette burns— the little dot in the upper half of the frame– which used to appear in all movies to alert projectionists that it was time to start the next reel. Of course, there’s no need for those anymore since today’s movies are all digital. Giacchino does use some color, most notably for the very red bloodstone, which is integral to the movie’s plot.

Oh yes. The plot.

It’s pretty standard and also at 55 minutes pretty quick.

Basically, a group of infamous monster hunters gather at the castle of the recently deceased Ulysses Bloodstone, the most famous monster hunter of them all. These hunters are all tasked with hunting a very dangerous creature, and the one who slays the beast, will inherit the glowing red bloodstone, which will give its owner the power and right to be the master monster hunter. Blah, blah, blah.

The two main characters are Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal), a hunter who isn’t quite who he says he is, and Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), the estranged daughter of the deceased, and these two form a pact during the hunt to work together so Elsa can get the bloodstone, and Jack can get what he really wants.

Things don’t go as planned, and during the film’s second half, the werewolf element finally emerges.

Since this is based on the Marvel comic by Gerry Conway, the screenplay by Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron pretty much tells an action-adventure story. While the horror elements are there, they are downplayed. The film also contains some witty snappy dialogue which Marvel superhero movie fans have come to expect.

But since I am also a huge fan of werewolf movies, I have to say that the werewolf stuff— both the actual werewolf and all of the werewolf sequences in this movie— was a bit of a letdown. I wasn’t impressed with the actual werewolf, and the scenes were just meh. The biggest problem I had with the werewolf scenes comes down to the movie’s plot, about hunters trying to slay a beast, which isn’t even the werewolf, by the way. The story is all rather mediocre.

But Giacchino’s work behind the camera is definitely not mediocre, nor is his music score, and it was fun to watch how he integrated the music with his film direction. The timing was impeccable.

I enjoyed watching WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, even though I found its story to be something of a snooze, and as such, and I for one was glad it was only 55 minutes long.

I give it two and a half stars.

—END–

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

LOU (2022) – Allison Janney Solid in New Netflix Action Thriller

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LOU (2022), a new action thriller now streaming on Netflix, isn’t half bad.

Which, of course, also means, it’s not half good!

What are you going to do?

LOU stars Allison Janney… who looks like she walked off the set of an episode of THE WALKING DEAD…as a rough and independent woman named Lou living with her dog in the Pacific wilderness on an island off the coast of Washington. She is somewhat of a pain in the backside.

She rents out a home on her property to a single mother Hannah (Jurnee Smollett) and her young daughter Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman), and when she nearly runs over Vee with her pick-up truck, she is chastised by Hannah for driving too fast, to which Lou replies that Hannah needs to teach Vee to look after herself and not run out into the road. Hannah does not like Lou, but Vee kinda does.

But when one night during a major storm, a man breaks onto the property and abducts Vee, Hannah turns to Lou for help, and it’s a good thing because at the very moment Hannah was banging on her door, Lou was seconds away from committing suicide. It turns out the man who abducted Vee is the girl’s father, Philip (Logan Marshall-Green), and he is an ex-Green Beret, so Hannah warns Lou that they can’t take on Philip on their own, which is a problem since the power is out, and they can’t call the police. But Lou ignores the warning and vows to track Philip immediately. Why? Because Lou is ex-CIA.

Let the chase begin!

If only the plot had been this simple, LOU would have been highly entertaining. As it is, it’s not bad, but the screenplay by Maggie Cohn and Jack Stanley makes things complicated and convoluted when it turns out that Lou is also Philip’s father, which makes her Vee’s grandmother, which makes the entire plot suddenly fall into the overused trope…this time it’s personal!…which by the time all is revealed, makes everything that happens in this one less credible and less believable.

Why couldn’t Lou just be a pain in the ass old lady bitter from her CIA past who just when she was about to end it all, finds one last moment of redemption, as she uses her skills to save a little girl from her crazed ex-Green Beret father? That would have been an exciting and worthwhile story to tell. Instead, she’s a manipulative mother, whose son is not only trying to get back at his ex-wife, but also his mother. It’s PSYCHO Plus!

It’s also a bit too much to swallow.

The story takes place in 1986. Not sure why. In terms of plot, it does give Lou some historical CIA missions to be bitter about. In terms of the movie, it provides an excuse to have lots of 80s songs on the soundtrack, which definitely helps.

Allison Janney, who did not star on THE WALKING DEAD, but did star on the classic series THE WEST WING (1999-2006) as C.J. Cregg, is terrific here in the lead role as Lou, and she’s also believable. Even as she deals with arthritis, she makes for a realistic bad ass who is believable kicking the butts of much younger adversaries. Janney has been making movies regularly, having appeared in BOMBSHELL (2019), I, TONYA (2017), in which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as Tonya Harding’s mother, and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (2016), to name just a few.

Jurnee Smollett is also believable as Hannah, the mother who had no idea her landlady was really her mother-in-law and the root of her crazy ex-husband’s problems. We just saw Smollett in SPIDERHEAD (2022), the Netflix thriller in which she co-starred with Chris Hemsworth and Miles Teller.

Even better is Logan Marshall-Green as Philip, the volatile ex-Green Beret who abducts his daughter as part of a plan to blow up everyone he used to love. Not exactly daddy day care here! But Marshall-Green is really good in the role, and my favorite part of his performance is he somehow actually makes Philip somewhat sympathetic. He makes the guy human, and when he talks about his pain, and what his mother did to him, he’s believable. This is no surprise, because Logan Marshall-Green also delivered a standout performance in the superior independent horror movie from a few years back, THE INVITATION (2015), in which he played the lead role.

Matt Craven also stands out in a supporting role as Sheriff Rankin, the island sheriff who knows his people and rushes to help Hannah and Lou even as he is warned by the CIA to keep away from scene.

LOU was directed by Anna Foerster, and there are no complaints here. The action scenes are realistic, and some of the sequences are rather suspenseful. There’s a neat sequence where Lou and Hannah have to cross a dilapidated bridge that I thought was particularly effective. Foerster also takes full advantage of the Pacific Northwest scenery, especially during the scenes with the big storm.

Other than its convoluted plot which gets in the way of the true story here, the one about Lou and her attempts to save an abducted child, LOU works, making it for the most part a satisfying and entertaining action flick, anchored by a solid performance by Allison Janney in the lead role.

I give it two 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

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—