BIG GEORGE FOREMAN (2023) – Remarkable True Story of Heavyweight Champion is a Winner


As you know, I’m a sucker for boxing movies. Love ’em because they so often translate into exciting cinema.

And the true story of heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman is a remarkable one, all by its lonesome without any fanfare.

So, BIG GEORGE FOREMAN (2023), the new movie based on the life of boxer George Foreman, could be a really good movie without even trying, but it does try, and the result is a good one. It’s a highly entertaining movie that tells a fascinating story of a man who learned to adapt to everything life threw at him, and at the end of the day, he came out on top as a champion. Not once. But twice.

We first meet George Foreman as a young boy growing up dirt poor in Houston in the early 1960s. His family is so poor he and his brothers and sisters have to share one fast food burger for dinner, but their family is held together by their hard-working and very religious mother Nancy (Sonja Sohn). In school, George with his quick temper and huge size and strength, can’t seem to keep himself out of fights.

As a young adult in the late 1960s, George (Khris Davis) joins Job Corps, a government program which was part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty where George hopes to learn some job skills and be provided meals and get paid. But he can’t stop fighting there either, but fortunately for George, he meets Doc Broadus (Forest Whitaker), a former boxer who now trains fighters, and he teaches George how to box. Doc is highly impressed by the tremendous force in Foreman’s punches. Foreman sets his sights on the heavyweight championship, but Doc tells him of the long process which he must follow first. The first step is the Olympics, and on the international stage, young George Foreman stuns the world and wins the Gold Medal by defeating the heavily favored Soviet boxer.

Next up for George is the heavyweight championship, and standing in his way is Joe Frazier. Again, Foreman stuns the world by knocking out the previously indestructible Frazier in just two rounds. Suddenly, George Foreman is king of the world and is enjoying riches he never imagined. But his success is short-lived, because his next big bout is against Muhammad Ali, who was still on his mission to reclaim the heavyweight belt which was taken from him years earlier because of his refusal to serve in the U.S. armed forces. Ali’s previous attempt to win back the championship ended in a loss to Joe Frazier.

This time, Foreman with his superhuman punches, is the heavy favorite to win against the older Ali, but Ali, a master at psyching out his opponents, which is something that BIG GEORGE FOREMAN doesn’t really get into, but the fight billed as the “Rumble in the Jungle” was held in Zaire, Africa, and Ali pretty much wowed the people there and turned the fans against Foreman, and the crowd that night was very much pro-Ali, which stunned Foreman. And then Ali unleashed a brilliant boxing strategy, leaning against the ropes, letting Foreman throw punch after punch until he became exhausted. Ali knocked Foreman out in the 8th round, and suddenly Foreman was no longer champion.

Shortly thereafter, Foreman collapses and nearly dies, and he has an out of body experience, which, when he comes out of it, influences him to retire from boxing and become a preacher, which he does. He also remarries and starts a new family, but when his fortunes from boxing are all lost due to poor financial planning by the man who Foreman had put in charge of caring for his finances, Foreman finds himself broke again. Now in his 40s, Foreman reunites with Doc and convinces him to train him once again. They once more set their sights on shocking the world, as Foreman now very much overweight trains and gets himself into shape to box again where he builds an impressive undefeated record and once more heads towards a chance to win the heavyweight championship, which, unbelievably, he ultimately does.

I told you it was a remarkable story.

As you probably can tell, I really enjoyed BIG GEORGE FOREMAN. As I said, the best part of this movie is it has an incredible true story to tell, and it’s not just because Foreman won the heavyweight championship two different times, but also because of the whole process Foreman follows throughout his life. He is able to remake himself because he understands the power of being able to adapt.

The screenplay by George Tillman, Jr., who directed, Frank Baldwin, and Dan Gordon is effective because it shows George Foreman as a man who rolls with the punches and who not only makes bold choices but also isn’t afraid to change course when he feels it is right to do so. In short, he is able to adapt. When he first becomes a fighter, he’s told to unleash the beast inside him and simply destroy his opponents, and so he embraced his dark side and became viewed as a merciless fighter. But during the Ali fight, his trainers kept telling him, “Keep punching, don’t let up!” which played precisely into Ali’s strategy which ultimately cost Foreman the fight. Had he adapted in the middle of the fight, he may have won.

Foreman uses this thinking when he decides to leave boxing and become a preacher, finally embracing the religion that his mother had always championed but he had bristled at. In fact, during one scene when he’s heavyweight champion, and he invites his family to a lavish meal, his mother says they should thank God first, and Foreman replies that he bought the food, not God. But now it seems right to him to give up boxing and give his life to God.

For a long time, this feels like the right decision, but when he finds himself broke again, he turns to the only other thing he knows, and the one thing he does which makes him money— being a preacher is not paying the bills— which is boxing. Again, he’s told this is a crazy thing to do, but Foreman adapts yet again. My favorite part of this story is Foreman doesn’t follow one easy path to success. His life was full of twists and turns, and he makes decisions at each and every one of these turns, and he makes the most of each of his decisions. It’s great storytelling. It’s a great story.

Kris Davis is fantastic as George Foreman. Not only does he capture the likeness and personality of the real Foreman, but he’s able to navigate the different sides of Foreman throughout this movie. He’s the menacing young heavyweight champion. Then he’s the jovial smiling preacher. Then he’s the overweight bald older boxer who is suddenly the “good guy” in the ring, and the guy who a whole set of older fans are rooting for because of his age. Davis captures all of these personas brilliantly. Davis was also in JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (2021).

Sonja Sohn is terrific as Foreman’s mother Nancy, and she is a strong presence in his life and keeps pushing him forward during all his trials and tribulations. Yet it’s interesting to note that Foreman didn’t always listen to her. Had he, he never would have boxed, since she was against his fighting. Again, Foreman’s life did not follow a set path. There were nuances and curves, and Foreman had to continually navigate through them. Sometimes he listened to his mother, other times to Doc, other times to himself, and other times to God. And while his mother did not want him to box, she supported his boxing career nonetheless, even when he stopped being a preacher to return to the ring.

And as Doc Broadus, Forest Whitaker gets to deliver one of his more memorable performances in years. Whitaker has been in everything lately, from the STAR WARS movies and shows to the Marvel superhero films, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen him play an impactful role like this one. He’s great. The friendship between Doc and Foreman is one of the best parts of the movie. Doc really seems to enjoy training Foreman and wants that heavyweight championship as much as George does, and when George decides to walk away from boxing, it was a decision that really hurt Doc, who believed Foreman still had a legitimate shot at getting back into the ring and beating Ali in a rematch. So, years later, when they are reunited to try for the championship again, their almost heartwarming moments together really resonate. And as Doc, Whitaker gets one of the best lines in the movie. Just before the flabby Foreman is about to box, he tells Doc he’s afraid to take off his robe in front of all these fans because the last time they saw him, he looked like Superman, to which Doc replies, “Well, now you look like the Michelin Man” and tells him it’s not a beauty contest and to just go out and box.

The boxing scenes are fine. Director George Tillman Jr. does a nice job with them, the two best being the Frazier fight and then the loss to Ali. The film slows down a bit when George retires and becomes a preacher, but even this part of the movie works. Earlier this year, the religious film JESUS REVOLUTION (2023) struggled to really capture the essence of religion. It was all very vanilla and didn’t really speak to anyone who wasn’t already religious. That’s not the case here in BIG GEORGE FOREMAN. You really understand why Foreman becomes a preacher, and you really feel his religious conversion. Also, once he becomes a preacher, his life does not turn to gold, and he lives happily ever after. No. He loses everything, and he has to return to boxing, but he keeps his faith, which like the rest of the movie, shows how Foreman adapted to things life threw at him.

The worst part about BIG GEORGE FOREMAN is its title, and that’s because the official title of this movie is…. wait for it… BIG GEORGE FOREMAN: THE MIRACULOUS STORY OF THE ONCE AND FUTURE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD. Wow. If this movie were to win Best Picture, it would take nearly as long to read the title as the entire awards show! Okay, maybe not that long. But what a mouthful.

Anyway, the rest of BIG GEORGE FOREMAN is terrific and highly recommended.

Then again, as I said at the outset, I’m a sucker for boxing movies.

But I also love movies that have really good stories to tell, and BIG GEORGE FOREMAN tells one helluva story. And it’s true.

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

CHEVALIER (2023) – Bio Pic of Black French Composer Shows How Racism Ruined a Life and a Career


CHEVALIER (2023) is a handsome production that takes place in France just before the French Revolution and is based on the true story of little-known French composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a black man who because of his musical talent was accepted into French high society, but eventually racism derailed any hopes he had of remaining a celebrated composer.

It is not a pleasant story, but it is one that everyone needs to learn about.

CHEVALIER (2023) opens in rousing style with a lively concert scene where we witness young Chevalier (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) take the stage alongside Mozart and pretty much show him up in a violin competition for the ages. The sequence ends with a very frustrated Mozart exclaiming, “Who the f*ck was that?” a laugh-out-loud moment and well-placed F-bomb (the only one) in this PG-13 rated bio pic.

We then briefly learn Chevalier’s backstory, where we see his white father deposit him at a prestigious music school in France, which accepts him because even at a young age he is a brilliant violinist. The action returns to Chevalier’s adulthood, where we witness his friendship with the Queen, Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton). As a champion fencer, violinist, and composer, Chevalier finds himself in the Queen’s favor and their friendship flourishes. Chevalier sets his sights on becoming the next director of the Paris Opera, and he challenges his main competition to a contest: they both will write an opera, and the one whose work is judged the best will become the next director.

For his opera, Chevalier attempts to hire Marie-Josephine (Samara Weaving) for his lead actress and singer, but her husband, the cruel Marquis De Montalembert (Marton Csokas) refuses to allow his wife to appear on stage. However, Marie-Josephine tells Chevalier that she will do it anyway, that her husband will be out of the country for a year, and so he won’t know. Chevalier is overjoyed, and as the two work closely together, they also become attracted to each other and have an affair.

When news reaches Chevalier that his father has died, he learns that as a bastard son, his father has left him nothing, but also his mother Nanon (Ronke Adekoluejo) a slave, has been granted her freedom because of his father’s death, and she comes to live with him. She warns Chevalier not to become too comfortable with his current lifestyle, because as she says these people will never completely accept him. He quickly dismisses his mother’s concerns, but it’s at this time that his entire life unravels.

In spite of winning the competition with the better judged opera, Chevalier is told that he cannot become the next director of the Paris Opera because he is a person with dark skin, and when the Marquis De Montalembert returns, he has it out with Chevalier and warns him never to see his wife again. Things grow even darker just at the French Revolution begins, and life as Chevalier knew it changes forever.

CHEVALIER is beautifully shot by director Stephen Williams, who is mostly known for his TV work, including the TV series WATCHMEN (2019) and WESTWORLD (2016-2018). Here he nicely captures the period of eighteenth century Paris with appropriate sets and costumes. He also provides some nifty camerawork. There’s one neat shot in particular where the camera begins with an exterior shot of the streets below and then retreats through a window inside an upper story apartment.

The screenplay by Stefani Robinson is a good one, as it tells yet another disturbing story about racism, as Chevalier was prevented from becoming the Paris Opera director solely because of the color of his skin. The way he is treated throughout this story is a somber reminder of why stories like Chevalier’s need to continue to be told. We sadly live in a time where it’s become acceptable to push back against stories like these, calling them propaganda or asking they not be taught in schools, actions that only justify their telling all the more. To silence stories about racism is simply more racism.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. is solid in the lead role as Chevalier. He displays charm, youthful optimism and confidence, and eventually rage and disillusionment. This is probably my favorite Harrison performance to date. I first saw Harrison in the well-made horror movie IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017) where he played Joel Edgerton’s son. Harrison also played the lead role in LUCE (2019) and was part of the ensemble cast in THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (2020). Here in CHEVALIER Harrison delivers his most captivating performance, and he trained long and hard on the violin as well, and so the scenes where he plays the violin look realistic.

I’m a fan of Samara Weaving. I love her over-the-top performances in THE BABYSITTER horror movies. She also wowed in the action horror movie READY OR NOT (2019). She had a small role in BABYLON (2022) and is also currently appearing in SCREAM VI (2023). Here in CHEVALIER, she is so very good as Marie-Josephine. Weaving plays a strong female character who refuses to be ruled by her dominating husband, and so she doesn’t hold back in her relationship with Chevalier. Their doomed relationship is one of the more tragic elements of this ultimately very sad story.

Speaking of her husband, Marton Csokas gives a subtle yet disturbing performance as Marquis De Montalembert. One of his best scenes has him quietly telling Chevalier that he is so lucky to be living in France, as in any other country in the world he’d be beaten down because of the color of his skin, the implication being that Chevalier is inferior and that he’s only allowed to do the things he’s doing because of the good graces of the French government. You just want to smack De Montalembert across the face.

Lucy Boynton makes for a spirited Marie Antoinette, going from Chevalier’s biggest fan early on to his biggest detractor when he bristles as her lack of support for his Paris Opera director bid. We just saw Boynton in the superior Netflix thriller THE PALE BLUE EYE (2022), which starred Christian Bale and Harry Melling.

Ronke Adekoluejo is very good as Chevalier’s mother, and when his life spirals out of control, she is there for him and serves to keep him inspired to push on with his life.

I also enjoyed Sian Clifford quite a bit as Madame De Genlis, who was friends with both Chevalier and Marie-Josephine and who helped Chevalier with his opera bid. Likewise, Minnie Driver excels as La Guimard, the opera singer whose advances Chevalier rejected, and so she worked hard to derail his attempts at becoming the next opera director, as she starred in the rival opera.

Overall, I enjoyed CHEVALIER quite a bit. Its story is a good one, in spite of it being depressing. It also ends on a down note, as before the end credits roll, we read that most of Chevalier’s music was destroyed years later by Napoleon Bonaparte, and so most of his work has been lost.

The film is not perfect. It’s all rather conventional and safe in its storytelling and lacks the necessary edge which this story needs. There were also more things I wanted to learn about the man, which aren’t covered in this movie—-how did he become such an accomplished violinist? What happened to him during the French Revolution? —, and there was more I wanted to know about some of the other characters as well.

But it makes its points, that racism ruined Chevalier’s life and career, that he was denied the position of Paris Opera director based solely on the color of his skin, and that the world has been largely denied his musical brilliance for no other reason except that his skin was dark.

CHEVALIER also features a confident performance by Kelvin Harrison, Jr. in the lead role, a performance that is well worth the price of admission.

I give CHEVALIER 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

THE LOST KING (2022) – Tale of Woman’s Quest to Find Richard III’s Grave Quietly Satisfies


THE LOST KING (2022) is a quiet yet satisfying movie that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Filmed in 2022, it just got its U.S. release this weekend. Directed by Stephen Frears, who directed THE QUEEN (2006) and way back when, DANGEROUS LIASONS (1988), THE LOST KING is based on the true story of one woman’s obsession with finding the grave of Richard III.

It’s 2012 and Philippa Langley (Sally Hawkins) is not in a happy place in her life. She is separated from her husband John (Steve Coogan) who has moved out, which makes taking care of their two boys all the more difficult. Work is not going well, as she watches much younger coworkers with very little experience get promotions instead of her. And she suffers from a chronic condition which keeps her exhausted all the time.

One day, while watching the play Richard III with her son, she is struck by one of the lines in the play where Richard says because his deformity, a hunched back, is so hated, he will push back with even more hate. This line doesn’t ring true to her, as she doesn’t believe someone would spew hate because of their disability, and she questions the accuracy of Shakespeare’s interpretation of the usurper king. She joins the local Richard III society and begins reading up on the king, and when she learns that his grave was never found, she becomes inspired to find it. The rest of the movie follows her quest to find Richard’s grave and chronicles all the adversity she has to get through to accomplish this task, being both an amateur and a woman.

Along the way, she starts seeing Richard III (Harry Lloyd) appear to her, and while she knows this is just an apparition from her own mind, she can’t help but feel that it’s something more, that the spirit of Richard himself is driving her forward to find his grave. And so, she persists, not only for Richard, but for herself, as she discovers that this process has energized her, and she feels more alive than she has in quite a long time.

THE LOST KING never really takes off or puts everything it has all together, but it’s a movie that is full of lots of little moments and points, and when summed up, it ends up being a decently satisfying movie with important things to say about the empowerment of women and also how history is not always accurately recorded.

Sally Hawkins is perfect as Philippa Langley. Hawkins, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her work in THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017), captures Langley’s drive and determination as she powers through her own disability, her chronic fatigue disease. My favorite part of her performance is she never allows Langley to deviate from her soft-spoken roots, and so while she perseveres to the point where she is the person who gets ahead of the professionals and leads the way to the improbable discovery of Richard III’s grave, she doesn’t let things get to her head. She remains a good person throughout.

That’s not to say that Langley didn’t have a big chip on her shoulder. She did. As she says in the movie, she doesn’t like the way some people seem to enjoy going out of their way to make people feel inferior. Langley faced push back from start to finish, from men taking issue with her use of the word “feelings,” when she would offer that as reasoning behind her thoughts for how she planned to proceed, to later when the University refused to give her credit for the discovery. In fact, this push back continues today, as the University of Leicester took issue with the interpretation of events as depicted in the movie, claiming that the film gives too much credit to Langley. Well, the movie is about her after all, and as stated at the beginning of the film, it’s her story.

The scenes where Langley pushes back against men who claim to know more than her are fun to watch. The screenplay by Steve Coogan, who also plays Langley’s husband John in the movie, Philippa Langley, and Jeff Pope, does a wonderful job carving out Langley’s character, and since Langley herself is one of the screenwriters here, I guess that’s to be expected! And it also does a nice job with the story of Richard III, how Langley believes he was wrongly recorded in history as a villain and usurper, because the new king wanted history recorded this way after Richard’s death, and since Richard wasn’t alive to refute things, history stood. It was important for Langley for Richard’s burial to acknowledge that he was the rightful king and not just a usurper, and this was important to her, at least as depicted in the movie, because that’s what irked her, the way people struck down those they thought were inferior or wouldn’t fight back. Or in Richard’s case couldn’t fight back because he was dead.

The screenplay also does a nice job with Langley’s family dynamic. I rarely like the plot point where the events in a movie bring an estranged couple back together again, but here it works. A lot of it has to do with Steve Coogan’s performance, but more of it is the writing itself. Coogan plays John Langley as a man who has grown tired of his wife because of her troubles, and while he has moved out and is seeing another woman, he still returns to Philippa’s home and helps her cook meals for the boys. At first, he dismisses her newfound passion, as it sounds crazy to him, but as he reads about Richard III and sees Philippa becoming empowered and happy, he changes his tune and supports her.

There’s a scene where their youngest son witnesses Philippa talking to Richard III, but of course he only sees her talking to herself. So, he tells his dad that mommy is talking to herself, and John replies, “We all do.” It’s one of the best lines in the movie and a key moment that tells the audience that John is now there for his ex-wife. And later the scene where he makes his boys stop playing video games so he can tell them the good news of what their mom just discovered, and Philippa hears her boys cheering her over the phone is priceless.

Coogan is an enjoyable actor who has been around for a long time. I enjoyed him a few years back when he played Stan Laurel in STAN & OLLIE (2018), which incidentally was written by fellow THE LOST KING screenwriter Jeff Pope.

Mark Addy is also memorable as archeologist Richard Buckley, who at first quickly dismisses Philippa’s request to dig in the city, but when the university cuts his funding, he changes his tune and accepts her offer. The two butt heads throughout, but when the university refuses to give her credit, it’s Buckley who takes offense and speaks up on her behalf.

James Fleet enjoys some fine moments as John Ashdown-Hill, a researcher and professor who offers Philippa support. And while Harry Lloyd isn’t asked to do much beyond smile, look handsome, and say a few words as Richard III, he does it all with royal style.

Director Stephen Frears effectively navigates through a subdued yet interesting story that never holds its high notes for very long. So, while THE LOST KING won’t blow you away, it will hold your interest for its quiet one hour and forty-eight-minute running time.

And that’s because it has two intriguing stories to tell, the one about Richard III, and the other about Philippa Langley and her efforts to both help a historical figure get the recognition she believed he deserved, and to help herself find some meaning and purpose in her life.

On top of this, the movie has two wonderful performances by Sally Hawkins in the lead role as Philippa, and Steve Coogan in a supporting role as her husband John. The two actors lead a solid ensemble cast as they bring this notable story of one woman’s passionate quest to correct history to life.

As I said at the outset, THE LOST KING never quite fires on all cylinders. But it makes enough of its points and captures enough small moments to make it a worthwhile trip to the theater, especially if you enjoy stories about perseverance and determination and history.

I give it two 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

10 Worst Movies of 2022


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!

As always, thanks for reading!



Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

My Top 10 Movie List for 2022


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.



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!


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


Some movies have “it.” Others don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The short answer? I don’t.

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

Monroe and her fans deserve better.

I give it one and a half stars.



Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

THIRTEEN LIVES (2022) – Ron Howard Expertly Chronicles True Story of Extraordinary Underwater Rescue


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.


ELVIS (2022) – Baz Luhrmann’s Bio Pic of Elvis Presley Is Visual Storytelling at its Best


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.


KING RICHARD (2021) – Will Smith’s Best Actor Oscar is Well-Deserved


I finally caught up with KING RICHARD (2021) the other day, the film in which Will Smith won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance as tennis stars’ Venus and Serena Williams’ controversial father, Richard Williams.

And no, I didn’t decide to watch it because of the “slap” at the Oscars and all that has happened and continues to happen after it, but admittedly, I did decide to watch it because Smith won the Oscar. I initially passed on it when it premiered this past November, mostly because I’m not a fan of the work of Will Smith, which makes the “slap” incident all the more unfortunate, because Smith delivers a heck of a performance which is by far the best part of the movie.

In KING RICHARD, Will Smith plays Richard Williams as a driven, determined man who has a “plan” to make his daughters Venus and Serena tennis stars. In an early voice over, he explains how it is a financial decision, as he knows how much money tennis champions make, and he sets out to see that his daughters become just that. Lost in the screenplay by Zach Baylin is why tennis? There are lots of ways to make money and become successful, but why Richard set his sights on tennis is never clearly explained.

So Richard and his wife Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis) who is in lock step with her husband regarding his plan for his daughters, work their daughters hard, practicing every day, so much so that they raise the ire of their neighbor who thinks they are working their daughters too hard and even goes so far at one point to call the police on them. But Richard is no slave driver. In fact, he stresses throughout the movie that he wants his daughters to have fun most of all, and he refuses to put too much pressure on them, all the while stressing the importance of their academic endeavors with the thinking being once their tennis careers are over, they will have to fall back on something else which is why they need an education.

Richard also sets out to find a coach who will work with his daughters for free, and after boldly approaching Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn), who at the time was coaching Pete Sampras and John McEnroe, he strikes gold when Cohen is indeed impressed by watching Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) play, and he agrees to coach— but just one of the daughters for free.

This arrangement works well until Richard decides to pull his daughters from playing in the Juniors tournament because he sees the stress of what happens to the other girls at this young age level, a decision which is highly controversial and leads to his decision to walk away from Cohen. Eventually, Richard secures another top coach for the girls, Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal), and while Richard’s unconventional methods continue, to the point where even his wife Brandy calls him out, they don’t get in the way of his daughters’ success, and the rest is history.

I enjoyed KING RICHARD quite a bit, and I have to say, the main reason I enjoyed it so much was indeed Will Smith’s performance as Richard Williams. His depiction of Williams is as a tireless, devoted father to his girls, who has a plan for their success which most others feel is laughable. But he sticks with it, and they become the best tennis players in the world. In spite of his insistence on doing things “his way” what’s admirable about the character is he never deviates from putting his daughter’s best interests at the forefront. Of course, in reality, there are different opinions about the behavior and motives of the real Richard Williams, but in the movie, he’s an unconventional but stand-up guy who really is all about protecting his daughters while they work their way to success, fame, and fortune.

And Will Smith captures this brilliantly. As I said, I am not a fan of the work of WiIl Smith. With the exception of his portrayal of Deadshot in the flawed and uneven DC superhero film SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) I just haven’t enjoyed his performances or movies all that much. I’m not a big fan of the BAD BOYS or MEN IN BLACK movies. I did enjoy his performance as Muhammad Ali in ALI (2001), but I liked his work here in KING RICHARD better. So, for my money, the Oscar is well-deserved, because it’s the best performance I’ve seen Smith deliver. Which makes his actions on stage at the Oscars going after Chris Rock even sadder.

I also enjoyed Aunjanue Ellis as Brandy Williams, and Jon Bernthal as coach Macci. It was fun to see Bernthal cast against type and not play his usual tough guy role. Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton were also solid as Venus and Serena Williams.

KING RICHARD was directed by Reinaldo Marcu Green with little fanfare or overdramatic gusto. The tennis sequences oddly fall flat, and hardly generate much excitement. The story here really, as its title says, is about Richard Williams. Everything that happens is viewed through his eyes, and his perspective is brilliantly captured by Will Smith.

Smith’s Oscar, in spite of his misguided behavior on stage, is well-deserved.


LUCY AND DESI (2022) – Documentary by Amy Poehler Chronicles Moving Love Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz


LUCY AND DESI (2022), a new Amazon Prime original documentary directed by Amy Poehler, is filled with poignant moments as it chronicles the love story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, showing how they struggled to balance the demands of show business with their family life, a struggle that ultimately led to their divorce, but one that never stopped them from loving each other.

LUCY AND DESI makes for a nice companion piece to BEING THE RICARDOS (2021), Aaron Sorkin’s movie chronicling one of the most stressful weeks in the lives of the famous TV couple, starring Nicole Kidman as Lucy and Javier Bardem as Desi. I actually enjoyed LUCY AND DESI more than I did BEING THE RICARDOS, but this might be an unfair comparison, because LUCY AND DESI features the real Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in tons of archive footage both in character and behind the scenes, and that’s something that is simply hard to beat. As such, LUCY AND DESI is a heck of a documentary.

The film basically is the love story between Lucy and Desi. We see how they first meet, how well they worked together on I LOVE LUCY (1951-1957), how things eventually fell apart, and how they continued to be in each other’s lives long after their marriage had ended. In fact, the point is made that after they divorced, they actually got along better.

There are many fascinating tidbits and revelations made in this film, from the pushback they received from producers who did not want to cast Desi in I LOVE LUCY because they didn’t want a Cuban lead, but a generic white American, to the genesis for the plot line of the series which featured Desi’s Ricky Ricardo who was in show business but really wanted out, and his wife Lucy, who was not in show business, but really wanted in.

In real life, it was Lucy who loved to perform, and Desi who had a knack for the business side of things. It was Desi who built DesiLu Productions and turned it into one of television’s largest production companies. But it was also incredibly grueling work and wore him down to the point where he eventually because of failing health and drinking, just had to quit. Lucy would buy out the company from him, but since her interests were never in business, she eventually sold the company to Paramount.

Lucy and Desi’s daughter Lucie Arnaz, who is interviewed throughout the documentary, makes the poignant point that what Lucy and Desi really wanted in their lives was the perfect combination of show business and family life. They gave the world I LOVE LUCY, and so as Lucie Arnaz explains, the world got this perfect combination in the form of an everlasting TV show, but Lucy and Desi never got to enjoy it in real life, as their marriage ended in divorce. Whereas they succeeded creatively, giving the world the gift of I LOVE LUCY, they failed personally. They couldn’t live out what they had created in the fictional world of television.

Other notable points include Desi’s early life in Cuba, and how in the U.S., after fleeing the Cuban revolution and arriving here penniless as a refuge, he was always looking to recapture what he lost in his home country, that feeling of home, but sadly was never able to. And how Lucy and Ethel, as played by Vivian Vance, were shown as active women who were constantly plotting together and taking the lead in the storylines over their husbands, which was something unheard of in 1950s TV shows. Furthermore, Lucy’s second show, THE LUCY SHOW (1962-1968), broke new ground by having Lucy and Vivian Vance play two single moms raising children on their own.

We also see how Lucy helped many performers get their starts, including Carol Burnett, who appears in interviews and speaks of how generous Lucy was to her, and how she still thinks of Lucy nearly every day.

LUCY AND DESI is also filled with tons of archival footage of both Lucy and Desi, including famous clips from I LOVE LUCY. And one of the most memorable moments comes right near the end, after the film takes us through Desi’s final days, as he is sick with lung cancer, and we hear as told by Lucie Arnaz, how Lucy and Desi spoke on the phone, and how they told each other they loved each other, and how Lucy was the last person other than Lucie Arnaz who was with Desi when he died, to speak to him. Desi Arnaz died in 1986 from lung cancer. He was only 69 years old.

But the moment comes from footage from the Kennedy Center Awards in 1986, where Robert Stack reads a posthumous statement from Desi Arnaz in which he gives all the credit for the success of I LOVE LUCY to Lucy, and says I LOVE LUCY was never just a title. The audience then turns and gives an emotional Lucille Ball a standing ovation.

Lucy would pass three years later in 1989 at the age of 77.

LUCY AND DESI was written by Mark Monroe who provides a solid framework for the telling of the story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

Amy Poehler, known of course for her comic performances on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and on PARKS AND RECREATION (2009-2015), also directed and starred in one of my favorite movies from last year, MOXIE (2021). Poehler succeeds once again behind the camera and does exceptional work here directing LUCY AND DESI.

And it’s an important story to tell because I LOVE LUCY is not only one of the all-time best, if not the best television comedy series ever, but also one of the biggest influencers. It was the first show to use a live studio audience, the first to use film, and utilized a three-camera system developed by Desi Arnaz. It was also successful because Desi hired the best people and was comfortable delegating work out to these people, like acclaimed cinematographer Karl Freund. It featured a Latin male in the lead, two strong female characters, allowed Lucy to be pregnant in a storyline which was unheard of in the 1950s, and featured the amazing physical comedic talents of Lucille Ball, who unlike most beautiful actresses, was unafraid to make herself look ugly or foolish to get a laugh.

I still remember when Lucille Ball passed away in 1989, it was a big deal, both in my family and in the national media. Lucille Ball is easily one of the biggest stars of her generation, and she did it mostly in the smaller medium of television rather than film, which is also a testament to her talent, and she has lived on, cementing her place with the other entertainment greats in film and television history. And one of the reasons she achieved this success, was the tireless efforts of her husband Desi Arnaz, whose business sense provided I LOVE LUCY with the best people to create the show, giving Lucy her vehicle to finally display her talents to the world.

The story of Lucy and Desi is one that needs to be told, of how two people very much in love created a cultural and entertainment phenomenon with the TV show I LOVE LUCY, but sadly, they were unable to survive the pressures of doing so and eventually divorced. They both remarried and stayed married longer to their second spouses than they were with each other, but they never stopped loving each other and were there for each other until the end.

LUCY AND DESI is a tale of dreams, of hard work, of love, and the costs of trying to balance them, and how unlike in television, where happy endings abound, in reality, people are human, and stress often takes its toll, as it did with Lucy and Desi, but people are also resilient, and Lucy and Desi carried on, and they loved each to the last.

Indeed, I LOVE LUCY was never just a title. It’s also an everlasting love letter from Desi to Lucy, one that we are all invited to read.