WHITE NOISE (2022) – Bizarre Movie Lives Up to Its Title and Says Very Little

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I’m sure there’s an audience out there somewhere who will enjoy WHITE NOISE (2022).

To borrow a phrase from Woody Allen’s ANNIE HALL (1977), the rest of us are all due back on planet Earth.

WHITE NOISE is one bizarre movie.

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, the man who gave us MARRIAGE STORY (2019), which I liked, WHITE NOISE is a story told in three parts, and none of them really work. Categorized as a comedy/drama/horror movie, and now available on Netflix, WHITE NOISE tells the story of a contemporary family in crisis. There’s the dad, college professor and Hitler expert Jack Gladney (Adam Driver), his wife Babette (Greta Gerwig), and their myriad of children who all act like an updated version of THE BRADY BUNCH.

On the surface, things seem wonderful. Jack and Babette seem extremely happy and act like the perfect couple, but soon cracks in the armor emerge, and it starts when their daughter Denise (Raffey Cassidy) spies her mom popping a pill and then denying it. The dialogue in this early sequence is playful and thoughtful, but it’s not easy to follow, and that’s because everyone in this movie speaks like an academic. We later see Jack and his fellow university professors chatting around a table, and their conversation is both highbrow and irrelevant, and it dawned on me as the rest of the movie played out that every character in this film, even the kids, speak this way. It’s as if Baumbach took notes on everything his college professors said to him and turned it into dialogue for his characters. As a result, the dialogue throughout the movie is not realistic because most everyday people don’t speak this way. I could even buy Jack and Babette’s kids talking in this manner, but everybody in this film sounds the same. And frankly, their conversations are difficult to follow, as they seemingly offer one non sequitur after another.

The second part of the story, and the movie’s centerpiece, follows the plot point of a truck colliding with a train, which releases toxic chemicals into the air, and Jack and his family like the rest of his town are forced to evacuate. This scenario should have been a laugh out loud one, but once more, the dialogue gets in the way and the hoped-for laughter never comes.

And the final part of the story follows Jack’s attempts to learn the truth about why Babette is taking a mysterious drug. This last sequence is the worst sequence in the movie, and so while I was on board for two thirds of this one, trying to buy into it in spite of the dialogue, the end completely lost me and it became a labor to sit through till the end credits, which actually feature a neat choreographed number with people in a grocery store, which sadly, is the liveliest part of the entire movie, the end credits. But you have to sit through the two hour plus movie first.

Ultimately, the story is about people’s fear of death, fear of the idea that we are simply working our way towards oblivion, that no one gets off this planet alive. A thought-provoking theme to be sure, but what a terribly convoluted way to go about it. Woody Allen tackled death much more effectively in most of his movies.

The screenplay here by Baumbach, based on the book by Don DeLillo, is a labor to sit through. I couldn’t relate to any of the characters, mostly because they did not seem or speak like real people.

I usually enjoy Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig, and for the most part I enjoyed them here, especially during the film’s initial sequence. They are a likable couple, and their conversations are thoughtful and refreshing, but the longer the movie goes on, the weirder things get, and the less relatable they become. By film’s end, I didn’t care about either character.

Don Cheadle is also in the cast as Jack’s friend and fellow professor Murray, who wants to become an Elvis expert. Cheadle is fine, even though his storyline is a snooze.

I really thought I was going to like WHITE NOISE. It had an interesting premise, a talented writer/director at the helm, and a good cast. But all this promise was sunk by a story that turned out not to be that interesting, with dialogue that was unrealistic, and a central theme about the fear of death that was never dealt with heads on.

WHITE NOISE is supposed to be a story about a family that is distracted from the real things in life by all the white noise which the world throws at them. But ironically, the film ends up living up to its title. It ends up being simply background noise with nothing of merit to say.

I give it one and a half stars.

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RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

Best Movies of 2021

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Here’s a look at my TOP 10 LIST of BEST MOVIES from 2021.

As I did last year, I’d like to put an asterisk next to this list due to the pandemic. One of the drawbacks of not seeing movies at the theater, is that we don’t all get to see the same movies, as lots of smaller, obscure releases don’t always make it to the various streaming services. So, as much as I enjoyed watching movies once again this year on Netflix, Prime Video, HBO Max, and Disney +, to name a few, I didn’t get to see many of the movies that didn’t make it to these streaming services.

Hence, I know there are a lot of films from 2021 that I did not see, that I would have seen had I been able to go to the movie theaters like I used to before the pandemic struck in March 2020.

So, with that being said, here are my TOP 10 movies… all watched at home on streaming services…. from 2021:

10. THE TOMORROW WAR

One of the things I miss most watching movies at home, is that movie theater feeling. THE TOMORROW WAR, a science fiction action movie from Amazon Prime starring Chris Pratt, was one of the few movies I saw this year that by itself captured that movie theater feeling. This action-packed tale of humans travelling into the future to help battle invading aliens didn’t always make sense, but it was a fun ride, so much so that I could almost smell the buttery popcorn wafting through the air!

9. FEAR STREET: PART THREE – 1666

My take on this Netflix horror trilogy was completely opposite most folks, who found the third installment to be the weakest. For me, it was the best, mostly because the trilogy’s wraparound story about a witch’s curse I thought was pretty lame until this final installment where we find out its origins, and the writers flipped the story on its head, giving new insight into what really cursed the town. I really liked this revelation. The entire trilogy is uneven at best, but it finishes strong, so much so that it’s the only horror movie from 2021 to make it into my Top 10 List.

8. NO SUDDEN MOVE

Atmospheric crime thriller by director Steven Soderbergh, starring Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, and Brendan Fraser, makes for a compelling flick.

7. MOXIE (2021)

I really enjoyed this comedy drama directed by Amy Poehler about an awkward teen played by Hadley Robinson who draws inspiration from her mom’s activist past to take on sexism at her high school. Very satisfying, strong screenplay by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, based on the novel by Jennifer Mathieu, well-directed by Poehler, who also plays the mom.

6. THE UNFORGIVABLE

Sandra Bullock delivers a transformative performance in this Netflix drama about a woman, played by Bullock, who after serving a twenty-year prison sentence for shooting a sheriff, tries to reunite with her younger sister who has lived with a foster family the past two decades and has no memory of her older sister, while fending off threats from both those who hate her in general because of her crime, and from the adult sons of the man she killed. Dark, depressing stuff, but fiercely acted by Bullock.

5. GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE

One of my favorite action movies of the year. I loved this movie! It’s basically nothing more than female assassins kick ass, but the action is all so stylized and expertly choreographed. It contains some of the best action sequences I saw all year. Wonderfully directed by Navot Papushado, who charges this one with energy and pizzazz.

4. THE DIG

Wonderful period piece from Netflix, this one is much better than it sounds. Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes co-star in this tale of the historic archeological dig in the English countryside at Sutton Hoo at the outset of World War II. Awe-inspiring, awesome movie.

And now, drum roll please, for my TOP 3 MOVIES from 2021:

3. THE COURIER

Another period piece, THE COURIER was actually filmed in 2020 but wasn’t released until 2021. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Greville Wynne, a British salesman who because of his dealings in the Soviet Union becomes an unlikely spy for Britain just before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Another topnotch performance by Cumberbatch, who seems to be able to play these dramatic biographical roles in his sleep.

2. THE SUICIDE SQUAD

Hands down, both my favorite action movie and superhero film of the year. Hailing from the DC Universe (sorry, Marvel, they bested you this year!) this “sequel” to 2016’s SUICIDE SQUAD is far superior to the first film. While Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, it’s Idris Elba as Bloodsport and John Cena as Peacemaker who steal the show. The real star however is writer/director James Gunn, who works the same magic he wielded with Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies, creating an energetic, innovative, and nonstop laugh-out-loud actioner that never quits. This tale of supervillains turned superheroes is a must see for all superhero movie fans, although it is rated R for some pretty intense violence and language. A helluva fun ride.

And now, drum roll please: my Number One movie from 2021:

1. DON’T LOOK UP

Adam McKay’s sharp satire is so on-point that it is far more disturbing than funny. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as scientists who discover a large meteor on a collision course with Earth that will wipe out all life when it strikes in six months, but the President, played by Meryl Streep, won’t have any of it and plays fast and loose with their science, while the media simply isn’t interested in a negative story. Try as they might, they simply can’t get their message out. Eventually, when the meteor becomes visible to the naked eye, the president’s political party and followers adopt the ideology that those who want people to look up are doing so for political reasons, and their rallying cry becomes, “don’t look up!” A sad commentary on where we are as a nation in 2021 after suffering from four years of a presidential administration that also played fast and loose with the facts during a world crisis.

So, there you have it. My top 10 movies from 2021.

Coming soon, my Worst 10 Movie List from 2021.

Until then, as always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

NO SUDDEN MOVE (2021) – Stephen Soderbergh’s Latest A Compelling Crime Tale

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Who knew the catalytic converter could cause so much trouble?

NO SUDDEN MOVE (2021), the latest movie by director Steven Soderbergh, now playing in theaters and on HBO Max, is a stylish thriller that takes place in 1950s Detroit about a pair of criminals who find themselves in the middle of a robbery gone wrong and suddenly are being chased by so many unsavory characters you’ll need a scorecard to keep track, in a plot which involves the auto industry and the fight over some innovative top secret information!

As plots go, it’s pretty darn interesting!

Recently out of jail, Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle) is looking for work, and he’s none too picky about what he takes. He accepts a sketchy job from Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser) which involves a team of three, and includes Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro) and Charley (Kieran Culkin). They invade the home of a man Matt Wertz (David Harbour) and his family. While Curt and Ron remain in the home holding the family hostage, Charley takes Matt to his office and forces Matt to break into his boss’ safe and steal the documents located there. When Matt opens the safe, he discovers the documents are gone, but rather than tell Charley this, he hands the criminal substitute documents.

This leads to a violent chain reaction, upon which Curt realizes they have been set up, and he and Ron decide to go after the missing documents themselves and get paid handsomely for them. Which proves to be no easy task, since there are a lot of people who want those documents and who will kill for them. And not only do Curt and Ron need to stay one step ahead of the unsavory characters who are after them, but also they have to contend with detective Joe Finney (Jon Hamm) who is hot on their trail.

The less said about the plot the better, because it really is a compelling story. The screenplay by Ed Solomon is solid. It does get a bit confusing as it goes along, as there are so many characters and twists and turns in the story, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. I liked the two main characters, Curt and Ron, a lot, and their back and forth chatter works well. The dialogue throughout is excellent. And I liked the connection to the auto industry, as it’s not every day you see a thriller about the catalytic converter.

Solomon also wrote NOW YOU SEE ME (2013) a snappy thriller which I enjoyed and starred Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, and Woody Harrelson, among others, and way back in the day, he co-wrote BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (1989), and he also wrote MEN IN BLACK (1997). So, he’s no stranger to writing catchy dialogue.

Don Cheadle delivers the best performance in the film. He gives Curt grit and determination, and he plays the character as a stand up guy, in spite of his criminal past. He’s only after the money to get back what he believes is rightfully his. And he’s not about taking innocent lives with him to do it. It’s some of Cheadle’s best work since HOTEL RWANDA (2004).

Benicio Del Toro is nearly as good as Ronald Russo, the former mob enforcer who is now running from the mob since he slept with his boss’ wife. Not smart, Ronald! Del Toro plays Russo as an often lethargic hit man who is constantly looking for a drink. It’s a terrific understated performance.

David Harbour, looking thinner and trimmer than as of late, is cast against his STRANGER THINGS Sheriff Hopper persona, playing Matt Wertz, a cowardly weasel of a man who is not above risking the lives of his family as he plots with his girlfriend and boss’ secretary to rip off the company, a plan which blows up in his face in far worse ways than he could ever imagine.

Amy Seimetz also delivers a strong performance as Matt’s long suffering wife Mary, who finds ordinary life a struggle and can’t handle going through the motions of what she views as a phony existence, and so she already has issues with life even before the violent plot against her family rears its ugly head. Seimetz has been in a bunch of things, from the remake of PET SEMATARY (2019) to ALIEN: COVENANT (2017) to co-starring with David Harbour in STRANGER THINGS (2016-2017).

While Jon Hamm is effective as Detective Joe Finney, he actually doesn’t get to do a whole heck of a lot. I expected more from the role.

It was fun to see Brendan Fraser back on the “big” screen again. I hadn’t seen him in a movie in a while. And he chews up the scenery as the mysterious mobster who sets everything in motion by hiring these men. Speaking of chewing up the scenery, Ray Liotta does just that in a small role as head mobster Frank Capelli.

And there’s an uncredited performance in the film’s conclusion that adds a lot to the climax of this movie.

I’m not the biggest fan of Steven Soderbergh. His thriller UNSANE (2018) shot entirely with an IPhone 7 was just so-so, and he’s made a bunch of other films I’ve found simply lukewarm, films like SIDE EFFECTS (2013) and CONTAGION (2011). And I’m not a fan of his OCEAN’S movies. But I really liked his quirky crime comedy LOGAN LUCKY (2017), and of course back in the day he made films like THE LIMEY (1999) and SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE (1989).

But I really liked NO SUDDEN MOVE. Soderbergh captures the look and feel of 1950s Detroit with seeming ease. He gets the most out of his actors’ performances, and he keeps this one thrilling throughout. I did think it slowed a bit towards the end, picking up just in time for its satisfying conclusion.

Overall, NO SUDDEN MOVE has a great cast, a superb script, and a creative director who is operating at the top of his game.

And you’ll even learn a little history about the catalytic converter.

Yup, it’s definitely a movie you “auto” watch.

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