BLOOD & GOLD (2023) is the latest international movie to premiere on Netflix, as it hails from Germany.
I said this recently, but this has been my favorite part of Netflix of late, their making available foreign language films that I otherwise would not see at the theater.
BLOOD & GOLD is a World War II action movie that is reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) only not as intense nor as bitingly sharp with its quirky dialogue, traits that Tarantino excels at. You could say BLOOD & GOLD is INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS lite, although it’s pretty violent in its own right and does contain some unexpected comedic moments.
They both contain lots of creative killings of Nazis, and this sort of thing admittedly does make for high cinematic entertainment.
BLOOD & GOLD opens in the final days of World War II, when the Allies are closing in fast on the Nazis in Germany, and most can see that the end of Hitler’s reign is near. A soldier named Heinrich (Robert Maaser) is about to be hung by his small Nazi unit for desertion, and this unit leaves him for dead, but moments later, he is saved by a young woman Elsa (Marie Hacke) who brings him back to her farm where she lives with her brother Paule, who has Down syndrome. Elsa hates the Nazis because they killed her family, and of course her brother wouldn’t be safe with them around, while Heinrich explains that he deserted because he was sick of killing for no reason, and also because he’s searching for the only surviving member of his family, his young daughter.
Meanwhile, the troop which had hung Heinrich makes their way to Elsa’s village because their leader, von Starnfeld (Alexander Scheer) knows that a fortune in Jewish gold is hidden there. What he doesn’t know is a group of prominent villagers, led by the mayor, has stolen it for themselves and have no intention of giving it back.
The rest of the movie intertwines these two plots, as the Nazis search both for the gold and for Heinrich once they learn that he is still alive, while Heinrich and Elsa fight for their survival and freedom. The result is a well-made, well-written action thriller that contains lots of really well-choreographed action scenes.
Director Peter Thorwarth creates many memorable action sequences, including Heinrich’s rescue of Elsa when she’s about to be raped by Nazis, Paule’s fight for survival in a church tower when the Nazis bring him there to execute him in front of a crowd, and the exciting finale in the church when everyone is converging for the gold.
And there are thrilling dramatic scenes as well, like Elsa’s escape plan from von Starnfeld, who has decided to make her his bride.
Peter Thorwarth previously directed the vampire movie BLOOD RED SKY (2021) which I loved. I enjoyed BLOOD & GOLD even more.
The screenplay by Stefan Barth is very good. The story is a winner, and it includes many quirky characters, especially the different villagers, and memorable heroes and villains. The dialogue for the most part is strong, although it’s not quite as edgy enough as it needs to be. It’s missing the Tarantino-style cultural references and humor. It comes very close though.
Robert Maaser is excellent in the lead role as Heinrich. He’s believable as an action hero, and he is also very sincere. This is the second time in a week that I’ve seen Maaser in a movie. He had a supporting role in the comedy THE MACHINE (2023) in which he played a Russian mobster. He’s much better and much more memorable, and three-dimensional, here in BLOOD & GOLD.
Marie Hacke is equally as strong as Elsa. The scene where she plots her escape from von Starnfeld is the best in the movie. Speaking of von Starnfeld, Alexader Scheer is sufficiently villainous in the role. He wears a partial mask for most of the movie, and when he removes it later in the film, the CGI/make-up showing the hole in his jaw is very well done.
All supporting players in this one are excellent.
BLOOD & GOLD is a stylish, well-told adventure, filled with intense scenes of action and violence, memorable characters, and a spirited narrative that doesn’t quit.
THE MACHINE (2023) is a new movie based on the comedy of stand-up comedian Bert Kreischer.
For my money, comedy is the most difficult genre to do well in the movies. A really good comedy is really hard to find, more so these days. Hopefully at some point soon we’ll witness a comedy renaissance, and they will be as prolific as Marvel superhero movies.
But that doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon, and THE MACHINE certainly isn’t a step in that direction. As comedies go, it’s not very good. Actually, it’s kinda bad.
I saw it not because I’m a fan of Kreischer’s, whose comedy I barely know, but because the trailer was actually pretty funny, and Mark Hamill was also in the cast, playing Kreischer’s father. I was hoping to laugh a lot. I didn’t. The laughs are few and far between, and they’re not very hearty.
As I said, the plot of THE MACHINE is based on Kreischer’s comedy routine, in this case his famous story about how he earned the nickname “The Machine,” when he was in Russia and robbed a train with the Russian mob. In the movie, he’s pretty much playing himself, and so the film opens with Bert struggling to be a good dad for his two daughters, and a good husband. He’s trying, but he’s also failing. To make amends, he throws a lavish Sweet 16 birthday party for his daughter, and at the party, his estranged father Albert (Mark Hamill) arrives, and Bert and his dad have major issues with each other.
Also arriving at the party is Russian mobster Irina (Iva Babic) who tells Bert that her father, the head of a powerful mob family, wants his watch back that Bert stole when he was in Russia twenty years ago. Bert says he doesn’t remember stealing a watch, and so Irina and her henchmen kidnap both Bert and his dad and bring them to Russia where they are forced to find the missing watch.
Which is what the rest of the movie is all about, Bert and his father’s misadventures as they try to find the missing watch. I’ve seen worse plots. However, the humor in this one never really takes off.
While Kreischer is a fairly funny guy, he doesn’t knock it out of the park. At times, he can be raunchy, but most of the time he’s a goofy wannabe likeable “fat guy.” It’s also part of his shtick to go around without a shirt, which doesn’t really happen in this movie until the final reel. Neither persona is all that sharp, and so the humor is tepid at best. There are some laugh out loud moments, like when Bert is trying to pull a shaft out of Irina’s leg and he has to throw up, but these are few and far between.
I actually thought Mark Hamill was pretty funny as Bert’s weird dad, and his best moment is when he is high on drugs, but being high to get laughs is a rather low bar for comedy.
Iva Babic makes for an icy cold and sexy Russian mobster, and she plays it straight for the most part.
THE MACHINE is being marketed as an action comedy, but the action scenes aren’t very good. The fight sequences are a bit slow in their choreography, and they’re just not as slick and polished as what we are used to seeing in action movies these days. Director Peter Atencio features some nifty camerawork here and there, but he drops the ball with the action sequences.
The screenplay by Kevin Biegel and Scotty Landes is meh. The story is okay, but the situations which should be rife for hilarity just aren’t. Bert and his father’s exploits in Russia have the potential to be laugh out loud funny, but they’re not.
I’m tempted to say that this one is for Bert Kreischer fans only, and he does have lots of fans as the theater was packed, but while these fans were laughing and being boisterous before the movie started, during the movie, they were fairly quiet. I laughed as much as anyone else, and that wasn’t that much.
And that’s the bottom line with THE MACHINE. It’s simply not very funny, and for a comedy that runs nearly two hours, that’s a long time to sit through an unfunny movie.
HYPNOTIC (2023) is a new thriller starring Ben Affleck that tries to tell a clever story but instead ends up being superficial and shallow.
It’s also one of those movies where characters speak in terms of exposition. “We had to do this because….” “We had to do that because…” Lots of telling. Not much showing.
HYPNOTIC opens with detective Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) in a therapy session talking about the horrific day his young daughter was abducted from a park playground when he had looked away for only one second. Danny is clearly still a mess, yet at the end of the session, the therapist gives him the green light to return to active duty, which is the first of many instances in this movie where the plot just moves along because it is supposed to, rather than for any believable reasons.
We next find Danny staking out a bank with his fellow detectives because they received a tip the bank would be robbed, and there have been a string of robberies where the only thing stolen has been safe deposit boxes. When Danny observes a strange man (William Fichtner) speaking in code to a woman and then to a couple of guards, Danny wrongly believes they are all working together, and he rushes into the scene. He’s wrong, because the strange man, whose name is Dellrayne, is really hypnotizing these people to do whatever he wants.
When Danny thwarts the person who Dellrayne hypnotized to steal the safe deposit box, he opens it to see a photo of his missing daughter. Perplexed, he confronts Dellrayne, but the mysterious hypnotist escapes. Looking for answers, Danny and his partner Nicks (JD Pardo) track down the person who left the anonymous tip about the bank robbery, a woman named Diana (Alice Braga) who also happens to possess hypnotic abilities.
And it’s here where the dialogue in HYPNOTIC becomes bogged down in exposition. Diana explains who Dellrayne is and what he is up to, and since he wants the safety deposit box which Danny prevented him from stealing, he will be coming for it, which suits Danny just fine, since he wants to find his missing daughter. So many questions, so few answers. Honestly, at this point in the movie, the story is somewhat intriguing, as the mystery of why a picture of Danny’s daughter was inside a safety deposit box, and why Dellrayne wants that picture is a mildly interesting one.
HYPNOTIC then tries to go full blown “out there” and become a sort of poor man’s INCEPTION (2010), with equal parts TOTAL RECALL (1990) but it’s just not ambitious enough to pull this off successfully. There are lots of twists and turns and false memories and the like, but everything that happens in this movie is quick and superficial. It all fits neatly into its brief 90-minute running time, which sadly, might be the best part of this movie, that it doesn’t go on for too long! While I appreciated its briskness, it doesn’t take full advantage of this brevity by providing a lean mean story; instead, its plot is threadbare and summarized.
HYPNOTIC was written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, whose work I usually enjoy. Not so much this time around. My favorite Robert Rodriguez film is one of his earliest, the now classic vampire flick FROM DUSK TO DAWN (1996) which starred George Clooney, and he also helmed both the SIN CITY and MACHETE movies. Most recently he’s been directing episodes of THE MANDALORIAN (2020) and THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT (2021) TV series.
His work is usually slick, polished, and energetic, which is the case here with HYPNOTIC, but the problem is the story doesn’t hold up. Rodriguez’s screenplay rushes through nearly every story element here, and none of the characters are all that interesting. For a movie with a somewhat intriguing premise, I found this one all rather dull.
Likewise, I usually enjoy Ben Affleck. He just turned in a solid performance in a supporting role in the recent movie AIR (2023), which he directed, and which also just premiered for free on Prime Video this weekend. About the only time I haven’t really enjoyed Affleck was when he played Batman, and unfortunately, he kinda seems like Batman here only without the costume. He’s dark and grumpy, as he plays detective Danny Rourke as one dreadfully gloomy character, but without any real angst. He just looks serious and delivers somber lines, acting tough as if he were an indestructible superhero, a la Batman. Which is another knock on the screenplay. The dialogue is awful.
I also usually like William Fichtner, as he has stood out in movies like DRIVE ANGRY (2011) and THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), but he’s dull here as well as hypnotic villain Dellrayne. Like the other characters in the movie, he talks about what he just did, and what he is going to do, rather than actually doing anything. Ditto for Alice Braga as Diana.
Jackie Earle Haley shows up for one brief scene, basically a cameo, and it’s too bad he’s not in this one more, because in his few minutes of screen time, he delivers the best performance in the movie.
HYPNOTIC offers an intriguing mystery but drops the ball when telling a story about it. The characters are flat, the dialogue superficial, and the story, while it tries to go the route of a mind-boggling science fiction thriller, instead plods along a pedestrian path of unremarkable exposition.
Rob Zombie’s reboot of THE MUNSTERS (2022) has been shown very little love by fans and critics alike since its release in September 2022.
Sure, the jokes are bad, the characters silly and over the top, the plot completely goofy, and the feel that it is all intended more for kids than for adults is prevalent throughout, but lest we forget, this is exactly how the campy original 1960s TV series THE MUNSTERS (1964-66) played out. Zombie has captured the exact feel of the show, and yet he seems to have been criticized for doing so. While I’ve always enjoyed THE MUNSTERS, I’ve never found the show all that funny because its humor was always purposefully awful, the canned laughter forced and annoying, and the situations more amusing than comical. This was how the show was, and how many of the 1960s comedy series were. The folks laughing the hardest were the ones on the laugh track! But this didn’t stop me and plenty of other fans from loving these shows.
And Zombie’s reboot isn’t just a rehash of the series. It’s an origin story and explains how these characters got together in the first place. There are also lots of homages and neat bits of casting, and it’s all wrapped in a lively exceedingly colorful package that makes this one a hoot to watch with or without your kids. I mean, you’ll love it on your own, but if you have kids, they can watch it, too. It’s not often you can say that about a Rob Zombie movie. In fact, this PG rated film is the first Rob Zombie movie not to be rated R.
In THE MUNSTERS, Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie) lives with her father The Count (Daniel Roebuck) in his castle, and she is actively searching for the “man of her nightmares.” Her latest date with the vampire Orlock (Richard Brake) doesn’t go so well, as he is more interested in rats and the plague than in her. Meanwhile, Dr. Wolfgang (also played by Richard Brake) and his assistant Floop (Jorge Garcia) are busy trying to create life, and their creation, Herman (Jeff Daniel Phillips), thanks to their mistaken use of a brain belonging to a failed comedian, awakens thinking he’s funny, and so he can’t stop telling bad jokes while trying to entertain people.
When Herman and Lily meet, they instantly fall in love, and the rest is history. And when the Count loses his castle, Herman moves them all from Transylvania to California, paving the way for their future family adventures on THE MUNSTERS.
Everything in THE MUNSTERS is completely silly and over the top, which is exactly how the show used to be. My favorite part of Zombie’s THE MUNSTERS is its exaggerated color scheme. The entire look of the film is bright, showy, and pretty darn impressive. It looks like a live action cartoon.
Zombie’s screenplay isn’t going to win any awards for best comedy, as the jokes are goofy and lame, the plot silly, and the characters absurd, but since it captures the spirit of THE MUNSTERS TV show, it’s ultimately successful.
He also includes various homages, like Herman’s fur vest, which is an homage both to the iconic Frankenstein Monster ads in 1960s comic books and to Boris Karloff’s Monster attire in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939). The vampire character Orlock is a dead ringer for Count Orlok from the silent classic NOSFERATU (1922), and the scenes between Dr. Wolfgang and Floop leading up to Herman’s creation parody situations and conversations from the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN.
The cast is fun. Jeff Daniel Phillips cracked me up throughout as Herman, and he captures Fred Gwyne’s goofy persona when he played the character. Herman is a hoot throughout this movie. Likewise, Sheri Moon Zombie captures the spirit of Yvonne De Carlo’s Lily from the series. And ditto for Daniel Roebuck as The Count, who also embodies Al Lewis’ performances as Grandpa.
Jorge Garcia, probably best known for his role as Hurley on the TV show LOST (2004-2010) enjoys lot of comedic moments here as the mad scientist’s assistant Floop. The cast also includes Catherine Schell, known to genre fans as Maya on the TV show SPACE 1999 (1975-77) as a gypsy woman, and Cassandra Peterson, aka Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, as a real estate agent. And original MUNSTERS cast members Butch Patrick and Pat Priest both have voice cameos.
THE MUNTERS isn’t high art. It’s not even a very good comedy. But neither was the original TV show. What it is, however, is a colorful and very amusing salute to the 1960s horror comedy series.
If you want to know how the Munsters first got together, and you want to enjoy a trip down memory lane, in one extremely colorful and cartoonish package, you should check out Rob Zombie’s THE MUNSTERS. It completely captures the undead spirit of the original. The only thing missing is the canned laughter.
The GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies have been the most offbeat and fun of the Marvel movies, and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3, the third installment in this series, is no exception.
Even with a serious plot— a race against time to save Rocket’s life— the movie contains enough shenanigans and quirky conversations to keep this most recent installment a lighthearted affair.
The biggest reason for this consistency is that all three films were written and directed by James Gunn, who has quite the interesting resume, as he has achieved success with comedies, superhero films, and horror movies. He even worked for Marvel’s rival DC, and created a movie I liked every bit as much as the first GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movie, THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021), which was my favorite superhero movie that year. He is a master at writing witty, snappy, and flat-out funny dialogue.
I had a blast watching GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3, even with its serious plot. When Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is injured with a life-threatening wound, the Guardians, our friendly neighborhood protectors of the universe, discover that they cannot treat him, that his body has been encrypted with a suicide device if he is tampered with, which leads the Guardians to a search for Rocket’s origins so they can learn how to diffuse the device and save his life.
Through a series of flashbacks, we learn Rocket’s origin story, and it’s not a pretty picture. He was created in a lab by a cold-hearted scientist known as The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), who would have felt right at home on the set of STRANGER THINGS experimenting on the likes of Eleven, only his experiments are far worse. Rocket spends his youth with his closest friends, animals who have also been experimented on, and they dream of the day when they will be free from their cages, but freeing them is not part of The High Evolutionary’s plan. All these years later, The High Evolutionary is still at it, creating worlds and destroying them when he’s not happy with the result. He is also obsessed with capturing Rocket again, as Rocket was his most successful experiment, and so he welcomes the news that the Guardians are on their way to him to learn the secret of saving their friend.
And that’s the main plot of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3, which really is secondary to watching the Guardians interact on screen.
It’s been a tough time for Star Lord aka Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) as he’s still lamenting the loss of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who’s not dead, but since returning to life after the Thanos purge, has lost all her memories and does not remember being in love with him. Chris Pratt has always been fun in the Peter Quill role, and he’s just as fun here in Vol. 3.
In fact, you can say the same for the rest of the characters as well. Dave Bautista as Drax gives probably my favorite performance in the movie. Drax gets the best lines and for my money is the funniest character in the series. Pom Klementieff is enjoyable as Mantis, and she and Drax share many fun scenes together.
Karen Gillan gets more screen time as Nebula, and we get to know her character more in this installment. Vin Diesel voices Groot, and he gets his share of moments. And Bradley Cooper gets more serious scenes this time around in the very dark story of Rocket’s origins.
Chukwudi Iwuji is okay as The High Evolutionary. He’s more sinister early on. By film’s end, he becomes a more traditional mad scientist, and the character ends up being less menacing than we was at the beginning of the movie.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 provides a good mix of laughs and drama. I laughed a lot, as did the very large movie audience I saw it with— which is a very good thing, by the way. It seems more and more movies these days I’m watching in near empty theaters.—. And it does this even as its plot covers themes like ruthless experiments on animals, mindless destruction of entire planets, the rescue of children, and in the film’s final reel a rescue of a myriad of animals which resembles something out of Noah’s Ark.
The one thing I wasn’t crazy about in this movie is we don’t really get to see the Guardians together all that much. They’re all involved in their separate mini adventures as they attempt to rescue Rocket. And when finally, they are reunited at film’s end, we’re met with the news that some of the Guardians are going their separate ways. As Rocket complains, “We’re breaking up?” Indeed, they are, as the film previews what the next variation of Guardians will look like, while others are going off on solo and smaller group projects. I’m all about evolving, but I also enjoy revisiting successful stories, and the present group of Guardians, certainly had not worn out their welcome yet.
Also, in typical Marvel movie fashion, there are scenes after the end credits, including one at the very end, so if you want to see it, you’ll have to wait till all the credits have rolled.
My favorite GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movie remains the first one from 2014, but I enjoyed this third installment more than the second film in the series, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017).
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 is nothing new, but that’s not a bad thing. The characters here are all fun and quirky, and their interactions make for an enjoyable two and a half hours at the movies. It’s all well-written and directed by James Gunn, and it looks amazing as well, filled with bright stunning and colorful visuals throughout.
And oh yeah. It features a worthy soundtrack of tunes which would make Peter Quill proud.
I give GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 three stars.
If you like action movies, chances are you’re going to love AKA (2023), a new action thriller from France which premiered on Netflix this weekend.
I gotta say, one of my favorite parts about Netflix these days is their promotion of international films. There are a lot of movies premiering on the streaming service that aren’t available at theaters, and in recent months they have showcased some outstanding movies from countries like Thailand, South Korea, and Norway, to cite just a few.
Their latest is AKA, an action flick from France about a special ops agent named Adam (Alban Lenoir) who is called in to infiltrate a mobster’s organization in order to learn the whereabouts of a terrorist in hiding who is intent on wreaking havoc in France. The terrorist is friends with the mobster, and the French government knows the mobster is hiding him. Adam’s mission is to find the terrorist and eliminate him.
Adam is reminiscent of Jason Bourne, only without the memory loss. He’s a killing machine, and it doesn’t take him long to win over the mobster, Victor Pastore (Eric Cantona) and be invited to join his security team. Adam also connects with Victor’s young son, who looks up to Adam, and Adam is sympathetic to children because as a youth some horrible things happened to his brother, and Adam murdered the man responsible, an event which led to Adam being recruited by the French government at a very young age.
The story told in AKA is really secondary. Adam’s search for the terrorist is mildly interesting, and towards the end, there is one twist too many, but none of this affects the quality of the movie all that much, because what makes this one so entertaining are its action scenes.
The movie opens in dramatic fashion as we see Adam single-handedly “rescue” a female hostage in the middle east, taking out an army of guards, but rather than free her, he shoots her dead. He’s a cold-blooded killer and pretty much unstoppable. He’s also a good guy, and as the movie goes along his loyalties are aimed more towards good people than his superiors. The action sequences are second to none, and well done by director Morgan S. Dalibert.
Alban Lenoir is quite good in the lead as Adam, the unstoppable assassin. He’s got a quiet Arnold Schwarzenegger vibe going throughout. He’s in most of the movie, and he is able to drive this one along. Lenoir also reminded me a little bit of Alan Ritchson, who plays Jack Reacher on the excellent TV show REACHER (2022). He effortlessly makes Adam a larger-than-life action hero.
The entire cast in this one is commendable, and there are fine performances by everyone involved.
Lenoir also co-wrote the screenplay with director Morgan S. Dalibert. As I said, the story told in this one plays second fiddle to the action sequences, but it’s still a decent story which held my interest throughout. The dialogue is strong, the characters well-defined, and other than a “one-twist-too many” ending which falls into the government is really a bunch of crooked bastards category, it’s a good script. It supports the action well.
As a result, I had fun with AKA, and I give it an enthusiastic three stars.
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.
If you’re a fan of the 1980s, the opening montage in AIR (2023), with its 80s songs and pop culture clips including movies, celebrities, politicians, athletes, and even TV commercials— Where’s the beef? –— is worth the price of admission alone.
It’s a fun way to get things started in this story of how Nike went from chasing Adidas and Converse in the sneaker market to achieving number one status by developing a basketball shoe line exclusively for Michael Jordan, before he had even played one game in the NBA. It was a gutsy move that no one had done before, but it paid off, as Jordan did indeed become arguably the best basketball player of all time, and because of this deal, his career lifted Nike to new levels.
Everything about AIR is fun and amiable. There is no question that this is one very entertaining movie. But the bigger question is, why should anyone care?
For example, upon leaving the theater, I overheard a conversation between two moviegoers, where one was complaining to the other that he didn’t like the movie because this was a movie about Michael Jordan, and Michael Jordan really isn’t in this movie at all. That’s a legitimate concern. Of course, the answer is that AIR really isn’t about Michael Jordan. It’s about Sonny Vaccaro, the Nike talent scout who came up with the plan to build a shoe line around just the one athlete, Jordan, and who convinced Nike to agree to his controversial plan. So, at the end of the day, AIR is not a story about the greatest basketball player of all time, but a story about a shoe deal that made some folks in the sneaker business an awful lot of money. Not exactly a rags to riches story.
AIR opens with Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) lamenting that the basketball department doesn’t have a big enough budget to compete with Adidas and Converse, but Nike CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) tells him he’s lucky he has any budget at all because the basketball division continues to underperform. He tells Sonny the board wants to dismantle the basketball division entirely. Frustrated that they’re about to sign the usual three lackluster NBA players to contracts, Sonny struggles to come up with a different plan. While watching a video of Michael Jordan’s NCAA championship game winning shot, he sees something he hadn’t seen before, and with a new way of looking at the game’s final seconds, decides that Jordan has what it takes to be a championship caliber player.
Sonny comes up with the idea of using their entire budget on Jordan alone. That will enable them to be competitive with Adidas and Converse. Plus, unlike Adidas and Converse, Nike will be able to say to Jordan that they will be the only company to design an entire shoe line for him and him alone, in effect already telling Jordan that they see him as the future of the NBA, that they’re not placing him alongside Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. They’re placing him above Johnson and Bird. It’s a controversial idea, especially since Jordan was already on record as saying he did not like Nike and was going to sign with Adidas.
But Sonny decided to gamble, and once he convinced Knight to go along with the plan, it became a bet that could make or break the company, and as history showed, it was a bet that paid off.
So, really, what this story is about is a bunch of middle-aged white guys trying to save their jobs by signing a basketball player to an exclusive shoe contract even before he has even played one game in the NBA. Which, honestly, isn’t the most inspirational story going. Sorry.
Now, this is not me knocking AIR or finding fault with it, because truthfully, I enjoyed AIR quite a bit. And why shouldn’t I? It has a lot of things going for it.
It’s directed by Ben Affleck, for starters, whose body of work I really like. I like the way Affleck directs movies. He knows how to tell a story. I’ve enjoyed nearly all his previous directorial efforts, films like ARGO (2012), THE TOWN (2010), GONE BABY GONE (2007), and even LIVE BY NIGHT (2016) which wasn’t as critically acclaimed, I thought was a very good movie. And Affleck is back doing his thing here with AIR. While I don’t find this to be the most inspirational story, it’s nonetheless masterfully told by Affleck.
And the screenplay by Alex Convery is a crowd-pleaser. The dialogue is sharp, snappy, and funny. The movie is filled with many laugh-out loud moments. I saw this in a crowded theater, several weeks after its initial release, which is saying something for its popularity, and there was plenty of laughter in all the right places, and people seemed to genuinely like this one. I certainly did.
Matt Damon is likable as Sonny Vaccaro. He plays Vaccaro as a guy who thinks outside the box and goes the extra mile to get the job done, attributes that make him a likable character. The last time I saw Damon in a major role was in FORD V. FERRARI (2019), in which he played a somewhat similar role to this one, as in FORD V. FERRARI Damon was a race car designer trying to design a car to defeat the much-heralded Ferrari cars which were dominating the racing industry at the time. With its thrilling race car scenes, I enjoyed FORD V. FERRARI slightly more than AIR, but thematically, their stories and Damon’s roles in them are similar.
Jason Bateman plays department head Rob Strasser, Sonny’s immediate boss, and Bateman and Damon enjoy some notable scenes together, one in particular where Rob tells Sonny just what he stands to lose if Sonny’s gambit fails, and pretty much tells Sonny he wishes he hadn’t put the company in this position.
Chris Tucker has a field day as Howard White, the one person of color on the team whose smooth-talking skills usually helps them with their basketball clients. It was fun to see Tucker on the big screen again. It had been a while.
Viola Davis delivers a very understated and rather subdued performance as Deloris Jordan, Michael Jordan’s mother who pretty much made all the business decisions for him. The fact that Sonny impressed her with his honesty about what Nike would do specifically for her son and why, because he believed Michael was going to become bigger than the NBA itself, was a major reason why Michael Jordan even agreed to meet with Nike in the first place.
Chris Messina also impresses as Michael Jordan’s agent David Falk, a cutthroat shark of a man who is all about making lots of money. The fiery conversation between him and Sonny where he lambastes Sonny for visiting the Jordan home, in effect circumventing him in the negotiation process, is a highlight of the movie.
Matthew Maher is terrific in a small role as Peter Moore, the sneaker designer who came up with the design for Jordan’s shoe, and who also came up with the name “Air Jordan.”
And Ben Affleck effortlessly plays Nike CEO Phil Knight, who divides his time between berating Sonny for his poor performance and giving him and all his employees philosophical and self-help advice. Knight also isn’t deaf to Sonny’s entreaties that the company needed to return to its roots, words that remained with Knight and ultimately led to his buying into Sonny’s decision. Affleck is a terrific actor who is starting to become underrated because of his success.
The best scene in the movie is the sequence where the Jordan family arrives at Nike for the big boardroom pitch by Sonny and his team. You can feel the tension in the room when it seems as if they are losing their pitch, as their efforts continually appear to fall flat, which leads to Sonny making an eleventh-hour inspirational speech.
It’s a terrific moment in the movie, but one that reiterates that the story told in AIR is limited. After all, what is at stake here if the deal goes south? A bunch of men don’t make a lot of money, and some might lose their jobs. Michael Jordan signs with Adidas and most likely still goes on to become the best player in NBA history. Not exactly a pivotal moment in history.
So, is this a strike against the movie? Yes! This story didn’t interest me at all. However, the way Ben Affleck told this story, and the way the actors performed in it, made it a damned fine entertaining flick! I liked AIR. I just didn’t think its story was all that important.
The best part of AIR is the work behind the camera by Ben Affleck. He knows how to tell a story. Clint Eastwood once said he made movies that his dad would like. And I got that. Eastwoods’ films were often “guy” films, but more importantly, they were films which told stories that worked. Eastwood as a director has always known how to tell stories. Ben Affleck shares this gift, and like Eastwood, has a real flare for telling stories from behind the camera.
The story AIR has to tell isn’t all that remarkable, but it’s a very good movie, because its director knows how tell it.
For success? Food? Power? What is it you hunger for? And how far do you go to get it?
These are the questions that are asked in HUNGER (2023), a new movie from Thailand which is now available on Netflix.
HUNGER is the story of Aoy (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) who works incredibly hard as a fry chef for her dad’s restaurant, and when she’s not working, she laments with her friends over how difficult it is to get ahead in life. One day, a young man named Tone (Gunn Svasti Na Ayudhya) notices her at work and hands her a business card, telling her she’s too good to be working there. The card is an invitation for her to interview with the famous Chef Paul (Nopachai Chaiyanam), the most famous chef in the land.
Aoy auditions for Chef Paul and makes the cut to join his team as a fry chef. As she finds out, Chef Paul is extremely demanding, and he reduces her to tears with his intense demeanor, but Aoy refuses to give up. Chef Paul cooks for the super wealthy and is a showman as well as a chef, as the meals his team prepares are as much works of art as they are meals.
As Aoy works her way up, she is noticed by an entrepreneur who wants her to become the next Chef Paul and open her own top of the line restaurant. Aoy accepts his offer, and the second half of the movie positions Aoy against both her former mentor, Chef Paul, and her own conscience, as back home her father is ill and in need of her help, yet she has no plans to return home to assist her family, because she hungers for success and will do whatever it takes to get it.
I absolutely loved HUNGER. There is so much going on in this movie. It covers a wide array of themes and does a fantastic job with all of them.
At first, it’s easy to think of HUNGER as a variation of THE MENU (2022), a terrific movie which starred Ralph Fiennes as a master chef who also cooked for the super wealthy and who also was demanding and turned his meals into artistic performances. But other than this obvious comparison, they are completely different movies. THE MENU went down the path of melodrama and horror movie thriller, while HUNGER in spite of becoming quite thrilling remains a genuine drama.
And HUNGER is quite thrilling. Director Sitisiri Mongkolsiri imbues this one with lots of energy. It is intense from beginning to end.
As I said, it covers a wide range of themes. The obvious theme is one’s hunger for success, as Aoy is driven to be the best chef she can be. She tolerates Chef Paul because she knows she has a lot to learn from him. She ignores her family back home because she sees them as a distraction. Yet, the film has a lot to say about the price one pays for success as well. By film’s end, Aoy is doing a lot of soul searching and makes a thoughtful decision about what is most important to her in life. And it’s not blind success.
There’s the theme of the haves and have nots. Chef Paul cooks for the super-rich, and we see these people consuming ridiculous amounts of food, and the scenes where they feast and eat are shot in extreme close-ups that are all rather disgusting. They often resemble wild animals sloppily devouring their prey, even though they are all surrounded by opulence. Both Chef Paul and Aoy grew up poor, and Chef Paul is driven by an almost insane desire to make these people hungerfor him. In effect, he’s making them give him all their money by providing them with food that he can create like no other, but he’s not doing it out of a love for food, but out of hate for his clients.
HUNGER is also about power, and the abuse of that power. Chef Paul is quite abusive to his staff, and as Aoy starts her own restaurant, she inherits some of Chef Paul’s dictatorial tendencies, which don’t always sit well with her.
HUNGER also does a terrific job with its food preparation scenes. This is one area where HUNGER is superior to THE MENU, as HUNGER does a much better job with its food scenes. This movie will make you hungry.
Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying is superb as Aoy. It’s a driven, intense performance that makes you want to join her on her journey and see her reach the success that she so desperately wants.
Likewise, Nopachai Chaiyanam is equally as fervid as Chef Paul, and the scenes towards the end of the movie where the two characters square off against each other at a lavish party where they are competing for the top chef honor are as exciting as you will find in any movie.
The screenplay by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee is superb. It tells an exciting story, creates memorable characters, and has so much to say about what drives people to succeed, while making some social commentary about the rich and the poor.
I loved HUNGER. Everything about it works.
It doesn’t just satisfy. It will also have you hungry for more.
Horror comedies are a dime a dozen and are incredibly difficult to do.
The best ones play the horror straight and include spot-on humor. The worst are over-the-top silly and show no reverence towards the horror elements.
RENFIELD (2023), a new horror comedy which stars Nicholas Hoult as Dracula’s long-suffering servant Renfield who in 2023 joins a self-help group to give him the confidence to break ties with his narcissistic master, does show respect to its source material, Dracula, and does include moments of well-timed and clever humor, but overall is bogged down by a stale plot of gangsters and police corruption that sadly takes center stage and definitely gets in the way of the better story of Renfield and Dracula, making this one a mixed bag for sure.
The best part of RENFIELD is Nicolas Cage’s performance as Dracula. At first, it might seem with the obvious connections that this movie makes with Universal’s DRACULA (1931) that Cage’s performance is a direct homage to Bela Lugosi, but Cage doesn’t stop with Lugosi, as his interpretation also at times captures the essence of Christopher Lee. And director Chris McKay also shoots some scenes where Cage even resembles Carlos Villarias who played Dracula in Universal’s Spanish version of DRACULA (1931). But as good as Cage is, and as expected, he’s very good, he’s not enough to save this movie.
RENFIELD gets off to an impressive start as both Nicholas Hoult as Renfield and Nicolas Cage as Dracula are inserted into scenes from Universal’s DRACULA (1931) which both serves as an homage to the Bela Lugosi classic and also shows the origins of the relationship between Dracula and Renfield, making this movie a sequel of sorts to the 1931 movie. It’s a great way to start, and it had me excited about what was to follow.
The action then switches to present day where we see Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) joining a self-help group in New Orleans and listening to these people’s stories of how they are being abused by narcissistic companions. Since Renfield is still finding victims for Dracula, he targets these people’s abusers, hoping to do some good as well, by ridding the world of some pretty awful people by turning them into food for Dracula. Usually, a vampire’s victims turn into vampires themselves, and so Renfield would actually be making the world worse, when these folks turn into vampires, but the movie doesn’t go there.
Instead, the movie goes to places which frankly just aren’t very interesting. Renfield’s selective victim process inadvertently lands him in the path of a very powerful crime family who has nearly the entire police force in their pocket. The one honest cop— seriously, nearly everyone else in this movie who wears a badge is corrupt— Rebecca (Awkwafina) constantly finds her efforts to take down this family thwarted by her corrupt superiors.
The more interesting storyline follows Renfield’s efforts to distance himself from Dracula (Nicolas Cage), especially after opening up to the others in the support group who encourage him to stand up for himself, as well as Dracula’s efforts to keep Renfield as his slave. Whenever Dracula is on screen, the movie fires on all cylinders.
Unfortunately, and strangely, the film instead leans heavily on the crime family and police corruption plot, and even when Rebecca and Renfield team up, and Dracula joins forces with the crime family, things never become all that interesting.
The screenplay by Ryan Ridley and Robert Kirkman, a screenwriter for THE WALKING DEAD TV series, has as its centerpiece the support group sequences where Renfield talks about his relationship with the narcissistic Dracula. These are the best scenes in the movie and play out like a Saturday Night Live sketch. Unfortunately, neither Ridley nor Kirkman do much to build a movie around this idea. The crime family/police corruption plot is flat out awful, and why the movie spends so much time on this cliched claptrap is beyond me. And while the Renfield/Dracula storyline is better, the script is largely repetitive, as the same ideas are churned over repeatedly. As a result, the humor is not overly sharp. There are some moments and some jokes that land, but for the most part, the screenplay is a one trick pony that gets old long before its end credits run, which is pretty bad, since RENFIELD clocks in at a brief 93 minutes.
Director Chris McKay, who directed THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017) and the science fiction flick THE TOMORROW WAR (2021), which I really liked, does a nice job with the visuals here. The aforementioned use of scenes from DRACULA (1931) were fun to see, and he does a terrific job shooting Nicolas Cage as Dracula, who is quite menacing. As I said, at times Cage resembles Lugosi, and he speaks like him, but at other times when he’s violent and hissing, he calls to mind Christopher Lee.
There are also a ton of action scenes in this movie, and they are polished and slick. Renfield inherits superhuman strength whenever he eats bugs— who knew! — a trait that comes in handy whenever he has to fight armies of bad guys or corrupt police officers. But while these scenes are handled well, they are all rather dull and unexciting. They are also incredibly bloody. You can probably fill multiple tubs with the amount of blood spilled in this movie, which brings me to another complaint. So much blood, yet both Renfield and Rebecca always seem to walk away without one ounce of the red stuff on their clothes or bodies. It’s all way too neat and sanitized.
Like I said, the best part of this movie is Nicolas Cage’s portrayal of Dracula. He takes the role seriously, and he plays the vampire king quite menacingly. He’s definitely not a spoof of the character. He makes Dracula downright evil throughout. But that’s not to say he’s not funny, and that may be the greatest strength of Cage’s performance, in that he is both funny and serious. He is able to make the audience laugh as Dracula without sacrificing the integrity of the character. Cage is so good here; he deserves to be in a better movie.
Nicholas Hoult is okay as Renfield, but the character is much less interesting here than Dracula. Hoult does his best to make Renfield a good guy, but the script lets him down. His efforts to free himself of Dracula never rise above the superficial. We just saw Hoult play a less than good guy in THE MENU (2022), a supporting performance that I actually enjoyed a bit more than his portrayal of Renfield.
Awkwafina is fine as Rebecca, but she is stuck in a horrible cliched storyline that drags down the entire movie.
I did really enjoy Brandon Scott Jones as the leader of the self-help group who in the movie’s best sequences gets some of the best moments and lines.
One other disappointing note. While this movie is a wonderful homage to Dracula, thanks to Cage’s performance, what it’s not is a wonderful homage to the title character, Renfield. Dwight Frye as Renfield is one of the best parts of the Lugosi DRACULA, and once you’ve seen that movie, you will never forget his performance. RENFIELD, in spite of being about Renfield, treats Frye as merely an afterthought. Which is all the sadder because even after nearly 100 years, no other actor has played Renfield in a movie the way Frye did. His performance remains the gold standard for the role, and yet, he died young and poor in 1943, and Hollywood has never really given him his due. He deserves better here.
RENFIELD rocks whenever Nicolas Cage is onscreen as Dracula, and its support group scenes are the only ones in this movie that go for the throat and really resonate. They’re hilarious. The rest of the movie features a dull subplot that actually grows into a main plot, and even the better storyline featuring Renfield and Dracula struggles to move forward, as it gets stuck repeating the same points over and over. This is one movie that really could have used… well, some self-help and support.