Quick takes on Broker and other films

Ever watch a movie that everyone else loved, and wonder if you were seeing the same movie? That’s Close for me, which has a very good premise and was decent through the first half, but boy oh boy is it slooooooowwwww. A French film, it follows a pair of friends named Leo and Remi. They are 13 years old, at that age where they are leaving boyhood behind and starting to grow up. Their final summer before middle school, they spend every day together, sleeping over at each other’s houses at night, and often in the same bed with a childhood innocence. But when they start their new school together, others immediately notice how close they are, and point it out. The girls ask if they are a couple, and the boys make derogatory remarks. Leo immediately starts distancing himself from Remi, and participates with the other boys in whatever “manly” play they are up to. This hurts Remi hard, and the viewer is given the impression that, perhaps to him, he had deeper feelings for Leo than just friendship. This hurt leads to an explosive event halfway through the movie: Remi commits suicide. Left with a ton of guilt, Leo spends the rest of the movie trying to come to grip with his emotions. The kind of film critics are going to love, but it is hard to sit through, as not a whole lot of “action” to keep the movie flowing, and there are long scenes of silence and contemplation. ★★

Broker is the newest film from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (check out his Shoplifters if you have not). This film hails from South Korea though, and has a host of complex characters, each with a deep backstory that unfolds as the movie goes along. The main plot of the story revolves around So-young, a young woman who has just given birth to a baby, and leaves it at one of Korea’s famous “Baby Boxes” for unwanted children. This particular baby box is watched by Ha Sang-hyeon and his pal Dong-soo, who pick up the babies and sell them on the black market, to couples who, for one reason or another, cannot go the traditional adoption route. To the men’s consternation, So-young returns the next day and tracks them down, wanting to be part of the sale and a cut of the money. Whet she and the men don’t know though, is they are all being watched by the police too: detectives Soo-jin and Lee have suspected this baby black market and are right on the men’s trail. The parade of characters set off, picking up another along the way (Hae-jin, a boy from the same nursery/orphanage where Dong-soo grew up) and try to sell the baby. Sound dark? It should be, especially once we learn So-young’s tragic tale, but Kore-eda’s deft touch keeps it light, and the comedic moments (and there are lots of them) are laugh-out-loud funny. The first would-be parents rejecting the baby because his eyebrows are too thin? A sting operation by the cops that goes wrong when the actors can’t remember their lines when meeting the baby sellers? Hilarious! At the same time, as we get to know each character’s story, you get pulled in to their narratives and can’t help but root for the “bad guys” and the “good guys” equally. A heartfelt film with a ton of emotional heft. ★★★★½

I loved director Martin McDonagh’s last two films (Banshees and Three Billboards), so when I and my friends were talking movies one day, they urged me to go back and watch his first film, In Bruges. Featuring the same two leads as Banshees (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson), the film follows a couple hitman after a botched job sends them into hiding in Bruges, Belgium. For awhile, we don’t know exactly what went wrong, only that Ray messed up his first hit, and he and the more experienced Ken have been told to hide out in Bruges until their boss, Harry, contacts them with what to do next. Ray takes an instant disliking to the “shithole” city, while Ken makes the most of it and goes all touristy (much to Ray’s chagrin). While they are supposed to be laying low, Ray continues to get himself into lots of trouble. The film is full of the same kind of hilarious banter that pervaded Banshees, and while the director’s hand isn’t as sure, nor his storytelling as clean and precise, the movie is still very funny and well told. While the ending is completely predictable, it’s still a fun ride. ★★★½

A Good Person is the newest film from Zach Braff. On the slow track, he seems to be putting one out every 10 years or so, and this is just his third. This one is much better than his last, and while it lacks the spontaneity of Garden State (and it should, as Braff would probably have a hard time relating to today’s 20-somethings), it shows that he has honed his craft and is very assured behind the camera. Helps that he has Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman in front of it. Pugh plays Allison, a woman on a path towards a successful life both personally and professionally before she is involved in a car accident. She is the driver, but was distracted by her phone, and while Allison survives, her fiancé’s sister and brother-in-law do not. To bury the emotional pain, Allison refuses to admit guilt, blaming the construction on the highway at the time, and grows addicted to oxycontin even after her physical injuries are healed. Reaching rock bottom, she turns to an AA meeting for help with her addiction. Of all people to run into, it is the same meeting that Daniel (Freeman) attends. Daniel is Allison’s fiancé’s estranged father, also father to the woman in Allison’s car that fateful day, and he’s been raising his granddaughter now, on his own. Daniel must put aside whatever negative feelings he has towards Allison if she is going to get help there, and she needs to learn to forgive herself if she is ever going to heal. Perhaps owing a lot to Pugh’s dynamic performance, I thought this was a great film, full of tender moments while not shying away from the anger and hurt that can arise from a situation like this. Maybe a little too perfect of an ending, but it left me feeling as raw as the characters in the film. ★★★★

I almost don’t want to waste my time writing anything about Who Are You People. A couple recognizable faces (Alyssa Milano, Yeardley Smith aka Lisa Simpson’s voice), but that’s it. A girl feels like she is a disappointment to her upper-middle-class parents, so when she finds out her dad isn’t her biological father, she goes to hunt the man down. Of course nothing is as it seems. Just an awful movie. Terrible acting, terrible dialogue, even terrible music that adds nothing to the scenes where it keeps popping up, and is just distracting. Wait, maybe the music isn’t so bad then, because it does distract you from the mess that is going on, on screen. The worst movie I’ve sat through in quite some time. ½

  • TV series currently watching: Evil (season 1), Star Trek Prodigy (season 1.5)
  • Book currently reading: Killing Floor by Lee Child

Quick takes on Living and other films

Creed III is the newest film in the Rambo/Creed franchise and, in many ways, it is the first time the franchise has stepped out from Sylvester Stallone’s shadow, most notably because he does not appear anywhere in the film. I’ve liked the last couple Creed pictures. Say what you will about them, but they’re always exciting, especially when the gloves go on in the final fight scene. This one though, sort of lost me. The film begins with Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) on top of the world, retiring after having locked up the undisputed champion belts of the world. He now wants to focus on his family, and train the next big fighter. A man from his past puts those plans on hold. When they were kids, Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors) was an up-and-coming boxer but got in trouble with the law, partially protecting young Creed, and then spent his whole life in prison. Now freed, Anderson wants to resurrect his career, and if he gets a chance to take down Creed in the meantime, who he feels betrayed by, then all the better. It’s a good story, if a bit stale by this point, but just when the movie is supposed to hit those expected highs in the boxing ring, the film’s momentum is halted by an odd choice by the director to go for an artsy appeal. Do they not know their target demographic? It stopped the growing suspense for me and I never got back into it. A bit of a letdown after the last film in the series. ★★★

Plane, on the other hand, knows what it is and doesn’t try to do too much. Part of that comes from the lead, Gerard Butler. He has the whole action flick thing down pat. In this one, he is a pilot named Brodie, flying a passenger jet from Singapore to Tokyo. It being New Years, the passenger list is just 14, but one of them is a suspected murderer named Louis (Luke Cage’s Mike Colter), being escorted by an officer. Brodie and his copilot voice concerns about flying through a storm en route, but the powers that be want to save money so tell them to proceed. Sure enough, the plane runs into trouble when it is struck by lightning, frying all the systems on board. Brodie is able to guide the plane to a blind landing on an obscure island, which turns out to be in the Philippines. The copilot is able to deduce their location, and knows they are in trouble: this particular island has no law, and is ruled by dangerous rebels known for kidnapping and the ransom trade. Brodie will need to team up with Louis if they are going to get the passengers safely off the island, against a very dangerous man with his own private army to back him up. Turn your brain off and let the thrills wash over you, because this one has plenty of action, from fist fights to gun fights to even a rocket launcher coming out before the end. From a critics standpoint, I’m sure Creed III is the better movie, but Plane had my attention far better throughout its run. ★★★★

The Innocent is sort of an offbeat comedy with some thriller moments and even some emotional heft here and there. The film mostly follows Abel, the adult son to Sylvie. Much to Abel’s chagrin, the chaotic Sylvie always seems to be giving in to whims, so when she marries a prison inmate named Michel and then gives up her career to open a floral shop with him when he gets out of jail, Abel attempts to talk her out of it. Abel doesn’t trust Michel at all, tailing him to see if he is still involved in criminal activity. Abel even pulls in his longtime friend and coworker Clémence, who gets wrapped up in the “game” too. Turns out Abel’s intuition was correct, but Michel turns the tables on him and gets Abel and Clémence involved in the scam. Abel may find himself in over his head in more ways than one. Some clever moments, but the best moments for me were the final 20 minutes when Abel and Clémence are forced to face their troubled emotions regarding each other. Still, the movie was a bit too all over the place to really hit on all cylinders. ★★★½

There have been a handful of D&D movies over the years, but they’ve always flamed out with critics and audiences alike. Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is the first to succeed, and it’s not just because it has an all-star cast including Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, and Hugh Grant (with other star cameos too). Taking place in the Forgotten Realms setting made it even better for me personally; I was a huge sci-fi/fantasy reader in the 90s and 00s, and have read every single book in the series. At the beginning of this film, Elgin is a bard who is currently in jail with his friend Holga. A former do-gooder, Elgin lost his wife when evil wizards lashed out at his family years ago, so he turned to the life of a thief instead. He and Holga have been in jail for 2 years, and he’s itching to get out and reunite with his daughter, who’s been in the care of former friend Forge. When Elgin and Holga escape though, they find that Forge has teamed up with those same evil wizards, and turned Elgin’s own daughter against him. Intent on getting her back, Elgin and Holga seek new friends powerful enough to take down Forge and his evil army. I’ve never played D&D, but I imagine it plays out much like this film does. It is full of magic and swordsmanship, but also the kind of humor that comes naturally to long-time friends. I laughed a lot and was completely enthralled by the gorgeous landscapes and magical creatures. Seeing sites and creatures I’d read about years ago come to life was a real joy. I’d love to see if they continue this series in the future, and explore more of the Realms. ★★★★

Living is a remake of the classic Akira Kurosawa film Ikiri, one of my favorite films of all time. Bill Nighy stars as Mr Williams, a bureaucrat in 1950s London. He is head of an office which seems to do little real work, mostly just moving around paperwork all day, every day. Williams’s private life is as boring as his work, leading to his nickname in the office of Mr Zombie. In the beginning of the film, Williams gets some news though that will change his outlook on life: advanced terminal cancer, which gives him just a few months to live. Williams decides to find whatever it is in life that he’s been missing all these years. He doesn’t find it in his son and daughter-in-law, who only care for the money he will leave them, and doesn’t even tell them about his prognosis. He doesn’t find it in partying with a man he meats at a bar. He doesn’t find it with a high-on-life young female worker, formerly from his own office, who doesn’t know how to relate her outlook on life to the older and dour Williams. Instead, he finds renewed hope in assisting petitioners to his office at work, who have been wanting to replace a trash pit by their homes with a park for their kids. Williams spends the time he has left making sure that happens. The film is beautifully told, and Nighy and cast are definitely on their game, but the film doesn’t quite catch Ikiru. I can only chalk that up to Kurosawa’s sure hand; he is after all one of the best there ever was. Still, a lovely film that I highly recommend. ★★★★½

  • TV series recently watched: Shining Girls (miniseries), Star Trek Lower Decks (season 3)
  • Book currently reading: Killing Floor by Lee Child

Quick takes on Boy From Nowhere and other films

Shazam! Fury of the Gods is the newest in the DC Universe, though if it stays “canon” when the universe is reset here in a couple years is anybody’s guess. It is the sequel to 2019’s surprise hit, which was well received by many (if not me). It takes place 2 years after the events of the first film: the kids have grown a little, and their alter egos as superheroes are starting to build a reputation as saviors or troublemakers, depending on who you ask. Their latest foes are Hespera and Kalypso (a slightly miscast Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu), who were gods millennia ago, and are have recently been freed from their prison. They are seeking to regain all of their powers through the Wizard’s staff, the item which gave Shazam and his crew their own powers, but Kalypso has an ulterior motive too: the destruction of earth as retribution for her imprisonment. Normally invincible (or close to it), Shazam and his team can have their powers stripped away by the ladies and their newly acquired staff, so they face real danger, while trying to keep the world safe too. I felt about the same for this movie as I did the first: it was just OK, and while there are good moments, the whole didn’t feel very cohesive nor entirely engaging. I am, however, eagerly awaiting DC’s The Flash in about a month, so fingers crossed, DC delivers on that one. ★★★

Boy From Nowhere is the directorial debut from young Canadian filmmaker SJ Finlay. Shot on location in the Philippines with local, non-professional actors, the film follows a young boy named Gary. A member of one of the indigenous tribes as a fisherman, Gary’s village is burned down one day by an unknown aggressor, and is left to fend on his own when he becomes separated from his father. With the idea of maybe tracking down his mother’s tribe of farmers (she died when he was young, and he has no recollection of her), Gary heads inland. In one city, Gary falls in with a group of young men who, while up to no good as a city gang, at least provide a protective and welcoming environment, something Gary has never had. A poignant moment comes when they encourage him to sing his favorite song at a karaoke bar, and Gary belts out “Climb Every Mountain” from Sound of Music. Knowing a bit about the basic plot of this movie before going in, I had an idea that this would be a turning point; I didn’t think there’d be many rainbows in Gary’s future. Sure enough, the gang’s leader is involved in a shooting, and to hide out, decides to take his group into the forest and join up with guerrilla fighters who are fighting the government over perceived injustices towards the indigenous peoples. Gary, who looks younger than them all, has a gun put in his hand, and he becomes an outlaw. The film plays out as a simple story, but there are some dense (in a good way) textures to pick apart here. What is good or evil, who is right or wrong, etc. You can tell Finlay is still finding his footing as a director, but there’s promise here, and I’d like to see what he could do in the future with a bigger budget. ★★★

Not sure what to make of Giving Birth to a Butterfly, from another first-time director (Theodore Schaefer), though he was executive producer on last years’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (not good…). He so wants this to be a David Lynch kind of surrealist picture, and even pulls out an actress from Eraserhead in the final act, but it never pulled me in and encompassed me like a Lynch film can. Despite some strange, offbeat characters, it starts simple enough: a family of four is dominated by the dad in the house, whose sole ambition is opening a restaurant; he controls family conversations about it and pays little attention to anything else. The son in the family brings home his new girlfriend, Marlene, and introduces her to the family. It is shocking to them that she is very obviously pregnant, but the son says that, while the child is not his, he’s going to raise it as his own, and oh by the way, can they live there in the house. The uncaring father replies, “Sure why not! More the merrier!” without consulting his wife Diane. Diane is the one figure lost in all this, but the film is mostly about her and Marlene. When Diane’s bank account is wiped out by an online firm she’s previously signed up with, she and Marlene head out on a road trip to confront the company. The trip allows the two to get to know each other, divulging hopes and dreams (Diane’s unrealized past, Marlene’s hopeful future). But the film takes a strange turn when they get to the address of the company, which turns out to be an old house with peculiar inhabitants. Thus the Lynch comparisons, but while his endings often lead to introspection and dissection, this one just left me thinking, “huh?” I liked the weird characters in this film, and while it is obviously super low budget, there are familiar faces here for those who watch a lot of film and TV. Better first half than second. ★★½

Free Skate is marketed as a drama about a young athlete (a figure skater in this case) who flees her country (Russia) and tries to start anew with a new nation (Finland), so I had visions of something like Olga, which I really enjoyed. Couldn’t be more different. This movie is just bad, nothing more to say about it. Outside of some emotional abuse (which I’m sure is par for the course in highly competitive athletics the world around), we really don’t know why she fled until near the end. I didn’t mind this so much, other than the fact that it didn’t really add the tension that the filmmakers hoped it would. No, my biggest problem was the completely predictable plot and the horrendous acting. It seemed like a bunch of people play-acting at a high school play, and the lead woman (who was also the writer) can’t act her way out of a paper bag. Stone cold faced no matter what scene she’s in, and dull beyond words. The movie takes a LONG time to get going, and when it does, you don’t know why you wasted your time. ★

I’m starting to think I’m just not into comedies anymore. For all intents and purposes, iMordecai seems to be a charming comedy, but I couldn’t get into it. It is based on real-life experiences of its writer/director Marvin Samel, and stars the always-entertaining Judd Hirsch as Mordecai Samel, an older Jewish man who displays all of the stereotypes you’ve seen and heard before (hey, they’re stereotypes for a reason right?). Mordecai’s old, busted up flip phone, held together by tape and a prayer, is finally replaced by a shiny new iPhone, and Mordecai gets lessons on how to use it from the store’s worker, Nina. Nina takes a liking to Mordecai and his stories, and is particularly moved when talks about losing family to Nazi death camps in World War II. Nina has learned that her grandfather, recently deceased, was a Nazi officer at one of those camps, and she’s carrying around a lot of guilt. There’s a side plot too involving Mordecai’s son Marvin (Sean Astin) who is trying to land a deal for his fledgling cigar company, but to his chagrin, pops keeps screwing up the deal. There’s plenty of laughs (like Mordecai talking to Siri on his phone, and his wife thinking he is cheating on her with another woman), but when the end came, I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Ok.” I need to stick to dramas and foreign films, my bread and butter. ★★

  • TV series recently watched: The Muppets Mayhem (season 1), See (season 1)
  • Book currently reading: Killing Floor by Lee Child

Quick takes on the Michael J Fox doc and other films

I was the rare bird that enjoyed M Night Shyamalan’s Glass, as the conclusion to his superhero trilogy, but that was 4 years ago, and everyone can agree he’s had more misses than hits over the last 20 years (though his show Servant on Apple+ is quite good, especially the first season or two). Despite rough reviews for his newest film, Knock at the Cabin, I gave it a go. The results are as to be expected, though at least it avoids using a big “surprise” as Shyamalan is known to do. Eric and his husband Andrew have rented a secluded cabin for a vacation with their daughter Wen, but the quiet is shattered when they are visited by a quartet of people who break into the cabin and take the family hostage. The four visitors claim to be normal people, there for a purpose: strangers to each other until recently, they have each seen a vision of the end of the world and have been “told by God” that the only way to avert disaster is to come to this cabin on this day and convince the family of the world’s plight. If the family can agree to sacrifice one of their own, and kill the “lamb” on their own without help, the world will be saved. The family needs to decide quickly though: at specific times over the next 24 hours, one of the four captors will be killed by their own, which will signal a new calamity that will hit the world, i.e. Egypt’s plagues kind of calamity. Of course Eric and Andrew don’t believe them, but they don’t have an answer when the TV news reports crazy shit going down around the globe. This movie is neither scary nor thrilling, and really is just a hyped up drama (but low on drama). Mildly amusing at times, but honestly one of Shyamalan’s weakest efforts. ★★

The Other Tom is a film out of Mexico but is mostly in English, so don’t fret for those that don’t like reading subtitles! But you should fret if you are wanting a good movie, unfortunately. The brief synopsis online is that it is about a mom who refuses ADHD meds for her rambunctious son, but the movie is about a lot more than that. Unfortunately a lot more doesn’t mean a lot better. Tommy is disruptive in class and constantly in trouble, so a therapist recommends getting him on meds. Initially, Elena goes along with it, in hopes that Tommy can do better in school, and initially his grades do get better. However, he becomes withdrawn and depressed, and one day, jumps out of moving car while fighting with his mom. This “suicide attempt” causes people to point out to Elena that those meds Tommy is taking may have side effects that could be detrimental to his mental well being, and she takes him off them. This gets them back to square one. Throughout the movie too is Tommy’s insistence that he get to see his dead-beat dad, but Elena never has the money to make the trek to see him, and she’s not in a rush to even if she did have the cash. The dad hasn’t made an effort in years, and she doesn’t want Tommy to be disappointed. Which is funny because she spends much of the movie not being a very good mom herself. She’s condescending and harsh to Tommy, and has a giant chip on her shoulder, being abrasive and combative to every authority figure she comes across. Doesn’t get a lot of sympathy from the people she is asking for help, nor the viewer of the film. Some of that may be just the bad acting, and there’s a lot of that in this low budget film full of nobodies. The movie just rambles along without a clear direction, and ends as abruptly as most of its scenes. Not sure why the critics seem to be in love with this one. ★½

I really wanted to like Emily; as a period drama it has everything I would normally love, but while it is gorgeously filmed and beautifully told, I couldn’t quite get into it. The film takes facts we know of the Brontë family and weaves a fictional story about the life of the author of Wuthering Heights, which I have recently read for the first time (and loved). Emily is sort of the forgotten child in the family. Her dad has high hopes for eldest daughter Charlotte (who, as a docile and obedient girl, seems destined to fulfill her father’s dreams) as well as son Branwell (who is a free spirit, and continues to disappoint and shame the family). Emily is more like Branwell than Charlotte, but is able to time and again evade trouble. When a young, dashing clergyman named William comes to the area, Emily clashes with him over religion, but eventually the two start a relationship. William is enamored by Emily’s writing, which she does in secret sharing only with William and Branwell, but with William’s line of work, a public relationship is impossible, and does not end well. The film does a good job of showing the turmoil that Emily may have faced (may being the key, as it is a film of fiction) to drive her to write her one and only famous novel, but it didn’t draw me into Emily’s plight, as much as it tried. Perhaps it just caught me on a bad day. ★★½

Champions is a comedy starring Woody Harrelson as Marcus, a basketball coach with a once-promising career who can’t get out of his own way. After a confrontation with a player years ago, he’s been relegated to an assistant coach in an obscure developmental league in Iowa. He screws that up one day too when he shoves the head coach over a disagreement, and later that night, crashes his car while drunk. The judge forgoes jail time and sentences him to community service, as the local learning disabilities basketball team needs a coach. Marcus unwillingly takes to his new job, but along the way, the team will teach him a thing or two about life and relationships. Mildly funny at times, the film unfortunately is as paint-by-numbers as they come. There are absolutely zero surprises, to the point that I felt like I’d seen this movie a dozen times before. And it comes off as patronizing to the players on the team, people with real impairments. Purported to be lifting them up, they are merely tools for Marcus’s rehabilitation. Left me feeling a bit icky. ★½

I was hoping for something to save this set of reviews, so I turned to one of my favorite actors as a child. Still: A Michael J Fox Movie is a new documentary on Apple+, and for anyone who grew up watching TV and movies in the 80s and 90s, this is right up your alley. Out of the spotlight for quite awhile now due to Parkinson’s disease, Fox sits down for a series of interviews to relive his life, from his childhood up through when he came public with his disease in 1998. The movie has tons of clips of his roles during those years, as well as a few home movies, and it shows a lot of his life today: his struggles, his physical and emotional therapy, and his wrestling with everyday tasks. While he is very candid about the depression and alcoholism he went through after his diagnosis, today Fox displays the humor that we all remember from his films. There’s some sad moments, but Fox is quick to point out that he doesn’t want pity; he is unabashed that this is who he is. The title obviously has a double meaning: he points out early in the film that he couldn’t sit still when he is young, and he still can’t, for a different reason, now that he is older. But Still also means that he is still Michael J Fox. Watching this wonderful film, I don’t know how anyone could ever forget that. ★★★★½

  • TV series recently watched: The Great (season 3), It’s Always Sunny (seasons 13-15), Tehran (season 1)
  • Book currently reading: Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne

Gunn’s fantastic farewell to his Guardians

Everyone knows I’m an unabashed Marvel Universe fan; even the films that get roasted, I still enjoy. So the ones that really stand out, like the newest Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, tend to blow me away. And this is arguably Marvel’s most-loved film since 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home. Fittingly, it is also the last film to be written and directed by James Gunn for the MCU, as he leaves to head up the upcoming reboot of the DC Universe.

In the beginning of the film, the Guardians have settled in to their new HQ, the space village of Nowhere. Peter Quill is still missing his universe’s version of Gamora, who died (what is now) many films ago, but the rest of the crew is settling in when Nowhere is attacked by Adam, a Sovereign with immense power. Adam seems to be targeting Rocket, and almost gets him before he is finally put down by Nebula, though Adam flees before they can capture or kill him. Rocket is near death after the ordeal, and in a coma, but when the team tries to put him in a med bay, an internal kill switch prevents healing. The Guardians have to hunt down the scientist who created Rocket for the passcode to get past the kill-switch to heal their friend before he dies.

After teaming up with the alternate Gamora, who never had a relationship with Peter Quill in her old Universe, the Guardians head out. Their journey will take them to a new dastardly villain named the High Evolutionary, a man who is hellbent on creating a utopian society, but he’ll experiment on anyone and anything to create the perfect being for his goal. He wants Rocket because Rocket is the one experiment that displayed a higher level of intelligence than his other tests. The movie has great villains (more than one!), great humor (but not overkill), and surprisingly, a lot of heart. It definitely gives the feel that this is the final adventure for this team, that has been together on film for nearly a decade. In addition to the director leaving, several of the actors have gone on record that they are finished with their roles, but at least a couple may show up in a future film, so that’s something to look forward to. I loved this movie. It’s one of those longer movies (2 1/2 hours) that didn’t feel long at all, and honestly went by quickly. I was all in from the very opening scenes and got caught up in the highs and lows with our heroes. An excellent send off for the original Guardians. ★★★★★

Quick takes on One Fine Morning and other foreign films

In No Bears, the newest film from Iranian director Jafar Panahi, Panahi plays a version of himself. Like the real Panahi, Panahi in the movie has been banned from making new movies, and prohibited from leaving the country. Also like the real Panahi, he continues to make movies anyway. To get away with it, Panahi has moved to a tiny village near the border with Turkey, where he is remotely communicating with his film crew in Turkey as they are making a docudrama. In the doc, Panama’s team are filming a couple who fled Iran and are trying to obtain stolen passports in order to leave Turkey and make their way to Europe. Besides Panahi’s life in the village and the story of this couple in Turkey, there’s a third storyline going on too: Panahi has been charged at his temporary home with photoing a young couple one day. This couple aren’t supposed to be together; the woman was promised to another man in the village, and he is demanding this photo as proof to bring charges against his wife-to-be’s beau. Panahi has to juggle the village elders against his own inherent belief in freedom, as well as avoid Iran’s police who suspect he is still making films, while trying to oversee his movie in Turkey. Lots going on, but if you are paying attention, you’ll be rewarded with a tale of a man’s determination to not back down from injustice, both in front of the camera and behind it. In real life, Panahi has been arrested in Iran several times, most recently in July 2022 (he was in jail when this movie premiered at the Venice Film Festival), but was released this past February after a 2 day hunger strike. Have to applaud his courage. ★★★★

A Radiant Girl is a French film following a Jewish young woman during the German occupation in 1942. 19-year-old Irène is an aspiring actress with hopes to be accepted into a conservatory to hone her craft, but Paris is changing around her, and she is mostly unaware of those changes. Some of that is because her father, André, is trying to protect her from what is going on. He engages in hushed arguments with his own mother, Irène’s grandmother Marceline, who is Irène’s kindred spirit, a free woman who doesn’t bow to anyone. André is willing to accept the big red “Jew” stamped on their papers, while Marceline wants to fight it. All of this is going on in the background; all Irène is focused on is preparing for her audition. But when we see the baker refuse Marceline, and other glances the family receives when they are out and about, the viewer becomes aware that there’s no way Irène is getting into that school, whether she’s qualified or not. The film is about a woman’s hope and dreams in the face of adversity, but also the consequences of trying to pretend everything around you is OK, when it most certainly is not. A (mostly) quiet drama, but has a very emotional, impactful finale. ★★★½

Full Time, from first-time French director Éric Gravel, follows a single mom named Julie (Laure Calamy) as she struggles to provide for her 2 kids. With a car that won’t run, Julie is forced to rely on public transportation to get from the suburbs to Paris, where she works as head maid for a luxury 5 star hotel. Julie, with a masters degree in market research, is trying to get a better paying job after the last company she worked for went bankrupt. But life is not dealing her the right cards. The public transportation she relies on grinds to a halt when the bus and train drivers/conductors go on strike, due to recent labor law changes France has made to help pay for its aging retired/pensioned population. Contending with that, Julie also struggles with hiding her job search from her current employer, finding daycare for her kids, an ex-husband who won’t return her calls or pay alimony, and a dwindling bank account as she is forced to pay for taxi’s and hotels when she can’t make it home (putting a bigger strain on her childcare). Life continues to spiral on her, until you don’t know if she is going to ever see the light again. It’s a harrowing movie (who knew someone could turn everyday life into a thriller?), but not sure it’s a great movie. Interesting for sure, and arresting at times, but if not for Calamy’s excellent acting chops, not sure it’d be all that memorable. ★★★

One Fine Morning is a beautiful, moving film from French writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve, starring French superstar Léa Seydoux. She plays Sandra, a single mother to Linn. Sandra is caring for her father, a celebrated philosophy teacher, who has come down with some kind of visual/cognitive disease (its exact nature isn’t explained until fully halfway through the film). He is deteriorating quickly, and can no longer care for himself, forcing Sandra to put him in a home. While all this is going on, Sandra runs into an old friend, Clément. Clément is married with a boy of his own, but his marriage has lost the spark, and he finds love again with Sandra. Unfortunately, as the film goes along, it seems more and more like he is never leaving his wife, and that Sandra will just be his mistress. As her dad gets worse and bounces from home to home, in search of the one that will best care for him, Sandra’s personal life with Clément gets rockier. Will she find her one fine morning? It’s the sort of real-life picture at a moment in time that is light on plot but heavy on emotion. I ran the gamut of feelings throughout this movie, and was swept up in Sandra’s life. Wonderful picture. ★★★★½

Saint Omer is one of those quiet dramas that is supposed to be thought-provoking and emotional, but unfortunately it’s just too wordy and lacking emotional heft, despite its subject matter. Rama is a college professor and novelist who goes to attend the trial of a young Senegalese immigrant named Laurence Coly. Laurence is charged with murdering her 15-month-old girl, leaving her on a beach to be swept out to sea. Laurence doesn’t deny the changes, but her defense paints her as a woman who went mad, put down and kept down by a family who put too much pressure on her to lift herself (and them) up through schooling and a system which did not help immigrants. The prosecution though points out a myriad of lies Laurence told her family and those around her, showing her to be a conniving woman. Rama is there to perhaps write a story about Laurence’s ordeal, but also because Laurence’s story hits close to home. Rama herself is the daughter of a Senegalese immigrant, and she had a rocky and troubled relationship with her mother, as told in flashbacks. Rama herself is also now pregnant with her first child, and fears becoming her mother. What should be a whale of an emotional rollercoaster is bogged down in the telling of it. The entire movie (almost literally) is testimony by Laurence and others during the trial. The camera will stay on someone’s face for 5, 10 minutes at a time, not moving, while they answer questions. And most of it is Laurence, and she delivers dialogue in a cold, emotionless, stale tone, in an attempt by the writers, I’m sure, to show how broken she is, but it leaves much to be desired as entertainment. ★½

  • TV series recently watched: Luther (series 4-5)
  • Book currently reading: Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne

Quick takes on 5 David Lynch films

I can’t call myself a cinephile without spending time with David Lynch. I’m one of the few that liked his Dune, and I’m a huge fan of the immensely rewatchable Twin Peaks (especially The Return), but my only other experience with him was his first film, Eraserhead, which is a joy (maybe not the right word…). Up today are five more films, starting with his second film, The Elephant Man, from 1980. It stars Anthony Hopkins as Dr Treves and an unrecognizable John Hurt as John Merrick, the so-called Elephant Man. Very loosely based on the real Merrick’s life, the movie begins when Merrick is already a circus draw, in their “freaks” section. Merrick has gross deformities all over his body, but most notably an abnormally large head, full of tumors and growths. Treves stumbles upon him and wants to rescue him from the ill treatment he receives at the circus, and installs him in the solitary room of a local hospital. At first, the viewer thinks that Merrick may finally prosper under Treves’s care, but Treves unfortunately becomes no better than Merrick’s former handlers. Merrick becomes the talk of the town, first in medical circles, and then among London society, with a parade of guests visiting him at the hospital, all to just “say that they did” among their circles. While a handful do seem to genuinely care for Merrick, most are no more than voyeurs, and Treves basks in the esteem his “find” brings him. Only by the end does Treves realize what he is doing is wrong, but it may be too late for Merrick. Lynch, who is often a bit out there (to put it mildly), offers a fairly straight forward film in this one. Nothing so esoteric or outlandish, so it is probably very accessible for your average moviegoer. That is, if you don’t mind black-and-white, which is how the film is presented. Very moving film about the spirit and strength of a man who will never give up in the face of all odds. ★★★★

After the commercial stinker that was Dune, Lynch followed up with Blue Velvet in 1986. There’s a little bit of setup in the first 20-30 minutes, but then the movie gets going quickly, and to say much of anything about the plot would give away some of the (fantastic) surprises. But the premise is this: college student Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) is visiting home because his dad has had a stroke, and while walking through a field one day, finds a dismembered human ear. The police are unhelpful, but a detective’s daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern), thinks it could involve a local lounge singer named Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini). Jeffrey and Sandy start stalking Dorothy. When Dorothy finds Jeffrey in her apartment one day, they two begin their own strange sexual relationship. Tracking her also leads Jeffrey to a couple mysterious men, one of whom, Frank (Dennis Hopper), seems to run a criminal organization. It may sound straight forward, but believe me, it gets wild and crazy very quickly into this movie. I’m rating it a bit lower because I think The Elephant Man is a better overall movie, but there are a lot of aspects of Blue Velvet that I like more: the sinister feel; the dark, brooding atmosphere; the mysterious what-is-going-on vibe; and Lynch’s trademark weirdness, on full display. ★★★½

1997’s Lost Highway is even stranger, which means less people are going to enjoy it, but I found it fascinating. For one, it’s downright scary, almost from the get-go. First, Fred (Bill Pullman) has nightmares that his wife’s (Rene, played by Patricia Arquette) face has become a scary-looking man (Robert Blake, does it get any spookier?!). Then the couple starts getting video cassettes left at their home. The first shows the front of the house. The second has the intruder inside their house, coming up to their bed while they sleep. The third, which Fred watches alone, shows the videographer walking through the house, and coming up on Fred kneeling over Rene’s mutilated body. Fred can’t believe that he would have killed Rene, but the next scene shows him in jail, sentenced to death. And that’s all in the first 40 or so minutes of this over 2-hour long film. It is a wild ride! In jail, Fred begins to be wracked with headaches, as his hallucinations ramp up. These continue, until one morning during a prisoner check, Fred’s not in his room (or is he?!). Pete is just some young kid with a big bruise on his forehead and no idea how he ended up in Fred’s cell. Neither do the cops. They let him out, but follow him to see if it will go to any leads, and the movie takes a turn to become almost an entirely different flick. And then Patricia Arquette shows up, but as a different character. What is going on here?! The second half of the film has a much different feel that the first, changing from a quasi-horror movie to a gangster/suspense kind of thing, but it all comes full circle by the end, when Lynch turns it back in on itself in spectacular fashion. I’ll admit I was lost at first, but I thought about the movie all night after finishing it, and it really resonated with me. Fans of Twin Peaks will find plenty to like here, just don’t expect to have all of the answers spoon fed to you. ★★★★½

In Mulholland Drive, Lynch builds on everything he’s done before and delivers perfection. A movie that screams to be rewatched (as soon as possible!), it follows a woman named Rita who is involved in a car crash on the eponymous road. She has amnesia but is taken in by a kind woman named Betty, a young woman new to Hollywood and looking to be an actress. She tries to help Rita investigate who exactly she is, even while there are evil mobster-like men patrolling the area looking for her. While all this is going on, a film director named Adam is casting for what is being called one of the best film projects at the time. All of the current women stars want a crack at the lead role, but a mob boss pressures Adam to pick a particular woman, Camilla, “or else.” There’s another subplot about a bumbling hit man hired to kill a man, and the mess he makes of that botched job. And if you think all of that is a lot to keep track of, be prepared for the final 30 minutes, when Lynch turns it all upside down, throwing everything in a blender and coming out with an entirely different result. Not quite as esoteric as Lost Highway, there’s still tons to explore in this film, and the ending makes you want to go back and start from the beginning, looking for clues along the way. Wonderful film with a high rewatchability aspect. ★★★★★

Inland Empire, released in 2006 and Lynch’s final film (so far), is what happens when David Lynch lets his mind (and creativity) go with no inhibitions, no film studios telling him what he can (or can’t) do, and no expectations for what an audience may enjoy. It is by far the most “out there” movie of those reviewed here today. After an introduction of a couple actors starting a new movie, in which the lead (Nikki Grace, played by Laura Dern) begins an affair with her costar (Devon, Justin Theroux), the movie seems to settle in towards a fairly straight forward drama. Could’t be further from the truth! As Nikki’s life starts to blur with the character she is portraying, the movie runs off the rails, even more than Lynch’s earlier films. At the end of those movies, I had at least a general idea of what I just saw, and a feeling that if I were to rewatch, I’d be able to nail down the main bullet points; at the end of this one, I had no idea what I just saw. Fully half of the 3-hour-long film is a series of dream-like scenes, with no overarching plot to hold it all together. There are Lynch-ian clues here and there, but I’d need to sit down and concoct a road map to keep track of everything. I mean, there’s a recurring scene about a family of giant rabbits sitting around talking about a secret the dad is keeping. What the hell?! But I do know this: it is criminal that Laura Dern won an Oscar for Marriage Story and wasn’t even nominated for Inland Empire. This is by far her best work; the movie is pretty much a showcase of her for the entirety of the 3 hours. I’m giving it 2-and-a-half, but fully admit that it could be anywhere from one to five depending on how the film moves you. ★★½

  • TV series recently watched: The Chosen (season 2), Star Wars Visions (volume 2), Lucky Hank (season 1), Schmigadoon (season 2)
  • Book currently reading: Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Quick takes on 5 UK Wartime films

While on a recent vacation, I loaded up a few classics on my laptop to watch while resting and relaxing in the evenings. These are a set of films from WWII era England, starting with Major Barbara, a film adaptation of a George Bernard Shaw play. Despite the military-esque name, it deals with a woman involved in the Salvation Army. Barbara (Wendy Hiller) only cares for saving souls among the poor, but she catches the eye of an agnostic, Adolphus Cusins (Rex Harrison), who joins her group just to get close to her, and it works. Barbara doesn’t question Adolphus’s motives, though he is clear from the beginning that he is there for her and not for God. Thus, he is Barbara’s father’s kind of man. Barbara’s dad is Andrew Undershaft (Robert Morley), who was an illegitimate son born into a wealthy family, and expanded the fortune by producing war machines. He has not been involved in raising his kids, but they obviously live off his wealth, and he hoards it over them. Andrew wants to buy his way into heaven, something that Barbara finds repulsive, but after he makes a sizable contribution to keep the Salvation Army’s doors open, Barbara herself loses faith. The dialogue is funny in an old-timey way for most of the film, but I found the final act to sort of lose focus. For a long time, the movie was about helping the poor rise above their station, but in the end, greed wins out. Plot direction aside, the film just ran off the rails all around and lost my interest. ★★½

Caesar and Cleopatra , released in 1945, was Vivien Leigh’s followup to That Hamilton Woman, a film I really enjoyed. While this film had some charm, it lacks a certain something that left me wanting. It tells a story of a middle-aged Julius Caesar (Claude Rains) who has come to Egypt to unify the waring city-state under Roman law. Egypt has had infighting between siblings Ptolemy and Cleopatra (Leigh, who received top billing after the successful Gone With the Wind, just 6 years prior), both of whom claim the throne. Caesar, like all men, is captured by Cleopatra’s good looks and takes her on in a fatherly role, but he must first help her shore up her claim. Cleopatra is, at first, portrayed as a young girl who lets her court bully her around. Caesar shows her how to lay down the law and demand people’s faithfulness, but his lessons backfire when, 6 months later, Cleopatra plots to get rid of him and rule her country without Rome’s influence. There’s also political subplots involving seemingly constant uprisings by the masses against unjust leadership, sometimes over what seems like minute perceived transgressions. The film can border on the silly at times, and is just barely held together by Cleopatra’s charm and Caesar’s wit. Unfortunately the film was a flop at the time. For a short time, it was the most expensive film ever made (director Gabriel Pascal had real Egyptian sand brought in for authenticity, and production halted for weeks when Leigh tripped and suffered a miscarriage, triggering a mental breakdown). There’s just enough funny wordplay to keep your attention, but only just. ★★½

The Man in Grey is a classic melodrama from 1943. After an intro, we see a young Clarissa, beautiful and popular in school, but very innocent in the ways of the world. She befriends Hester, a young outcast whose family has fallen on hard times, a friendship that is portended to lead to evil ends by a traveling fortune teller. When Hester is kicked out of school for going off at night with a boy, Clarissa follows her out the door, and it isn’t long until Clarissa marries Rohan, the man in grey. He is a rascal, but he must marry someone to further his renowned (and rich) lineage. The marriage does not stop Rohan’s philandering ways, and it isn’t long until Clarissa is unhappy. She reunites with Hester when she is found to be a traveling actress; the man she ran off with is long dead. But Rohan sees a like kin in Hester, and gets her to admit that while she is poor and he is rich, they are much more alike in personality. The two begin an affair under Clarissa’s nose, even while Clarissa begins her own romp with an old toy of Hester’s, actor Rokeby. Hester plans Clarissa’s downfall in order to take her place in the wealthy lifestyle, but this being the type of film that it is, you can expect a happy ending before its conclusion. The movie doesn’t break any new ground, but it is an entertaining flick that keeps your attention until the very (predictable) end. ★★★½

Madonna of the Seven Moons came from the same studio (Gainsborough) 2 years later in 1945. It begins with a very 40’s-esque blurb telling us the following events are true (when they obviously are not), and starts with a tragedy. Young Maddalena is raped one day but finds healing and solace in religion. While she’d rather become a nun, she is instead married to a young man and soon pops out a daughter, Angela. Years later, when the daughter returns home to Rome after 5 years in boarding school in England, she comes as a modern woman and not the pious lady that her mother is. Angela is quickly engaged, and all this change prompts a breakdown for Maddalena. She faints, and awakens as a different person and runs away; turns out Maddalena has a split personality, Rosanna. Maddalena’s husband admits that she hsas disappeared twice before for long stretches of time, but the family is not yet aware of the nature of Maddalena’s illness. Angela goes off to hunt down her mother, even as Rosanna returns to her “other” life in Florence. There’s a lot of moving parts here, as some characters flit in and out of the various circles around Maddalena/Rosanna, but it isn’t hard to keep track of everyone. Like the above film, it’s a solid melodrama, and while the whole dual personality angle is a bit heavy handed in this movie, I’m a sucker for a good story, and had a good time. ★★★

Without looking up other’s reviews, I get the feeling that 1945’s The Wicked Lady isn’t as well thought-of as some of the above pictures, but I enjoyed it a lot more. It’s main protagonist is a bad guy (or girl)! Barbara is a truly diabolical villain, easy to root against and with no redeeming values. Too often today movies give the bad guy a sympathetic story, but not here: we can’t wait to see Barbara get her due. First, she steals away her friend’s husband-to-be, just before the wedding, and even keeps the same wedding day! Then, when she grows bored of him (practically the same night), she becomes a highway robber, masking up in order to take on the identity of a local thief named Captain Jackson. When the real Jackson stumbles across her one night, the two see a like mind in each other and become lovers. While all this is going on, Barbara’s original friend is still in love with the man stolen from her, and he begins to realize the mistake he made. Things will get murkier before they clear up in the end, and Barbara will sink a lot lower than thievery and affairs when all is said and done. Margaret Lockwood is fantastic as the conniving Barbara and James Mason equally fiendish as Captain Jackson. ★★★★

  • TV series recently watched: none, I was on vacation!
  • Books recently read: D&D HaT: The Druid’s Call by EK Johnston, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan

Quick takes on Great Freedom and other films

The Box is a 2021 Mexican film from Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas. Hatzín is a 13-year-old boy with a weighty task: claiming the remains of his absent father from a recently found communal grave. Hatzín lives with his grandmother in Mexico City but has come out to the boons alone; his abuela is ill and could not make the trek. Claiming the box, Hatzín grabs the bus home, but staring out the window, he sees a man that is the spitting image of his father. Hatzín jumps off the bus and confronts him, but the man, calling himself Mario, denies it. Hatzín hasn’t seen his father since he was a young boy, and while the viewer thinks Mario is telling the truth, Hatzín is adamant. He sticks to Mario like glue, not giving up, so Mario takes him under his wing and makes him an assistant to his day job. Turns out, Mario isn’t such a great guy. His job is hunting for the poor and hopeless and promising them good pay for hard work, but delivers them to factories where they get worked long hours and docked pay for trivial issues. At first, Hatzín has blinkers on and looks past Mario’s misdeeds, but when Mario is called upon to do even more heinous acts, Hatzín starts to see his “dad” as someone he should not be emulating. By this point though, Mario isn’t going to let Hatzín get away without trying to manipulate him into staying. Very strong plot but there was something lost in the delivery of it for me. Wasn’t entirely compelling through and through, so while I did want to see how it all ended, I wasn’t invested as much as maybe the filmmaker wanted me to be. ★★★

Great Freedom (German: Große Freiheit) is a tremendous film out of Austria, following a man dealing with political prejudice against his way of life. Hans is a gay man, something you do not want to be in West Germany after World War II. The beginning and ending of the film take place in the late 60s, but we get flashbacks to fill in the gaps. In 1968, Hans is returning to prison for a new stint after being found guilty (again) of homosexuality, long illegal by law under Paragraph 175. He reunites with a friend on the inside, Viktor, who has been in jail for a very long time for an unknown crime (we don’t find out what until the last 25 minutes of the movie). We soon get a flashback to 1945, the first time Hans went to jail and met Viktor. Though friends in 1968, that wasn’t always the case. When they meet as cellmates in 1945, Viktor wants Hans to keeps his gay hands off of him (in more vulgar terms), but he is appalled to learn that Hans was sent straight from a concentration camp (gays were targeted just as much as jews and gypsies) to jail. Over time, the two form a friendship, so by the time Hans comes back in 1957, the two pick up where they left off. Hans is in jail this time with his lover, both jailed obviously for the same crime, but while Hans knows what to expect, his partner does not, and things do not go well for him. Later, back in jail again in 1969, the world is changing: Hans and Viktor witness man landing on the moon, and Paragraph 175 is abolished. But Hans doesn’t know how to look forward to a time without regular “visits” from his friend, who has helped him beat heroin and open his eyes to a new world outside the walls, and Hans maybe isn’t ready for a world where he won’t be persecuted. This is an at times cruel and other times heartfelt film about the differences of man and learning to accept those differences. Great film with stellar acting by the leads, and a tender hand by director Sebastian Meise. ★★★★

Juniper is the sort of quiet drama that rests entirely on the shoulders of a single actor, in this case, Charlotte Rampling. The venerable actor plays Ruth, a woman who has just broken her leg in London, so for extra care, she goes to New Zealand to stay with her estranged son Robert, and Robert’s son Sam. Ruth has never met her grandson Sam, who grew up on stories of Ruth’s highs (an illustrious war photographer) and lows (a high functioning alcoholic with a quick temper). Ruth’s visit comes at a weird time for Sam. He is still getting over the recent death of his mother, and feels alienated from his father for a misdeed, and having been sent to a boarding school for his transgression. If you’ve watched any movies at all like this, you know exactly where this is heading, and unfortunately it does sink into many of the trope traps along the way, but it is acted well. The film is Matthew J Saville’s feature directorial debut, and his hand is a bit unsteady, but there’s talent there for more to come. Ultimately though, there isn’t quite enough to make this particular movie stand out from the all of the others like it. ★★½

Alcarràs felt too long, which is unfortunately, because it’s the kind of slow-paced character-driven film that I usually love. Taking place in Spain, it is about a family who is seeing their multi-generational way of life coming to an end. Quimet Solé and his wife are raising their kids the same way he was raised: as fruit farmers in Catalonia. They’ve never owned the land, but Quimet’s father Rogelio remembers his father having a verbal agreement with the family who does, the Pinyol clan, and were supposed to be able to stay as long as they farmed it. The Solé’s even protected the Pinyols a couple generations ago during war in the region. But the newest Pinyol isn’t into honoring the verbal agreement, and wants to tear down the peach trees and put up a solar farm. This will be the last harvest that the Solé’s pull from the land, and Quimet isn’t taking it well. The cast is made up of people that lived in the area, all non-professional actors, but for the most part, they are up to the task and do an admirable job. And while there is some character development for Quimet’s kids, each dealing with the change in their own way, there are long swaths of film where nothing happens. The youngest kids are playing, or the oldest daughter is dancing with her friends, or we watch Quimet or his son drive a tractor from one edge of the field to the other. Trim the fat, and this film could have been a much better 90 minute feature instead of a 2 hour snoozefest. ★★

Longtime readers of my blog will see where my tastes gravitate. Rom-coms are not them, but I gave Rye Lane a chance due to incredible reviews. So we are clear, “It’s not you, it’s me.” By all intents and purposes, this is a charming film about a couple of newly single people finding each other in an unexpected way. Dom found out his girl was cheating on him with his childhood friend (a blockhead), and Yas has recently dumped her narcissistic boyfriend. Yas overhears Dom crying in a bathroom, and so starts their relationship. The film mostly takes place over a single day, as they confront each other’s ex’s, boosted by confidence from each other, and try new things that each would never do on their own. It’s definitely a romantic comedy for today’s generation, with quick camera work and TikTok-like flashbacks, which I found off-putting (call me a traditionalist), but the plot is cute and the story takes interesting, new turns, breathing new life into the genre. Not my cup of tea, but genre fans will find plenty to like. ★★½

  • TV series currently watching: Luther (series 3), Ted Lasso (season 3)
  • Book currently reading: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Quick takes on There Will Be Blood and other modern classics

Since I’m still taking a break from watching a bunch of “new to me” classics, I thought I’d go back and revisit a few films. Each of these critically acclaimed pictures I’ve only seen once before; four of them back when they first came out, and the last has been at least 25 years too, so I get a chance to see them with fresh eyes. Up first is Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, from 1992. A western, starring himself, Morgan Freeman, and Gene Hackman, it sets up the viewer with the preface that Eastwood’s character, William Munny, used to be a drunk and a murderer in the old west, but he met the right girl and settled down. Though his wife died, Munny still raises his kids well, but the Kansas farm is not doing well and the family is just about broke. What comes his way is news that, in Wyoming, a couple cowboys cut up a woman and there is now a $1000 bounty on the nefarious men. What Will doesn’t know is the woman was a prostitute, and that even the local law (Little Bill, played by Hackman in a devilishly bravado way) is discouraging the bounty, which was raised by the woman’s fellow prostitutes. Will calls on his former sidekick Ned (Freeman) and are joined by a young wannabe gunfighter, who idolizes the legend that is William Munny, and the trio head off to Wyoming for the promise of riches. They’ll need to face the bad cowboys, Little Bill and his fellow lawmen, and Munny will have to take hard look in the mirror about the man he used to be, and if he can be that man again. Super exciting action, nail biting suspense, and the gritty feel of the wild west make this a perfect film from start to finish. There are no good guys in a story like this, but you just have to root for the lesser of the evils. ★★★★★

For whatever reason, The Departed wasn’t as good for me this time around, despite me having good memories of it from 20 years ago when it was released in 2002. From all-star director Martin Scorsese and with an amazing cast (Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Vera Farmiga, and Alec Baldwin), it is quasi- based on gangster and FBI informant Whitey Bulger. Colin Sullivan and Billy Costigan are two young men on diverging paths. Colin came from a good family, but was influenced by mobster Frank Costello early in his life, and as a police detective, he is Frank’s eyes and ears inside the police force. Billy’s background is the opposite: from a family of known crooks and jailbirds, he is trying to break that mold and become a good cop. But a secret division within Boston’s force, one that oversees the undercover officers, sees an opportunity to place Billy, someone who’s family is well-known in the criminal underworld, as the perfect covert operative. Between Billy and Colin, who will sniff out their counterpart first, and what happens at the end when everyone realizes that Frank is already informing to the FBI anyway? The premise is fantastic, the delivery not so much. Far be it for me to besmirch the genius that is Martin Scorsese, but the presentation of the film just felt off. Wasn’t a fan of the editing, and while the story is engaging, I never felt completely pulled in and enveloped by the telling of it. Which is weird coming from a Scorsese film, the master of storytelling. If it sounds like I’m ragging on it, that’s not my intention, but I just expected more. ★★★½

There Will Be Blood was the opposite of the above film. I remember thinking this film was over-hyped when I first saw it around 2007 or 2008, but watching it now (maybe a little wiser and more aware of certain film techniques), I was completely enraptured from nearly the very beginning. From director Paul Thomas Anderson (his followup to Punch-Drunk Love, my favorite of his films), it stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview, as ironic a name as you’ll find in film. In the late 19th Century, Daniel is mining for silver and gold, but when he accidentally discovers oil in his mine, it changes his life. Together with an orphan he’s taken in (after the boy’s father was killed in his oil well), Daniel sets out to find his riches, digging for oil in California in the first part of the 20th Century. The film shows Daniel’s deterioration in his personal life over the course of a couple decades, in direct proportion to his exploding wealth. Daniel’s greed knows no bounds, but neither does his complete lack of humanity or sympathy. The strident soundtrack, not much more than jarring, discordant sounds mostly, adds to the tension of the film, even as the pleasing-to-the-eye vast vistas of the open country show the beauty and splendor of virgin America. I didn’t like this film much when it came out, but glad I watched it again. I’m not a huge PTA fan (loved Punch-Drunk, hated Inherent Vice and Licorice Pizza, and was indifferent to Phantom Thread), but this one is well worth a watch for the experience. ★★★★

Maybe the best of today’s batch is 2007’s No Country for Old Men, perhaps the Coen Brothers’ best film. Josh Brolin plays Moss, a cowboy with some smarts, who stumbles across a drug deal gone wrong in rural Texas. Everyone is dead and there’s a big pile of money ripe for the taking. Moss grabs it, thinking his fortunes have turned, but when he returns to the scene later that night (feeling sorry for a not-quite-dead Mexican begging for water), Moss finds that taking the money is not the same as keeping the money. More Mexicans are out to take it back, and before long, Moss gets his first taste of Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Chigurh is a hired killer, and he will not let that 2.4 million go. So begins a wildly suspenseful, wildly entertaining film along the USA/Mexican border. Chigurh is very good at his job, and no matter what Moss does, he feels Chigurh constantly nipping at his heels. And though Moss immediately knows his family will be in danger too and sends his wife off to her mother’s, no place is safe. Others become involved too, including another man hired to hunt the cash (Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells) and the local sheriff, who sees the world is hurtling towards a violent end and feels he is too old to fight it (Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Bell). This movie is violent, but it is a mostly subdued violence, if that makes any sense. Much of the killing is done off screen; we see the evidence of it, and sometimes hear bullets fly off camera, but almost all is heard and not seen. Rather than subtract, this adds to the suspense. Once the movie gets going, early on, it never really lets up, so that my heart was beating just about the whole time. Pure perfection. ★★★★★

Malcolm X, the renowned Spike Lee movie starring Denzel Washington as the eponymous, controversial figure, rings as profound now as it did in 1992. Honestly though, the first hour (the film is over 3 hours long) is tough to get through. It deals with Malcolm Little’s growing up, and a lot with the crime he got into as a young man. While essential viewing, as it gives you his backstory and shows how different he is compared to the man he would be later, he’s such a little shit that it is impossible to root for him. Once he becomes involved with the Nation of Islam, following the teachings of its leader Elijah Muhammad, the movie gets much better. Malcolm drops Little and takes on the name X, symbolizing the name and heritage that was stolen from him by white slaveowners. Malcolm X then begins his crusade to embolden the black community. In complete juxtaposition to Martin Luther King Jr, who preached “turn the other cheek” and peace, Malcolm, while not exactly promoting violence, is angry with how his race has been treated. He isn’t afraid to point out hypocrisies in how black men and and white men react to adversity, and how those reactions are construed by society. A whole lot of what he says makes sense, even as the viewer starts to see flaws in Malcolm’s teachings, especially in regards to the hypocrisy of the NOI’s leadership, something that Malcolm is blind to for far too long. This changes when he becomes aware that his leader has been fathering children outside of marriage. Malcolm leaves the NOI and travels to Mecca. He meets Muslims of all races, and changes his stance. Instead of hostility towards white people, he starts preaching love and tolerance. But his former colleagues and mentors will not let him go so easy, and start threatening him and his family, leading to the day of February 21, 1965, when he is assassinated. This movie works because of the incredible performance of Denzel. As a biopic, it gets a little bogged down in the details, as many of these types of films can, but Denzel is captivating and larger-than-life, as Malcolm X himself was. He dominates every scene and commands your attention, and you can’t help but get swept up in Malcolm’s cause. ★★★★½

  • TV series recently watched: Luther (series 2), The Mandalorian (season 3)
  • Book currently reading: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee