Reel Opinions

Friday, February 24, 2023

Cocaine Bear

The secret to camp is the same as the secret to comedy; You have to pretend that the material is serious and that you're not in on the joke.  Cocaine Bear gives us a large cast of talented actors (including the late Ray Liotta in his final role) who play this material to the hilt like they're in on the joke, and that is one of the movie's biggest failings.

It's other failing is that it's a one-joke concept stretched thin at 95 minutes.  I will admit to smiling a few times, and laughing out loud during one sequence where the coked up bear simply collapses from exhaustion on top of somebody, trapping him underneath.  But, the movie doesn't have the energy to support its thin premise for such an extended time, not even with the actors playing to the rafters like they do here.  The movie exists simply to make a lot of dumb jokes, and for a lot of bloody carnage scenes.  Once you realize that, the movie's repetitive nature reveals itself.  Much like with her failed Charlie's Angels reboot from 2019, director Elizabeth Banks simply doesn't know how to make us care about the characters up on the screen.

The movie actually has its background in a real event.  In 1985, convicted drug smuggler Andrew Thornton dropped millions of dollars worth of cocaine from a plane over a national park in Georgia.  A black bear happened upon the cocaine, and died after eating it.  In the Hollywood telling, the bear goes berserk, becomes an addict, and starts killing off different groups of random people who happen to be in the park for different reasons.  There's a worried mother (Keri Russell) who is looking for her young daughter (Brooklynn Prince) and her friend (Christian Convery) who skipped school to paint some scenery, a trigger-happy forest ranger (Margo Martindale) with her dippy animal activist boy toy (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), a gang of teen hooligans, and a group of professional criminals (led by Liotta) who have come searching for the cocaine after it goes missing.

Cocaine Bear juggles multiple plots, storylines, and characters, which unfortunately leaves the computer generated bear off camera for longer periods of time than you might expect.  And since everybody is playing this material like they know they're in a goofy movie, there's not a single moment that feels right.  It's the same problem I had with Bullet Train a while back.  If everybody is trying to outshine everybody else with their goofy and outlandish performance, then I start to get bored, because it's no longer a movie, it's just a competition between the cast to see who can stand out the most.  The movie tries for an emotional core with the plot of Russell searching for the missing children, but this too falls flat, because writer Jimmy Warden forgets to make them interesting enough for the audience to get involved.

This is a movie that tries to mix shock horror and gore with laughs, which has been done before, but it feels off here.  The cast know what kind of movie they're in, and act like they're trying to grab our attention every time they're on camera.  There's some fun to be had here for sure, but the movie also overstays its welcome by a large margin. 


Saturday, February 18, 2023

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

With a title like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, is it any wonder that it was able to appeal to my inner 10-year-old?  This is a bright, very goofy, and frequently fun escapist blockbuster that seldom gets overly serious like the Avatar films so often do, and has no hidden meaning behind it other than to feature some characters we know and love interacting with a new cast of characters who look like they came from the Cantina on Tatooine.  

I get that the critics of this (of which there are many) say that the movie is just a mindless spectacle with wall-to-wall effects.  But there is a joy here that I don't sense in a lot of recent movies, not even in some recent Marvel films.  It's another wild adventure with returning heroes Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), the lovely Hope van Dyne/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), and Scott's now-teenaged daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), who venture into the Quantum Realm.  Just typing that name puts a smile on my face.  You build your movie around something called the Quantum Realm, you're going to get a lot of weird creatures, lots of lasers firing all about, and wall-to-wall special effects.  You also hope for a good time, and to me it provided.  The day I lose my love for gonzo movies like this is the same day a part of my soul dies.

The main purpose of the film is to set up the new lead villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who is the dreaded Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), and it does so beautifully.  Kang is introduced as a mostly soft-spoken yet threatening presence, who gets to show off his powers and capabilities for world-shattering destruction.  Not only does Majors sell the role, giving the character more heft than there probably was on the written page, but he is able to build a lot of anticipation for the character's future in the franchise.  If the movie is designed to make us want to see him return to seek vengeance, than its done its job.  He's a powerful, imposing, yet human villain with enough charisma to be interesting, but enough menace to be exciting.

The movie is pure cotton candy for the mind, but sometimes we need that.  There's a difference to me as to why these films either work or don't.  I look for a source of life, and if it seems like the actors are barely able to hide their laughter as they say some of the dialogue.  Everyone in this cast deserves a medal of some sort for carrying on through this bizarre plot, and everything the movie throws in it.  And yes, I'm grateful that it spends little time explaining what we are looking at.  I was just grateful to have old pros like Rudd and Lilly as my guide through the madness.  They, along with other returning actors like Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer, make is a lot more enjoyable.  I mean, was there really a chance that a movie with a subtitle like Quantumania was not going to be nonsensical?  

I understand that there is a growing backlash to these kind of movies, but I have to be honest, I'm still enjoying the ride.  Even if they're not all great examples of blockbuster filmmaking, I still smile, and I smiled and laughed a lot at this.  All I ask from Marvel is escapism, and so far, I have not been completely turned off.  And to me, this is one of the more fun rides they have provided in a while.  It's not poignant like Wakanda Forever, but so what?  It also didn't feel unnecessarily dragged out like Avatar: The Way of Water.  This Ant-Man entry captures the feeling I remember going through my older brothers' comic collection, and hearing both of them describe these strange worlds and characters to me.  I don't know if I can pay any blockbuster film a higher complement than that.

I often complain that I have a hard time shutting off my brain when I'm watching a particularly mindless blockbuster movie, but I think the likability of the cast and the general spirit of this movie aided me this time around.  I'm aware the movie is thin, goofy, and endless special effects.  It's also just a hell of a fun ride.


Friday, February 17, 2023


Watching Marlowe is like watching a mediocre cover band perform a great song.  All the elements and pieces of greatness are there, but the talent seems just a bit off key.  The movie is director Neil Jordan's attempt to revive the classic Private Eye character of the big screen and noir novels of yesterday with an all-star cast, and screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed) attempting and seemingly reveling in some classic tough guy dialogue.  But for all of this, the movie can't help but feel a little empty, and it never picks up the pace that's required.

The character of Philip Marlowe originated in the books by Raymond Chandler, and has been brought to life on the screen by everyone from Humphrey Bogart to Robert Mitchum.  In this film, it's Liam Neeson's turn to play the detective, and while he has the talent for it, he comes across a bit more sluggish and slow than perhaps intended.  Maybe he's just playing to the energy of the movie itself, which equally seems to be in no hurry to get to the bottom of its mystery.  The movie, dripping in 1930s atmosphere, feels like an antique in today's cinematic landscape, and despite the strong talent on and behind the camera, feels lazy.  The source material stems from author John Banville's (writing under the pen name Benjamin Black) 2014 novel, The Black-Eyed Blonde, which is unread by me, but if this movie is any indication, played as a "greatest hits" of the detective's stories.

The movie wastes no time by having the mysterious woman walking into the detective's office and giving him his job right in the opening moments.  Said woman is one Claire Cavendish (Diane Kruger), and she wants to hire Marlowe to find her missing lover, Nico Peterson.  Mr. Peterson was a low-level person in the 1930s world of Hollywood film making, but still was quite the ladies man, using his connections.  After some sleuthing, Nico turns up dead, but both Marlowe and Claire believe that he may be much more alive than he lets on, and that someone else was in the car where his body was found.  Naturally, nothing is quite what it seems, and everybody seems to be holding some kind of secret close to their chest.  The movie has all the expected elements of femme fatales and conspiracies, but the energy is not there.

Despite some big name stars including the likes of Jessica Lane, Alan Cumming, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Colm Meany and Danny Huston, Marlowe just doesn't have the air of excitement we expect from a story of this type.  The chemistry is not there, particularly not the potentially sexual one that is supposed to form between Neeson and Kruger.  Everybody looks the part that they are playing, but something is just a bit off.  It starts with Neeson being a bit more subdued than usual in his tough guy roles, and carries all the way through to the rest of the cast.  The women are not sexy or mysterious enough, and the men are not slimy and untrustworthy enough.  This leads to the movie hitting more wrong keys than proper ones.  It doesn't help that this is not a particularly great mystery to begin with, as its too straight forward to make an impression on the viewer.

There is a novelty here to seeing such an old fashioned Hollywood mystery on the big screen, and director Jordan has certainly made a handsome looking film, but these are the only joys I was able to get out of this.  It's not terrible by any means, but as an attempt to revive a long-dormant genre, it just doesn't cut it.


Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Best Films of 2022

Well, seeing as though everybody else has had their "best of the year" list out since December, I guess I should get off my lazy behind, and get one out also, shouldn't I?  As always, I have a good excuse.  As a regular paying filmgoer, I choose to hold off on this list until I can see as many of the year's films as I can.  And since many of the big end of the year films usually expand slowly (sometimes very slowly) into wide release around January-February, I choose to wait.  I did get to see most of the major end of the year releases, so I feel the time is ready to make the list.

One thing I should note is that there were some films I saw but did not get to review, due to some hospitalizations I went through during the year, but they will still appear on this list.

As usual, I will be naming my favorite film of the year, followed by what I felt were the great films of 2022.  The great films can be anything that truly grabbed my attention, so they can be dramas, comedies, kid's films, whatever.  Then I'll be listing the "honorable mentions" (the runner ups), followed by my 5 favorite actor and actress performances of the year.  Aside from Best Film, all of these choices will be listed in alphabetical order.

So, with that out of the way, let's get down to the important stuff - the movies.




EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE -  Writers and directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (credited as The Daniels) have crafted a world-bending martial arts comedy with Everything Everywhere All at Once.  It's a film that blends pure action, Sci-Fi, multiple universes, and even a parody of a specific Pixar movie that shall remain nameless for the sake of spoilers into its plot to craft what is ultimately a story about the choices we make, and how it effects not just ourselves, but others.  The film's scope is epic, which is fitting for a movie dealing with multiple universes.  And yet, it's an achingly human and relatable story at its core.  That's because its heroine Evelyn (played wonderfully by Michelle Yeoh) and all of the variations we see of her throughout the movie via alternate timelines is so pure and human.  Whether she is running a struggling family-owned laundromat, a martial arts actress, a rock, or a sympathetic lesbian in a world where everyone have evolved differently when it comes to fingers, the script never loses sight of who Evelyn is, or Yeoh's performance.  She is what anchors the film, and the movie smartly plays upon her acting and physical stunt strength.  Everything Everywhere All at Once is about choices and decisions, regrets, healing pain, and finding potential within yourself that you never knew.  It mixes these human themes with world-bending fight scenes, comedic sequences that have been imaginatively inserted, and a consistently confident tone.  This could not have been easy to achieve.  It's always nice to see filmmakers attempt something risky in Hollywood, but it doesn't always work out.  Here, all the pieces have come into place creating a wonderful entertainment.





APOLLO 10 1/2: A SPACE-AGE CHILDHOOD -  In his best films, writer-director Richard Linklater has a unique ability to recreate a time period, and transport his audience.  His latest film, Apollo 10 1/2, is a testament to this.  Not only is this perhaps one of his finest works, it's also destined to be one of the finest of 2022.  Using high quality rotoscope animation, a technique that paints 2D animation over live action film (a technique he used previously in his films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly), it adds a dream-like quality to what is essentially a nostalgia piece.  For most of the film, Apollo 10 1/2 is a mix of the mundane and a child's fantastic imagination, and the skill of the film is just how effortlessly it juggles both.  But even the mundane has a sense of nostalgia-dipped fantasy to them.  This is thanks in part to the animation style, and due also that the movie resembles a series of random memories that the adult version of the main character is sharing with us.  This is how Stan today remembers his childhood, and though we see some of the turmoil of the time, that is not his focus.  He is sharing the world he lived in at the time, both in his head with him going beyond the stars, and in the everyday.  The two combine to create a rich narrative, even though the film never really tells much of a plot.  It is strangely compelling, though.  More than just a mere nostalgia or vanity piece, this is a captivating time capsule that represents how many Stan's age want to remember that time period.  Apollo 10 1/2 is warm and nostalgic, which means it will likely be torn apart by the cynical.  It's certainly a movie that you have to just let the passion the filmmaker feels wash over you, and if you let it, it's one of the truly unique film experiences. 

THE FABELMANS - Steven Spielberg has said that all of his films are personal in some way, and contain a part of him or his beliefs.  His 34th feature, The Fabelmans, is a semi-autobiographical love letter to cinema in general, and is based not just on his own childhood and experiences, but on the growth and pain that his entire family endured.  Unlike a lot of projects in which the filmmaker or writer reflects on their own past, this is not a self-centered piece, seen through the eyes of the young hero meant to represent the artist telling the story.  It is a sweeping drama that covers a number of subjects, and winds up not just being a coming of age story, but also a drama of a family struggling to hold itself together through change.  The Fabelmans is a movie with the right title, as each member of the family plays a key role in the story.  This is ultimately a story about both finding your place in the world, as well as how finding that place can sometimes mean the people closest to you have to go their separate ways.  It's a mature film, with a sensational screenplay provided by Spielberg and frequent collaborator Tony Kushner that gives ample attention to both the triumphs and the failings of these individual characters.  Spielberg has stated that The Fabelmans is not completely based on his own family, but everything here has a ring of truth, and the honesty of closely examining where you came from.  It's a highly entertaining and enriching film, and stands among the best of the year, and easily one of the most powerful films the director has worked on lately.


GUILLERMO DEL TORO'S PINOCCHIO -  What del Toro does here is add layers of satire and social commentary, as well as adding his love of supernatural elements, all without losing the innocence and charm of the original story.  Using some of the best stop motion animation I have seen recently, del Toro and fellow screenwriter Patrick McHale (the Cartoon Network miniseries Over the Garden Wall) take the story everyone is familiar with, and add enough emotion, passion, humor and sadness to make it stand out on its own.  It draws from a time period when family entertainment was not afraid to "push boundaries", be scary, or even be tragic in their telling.  The movie is fine for children, but will likely hit adults on an entirely different level.  It's a joyous retelling, and considering that this has been the filmmaker's passion project for a number of decade, I am proud to say that it not only is distinctively the work of del Toro in both its visuals and storytelling, but that the passion for the story comes through in every conceivable way.  It is the way that del Toro takes these elements, and combines it with the story we know that makes this telling of Pinocchio so memorable.  All of this creates a wondrous entertainment, which is aided by the beautiful and unearthly stop motion animation.  Add an incredible level of detail to the backgrounds and the character designs (especially the more mystical creatures that Pinocchio encounters in his journey), and you have what is easily one of the best visual experiences of the year.  More than that, the screenplay knows how to juggle humor, mature themes, and childhood whimsy in a way as to be effortless.  Guillermo del Toro has created a truly magnificent telling here, and one that hopefully will be celebrated for many years to come.  It's truly one of the greats of the year, not just in the field of animation, but in terms of overall filmmaking.  


MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON -  A family film like Marcel speaks to adults on their level, while appealing to kids on a completely different level, and can even be enjoyed by an adult audience on their own without the presence of children.  Based on a series of short films created by comedian Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer Camp, this is a quiet and absorbing little fantasy shot as a documentary about a tiny shell creature (endearingly voiced by comic actress Jenny Slate) searching for others of her kind.  There is such a personal and tender atmosphere to this film that really took me by surprise.  A lot of movies aimed at adults don't usually match the sense of empathy and emotion that we get here.  When we first see Marcel interacting with the human world, we immediately buy it, thanks to the wonderful effects work on display.  I never once questioned what I was looking at, or tried to figure out how these sequences were being done.  That is the true goal of any special effects film, and one that few achieve.  I was immediately drawn in, and not once did the spell the story was weaving lose its effect on me.  But more than the effects, the screenplay is the real wonder here.  It understands that we need to fully buy into Marcel and his world in order for it to work, and it's quite astonishing how easily it is to just completely be wrapped into this little character.  A lot of films entertain me, but Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is the rare film that truly brought me joy, and lifted my spirits.


PEARL - This is a different kind of thriller, and draws inspiration from old technicolor melodramas and even classic Disney films.  The end result is kind of a twisted mash up of The Wizard of Oz and Psycho.  Strange as it sounds, the combo does fit.  Imagine if little Dorothy Gale had an interest in torturing small animals while dreaming about going far away from her small farm life, and you'll have a good idea.  The title character (played brilliantly by Mia Goth) is a young woman who feels trapped by a stifling home life.  One of the brilliant things director Ty West does is he shoots the film as a joyous, old fashioned technicolor film with rich, beautiful, vibrant and joyful images that goes against the inherent darkness of the film itself.  There are flights of fantasy here in the tradition of old Hollywood musicals, mixed with elements of a violent thriller.  As Pearl zips about the country on her bike or does chores on her family farm, the movie has a sunniness to it.  And yet, she is also clearly mentally unhinged, and on the verge of snapping at any minute.  The movie is also that rare thriller that does not sell itself on jump scares, but rather the slow gradual descent into madness of the main character.  Her fantasies start out innocent enough, but soon become more sinister, and the way even these darker moments are shot the same way as the initial lighter ones is compelling.  Also compelling is the screenplay credited to West and its lead star, Goth.  This is a movie that's not afraid to dive into these characters, and how they slowly start to realize that Pearl may not be all there.  It's also not afraid to give its star an electrifying and single-take monologue that goes on for six minutes straight near the end.  It's a masterful performance from Goth, and this is a masterful film in a lot of ways.  This is a thrilling, uncompromising, and beautiful film.


 Tár -  As equally uncompromising as Pearl, this psychological thriller about a famed conductor dealing with allegations of sexual abuse not only features the best female performance of the year by Cate Blanchett, but is also one of the most unforgettable.  Unfortunately, the movie never got a wide enough theatrical release, as the movie never even came to my local cinema, and I had to track it down on line.  One of the most acclaimed films of the year (and rightly so), I never got around to reviewing this, as I was taking a break due to a medical procedure when I saw it.  However, it has stuck with me since I saw it.  Despite a running time stretching past 2 and a half hours, the movie has a kinetic energy to carry the viewer through, and Blanchett's incredible portrayal only helps add to it.  This is a compelling drama about power in the music industry, and constructed with such power and raw fervor, it's almost surprising.  There is nothing rigid on display here, from the dialogue to the storytelling, right down to how it tackles its subject matter.  How this did not go into a wider release alludes me, but it's worth tracking down.  

TOP GUN: MAVERICK - I'm just as surprised as you are to see this film here, but this is truly one of the best "blockbuster" films I've seen in a long while.  Top Gun: Maverick is not only that rare sequel that is leagues better than the original, it's also the kind of all-encompassing, immersive and stirring Summer Blockbuster that I thought Hollywood had forgotten how to make.  More spectacular and emotional than the 1986 film, this should be the blueprint all filmmakers follow when it comes to making a nostalgic follow up film.  While the script has a few too many characters and plots for the movie to handle, this matters little with how successful everything else is about this Top Gun.  The aerial sequences are breathtaking, beautifully shot, and some of the best action sequences to come out of Hollywood in quite a while.  Again, this should be a blueprint for future filmmakers on how to stage a fast-paced action sequence coherently.  Everything just has this immersive feel that puts you square in the middle of the action, and on the biggest screen, it is simply awe inspiring in a way that I thought blockbusters could never be again.  The sequences also simply feel real, using as little CG effects as possible, and if they do, they are incredibly well done or hidden so that they don't take us out of the action.  And even if some characters do get cast to the side a bit in the script, the ones that it does choose to focus on are well-written and given plenty of opportunity to stand out.  This is simply one of the best pure popcorn entertainment films to come in a while, and this is coming from someone who never really latched onto the first, even when I saw it in the theater when I was on the verge of turning 9 in 86.  My anticipation for this could fit on the head of a pin, even when the rave reviews started to come in.  I was fully impressed by the effort that went into this, and I hope it opens some eyes in the industry on how to follow up a nostalgic film in the best way possible so that it's better than its inspiration in nearly every conceivable way.


TURNING RED -  Like the best films to come out of the Pixar Studio, Turning Red is a movie that mixes emotion and real life experiences with the fantastic that only the animated film medium can provide.  Making her feature directing debut, Domee Shi was greatly inspired by her own experiences of being 13-years-old in the early 2000s, as well as the Japanese Anime that she used to watch regularly, to create a heartwarming and funny story that covers some pretty tricky coming of age issues for an animated family comedy, as well as adding some heartwarming notes about family and mothers and daughters in the mix.  Turning Red is frank in how it handles the tricky subject matter of puberty, and yes, menstruation, which are brought up throughout the film.  But nervous parents need not worry that it will suddenly inspire some very hard questions from young kids who are not ready to know about it.  The film is first and foremost a relatable fantasy about a girl trying to find her place in her own world.  It simply is brave enough to also handle some obvious issues in a mature way that will likely fly over the youngest viewers.  That's what makes Turning Red stand out.  There is so much identity and truth to the characters and what the film is saying.  Even if you never had the exact real world experiences, you can still relate to it and sense its accuracy.  The film is also a visual wonder, so much so that it's a crying shame it's getting placed on streaming, instead of the theatrical release it was meant for.  I understand that Studios are struggling to get people back to theaters for movies that don't involve capes or superpowers, but there is just as much a need to watch animation like this on the big screen.  We need diverse genres at the cinema now more than ever, and I truly hope that the theater never becomes a permanent home only for "event" movies.  That bit aside, here is a movie that is as magical, truthful, and funny as anything Pixar has done, and serves as a wonderful directing debut for Shi, who I'm sure has many more stories and personal experiences to share, and I eagerly await them.


THE WHALE - This has been a largely polarizing movie for critics and audiences.  Some have praised it and called it brave, particularly for the lead performance from Brendan Fraser, which is easily a career best, while others have called it a grotesque spectacle that revels in stereotypes of the obese.  Having just seen the film, I honestly don't understand what those who criticize the film are getting at.  I found this moving, involving from the first frame to the last, and tremendously heartbreaking.  The film is an adaptation of a stage play by Samuel D. Hunter, who also provides the screenplay here.  And even though the film never really leaves the apartment of the main character (aside from a few exterior shots now and then), it doesn't feel claustrophobic or overly staged.  Director Darren Aronofsky has given us one of his most powerful films, and when you consider this is the guy who did Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler, that's saying something.  This is a story of a man who truly believes that people are amazing, and uses his optimism of humanity to combat his addictions that are slowly killing him.  He has to be optimistic, because he has so little in his own life.  If he didn't believe in others, he would probably be in a worse state than we already find him.  Beyond Fraser's performance, this is also one of the best acted films I've seen in a while.  The entire small cast is note perfect.  Yes, with its limited setting and number of characters, its origins as a stage play are transparent, yet it never bothered me here like it sometimes does.  Aronofsky's visual style and the performances are more than enough to make the emotions in this piece larger than life.  It's rare for a film to grip me this strongly emotionally, but it's always a wonderful experience when one does.  When you see as many movies as I do, you start to notice how few of them actually leave any sort of impact.  Here, from the first second to the start of the end credits, I was feeling something, and it was certainly not disgust or hatred as others have claimed.  This is one film I can't wait to revisit.


Scream, Marry Me, Death on the Nile, The Cursed, Dog, The Batman, X, The Lost City, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, The Northman, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Downton Abbey: A New Era, Lightyear, Elvis, The Black Phone, Minions: The Rise of Gru, Thor: Love and Thunder, DC League of Super Pets, Prey, Beast, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Barbarian, The Woman King, See How They Run, Smile, Bros, The Banshees of Inisherin, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, The Menu, She Said, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, The Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery




Austin Butler in Elvis

Paul Dano in The Fabelmans

Brenden Fraser in The Whale

Judd Hirsch in The Fabelmans

Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once




Cate Blanchett in Tár

Hong Chau in The Whale

Stephanie Hsu in Everything Everywhere All at Once

Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans

Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once 


So, those are my favorites of 2022 in a nutshell!  Hopefully, as we go further into 2023, we will get many more bright moments to come in the cinema.



Friday, February 10, 2023


has one attention grabber of an opening scene, I'll give it that.  A nun is seen walking down the street, until she suddenly seems to confront a random woman, and pulls a gun on her.  It's all downhill from there, as nothing else in this lethargic and largely muddled thriller ever comes close to getting an equal reaction as its first scene.

This is one of those movies that seems like it was filmed in slow motion.  It's all atmosphere with stone buildings, creeping shadows, dark figures lurking just out of frame, and lots of wacko nuns performing strange ceremonies that are not quite as ominous as the movie seems to think they are.  It also gives us flashbacks.  Lots and lots of flashbacks, which range from the tortured childhood of the lead heroine and the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, to flashbacks of 12th Century knights performing dark and sinister religious practices.  When we're not getting visions of the past, we get characters talking about the past, or dumping exposition.  It all adds up to a final reveal we can see coming miles away, and is not worth the 90 minute journey (which feels much longer while watching it) co-writer and director Christopher Smith wants us to take.

The not-so-subtly named Grace (Jena Malone) is a non-believer in God, but finds herself at a Scottish Convent where her brother used to live and work as a priest.  He has recently died, and the police have ruled it a murder-suicide, which Grace does not believe in the slightest.  When Grace views the body of her brother at the coroner's, she sees his spirit issue a warning, so she knows that something very dark is going on within the halls of that place.  It doesn't help that the Convent's Mother Superior (Janet Suzman) acts as suspiciously as possible, and all of the nuns seem to be hiding secrets.  A priest from the Vatican named Father Romero (Danny Huston) is there too, and offers Grace lots of exposition, but naturally he has has share of secrets as well.

Consecration never quite gets a handle on the story it wants to tell.  Is it about a sister grieving for her brother?  Is it about her tortured family background, and how her father murdered her mother and kept her and her brother locked in cages as children?  Is it about shadowy conspiracies within organized religion that are tied to centuries-old beliefs?  The movie touches on all of these subjects, but can't find a way to string them all together successfully.  It also can't find the humanity in these characters, and it becomes even harder when the plot starts to veer into the supernatural later on.  Everybody acts and talks like they've been drained of energy.

Yes, I know that this is supposed to be a dark and moody thriller, and the atmosphere is laid on thick in almost every scene, but that's the only trick it has in its arsenal.  We get shadows lurking, torches burning in dark tunnels, and lots of chanting, but it's hard to give a damn about anything when it's all being directed with such a total lack of enthusiasm.  Not even the movie seems all that interested in itself, as it just glosses over its subject matter instead of diving head-first.  When the movie goes back to that opening image with that nun with the gun near the end of the film, it's much less effective than it was before, because of everything that has led up to it.

By normal standards, Consecration should be hidden somewhere on streaming, yet it got lucky enough to score a full theatrical release.  Don't be lured in by the atmospheric trailer and poster image.  The movie is deadly dull, and never registers anything close to resembling a single thrill.


She Came from the Woods

There's a fine line between an homage and an imitation.  She Came from the Woods wants to be an homage to all those 1980s Summer Camp slasher films with a comedic bent, but it never rises above being anything but a pale imitation.  It knows the words, but not the music.

The movie is in the tradition of what Roger Ebert used to call a "Dead Teenager Film", where the plot revolves around a bunch of kids being alive at the start of the film, and most of them being dead by the end of it.  Director Erik Bloomquist (who co-wrote the screenplay with Carter Bloomquist) has studied the material well, and he actually gets some better performances out of his cast than you might expect.  But, the movie doesn't build, and doesn't have the manic energy you would expect.  There are a few cute moments.  I like how when before one of the hornier camp counselors dies, he musters the last bit of strength he has in order to feel the breast of one of the women nearby.  I smiled at that, but never truly laughed.  The movie also meanders and takes too long to set up the bloodshed and carnage which, let's face it, is what the audience is here for.

Like the movies it draws inspiration from, the film is set at a family-owned summer camp that has a dark history behind its sunny facade.  In this case, the camp's resident ghoul is Nurse Agatha, a deranged woman who stole blood from the children at the camp, kept them in jars, and hung them from trees in order to perform some sort of ritual that would give her eternal life, even after death.  The young teens who work at the camp decide to summon the spirit of Agatha, not knowing that it would actually work, and now they're all in danger as they're picked off one by one.  As is tradition with these movies, the young cast is made up of hopefuls who are probably hoping this leads to bigger and better things.  This has happened, as one of Kevin Bacon's early performances was in Friday the 13th, while Johnny Depp had his big break with the original A Nightmare on Elm Street.

All of this plays out exactly as it should, which is what makes She Came from the Woods an imitation, rather than an homage.  The movie never finds a fresh spin on this material, and is content to just follow what came before.  Occasionally, it falls upon a fun idea that got my hopes up.  At one point, the spirit of the evil Agatha possesses a small group of the children at the camp to turn into violent little savages.  My mind immediately sprung to a lot of dark and fun ideas the film could have with this concept.  I especially like how one of the little demon children walks with crutches, and kept on waiting for the movie to do something funny with this idea, but it never does.  It's content to play by the rules, rather than adding some of its own or truly going wild.

For what is obviously a low budget project, the movie does at least look good, and the cast know what kind of movie they're in, and deliver.  I simply found nothing here that caused more than just a slight smile now and then.  I wanted to like this, and was ready for a good time, but the movie just kept on showing me what I had already seen before, only with better gore effects than the ones from 40 years ago.


Saturday, February 04, 2023

80 for Brady

80 for Brady
is not a bad movie, but rather a dead one.  Bad movies can be lively and fun to watch sometimes.  This simply lacks a single ounce of inspiration.  It didn't need to be made, and nobody needs to see it.  You know a movie isn't working when you start checking your watch.  You know a movie is dead when you start to think your watch has stopped.

The movie centers on four best friends in their 70s and 80s who have been given names and are played by veteran actresses, but possess no real connection, either to each other or to the audience.  Lou (Lily Tomlin) is their ringleader, Trish (Jane Fonda) writes erotic fiction, Maura (Rita Moreno) is looking for love, and Betty (Sally Field) has a husband who is so dimwitted, he can't do anything without her, not even remember to put on pants in the morning.  Their main connection is a shared love for the New England Patriots, and in particular, Tom Brady, who also produced the film.  They decide that they should go to the Super Bowl together to watch Brady and the Patriots play.  Lou is able to score tickets from a contest, and they go to the game together.

I'm not kidding when I tell you the movie really is that simple.  Naturally, there's tons of filler to make up the 100 minute running time, but none of it is interesting in the slightest.  First they have to break one of them out of a nursing home, then they win some bets against some cocky young guys, then one of them competes in a spicy hot wings eating contest, then they get to attend a fancy party, then they lose their tickets, then it turns out the tickets are fake anyway, then they con their way into the big game, and end up helping the Patriots win, and wind up in the winning locker room with Brady himself.  I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm spoiling the movie, but it's hard to spoil something that never bothers to get to anything resembling a point in the first place.

The film is inspired by a true story of four elderly die-hard Patriots fans who attended the Super Bowl together in 2017.  Watching this, I couldn't help but think a documentary on the real women would be so much more interesting.  At least they would have been real people with personalities, and not be forced to get into sitcom-style situations, such as when the ladies here have to pass themselves off as dancers in the Halftime Show.  This movie is a complete and total dead zone that never once rises to any level of purpose.  You don't gather four veteran actors together, then give them nothing to do.  You write jokes for them, and you give them scenes where they interact with each other in meaningful ways.  You don't trap them in a witless and lifeless vanity project such as this.

I'm going back through 80 for Brady in my head, and searching for a single moment that stands out -- A performance, or maybe a line of dialogue.  If I think of something, this won't be the end of the review. 


Friday, February 03, 2023

Knock at the Cabin

As a filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan either runs hot or cold with me.  Either I buy what he's selling, or I don't, with no in-between.  Knock at the Cabin is probably his strongest film in a while, and one I can say grabbed me almost instantly.  Granted, some of the director's annoyances (stilted dialogue, awkward close ups and camera movements) are on full display.  But he has a suspenseful story here that is expertly told by a fine cast.

The film is a mostly successful adaptation of the acclaimed novel, The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay.  I say mostly, as there are two major changes that I was not a fan of, but not to the effect that it lessened my enjoyment of the film.  And while I won't go into spoilers, I will say that the final moments the movie reaches do not match Tremblay's.  The original ending was much more ambiguous, and was able to create genuine dread.  As a filmmaker, Shyamalan is not a fan of ambiguity.  He likes to spell out exactly how we are supposed to feel, so he gives us a definitive answer to wrap up everything.  It kind of kills the overall effectiveness of the story, but since it occurs in the last five minutes or so, it did not lessen my enjoyment of the experience itself.

Until those final five minutes, I was completely on board, as the movie creates a tight atmosphere that builds slowly and wonderfully out of a simple premise, and a small cast who find the right note to play this material. Parents Eric (Broadway veteran Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) are vacationing in a remote New Jersey cabin with their seven-year-old adoptive daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui), when they are approached by an imposing yet charismatic man named Leonard (Dave Bautista).  He arrives on the property with three others, and claims that he and those who are with him have witnessed visions of the apocalypse, and that in order to prevent it, someone in the family must be chosen to be sacrificed.  What both the original novel and this adaptation do beautifully is how it handles these characters, and the situation they find themselves in.

Leonard and the people traveling with him are not crackpots, nor are they cultists.  They are calm, rational people for the most part, and come from different walks of life.  Leonard is an elementary school teacher and Little League baseball coach.  With him is Emergency Room Nurse Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), a line cook with a young son back at home named Adriane (Abby Quinn), and a former convict trying to go straight named Redmond (Rupert Grint), who is the most hot-headed of the group.  They claim that a mysterious power has granted all four of them the same vision, and given them orders to seek this family out.  They have traveled to this location together, having never met before, and are determined to save humanity by letting this family choose which one of them will die to prevent the coming disaster.

Naturally, Eric and Andrew don't buy it.  Andrew even suspects that this may be a hate crime of some sort, and they are being targeted.  That's when the evidence begins to stack up of news reports concerning one mass disaster after another happening all over the world.  Eric is the one who is a bit more willing to believe them, creating tension within the family itself.  Knock at the Cabin plays it low key and smart throughout.  Leonard and his followers are not the villains of the story, and aside from young Wen, no one is truly innocent.  There are many small moments where we get to learn about who these people are, and the lives they lead before the visions brought them to this cabin.  This is not a story about learning the truth, which is why the altered ending that gives us a definitive conclusion did not sit well.

Before that, this movie is a masterclass of subtle suspense and storytelling, and aside from one major change halfway through, follows the original story quite faithfully.  Everyone is able to create a rounded and human character, with Bautista and Aldridge being the key stand outs.  Nobody plays these roles to the hilt, and they always let us see the tragedy of this situation.  The family is placed in an impossible situation, and the people invading their home do not want to put them within it, but feel they have no choice.  This is material that could easily have resulted in a lot of melodramatic screaming to the rafters or chewing the scenery, but Shyamalan and his cast find the consistent right tone here.

Even if Knock at the Cabin has gone through some unfortunate changes that lessens the impact, this is still an incredibly tense experience that is worth watching.  Usually, Shyamalan has a hard time finding the humanity in his stories or his actors, creating a wooden atmosphere.  Here, he gets almost everything right.


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