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Review: The Northman

Written by the Icelandic Poet Sjón and Robert Eggers, and directed by Eggers, “The Northman” is a Viking Epic adapted from the tale that directly inspired William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. If you’re familiar with Hamlet, or “The Lion King” for that matter, you’ll recognize the story structure well enough, but the way Eggers realizes those familiar elements is efficiently brutal and unjudgmental of the past’s morality. Set roughly around the year 900, we begin the tale with the return of King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) to his home in Northern Ireland after a successful military campaign. Aurvandil’s brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang) is slow to join the festivities with the family and fellow villagers, but he does after awhile, bringing a brooding demeanor to the gathering. After some time establishing Prince Amleth’s (Alexander Skarsgård) life before the inevitable tragedy, we’re introduced to his Mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) and King Aurvandil’s Fool, Heimir (Willem Dafoe) before The King and Heimir indoctrinate young Amleth into Manhood through some strange and trippy long-held traditions. Afterwards Fjölnir and his men turn heel and betray the king, killing him in front of Amleth as he quickly scrambles towards freedom. While rowing away from the shores of his home, Amleth recites the mantra that will fuel him for the rest of the film, “I Will Avenge You, Father. I Will Save You, Mother. I Will Kill You, Fjölnir.” Now that’s character motivation!

Fast forward into Prince Amleth’s adulthood and we’re met by the hulking beast of a man that the scared boy has transformed into. Amleth and a band of similarly gargantuan Viking berserkers then attack a village with ruthless abandon, ironically orphaning many more children in the long wake of Amleth’s own tragedy. Violence begets violence after all. However, putting our own lens of modern morality aside, Amleth is the hero of this tale, so we get no whitewashing or “prettying up” of the story at hand, and for that I am thankful. Letting the story breath and evolve on it’s own merits without bringing all of our baggage to the tale heavily imbues the film with an air of authority on it’s own world, on the traditions of the characters we see, and with the mythmaking at hand. Eventually our Viking Wolf-Bear (There’s a lot of growling, snarling, and involved roleplaying with the Vikings) hears word that his uncle Fjölnir, now titled “The Brotherless”, has lost his throne to another Warlord and is now living on a small farmstead in Iceland with Amleth’s mother and a small troupe of slaves to tend to the land. With that news fresh in his mind, Amleth sneaks into Iceland under the guise as one of the slaves being transported to Fjölnir’s land. While there he’s quickly found out by Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) who decides to help him in his quest for vengeance. Eventually they make a plan and slowly begin to turn the farmstead against themselves in occasionally hyper-violent fashion.

While “The Lighthouse” may still be Eggers’ best efforts so far in his career, “The Northman” still delivers us an epic worth telling. The score, cinematography, and performances all converge on Eggers’ style which is becoming more recognizable with each new film. Like a sculptor, or Ernest Hemingway’s literary style; as I see it, Eggers’ removes the unnecessary and strips down the story and performances to their core attributes without over embellishing. The story is simple, revenge. The way it’s handled here though is perfectly realized mythmaking. In this world, mystics and magic exist, though they’re similarly muted like the depiction of magic in “The Lord of The Rings” to some extent. Valkyries and the undead alike serve their mythmaking purposes to great effect, there’s even a mythical sword called the Nightblade that can only be drawn at night, or at the Gates of Hel. Once Amleth begins to unravel the sanctity, and sanity, of Fjölnir’s Icelandic peace, the film revels in it’s horrific imagery as well as it’s commitment to savagery through heroism.

If you’re looking for original films that aren’t a superhero sequel or solely as a vehicle for big name stars, this film should sate those who seek something different. In fact, there are several films in theaters right now that I highly encourage you to check out. There’s the increasingly popular “Everything Everywhere All at Once” by the Daniels in perhaps the most thoroughly satisfying Multiverse-oriented film this year, with apologies to Sam Raimi. Michael Bay also has a great new film in “Ambulance” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Not to mention Nic Cage’s Action-Buddy film with Pedro Pascal in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” where Nicolas Cage plays an exaggerated version of himself. If any of those premises caught your interest I have full reviews of all those films over at Films Fatale and the links to each are listed below. You might want to catch them before Dr. Strange annihilates the Box Office this Friday, oh and check out my review of that Multiverse Madness over at Films Fatale over the weekend as well!

Final Score: 1 Hungry Nightblade

*I’ve also been writing film reviews over at Films Fatale, check them out here:

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2022/4/11/ambulance?rq=Geiser

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2022/4/14/everything-everywhere-all-at-once?rq=Geiser

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2022/4/28/the-unbearable-weight-of-massive-talent

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Review: RRR

Recently I’d been pondering exactly what I should do for the 300th article here on this blog. Should it be cheeky and pandering for fun? (a review of Zack Snyder’s 300 did cross my mind at one point) Should it be something to celebrate cinema as a whole? Or should I just breeze past the numbering without giving it much notice at all? Well, I was about to ignore the moment entirely but then I saw RRR, a historical action drama set in 1920’s India and I knew what I had to do. Plus, 3 R’s, 3 hours, 300th article- it just felt right.

Written by Vijayendra Prasad, S.S. Rajamouli, Sai Madhav Burra, Madhan Karky, and Riya Mukherjee, and directed by S.S. Rajamouli, “RRR (Rise Roar Revolt)” is a truly cinematic experience, one that I will remember for years to come. Set in 1920’s India while the country was still under British rule, the film begins with three scenes that lay the groundwork for the rest of the film. Using the three R structure, the first setup is “The Story” (with the R capitalized) which begins with the British Governor, Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson) and his incredibly cruel wife Catherine Buxton (Alison Doody) visiting a Gond tribe village in the forests outside Delhi. Catherine takes an interest in Malli, the young girl singing and painting Mehndi designs on her hand. Thus, the Buxtons throw a few pence at the mother’s feet and leave with Malli in tow- much to the anguish of everyone in the village. The second scene, “The Fire” (Capitalized R here as well, you get the idea), introduces us to Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan), an Indian British Officer hell bent on proving his worth to his superiors. In this scene Raju, known better as Ram in the film, goes after a single protester out of an angry mob after breaking a picture with a thrown rock. Ram’s supervillain commitment to fighting through hundreds of people and enduring the crowd’s violent fervor just to drag one man back to the station was thrilling and an excellent way to introduce us to one of the major characters of the film. The third scene is titled “The Water” (Yes, the R was capitalized here too), in which we see the other force of nature in the film prove his own prowess as well. Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.), known in the film simply as Bheem, is the protector of the Gond peoples, and when one of them is missing, it causes all great strife. Bheem is essentially an avatar of the forest, or at least, that’s how he’s presented to us. Bheem’s opener begins with him attempting to capture a wolf, but is thrown off his course by an intervening Tiger instead which immediately causes this jungle chase scene to ramp up in tenacity and intensity. Luckily Bheem can tango with the tiger and afterwards we get some dialogue where Bheem and his rescue party wonder if Malli is even still alive after six months of preparation. Then, the title card drops and the movie really begins. This is about forty minutes into the movie.

It isn’t long before the British hear rumor of a Gond village protector who intends to retrieve Malli and return her to the forest and her people. The unruffled British authorities don’t seem to mind much, what’s one man before an Empire? They’re eventually persuaded by an advisor who knows of Bheem’s reputation, and after laying out that goal, catch this unknown insurgent, Ram immediately steps up to the plate and takes on that order with precision and tenacity. Thus we have our two main characters set on opposite sides of the law, how much more inherent drama could you soak out of that potential? As it turns out, quite a lot! After Ram loses the one lead he has in Delhi early on, he and Bheem almost lose faith in their causes at the same time. However, a train on a bridge explodes and puts a child in the river below at risk which results in one of the most memorable action set pieces of the first half of the film. Both Ram and Bheem eye each other from across the river as each can see the other organizing the fearful people around them and both leap into action. Ram on a horse, Bheem on a motorcycle, both race atop the bridge with a rope at each end, jump off at full speed, swing through the fire below and save the kid from certain death. This kickstarts a montage of Ram and Bheem becoming the best of friends after saving that kid. It’s almost like a music video devoted to friendship, and I can not lie, I was cackling in the theater. It was at this point when I said to myself, “I think I love this movie”.

After seeing the whole thing, I can attest to my love of this film. I won’t dive too much further into plot points though, as I feel these revelations are best discovered within the film itself. What I can say about the film as a whole is that the best aspects of the film are in it’s energy, the drastic tonal shifts that are handled with care, and the character work between both Ram and Bheem. Due to the film’s use of familiar story beats and easy to predict plot developments, I was initially curious as to what the film could do to surprise modern audiences. Well, surprise it did. I may have seen the broader story beats coming from a mile away, but I certainly didn’t expect the song and dance numbers scattered throughout the film, and the wild tenacity of the characters. Even though I could guess a couple of the evolutions, it didn’t lessen my experience at all. In fact I was continually aghast at the sincere and earnest nature of the writing and acting performances (which are also outstanding), as Bheem and Ram go through some serious character arcs and evolution throughout the film. I also found the balancing act between the joyous dance numbers like “Naatu Naatu” and the highly emotional song Bheem sings while being whipped with a watching crowd to be cinematic perfection. The duality of storytelling is on display here, it’s all very tongue in cheek at times and the film knows how ridiculous it is, but it also knows how to pull at your emotions with extreme vigor too.

“RRR” is a tale of revolutionaries fighting against an empire, but it’s also a love story. It’s a tale of redemption. A story of betrayal. It’s a War film, and it’s also a string of character-fueled dance numbers full of heart. This film was truly an experience, and I highly recommend seeing it if it’s showing in your area. Granted, it’s a long one, and the ticket prices for this one are generally double per seat, but I found it to be money well spent. I went to be entertained, to see international cinema, and to be told a story. I got what I wanted (and more!), and hopefully you’ll find it to be just as worthwhile as I did.

Final Score: 1 English Bullet

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Rapid Fire Reviews #23 Lost in the Shuffle

Recently after exiting a local movie theater I was scouring my wallet, looking past all the ticket stubs that have landed there in the last few months, and I realized there were a couple of films that I had seen- but not written about. So, here we are. Ironically, the film that reignited my need to write again was “Drive My Car”, a film I had to drive about forty-five minutes to get to as the showings in my area were slim to none. Since that one was so powerful in its storytelling, it made the other lackluster films more palatable to write about as a group piece than stand alone reviews. In my defense the other two films aren’t exactly Bad per se, it’s just that I initially didn’t feel compelled enough to immediately write about them.

Drive My Car

Written by Takamasa Oe and Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and directed by Hamaguchi, “Drive My Car” is a long form drama adapted from a series of short stories by Haruki Murakami. Some audiences may groan about films with invariably long runtimes (This one is about an even three hours), anything over two and a half hours usually gets this treatment, but especially if it’s a slow-burn. However, this film is a near perfect example of the depth of characterization that can be achieved through long form dramas. Throughout this film I was having flashbacks of Yasujiro Ozu’s great films. While most of Ozu’s films never got longer than little over two hours, with the occasionally rare film nearing two hours and forty minutes, “Drive My Car” feels poised to maximize all of it’s emotional weight through devastating reveals late in the game with characters directly telling stories to others. Ozu’s films had similar levels of emotional intelligence and weight to them, but here, in today’s world, it feels as though the filmmakers had to cut through all of our modern societal expectations to get to the core of the story. So, what is the story actually about? It’s mainly concerned with Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) an actor/director in theatre who accepts a two month residency in Hiroshima as he presides over the production of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya”- and Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura) his assigned driver during that residency. There are a LOT of small beautiful moments set against broader and more meaningful evolutions, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film so invested in language, silence, communication between people, and the theatre done in such a moving way. I really don’t want to dive too far into the details of the story, but patience will be rewarded if you’re paying attention. This one is incredible, and I highly recommend it.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Written by Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman, and directed by Reitman (son of director Ivan Reitman), “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a mostly genial nostalgia-fest that has it’s fair share of hits and misses throughout the runtime. First, and foremost, I did mostly enjoy my time with this movie, so please take these criticisms with the knowledge that I’m not just some dude in a basement raging about The Ghostbusters with undue spite. In fact, the first half of the movie feels more like an indie drama on the film fest circuit than it does a sequel to one of the biggest blockbuster franchises from the 1980’s. The story follows the adult daughter of Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), Callie (Carrie Coon), who moves out to the farm that Egon left her after his untimely death with her two kids Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard). While there the awkward teens encounter new friends, new secrets about their family’s past, and Trevor even gets to drive the Ecto-1 in a fun scene later in the film. Phoebe is the star of the film in every regard though. She’s the only one that feels related to Egon, she’s smart, horrible with jokes- which in itself turns into a joke, and she’s the scene stealer that every other actor should be on the lookout for. Seriously, that kid has a good future in acting if she sticks with it and continues to prove herself with more challenging roles. Finn Wolfhard on the other hand, he got the short end of the stick with the role of Trevor. This character essentially serves no narrative purpose, and he doesn’t actually do much of anything in the film either. That scene when he drives Ecto-1 around the small rural town with Phoebe firing off the Proton Pack- that’s the best scene in the film, and pretty much the only time Trevor gets to really be a part of the movie in any meaningful way. He’s here because his character, Mike, in “Stranger Things” wore a Ghostbusters costume on a Halloween episode. Which brings me to the second half of the film. Now, this is all leagues better than the 2016 “Ghostbusters” film in my opinion, but “Afterlife” feels hamstringed by the need to return to form after 2016- but in doing so it misses out on being it’s own film, it never truly innovates. It does try to do it’s own thing on occasion, but the third act goes overboard on the Nostalgia factor. Surprise, Gozer is back! Who ends up being caught by a bunch of ghost traps instead of anything different, because Hey, that’s a thing I know! There are also just plain inconsistencies with the older characters too. There’s a couple of moments that tried to paint Egon as someone “who just lost it“- with the eventual inclusion of Ray, Venkman, and Winston at the tail end of the film, Ray reveals that he’d had an argument with Egon and didn’t believe his warnings about the return of Gozer etc. That makes… zero sense. Why would Ray not believe Egon? Nothing in the other films suggests this as a logical evolution of either character. I must also take the moment to mention how awkward and creepy the ghostly re-animated Harold Ramis felt. It was too much. They could have had it all if they just kept his ghostly arm in that first shot where he helps Phoebe aim her proton pack- if they had just restrained themselves a bit, it would have been a more powerful scene. In the end, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” fails to live up to the first two films, but does a decent enough job of returning the franchise back closer to home. Though there’s Paul Rudd, and that always makes the member-berries easier to forget. Moderately recommended.

House of Gucci

Written by Roberto Bentivegna and Becky Johnston, adapted from the book of the same name by Sara Gay Forden, and directed by Ridley Scott, “House of Gucci” follows the Gucci family through several decades of their decadent lives. Though I distinctively prefer “The Last Duel” as Ridley Scott’s best film of last year, this one certainly has it’s merits. As far as true life crime stories go, this one has the stars, the production value, and the score to best serve this Italian tale. Broadly, the film follows Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) as she enters the world of high dollar international fashion design through the infamous Gucci brand name. Gucci was one of the last major family owned businesses in Fashion, and Patrizia wanted in. The story also equally covers Maurizio Gucci’s (Adam Driver) rise to power within the family business which he begrudgingly accepts due to Patrizia’s insistence. The two patriarchs of the Gucci family are Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino) and Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons), Maurizio’s father. Aldo’s son Paolo Gucci (Jared Leto) also plays a part in the fashion game, though his inclusion comes in the second half of the film. The best part of this film are the performances with one glaring inconsistency. The four major players in the story portrayed by Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jeremy Irons, and Al Pacino are all fantastic and worthy of awards nominations- but not Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci. His entire performance is basically a joke (the truly magnificent prosthetic make-up made to transform Jared Leto into Paolo notwithstanding). His Italian stereotyping with his vocal choices is entirely bizarre and frankly I’m amazed Jeremy Irons didn’t slap Jared Leto in the face when acting those scenes with him on the principle of diluting the art of acting with nonsense like that. Though- admittedly, I laughed at Paolo and his ineptitude throughout the film. Frankly, I didn’t write about this one back when I saw it in theaters because I found the film to be… fine. Not entirely bad, but nothing spectacular either. It felt a little rote and a bit predictable. Though there is art on the screen, and the performances are worth seeing. Moderately recommended.

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Rapid Fire Reviews #22 A Grab Bag of 20th Century Delights!

This latest edition of the Rapid Fire Reviews is all about catching up with films I’ve had on my “To Watch” list for far too long. At least, most of them. “Tokyo-Ga” and “Odds Against Tomorrow” just happened to be films whose descriptions caught my interest and were captivating enough to be included. The other films come from some of my favorite filmmakers, though truly the handful of names included this time around are some of the most well known and beloved filmmakers in world cinema history. Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Agnes Varda fill out the majority of this article, and the selected films are some of these celebrated Directors’ finest works. It was a truly mesmerizing way to spend a month this winter!

Tokyo-Ga (1985)

Written and directed by Wim Wenders, “Tokyo-Ga” is Wenders’ cinematic love letter to all things Ozu. To be clear, Wenders made this diary-styled documentary during his time in Tokyo in the spring of 1983, where he spent his days wandering and wondering if there was anything left of the world that famed Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu had depicted across his 54 films. The majority of his films were made in Tokyo and often depicted the inherent drama of everyday life. One of the distinctive features of Ozu’s master period of his filmmaking were his “Pillow Shots”. These were short, static, shots of Tokyo as traffic, trains, or boats leisurely rolled through the shot. Occasionally these were active, narrow, alleys with many shops and bars, or repeated locations during the night’s slow and peaceful periods too. In this film, Wenders fills many somber shots of similar style, though the rebuilt and more frantic city life of 1985 Tokyo never quite recaptures Ozu’s notes of melancholy urban life and the upheaval of the traditional Japanese family life that were the subject of most of his films. It was a good effort though! Wenders isn’t here simply to recreate Ozu’s pillow shots though, he also interviews Chishu Ryu, Ozu’s leading man for many of his greatest hits, and Ozu’s cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta. They’re touching and emotional recollections of Ozu’s directorial style and the respect these men still held for him twenty years after his death. As a fun aside, Werner Herzog also appears in the film and has a short scene with Wenders, a good friend, at the top of Tokyo Tower in which he laments the lack of pure images in the urban landscape. It’s a delightful little film that’s full of heartfelt nostalgia, melancholy atmosphere, and curiosity explored. Highly recommended.

High and Low (1963)

Written by Hideo Oguni, Ryûzô Kikushima, Eijirô Hisaita, and Akira Kurosawa, and directed by Kurosawa “High and Low” is an adaption of the novel “King’s Ransom” by Evan Hunter, who often wrote under the pen name of Ed McBain for his crime novels. I found this film to be cinematic perfection if I’m being honest. It’s a masterclass in direction, cinematography, and the visual geography of scenes. The film begins with several high level executives of ‘National Shoes’ who meet with Kingo Gondo (Toshirô Mifune) to persuade him to join their corporate coup d’etat to force the company to make cheaper shoes quicker in a bid to increase short term profits over the more expensive process that high quality shoes would entail. To their surprise Gondo has his own aspirations and has already horded stock in the company to better posture for his own argument that the craftsmanship and quality of their products is far more crucial than immediate profit margins. The executives leave in a huff and Gondo makes moves by calling around to buy just enough stock to take control of the company. Akira Kurosawa takes great effort to set up Gondo as a man of principle and respect in the opening scenes, and it’s something that rides throughout the rest of the film as the audience can sympathize with the situation he’s soon to find himself in. Amidst all this white collar drama unfolding before us, it’s almost jarring when the hook of the story bursts onto the scene as a kidnapper calls to inform Mr. Gondo that his son has been captured and demands a high ransom that would cripple his newfound position in the company. It isn’t long before Gondo’s son appears around the corner asking where his friend had gone off to, which prompts Gondo’s Chauffeur, Aoki (Yutaka Sada), to realize that it was his son that was mistakenly abducted. The kidnapper calls back after awhile as he realizes his mistake and demands Gondo pay the price anyways. From there the film turns into a police procedural with Gondo disappearing almost entirely from the proceedings until much later in the film. It’s thoroughly engaging, full of well executed suspense, with unexpected evolutions throughout the remainder of the runtime. This one was one of the best films I have seen in a long time and I highly recommend giving it a watch, it’s great!

For more analysis on this film, check out the following article on the Criterion Collection’s online magazine, The Current, at the link below:

https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/515-high-and-low-between-heaven-and-hell

Pierrot le Fou (1965)

Written by Rémo Forlani and Jean-Luc Godard, based upon the novel by Lionel White, and directed by Godard, “Pierrot le Fou” is the first film from Godard that I’ve found myself quite enjoying. I’ve been slow to watch more of his work because each one that I have gone out of my way for has left me in a state of confusion and an utter lack of interest. That changes with “Pierrot Le Fou”. I see this one as the far more interesting version of “Breathless”. Maybe it’s because Godard engages, in an articulate sense, with American genre in a number of scenes that string together a narrative more functionally. At least, that’s how it feels to me. It’s also a far more relaxed and playful film even though the main characters galivant across France committing crimes with the film ultimately ending in a murder-suicide. It sounds strange writing it out that way, but Godard’s films always seem to have that side-effect of being hard to describe in the normal realm of film reviews. The opening scenes in Paris depict Ferdinand Griffon dit Pierrot (Jean-Paul Belmondo) living unhappily with his wife in high society. They head out to a party that Ferdinand doesn’t even want to go to wherein Godard criticizes and mocks what I can only describe as “Advertisement Speech” where patrons of the party talk to each other as if they’re in a commercial. It seems more like mockery than an off creative choice, and I quite enjoyed the sass of that scene. If this is your first film with Godard, his style of oddities may seem abrasive at first, but trust me, this is a good one. Definitely recommended.

Jules and Jim (1962)

Written by Jean Gruault and François Truffaut, adapted from the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, and directed by Truffaut, “Jules and Jim” is considered, like “Pierrot le Fou” above, to be one of the highlights of the French New Wave. Between Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, so far I’ve vastly preferred Truffaut’s films. Truffaut seems to be more apt to explore a character’s emotional drama and he’s less inclined to edit and write as abstractly as Godard. With “Jules and Jim” Truffaut takes his exploration of interpersonal relationships to the next level. The story begins in Paris a few years before World War One when the titular Jules and Jim meet and quickly become friends. The two bond over literature, art, physical skill in boxing and fencing, and of course, discussions of women. Jules (Oskar Werner) is a shorter, blond, and quiet writer from Austria, while Jim (Henri Serre) is the more extroverted Parisian. He’s taller, lankier, and less troubled than Jules overall. Though while these two share the title of the film, the star of the show and character that moves the plot the most is Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). In an inspired choice, the arrival of this ever evolving presence in the lives of Jules and Jim is foreshadowed by the two seeing a mesmerizing ancient bust of a Goddess during a slideshow. Both are so taken by the smiling figure that they track down the actual bust to see it for themselves. It isn’t long before Catherine enters the picture, and her presence is even more alluring to them than the goddess of stone before her. Her strong sense of self is as grandiose as it is mercurial. Later in the film, under a vastly different context, Jim tells Catherine that he understands her, to which she quickly bemoans, “I don’t want to be understood”. This perfectly captures how she interacts with those closest to her, and broadly the world around her. The films spans quite a longer period of time than I had expected going into it, as the story traces the characters lives before, during, and after World War One. The circumstances of the time meant that each friend was on the opposing side of the war, both often fretting over whether or not they could be shooting at a good friend. There’s a lot of change that takes place between the three of them over the course of the film with Catherine marrying Jules, becoming unhappy with his boring stability, taking on Jim as a boyfriend while Jules just wants to hold onto his love for her and their small daughter in any way he can. It’s a surprisingly complex love triangle, I certainly didn’t expect an examination of polyamorous relationships in a foreign film from the early 1960s! While not my favorite Truffaut film so far (Currently it’s “Shoot The Piano Player” https://spacecortezwrites.com/2020/02/11/old-school-review-shoot-the-piano-player-1960/), but it’s a fairly good film and one I do recommend seeking out!

For more analysis on this film, check out the following article on the Criterion Collection’s online magazine, The Current, at the link below:

https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/369-on-jules-and-jim

Vagabond (1985)

Written and directed by Agnès Varda, “Vagabond” is a story that’s mostly fictional, but partly a documentary too. As the story revolves around people living a nomadic life in rural and urban environments, some of the cast actually are nomadic people in real life. Agnès Varda’s voiceover in the beginning of the film serves as the structure of the story for the remainder of the runtime. Which is important as her unseen reporting elicits responses from a variety of people who met and knew Mona Bergeron (Sandrine Bonnaire) in the several weeks preceding her death. Yes, the film opens with the discovery of Mona’s lifeless body, having frozen to death in a ditch overnight near a vineyard. In this way, the film sets up it’s structure incredibly close to how the story in “Citizen Kane” flows through the runtime. Though admittedly, I had not considered this similarity until the article I was reading on The Criterion Collection’s online Magazine, The Current, had mentioned it. I also didn’t think I’d be linking most of the films here to a more in-depth analysis through The Current, but here we are. Throughout “Vagabond” Mona moves from place to place seeking food and shelter, though what becomes clear over time is that she has outright chosen this lifestyle for herself, part of a greater ideology it seems, but we’re never given a large amount of details about it. Though that’s not really the point of the film. Mona interacts with virtually every slice of French society throughout this time. She camps out in fields with her small tent, lives in a mostly abandoned French Chateau with another urban nomad, she even finds herself living with the seasonal Arab migrants who work on an expansive vineyard- though not for long. My favorite stop on her journey was when she was allowed to stay with a maid who serves a rich older widow who lives quite nicely. Mona ignores the maid’s warning about the wealthy Grandma and instead hangs out with her as they both get drunk together. It’s legitimately heartwarming. This is the second film I’ve seen from Agnes Varda, and I have to say, I absolutely love how she control’s the camera’s eye. It showcases curiosity behind the camera, and a willingness to film the inherent drama of normal people’s lives. I also quite enjoyed the side cast of characters surrounding Mona. Initially it seemed as though we would only get snippets of these strangers lives and never see or hear from them again, but not so! Many of the people Mona meets are reconnected by relation or connections to other new characters in a variety of entertaining ways. While the beginning and end of the film are tinged in a melancholy sadness for the entirely avoidable death of Mona, the film does evoke a lust for life through the people Mona meets on her trail. It doesn’t always go well for Mona, but it’s certainly a story worth telling and worth watching. Definitely recommended.

For more analysis on this film, check out the following article on the Criterion Collection’s online magazine, The Current, at the link below:

https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/78-vagabond

Persona (1966)

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, “Persona” is one of those films that feels indescribable at first. At first glance, the film is about an actress who has become mute, and the nurse assigned to help her through this silence and tend to her needs. The actress is Elizabeth (Liv Ullmann), a well known performer who mysteriously became mute in the middle of the stage production of “Electra”. The psychiatric Nurse is Alma (Bibi Andersson), a talkative and warm presence who is the polar opposite of Elizabeth as we shall come to see. I’ve done some digging into this film, and there are a variety of ways to absorb the story. There’s the completely viable method of understanding the film as it is literally shown to us, but there’s plenty of depth there if you’re willing to look for it. After the initial round of therapy at the Hospital in town fails to produce productive results Alma’s superior suggests the two of them head to the good doctor’s summer retreat on a sunny island for a month or two to better facilitate an environment for Elizabeth to recover in. Once on the island the two continue to move forward hoping for Elizabeth’s mental health to improve. Over time Alma begins to become comfortable around Elizabeth- eventually enough to reveal a personal story of sexual infidelity while engaged to the man that would become her husband. We find that while Elizabeth is married unhappily, she also bore a son whom she did not want, whereas Alma successfully aborted her unwanted child from her beach encounter. There’s a whole lot to dig into with this film, from the beginning of the film which opens like an old silent film, there’s even a meta shot at one point of Bergman and the crew sitting at cameras looking back. It’s all quite dreamlike to be honest. There’s speculation that both Alma and Elizabeth may be two parts of one person, especially with the camerawork done to superimpose half of each Actress’ face to form an unsettling new face in one shot. It’s abstract and ethereal, it plumbs psychology and plays with the fabric of its own reality. It’s definitely one you should watch if you’re making your own “Film School” of sorts by thoroughly flipping through cinema’s history to learn more about the craft itself. It’s a weird one, but most definitely worth your time! Give it a shot!

For more analysis on this film, check out the following archived review from Roger Ebert, at the link below:

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-persona-1966

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Written by Nelson Gidding and Abraham Polonsky, based on the novel by William P. McGivern, and directed by Robert Wise, “Odds Against Tomorrow” is first and foremost, a film of it’s era that still holds lessons for audiences today. This Noir heist film is one that also has a societal message underpinning it’s genre sensibilities. The title and theme of the film is that if we can’t take the time today for a little more patience and understanding of our fellow man, our neighbors, then the Odds Against Tomorrow will be a price too high to achieve. The three main characters of the film begin with Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) a nightclub singer who also has a bit of a gambling problem at the horse racetracks, Earle Slater (Robert Ryan) a racist fanatic whose performance should make any audience’s flesh crawl with disgust, and Dave Burke (Ed Begley) a former Cop that was fired in disgrace for corruption charges. Burke organizes the whole operation, he brings in Ingram and Slater separately to show them each the details of the heist before putting the two lit fuses in the same room together. It’s a simple heist that relies heavily on the trust of each participant, and when this uneasy alliance begins to crack, things get dicey for everyone involved. This one was thoroughly entertaining! The actual heist is taut and engaging with each character’s performance leading into the main event layering each moment with potential instability. It’s definitely worth a watch, especially if you enjoy crime genre sensibilities.

I’ve also been writing Film Criticism over at Films Fatale. Check out the links below and show them some love!

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2022/2/25/uncharted

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2022/3/8/the-batman

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Rapid Fire Reviews #21 Just a Bunch of Movies!

Okay, there’s really no way to categorize this oddball bunch of films that I’ve recently watched. Within these ten films there are two films from Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai, a recent film by Guy Ritchie, a 1990’s Sam Raimi flick, a heavily re-edited film from Orson Welles, both “Lady Snowblood” films, a couple of recent films featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, and even the new Jackass. Yes, this edition of the Rapid Fire Reviews is a weird one, there’s some duds in here for sure, but the highpoints are truly something miraculous! There’s something for everyone in this one, enjoy!

In The Mood For Love (2000)

Written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai, “In The Mood For Love” is considered by many to not only be the Hong Kong Filmmaker’s best work, but one of the defining films of the beginning of the twenty-first century. It’s certainly one of the most well executed films I’ve seen for extracting powerful emotions from simple, and yet complex, images and performances. Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) find themselves moving into the same apartment building, next door to each other, on the same afternoon. They’re each organizing what furniture and boxes go to which apartment, often sending moving men to the opposite apartment, it’s a cute scene. The spouses of Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan are never directly seen, but we hear from them occasionally in the first act- that is, before their partners discover that there’s adultery afoot. Both Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan pass each other in cramped hallways, brush shoulders in a concrete stairwell, and eventually begin hanging out more platonically, even if there’s a mutual growing interest in each other. Though they agree that they won’t stoop to their cheating partners’ level, it would make them just as bad. The film is both dreamlike and yet full of melancholy and sadness. The atmosphere surrounding this unrealized love is a painful romantic longing that’s perfectly pictured by Wong Kar-Wai. The director often uses songs repeated through his films, and this one is no different with sensual Nat King Cole songs like “Quizas quizas quizas”, “Perfidia”, and “Solamente Una Ves (You belong to my heart)” often playing over the two hanging out in the rain while sharing an umbrella, or as each one sits in their respective apartments leaning against the wall they share, longing for love, yet unwilling to act on that love. It’s also worth mentioning that this takes place in 1960’s Hong Kong, a different culture removed from the modern world’s stance on love and life. *Sigh* C’est la vie, this isn’t just a good film, it’s a great one, and I highly recommend giving it a watch.

The Grandmaster (2013)

Written by Haofeng Xu, Jingzhi Zou, and Wong Kar-Wai, and directed by Wong Kar-Wai, “The Grandmaster” is the famed Hong Kong Director’s adaption of the life of IP Man, the Kung Fu Master who would one day teach Bruce Lee the ways of Wing Chun. This biographical Kung Fu film is unlike any other Kung Fu film that I’ve seen, and it is likely the same for most audiences in the western world. With this film Wong Kar-Wai has made a historical epic that details the time and place that IP Man lived in, but it’s also about the smallest of details alongside the macro machinations of geopolitics and warfare. In the American cut (The only version I have seen at this point) the film’s plotting and story seem a bit all over the place, it may require a second viewing to fully grasp all of the details. However, of all the films made by Wong Kar-Wai that I have seen so far, it seems that he’s more interested in atmosphere, mood, and characters’ internal emotions more than story details anyways. Broadly the film is about IP Man’s introduction to Wing Chun in his early life, a secretive martial art known only to the privileged few among the elite class, and how he wants to make Wing Chun available for the masses. It also details the feuding provinces in the north and south of mainland China and the debate among whose Martial Arts forms are superior, and importantly, who should represent various factions or clans moving forward. There’s a small bit about the second Sino-Japanese war in the late 1930’s in which IP Man loses both of his young daughters to starvation. The story devotes a large portion of the runtime to the understated emotional connection between IP Man and Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of northern grandmaster Gong Yutian (Qingxiang Wang). “The Grandmaster”, at times, feels like a connective thread to some of the atmosphere seen in his earlier film “In The Mood For Love”, but it’s in his incredible detail in the fight scenes where this one stands out. The fight scenes of this film are masterfully filmed in slow motion with lighting that makes some scenes look and feel more akin to renaissance era artwork than your typical beat ’em up Kung Fu flick (which I also happen to love, no disrespect). If you’re looking for a more somber and reflective take on IP Man’s story than the crowd pleasing films starring Donnie Yen, then I highly recommend giving this one a watch. It’s contemplative yet powerful, and when a fight scene does pop up, it’s a visual treat! Watch this one folks, it’s worth your time.

The Gentlemen (2019)

Written and directed by Guy Ritchie, with story contributions from Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, “The Gentlemen” is a return to Guy Ritchie’s comfort zone of filmmaking, and personally, I quite enjoyed this revivification. This film is more along the lines of Ritchie’s earlier films like “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” than his more recent diversions with “King Arthur: Legend of The Sword” or “Aladdin”. That’s not to say that a filmmaker can’t, or shouldn’t, experiment with their cinematic boundaries, Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” films and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” were delightful surprises! It’s of my opinion that Guy Ritchie seems to do much better with realism than anything fantastical or supernatural in nature. He seems to be far more connected to the real world, and the inherent drama and thrilling sequences possible within that arena. The story here, with Ritchie’s signature whiplash editing, follows an American expat in England with a criminal empire focused entirely on the procurement and distribution of Marijuana. That American is Michael Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), and he’s looking to sell his empire and live out the rest of his life in luxurious retirement. Pearson eventually finds a potential buyer in Matthew (Jeremy Strong) a secretive, and thorough, businessman that prides himself on efficiency. Obviously, things go haywire from there with several layers of storytelling from other characters’ points of view who are themselves retelling the story to other more relevant characters, like Ray (Charlie Hunnam), or Coach (Colin Farrell). The cast has excellent performances, if a bit hammy at times, though the reveals, double crosses, and surprise developments in the story were enough to keep me entertained for the runtime. It’s a return to Guy Ritchie’s cinematic stomping grounds, and I do recommend giving this one a watch!

Lady Snowblood (1973)

Written by Norio Osada, with story elements by Kazuo Kamimura and Kazuo Koike, and directed by Toshiya Fujita, “Lady Snowblood” is not only a damn fine revenge film, but it also directly inspired Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies. Born out of a need to seek vengeance, quite literally, Yuki Kashima (Meiko Kaji) isn’t just a female warrior bent on bloodlust, she’s an Asura- a wrathful demi-god whose desires cannot be satiated. Let’s back up a bit though, what is this warrior’s purpose? Well, her father and young brother were murdered by a small band of criminals, and three of the four raped her mother in the process. Her mother had begun her mission of revenge, killing one of the criminals but getting caught in the process and sentenced to life in prison. Yuki’s mother conceived her behind prison bars and sent her into the world with but one goal, one purpose, to become her mother’s wrath incarnate and kill those who wronged their family. We get informative flashbacks of Yuki’s training, but the majority of the film is devoted to her tracking down the remaining criminals and violently killing them. I won’t ruin any of the surprises along the way, but it’s a tightly shot and edited revenge flick, and it’s easy to see the similarities to “Kill Bill” and where Tarantino took inspiration from. The cinematography is vivid and playful, the kills are all drenched in candy-cane red blood that sprays from Yuki’s victims like fire hydrants. If you enjoy films like those from the “Zatoichi” film series, or especially the “Lone Wolf and Cub” films, you’ll find a lot to love here. Highly recommended.

Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance (1974)

Written by Kiyohide Ohara and Norio Osada, with story elements by Kazuo Kamimura and Kazuo Koike, and directed by Toshiya Fujita once again, “Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance” is a sequel that left me wanting the satisfaction that the first film elicited. Meiko Kaji returns as the fierce Yuki Kashima fresh off of her successes from the first film, but in hot pursuit by the authorities for her murderous actions. Eventually she’s worn down and essentially lets her self get caught, but while on the way to be hanged, she’s offered a way to avoid her capitol punishment by the Government’s secret police. Word of Lady Snowblood’s violent revenge had gotten around and the secret police decided they could use her as a spy to retrieve a vitally important document from a well known political activist, Ransui Tokunaga (Jûzô Itami). Eventually Yuki grows attached to Ransui and becomes sympathetic to his cause. She refuses to kill him and things evolve further from there, but it’s all a bit jumbled. If the political machinations of Japan’s government in the late 1800’s seems like a curious choice of story elements after the exquisitely defined, and streamlined, first film’s revenge plot- you aren’t alone. The first film is simply superior to this one. Yes, there are violent fight scenes, but none of it feels as purposeful as in the original film. It’s not exactly a “bad” film within the Samurai genre of cinema, it’s just a bit muddled and a little boring. Somewhat recommended.

Mr. Arkadin (1955) The Comprehensive Version

Written by, directed by, and starring Orson Welles as the titular Mr. Arkadin, “Mr. Arkadin”, also known as “Confidential Report”, is a fun spin on a tale with a few similarities to Welles’ most well known film, “Citizen Kane”. Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden), a small time American smuggler in Europe with his girlfriend Mily (Patricia Medina) hear a rumor that the famous Russian Oligarch Gregory Arkadin has a dark secret, with only the name Sophie to go by. The two decide to blackmail Arkadin, but when they arrive to Arkadin’s castle in Spain, they find themselves on a different path. After Van Stratten secures a meeting with the mysterious figure, they’re understandably taken aback when he admits to knowing of them both, their criminal activity, and instead hires them to track down elements of his past. You see, Arkadin has amnesia and cannot remember anything before 1927. He awoke in a town square in Switzerland with a large amount of money on his person and not knowing a single fact about who he was or how he arrived in Switzerland. So, Arkadin wants answers and he’s willing to pay the young couple since they’re skilled enough to bring rumors to his ears and attempt a blackmail scheme on him, he thought it was cute, but it showed their mettle, so he hired them on the spot. The two decide that Van Stratten should be the one to travel abroad and track down any trace elements of the Oligarch’s true past while Mily stays near Arkadin to keep an eye on him. Van Stratten goes about finding and interviewing various people that claim to know who Arkadin was before he became Arkadin. Throughout this process Van Stratten keeps up a line of communication with Arkadin’s daughter Raina (Paola Mori)- much to Arkadin’s displeasure. Raina is the only person Arkadin seems to really care about, and once the true reasoning behind everything comes to the surface, it’s easy to see why Arkadin would want to keep his past hidden from his daughter. I’ll leave the final plotting details to those willing to seek it out, but I quite enjoyed this one from Orson Welles. It was filmed quickly and on a moment’s notice for some scenes, being a French-Spanish-Swiss co-production meant there was a lot of production juggling going on. Though throughout the film I was constantly mistaking the lead Robert Arden for Rod Sterling, the original host of the Twilight Zone, and that was mildly distracting, but my own issue. Arden was a mostly “fine” actor for the role, but his performance wasn’t anything to write home about if I’m being honest. He did the job decently enough, but he was a bit dull in the overall scheme of the film. There’s just enough of Orson Welles as Mr. Arkadin for him to be a powerful presence, but not enough to overpower the film to his hand either, which is good. I’d place this film roughly in the upper-middle of Orson Welles films, not his worst by far, but not near the heights of what he would accomplish in the filmmaking world either. Mostly recommended.

Darkman (1990)

Written by Joshua Goldin, Daniel Goldin, Ivan Raimi, Chuck Pfarrer, and Sam Raimi, and directed by Sam Raimi, “Darkman” is a comic-book film starring a character created by Sam Raimi, without the comic-book. In an interesting turn of events, Sam Raimi wanted to make a superhero movie in the 1980’s after his first two Evil Dead films, but no studio would let him near their precious IP, he had gone to bat for both “Batman” and “The Shadow”, but neither would turn out for the Horror filmmaker. So, he made his own character and the studio eventually greenlit Raimi’s film after years of negotiations. Thus we have “Darkman”, a fairly decent comic-book flick that has a handful of flaws that can be forgiven when looking at the picture as a whole. The story at hand is that Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a skilled scientist who gets caught up in the corruption racket of corporate criminal Louis Strack Jr. (Colin Friels) by way of his girlfriend and District Attorney, Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand). When Julie goes after Strack for bribing several members of the zoning commission, Strack counters by sending his goons to Westlake’s lab to retrieve a memorandum proving his guilt. When the goonsquad arrives they violently attack Westlake and trash his lab to obtain the memo, horrifically scarring Westlake in the process. Julie is led to believe that Westlake died in the attack and we now have our Darkman origin. With enhanced strength, a mutilated face and hands, unstable mental capacity, and an inability to feel pain, Darkman goes about the rest of the film trying to piece his life back together through revenge against the men that ruined his life and through attempts at rekindling the romance that he and Julie shared beforehand. One particularly memorable villain was Struck’s main henchman, Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake). His willingness to play up his villainy with heaps of ham and cheese was a delight. The only part of the film that I found to be somewhat lacking were in the two leads of Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand. Now, both are excellent actors, obviously, but I didn’t buy the supposed chemistry between them, and I honestly believe Liam Neeson was miscast at this time in his acting career. Ironically, I think he would have been perfect during his post “Taken” career, by that time he’s learned how to portray grit and a brooding menace far better than attempted here, but it isn’t a bad performance. I believe a more animated actor in the early 90’s may have been a better choice for such a manic character. He’s a little too “collected” for the role and I didn’t really believe his outbursts, perhaps someone like Robin Williams or even Harrison Ford at the time may have been more appropriate for the role- but they came with higher costs, so I understand the dilemma. It isn’t a horrible outcome for the film at all really, I could just see there being a better version of this for the lead character. Don’t let me turn you away from this one though, “Darkman” is joyful, chaotic, brimming with unabashed glee, and filled with horrific imagery. Raimi’s boundless sense of wacky and brooding tonal changes are all over this film. Something that can’t be said for something like Raimi’s “Oz The Great and Powerful”, a film that could have been made by any nameless studio director. Luckily, this film also has Bill Pope as it’s cinematographer, a name you should know if you’re looking for insanely kinetic and visually electric cinematographers. Pope’s been the cinematographer for films such as “The Matrix”, “Spider-Man 2”, “Scott Pilgrim VS The World”, “Baby Driver”, and last year’s “Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings”. His inclusion is always a great sign for a movie’s chances of being, at the very least, visually interesting. I do highly recommend this one, give it a shot!

Killing Gunther (2017)

Written by, directed by, and starring as the lead, Taran Killam (oh no… the triple threat), “Killing Gunther” is a Mockumentary style action-comedy that may have been best for a sketch on SNL- but not as a feature length film. Blake (Taran Killam) and a bunch of other contract killers are extra salty that the number one assassin in the world, Gunther (Arnold Schwarzenegger), is hogging all the business for himself. So, this band of misfits decide to work together and kill Gunther. For the majority of the film these fools try again and again, in increasingly pathetic attempts, to Kill Gunther- but he always seems to be a step ahead of them. Personally, I’m not a fan of the “staged mockumentary” as a storytelling device so you have to go the extra mile to get me engaged with this style of movie, but wow this one was painfully bad. The only saving grace is that when Arnold does finally show up in the movie, he gives it his all and he’s having a good time doing it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t arrive until about an hour and ten minutes into the movie’s hour and a half runtime. His performance is truly fun and entertaining, but it can’t make up for the slog of bad comedy and wasted time until that point. I can recommend the last fifteen minutes of the movie to you- but that’s it.

Cosmic Sin (2021)

Written by Corey Large and Edward Drake, and directed by Drake, “Cosmic Sin” is cinematic diarrhea. I’m not usually this harsh, but this is just an insult to filmmaking. First and foremost, Bruce Willis no longer cares about acting in movies. He’s clearly just there for a paycheck and to mumble his half-awake ass through some dogshit dialogue. I thought “Killing Gunther” was going to be the worst film in this edition of the Rapid Fire Reviews, but “Cosmic Sin” takes bad to a whole ‘nother level. At least in “Killing Gunther” Arnold actually seems to enjoy being the star of the film. Bruce Willis, in this movie at least, is insufferably boring and dull. The plot, if you can call it that, is that in the year 2524 Humanity has colonized a couple of planets, but never encountered intelligent life in the cosmos- until now. Okay, so the logic of the story is very unclear at times, the visual geography of most scenes are sloppy and poorly depicted, and when someone does open their mouth to say anything other than “Fuck”, it’s mindless gibberish meant to mimic speech. Anyways, once General Ryle (Frank Grillo) is aware of the event of First Contact with an Alien Species that seems violent at the outset, he orders the Alliance to seek out James Ford (Bruce Willis) A.K.A. The Blood General, and seek his counsel on the situation. However, all The Blood General suggests is the exact same thing that got him the moniker Blood General to begin with. Ford had been discharged from the Earth Alliance’s Military for stamping out a rebellion of one of the colony planets by using a ‘Q-Bomb’ and killing seventy million people in the process. Those were just Humans though, imagine what he’ll do to Aliens that transfer their consciousness through a virus like Zombies. Wait… but they’re also like, towering crow humanoids with tentacles where their mouths should be? The movie doesn’t even know what’s going on, so why should I? Characters make a weak attempt at debating the morality of brutally killing the first intelligent life that Humanity has encountered, but after that brief objection they all agree that blowing them all to hell is the appropriate response after receiving no actual intelligence about these aliens whatsoever. Ugh, the future depicted here is also so drab and uninteresting. Almost nothing about the future seems to be futuristic, or even all that different from today’s world. Humans still use projectile based weapons (i.e. guns), locations look basically the same, the only difference about a bar that a few characters drink in is that the bartender is a cheaply made robot butler of sorts. It’s just awful, seemingly every choice was the wrong one in this production, most of the blame goes to Willis for taking ninety percent of the small film’s budget as income and then sleepwalking his way through it. The only person I feel bad for in this movie is Frank Grillo. He’s actually a hard working actor that gives some great performances sometimes. If you’re looking to see him in another recent film that’s actually good and worth your time, check out “Cop Shop” it came out last year, and I featured it in the last edition of Rapid Fire Reviews. I do not recommend this one, obviously.

*For more about Bruce Willis’ decline into mumbling laziness, check out this episode of Red Letter Media’s “Half in The Bag” detailing a discussion on the Phenomenon:

Jackass Forever (2022)

Directed by Jeff Tremaine (Many of the concepts for the sketches and pranks in the film were created by the usual crewmembers of all previous films; however, notably, filmmaker Spike Jonze and Comedian Eric André had a hand in crafting several of the sketches as well) “Jackass Forever” is the fourth, and likely final “Jackass” film in the franchise. By now if you’ve seen any of “Jackass” before, you know what to expect and whether or not this is for you. Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Wee-man- all the regulars are back in action (with the unfortunate lack of Bam Margera due to personal issues, everyone wishes him the best of luck in recovery), and they jump back into the fray for all the familiar gags you’ve come to expect from the “Jackass” crew. There are some delightful, and disgusting, surprises along the way as the gang goes balls out *quite literally* to make each other, and you, laugh til they’re blue in the face. So, what I can tell you is that this one made me laugh, made me wince with empathy, and a few stunts did leave my jaw dropped at the comedic insanity of it all. Was it gross? Oh yes. Was it stupid? Most certainly. Did I have a great time watching it? Yes, yes I did. Highly recommended for those who know what they’re getting themselves into.

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Rapid Fire Reviews #20 A Mishmash of Movies!

After the Holidays I settled into a steady stream of random films, we may still be in the midst of a global pandemic- but some things never change, and January is still the dumping grounds of all major movie studios. Thus, I’ve taken to the Criterion Collection for a good chunk of the month’s film watching. In fact, of the ten films listed below, only one isn’t from the collection. It’s also the newest film to date by a wide margin, with only a streaming exclusive documentary getting near it. These films have no connective tissue other than the fact that I’d never seen them before and needed to fill in some of my film history gaps. Hopefully you’ll find something worthy of a watch for you, I enjoyed most of the following films.

Vertigo (1958)

Written by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, based on the novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, “Vertigo” is one of Hitchcock’s most well known thrillers of the 1950’s. “Vertigo” deals with obsession, fear of heights as the title implies, and an amalgamation of other more burrowing fears that emerge from our main character over the course of the film. While this one doesn’t rank as my favorite Hitchcock film that I’ve seen so far, it’s still pretty damn good. James Stewart stars as Scottie, a detective in San Francisco that’s retired early after a harrowing rooftop chase. In the opening scene Scottie’s in pursuit of a criminal on foot with another officer, but looses his balance and barely holds onto the ledge, the other officer attempts to reach out and save him- but falls to his death instead. This opener sets the tone for the rest of the film. Scottie carries his guilt with him, but soldiers on. An old colleague of Scottie’s calls him up after he’s mostly recovered from injuries related to the opening scene. Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) has a proposition for Scottie, follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) and try to see what she’s up to while he’s at work and cannot keep track of her. He quickly follows up the request with a waving away of the normal assumptions, not a story of infidelity but of potential madness? Gavin is beginning to believe that a ghostly spirit of one of Madeleine’s ancestors is possessing her, perhaps towards an untimely demise? So Scottie follows Madeleine, but the mystery only becomes more opaque as he collects information, and curiously, he begins to fall for her. I won’t reveal the twist of the film, granted it’s been over sixty years since it’s release but just in case you haven’t seen it as I hadn’t until just recently, it’s a good one that’s worth preserving for yourself. Hitchcock here utilizes brilliantly bold color schemes that further instill the dreamlike atmosphere of Scottie’s dilemma. His camera work is cerebral and inventive while keeping audiences guessing as to what comes next, it’s a real treat. I highly recommend this one, it’s definitely among the director’s best works.

Topaz (1969)

Written by Samuel A. Taylor, based on the novel by Leon Uris, and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, “Topaz” is a film that feels like Alfred Hitchcock’s answer to the popularity of the James Bond franchise. This Cold War spy thriller may be associated with the famed director’s “creative decline” but I think that depends on your disposition for cinema overall- and the context of Hitchcock’s time at Universal studios at this time as well. The director was boxed in by Universal’s parameters of acceptable violence and restrained sexuality at the box office, given the films he was attempting to make at the time versus what he was pushed toward adapting. I have a lot of ground to cover with Hitchcock yet, but getting to the later period of his work and understanding the position he was in as an auteur was a fascinating detour. This isn’t a bad film, it’s just nowhere near as good as Hitchcock’s best work, not an easy task to outdo yourself constantly and consistently when you’ve got hits like “Psycho”, “Vertigo”, and “North by Northwest” in your oeuvre. The plot of the film is focused on the ramifications of a Russian spy ring that has infiltrated the inner circle of Higher French Government, stealing NATO secrets and spreading disorganization across the Atlantic. While the film overall lacks a certain tension that usually runs throughout a Hitchcock thriller, there are certain sequences that showcase the British director’s firm grasp of how taut a scene can be. The opening sequence of Russian family escaping Soviet boogeymen in a ceramic shop in Copenhagen with the help of CIA operatives is certainly thrilling and memorable. As was the later scene in New York when our main character, French Spy Andre Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), enlists the help of another French colleague in Harlem to do some intelligence gathering when a group of Cuban revolutionaries are in town. I ended up watching the two hours and five minutes cut of the film with the ending that implied the villain’s death by suicide. Apparently there were multiple endings based on audience reception and the studio’s reticence towards an ending the French Government would not accept for distribution purposes and aptitude for eyeing profits over quality. While not the best Hitchcock film, it’s certainly watchable and I give it a hearty recommendation.

Rodan (1956)

Written by Takeshi Kimura and Takeo Murata, based on a story by Ken Kuronuma, and directed by Ishirô Honda, “Rodan” is the second Kaiju character from Toho studios, and the first Kaiju movie to be filmed in color! If you’re familiar with the Kaiju genre of films from Japan, a lot of the usual story beats and themes are present here as well. Presented alongside the original “Godzilla” and the standalone “Mothra” flick, “Rodan” excels in it’s own right as an entertaining story about gargantuan monsters besieging humanity. In a small mining town in southern Japan, two miners go missing. It’s well known that these two had been quarreling for some time. After the mines get flooded and one of the miners’ lifeless body is found torn to shreds, it’s not long before large burrowing insects make their way to the surface and cause more chaos forcing the mining community to flee the area. It’s later revealed that the insects were disturbed from their earthly bungalows by the mining company, and when we get the reveal of Rodan’s birth we discover that it’s nuclear testing that’s rocked the giant Pteranodon’s egg, causing the winged creature to burst forth in an underground cavern. This is witnessed by the other lost miner that had been swept away by the flooded mineshafts. The filmmakers wisely had large larva insect monsters attacking the miners early on, which gives Rodan’s birth excellent scale as the awakened Kaiju snatches up the comparatively smaller creatures to snack on. After this point the film ditches the small scale storytelling as Rodan stretches it’s wings and takes flight across the waters surrounding Japan. It isn’t long before the military are getting reports of an unidentified flying object flying at supersonic speeds all across the hemisphere. Reports of British airliners going down, buildings being torn asunder by screaming winds in China, the Philippines, and even Korea- all within mere minutes of each other. Eventually the Military forms a plan to drive Rodan to the base of Mount Aso, an active Volcano, and bury it in rubble from an assault of missiles. They also discover, quite late into the game, that there is a second Rodan that follows the first to the Mount Aso. The Military follows through with their plans but accidentally trigger an eruption from the Volcano. This works out in their favor though when the first Rodan is hit in the wing by the flying lava. The second Rodan dives into the lava, not being able to bear life without a mate. The final images in the film are kind of brutal for the Kaiju genre, especially knowing the kid friendly route that Toho studios would take a decade later. End Credits hit as the lifeless bodies of the Rodans are melting into nothingness from the lava. This one is just different enough from it’s predecessors and future titles in the Kaiju genre to make it a fun detour in an otherwise Godzilla heavy sub-genre. Recommended, but especially for monster movie fans the world over.

*For more Monster Movie goodness, check out my ranking of the entire Showa era of Godzilla films over at Films Fatale:

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/9/27/ranked-the-showa-era-godzilla-movies-1954-1975?rq=Godzilla

Branded to Kill (1967)

Written by Hachiro Guryu, Mitsutoshi Ishigami, Takeo Kimura, Chûsei Sone, and Atsushi Yamatoya, and directed by Seijun Suzuki, “Branded to Kill” is supremely strange among the legion of Yakuza gangster films. It’s so weird and wild in fact that the Seijun Suzuki was immediately fired from the studio after submitting this oddball flick. It’s plot is fairly straightforward, but the secret spice lies in it’s execution. The main plot point is that a hitman goes on the run after botching a hit and unintentionally killing the wrong person. There’s so much more that happens beyond that though. Goro Hanada (Joe Shishido) is the third ranked Hitman in Japan, there’s a few scenes of Goro successfully murdering his targets in strange ways, usually with even weirder exit strategies, to drive that point home early on. Goro is hired by Misako Nakajô (Annu Mari), a woman obsessed with death, who wants a foreigner killed. Goro immediately falls head over heels for the uninterested Misako, she eagerly awaits her own death as well, but when the time comes to kill his target, a butterfly lands in front of the scope and he misses- killing an innocent bystander. After this transgression the number one ranked hitman in Japan sets his eyes on Goro- for he has offended the guild’s rules, and the two become entangled in a life or death cat-and-mouse scenario. The film is very experimental in nature, with absurdist story logic, animated inserts occasionally, heaps of violence and sex, and a surreal sense of time and place. There are double crosses (and I believe triple crosses if I’m remembering correctly), and everything about the production is filled with unique choices. The sound design, for example, is incredibly inventive for the time signaling certain characters without musical cues. There’s also a lot of random sex within the love triangle of Goro, Misako, and his wife, Mami Hanada (Mariko Ogawa). Goro’s also, distinctively, got a fetish for the smell of freshly boiled rice. Yep, this one’s weird, but if you’re into the history of Yakuza films from Japan, or just gangster style crime movies to a degree- it’s worth a watch. Strange indeed, but a worthwhile endeavor!

Pickpocket (1959)

Written and directed by Robert Bresson, “Pickpocket” is a stripped bare look into the life of a pickpocket, and what makes him tick. I’ll be honest, while I was impressed with several scenes showcasing the technical precision of effective pickpockets in action on heavily crowded streets, or later on a train with multiple participants- the majority of the film left me wanting. The main character of the story at hand is Michel (Martin LaSalle), a lonely type who becomes less interesting once he espouses his thief’s philosophy. In short, he essentially believes that those who take what they want when they want it are superior beings who should be respected as such. Okay, not only do I not buy his philosophy, but the way the performances are directed even Michel feels as though he’s not really in it for the ideology, but rather that it’s just something to say to feel powerful when people ask about it. I know the story is supposed to be about redemption through love, but the ending felt unrealistic for the character as he’s been shown to us. I suppose if it’s considered by many to be great, it probably is on some level- but other than the technically impressive scenes of the illicit act itself, I could care less. Not recommended from me, but feel free to give it a shot and see whether or not the film works for you.

5 Card Stud (1968)

Written by Marguerite Roberts, based on the novel by Ray Gaulden, and directed by Henry Hathaway, “5 Card Stud” is a thoroughly entertaining old school Western. Maybe it’s because I was initially becoming more acquainted with films and filmmakers through Westerns as a teenager that I always find the technicolor standard of Westerns in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s as something familiar and comfortable. That’s the case with this film as well. Even though it was a first time watch for me, the rhythms of the old west were instantly recognizable, and heartily welcomed. Here Dean Martin stars as the lead of the film in Van Morgan, a restrained, yet genial gambler who’s the only voice of reason once a cheatin’ cardshark is revealed among his usual card group. The other players have their hearts set on brutal vengeance though, and immediately drag the sorry newcomer out of town and hoist him up high. After the dust settles, one by one the members of that card game start mysteriously showin’ up dead. As the gamblers try to reckon with which card player is the killer among them, a new preacher comes to town after the gold rush starts. Rev Rudd (Robert Mitchum) has a hellfire and brimstone take on his sermons, short, sweet, and heavy on accusing the townsfolk of being derelict sinners. He’s also got a twitchy trigger finger, he’s prone to punctuating his points with bullets. The film isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it’s a well made, professional, movie. It’s also incredibly entertaining thanks to the two leads in Martin and Mitchum, though the cast surrounding them isn’t too far off. Roddy McDowall as Nick Evers is a fun, if a bit mustache twirling at times, villainous role. Henry Hathaway had already filmed a few action Westerns by this time and knew the right ingredients for the recipe. Shootouts, an ensuing mystery, barroom brawls, and swaggering gunslingers with a penchant for walloping one-liners. This one’s a good time, and I highly recommend it.

Copshop (2021)

Written by Kurt McLeod and Joe Carnahan, from a story by Mark Williams, and directed by Carnahan, “Copshop” is a simple but explosively fun action thriller. This sort of film doesn’t get made all that often anymore. It’s a small, nasty, one-location shootout that evolves throughout the runtime. The hook of the film is that con artist Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo) has a hit put out on him, so he punches a small town cop and gets tossed in their holding cell for the night. Unfortunately for him, a grumbly and cerebral, Gerard Butler appears in the cell across from him as the first hitman to find Murretto’s hiding spot. One of the best roles in the film also goes to Alexis Louder as the rookie cop on the force, Valerie Young. She holds her own against some darkly violent characters and pursues justice as best she can amongst the chaos. The surprisingly excellent role of secondary Hitman, Anthony Lamb portrayed by Toby Huss, is the shot of adrenaline that the film needed. Lamb’s skill as a Hitman is immediately showcased in his own dark and comic way, and I absolutely adored this performance. Huss plays the character as if he were a merge between the Joker and the Punisher from the big two comic publishers. He’s aces with a gun, but absolutely off his rocker and having a great time doing it. The whole film is a rough and tumble, guns-a-blazing, survival of the luckiest crackshot style romp, and I loved it. If you’re looking for a dark comedy action thriller with loads of style, Carnahan has just the film for you, and it comes highly recommended from me.

No Way Out (1950)

Written by Lesser Samuels, Philip Yordan, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and directed by Mankiewicz, “No Way Out” is a film about racial tensions in America and how quickly things can unravel when wrong-headed assumptions take root. After Sidney Poitier’s recent passing, I made it a point to go back and get into some of his more well known films. I have a ways to go yet, but I figured why not start closer to his beginnings than his end. Poitier stars as Dr. Brooks, one of only a few Black Doctors in the Hospital and wider city. His first day on the job brings him face to face with the very real racism of the day (We’ve gotten better since then but clearly have a looooooong ways to go) in two young white men who’ve robbed a gas station, gotten shot and caught. These scoundrels are the Biddle brothers, Ray (Richard Widmark) and George (Harry Bellaver). George seems to be worse off than his scheming loudmouth brother, and when Dr. Brooks attempts a spinal tap to assess the cause of George’s deeper pain, Ray objects. It isn’t long after this that George dies, and Ray accuses Dr. Brooks of intentionally killing him. Filled with indignant rage and a lost heart, Ray continues to make matters worse for Dr. Brooks when the Doctor asks to have an autopsy to assess what went wrong. Ray also fuels the flames of racial tensions in the area when he gets his side of the story out to the low income white community of Beaver Canal through a lip reading friend. Things escalate from there, but the film does a decent enough job for it’s time when showcasing the institutional racism and the social structures that could foster such hatred throughout the city. Eventually Dr. Brooks turns himself in amongst a literal race riot with tempers raging about, a turn that would require the Hospital to perform an autopsy which ultimately proves Dr. Brooks right. George did have a tumor that exacerbated his gunshot wounds to an untimely death. The film is most certainly of it’s time, but it attempts to rise above and tell a story about perceived assumptions and how the truth must be sought after, not merely assumed. It’s worth the watch folks!

King of New York (1990)

Written by Nicholas St. John and directed by Abel Ferrara, “King of New York” is a crime drama that doesn’t exactly know what it wants to be- other than “Cool”. The film has it’s fair share of fun action beats and snarling gangster criminals that pop and sizzle with memorable performances. That’s mostly due to Laurence Fishburne and Christopher Walken though. Everyone else is just kinda there. Giancarlo Esposito has a minor role, but they don’t give him anything to do within it. Walken’s role as Frank White, a big time drug kingpin who is released from prison in the film’s opening, is the anchor of the story as White and his men go about trying to take a bigger slice of New York City while also attempting to give back to the community through funneling drug money into children’s hospitals and helping the poor more generally. The film lacks precision, as the plot drunkenly wanders from cliché to cliché, and at times the gunfights and character work can be fun, but it never feels in service of the story. Moderately recommended.

The Ghost of Peter Sellers (2018)

“The Ghost of Peter Sellers” was directed by Peter Medak. This documentary was a bit underwhelming if I’m being honest. It follows the production of the 1973 pirate comedy, “Ghost in the Noonday Sun”- which Peter Medak himself directed. The doc details all of the aspects of this doomed film production, from the context of pre-production to the unraveling that would come to take place late in the production. There are some interesting bits about Peter Sellers in general, and the idea of the film, but after awhile all of the ingredients seem to pile up to a fairly clear answer as to why this film didn’t work out, all while Medak is constantly venting his frustrations some forty-five years later. The director himself didn’t have a handle on the production, didn’t know the details of what he was trying to do, and had a flimsy and wandering script in which Medak simply decided to put all of his faith in the project’s success in Sellers worldwide comedic fame. Sellers at the time had just been dumped by his girlfriend Liza Minelli, this was just after his third wife had divorced him, and was entering the project in a dark state. Hardly a good footing to begin with for your major star. After a few modern scenes with Medak wandering around old shooting locations in Cyprus with one of his fellow producers of “Ghost”, one gets the impression that Medak was easily one of the major inhibitors of the project. As the director he should have had a much stronger grasp of the story, the details of the production, and to be perfectly honest, he should have better assessed his own skills as a director for such a project. He gives off the air of a stuffy history professor, someone that maybe should not have attempted a comedy. There are some bits that are worth seeing, but more often than not the doc is repetitive therapy for the director with Medak equally cursing and praising Peter Sellers, among the many other issues of the production. It was a bit dour and depressing if I’m being honest. Barely recommended.

*I’ve continued to write film criticism articles over at Films Fatale as well, here are a couple of my most recent articles from there. Show them some love and check out what Films Fatale has to offer!

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/12/31/the-best-films-of-2021-by-cameron-geiser?rq=Cameron%20Geiser

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2022/1/14/22-movies-to-see-in-2022?rq=Cameron%20Geiser

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Rapid Fire Reviews #19 A Netflix Triple Feature

Over the Holidays I finally caught up with several Netflix films that I’d heard about, a new Western in “The Harder They Fall”, an adventure blockbuster with “Red Notice” and the star studded topical comedy “Don’t Look Up”. Each one has their merits, though I was only truly enamored with “The Harder They Fall”, and not solely due to love of the genre. The Western not only acknowledged cinema’s past, but it was unique enough to stand on it’s own as well. “Red Notice” was easily the weakest of the bunch, it wasn’t outright bad, it was just entertaining enough as a paint-by-numbers heist movie. Though if you’re looking for the anxiety high that comes from doom-scrolling the news, “Don’t Look Up” is for you. It’s a fun rebuke of modern society, but it does instill a queasy uneasiness amongst the farce of it all.

The Harder They Fall

Written by Boaz Yakin and Jeymes Samuel, and directed by Samuel, “The Harder They Fall” is a traditional Western when it comes to character beats and overall structure, but with the distinction of an all African-American cast when concerning the major players of the story. Broadly, the film is about the Nat Love Gang reforming once they hear that Nat Love’s (Jonathan Majors) rival, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), has been bust out of prison. The best part of this film is, no doubt, the excellent cast. Jonathan Majors absolutely knocked the role of Nat Love out of the park- he does the gunslinger role right! Idris Elba has sheer, powerful, presence in every scene he’s in. His role as the villainous Rufus Buck is established early on and the potentiality of his revenge feels like it’s always roiling just beneath those unblinking eyes. LaKeith Stanfield has a smaller role in Cherokee Bill, fastest gun in the west, but it’s what he does with that time that sets him up as a power player and a real asset to Rufus once he returns to Redwood City. Zazie Beetz stars as Mary Fields, a Saloon owner and the no-nonsense love interest of Nat Love. The rest of the cast is integral in the larger machinations of the story but are all smaller roles that pepper the film with character, charm, and ruthless violence. Delroy Lindo as the US Marshal Bass Reeves was a fun aside, he was the grim reaper with a gun, willing to uphold the law no matter the cost. Edi Gathegi, Danielle Deadwyler, and R.J. Cyler all made great contributions to their roles as Bill Pickett, Cuffee, and Jim Beckwourth respectively. Those three handled layering the story out with great character work, but also some good humor as well. I was surprised how natural the film was in doling out solid comedic bits amid all of the revenge and bloodshed. This film feels like a combination of Tarantino and Clint Eastwood at times. The over the top violence and score choices gave me flashbacks to “Django Unchained” while the steely nerve of anti-heroes and villains reminded me of those classic Sergio Leone characters in the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960’s. With maybe a dash of the Sam Peckinpah worldview as depicted in “The Wild Bunch”. The point is, this Western sits firmly in the territory of the greats, and while it may never transcend it’s influences, it does homage to Cinema’s gunslinging past right, while maintaining it’s own uniqueness. One of my favorite scenes is the bank bobbery that takes place in “a White Town”. The whole scene is absolutely covered in literal whiteness. The buildings are all painted white, inside and out. There’s snow on the ground and rooftops, it’s brilliant really. When compared to the rest of the film that lives and breathes in earthy and vibrant colors, the set design alone makes the characters’ trek to the other side of society seem otherworldly, and a bit sad and boring in truth. If you’re looking for a quality Western this winter, I do highly recommend this one. It’s a bit brutal and violent at times, but it’s also a narrative delight!

Red Notice

Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber “Red Notice” is your run of the mill action heist-oriented adventure flick. This is the sort of movie that you’d go to on a hot summer day for the air conditioned coolness of a darkened theater screening room. It reminded me of cinema’s past, not the highs of the last century per se, but the action movie antics of the 1980’s and 1990’s like “Independence Day”, “Mission Impossible 2”, or more aptly, “Romancing The Stone”. Movies that aren’t necessarily outright bad, but rather, just something to watch and be amused by. Wanna spice up that rainy (or snowy) afternoon? “Red Notice” can handle that for you. The film stars the ever profitable Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, the man-with-the-mile-a-minute-mouth Ryan Reynolds, and the Amazonian Princess herself, Gal Gadot. They all play off of their respective on-screen personas from their most well known roles, and each one hits highs and lows in this one. I’ve seen each actor in better roles and films, but this one isn’t necessarily bad. It’s entertaining for sure, but if you’ve seen the episode of “Rick and Morty” that comically eviscerates Heists and Heist movies alike, you might feel like Morty does by the end of that episode and at the end of “Red Notice”. I don’t even really need to go into plot details with this one if I’m being honest. There are so many twists, reversals, betrayals, and double crosses that it doesn’t even matter what the details are, you know the formula. The trio globe trots around the world stealing precious items from others and themselves and all while looking good doing it. That’s half the game right there. Watching pretty people do illegal and illicit things as they joke and sneer and quip their way to some (probably) big paychecks. Is this one art? It doesn’t feel like it, but then again, it’s just a big dumb movie that I admittedly had some fun with, but I probably won’t return to it. Somewhat recommended.

Don’t Look Up

Written by David Sirota and Adam McKay, and directed by McKay, “Don’t Look Up” is a political comedy about the inherent madness of today’s societal woes. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as Dr. Randall Mindy and Kate Dibiasky, two astronomers at Michigan State University who discover a comet the size of Mount Everest that’s headed straight for the earth. They immediately take their findings to the White House to brief the president about the situation, though their evidence falls on mostly deaf ears. President Orlean (Meryl Streep) is more preoccupied with her standings in the upcoming midterm elections, and her public image, than a potentially apocalyptic event roughly six months out. Frustrated with the snub from the administration, Dr. Mindy and Kate go rogue and take their warning to the most popular talk news show in Washington DC hosted by Brie (Cate Blanchett) and Jack (Tyler Perry). The low level astronomers get increasingly disappointed by how little anyone seems to care about the end of all life on the planet as we know it. Several plans to try to stop the comet from coming are enacted and then thrown aside at the chance for rare minerals and, well, greed and arrogance essentially. There’s some really fun stuff in this film. The allegory for climate change and the nonchalant response from government officials and the media at large is clear as day, though the response to Covid-19 can be viewed similarly in this way. The all star cast delivers memorably insane responses to the unreal nonsense that’s happening all around them. Mark Rylance has a coy, Steve Jobs-adjacent, tech founder named Peter Isherwell that slyly pokes fun at the very real world problem of corporate influence and unfettered money fueling base line corruption in today’s politics. I also cracked a few laughs at Ron Perlman’s smaller role as the “Military Hero” chosen to pilot one of the missions to combat the comet. Though admittedly, while I enjoyed the mockery of Elite society and the oh-so-truthful representation of their disconnect with everyday people that lead normal lives- I have to say that this film did give me a creeping sense of anxiety. Perhaps because it all feels so plausible? Obviously, there are leaps and bounds here in the film that simply don’t reflect reality 100% back at the screen, but if you ever wanted to endure a condensed sensation of the last five years’ new cycles- this film does that. At least, it did for me. Entertaining, and a bit horrifying at times, “Don’t Look Up” is a clever satire of uniquely American insanity, it’s certainly worth a watch!

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Christmas Movie Review: Fatman (2020)

Written and directed by Ian and Eshom Nelms, “Fatman” is a weird little Christmas movie with an absurdly dark story premise. Mel Gibson stars as Santa Claus in this one, figured I should get that out of the way up top since that may be the love it or leave it factor for some. Though for anyone curious, Gibson plays the role with a grumpy and gruff sincerity, nothing too crass or patently ridiculous here, in fact that extends to the whole atmosphere of the film. While everyone acknowledges the fantasy elements at hand, everything is played down and more realistic than you might expect. The hook of the story is that a spoiled rotten rich kid (Chance Hurstfield) hires a hitman to kill Santa Claus after receiving a lump of coal for Christmas. That hitman just so happens to be played by Walton Goggins.

Most of the film is dedicated to setting up the particulars of the world and the eventual showdown between Goggins and Gibson. Once the kid sets Goggins on his journey to track down Santa Claus, our time is spent between the Hitman’s strange quirks and Santa’s financial woes. Goggins imbues the contract killer with a personal grudge against Santa, he too received coal as a kid, and thus he obsessively collects children’s Christmas gifts made in Santa’s workshop. Santa on the other hand is caught up with a bit of a cynical attitude at first, more and more kids are ending up on the naughty list than ever before, and the government is tearing up their contract with him, it’s enough to drive Santa to the bar- literally. Santa ends up having to make a new contract with the Military to stay fiscally solvent, and it’s enough to get him back to the punching bag to take out some of that stress. By his side is the lovely Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Mrs. Claus who plays the part as a true partner and a calming presence. I really enjoyed all of the little things in this film. The fact that Santa drives a faded old red Ford pickup truck from the 1970’s made me crack a grin. I also loved that Gibson’s Santa is truly a cookie fanatic in a few scenes, playfully grabbing cookies off of Mrs. Claus’s plate even after she tells him he’s had enough. There’s a lot to enjoy here in this world. We also get a few scenes early on that establish the Hitman’s skill and efficiency, something to consider him a real threat once he finally arrives on Santa’s property in Northern Alaska. When the Hitman does comes across Santa’s path, the movie finally lives up to the potential that the premise promised us.

Once the shootout between Gibson and Goggins begins, it feels like the films is suddenly directed by Quentin Tarantino! There’s a beautiful wide angle shot of the two of them standing across from each other, drifts of snow and piles of chopped wood lay between the two. It’s definitely the scene that was pitched when trying to sell the screenplay I’m sure. The whole film leads up to this scene, and it lives up to the expectations. It’s a thoroughly entertaining film that doesn’t stay mired in the darkness that comes with the ideas in play. It’s a little different than your average Christmas movie, but it’s all the better for those differences. If you’re looking for a fun way to pass the time this Holiday season, this one’s worth your time! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Final Score: Two Old Pistols

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Rapid Fire Reviews #18 Surprise! More Films From The Criterion Collection

These five films below had been sitting on a shelf in my movie collection for about a month or two collecting time until I could sit down and give each one my undivided attention. Alas, when the Criterion Collection has a half-off sale, I must add to my collection. So, what began as a potential double feature review with “The Wages of Fear” and “State of Siege” turned into another edition of the Rapid Fire Reviews. These five films are all wildly different in tone, subject matter, and aesthetic, and all of them are worth a watch in my opinion. Here’s hoping you find a new cinematic experience to enjoy, I certainly did!

Throw Down (2004)

Written by Kin-Yee Au, Tin-Shing Yip, and Nai-Hoi Yau, and directed by Johnnie To, “Throw Down” is the most recent addition to the Criterion Collection out of these five films discussed today. This film was the most surprising oddball delight out of the bunch. The story weaves and wildly turns about face, its a bit elusive to say the least. So, what is the story about broadly? Much like how an anime (any anime really) can take a topic or idea and stretch it, mold story beats from it, and contort it as far and wide as possible- this film takes the martial art of Judo and makes the world seem as though it only revolves around those concerned with the flipping of bodies. Sze-To Bo (Louis Koo) is a former Judo champion who’s a gambling drunk and a shadow of his former self at the beginning of the movie. He runs a neon soaked karaoke bar with a seedy reputation, usually slumped over a table with drink in hand, painstakingly depressed. Two pivotal characters immediately waltz into Bo’s life, Tony (Aaron Kwok) a young Judo martial artist that wants to challenge Bo to a fight and prove himself, and Mona (Cherrie In) a singer on the run from her former manager who dreams of moving to Japan. Bo eventually gets wrapped up in the duo’s problems and Judo shenanigans ensue. There’s also Kong (Tony Leung) an old rival of Bo’s that wants to finish an unresolved match that Bo ran away from years ago. The story, as noted, does indeed bob and weave about with Bo gambling everything he owns in various scenes and the three of them trying to revive Bo’s old dojo which has gone to ruin, while also getting caught up in some criminal ongoings- its a lot. What works with the film is the atmosphere and aesthetic, and the characters who earnestly seem to want to revive the former Judo champion’s spirits. Eventually things seem to roll back around to the beginning of the film as Bo has a change of heart and actualizes his past failures with a new vigor and regains his Mojo, so to say. Johnnie To has also said that the film is a tribute to Akira Kurosawa, specifically his first film, “Sanshiro Sugata”. Having not seen that film (yet), I’m unsure about how this film connects to Kurosawa on the whole, but its still a noteworthy point. This one is weird, moody, and curiously fascinating. If you’re willing to dive into a Judo-focused criminal underground for an hour and a half, I say give it a shot! I had fun with it, you might too!

Thief (1981)

Written and directed by Michael Mann, based on the novel by Frank Hohimer, “Thief” is your fairly standard heist film, but with a solid foundation and a cast of sensibly crafted characters that feel like fully realized people. Between the appropriately scored music within the film by Tangerine Dream, the moody aesthetic with it’s nighttime settings and neon lights from Chicago’s downtown, and the tension ingrained into the soul of the film from its opening scene- everything culminates in a film that has familiar structure, but with intelligent twists. James Caan stars as Frank, a skilled jewel thief who prides himself on working with a small crew and remaining independent while maintaining their successes. Frank comes across as a calculating and dangerous man who increasingly has his back up against a wall, becoming more animalistic as the film goes on. Frank just wants to craft a life and steal enough dough to be set for that imagined life. He seems to decide this rather abruptly amid being watched and stalked by both the Chicago P.D. and the criminal underworld that wants to recruit him. There’s an oddly touching scene where Frank grabs a random cashier, Jessie (Tuesday Weld), essentially a stranger to him, and tries to explain his past, his plans for the future, and why they should be together. Once established in a new house with Jessie, they attempt to adopt a baby and are refused, Frank’s feral attitude doesn’t exactly help in this situation. However, the Mob in the city manages to provide him with a child, and Frank finally accepts the criminals’ hand in partnership. There’s a few fun smaller roles within the film as well, Willie Nelson stars as Okla, the elder thief in prison who taught Frank the tools of the trade. There’s also Jim Belushi as Barry, Frank’s loyal partner in crime. The leader of the Mob, Leo, is also worth mentioning as he’s played with a ruthless earnestness by Robert Prosky. The two heists of the film aren’t exactly the focus of the story, sure, everything evolves around these events- but the film is far more concerned with it’s characters and how these events effect them. I was surprised when the major heist of the film was seemingly cut short in the edit, admittedly though, the fallout from the heist is inherently far more interesting. Frank never wanted to get caught up in the Chicago crime syndicate, he never wanted to be involved with a system of control like that, and as if to confirm his suspicions, his life grew far more complex and full of meddling in his personal affairs once the mob got involved. There’s a turning point in the last ten to twenty minutes of the film when it suddenly turns into a revenge movie as the fallout from the big heist reveals that his bosses never wanted to let him out of the system, they just wanted to control him forever. So, he does the sensible thing and burns down his whole life just to go after the gangsters. Frank leaves town without the skeleton of a life that he tried to build up over the course of the entire movie. This one was fairly entertaining, “Thief” successfully puts a unique flair on an age old cinema archetype with style. Definitely recommended.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Written by Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola, and Wes Anderson, and directed by Anderson, “The Darjeeling Limited” is Wes Anderson’s fifth film, and it’s this era of his filmmaking experience that I, ironically, hop onboard. In my opinion, Wes Anderson has only improved over time. I wasn’t a fan of his first three films, “Bottle Rocket”, “Rushmore”, and especially not “The Royal Tenenbaums”. Beginning with “The Life Aquatic” and continued here in “The Darjeeling Limited”, Wes Anderson’s storytelling technique, and more importantly the characters across his films, begin to take on more well rounded sensibilities. There’s more humility here, the characters seem to grow less aloof and awkward, they become more realized, more human. With this film, it feels like his characters are literally going on that journey of growth and personal betterment, it isn’t always easy, and the characters have failures and setbacks, but it’s all moving towards something with meaning here. The story follows the three Whitman brothers as adults, reuniting a year after their father’s death to take a journey together through India by train, to attempt to understand how they grew so apart from each other, and why. Together, chaperoned about by the eldest Whitman, Francis (Owen Wilson), the three brothers board the train with a lot of literal and symbolic baggage to sift through. Each Whitman has their own personal issues that eventually get brought to the forefront when pressed. Francis, who set up the journey to begin with, is still recovering from a motorcycle crash that opened his eyes to the loss of family that had gradually began over the year. Peter (Adrien Brody) the second eldest, has his own mid-life crisis (They each have their own internal crises really) in that he’s about to be a father himself and he’s still trying to come to terms with that, he also has the most personal items of their father’s, something that Francis obviously is hurt by. Jack (Jason Schwartzman) is the youngest and is having trouble getting over his last lingering relationship. Speaking of Jack, on the criterion channel blu-ray of this film, you have the option to watch the film with or without Hotel Chevalier. Not knowing what Hotel Chevalier was, I opted in for my first experience with the film. It was a bit awkward initially, having no context of the film or the characters only amplified this sensation, but it’s a short film about Jack Whitman and his estranged former girlfriend played by Natalie Portman. The whole thing feels like I, as the viewer, am intruding upon their relationship as it ends in a slow motion, melancholic, melting of an affair. It felt weird and sad, but it does heavily inform the headspace of Jack Whitman once the real film begins. It especially informs Jack’s near constant poetry that he recites throughout the film, especially with the last bit where he reads a passage that is ripped exactly word for word from the lovers’ last encounter. So, while its a bit awkward, I do think it helps to flesh out the youngest Whitman as a strange sexual provocateur and his need for distance from the family given that he’s always naturally included in each older brother’s arguments. There’s a lot of the fun usual visual flare you’d come to expect from Anderson at this point. The dollhouse aesthetic is on full display here within the two trains that the brothers travel on during the film. When the brothers depart from the train, the story is all fine and good, but the visual exuberance that layered the film during the train scenes is ultimately lost in the chaos. There’s also a bit too much reliance on slow motion running sequences set to songs, not a horrible choice, but one that I think was overdone a bit here. This was a delightful surprise from Wes Anderson. A lot of the expected idiosyncrasies are present, alongside familiar faces and themes, but this one showcases the improved evolution of the filmmaker as a more cohesive storyteller overall. Moderately recommended.

The Wages of Fear (1953)

Written by Jérôme Géronimi and Henri-Georges Clouzot, based on the novel by Georges Arnaud, and directed by Clouzot, “The Wages of Fear” is the winner of both the 1953 Palme d’Or at Cannes film festival and the Golden Bear at Berlin Film Festival that same year, and with good reason! This thriller is definitely one to watch at some point, I’m giving the recommendation up top with this one, because it’s just so damn good at what it does. The basic conceit of the film is that in Argentina, in a small backwater town full of danger and a lack of decent paying jobs, four men are ultimately selected to take two large trucks on a treacherous three-hundred mile journey with each one filled to the brim with nitroglycerin. Due to an accident at an outpost of the domineering Oil conglomerate in the area, the company must send the explosive material to the site to detonate and extinguish the blazing inferno. The first hour is spent setting up the world and cast of characters that inhabit it. While it may be the smallest bit slow within that first hour, the very second all four men step into those trucks, the tension is high and taut until the very last frame of the film. There’s a lot of well conceived character development and motivation built up in the first portion of the film. It establishes these characters not as heroes of the story, or even as innocent men put in an unenviable position, but rather it shows that each one is somewhat of a delinquent in their own ways, some are worse, some are better off. The two main characters had names and faces that I thought I recognized during my initial watch. I wasn’t entirely sure until looking the films up on IMDB during this very writing, but I had indeed recognized the two French actors from two different Jean-Pierre Melville films in “Magnet of Doom” for Charles Vanel, and “The Red Circle” with an older Yves Montand- “The Wages of Fear” was one of Montand’s first big roles in cinema. Yves Montand also stars in the last film of this article in “State of Siege”. One of the most fascinating aspects of the character development was between these two characters played by Vanel and Montand. Initially it is Vanel’s character who boasts about and is the brash dominant one of the two. As their journey begins and they’re increasingly subjected to the reality of their situation, that death could strike at any moment, it is Montand’s character who sticks to the cause, he needs the $2,000 that the Oil company’s willing to pay per head. Vanel’s character’s complete descent into total abject fear and weakness is a brutal emotional arc for the character. It’s a sight to behold, but an understandable one given all of the nail-biting scenarios they’re subjected to. There are several sequences where the characters have to maneuver the big rigs through white knuckle adversity that it’s a wonder how they pulled off some of the shots and sequences in the early 1950’s. I won’t ruin all of the surprises that the film has in store for those willing to embark on this cinematic journey. Though I must note that the ending caught me entirely off-guard, a shocking and dark brutality to end on that even further cements the themes of the film. Seek this one out folks, it’s worth your time.

State of Siege (1972)

Written by Franco Solinas and Costa-Gavras, and directed by Costa-Gavras, “State of Siege” is a political thriller that focuses on American involvement in South American Countries (among other hemispheres) and how that impacts the lives of those who live there. The film begins with the funeral of Philip Michael Santore (Yves Montand) an American foreign aid supervisor working in Uruguay. With no context as to who this man is, or was, we’re left to assume that he was either a great man, or a powerful one, as the speeches given during the funeral claim the man’s death will become a national holiday. It’s all very vague fluff and general pomp. The majority of the film is structured into the week before the diplomat’s death and funeral. We start at the beginning where an elaborate scheme to capture the American is put into play with a lot of layers. The rest of that time is spent with the guerrilla stylized rebels thoroughly questioning Santore, digging into his actual past, recently within Uruguay and further back with his dealings in Latin America broadly, but in the Caribbean specifically as well. We get some disturbing imagery of American agents teaching various governments how to torture their citizens properly with electrodes shocking various prisoners, or dissidents, body parts. It’s macabre and heavy at times, but these brief moments of brutality inform the gravity of the rebels’ situation. They’ve made demands of their government, and they don’t really want to kill the CIA agent, but the crux of the film’s drama is placed here, on this debate. Its a measured but intricate back and forth in which the skilled and well organized guerrilla rebel faction argue with the official over details, and they’ve done their homework too. They know the spy’s past, they confront him on various accounts of what he’s done and why its morally corrupt. Santore gives the rebels credit in their commitment to details, which is what keeps them from being caught immediately. The rebels slowly realize their dilemma after days of no responses from either American or the local government channels regarding their demands. If they kill him the world will grieve for Santore’s seven children and they’ll make him into a martyr against communism with broad strokes (As we have seen in the opening scene, we know this to be true). However, if they don’t kill him it will signal to local and foreign forces that they’re weak and they’ll lose credibility. “State of Siege” is a storytelling indictment of why the CIA, or various other American government forces, meddling in South American countries can lead to death and destruction. The film is somber, heavy, with a good amount of tension at times too. It’s a well made political thriller that may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I found myself thoroughly enjoying my time with this one. Moderately recommended.

I’ve also been writing articles and reviews over at Films Fatale, check them out through the links below!

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/11/12/what-if-martin-scorsese-directed-an-adaption-of-red-dead-redemption-2

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/11/8/eternals?rq=Cameron%20Geiser

film

@ The Movies! “The Last Duel”, “Last Night in SoHo”, & “The French Dispatch”

Over the last few weeks I saw three new releases in theaters, and in this film critic’s humble opinion, each one was a cinematic triumph. The main thread linking each film, unfortunately, is that despite these films having mid to large budgets, numerous big name actors attached to each one, AND the fact that each film is directed by auteur film directors in Ridley Scott, Edgar Wright, and Wes Anderson- none have performed well financially at the box office. Granted, there are a huge number of caveats to this year’s box office numbers for every major film release- but given the recent major resurgence in theater-going audiences that began in earnest this year with “Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings”, it’s a bit discouraging to see a lack of interest in these excellent films. I sincerely appeal to you dear reader, please go see these films at the theater. If you care at all about the filmmakers and actors putting these films together, and the future of adult themed films being able to obtain star power and big budgets, again, I implore you, give these films a shot if you’re feeling safe enough to do so. Unfortunately, studios will take note when the money doesn’t exactly roll in. Especially in the case of “The Last Duel” and it’s dwindling box office returns, which is a crazy turn of events considering the talent involved.

“The Last Duel”

Written by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon, and directed by Ridley Scott, “The Last Duel” is a medieval “Rashomon” of sorts in which characters reflect on the events leading up to the titular duel. The first version of the story is told through the eyes of Matt Damon’s Sir Jean de Carrouges, a man of war who works for Dukes and Kings, even when looked down upon by those he serves and those who galivant with the powerful. The second version of the truth is from Adam Driver’s Jacques Le Gris, a Nobleman of the realm who did indeed fight alongside Jean de Carrouges in war, though he eventually befriend’s Ben Affleck’s Duke Pierre d’Alençon- who bristles at even the sight of Jean de Carrouges. The third and last truth is told from Lady Marguerite’s (Jodie Comer) point of view, and her story holds the most revelations as she is the victim of a brutal sexual assault by Jacques Le Gris. Obviously, each person believes they are the hero of their own stories, and as each of them will not budge from their account of the truth, the solution is to have both men battle in a duel to the death and, “Let God decide who is right”. As far as the production of the film, everything looks great, Scott keeps each story on the same visual level creating a cohesive world while distinctly altering each repeated scene as the characters view them. It’s a damn smart film on a technological level. The action scenes, especially with the titular duel, are outstanding, visceral, and powerful. Naturally, as the Knight of the three, Jean de Carrouges has the majority of these scenes in his version and within Jacques Le Gris’s story as well. They truly add to the overall theme of the film, that living in the past may not be as glorious as we’d all like to think it could be. Story wise, the film also excels as each version of the truth told by each character layers the other two’s perspectives to a level that ultimately may be the closest thing to the truth. Though, the film does take a side of the three characters as to whose version actually IS the truth. Within the context of the film, it makes all the sense in the world to have Lady Marguerite’s version of the story be the true version, but admittedly, I prefer Kurosawa’s take on the central idea- that everyone embellishes and no one is capable of telling the truth without muddying the waters a bit. In “Rashomon”, for example, even the ghost of the dead character who speaks on the issue of their own murder couldn’t help but embellish the truth. Though, Lady Marguerite’s version greatly impacts the other two chapters of the film and how each character could misinterpret each other’s intentions. Though I have to say that even in Jacques Le Gris’s version of the rape scene, it’s not easy to watch. Sure, he sees it as a more playful endeavor- but he’s still, clearly, in the wrong. Lady Marguerite’s version of that scene is so much worse and far more brutal- even with subtle changes in the edit, like punching up the sound design to sound… well it’s just worse and more painful. It’s certainly hard to watch, but it does give the actual duel more weight. Speaking of the duel, the film also chooses to depict the battle as a disgusting, and frankly gross, way to solve a dispute. In this world and time however, it’s the closest thing society had to…. justice? It’s a brilliant move that informs the audience that even with all of the pomp and circumstance, all the talk of honor and pride, it’s just two men fighting to the death in the mud over what happened to a woman- who in this time is viewed, unfortunately, as property. History is brutal dear friends, and while it’s fun to romanticize Knights, Kings, and Queens- it wasn’t exactly a great time to be alive for many of us. That being said, I do highly recommend seeing this one.

“Last Night in SoHo”

Written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns and Edgar Wright, and directed by Wright, “Last Night in SoHo” is a Horror Mystery film in which a young aspiring fashion designer moves to London and eventually finds herself being transported to 1960’s London every night. Thomasin McKenzie stars as Eloise, a young woman who’s accepted into a fashion design school in London and promptly travels there from the countryside. She’s quite obsessed with the culture from the 1960’s through films, fashion, and music. After Eloise encounters a bit of a rude social awakening with her peers at the university, she moves to a small one-bedroom flat nearby. Once she rests her head in her new home at night, she’s transported to that glitzy and glamorous 1960’s London. After a moment out on the street in dazzling wonder, Eloise makes her way into a nightclub and in the reflection of some walled mirrors she sees not herself, but the magnificent Anya Taylor-Joy reflecting back at her. She decides to follow the moment and watches Anya Taylor-Joy’s confidence whisk her into a dance and departure sequence with the charming Matt Smith as her eventual manager in entertainment. To reveal much more would be a disservice to those interested in giving this film a shot, but I must say that I do highly recommend it, the mystery of the story is a lot of fun! I was recently reading a book titled “The Film That Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark” and Edgar Wright’s chosen film was an informative one. The film that irrevocably changed his perception of films and filmmaking was “An American Werewolf in London” a briskly paced horror-comedy from 1981 whose immediate spiritual connection with Wright’s own “Shaun of the Dead” is immediately noticeable. In his passage, Wright spoke about that film’s relationship with the horror genre and how much he wanted to tackle the genre himself one day, and here we are in 2021 with Wright’s first legitimate Horror film. As it’s his first film in the genre, there’s some genuinely creepy and harrowing ideas that Wright throws at the screen, especially once the third act gets rolling. However one of the more interesting aspects of the film comes with how he approaches nostalgia. Those rose-tinted glasses might be lying to you, the past may not be as romantic as you once thought. While at times he does rely on a bit of jump-scares, nothing is outright obnoxious, but it’s a trait revealing his beginnings within the horror element. The jump-scare ghosts within the film itself aren’t all that scary, however the scenes depicting Eloise’s inability to escape being transported back to 1960’s London at night- that is some terrifying stuff. What’s worse is the horrible awful things done to young women in the entertainment industry in the past (and in the frighteningly recent past too as the Me-Too movement revealed). If you’re a fan of the British filmmaker this is just another fascinating entry in his evolution as a director and screenwriter and I highly suggest seeing it if you can. If you’re new to Wright in general, go see it! Then give his older films a watch, they’re to die for!

“The French Dispatch”

Written and directed by Wes Anderson with story elements written from the likes of Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman. “The French Dispatch” is Wes Anderson’s tenth film, and it feels like the culmination of all his previous films rolled into one gigantic smorgasbord of cinematic delights. The whole conceit of the film is that The French Dispatch was a fictional American Newspaper, set in a fictional French city (Ennui, pronounced AHN-WEE), with the story focusing on the last edition of the Newspaper and the journalists who wrote each piece. First we get a small bit of information about the Newspaper, how it started, and the editor who ran it up until his death, Arthur Howitzer Jr. played exquisitely by Bill Murry. Which is the inciting incident of the film and the reason it’s the last issue. Each major section is narrated by the journalist that wrote the piece, and each one is a depiction of life in Ennui as seen through the eyes of the writers. The first bit is effectively a short written by Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), which details the city itself and the downtrodden, homeless, school children, street walkers and prostitutes who live in it. The three major pieces are written by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), and Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright). Each one focuses on different aspects of the city they lived in and the stories they thought worthy of telling. Each one is unique and fantastically fabricated. Berensen’s piece focuses on an artistic savant, who also happens to be a psychotic killer living in prison in perpetuity while Ms. Krementz chose to dive into the student revolution taking place in the city in a war of ideologies between Ennui’s generations. Roebuck Wright’s piece delivers the goods on an infamous night in which he was invited to dine with the Police Chief’s superb in-house chef, known far and wide for his culinary skills. The infamy in question began with the kidnapping of the Police Chief’s son during the dinner. I’ll leave the plot descriptions at that for now, as they are told much more skillfully by the writers and performers of the actual film itself. This is the sort of film that I go to the movies to see. Actors in costumes, on hand-crafted sets, using practical props, with monologues and action beats and lots and lots of wordplay. I’ve always been somewhat 50/50 on Wes Anderson, though the back half of his career has given us some of my all-time favorite films. Notably, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Life Aquatic”. This one however, may be my new favorite Wes Anderson film, and possibly my favorite new film of the year. I’ll have to reflect and see it again when thinking back on 2021’s admittedly outstanding collection of film releases if I’m being honest. However, anyone that’s not much interested in Wes Anderson films to begin with, may not be as in tune with “The French Dispatch” as I was. For anyone uninterested in the quirks that commonly come packaged as criticisms, of this director, mainly that he’s “too literary“, “too invested in European culture“, or “too kitschy or twee“- these potential audiences will most likely not be persuaded by this film. Indeed “The French Dispatch” is all of those things and more, some could call it style over substance, but I’d take issue with that criticism personally- there’s heaps of substance, whole island nations of substance, if you ask me. It just may not be for you in execution. Yes, his dollhouse aesthetic is still present, as is his love of symmetrically composed shots and lateral movement tracking shots, but would it really be a Wes Anderson film if he didn’t do any of those things? Probably, but perhaps not? This film is amongst his strongest work, and I really do recommend giving it a watch, even if you haven’t enjoyed Anderson’s work in the past, this one was particularly enjoyable in my opinion.