Month: June 2022

Movie Review – The Northman

Category : Movie Review

Director: Robert Eggers

Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Anya Taylor-Joy, Claes Bang

Year: 2022

The Witch, The Lighthouse, The Northman; Robert Eggers’ three directorial features, and smash successes all.  I also think they got progressively better, which makes sense, working up to a fever pitch and exploding with chaos in his latest, bloodiest bad-assery The Northman.  It’s a classic revenge tale set in a brutal time, like Valhalla Rising for a modern decade, or The Last Kingdom shrunk down and with global politics removed.  Basically, it’s a fucking fantastic film that Eggers poured all his wicked dreams into, and we’re lucky he did.

When he was a child, the Viking prince Amleth dreamed of manhood beneath the loving hand of his father, King Aurvandil, who would guide him to greatness.  When Aurvandil’s brother Fjolnir murdered him, stole Queen Gudrun, and claimed the northern kingdom, Amleth fled for his life, becoming a great warrior among another tribe, but always haunted by his past.  Learning of Fjolnir’s new location in Iceland, Amleth’s sense of vengeance is rekindled, and the fates give him a way to honor his father, rescue his mother, and kill the fratricidal maniac who ruined his life.

Eggers started out great with Witch, got even weirder with Lighthouse, and wraps oddity in history with Northman, giving us his best film yet.  It’s a nice balance of fever dream, magic purpose, and stark reality, like Macbeth meets Green Knight, but with more bludgeoning.  It’s a bloodbath, that’s for sure, but there’s a point to it, and every death is fascinating in its honesty.  Every mystical element threatens to disrupt the almost-biographical feel, but Eggers gets the mix just right, with just enough nonsense to compliment the dirty, violent daily existence.  Skarsgard is phenomenal as the lead, carrying the entire thing on his shoulders, with us along for the ride.  Taylor-Joy was a bit of a distraction, I thought, as were Nicole Kidman and Ethan Hawke; I would have preferred lesser-known parents, or perhaps authentic Swedes (I know Mads is Danish, but he would have been perfect here as the father, and could have recurred as a dream or something, though I understand he’s in, like, every movie, but I find that a good thing).  Northman is sweeping, brutal, sexy, bizarre; it’s the whole package, and it’s the best film of the year so far.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


Movie Review – Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Category : Movie Review

Director: Rob Marshall

Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane

Year: 2011

In the Jack Sparrow movie realm, we have a new director, new characters, new landscapes, and a whole new way to be bloody awful.  On Stranger Tides was the worst the franchise coughed up yet, veering completely from the original three, due in part to actors leaving the project and in part to some years between films.  Marshall took over and completely wet the bed; his version of Pirates is silly, sloppy, and subpar.  With two more to come, #4 doesn’t give us much hope that the second trilogy will be worth more than a puny pirate penny.

Barbossa has taken the Black Pearl in search of the Fountain of Youth, but he can’t get the job done, not without Gibbs, a special map, and the *real* captain of the Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow.  But Jack is in London about to face the hangman’s noose, so his friends will have to rescue him rather quickly.  Also, the Spanish are after the Fountain, the English want Barbossa to get there first, and Jack has his one agenda, as always.  Plus, the dreaded Blackbeard is after the prize as well, making for an interesting vacation to sunny southern Florida.

Without Will & Elizabeth, the plot pretty much falls apart.  The new love interest is Jack and Blackbeard’s daughter, and that just doesn’t work; it’s plain weird.  Also, Penelope Cruz has never *ever* been worse, so her character comes across as stupid and useless.  Blackbeard is dull too, the story is far too complicated, and I don’t trust that the filmmakers behind #4 didn’t simply throw darts at an idea board & saw what stuck.  This is bad news for the rest of the franchise, because the magic may be completely gone, and I don’t know where to find more.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆


Movie Review – Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Category : Movie Review

Director: Nicholas Stoller

Starring: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand

Year: 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall was supposed to be an irreverent and hilarious comedy with great characters, like the formula that worked in 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, those goofball romps that were a hit in the mid 2000s.  Well, that didn’t work, mostly because Nicholas Stoller is not Judd Apatow, and also because this might be the worst starring foursome of actors any movie has ever been cursed by.  For a comedy about love, there’s not much funny or heartwarming about this Hawaiian shit show.

Musician Peter is dating television star Sarah, and she just means the world to him, especially since she’s so perfect and he’s kind of a shluck.  And so when she dumps him, Peter thinks he’s going to die of heartbreak and he just can’t seem to get over her.  A vacation might do it, so he flies to Hawaii, but guess what, whoopsie, guess who’s there?!  AND she’s brought her new boyfriend, an international sensation British singer dude, who’s at once kinda cool and also a big dick.  Peter lucks out and meets the lovely Rachel, but he’s simply not over Sarah Marshall; will he ever be?

It’s just …*sigh*.  This movie isn’t any good, and what sucks is that it almost is, but never quite gets there.  The setup is silly but fun, the characters are wild, there’s comedy here, it just isn’t delivered correctly, or maybe by the correct people.  Segal, Bell, Kunis, Brand; these are not funny people, not good actors AT ALL, and they simply can’t handle the job.  The side guys, however, that’s where the magic is, there just isn’t enough of it: Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, Jack McBrayer, Jonah Hill.  When those guys are interacting with the stars it’s pretty hilarious, until the stars go interact with each other and you realize that they may be in the wrong profession.  Sarah Marshall has moments, but its leads are so abysmal that you forget to laugh.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆


Movie Review – The Mist

Category : Movie Review

Director: Frank Darabont

Starring: Thomas Jane, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn

Year: 2007

Based on a Stephen King short story, The Mist is a cool concept poorly produced, like something that sounds good in your mind but gets you in trouble when you blurt it out.  Darabont works almost exclusively in King stories, directing and adapting, and he does a nice job; he wrote & directed Shawshank, for Pete’s sake.  But Mist is not one of his successes; it’s a cheap thrill with cheaper chills, hampered often by it’s TV-caliber cast and awful animation.

A powerful storm rolls through a sleepy town, leaving overnight destruction in its wake.  In the morning, David heads to the store with his son Billy to pick up supplies and get fixin’.  But mother nature, or possibly supernature, has other plans, as a dense fog appears, a creepy mist coming down from the mountain, and it encases the whole town.  People begin to disappear into the mist, taken my creatures hiding within, while many huddle inside the grocery store for protection and food.  Will they ever come out alive, or will they turn on each other before the monsters can even get them?

It’s weird that a handful of people from this cast went on to be in Walking Dead together, which, come to think of it, is pretty similar to The Mist in quality and watchability.  They’re both good at first, interesting, based on better works, and then both fall apart fast, because the plot gets repetitive and the acting gets horrible.  The talent on display here is poor, very poor, even while some of the individual actors aren’t.  The computer graphics are also fairly awful, and all the creatures look pretty dumb.  Thomas Jane isn’t a lead actor, he wasn’t helped by those around him, and the whole thing comes crashing down very quickly; read the novella instead.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆


Movie Review – I Think We’re Alone Now

Category : Movie Review

Director: Reed Morano

Starring: Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning

Year 2018

I didn’t care for Morano’s debut, Meadowland, and I don’t care for her followup either, I Think We’re Alone Now; neither are very well-directed movies.  Her style is far too one-note to translate to great cinema; her stories are interesting, but she doesn’t either expand or diverge from them enough when it’s needed, when audiences grow tired of one emotion constantly pulsing in the background.  There has got to be more, more breadth, and although these actors can do the job, they simply weren’t asked to.

In the near future, 99.9% of humanity will die.  In this new world, information on why will be scarce, but it wont’ matter; nothing really does anymore.  One man who was left over by chance, Del, continues the life he was leading before; working at a library, keeping to himself, not needing anything from anybody.  But he’s not the last person living; a young girl named Grace shows up out of nowhere, destroying the silent sanctuary that Del had built for himself, and exposing him not to disease & death, but rather companionship & communication, which he fears much more.

Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning are tremendous actors who I’ve enjoyed countless times; neither was set up for success here.  Morano’s direction was to blame, again, because nothing was given to the actors except one idea, one feeling, and that’s not enough to work with.  Then a twist is thrown in at the end to mix things up?  Nope, too late, and too cheap; we want the actors to show us the layers within the story, that’s what we enjoy, nice effort displaying a nice plot, it’s that simple.  Instead, we weren’t given enough, neither were they, and the film falls flat and audiences find that they simply don’t care.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆


Movie Review – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Category : Movie Review

Director: Gore Verbinski

Starring: Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom

Year: 2007

Jack Sparrow is back again, this time from the dead, as the thrilling trilogy concludes …and leaves the door open for three more in the future.  But this is the last directed by Verbinski, and it was made to pair with #2 as basically the same film, with #1, of course, setting the stage for all.  Forget what we know about the later films, these first three are rather good, if descending in quality every step of the way, until you’re not sure you can make yourself like any more.  At World’s End is definitely a low point, but with high points scattered throughout its arc, which makes it tolerable, if not laudable.

The mission to bring Jack back from Davy Jones’ Locker begins, but every party has a different reason for wanting to pull him back into the land of the living.  Barbossa, back himself, needs Jack to help bring the Pirate Lords together, Elizabeth needs to assuage her guilt at his death, and Will’s mind is bent on freeing his father from the clutches of Davy Jones.  Meanwhile, the British navy is preparing to kill every pirate living, with Jones as their assassin, and it will take all the colorful characters we know & love coming together as one to stop the free ocean from becoming a highway for the rich & powerful.

Most of this film is spent wondering what the hell is going on.  If #2 was stuffed too full, #3 is bursting at the seems, with multiple, insane Jack Sparrows, the land of the dead, a goddess who isn’t a goddess, a ferryman who isn’t doing his job, a thousand plot points, and a hundred climaxes, in what is, really, way too ridiculous a film.  BUT, I will say that the ending saves the rest, as story lines come together, bows are tied, one large action sequence saves the day, and we forgive mistakes that otherwise might have sunk the ship.  Watch this one as an extension of Dead Man’s Chest, don’t compare it to Black Pearl, and you’ll make it through what is definitely not a perfect gem.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Movie Review – 2 Days in the Valley

Category : Movie Review

Director: John Herzfeld

Starring: Danny Aiello, James Spader, Charlize Theron

Year: 1996

2 Days in the Valley is an extremely amateurish attempt at an ensemble thriller, a collection of reasonably intelligent ideas thrown together and then told to wrap up RIGHT NOW.  Filled with moments and with stars, it quickly & sadly becomes about what doesn’t work rather than what does, leaving all positive possibilities at the feet of too many dead ends.  Still, it’s not every day Charlize Theron is this hot, James Spader is this evil, AND Danny Aiello is *this* Italian, so I guess the movie’s got some good things going for it, even if the ending has you scratching your head and wondering “what did I just watch?”

The twisted Lee and the genial Dosmo are off to extract information from the lowlife Roy, while he lays in bed with his ex-wife Becky, who knows that the blonde bimbo Helga had been keeping his bed warm in the interim.  Meanwhile, two cops in Vice are preparing to shut down a massage parlor, even though it’s doing no harm, and a washed-up director is preparing to kill himself since he has nothing left to give the world.  All their lives are about to collide as crimes go wrong, things get messy, and shit hits the proverbial fan; welcome to California.

Aiello, Spader, Theron, Jeff Daniels, Teri Hatcher, Glenne Headly, Eric Stoltz, Keith Carradine; this was quite the cast in ’96, if not as much now.  Theron was young & hot, that’s for sure, and that’s remembered as, really, the only reason to watch this movie, because otherwise it’s a bit of a bizarre experience.  It’s silly, how easily the director thinks we’ll be dazzled by the glitz of Silk Stockings murders and Hollywood love affairs; this kind of story comes a dime a dozen, but the filmmakers seem to have forgotten that.  Had they laid into that fact, we could have forgiven more, but, as it was, the plot kinda falls apart.  Though not terrible throughout, it definitely crumbles by the end, and you’re left thinking “was that it?”  There are little pieces to love, especially Aillo’s storyline, but the cat fight, the supposed coolness, the background info that goes nowhere; there are simply too many holes to fill.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Book Review – The Clan of the Cave Bear

Category : Book Review

Author: Jean M. Auel

Year: 1980

A classic novel of early people, Clan of the Cave Bear offers not only a stirring story with rich characters, but also a glimpse into the past in a way that we’ve never seen before, transporting readers into a forgotten world that looked so different from our own but held some of the very same challenges.  Made into a movie in the 80s, no visual depiction could rival the images we get from Auel’s writing, so vivid & introspective are they that we can picture every aspect, during a time when our minds conjure grunting cave men and little else.

A group of Neanderthals is forced to leave their home after an earthquake destroys it, hoping that the spirits will show them a new place to stay.  Along the journey, they stumble upon an injured girl, whose family unit was also destroyed in the disaster, yet she is a Cro-Magnon, or an “Other”.  Despite this, the group takes Ayla in, and the medicine woman Iza heals her, claiming her as her own daughter, to be joined with the Clan.  But Ayla’s idiosyncrasies are many, from physical appearance to speech, from independence to abstract thought.  Will she ever fit it, or is she doomed by her differences?

This is a very simple, subtle, soft spoken story, filled with moments of brutality amid a much calmer nature.  We learn not just how these characters live but how these people might have lived, and how these two branches might have come across one another, interacted, mated, formed the humans we are today.  The way it is written is very relaxing, very descriptive of the natural surrounding world, until a death or assault or attack or curse destroys the innocence that we had become comfortable with.  It’s this balance that drives the story, this constant struggle to survive and to find purpose, with the characters constantly battling within themselves to learn more and to do right.  It is rare to read a book so transportative and so rich, especially when it seems on the surface to be so basic and purposeless; I can say it is anything but.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


Movie Review – Smokey and the Bandit

Category : Movie Review

Director: Hal Needham

Starring: Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed

Year: 1977

Much (all) of what I think of Smokey and the Bandit now is based on nostalgia and only nostalgia; watching it today is not the same as watching it almost 50 years ago.  Can that be right?  Can it have been about 45 years this this film was released?  I would have watched it in the late 80s, but it still feels like only yesterday; time is hard to fathom I guess, and harder the older you get.  Anyway, Bandit isn’t as good a movie as I remember, or, rather, it’s a much more problematic movie than I remember, some of which can be forgiven because of time/age/perspective.  But some is just dumb and you wonder why it was there in the first place; some films just don’t age well.

Legend speaks of a pair of washed up ol’ Georgia country boys who used to be the fastest drivers in the South, pulling off crazy stunts and avoiding the local law, all for the thrill of the chase.  Now they just compete in fairs, appear for pictures, watch themselves grow fat, but maybe there’s one more big ride left in them, the famed cowboy Bandit and his trusty sidekick Snowman.  When the wealthy Big Enos bets Bandit that he can’t bootleg some Coors from Texas to Georgia, Bandit takes the challenge, running blocker for Snowman’s rig, keeping all the smokeys busy so that the beer can be delivered.  What he didn’t count on was meeting little Frog along the way, a young lady running from her own life and landing right in Bandit’s arms.

Well, Smokey and the Bandit is definitely dirtier, coarser, and less cool than I remember, but I guess I was only small, I didn’t know much better then.  Watching it now, it’s a little too unpolished and insulting, not even in a tongue-in-cheek way that might be admissible.  They should have known better in 1977, the film watches very cringe-y, and that’s upsetting, because boy did I love Bandit.  There’s still fun to be had; Burt was a god, Sally was so cute, the music and the semis and the chases and the fun, there’s something to be said for big, dumb, Dukes of Hazzard fun.  But that good ol’ boy humor only goes so far, and hasn’t translated well, so maybe cinema like this belongs in the past when it seemed good, not in the present where the only thing it’s got going for it is our memories.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Movie Review – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Category : Movie Review

Director: Gore Verbinski

Starring: Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom

Year: 2006

Jack Sparrow is back and …a little worse for wear, but that doesn’t stop Dead Man’s Chest from being an entertaining adventure for the whole family; a step down yes, but a complete disaster no.  Verbinski knew what he had been lucky enough to be handed well enough, he wasn’t going to completely fail to bring it to life a second time, and this cast was only improved by the additions, not hurt by the landing of a sequel.  Nothing can rival Curse of the Black Pearl, that’s obvious, and at first this film seems pale in comparison.  But if you watch it with wide eyes, looking for fun, you are bound to find it.

Jack is off being the Captain of the Black Pearl, Will & Elizabeth are going to get married, Captain Barbossa is dead; all is right with the world.  That is, until the powers that be decide that Will & Elizabeth should be punished for helping Jack escape; now they will have to find him and take a treasured object of his if they want to clear their own names.  But it’s not that simple; Jack is making deals with Davy Jones himself, who controls the Kraken, and that’s a lot of supernatural power packed in one squishy punch.  Backs will be stabbed, promises will be broken, swashes will be buckled; it’s a wild ride on the high seas, better grab a line.

The first in the franchise is by far the best, there’s no debating that, it’s one of the best action/adventure movies of all time, let alone of the last few years & set at sea.  But although Dead Man’s Chest doesn’t exactly live up to its predecessor, it also doesn’t embarrass itself either.  This is simply a silly movie that’s enjoyable to watch, and although it tries to stuff far too much into its story arc, you can forgive it for going too far, because that’s better than not going far enough.  Never boring, often overwhelming, this film jam packs the daring do and asks you to hold on for deal life, throwing extra characters and extra fright scenes at viewers with reckless abandon.  Not for everyone, not to be over-analyzed, just to be experienced, Dead Man’s Chest is a nice #2.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆