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Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

"Memory" Review


 Memory is forgettable. That's it. That's the review. Try the veal!

OK, a bit more then. Memory is a remake of a 2003 Belgian movie called The Memory of the Killer about an aging assassin dealing with rapidly onrushing Alzheimer's. Liam Neeson, everyone's favorite AARP tough guy now that Clint Eastwood is over 90, stars as Alex, a man with a special set of skills (whoops, wrong franchise) which begin and end with killing. While he's still able to fulfill his contracts while pushing 70, he's becoming forgetful and though he wants to retire, he's given the usual One More Job Which Will Test His Conscience.

Despite whacking his first target with impunity, he balks at killing a 13-year-old girl who was being sex trafficked by her father. When she ends up dead anyway, he seeks to avenge her while being pursued by FBI Agent Guy Pearce who had killed her father during a bust gone bad. The convoluted plot involves sex trafficking of minors held in the El Paso ICE detention facility and Very Important People would be fine if anyone who knows about these escapades ended up dead. 

While there is some promise in the premise and I recall hearing that the original is a good movie (I own the DVD, but haven't watched it), Neeson seems forgotten half the time as other threads of the spaghetti logic plot are followed. He growls a lot and kicks ass a few times, but it's getting tired and old, sort of like Neeson at 69. 

Frankly, the most fascinating detail about Memory was its cast, specifically that barring the handful of Mexican/Hispanic actors, everyone I looked up wasn't American. Neeson (Irish), Pearce (Australian), an aging-badly Monica Bellucci (Italian), Ray Stephenson (Irish), Pearce's partner Taj Nawal (looks Indian, is British), his angry cliche superior Ray Fearon (black, is English), even the DOJ guy is Belgian, I think and down the line, not a single American played any of these American characters. Must've been some condition of the financing, but it's weird; you'd never be allowed to make a movie in England with an all-American cast.

 Slow, unsatisfying, and all puns intended, feel free to forget about Memory.

 Score: 3/10. Skip it.  

"The Wedding Singer" Review


I've written before about how I've boycotted every Adam Sandler movie since 1998's The Wedding Singer with only two exceptions: 2009's Funny People (which I broke boycott for because I was - note was - a Judd Apatow fan, but resulted in adding him to the boycott list) and 2019's Uncut Gems, which I only decided to watch after seeing his hilarious Independent Spirit Awards acceptance speech after he'd been snubbed for an Oscar nomination. But as I look at his IMDB page now, I realize that I didn't stop being a fan; I never was an Adam Sandler fan. 

Not counting his bit parts or cameos in pal's films or animated work (the Hotel Transylvania series), I just realized I have only seen FOUR of his nearly 40 feature films: the above-mentioned trio plus Airheads. I liked him on Saturday Night Live, but it appears I have never had much interest in his movies. My girlfriend has seen multiples more of his movies than I have and has been on me to give 2011's  Just Go With It a chance for a decade now, but my boycott has been too firm. But now that I look at things, is it really a boycott when you were never really a customer in the first place?

 Needing a comedy the other night, the missus and I watched The Wedding Singer, the first of his three collaborations with Drew Barrymore (the others being 2004's 50 First Dates and 2014's Blended) which was also the last of his movies before my boycott was triggered by the Big Daddy trailer. It's a testament to how triggering that trailer was because The Wedding Singer is a sweet and funny example of late-20th Century rom-coms and comedies in general. 

Sandler is the titular singer, Robbie, whose motley wedding band is inexplicably in demand, though it is New Jersey. Opening at a reception where we see his limited vocal (but more impressive people) gifts, we're also introduced to the new waitress Julia (Barrymore), the new-in-town cousin of Holly (Christine Taylor), who is also a waitress at the wedding hall and is a bit of a tramp. Robbie's own wedding to Linda (Angela Featherstone) is coming up in a week and Julia has been engaged for years to an aloof rich jerk, Glenn (Matthew Glave), who has been reluctant to set a date.

 When Linda doesn't show up for the wedding because while she fell for Robbie when he was in a rock band she couldn't imagine being happy being married to just a wedding singer, Robbie is crushed, leading to a hilarious meltdown at a subsequent gig. (Why a wedding band even has "Love Stinks" in the set list is unexplained.) Meanwhile Julia finally get Glenn to set a date, but he's clearly not into it.

Since Robbie knows all the local wedding businesses and how to wrangle bargains, he helps Julia plan her wedding since Glenn's too busy making big bond trader money in NYC. Naturally, they seem to be perfect for each other though they don't realize it because this is a rom-com after all. While on a double-date with Glenn and Julia while he's with Holly, Robbie learns what a weasel Glenn is, but how do you tell a girl her man's a rat? And what to do if your ex comes back around? Will these two crazy kids be able to find love and grow old together? (Spoiler: It ends in a murder-suicide. Just kidding! Duh!)

There are a handful of memorable classic bits and everyone is fine and funny in their performances. I'd forgotten it was set in 1985 and who the big cameos were and while it's very predictable in its story beats, it doesn't overstay its welcome at 97 minutes long. (You hear that, Apatow? Comedies shouldn't rival Lord of the Rings movies for runtime!) My girlfriend was snarking that Barrymore looked like a child, but she looks at least 14 which is impressive considering she was 22 when shooting this. 

As for Sandler, the seeds for my boycott are visible here. While it works here for the character, it showcases my knock on him that he had exactly two gears for "acting": the meek quiet baby-voiced mode and the LOUD BELLOWING JOCK GOON mode. I had missed Happy Gilmore, but was aware of the second mode, but it was the moment in the Big Daddy trailer where he's screaming for a Happy Meal that I noped out of wanting to see anything he was in for another decade. Robbie is mostly a Mode #1 performance, but he edges into restrained Mode #2 territory, but it works because it's limited. But I can see why I flipped on him. 

Was I wrong to write him off so completely? Probably not. Maybe I'll finally give Just Go With It a look since I've already warned the missus that if it sucked she'd be finding out what domestic violence is like. (Not sure if I'm kidding here.) But at least The Wedding Singer is a movie of Sandler's that I'm cool with having seen. Now concerning Funny People, I need to pay Judd Apatow a visit and have to pick up an axe handle somewhere on the trip.

Score: 6.5/10.  

Note how they give away the whole plot and some big gags in the trailer and also Sandler's baby voice to bellow schtick.

"The VelociPastor" Review


After the dour The Batman, we were looking for something lighter when almost immediately Peacock offered up The VelociPastor which has this as its official blurb: "After losing his parents, a priest travels to China, where he inherits a mysterious ability that allows him to turn into a dinosaur. At first horrified by this new power, a prostitute convinces him to use it to fight crime. And ninjas."Alrightee then! A brief 70-minutes later we can say that it definitely has what it advertised on the tin, except more so for it's both a B-movie AND a straight-faced parody of zero-budget B-movies. 

It announces its intentions right out of the gate as Father Doug (Greg Cohan) is shown waving to his parents standing by their car and then an off-camera boom occurs, Doug looks horrified, then they cut back to an empty frame of the street with the notation "VFX CAR ON FIRE." Three times. After fellow priest Father Stewart (Daniel Steere who should be first pick for a John Bolton biopic) consoles him, "So your parents died, Doug. It's what parents do. They die on you," he decides to go to China which we know is China because a big title card screaming "CHINA" is put up and Doug says, "China." No stock footage of the Great Wall; just their say-so. 

While there he encounters a dying Chinese woman who hands him a tooth which scratches his hand. Suddenly he's back in his parish bed, haunted by nightmares with no idea how he got there. He quickly finds out why when he saves a hooker (Alyssa Kampinski) who was being mugged in the park. By turning into a dinosaur. And eating the mugger. Hijinks ensue!

Made for a reported $11,000, writer-director Brendan Steere manages to make it look like at least half as much on the screen. With a cast marginally better than the "actors" in Clerks - though to be fair Cohan and Kampinski are good enough that they have 25-35 IMDB credits each, albeit mostly playing SWAT #3, Woman, and Reporter #2 - The VelociPastor successfully balances the tightrope between mocking cheap genre movies and simply being a bad cheap genre movie. 

It's got enough intentional laughs and doesn't overstay its welcome - take that, Judd Apatow. Some of the gags are so subtle I suspect people dissing it in IMDB user reviews didn't get what they were watching. For example, during the opening credits Doug is shown driving with obvious rear projection screen footage, but that's not the joke - what cracked me up was that they were shining lights on the car to simulate passing streetlights when the background footage is broad daylight. Don't worry though, there are plenty of obvious gags like the whooshing sound effects over the ninja army - all two of them in their homemade ninja costumes - training exercises and the backstory of what drove Father Stewart to the priesthood is Airplane-grade nutty.

I'm genuinely surprised Steere has no credits after this 2018 film. I don't mean to make it sound like he's the next Sam Raimi or even Kevin Smith, but considering how much money gets wasted making direct-to-video dreck and paying stars like poor Bruce Willis a million bucks for a couple of days "work" repeating lines fed to him by earpiece so they can put his face on the poster implying he's the star, why can't someone toss Steere the price of a luxury car to make some more mild entertainment?

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable. (It's currently on Amazon Prime, the free tier of Peacock, the ad-supported area of Vudu and others.)

"West Side Story" Review


 It's long been thought that Steven Spielberg has wanted to make a musical as shown by the dance hall scene in his first flop, 1941, and the opening credits to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, so it wasn't a surprise that he finally got around to it nearly a half-century into his legendary career. What was surprising was his choice to remake 1961's West Side Story, the winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture. Why not make an original musical or adapt a popular show like Hamilton or The Book of Mormon?

While some aspects of the project were reasonable like having a more ethnically accurate (i.e. Puerto Rican actors for the Sharks et al) and younger cast members who could actually sing, concerns began to rise as Spielberg started making woke noises about the project like refusing to subtitle Spanish dialog because he didn't want to "give English power over Spanish." (More on this later.) Such woke virtue-signaling - like all those Disney movies which hype how they'll have gay characters because that's what a family-friendly company focuses on - is so commonplace it hardly registers as Hollyweird panders to itself as to how stunning and brave it is in rejecting the values of those squares, the deplorable rubes who buy the tickets in the Flyover. 

Except in this case it backfired and the movie flopped. Hard. So, of course, the Academy rushed to give Big Steve's Folly seven nominations including Best Picture, Director, Cinematography and Supporting Actress which is very on brand because "Woke Side Story" is a miserable toxic exercise in cultural vandalism which is appalling and depressing. 

Little time needs to be spent recapping the story because it mostly follows the same beats of the 1957 musical's retelling of Romeo and Juliet and subsequent film. In New York City's Upper West Side, in the area which will become Lincoln Center, rival gangs the Sharks (Puerto Ricans) and the Jets (white guys) squabble for control of their disappearing turf. (Since they're not gangsters slinging drugs or other rackets, what are they controlling?) Sister of the Sharks leader, Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler) falls in love instantly with Tony (Ansel Elgort), former leader of the Jets whose trying to reform his gang ways. Conflict, rumbles, death and misery ensue for those crazy kids. You know the story.

 The troubles begin right off the top as Spielberg's screenwriter, the gay Jewish Marxist Tony Kushner, has decided that the racial subtext of the source material needed to be elevated to TEXT text and by repeatedly stopping the story to sledgehammer the audience with reminders that white people are terrible xenophobic racists and Puerto Ricans are marginalized oppressed immigrants (even though PR is a US territory and they are American citizens), a toxic fog of racialist division hovers over everything, killing all joy in the story.

 It's not even a brilliant insight. People have been dividing into opposing teams and oppressing, enslaving and killing each other ever since there were enough people to merit making up team jerseys. News flash, Steve and Tony, but white Italian families were hating each other in 1597 according to William Shakespeare, so if you thought audiences in the early-21st Century needed to be alerted to ethnic tensions, you need to get out more. (For crying out loud, Belfast is about tribal warfare and that's the whitest of white people over in Bonoslovakia.)

 It's hard to overstate just how misguided this approach was for this project. Making any musical in these times is a heavy lift and remaking one dating from the Eisenhower-era where those who remember it are filing for Social Security is more of a reach. No one but the most successful filmmaker in American history could've gotten backing for a $100 million remake of a classic. So why choose to remake it into a wokescold lecture instead of just opening it up to a Spielbergian extravaganza of visually exhilarating cinema?

It was nearly impossible to appreciate the musical numbers because I was reeling from the sucker punches. The heavy fog of divisive agitprop weighed down everything, distracting from what should've been joyous and energetic. 

I love musicals, but have always thought West Side Story to be a tad overrated. I've seen it on stage and own the original movie, but it's been so long since seeing it that I didn't realize that Spielberg and Kushner had taken some seriously misguided liberties with the structure like taking "Somewhere" away from Tony and Maria and giving it to the newly-created character of Valentina (Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for playing Anita in the original), a revamp of the Doc character who owns the drugstore. That song is poignant because it's the doomed lovers wishing for an escape form the dire situation they're trapped in, so why take it away? 

Also, by moving "I Feel Pretty" back to its original location in the stage show from where it was in the movie, it immediately follows the shocking rumble, depriving the deaths of their power and having them overshadow the naive tune. In stage productions, there's an intermission between the rumble and the song, thus why it was moved ahead of the rumble in the original film. Spielberg and Kushner have concocted an explanation for their doing so, but it doesn't work. 

Another woke backfire was Spielberg's choice to not subtitle the Spanish. His woke white man sneer towards the audience was supposedly meant to empower those he patronizes, but in practice he has robbed half of the cast of their voices as he walls off their words and feelings from the gringos. (When the film showed in non-English-speaking countries, did they not subtitle the Spanish for French or Italian viewers or did they only subtitle the Spanish to give it power over English.) I wanted to know what they were saying; why didn't Steven trust me to know?

And in a genuflection to the radical gender identity politics which rules liberal culture now the character of Anybodys, who was always portrayed as a tomboy who wanted to run with the Jets, has been recoded as explicitly transgender and is played by a "non-binary" actress (read: non-girly lesbian who wants to be a unicorn), Iris Menas, because in 1957 when Leave It To Beaver was airing, a bunch of white racist street thugs would totally allow a non-extremely heterosexual person to hang around with them unmurdered. 

It's all a shame because there are some sporadic moments where Spielberg delivers what we'd expect from a Spielberg musical. Sure, he's aping Robert Wise's direction and occasionally quoting Jerome Robbin's choreography, but modern camera tech and VFX magic allow for a more realistic grounding for the numbers, but it's all for naught because he and Kushner had lecturing atop their agendas. 

While I found Elgort too bland, Zegler is adorable with what little the script gives her and Ariana DeBose is rightfully favored to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Anita as she's fiery and flashy. (Why Moreno, who looks amazing at 88 years old here, wasn't nominated for her turn is another shame on Oscar.) The cinematography by Spielberg's cinematographer wingman of three decades, Janusz Kamiński, brings his signature silvery desaturated style here and it's a bit of a bad fit especially when there is so much lens flare it looks like a J.J. Abrams movie.

 Ultimately, what ruins Woke Side Story is the same thing which is killing popular culture and making the Oscars a joke with plummeting ratings: woke liberalism. Liberalism destroys everything it touches. Everything. The brilliant Twitter personality Iowahawk tweeted in 2015, "1. Identify a respected institution. 2. Kill it. 3. Gut it. 4. Wear its carcass as a skin suit, while demanding respect." This sums up the mission of Spielberg and Kushner here. To scratch some wealthy liberal elite itch, they hijack an American classic and burn $100 million of a studio's money to turn it into a hateful unhappy experience. 

The sadddest irony of Spielberg's descent into late-life self-loathing or antipathy towards the audience is that he garnered that net work of $3.7 BILLION by cranking out timeless blockbusters which unified audiences in the joy of the movie. Jaws, E.T., Raiders, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, and so many more brought us together and trading on those decades of history, Spielberg chose to use the power of an American musical and the movies to attack the audience for not living up to the radical Leftism of his fellow elites who own multiple mansions and private jets. 

Ironically, earlier in 2021 was another musical flop based on Hispanic/Afro-Cuban groups in upper-Manhattan, In The Heights, adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda's (he also did Hamilton) Tony-winning stage hit. I thought it was OK (score: 6/10) and appreciated the joyous magical realism of the production, but was worn down by Miranda's showoff rap songs which are like the worst of Eminem's excesses when he just bombards the listener like an auctioneer, trying to impress us with how many words he can spit per bar. But what it did was showcase oh-so-desired diversity without needing to punish whites for being white. Hollyweird has mistaken increasing representation as requiring maximizing retribution and resentment towards those who came before as collective guilt is assigned as part of the price of admission. While the movie didn't, the marketing hype leaned into that grievance-mongering and they wonder why these movies flopped?

Score: 3/10. Skip it. Watch the original.

"Belfast" Review


 In 2018, Netflix made its first really hardcore run for Oscar gold with Alfonso Cuaron's Roma, garnering 10 nominations and winning for Best Director and Cinematography, both going to Cuaron. It was everything Oscar loves - it was in a foreign language (Spanish), it was shot in black & white, it featured extensive gratuitous full-frontal male nudity, it was about class struggle against a backdrop of civil strife and political upheaval, and it was boring as hell and unless you knew the Mexican history being portrayed, it didn't make sense. It was the self-indulgent wank that Oscar loves and rewards.

So when Kenneth Branagh's Belfast claimed seven Oscar nominations - including Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay (all Branagh), and Supporting Actress and Supporting Actor - and I saw it was a black & white semi-autobiographical movie about Branagh's childhood in Belfast during the Troubles, I snarked in my Culture Vulture's Oscar nomination hot take video that it was "Kenneth Branagh's Roma." Now that I've seen it, except for the lack of male nudity (sorry, Academy) and a slightly less foreign language (Irish), I can say I nailed it.

 Opening in 1969, it's the story of Buddy (Jude Hill - because calling him "Kenneth" would be too on the nose) who lives on a short street of Protestant and Catholic families. Suddenly, a mob of rioters appears and attacks the Catholic homes. They're super hardcore Loyalists to England who are not only unhappy with the Catholics, but aren't satisfied that there are Protestants coexisting with them and feel they should be more intolerant and purgey.

 Buddy's father, Pa (Jamie Dornan, helping undo some of the damage being in the 50 Shades movies did), works in England (the economics of that commute are never explained), leaving Ma (Caitriona Balfe) to raise Buddy and his brother alone most of the time, though Pa's parents, Pop (nominated Ciaran Hinds) and Granny (nominated Judi Dench) are over frequently to help. The family is in arrears to the tax man and concerns about the rising sectarian violence, with a local thug pressuring Pa to get involved with the religious war and prove how Protestant he is, making him want to move the family to Sydney or Vancouver. 

Like most semi-autobiographical period pieces, Belfast is an episodic disjointed collage of fragments of the filmmaker's memory. While Buddy frequently is the observer of what his parents or grandparents are experiencing, sometimes he seems to disappear while the adults' stories are featured. His crush on a Catholic classmate doesn't really go anywhere and being a child he's not the driver of events, but a passenger upon them. 

While the performances are solid across the board with the exception of Hill, who slips into Bad Child Actor moments sometimes, they aren't particularly outstanding. Dench and Hinds are as good as they normally are, but not particularly Oscar worthy and why Balfe was snubbed while the acting noms were being handed out like candy is another blot on an already blotted slate this year.

 Also snubbed is the lustrous monochromatic cinematography by Haris Zamabarloukos, Branagh's longtime DP. The framing may've been cribbed from Bergman, but it's still beautiful and it's a shame it was snubbed. 

As with so many of this year's Best Picture nominees, the problem with Belfast is that it's not an especially bad film as it is an inconsequential film that doesn't really illuminate the human condition and is mainly a filmed memoir of a prominent director's youth, tarted up with A-list talent and rich aesthetics to give it a patina of relevance.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.  

"King Richard" Review


 I never got around to watching King Richard - the biopic about Richard Williams, father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams - when it had its premiere run on Hobo Max concurrent with its theatrical release. The subject didn't grab me and I just never got around to it. My girlfriend did watch it and her review was, "It's a TV movie and Will Smith is Will Smith." Not really a ringing endorsement.

I may have never looped back to checking it out - I'm not a big sports movie guy - if not for it picking up six Academy Awards nominations including Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Editing, and Song. So I watched it and she was 2/3rds right: It's an overlong TV movie biopic, but Smith does bring some acting to the proceedings. It also reinforces my desire to see the Academy burned to the ground because while a passable movie, it's hardly Best Picture material and it really shows just how watered down and toothless movies have become.

 There's not much plot to recap. Starting in 1991 when Venus (Saniyya Sidney) was 11 and Serena (Demi Singleton) was 10, we see Richard (Smith) taking them to the public tennis courts in their hometown of Compton where gangbangers hang around menacing them. Richard and his wife, Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis), have been coaching their girls around their paying jobs as a security guard and nurse, respectively. Their home is modest and crowded with the four of them plus three daughters from a previous marriage. 

Richard believes his girls will be the best ever and has been making videotapes and brochures in a vain attempt to get sponsors and coaches, getting nowhere because who's ever heard of a top tennis player being a little black girl from Compton. No one ever says as much, but it's a factor along with Richard's overbearing manner which continually becomes a risk of blowing everything up as he challenges how things are done. Eventually he secures coaching for Venus from John McEnroe and Pete Sampras' coach, Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn), getting her on the juniors circuit, then getting Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal), then hot thing Jennifer Capriati's coach, to take on both girls and move the entire family to Florida to train.

 King Richard has the common problem with biopics in that we know how this ends. We are never in doubt that the girls will succeed because we know they have stood astride the tennis world like giants where the only real competition was each other. So the only real interest in their story is either what they did to get there (A: practice, practice, PRACTICE) or how did Richard engineer their path to glory and how many times did he nearly blow it all up? Again, since we know that it all worked out, it's up to the movie to convince us that they wouldn't have made it without his and Brandy's diligent support or that he couldn't have wrecked his epic plan and it just doesn't make it happen. 

Smith is favored to win Best Actor (as he did at the SAG Awards recently) and I can't compare him against the field because I've only seen one other performance (Bernadette Cummerbund in The Power of the Dog which didn't impress me), but when two of the others (Denzel Washington and Javier Bardem) have already won, Andrew Garfield has a long career ahead, and Bandersnatch is white and hasn't been a major movie star for a quarter century and it's been 15 years since Big Willie was last nominated, you can bet the rent. 

All that said, it's a good performance. Even playing near his age (around 50), Smith can't completely dim his charm, but Richard was a fame-seeking hype man for a hot product (his daughters), so it's not going to be agoraphobic. You can see the weight of what his hopes and dreams for his daughters mean behind the bluster even when they script minimizes his faults so much that when his wife mentions previous children and failed businesses during an argument, it's a big surprise and then never mentioned again. (Seriously, this is nominated?) 

Squaring off in the typical Strong Mother Keeping The Family Together When Dad Gets Vainglorious role is the nominated Ellis who embodies the strong woman behind the flighty at times man. She's good, but the character is stock. Also good are the girls playing the sisters and when the time jump happened, their looks changed so much that I checked to see if new actresses were swapped in. (There weren't.) Perhaps the biggest surprise performance was Bernthal who comes of like a peppy Robert Walden (ask your parents) as opposed to his usual fistfaced brooding roles.

 Also restraining the cinematic aspects are the perfunctory direction by Reinaldo Marcus Green which doesn't do anything to make the endless tennis sequences visually interesting, leading to a samey monotony which does little to amp up the drama; the pedestrian editing has little to work with and again, this was nominated. 

King Richard isn't a bad or merely mediocre movie; it's just nothing particular special as either a biopic or sports flick and really doesn't belong in this race. I didn't know much about the Williams sisters since I'm not really a sports guy other than they seem to be ubiquitous winners, and after seeing this I still don't really know much about them. Then again, it's not called Queens Venus & Serena, is it?

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable. (It's back on HBO Max) 

"The Power of the Dog" 4K Review

During the second season of South Park in 1998 there was an episode mocking the Sundance Film Festival with the legendary crack that independent movies were all about "gay cowboys eating pudding." Mind you, this was seven years before Ang Lee's Oscar-nominated Brokeback Mountain came out, but it's been an evergreen meme that covers much of what gets prestigious awards acclaim. Why am I prefacing this review of Netflix's Oscar-nominated juggernaut The Power of the Dog with this reference? Oh, no reason. [/whistles]

 Written and directed by Jane Campion, who was the first woman to be nominated for Best Director (for 1993's The Piano, though she'll have to settle for being the likely third female winner after Katheryn Bigelow and Chloe Zhao), TPotD is up for a field-leading 12 nominations including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Actor, Supporting Actress, and two Supporting Actor nods. It seemed destined to steamroll the field until CODA began its upstart worthy sleeper run.

 Set in 1925 Montana, we meet the wealthy cattle ranching Burbank brothers, Phil (Bernadette Cummerbund) and George (Jesse Plemons), as they drive their herd to town to be loaded on a train. George is a quiet doughy fellow who wears a suit and whom Phil frequently calls "Fatso." Phil looks no different than his ranch hands. dirty, wearing chaps, being a near parody of a manly man. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

In town, they and their crew dine and spend the night at the owned by Rose (Kirsten Dunst), whose son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), helps with waiting tables. Skinny and pale, Phil bullies him, using the paper flowers he crafted to light his cigarette, real bad hombre style. Later, George hears her crying and consoles her. Some time afterwards, he heads to town in his car to see her and seemingly immediately they're married and she's moving out to the ranch to Phil's displeasure. 

He thinks she's only after their money and trashes her in letters to their parents. When George buys her a baby grand piano since she had previously worked as a pianist for silent movies, her attempts to brush the rust of her chops leads to Phil subtly bullying her by first playing along with, then going full "Dueling Banjos" at her on his banjo upstairs. (If you have an Atmos-equipped home theater, this scene really shows it off as his banjo comes from the ceiling speakers.) The pressure for her to perform at a dinner party makes her crack and she becomes an alcoholic.

 When Peter comes out on summer vacation from school, Phil spies another easy punching bag as he calls the kid, whose hat looks to weigh more than he does, a "sissy" like manly men do. However, when he realizes Peter may've discovered something about Phil, he flips and becomes very friendly to the concern of Rose who is becoming more unraveled. 

If I've made the plot sound dense and complicated, my apologies, because so little happens in the two-hours-plus run time that I wondered if the story was going anywhere. Campion expertly does the show-don't-tell thing good movies are supposed to do, lacing in many clues and references that the astute view can slowly assemble into a cohesive picture. However, there ultimately remain so many unfinished details - there's a point where you should stop alluding and start explaining - that you never really get what's motivating the characters; we're just left to fill in the blanks. 

That's why when the story gets around to explaining What Phil's Deal Is, it's almost laughable and how explicitly obviously it's portrayed. It's as if Campion trusted her viewers' ability to keep up for 99% of the time, but decided to just bludgeon them with the Big Reveal, nudging and winking and shouting "GET IT?!?!?" so hard that even your sweet old great-grandma who never understood why that nice Liberace fellow never settled down with a loving lady would say, "Yep. Read you loud and clear the first five times you elbowed me in the ribs, Jane." And what happens at the end comes so far out of left field that it may as well have had Idaho license plates. 

On the bright side, Campion's direction in general is lovely; reminiscent of Terrance Malick's obsession with blades of grain and grass. While proceeding at a deliberate pace (polite way of saying slow), it never really drags into boredom, mostly because wondering what the heck this is leading to and the bizarre chamber horror score by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood keeps the audience confused as to whether this is a Western or weird Eastern European Hitchcock pastiche. 

Where it starts getting into questionable territory is the performances. Dunst has a long IMDB page listing her habit of playing crushed out spirits going back to her Spider-Man appearances or Melancholia and it's on display here as well. Smit-McPhee is also quite good, almost making the crazy turn the plot takes at the end work as he squares off against Cummerbund. (Yes, I am deliberately messing with his name. He can dab his tears with his Doctor Strange money.) 

But Plemons is merely OK and his nomination seems more like the Academy was tossing invites to everyone in the cast. George is supposed to be the quiet one, but there's a fine line between being internal and no one being home. I know we're supposed to treat him as the new version of his lookalike Philip Seymour Hoffman, but as Morrissey sang he just hasn't earned it yet, baby. 

But the most problematic performance for me was Bandersnatch's. I never really felt like I was seeing Phil, but Cloversneech's imitation of someone playing Phil. A big part of this disconnect is that unlike seemingly endless numbers of British and Australian actors who play American characters with undetectable American accents because apparently there are no American actors, his has always rang untrue. When he debuted as Doctor Strange, I thought his accent sounded borrowed from Hugh Laurie's House accent and it's never improved. Phil and Steven Strange sound the same and when Phil tells Peter to not call him "Mr. Burbank", the echoes of Strange and Peter Parker having a similar conversation in Spider-Man: No Way Home added to the distraction.

Am I focusing too much on a ropey accent? I don't think so and here's why: While looking up something about the production and why they shot in New Zealand instead of Montana (A: budget constraints) which lead to some vistas that made me wonder if Hobbits or orcs were just over the hill, a video popped up with Boobookitty and Smit-McPhee doing press junket duty. I unmuted the player and was stunned to hear an accent coming out of Smit-McPhee's face. He's Australian! I have seen him in movies dating back to The Road and Let Me In in 2009 and 2010 and never had a clue he wasn't an American kid, same as with the young romantic couple in CODA who were English and Irish and never slipped. Blunderbuss just isn't very good at this.

The Power of the Dog - the title comes from Psalm 22 - is a film that beautiful on the surface, but somewhat empty on the inside. While I get that it's about loneliness, cruelty, depression, grief, sadness, retribution, flashes of full frontal male nudity and Hollywood's favorite Dark Secret That Controls Everything - you know, all that fun stuff that people watch movies for after a hard day at work - it's just too skeletal in detail for a movie of its length and Cumberbatch's (see? I can be nice) performance just didn't connect. And South Park was right.

Score: 5/10. Skip it. 

"CODA" 4K Review


 I'd been avoiding CODA (which stands for Child of Deaf Adults) for some time as the Oscars drew closer because after last year's poor Best Picture nominee Sound of Metal and the heavy Sundance hit and record-setting $25 million sale, I figured it was going to be another preachy slog that the Academy favors since entertaining movies are just for making money. When it surprisingly won the Screen Actor's Guild Best Ensemble Cast award it suddenly hinted at being a sleeper contender, so it was time to eat the broccoli. Surprisingly - and it's sad that the Oscars only surprise like this rarely - it was a lovely, sweet, funny family dramedy worthy of one's time.

 Set in Gloucester, Massachusetts CODA is the story of Ruby (Emilia Jones), the only hearing member of her fishing family which includes father Frank (Troy Kotsur, nominated for Best Supporting Actor), mother Jackie (Marlee Matlin, Oscar winner for Children of a Lesser God 35 years ago), and brother Leo (Daniel Durant). She helps the family on the boat, which causes her to fall asleep in school, and serves as their interpreter. It's a hard life and the fishing community is being pinched by poor payouts and government regulation.

 One day at school when signing up for extracurricular activities, she spots a boy she's crushing on, Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), signing up for choir. She enjoys singing, but never really took it seriously. The choir's director is Bernardo "Mr. V" Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), a curt and imperious man, but genuinely interested in his students. He spots potential in Ruby and encourages her to study and apply to the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston, but her obligations to her family and their seeming lack of support complicate matters, especially since they're trying to operate a co-op with other fishermen and are pinched financially which leads to legal troubles.

What makes CODA so enjoyable is that for the most part the situation is believable and the characters are realistic. The family is loving (especially the sexed-up parents as we learn in their introductory scene at a doctor's office) and tightly-knit; Ruby is cute and can sing, but she's not a young Mariah Carey type who'd smoke the competition on American Idol; the tensions between family loyalty and making one's way into adulthood when disabilities are involved are relatable; and while a satisfying ending is a given, it doesn't feel cheap or unearned.

 The performances are all strong and subtle though at first I thought Kotsur's nominated performance  was silently hammy, some quiet emotional scenes towards the end tempered that. That the schoolkids seemed school-aged - Jones and Walsh-Peelo were 17 and 18, respectively, when it was filmed in 2019 - and had a realistic relationship (read: didn't hop into bed immediately like an HBO or CW teen show) also rooted things. It's also beautifully photographed, which is surprising for an indie flick.

Adapting from a 2014 French film, writer-director Sian Heder's background in television (she was a writer/story editor on Orange Is The New Black) leads her toward the crowd-pleasing side of the path, but is that such a terrible thing? While Oscar loves to virtue signal with "challenging" movies (read: no fun lectures about the evils of everything that makes Hollyweird rich), the fact that the slight, but entertaining (unless you're a wokescold SJW) Green Book won a few years ago indicates upsets can occur. 

It's ironic that almost no one will have seen CODA because it's on Apple TV+, a small streamer compared to behemoths like Netflix and Hulu whose early offerings were thin and not particularly compelling, but are expanding into interesting directions. It's only $5 per month with a 7-day free trial, so it's possible to watch a heartwarming movie for free and not too much to graze what else is on offer.

Score: 8/10. Catch it on Apple TV+

"Deep Water" Review


When it comes to directors who had a massive influence on the look and style of Eighties movies was Adrian Lyne. Specializing in wildly successful, erotically-charged, MTV-ready stories and visuals (i.e. so much atmospheric haze that you wondered why OSHA didn't shut the productions down), he made between 1983 and 1993 Flashdance, 9-1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Jacob's Ladder, and Indecent Proposal. His last film was 2002's equally sweaty Unfaithful which reinvigorated Diane Lane's career as a sexy older woman though she was only 36(!) at the time. (That's an older woman?!?) 

Now at the age of 81, Lyne is back with another steamy erotic thriller, the Hulu Original (meaning it's being dumped there after numerous delays from its original November 2020 theatrical release due to Hot Fad Plague) Deep Water starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas as, well, here's the IMDB blurb: A well-to-do husband who allows his wife to have affairs in order to avoid a divorce becomes a prime suspect in the disappearance of her lovers. That's more than we knew going into our viewing of it and barely captures just how weird and ultimately stupid the story is.

 For the first 45 minutes or so we were wondering what the actual what was going on. Affleck is a wealthy retired tech guy who "invented a chip used in military drones" who spends his days riding his mountain bike around his small Louisiana town and tending to his snail collection in the basement. He's married to de Armas and they have one of those trademark borderline annoying moppet daughters (think Fatal Attraction) who keeps having Alexa play "Old MacDonald" to the parents annoyance. 

She seems to be flaunting affairs with younger lovers openly in front of their friends at the lavish day-drinking parties they have and while Affleck passive-aggressively menaces them, casually mentioning that he may've murdered a missing man, some take the hint and others don't. But then for all of her hanky-panky, they're having rough cinematic sex, but also seems to be sleeping separately. It's all disorienting and we kept wondering when things would make sense.

 When one of her lovers ends up drowned in the swimming pool at one of these party's, she accuses him to the cops, but evidence is scant; everyone was drunk and it could've been accidentally. However, a writer friend of theirs begins to investigate, sniffing a new book idea while catching a killer. As silly and implausible as this tale from a weird alternate universe where such antics aren't that scandalous for some reason is, everything goes off the rails in the last act where there simply isn't a crane strong enough to suspend disbelief sufficiently to not laugh at it.

The core failing of Deep Water is that we never understand why this couple simply doesn't get divorced. Yes, they have a young child who seems clued into the whispers about daddy, but how is staying together in a broken marriage where alcoholic mommy is bringing boyfriends home for dinner (when she comes home at all) doing the kid any favors? While da Armas is hot, it's not like Affleck is Danny DeVito and incapable of finding a less cheaty companion considering he's rich and looks like Batman. None of their friends seem to disapprove very much beyond sympathy for his being inexplicably bound to her? 

And what's with all the snails? For all the scenes and allusions to the snails and how they must be prepared for eating lest they be toxic, nothing comes of it and one final detail is so ridiculously stupid that viewing Deep Water as even camp trash became untenable. It's as if no one bothered to read the last 15 pages of the script and noticed that it was underthought. Based on a 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith, who wrote Strangers on a Train and the Thomas Ripley books which have had many adaptations, perhaps their unwillingness to divorce is of its time, but simply doesn't work in a contemporary setting.

What's most disappointing about Deep Water is that despite our culture having become ever more pornographic and sexually depraved since Lyne's Reagan era heyday, it doesn't bother to take advantage of it to really push boundaries to explore what their toxic relationship entails. For all the rampant sex on HBO shows like Euphoria, movies these days are gripped by a neo-Puritan timidity which precludes getting really crazy with the cuckoldry. 

Score: 4/10. Skip it. 

"Licorice Pizza" Review


 It's two weeks until the Oscars are handed out so that means grinding through as many of the nominees as possible and after watching Licorice Pizza, Paul Thomas Anderson's latest effort nominated for Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay, I want the Academy to be burned down and the ashes razed and the land salted. It's not that it's a bad movie - it's perfectly innocuous and pleasant - but if this is what they consider "best" then the word no longer has its old meaning. (To be frank, it killed my interest in slogging through the rest of the nominations.)

 Based heavily on the life of Anderson's friend, Gary Goetzman (who really should've been given a story credit), it tells the improbable but apparently true-ish story of precocious 15-year-old child actor Gary (Cooper Hoffman, who reminds of Paul Dano, but is Philip Seymour Hoffman's son, making his film debut) and his romantic pursuit of Alana (Alana Haim of the band Haim, a fellow rookie whose band mate sisters and their parents also appear as her family), a school photographer's assistant who is 10 years older. When his publicist mother (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) is unable to chaperone Gary to NYC for a television appearance, Alana gets the task, setting things rolling.

 What follows is series of vignettes which separately trace their lives and how they criss-cross. He starts a waterbed store and sets her up with his agent so she can try acting. She tries dating a slightly older co-star of his, but rejects him for his atheism and rejection of his Judiasm, but later volunteers for an upstart Jewish mayoral candidate more her age. Throughout, we're supposed to believe there's a will-they-or-won't-they sexual tension in their February-March relationship.

 Adding to the disjointedness are the Big Name Star cameos like the 10-15 minute-long digression involving Sean Penn as an older star (Spicoli is 61 now, kids) and Tom Waits as a director who drunkenly have a dumb idea at dinner. While modestly amusing, it, like just about everything else serves no narrative purpose. 

Bradley Cooper's scenes as a full metal a-hole Jon Peters are a hoot, but are also superfluous and when you ponder how much work went into shooting the sequence of an out of gas moving truck rolling backwards down a twisty canyon road or gathering all the circa-1973 cars to populate the gas lines, it just shows what a self-indulgent personal nostalgia trip Licorice Pizza is for Anderson. (However, the soundtrack is laden with anachronistic needle drops from years after the setting.)

It feels like he cribbed random Cameron Crowe scene sketches and didn't bother trying to connect them with a narrative. It doesn't seem certain whether the protagonist is Gary or Alana. The ease with which a modest child star is able to capitalize his businesses as a minor is unexplained. But most damaging is we never really understand why a 25-year-old woman would even be interested in this kid. If she had a bad breakup with an abusive boyfriend, perhaps the cradle-robbing wouldn't strain credulity, but she doesn't have any existential angst or trauma. Oddly, for being a minor star at a public school, Gary doesn't seem to attract any admiring fans from his classmates. 

Haim and Hoffman are both appealing and natural performers who give little hint of neophyte status. As the son of an Oscar-winner, Hoffman will likely get more work, but Haim's plainer looks make it more likely she'll stick to her musician day job.

In counterpoint to my grouchy stance, my girlfriend really enjoyed it because it wasn't heavy, it was amusing enough and sweet. She's not wrong in that it's not a complete waste of time and I'll admit much of my antipathy towards Licorice Pizza is borne of my annoyance at the Academy. Licorice Pizza serves no higher purpose which warrants it being gifted three - and only these three - Oscar nominations because, with Woody Allen being unpersoned after endless false accusations of child molestation, P.T. Anderson is the lucky default "art house slot" guy. (Same reason Drive My Car got the same Picture/Director/Screenplay noms and nothing else to fill the designated foreign film slot in hopes of recreating Parasite's win because Hollyweird's self-loathing knows no bounds.)

Being a half-hour too long and being pointless doesn't make Licorice Pizza a movie to avoid, but it serves as another indictment of how wildly out-of-touch and committed to visually inspecting their own colons the Academy is when House of Gucci gets snubbed in favor of wanks like this.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.  

"The Hyperions" Review


 The latest Daily Wire movie pickup which received its premiere for free on YouTube is Jon McDonald's The Hyperions, an oddball indie flick about superheros and family not drawn directly from any existing comics or books, but very reminiscent of several other titles.

 Opening in 1965 we're introduced to young Vista Mandulbaum (Indigo Carey), a tween in a subway car wearing a superhero costume being observed by a starstruck crowd. She's wearing a gauntlet on her arm and when a light surrounding a circular H badge glows, she makes a man in the crowd take out his wallet and drop it in a woman's bag. When the car stops, three security men come in and separate the crowd from her and in comes the awesomely-named Professor Ruckus Mandulbaum (Cary Elwes), her father for a talk about why she's running away.

 We jump ahead 15 years to find an adult Vista (Penelope Mitchell) and Ansel (Alphonso McAuley) visiting the Hyperions exhibit at a museum right before closing time. They change into superhero costumes and proceed to hold several hostages when they realize the target of their actions, the Hyperion badges are locked into the display and only the Professor's fingerprint can release them. 

Via flashbacks we're filled in as to their backstories: As original founding members of The Hyperions, they were recruited (or is it adopted) by the Professor to be recipients of the badges which combine with their DNA to give them specific superpowers. Vista's was the ability to read and control minds; Ansel's was super strength; and their third member, Maya (Elaine Tan), had the ability to teleport. (If you're catching heavy whiffs of the X-Men's Professor X and Nightcrawler there, you're breathing.) But as they got older, they were eased off the team in favor of new members except for Maya who was retained to train the new lineups as we see in an undercooked side plot involving a recruit so clueless that he forgets to use his power to turn his skin into metal (hello Colossus) and gets shot as a result.

 As the story progresses, the motivations of Vista and Ansel become clearer. He misses being a superhero and she's working on behalf of an unknown man forcing her to pull this heist. Their "father" presented them as a family for TV shows and marketing, but was emotionally aloof and cruelly indifferent to their feelings. Will this family be able to get through this ordeal and learn to love and understand each other?

 The Hyperions is an odd film which feels like something you'd see as a short on YouTube musing "What if Wes Anderson made a period comic book movie on a shoestring budget?" McDonald not only wrote, directed and produced, but also handmade the props and did the animation for several sequences. In the intro to the screening, Daily Wire co-founder Jeremy Boreing was effusive about what a visionary auteur he felt McDonald was and while he certainly has a singular vision, the fact the aesthetic immediately evokes Anderson's fussy staged style sort of belies the assertion of originality. 

The first 15-20 minutes are a bit of a lift to get in tune with as the viewer is tested to stay involved with the action until the why to the what begins to get explained with echoes of The Umbrella Academy's broken family scenario. Brief hints of the desire of fame for being a superhero are alluded to, especially as other former Hyperions appear on the periphery. Vista's journey between her being exiled from the team to the heist isn't really fleshed out and the resolution is simplistic. 

Elwe's performance is the highlight as his Professor Ruckus (free rap artist name!) is plummy and eccentric, but not cartoonish as he talks with an animatronic bald eagle in a space suit with a telephone in its chest. Mitchell is also good, as is Tan, but the dropoff in thespianism from the rest of the cast is distracting. 

Independently produced before Hot Fad Plague 2020-2022 shut down the world, The Hyperions has languished in distribution limbo for a few years, initially picked up by Saban Pictures, then acquired by The Daily Wire for their nascent film slate following last year's pickup Run Hide Fight and their first original production, Shut In, which debuted the same way last month, streaming once on YouTube before going behind the paywall of the conservative site. 

 While their moves to bring films without an aggressive Leftist bias to audiences tired of being scolded and lectured by their supposed entertainment, I think using them as a lure to get people to subscribe is mistaken. I listen to a couple of their podcasts, but I don't have time to consume all their offerings to justify the subscription fee and three movies that I don't even know I could watch on my home theater isn't going to make me pony up. 

They should still make movies, but release them theatrically or at least make them available for streaming rental and purchase. While their previous films were good, they weren't subscription sellers either. While The Hyperions didn't do much for me, it's still deserving of an opportunity to be discovered by others without signing up for a political news site even if you agree with the ideological position of the site.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.  

"Scream (2022)" Review


As we revisited the Scream series of meta-horror flicks - originally released in 1996, 1997, 2000, and 2011, respectively - recently in preparation for the unasked-for and unnecessary "requel" (reboot+sequel=dumb term) in the form of....[checks notes]...not Scream 5, but just Scream (with a 2022 tacked on to distinguish from the original) the strain of trying to keep the same core group of characters connected to each installment's plot became more tenuous than the ways the Die Hard sequels found ways for John McClane to have another bad day and that strain continues with this latest episode.

 If you've seen one or all of the Scream series, you know what you're in for here: After an opening scene where some teen girl home alone (this time it's Jenna Ortega) is attacked by Ghostface, the guessing game of who is the killer and what connects them to the previous murders in Woodsboro with plenty of winking meta commentary about the rules of horror films and how they try to mask the creative bankruptcy of returning to the same well too many times.

The first few times they ran this shtick it was cute, but a quarter-century later in a movie where not one or two, but FOUR of the characters are children of various franchise characters, to quote Deadpool in Deadpool 2, is just lazy writing. While they try to up the stakes (while literally announcing they're upping the stakes) by killing off some of the original players in addition to the new batch of redshirts, the setting of the third act is just another coincidence too far. As dismal and pointless as The Matrix Resurrections was at pointless sequeling, it at least attempted to change the scenery a bit. I'm not even addressing how improbable it was Martha Meeks (Heather Mattarazzo) somehow snagged herself a gorgeous black husband to father the gorgeous latte-skinned twins in this crew. 

By the end of Scream, they sail well past not having genre blindness (i.e. when people in zombie movies have no idea what zombies are) into all but stating that they are in a Scream sequel while referencing the Stab movie-within-movie series which serve as the fictionalized versions of what happens in Scream movies.

The lack of verve is also disappointing because the directors and writers taking over from scribe Kevin Williamson (who wrote the 1st, 2nd, and 4th chapters) and deceased director Wes Craven (who directed all four of the previous entries) were the team who collaborated for 2019's kicky and original thriller Ready or Not which starred Samara Weaving as a bride who is forced to fight off her new in-laws attempting to hunt and kill her as part of their deal with Satan and I'm not kidding, that's the plot. (Definitely check it out if you haven't seen it.) 

Whether it was the weight of having to include so much legacy framework or the 20-minute-longer running time, Scream somewhat plods along allowing too much time to ponder things like why is there absolutely no one else in the hospital wing where Ghostface's prey is or why don't we get to see Sydney Prescott's (Neve Campbell) family or, really, who the heck fathered Martha's hot kids?

While the preceding may lend the impression that I'm rather down on Scream, it's not so much as thinking it's a particularly bad movie, since it's about as good as the other sequels, as their not even trying to elevate the horror even as it references the new wave of "elevated horror" movies like The Witch and The Babadook. After more than a decade, they should've tried for more than just another teen requel.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.  

"Nightmare Alley" (2021) Review


 Contrary to film snob orthodoxy, I'm not much of a fan of Guillermo del Toro. While he's undeniably very good as a stylist, consistently delivering lush, fully realized fantastical settings and characters, his obsession with gratuitous sex and especially violence overhangs his generally thin story-telling. Whether it was Pan's Labyrinth which was sold as a fairy tale about a young girl and mystical creatures which graphically showed a man's face being smashed in with a wine bottle or the appallingly Oscar-winning The Shape of Water (or as I prefer "Grinding Nemo") which mixes graphic masturbating and fish-f*cking with a story where straight white American men are the villains and a rainbow coalition of diversity people are the heroes, the style seemed to be the substance.

 Expecting another empty pretty picture like Crimson Peak, I didn't have much expectation for Nightmare Alley, his remake of a barely-remembered 1947 film which starred Tyrone Power. Clearly tooled up for Oscar baiting - which it somewhat succeeded in doing, snagging four nominations including Best Picture and Cinematography - it stars Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara, David Straithairn, Richard Jenkins, and del Toro mainstay Ron Perlman in a dark noir tale of circuses, grifting, high society and, of course, murder.

 Set in 1939, Cooper stars as Stan, a mysterious man who joins up with a carnival and proceeds to gain the confidence of the couple (Collette and Straitharn) who perform a clairvoyant act and learn how they use coded language to pull it off. He also woos a sideshow performer (Mara) and after he uses his cold-reading skills to save the carnival from being shut down by the sheriff, agrees to leave with him for bigger things.

 Two years later, on the verge of World War II, they are headlining as a high society supper club psychic act in Buffalo. One night, a sleek woman (Blanchett) attempts to trip them up, but his skills allow him to wriggle out of the bind. She's a psychologist who beguiles him and entices him into a grift where using information about her patient's from their sessions wire recordings to underpin contact with spirits beyond, first for a the grieving parents of a WWI soldier (Peter MacNeill and Mary Steenburgen), then a very rich, powerful and scary industrialist (Jenkins) who pines for his deceased mistress.

 Showing restraint in the carnage and fueled by top shelf performances, none of which caught the Academy's eye for some inexplicable reason (it's not as if most of the cast hasn't been nominated or won before, especially Cooper, who has the most complex role), del Toro delivers an effective period noir which doesn't just seem a parlor gag. 

However, anyone who knows how noir tales go will easily deduce how it's all going to turn out for Stan and, frankly, how a guy whose entire career is reading marks for a living doesn't look at Blanchett in full Lauren Bacall femme fatale mode and recognize it's going to go very badly for him is baffling. I get that guys are supposed to be dumb due to all the blood flowing out of their big head, but come on.

After flopping hard upon its holiday release, it was swiftly sent to streaming on Hobo Max and Hulu less than two months later. Whether it's really Best Picture quality is debatable; how it apparently directed itself and managed to be a "best picture" despite no nominations for the acting or writing is puzzling, but very on brand for the completely risible Academy these days. But for once I can recommend a del Toro movie even if it's not exceptionally exceptional.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. (Currently on HBO Max and Hulu)

"Don't Look Up" 4K Review


Note: This review was started back in late-December 2021 and completed in late-March 2022 which is why it references events after the viewing date which determines posting time.

Once upon a time Adam McKay was a Saturday Night Live writer who had transitioned to making some minor classic comedies with Will Ferrell in the Aughts including Anchorman, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Stepbrothers, and The Other Guys; highly quotable bro comedies which still entertain. Then he won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Big Short, the peppy dramatization of the housing bubble that crashed the economy in 2008 and decided his future was to make rabidly political films expressing the rage of wealthy Hollywood liberals against everything they loathe; things like Republicans and those who don't obey their fearmongering about global warming climate change. 

His first effort in this vein was 2018's Vice, his attack on former Vice President Dick Cheney which garnered eight Academy Award nominations (only winning for Best Makeup) despite flopping at the box office and polarizing even normally lefty critics who hated Cheney, but weren't going to give a pass to what McKay made, criticizing the smug, scattered, Oscar-nominated script. (I tried watching it and it didn't grab me, wasting Christian Bale's typically committed performance in favor of the usual Republican-hating, thus never finished it.) 

Now McKay is back, this time burning Netflix's money with a ham-handed parable about people not buying Teslas or Priuses to save the planet as ordered by celebs who travel in CO2-belching private jets, Don't Look Up. With a Oscar-baiting cast of Oscar winners Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, and Meryl Streep, as well as nominees Jonah Hill, Timothée Chalamet, plus famous people like Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, and Tyler Perry, it's being sold as a biting satire about how people ignore bad news about the world ending, but it's just a scattershot hodgepodge of occasional laughs punctuated with screaming fits about how people aren't listening to the data. (Get it? Nudge, nudge!)

It opens with the discovery by Lawrence's Kate, a MSU astronomy PhD candidate discovering a new comet. When her professor, Randall (DiCaprio) calculates its orbit, he realizes it will directly hit Earth in six months, killing everything unless something is done. He contacts the head of NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office, Teddy (Rob Morgan), so he can take it to the President Orlean (Streep) who is embroiled in a bizarre sex scandal involving her Supreme Court pick. She and her chief of staff son Jason (Hill) blow off the threat because of course they do.

 Deciding to take the news public, Kate and Randall appear on a morning show hosted by Jack (Perry) and Brie (Blanchett) who also blow it off prompting Kate to erupt in outrage over how no one is taking this existential threat seriously. (GET IT??????) Focus group testing shows the sheeple don't like the screaming woman and she becomes a meme while Randall tests positively, leading to a makeover and eventually an affair with the shallow Brie. 

Plans to divert the comet are thwarted when one of Orlean's top donors, Peter Isherwell (Rylance, doing his green part by recycling his Ready Player One character), a Steve Jobs-Bill Gates-Rain Man mashup, determines there are trillions of dollars of rare earth minerals which could be mined so instead of blowing it up, how about trying to capture it?

Naturally, it all goes very sideways and Earth's doom is sealed, but the Official Narrative from the White House is that there's nothing wrong and to keep people from noticing that ever-growing comet in the sky, launch a campaign suggesting "Don't Look Up" (roll credits!) while Randall and Kate, who is now working retail and having a relationship with a teen shoplifter (Chalamet), counter with a "Just Look Up" campaign, driven by a pop song by Grande's character.

 Setting aside the fact that ManBearPig (South Park's brilliant formulation of the man-made climate change terror) is a hoax and everyone involved in the making of this movie is a hypocrite, Don't Look Up is simply a sloppy, poorly-written movie that lacks focus and fails at its central conceit; namely that the media would downplay a disaster in the making. 

For the past 20+ years we have been clobbered with neverending doomsaying about how the planet is on fire when temperatures hit the 90s in August - what used to be called "summer" in the Before Times - and all the polar bears will drown and we will never have snow in winter by 2020 which was news to me as I shoveled my drive and sidewalk a half-dozen times this winter. Western energy policy is causing gas prices to soar over $4.00/gal because of this hoax and the shrieking tantrums of a weird teenage Swedish girl. 

Add on the past two years of absolute terror fomented by the media about Hot Fad Plague - where anyone who points out face diapers are useless to stop an aerosolized respiratory virus and that hastily-produced, insufficiently-tested, ineffective and harmful gene therapeutics mislabeled "vaccines" (whose definition was rewritten to mask their failure) aren't helping will get you unpersoned from social media and labeled as "wanting to kill Grandma" and a "science denier" - for a movie to claim that the media would not go bananas at the prospect of whipping up another global panic requires viewers to have not paid a lick of attention to what the media has done for decades. 

I have been appalled at how many of my FaceSpace friends have burbled about how "great" Don't Look Up is and one even messaged me to recommend it to their sorrow. That it managed to snag FOUR freaking Academy Award nominations - for Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Editing, and Score - just seals how absolutely bereft of credibility the Oscars are in today's insane woketarded times. That this piece of dross with a freaking 56% Rotten Tomatoes score, meaning almost half of generally liberal critics weren't willing to give a movie which they agree with the message a pass, got nominated for Best Picture while House of Gucci got skunked just shows that, same as with Licorice Pizza's nomination, they're just picking based on box-checking and political tribalism.

Now you may be thinking, "Dirk, you just don't like it because you disagree with it's stupid wrong-headed politics." If I was dinging it for that, I would say so. The problem with Don't Look Up is that it fails miserably while demanding we respect it for its intentions which is like of the server brought you a plate of crunchy pasta, cold sauce, rancid mushrooms and a slice of American cheese melted in a microwave over the top and told we needed to leave an extra big tip because the cook intended to make a tasty Italian dish. 

The warning signs were present in the trailers which hinted that the "humor" would be of the sort where people yell back and forth at each other and that's most of the movie. Between DiCaprio's sweaty nervous wreck of Randall to Hill's more-assholeish-than-usual Jason to Lawrence's dour uncharismatic performance (what happened to her? She went from America's Darling to a sour miserable box office poison in less than five years), most of the performances are broad and noisy and not particularly funny. When Chalamet shows up with his typical damp emo boy delivery, it's like his in a different, not-particularly-better movie.

 That's not to say there aren't some big laughs, except almost without exception they are throwaway gags, not main plot dialog. For example, when people are watching Grande's pop tart on TV, someone notices that their phone just bought her song without his input, an oblique reference to when Apple rammed a terrible U2 album into people's iTunes libraries. (After enough of those kinds of gags occured in the first 45 minutes, I remarked to the missus that I bet that the funniest lines would be throwaways. I was right.) 

Even when people tried to humor my distaste for this movie, they tried - again to their great regret - to claim that the movie made valid points about the uselessness of "news" media. WRONG! When you live in a timeline where Network and Wag The Dog exist, you don't get to pity f*ck a half-assed corn-flecked log of mediocrity like Don't Look Up in this dojo.

Network won the legendary Paddy Chayefsky his third screenwriting Oscar and remains prescient and brilliant about the impending rise of "infotainment", the unholy melding of news and frivolity, nearly a half-century after its 1976 debut. The phrase, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" originated there and it was nominated for FIVE acting awards, taking home three (Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress) vs. a big fat zero for Don't Look Up. It's my 2nd favorite movie of all time.

1997's Wag The Dog was co-written by legendary playwright David Mamet and told the story of a President who attempts to distract from a sex scandal by launching a fake war against Albania, staged on TV by fixer Robert De Niro and movie producer Dustin Hoffman (who got a Best Actor nomination while no one in Don't Look Up got one). When Bill Clinton got caught using Monica Lewinsky as a humidor and started bombing countries populated by brown people, a much less Praetorian media than today's state propagandists bluntly asked if he was "wagging the dog." 

No one will ever ask if anything in reality is echoing Don't Look Up. Because it's not a movie with an real idea in its empty head, but a virtue-signalling wank by a cabal of extremely wealthy people to make the rubes feel that THEY are the problem with the world with their desire for a single-family home and two cars in the suburbs and not morally superior folk like DiCaprio who owns multiple houses, condos, mansions and a freaking island which he jets between in his own private jet while demanding you drive a golf cart. GFY, Leo.

Scattered like corn nuggets in a poop log are some potentially rich veins for commentary that could've been mined by an intellectually adept screenwriter. Too bad that Adam McKay isn't one. In the mid-credit scene, when the space ark carrying the few surviving people of Earth arrives and lands on their new planet, he chooses to pay off a weird gag set up earlier instead of noting that while they saved the wealthiest and most "important" people from extinction, everyone you see is OLD, as in highly unlikely to be able to have children so humanity is just a matter of time away from disappearing from the universe. (This is the same reason why the end of Snowpiercer is so bad. It doesn't matter if the world is starting to thaw; no one in the crashed train will survive to see it livable.)

Score: 4/10. Skip it.  Go watch Network (currently on Hobo Max) or Wag The Dog (on Hoopla, which your public library card may allow access to) instead.

"Count Me In" Review


Q: What do you do you call a guy who hangs around with musicians?

A: The drummer.

Q: What do you call a drummer who breaks up with his girlfriend?

A: Homeless.

Q: How many drummers does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: None. They have machines that can do it without being too drunk to function.

 Try the veal! I'm here all week!

 The reason there are so many drummer jokes is because, well, drummers ain't typically the sharpest cards in the deck. (Wait, hold on...) But a non-ironic case can be made for their importance to a band's sound and vibe and that's what Count Me In does, explaining why only after the songwriting, guitar playing, singing, bass playing, keyboards, etc. etc. etc. the drumming is really important. (Yes, I'm piling on, but it's not as if any drummers are going to read this, right?)

Featuring interviews with a myriad of drummers including Stewart Copeland (The Police),  Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden), Steven Perkins (Jane's Addiction), Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters; thankfully no Dave Grohl for a change!), Topper Headon (The Clash), Rat Scabies (The Damned, bringing the very English teeth), Cindy Blackman (Lenny Kravitz), Emily Dolan Davies (The Darkness), Roger Taylor (Queen), Samantha Maloney (Motley Crue, who looks like Pink), Ian Paice (Deep Purple), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), and more, the documentary discusses the influence of seminal early drummers like Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts (who passed away this week), Keith Moon (who passed away over 40 years ago), John Bonham (ditto) as well as their own personal histories and challenges, particularly for the women dealing with cavemen who apparently never heard of Gina Schock of The Go-Go's (who isn't included, probably because the other girls featured are younger and prettier, which is kinda ironic when you think about it.

 If you're a musician or are interested in music from the perspective of those who hang out with musicians (somebody STOP ME!), Count Me In is a breezy watch worth your time.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. (Viewed on Netflix)

No trailer available, which is lame.

"Sweet Girl" 4K Review


 It's becoming more and more obvious that Netflix simply cannot produce good movies. Despite their growing Oscar acclaim for overrated hype art house wannabe films like Roma (which was boring), The Irishman (which was boring), and Mank (which was boring), when a Netflix Original movie pops up on a Friday with Big Name Stars in it promising a trip-to-the-movies-grade experience at home, it is almost certainly going to be a disappointing waste of time only "redeemed" by not having to put on pants, drive to a theater, and pay money to be let down. Yay for small favors, I suppose. 

And so it goes with this week's appalling waste of time, Sweet Girl - which has nothing to do with the actually pretty good Netflix series Sweet Tooth. Jason Momoa stars as a grieving widower with a teenage daughter (mostly played by Isabela Merced) whom we first meet in a flash-forward as he on the roof of Pittsburgh's PNC Stadium (where the Pirates play, though the time of year seems wrong for baseball, but whatever) with the cops closing in, prompting him to leap off, landing in the river. We then flash back to "years ago" (How many? Don't know.) to meet his family including his wife who over a long montage has her cancer returning and putting her at death's door.

But there is hope for her as a new generic miracle drug called Sparrow (have you ever heard of ANY drug with such a name? Me neither) is about to get FDA approval. Except then the maker, BioPrime, decides to indefinitely yank the drug because of Big Pharma corporate greed of course. When the company's weasel CEO (Justin Bartha, Doug from the Hangover movies) appears on CNN, Momoa calls in and is promptly put on the air where he warns him that if his wife dies from the lack of this drug, "You've signed your death warrant." Naturally, the wife dies because we need the plot to happen. 

Six months later, Momoa gets a call from a Vice reporter (Nelson Franklin, Comeau from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) wanting to meet him to discuss information about bribes and corruption that led to the drug being pulled. After taking several subway rides, with Merced tailing her dad, Momoa meets the reporter, but before the specifics of the conspiracy are explained, an assassin (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) attacks them, stabbing the reporter and Momoa and beating up Merced before escaping. 

Then it's two years later and Merced is training at the gym her father worked out in MMA skills before going home to the squalid apartment they're sharing, presumably because the medical bills took their house. Momoa has been obsessed with finding those responsible for his wife's death and has a Wall of Crazy focused on Bartha's CEO. When he's going to be appearing at a charity auction, Momoa seizes the opportunity to infiltrate the event, attacking and killing Bartha and a bodyguard. Knowing the cops are likely to figure out he did it since he did after all threaten this guy on live television, he and Merced go on the run, now being hunted by more assassins as well as the FBI. 

It's here where I need to spoil the movie. I am normally loathe to even hint that there is a twist in plots because it alerts viewers that a whammy is coming - it's particularly stupid when movie ads quote reviews like, "...and it has a twist that will blow your mind!" - but to understand what takes Sweet Girl from a tired Big Evil Corporations Killing the Poor For Money conspiracy flick to a jaw-dropping Razzie-worthy "Are you effing kidding me?!?!?" train wreck requires blowing the third act twist. 

If you don't want to know, then stop here knowing that the score below is 3/10, skip it.

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Still here? OK, here we go....

When the chase finally catches up to the opening stadium rooftop scene, it is revealed that it's not Momoa on the roof, but MERCED! Whaaaaaaaaa? That's right, folks - MOMOA DIED OF HIS WOUND FROM THE SUBWAY ATTACK and everything we've seen were the actions of the daughter including the bruising hand-to-hand fights (which are one of the few decent bits of the movie). Now hold the freaking phone a second. Jason Momoa is 6' 4" tall and Isabela Merced is 5' 1" and her character is supposed to be about 14-15 years old. I know it's politically incorrect to suggest that tiny woman can't beat the crap out of burly male killers in movies like Atomic Blonde, Columbiana, and Black Widow, but this isn't jumping the shark, it's rocketing over Seaworld stupid. The montage showing what really happened with her alone makes the reveal in Fight Club, which I thought looked idiotic, seem rational in comparison.

And there was no family to take this orphan in after the subway attack? No sending her to a foster home? How about casting a larger actress and setting the plot ten years later where the daughter has grown up, joined the military, and trained in death-dealing skills and is now ready to hunt and kill those who killed her parents? Jeez, I just fixed the plot while typing that last sentence? DOES ANYONE READ THESE SCRIPTS AND SPOT HOW STUPID THEY ARE BEFORE FILMING THEM?!?!?!?!? Even the mediocre 2018 revenge flick Peppermint had grieving mother Jennifer Garner spend five years after the cartel murders of her husband and daughter disappeared and training to be a murder machine before returning for her vengeance.

There's also a certain darkly ironic humor about a movie filmed just before Hot Fad Plague 2020-21 about how Evil Corrupt Politicians and Evil Big Pharma murder to protect their power and profits arrive after 18 months of the HFP in a time where Big Government is commanding its subjects to take an unproven ineffective risky experimental gene therapy which is being dishonestly sold as a "vaccine" because we can totally trust Big Pharma. Ummmmm, whut? LOL.

Other than sympathetic performances from Momoa and Merced and the aforementioned fight scenes, the clunky, contrived, convoluted catastrophe of a "plot" and the third act reveal make Sweet Girl another misfire clogging up Netfiix's shelves. Even the title is wrong because it's meant to play off a pair of scenes where Merced quotes Guns 'n' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" so why isn't it called Sweet Child? Did anyone think for a moment about what they were doing here?

As for A/V grading, the Dolby Vision 2.35:1 picture looks nice and has a few moments of bright highlights, but is otherwise inconsequential. The Dolby Atmos mix has nothing going on that requires height channels, even in the scene where a helicopter is overhead. Atmos is a meaningless bullet point for a pointless movie. 

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Jolt" 4K Review


 It's been a while since Kate Beckinsale has made an action flick. Her last Underworld entry, Underworld: Blood Wars, was five years ago and I don't recall seeing it; probably skipped it after the abomination which was Underworld: Awakening in 2012. I wasn't even aware she had a new movie out until the missus mentioned Jolt, which is not about the awesome Eighties cola with twice the caffeine of puny Pepsi or Coke, the latest Amazon Prime Original title. 

She stars as Lindy, a woman who as a child was diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder - which is a real psychological condition where the person has violent outbursts, not that they actually explode like the Marvel Comics supervillain Nitro. The only thing that can keep her rages in check is an electrode vest that she uses to shock herself into a state of lesser anger.

 Encouraged by her shrink, and the designer of the vest, Dr. Munchin (Stanley Tucci), to try and form some human connections to see if perhaps some love could chill her out, she goes on a date with Justin (Jai Courtney), an accountant who doesn't seem terrified of her skittish demeanor and charms her. After they hook up after their second date, Lindy is feeling better about life and controlling her temper than she's ever been. 

So it's pretty inconvenient that Justin turns up dead the next night they were supposed to get together. The police detectives on the case (Bobby Cannavale and Laverne Cox) don't think she's involved, but when she steals evidence from the police station, they're hot in pursuit of her as she sets out on her rampage to avenge her lover's death, finding herself getting close to some untouchable top dogs.

 Jolt squarely falls into the Big Dumb Noisy Fun genre. While its premise has been compared to the Jason Statham Crank films, it's just your basic action revenge flick (a la John Wick) with a mix of black comedy (her fantasies of brutally beating people are Grand Guignol) and a gender twist. People who want to bark about how implausible it is for even a rage-enhanced woman to beat up as many guys as she does are MISSING ALL THE POINTS. (I want to be there when they find out Hogwarts isn't a real school they can go to.)

What's unrealistic is the Generic American (or Maybe European) City atmosphere Jolt  has like how the police department logo just says "POLICE DEPARTMENT" without a city name, the lack of any recognizable chain stores or brand logos and how most of the streets look like backlots. The skyline shots aren't familiar either. (It was shot in Sofia, Bulgaria.) But what it does have is some slick neon-drenched style and the HDR cinematography gives some good highlight pop to the image.

 But even by the loose standards for this sort of movie, in the last 10 minutes or so the plot's wheels suddenly come off as we learn What's Really Been Going On and then the coda seems to be trying to set this up as a franchise. Come on, Hollyweird - not everything needs to be a series. Except John Wick. That can keep going forever (or until it becomes a clown show like F9 was). 

Beckinsale is fun and looks great at 47 years old (She turns 48 tomorrow.) Tucci is his usual fun self and even Courtney, whom I usually dislike, fills the bill until the plot sells him out. Director Tanya Wexler (niece of legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler and half-sister to Daryl Hannah!) does a respectable job of keeping the performances and action humming along and the script by newcomer Scott Wascha manages to not be too cliched, though why the bad guys have a lone man standing in the middle of a large courtyard as a receptionist may take style a tad far.

 Clocking in at a tidy 90 minutes, Jolt may not be much more than a fizzy triffle with a flat aftertaste, but while you're imbibing its caffeinated aesthetic, it's generally satisying.

Score: 6/10.  Catch it on Amazon Prime.

"Point of No Return" Blu-ray Review


Whenever a foreign film has crossover success with American audiences, an English-language remake is general ordered up because "Muricans don't wanna read subtitles and don't like foreigners" or so Hollyweird feels. Such was the case with Luc Besson's 1990 hot babe assassin flick La Femme Nikita (or just Nikita outside America, same as how Besson's follow-up, Leon, was called The Professional here) which was rapidly remade as 1993's Point of No Return as a near carbon copy.

 Bridget Fonda ('memba when she was in everything in the Nineties?) stars as Maggie, a violent junkie who murders a policeman during a botched robbery in the opening scene. Sentenced to death, she is immediately executed by lethal injection (which is the most unrealistic thing about this movie considering even animals like the Night Stalker, who was given 19 death sentences only died after 24 years on Death Row of CANCER). But she then wakes up in a white room and is informed by Gabriel Byrne's "Bob" that her death and funeral were staged and she has been recruited to become an assassin for an unspecified organization. If she refuses to cooperate, well, she will end up occupying the empty casket she's supposed to be in.

 Being the rebellious sort, she doesn't take the training seriously, constantly acting out until Bob makes it abundantly clear that if she doesn't get her act together pronto, his superior, Kaufman (Miguel Ferrar), will more than happily put her six feet underground. This scares her straight and she begs the agency's glamorous etiquette tutor Amanda (Anne Bancroft) to help her change. Cut to six months later and the feral black-haired Maggie has transformed into a classy refined woman who looks like Nineties-era Bridget Fonda. 

To celebrate her graduation, Bob takes her to a swanky Washington D.C. restaurant and orders champagne and gives her a gift. But when she opens it, it contains a large loaded gun and spare mag and she's told this is her final test: Go to an upper level, kill a VIP, then go to a bathroom and escape via a window to where a car will pick her up. After she kills the target and his bodyguard, she discovers the bathroom window is bricked up, trapping her. She manages to escape and return to base, clearly feeling betrayed, but Bob informs her that her passing the rigged test means she's ready for the field. 

Outfitted with a new identity as Claudia, a computer sales rep from Chicago, she's dispatched to Venice, CA to await orders. She immediately falls in love with J.P. (Dermot Mulroney), her apartment manager. He's a Sensitive Artistic Type photographer and she looks like Bridget Fonda, so they immediately start shacking up. But her secret life starts to intrude as she's sent on missions, raising suspicions with J.P. Can a reformed murderer turned assassin balance career and romance?

Point of No Return was never a great movie because, to be honest, neither is La Femme Nikita and thus minus Besson's visual style - director John Badham (Blue Thunder, WarGames, Saturday Night Fever) is more workmanlike - the fundamental flaws of the original weigh down the remake. We meet Maggie/Nikita as a drugged-out killer, her Pygmalion transformation and whether she has changed or her original killer nature has merely been papered over is oddly never really explored. For all the French lessons and refinement Amanda teaches Maggie, the first time she goes grocery shopping, she acts as if she'd never seen a supermarket before or knew how much food a person eats. 

Too many of the key action sequences are almost shot-for-shot copypastas of the original movie, minus the flair, though the movie's third act of a mission that goes disastrously wrong is actually a vast improvement over the original's and it's amusing to see Harvey Keitel's "cleaner" (originally played by Jean Reno who would go on to revise the character in Leon) a year before he'd play cleaner Winston Wolf in Pulp Fiction

As far as the Blu-ray goes, it's a so-so affair. The transfer is adequate, but lacking in shadow detail and contrast. It has a filmic grain structure and wasn't overly scrubbed  with DNR, but edge-enhancement is obvious in a halo at the top and bottom next to the letterbox bars. Fortunately, it doesn't manifest too often around the image area itself. It's just a catalog title that didn't merit going the extra mile. Audio is worse with a thin, unbalanced mix with little surround activity and the TV cop show-grade overwrought musical score way too loud. Dialog doesn't get buried, but it's dodgy. 

As far as extras, the only one is the theatrical trailer. As said, this isn't a beloved titles getting the works.

While Point of No Return isn't the worst remake of La Femme Nikita - that dishonor goes to the Hong Kong version, Black Cat -it's just blah because the second act's plot of mushy puppy love with intermittent calls to work is slow and J.P.'s suspicions aren't really handled well. The 2010-2013 CW series Nikita starring Maggie Q (who herself made a clearly Nikita-inspired Hong Kong movie called Naked Weapon) was a better handling of the material as it was disconnected from the structure of the source. (I never watched the 1997-2001 USA Network take because the pilot thoroughly unimpressed me and radically changed the premise.) 

If you're interested in the premise, it's worth a rainy afternoon watch, but this Blu-ray doesn't really merit purchasing for a collection.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable. 

"2 Days In The Valley" Review


 In the wake of groundbreaking independent movies like Clerks, El Mariachi, Reservoir Dogs, and especially Quentin Tarantino's follow-up, Pulp Fiction, Hollywood went on its usual trend-chasing quest to find their own next Kevin Smith, next Robert Rodriguez, and especially next Tarantino and the result was a whole lot of really bad attempts to mimic those successes, all of which failed for the same reason buying Air Jordan's don't allow most people to slam dunk: Dressing like the original isn't the same as being the original.

One of the byproducts of this copycat phase was 1996's 2 Days in the Valley, a completely banal and forgotten-because-it's-forgettable Pulp Fiction-wannabe which squanders a crazily-deep cast on a half-baked Tarantino pastiche and whose only legacy is being the first major role for a 20-year-old South African emigre named Charlize Theron who has a pretty hellacious catfight with co-star Teri Hatcher. 

To explain the plot would spoil the surprises (such as they are), but suffice to say that same as Pulp Fiction's separate stories co-exist in the same shared world where characters intersect at points, the characters of 2 Days almost all end up in the same places by the end. While it's intended to be ironic, it just feels contrived.

From the pair of hitmen (James Spader and Danny Aiello) who murder Teri Hatcher's Olympic skier's ex-husband (Peter Horton) in the opening to the jerky British art dealer (Greg Cruttwell) who berates his poor assistant (Glenne Headly) and whose sister (Marsha Mason, who doesn't have an accent for some reason) and the suicidal TV director (Paul Mazursky) she meets at a cemetery who end up Aiello's hostages to the vice cops who discover the murder (Jeff Daniels and Eric Stoltz) to Spader's girlfriend and honey trap Charlize Theron, they all intersect while Keith Carradine and Louise Fletcher have cameos along the way.

You can't really blame the cast for leaping at what probably sold by their agents as "the next Pulp Fiction" with a modern crime noir plot with twists and turns that echoed Tarantino's masterpiece, but writer-director John Herzfeld is no QT. Primarily a TV director whose previous feature film was the 1983 John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John bomb Two of a Kind (which was airbrushed from his resume when this came out), he simply isn't up to his ambitions, either wordwise or visually. 

While the general plot has potential, it all falls flat and looks like a TV movie. Perhaps if a more talented writer punched up his outline then a better director shot it, 2 Days in the Valley would've been more memorable than Theron's star-making debut. (She's genuinely

To wit, we had wanted to watch this a few weeks ago, but my DVD, which I must've had forever yet never opened, turned out to be a non-anamorphic transfer (meaning on a modern widescreen TV, it appears as a rectangle bordered on all sides by black bars) and that was a non-starter. Only Cinemax had it streaming, but we don't have it. Then YouTube TV had a free weekend and we used it to catch the movie and though we'd seen it when it originally came out, I honestly didn't remember a damn thing about it other than Theron being hot and there being a catfight with Lois & Clark-era Hatcher. I rapidly realized why I'd forgotten it.

Score: 3/10. Skip it and look up Charlize's nude scene on the Internet. 

 
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