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!

"Reality" Review

 The Max (formerly Hobo Max) Original movie Reality is an odd movie - a recreation of the serving of a FBI search warrant in 2017 on the unlikely-named Reality Winner, a former Air Force translator working for a national security contractor in Georgia. Sounds exciting, no? No, it's not. Based on the transcript of a recording by one of the agents, the big selling point is all the dialogue is directly taken from what was actually said. While this may imply added verisimilitude, in actuality it illustrates how "natural dialog" is wildly different from how people actually speak, which is banally.

 Sydney Sweeney (Euphoria, The White Lotus) stars as Winner, who arrives at her Augusta home to find a pair of FBI agents (Marchánt Davis and Josh Hamilton) waiting for her. After a lot of awkward, weird conversation about securing her dog and cat and whether she has any weapons (a pink AR-15 and a Glock), she's held outside as FBI agents toss her house looking for something. She seems oddly unconcerned, not demanding what the heck is this all about, but chatting emptily about her CrossFit training and hopes to deploy to Afghanistan to utilize her Pasto translation skills.

Eventually they go inside to a bleak unfurnished spare room with nothing but a dog crate in it, no furniture to sit on, where the purpose for the search finally comes into view: They know she accessed, printed and leaked a secret document to the press (its subject and who it was sent to is redacted, but we learn it's about Russian election interference in 2016 and was sent to The Intercept) and they gradually wear her down to admit that she did it, not to "be a Snowden" - referring to the notorious NSA who exposed the shenanigans US intelligence agencies were up to - but that she was angry about the Bad Orange Man being President, though she doesn't explicitly say that.

Ultimately, she is hauled away in handcuffs and the movie ends with cards explaining that she caught a five year sentence for violating the Espionage Act while all the "secrets" she was sent to slam for were eventually exposed to the public, the implication being that she was a martyr for truth while the Bad Orange Man was bad and orange and Putin's Puppet and ORANGE MAN BAD! 

The problem with this veiled thesis which is intended to give Trump Derangement Syndrone-afflicted audiences thrills down their legs is that a couple of weeks prior to its debut the Durham Report confirmed unequivocally that there was absolutely zero collusion between the Bad Orange Man and the Ruskies, the entire predicate for years of investigations and denunciations of the Bad Orange Man as a treasonous Russian asset was a lie funded by Hillary Clinton then weaponized by the highest levels of our government and law enforcement agencies to hamstring and ultimately overthrow a duly-elected President because the Deep State believes only Democrats are entitled to rule. (I only learned of this movie when seeing some liberal on Twitter soiling himself over how unfair it was for this noble #Resistance fighter to be jailed for a single document when the Bad Orange Man had stolen hundreds to sell to Russia and the Saudis, which are more lies these people tell themselves to cope with Hillary being a terrible candidate.)

 But setting aside the specious thesis of the film, Reality is weighed down by its core conceit of all the dialog being exactly what was said by Winner and the agents (Free Band Name!) because beyond being able to claim that nothing was invented for dramatic purpose, all it accomplishes is that real people talk in circles about nothing interesting. I guess it's of passing note that real FBI agents don't talk like they're portrayed on TV shows, but who cares? The mic drop moment of The Social Network was when Mark Zuckerberg snarls during a deposition, "If your clients had invented Facebook, they would've invented Facebook." Was that taken from an actual transcript or was it an invention of Aaron Sorkin, who won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, probably for that line alone? I don't know, probably the latter, but sometimes drama requires creative license. 

The other purpose of Reality is to provide Sweeney a showcase to alter her current sexy cherry bomb image garnered from her role as the always crying and naked Cassie on Euphoria or the super naked lead in Amazon Prime's The Voyeurs which has made her a Reddit fave. This is done by putting her in a shapeless large shirt and giving her a "no makeup" look, but she does fine with what isn't much of a role, limited to what is on the tape, conveying her reaction to finally getting hip to the fact the FBI already know the answers to their questions.

 Co-writer and director Tina Satter, who originally wrote a stage version of this transcript, does what she can to make the very banal happenings not put the audience to sleep. When redacted content in the transcript occurs, she visualizes it by the image glitching and the speaker vanishing. She also intercuts photos from the real Reality's social media and FBI photos to illustrate references which also blurs the line between fact and recreation, but other than reminding use that actresses are more attractive than normal people, they add little.

With little insights to provide for an crime which barely merits a footnote's asterisk in history and told in a fashion which makes it even less compelling when you know what really happened, Reality struggles to avoid reality, so it's not a winner, but a DNF.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Sisu" Review

Sisu is a Finnish concept that doesn't directly translate as a word, but means an extraordinary determination in the face of extreme adversity, and courage that is presented typically in situations where success is unlikely. It is also the title of an awesome Finnish movie whose plot can be translated to "John Wick + Rambo versus Nazis during WWII."

Set in 1944 as the war is winding down; Finland has signed a treaty with Russia to cease aggression if they'll get their former German allies out of there. As the Nazis leave they destroy everything - roads, bridges, towns - on their way. The are the Bad Guys.

Far away from the fighting we meet Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), an old man prospecting for gold in the wilds of Lapland with only the company of his horse and dog. Bombers fly overhead and he can see the flashes and sounds of war in the distance, but he ignores them. One day his efforts are rewarded as he hits a rich vein of gold. He loads his bags with the haul and heads for civilization to cash in his score.

On the way he passes a platoon of Germans led by SS officer Helldorf (Aksel Hennie) and while some side eye glances are exchanged, they don't bother the old man. He's not as fortunate when he encounters a small group of soldiers down the road. They stop and search him and when they discover the gold, prepare to execute him. Big mistake. Aatami swiftly and brutally kills them all and takes off, but the sound of gunfire carried to the platoon and Helldorf turns them around to investigate. 

Upon finding the carnage and a gold nugget, he sets off after the man who killed his men, both to punish and to get the gold because he knows the war is lost for the Fatherland and he is likely headed for a noose, but that gold could buy him out of that fate. He chases Aatami into a mine field and with a bunch of soldiers and a tank versus one old man, he figures the odds should be in their favor. They are not in their favor. They are basically outnumbered. Whoops!

 I'm not going to deny you the joys of this over-the-top grindhouse murderfest by detailing the plot further. (The trailer gives away too much in my opinion.) But suffice to say it's Many Nazis vs One Old Man, trying to get his gold and him killing the everloving bejeebers out of them. The hilariously brutal kills ride the line between gory realism and Evil Dead-level preposterous, but never get revolting. Besides, they're Nazis. They're the baddies and deserve unpleasant fates.

The only German who gets a shred of character development is Helldorf due to his motivation not of just rapacious greed, but mercenary self-interest; he needs that gold to buy his life, so even when ordered by his commanders to stop chasing Aatami because he is a nearly-mythical warrior, as revealed by his dog tag which they retrieve, he sees no way out.

 As for Aatami, he's like the answer to what if Liam Neeson was even older and more grizzled and seemingly unkillable? He experiences injuries which should hobble or kill mere mortals, but just soldiers on. He's not a freak of nature like a Schwarzenegger, but the embodiment of the titualar sisu, he is fueled by determination and a simple refusal to die. This works due to Tommila's glowering performance which is virtually dialogue-free. Much as been made about how few words Keanu Reeves spoke in John Wick: Chapter Four (reportedly fewer than 700 in a nearly three-hour movie), but Aatami literally says NOTHING until the last 10 seconds of the film and in the English translation amounts to only TEN words. (Despite being a Finnish production, everyone speaks English until the final scenes for some reason and due to a glitch in the subtitles, the very last line didn't display for me. Not cool. Had to look it up.)

 Writer-director Jalmari Helander and cinematographer Kjell Lagerroos team up to make the barren Lapland tundra a character itself, a landscape of foreboding dark beauty pocked by scorched ruins left in the Nazis wake.

The lean and extremely mean 91-minute runtime also doesn't allow the story to bog down unnecessarily. It's kill or be killed (horribly) and if you're not adverse to gonzo kills in a stripped down tale not burdened with the complicated mythology of the John Wick universe, then Sisu is for you.

Score: 8.5/10. Catch it on cable.

"The Mother" 4K Review

 For nearly two weeks the Writer's Guild of America has been on strike against the studios protesting the egregiously poor pay for writers, especially TV show scribes, in this current world of streaming service focused content. While I generally have antipathy towards unions, they have legit grievances which I hope are addressed. 

That said, after watching Netflix's latest original Big Deal Movie with Big Name Star, if you told me that writers don't deserve a penny when they type up forgettable, formulaic time wasters like The Mother, you wouldn't get any argument from me. And when I looked up who was responsible for this dreck, I was genuinely shocked. More on that later. 

Jennifer Lopez stars as The Mother, the never-named protagonist (just like the lead of Christopher Nolan's career-worst Tenet) who we meet as she's being interrogated in a safe house by the FBI concerning her involvement, romantically and business-wise, with two Very Bad Guys involved in arms trafficking. As one red shirt agent blusters at her, you know that [PEW!], yep, he just got shot. The house is under attack by bad guys who kill all the agents but one, Cruise (Omari Hardwick), whose life Mother saves.

Trapped upstairs she improvises a bomb and hides in the shower where she is found by Adrian (Joseph Fiennes), who after some figurative mustache twirling stabs her in her very pregnant belly, which we see for the first time. Whoa! He is a Very Bad Guy. Then the bomb goes off, setting the bathroom on fire and burning him.

Mother wakes up in the hospital, her baby alive and unharmed, but the FBI SAIC (Edie Falco, playing the same character as she did in Avatar: The Way of Water) is unhappy with Mother getting her agents killed and after rattling off some Basil Exposition infodump to let us know Mother was an ace Army sniper during the war, correctly notes that the daughter would be a walking bullseye to Adrian, who was mysteriously removed before the authorities arrived, and Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), so she demands Mother sever her parental rights so the girl can go into Witness Relocation with an adopted family. 

She agrees, but demands Cruise make sure she has a good life and family and to let her know on her birthdays that she's still OK. She then travels to Alaska where old war buddy Jons (Paul Raci) sets her up with a cabin in the woods where she stays for 12 years with no mentioned employment until one day the birthday update arrives with word from Cruise that some of Hector's henchmen were busted in Mexico and they had a photo of her daughter, named Zoe (Lucy Paez), with them so they've apparently found her.

Mother and Cruise stake out the park where Zoe and her adoptive mother, Sonya (Yvonne Senat Jones), are with Mother on sniper overwatch duty and Hector's men do show up and grab Zoe despite Mother shooting several. After narrowly escaping the goons and the cops, Mother and Cruise head to Cuba to find henchmen Tarantula (Jesse Garcia), who was at the snatch, rough him up and find out where she's being held. A quick raid later, they rescue Zoe who lashes out at Mother, but is happy to see Cruise.

However, on the long trip back to her parents - why they have to drive many many hours when there are international airports within several hours of anywhere is another unexplained mystery - very pale Zoe looks at very J.Lo Mother and realizes that she's her birth mother, which Mother denies, leaving her with Cruise to finish returning her.

Before they get home their SUV is t-boned at an intersection in the middle of farmland by Adrian and his goons. How did they know he'd be there at that exact moment and why didn't Cruise see the approaching cars across the barren fields? Don't know. Luckily, Mother shows up on a motorcycle she conjured from somewhere and rescues Zoe, getting away from the scene. She takes her up to her Alaskan cabin for some melodrama and training montages to teach Zoe the Way of the Warrior for the inevitable Final Showdown with Adrian's army.

It's hard to know where to begin with such an empty and formulaic waste of time as The Mother. It's getting to be a stock snark that Netflix is burning tons of money making supposedly theatrical-caliber movies for their home subscribers only to have them come and go like a fast food meal. (Seriously, have you rewatched Red Notice or The Gray Man or 6 Underground? Do you even remember what those were about?) But the rote Mad Libs structure of the story which doesn't break any old ground much less new is all the less comprehensible when looking up the IMDBs of the writers.

As the end credits rolled, I noted that three different writers were credited - not co-writers, but three different people wrote, then rewrote, then re-rewrote this thing into something that would get a C-minus grade from a community college screenwriting course. 

So who were these hacks? The story and thus original screenwriter was Misha Green, creator of the much-hyped Lovecraft Country. Next at bat was Andrea Berloff, Oscar-nominated co-writer of Straight Out of Compton. Whut? Batting last to strike out was Peter Craig, just Oscar-nominated for co-writing Top Gun: Maverick (a bad nomination) and previous writer of The Batman, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2, and Mr. J.Lo's The Town

These are not obviously untalented writers, but if you'd told me ChatGPT had vomited this script up, I would've believed you. A major sticking point in the WGA strike negotiations is the use of AI to create work for revision or to use AI to revise human writing, but if this is what humans of renown are typing up, then perhaps we should let SkyNet do it. Perhaps it'd be more creative in it's regurgitation of previous writing.

Director Niki Caro, who's last film was the unneeded lackluster live-action remake of Mulan, must've had far better 2nd unit directors handling the action on that because in the John Wick era action flicks, the sequences in The Mother are haphazard, shaky-cam and edit-fu slop Hollyweird still can't outgrow. With no substantive story or characters, there's little to direct.

Lopez is one of the select group of actresses who can turn the hat trick of beauty, talent, and plausibility as an ass-kicker (along with Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron) and she looks great at 51 (when it was filmed), but again with nothing to play, she can only simmer with angst against Paez's bratty kid. Only Raci (Oscar nominated for The Sound of Metal) really makes something of nothing, but is helped by looking like an old boot.

On the audio-visual front, paying for the premium tier gets you Dolby Vision and Atmos sound and you're missing nothing much if you've got the general HD tier. Audio is nothing special with no atmospherics and the visuals only show off HDR mildly in a couple of spots. 

Blah in every way that's not J.Lo's slammin' bod, The Mother is as generic and forgettable as its title.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"65" 4K Review

 The writing-directing team of Scott Beck & Bryan Woods had their breakout moment with their original script for A Quiet Place, which was rewritten and directed by John Krasinski into a growing franchise. However, after watching their leap into Big Time Directing with 65 I can't help but wonder just how much Krasinki's contributions made to making A Quiet Place the gem it was because 65 fails due to a mindless predictable trope-laden script.

 After clumsy title cards explaining that long before human history began there was an advanced planet called Somaris which explored space, we meet Mills (Adam Driver) on the beach with his wife, Alya (Nika King), as he conveniently explains that he's only taking on a two-year-long space mission to make enough money to treat their daughter Nevine's (Chloe Coleman) unspecified medical condition. (How an advanced spacefaring civilization doesn't have equally advanced medical technology and/or a socialized health care system that provides "free" care is only the beginning for the questions 65 will beg.)

 During his voyage, the ship encounters an unexpected asteroid field which strikes the ship (because the ship had no capability to steer around obstacles itself or have shields like in Passengers?) causing it to crash on an uncharted planet, losing all of its cryosleep chambers (Pitch Black did this crash better) in the process. What is this world? As the title card helpfully explains, it's Earth. 65 million years ago. Dun dun DUHN!!!!

Mills, who was not in a cryo capsule (so he was awake and alone while the human cargo slept?) discovers everyone is dead and sends a second distress message cancelling his request for rescue because what's the point? He's about to commit suicide when he changes his mind which is helpful as he discovers that one capsule survived along with its occupant. He locates it in the swamp his part of the ship crashed and finds a young girl inside it. 

He checks the manifest and learns her name is Koa (Ariana Greenblat) and sends a third distress call requesting pickup (unseen are the people at Space Command saying make up your mind, bro) and estimates her age as being about nine (because they didn't have a birthdate on the paperwork?) which if you're thinking that makes her a surrogate daughter figure for Mills like Newt was for Ripley in Aliens then you're keeping up on the Obviousfest 65 is.

 Convenient to their predicament is the discovery that the other half of the ship with an escape pod capable of escaping Earth's gravity survived on a mountain. Convenient for drama is that Koa doesn't speak Mills' language and his translator gizmo is broken, so he has to resort to speaking louder and slower for her to understand that they need to hike 10 miles to the escape pod. And, oh yeah, there are a whole lot of dinosaurs in their way who want to eat them AND the asteroid that killed all the dinosaurs 65 million years ago is on its way, too! Better move faster than that leisurely pace you're on, folks!

No one expects a movie about an astronaut and a child on a planet of hungry dinosaurs to be much more than pulpy escapism, but 65 is especially burdened by too-familiar elements from better movies and being so predictable that almost every "surprise" was telegraphed well ahead of its arrival. Situations felt contrived, not organic, and the list of "Wait, what?" question begs just keeps piling up like how does the scalding power of the geysers not really seem to be a threat to Mills and Koa and how does the climatic battle between T. Rexes and their escape ship not result in catastrophic damage that would prevent their escape. And no, the "it's not supposed to be Shakespeare" excuse is not acceptable. 

Driver's performance is adequate, but he's wasted here; there's nothing that any competent actor couldn't have delivered and it's not like he's elevating the threadbare material. Greenblat's Koa is annoying and constantly doing dumb stuff, but that's the script, not her fault. The visual effects are top-notch despite the movie's SyFy Channel intellectual level and Beck and Woods do a competent job staging the action and plus points for shooting on locations in Louisiana and Oregon rather than doing it virtually on soundstages, but they not able to rise above their rote script. Perhaps they should've had Krasinski punch it up.

The movie's 4K HDR presentation is fine with sharp details and black levels, but the naturalistic cinematography doesn't present many opportunities for visual showoffery. Audio was clear with good surround usage, but again nothing to write home about. 

While a brief 90 minutes long, 65 simply doesn't do enough to fill it's runtime with much that we haven't seen done better elsewhere before.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Bedazzled" Blu-ray Review

 As the back half of our Brendan Fraser double-feature after Encino Man we popped in the barebones Blu-ray of Bedazzled, the 2000 remake of a 1967 Peter Cook-Dudley Moore film which comedy snobs swear by, but I (along with most people) haven't seen. But, hoo boy, I've seen the heck out of this version for two reasons: Elizabeth Hurley.

 Fraser plays Elliot, a walking advertisement for why some dorks deserve to be alone and miserable (and I say this as a lifelong dork). Absolutely inept and a desperate try-hard, his co-workers can't stand him and his attempts to glom onto their activities. He pines for Alison (Frances O'Connor) who works at his San Francisco tech company, but doesn't know he exists even after he makes a sad attempt to strike up a conversation at a bar.  

After striking out, he mutters to himself, "I'd give anything to have that girl in my life," and that is the cue for the Devil (Hurley) to make her presence known to Elliot and to offer him a simple bargain: Seven wishes in exchange for his soul. Elliot is initially reluctant, but with little going for him in his life and desperate to be with his dream girl, he signs and wishes that he be married to Alison and to be a very rich and powerful man.

 The Devil grants his wish, but as with all subsequent wishes, Elliot discovers that the Devil has used any vagaries in the wish to insert whammies which make the wish meaningless beginning with Elliot discovering Alison hates him, is cheating on him, and he is a Colombian drug kingpin that competitors want to kill. Whoopsie! Hijnks ensue!

 What Bedazzled does best is give Fraser plenty of room to play as he transforms into each of his wish personnas while giving Elliot an arc as he matures from the loser he was to the better-balanced man he becomes. It also works by giving Hurley a great showcase to.....hang on, a quick side note.....

Hey, Hugh Grant. Yeah, you, Hugh. One question as asked my Jay Leno: WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!?!?!?? Dude, really?

OK, where was I? Oh yeah, for some reason Hurley has made over 25 movies and for 99% of movie watchers, the only two they could name are Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Bedazzled which is odd considering how good she is at combining a knowing plummy English elegance packed into an absolute smoke show of a bod which gets showcased quite well in various sexy outfits here. This Devil is having a ball being bad.

All of which makes Elliot's obsession with Alison kind of odd to me as she's reasonably attractive, but nothing you'd stay up all night trying to Google every detail or photo you could find over. Now Hurley, ow chihuaua! If I was Elliot, I'd say, "Keep the other six wishes. I just need the one where I am your personal love slave forever." (That she looks just as hot now at 57 years old, constantly posting thirst trap bikini photos on Instagram implies either a picture in an attic somewhere or her own deal with the Devil.)

While Fraser is fun and Hurley gets the nethers a'tingling, the letdown on why this isn't one for the ages is due to a somewhat bland script by director Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, Ghostbusters, Analyze This), Peter Tolan (Rescue Me, The Larry Sanders Show), and Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H, Tootsie) which doesn't really reach for the laughs and relies on Fraser and Hurley - have I mentioned how hawt she is? - to bring it to life.

 On the Blu-ray technical front, the transfer is clean if somewhat lacking in contrast (maybe I'm too used to 4K HDR content these days) and the audio is serviceable, but nothing special. Surprisingly, there are absolutely zero extras on the disc, not even a trailer. The DVD release had two commentary tracks and a handful of featurettes, so bad form, Anchor Bay!

Pleasantly amusing with a versatile performance from Brendan Fraser and muy caliente hotness and sass from Elizabeth Hurley, Bedazzled is worth a watch, but this Blu-ray doesn't rate a buy.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.

"Encino Man" Review

In honor of Brendan Fraser's triumphant career comeback, winning the Best Actor for The Whale last night, we decided a double-feature of Fraser's earlier hits was needed. So ahead of Bedazzled came his 2nd movie role ever, Encino Man, which was designed to be a star vehicle for Pauly Shore (riding on his MTV show Totally Pauly "Weasel" schtick), but in reality and in retrospect was a first glimpse at what Fraser's thespian chops were.

 We meet best friends Dave (Sean Astin, pre-Rudy, but post-Goonies) and Stoney (Shore) as Dave single-handedly is digging a swimming pool in his Encino home's backyard. He feels like a loser as the girl he's sweet on, Robyn (Megan Ward), is going with a brutish jock, Matt (Michael DeLuise), and wants to know how he can get the girl and get known in his school.

The answers come when an earthquake uncovers a huge block of ice in the pool with a frozen caveman inside (Fraser) who eventually thaws out and runs amok in Dave's home. Needing to explain this new arrival to his parents, they clean him up, dress him like a surf bum, name him Link (as in missing), and present Link as an exchange student from Estonia that they must've forgotten they'd agreed to take in. They register him in school and the hijinks begin with Link becoming more popular than Dave which leads to friction, breakup, makeup, and a triumphant group dance at the prom at the end.

 What's fascinating to notice in what most people put down as one of those dumb Pauly Shore movies like Son-in-Law and Bio-Dome which wore out his welcome even faster is that - after realizing that Robin Tunney and Rose McGowan have bit parts as classmates and Astin's Goonies castmate Ke Huy Quan as the Computer Club leader would have his career going into a deep freeze for 20 years only thawing in time to also win an Oscar last night for Everything Everywhere All At Once - is how unnecessarily nuanced and subtle Fraser's performance was.

As an unfrozen caveman thawed into the modern world which was meant to be a dumb Pauly Shore teen comedy (like a discount Wayne's World), it would've been easy for the rookie actor, making his leading role debut, to play Link as a cartoon, especially when one of the gags (as shown in the trailer) is that Stoney teaches Link his catchphrases. But Fraser instead imbues Link with the necessary bewilderment while underpinning the goofy slapstick with genuine pathos as a man alone in a strange world. This really gets illustrated when a field trip to a natural history museum with exhibits of extinct beasts and how cavemen lived hits Link hard at just how displaced he's become. (Don't worry though, in the end it works out for him.)

 While Encino Man is a passable teen comedy for which one's enjoyment may be predicated on how much of Shore's noise one can tolerate, it's definitely worth a watch to see how perhaps you can tell who might be Oscar-caliber talent in the most unlikely forum.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable. (Not on any services at this writing.)

"Hunted" Review

 The whole "Evil Rich People Hunting Noble Poor People For Sport" genre is beyond played out. Originating as a 1924 short story "The Most Dangerous Game" it has been adapted into at least 20 movies according to Wikipedia including the Rutger Hauer hunts Ice-T version, Surviving the Game (1994), to the unfairly lost in the world-ending beginning of the Hot Fad Plague plannedemic in 2020, The Hunt, starring Betty Gilpin as a badass redneck woman fighting evil rich liberals hunting her and others, it's as stock tropey as it gets.

Which is why I'm not going to expend much effort in reviewing the generically-named Hunted, which sets the story in England with a cast almost completely foreign (no pun) to American audiences with the exception perhaps of Samantha Bond - who was a regular on Downton Abbey and was Moneypenny in the Pierce Brosnan James Bond films - and portrays the matriarch conducting the hunt of four young people who were robbing her estate. Lessons need to be taught, order must be maintained, blah-blah-woof-woof, let the hunt begin. Place your bets as to who will survive and whether there will be any gnarly kills. 

 The only real differentiating factors in this telling is that the group was stealing to put one of them through college debt-free and were tasked by a crooked art broker to procure specific items and they don't just randomly steal or loot and the ending which isn't quite what you'd expect though it's not that big a deal.

 With characters that barely fill two dimensions and a too familiar plot that still drags for a 94-minute runtime, you are better off skipping Hunted (viewed on Amazon Prime) and hunting down The Hunt (currently free with ads on Amazon's Freevee service). 

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Tár" 4K Review

Despite sounding like a sequel to the homicidal-tire-on-a-rampage cult horror flick Rubber, Tár is the latest example of what I call an Emperor's New Movie; a film which garners overwhelming critical acclaim and multiple Oscar nominations despite being generally terrible. There's a reason so many normal people say they don't listen to critics and movies like Tár are why. 

It's also why my annual Oscars Death March - where I try to catch as many of the top nominees so as to better judge the collective malpractice of the Academy Awards - is less and less enjoyable as the Academy races further away from representing actual excellence, much less popular tastes. It doesn't matter that token nominations get handed out to box office monsters like Top Gun: Maverick or Avatar: The Way of Water when the Academy fully intends to fete dreck like Tár.

 Cate Blanchett stars as the titular Lydia Tár, an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner, protege of Leonard Bernstein, first female chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, plus a zillion more accomplishments we are bombarded with during a Basil Exposition infodump in the guise of a staged New Yorker interview. She's married to her concertmaster, Sharon (Nina Hoss), and self-described father of Petra (Mila Bogojevic), who they adopted. She is for sure an Ur-Girlboss.

For two excruciatingly tedious hours we see her prattle on endlessly about stuff and whatnot while those around her wince at her soft thoughtlessness. Blink-or-miss-it hints of a story involving a young woman Tár mentored who committed suicide appear as often as her being awakened by mysterious sounds in the night which go away when she opens the refrigerator. (I'm not making this up.) 

Finally, a semblance of a plot erupts as a baldly decontextualized video of comments she made during a Julliard masterclass appears and she is sued for prompting the woman's suicide, her personal life and professional career implodes and she ends up in a humiliating gig. The end. Wait, what?

 Imagine going to a symphony performance expecting a program of several pieces. The orchestra spends the first half-hour tuning up, just droning on that A note while little snatches of something that sounds like the program flit by. Then the conductor proceeds to rush the orchestra through a medley of the entire program in about 10 minutes, never completing a movement or giving a chance for the audience to grasp what's happening. Then the orchestra stands and bows while the critics who didn't have to pay for their tickets leap to their feet, howling their approval while dropping their pants and jerking off in appreciation. That's what Tár is like.

I haven't seen writer-director Todd Field's other Academy Award-nominated films, In The Bedroom and Little Children, both of which garnered Best Picture and acting nominations, but he's got the number of the awards and critical establishments who were drooling for 16 years for this movie. Terrance Malick is like Takashi Miike (who has made as many as five feature films in one year) in comparison. But the wild overpraise is like hearing a starving man say that the Taco Bell you gave him was the finest meal ever cooked. 

Just as with Infinity Pool the night before, I was questioning whether I was utterly incapable of grasping the meaning of the film or whether there was nothing to grasp and everyone else was just pretending to "get it" like with The Emperor's New Clothes or the belief in 2001 that The Strokes were going to save rock & roll, another thing that didn't exist. 

As I perused the rambling proclamations of the critics, all I could see were the drugs talking or the need to cram their personal ideologies or the collective wokeism into their verdicts. Some said it was about power; others that it was a commentary on sexism and the patriarchy which is weird because Lydia rejects those premises.

 I can't recall what the last movie I saw that took so long to tell so little story and to botch the telling of it. After finishing slogging through it - I took a couple of lengthy breaks to work on my computer - I went to see what the herd animal critics had to say and they must hand out some pretty awesome hallucinogens to the critics to spawn such collective shared delusions of depth and grandeur to such an sterile and devoid plot. "If this would have had a male protagonist, it would've been a cliche, but because it's a woman..." is not the insight they think it is; it's confirmation of its vacuity. 

With the exception of one scene, Tár is a 2h 37m exhibition of how to not tell a compelling story, how not to convey emotions, how not to make a point. There's a difference between being subtle and being obtuse and Fields gets it wrong every time. He sets up Lydia as this amazeballs person - an icon in her field - and then proceeds to demolish her life without ever showing the moments where she's laid low. Why did the cancel her? Don't know. 

Was it the fabricated smear video (more on this in a moment) or the suicide of the mentee? Both? Neither? It's never made clear. Why does her marriage collapse in the end when she's never shown doing anything to violate what seemed distant and chilly already? /shrug emoji Is Lydia a deliberate monster or merely aloof and callous in her interpersonal relationships? Pomegranate. And if that answer makes no sense to you, it's just me keeping in line with the way Fields expects us to fill in all the blanks he felt unnecessary to fill in himself as if he was crunched for time after wasting the majority of the runtime doing nothing.

For example, we're told Lydia has all the big awards, but none of them are every shown. She has a cabinet filled with pencils for her scoring, but no shelf or mantle for her Oscar? Her main apartment is an icy concrete bunker which would be mistaken for a parking structure if not for all the expensive furniture and the nine-foot grand piano. Relationships all feel distant, but we're never shown why. A late sequence where she returns to her childhood home and encounters a relative (brother?) gives a taste at how much she reinvented herself, but all it does is make one wish Fields had cared enough to actually tell the story of who Lydia Tar (screw the accent) really is.

There is one fascinating scene about a half-hour in which felt like it could've really mattered except Fields had a million other absolutely nothings he wanted to focus on instead. Lydia is teaching a masterclass at Julliard and gets into a discussion with a student conductor in front of the class about connecting with music and asks the student about his views on Bach. His reply that as a BIPOC pansexual something or other that he feels a white cisgendered male who fathered 20 children wasn't worthy of considering rightfully infuriates Lydia. She tries to reason with the snowflake and poses the question how would he like his music to be judged solely on his pigmentation or humping partner preferences (I'm paraphrasing) and he simply picks up his coat and bag and stalks off, pronouncing her "a [eff]ing bitch."

Shot in a single 10-1/2 minute-long Steadicam shot, it's one of those One Good Scenes that pop up in otherwise terrible movies. There is a sizable herd of fans for No Country For Old Men, but that was also Oscar-winning trash except for the coin toss scene at the gas station which comes down to one great line about how the quarter has been traveling for many years to arrive at this point for its role in determining a man's life or death. Great stuff, but you don't give a freaking Oscar to a bad movie because of a clever line, dammit! 

And you don't kid yourself into believing Tár is good because one scene wasn't completely empty, especially when it doesn't really matter in the end. Also, we can see the whole auditorium in the scene and no one was filming this conflict, so when the video arrives 90 minutes later, it's truly from out of nowhere.

Cate Blanchett's performance is supposedly highly favored to earn her a third Oscar and if there's any factor in the bamboozling of the critics that's not the drugs it's that she manages to spew the endless monologues Fields shoves into her mouth in a manner which almost hints this is a real person. But to say Blanchett is good is as redundant as saying LeBron James is a whiny little bitch who can't speak out against Communist China's human rights abuses, including the use of child slave labor to make his $200 kicks, because there's too much money to be made in being complicit. She's very good, but it means nothing. (Give the Oscar to Michelle Yeoh. She's worthy and needs the boost more.)

What's ultimately most frustrating about Tár is not the overwhelming undeserved hype it has received, but the fact that in the rushed last half-hour, there are plenty of seeds of what could've been a fascinating character study about the tragedy of hubris and the corrosive effects that wokeism and the need to burn witches for hurting the po' widdle feewings of emotional hemophiliacs like Mx. Bipoc teh Pansexual. 

But Fields had no stomach to tackle such a powder keg topic. So we're left with the lengthy cinematic equivalent of one of those big expensive coffee table art books that has to be dusted, but no one ever wants to pick up and look through.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

When you watch this trailer, note how it's nothing but impressionistic mood moments and critical hosannas and that you have no idea what it's actually about. That's because there's not much story to put into a trailer, is there?

"Monster Party" Blu-ray Review

 While poking around Dollar Tree (which is now $1.25 Tree thanks to Bidenflation) I came across a Blu-ray for Monster Party (not to be confused with Party Monster, Monsters Inc. or The Spy Who Loved Me) which had an above-average cast of name actors and a decent hook of a logline, so I decided to gamble the buck (and a quarter). I should've bought something else.

The plot is simple: A trio of young burglars - lovers Casper (Sam Strike) and Iris (Virginia Gardener, Fall), and their friend Dodge (Brandon Michael Hall) - decide to rob a Malibu mansion in hopes of scoring enough money for Iris's impending baby and to help free Casper's father from a brutal strip club owner/loan shark. 

They pose as cater waiters for a dinner party hosted by the the Dawson family - father Patrick (Julian McMahon), mother Roxanne (Robin Tunney), daughter Alexis (Erin Moriarty, The Boys), and son Elliot (Kian Lawley) - and their guests, a bunch of obnoxious dudebros and Milo (Lance Reddick), a distinguished gentleman who seems to hold great stature with the group. 

As dinner begins, Roxanne and the others begin to give testimonials about how they are addicts, but that they've been sober for years. If you've read the back of the case you know what their addiction is: MURDER! (Dun-dun-DUHN!!!) What happens when hapless burglars try to rip off a house full of psycho killers? 

While the premise and cast sounded promising the execution is dull and lacking. To say the characters, such as they are, are two-dimensional would be an insult to cartoon characters. Everyone either looks bored or bored as they don't have anything interesting to play or say and the direction is rudimentary and beyond the rented mansion, it looks cheap. 

It's a shame because the setup could've been mined for some killer kills and clever conversations, but writer-director Chris von Hoffmann simply has no idea how to execute the Sam Raimi-esque comedic Grand Guignol splatterfest he imagined he was making. This movie came out in 2018 and neither I or my horror fan girlfriend had ever heard of it. This is why and why the Blu-ray was selling for a dollar (and a quarter). 

As for the disc itself, while the DTS-MA: HD audio track was active and booming, the video quality was subpar. Colors were off, whether by some misguided color grading strategy or not knowing how to properly light and shoot a film, and fine detail was seriously lacking to the point I actually brought up my player's info screen to verify I didn't get a DVD in a Blu-ray case.

As for extras, there aren't any. Not even the trailer, which actually makes it look like a promising film, thus proving what I've always said that film trailers are the most evolved form of false advertising possible. 

Looking around I'm surprised to see how many horror fans actually enjoyed this mess, presumably because horror fans are cheap dates (FWIW, my g/f liked it more than I did, but she isn't writing this), though there is one approximately 20-second-long bit that is absolutely BONKERS, but that doesn't absolve the rest of Monster Party's failings.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Sick" Review

 It's rare in the horror genre for a screenwriter to attain marquee status. Usually it's directors like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tobe Hoober, or James Wan who get top dog attention as no one really gives much thought to who typed up the scripts for these maniac-killing-teenager flicks. 

The exception is Kevin Williamson who wrote Scream, Scream 2, Scream 4, I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty and also created The Vampire Diaries, The Following and Dawson's Creek, which made a horror icon of James Van Der Beek. (I mean, you've seen that cryface meme of him, right? Nightmare fuel!) So when the Peacock Original horror movie Sick popped up advertising Williamson's script, it was worth taking a peek.

Set in April 2020, Sick occurs in the world of the Hot Fad Plague when panic was at its initial peak with empty store shelves and freakouts about face diapers and arbitrary social distancing. We meet Tyler (Joel Courtney), a young man at a supermarket. While waiting in line, he receives texts messages and photos from someone clearly stalking him. When he gets home, a black-clad killer kills him and we go to the title card. Not exactly Drew Barrymore being quizzed on scary movies before the title card, but OK.

Then we meet college girls Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Bethlehem Million) as they're loading Parker's Range Rover to head to her family's cabin by the lake to ride out quarantine as school is shut down. And by cabin I mean massive mansion-sized log cabin which apparently is used once a year by her father and his friends, but otherwise is passing up on a ton of AirB&B money. The nearest neighbors are miles away, so what could possibly go wrong with two girls alone in the country with a killer on the loose?

The red herring comes in the form of DJ (Dylan Sprayberry), Parker's sorta boyfriend, though she had made it clear they weren't exclusive. He knew she'd be up at the lake because she'd posted it on Instagram which means anyone would be able to find her if they followed her and that's exactly what happens when the killer arrives. Why is he there and who will survive and be the Final Girl?

While movies have been made about the Hot Fad Plague lockdowns, either explicitly (the awful 2021 romantic heist flick Locked Down) or tangentially (the awful 2022 non-mystery caper flick Glass Onion), Sick may be the first movie where the Wuhan virus is literally the motive for murder. It's interesting - considering how while many sane people who follow REAL science have moved on from the Hot Fad Plague, there is still a massive cult of people who live in abject terror of a bad flu bug, wearing face diapers while walking outdoors or driving alone in their cars, terrorized by a media who went all in with the agenda and has never let up - that a movie probably written in 2021 and filmed in early 2022 would openly mock the paranoia of those early days when people wiped down their groceries with bleach wipes and would leave a bleeding screaming girl begging for help standing outside a car because she lacks a face diaper.

Sick is the epitome of a low-budget, lean and mean, slasher flick with a small cast of barely-knowns, basically one location, and an emphasis on dialog and cat-and-mouse game tactics over elaborate kills, not that it doesn't deliver some here. While the ultimate rationale of of why these girls are being hunted is irrational, that's kind of the point I think Williamson is making. And at a fairly taut 83 minutes (which could've been trimmed a little more in my opinion), it doesn't overstay its welcome.

As for audio-visuals, the Dolby Vision contributes little as the budget cinematography is dim and surround effects are limited to an echoey wood block on the score in my left ear. No home theater demo material here.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on Peacock.

"Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" 4K Review

 In my review for Knives Out I noted that writer-director Ruin Johnson had snagged over $400 million for the rights to the two sequels, which for a movie that grossed $312 million globally (albeit made on a slim $40M budget made it a smash hit) really threw any pretense at profitability to the winds. My Netflix bill is the highest of all streaming services at $20 per month because they've been tossing ridonkulous sums for forgettable fare like Red Notice and The Gray Man, both of which I defy you, dear reader, to name most of the stars of without Googling. So as Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery plopped onto the top of Netflix's chart, it's time to see whether Johnson delivered Netflix their money's worth.

 Set in the early days of the Hot Fad Plague lockdowns in May 2020, Glass Onion opens with five seemingly unrelated people - tech corporation Alpha lead scientist Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.); scandal plagued fashion designer Birdie (Kate Hudson); Twitch streamer/men's rights activist Duke (Dave Bautista); Governor of Connecticut Claire (Kathryn Hahn); and Andi (Janelle Monae) - receiving elaborate puzzle boxes from Miles Bron (Edward Norton) which when solved, reveal an invitation to come join Miles at his Greek Island estate to solve his "murder." While the first four friends got together on a group call to solve the puzzle, Andi just smashed hers open with a hammer. 

As the guests arrive at the dock - with Birdie also bringing her suffering assistant, Peg (Jessica Henwick), and Duke bringing girlfriend, Whiskey (Madelyn Kline) - they are surprised to see an extra person in attendance, the world-renowned master detective (named after a font by a lazy, stupid hack writer), Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Upon arriving at the island to be greeted by Miles, he seems taken aback by the presence of Andi and Blanc, but welcomes them.

While lounging around the pool, the cause for the consternation appears to be due to Andi being Miles' former partner at Alpha, but had been forced out by Miles with the assistance of the others, many of whom have their own closet skeletons like Birdie, who was discovered using child labor to produce her clothes because she thought that sweat shops made sweat pants. 

At dinner, Blanc completely spoils Miles' planned murder mystery weekend by explaining the entire thing before anything had happened. With Plan A wiped out, Miles figures oh well, let's just get drunk and party for the weekend like old friends. It's all fun and games until a guest suddenly drops dead after drinking from Miles' glass. Did someone try to kill Miles and who killed another guest during the confusion when the lights go out? Good thing Blanc is on the scene!

Except it doesn't really matter because in a manner which is meant to copy his structure in Knives Out where the audience got looped into what really happened, after about an hour of character introductions and then thwarted fake murder, but a couple of real murders, the story resets to explain just how Blanc was drawn into the case and what is really going on and that's when Glass Onion reveals that, just like its metaphorical namesake, now matter how many layers you think there are to the tale, in the middle is absolutely nothing as you will see by the end of the movie. 

I'm genuinely shocked at how many supposedly knowledgeable critics have placed this dreck on their top films of 2022 lists. It's a testament to just how terrible screenwriting has become where claptrap like this is heralded as witty and clever. It's not. It's the definition of people who imagine themselves to be smart are actually, in the words of Blanc, all dumb. 

While Johnson switched up the usual Agatha Christie pastiche in Knives Out by showing the audience the truth behind the death of Christopher Plummer's character and how Blanc solved the mystery, he completely whiffs by having Blanc in on most of the major secrets before landing on the island. He knows why he's there and how he was invited and what he's looking for; this time it's the audience who is in the dark. But if the point of watching mystery movies is to see if you can solve the crime before the star detective can, you don't have a chance with Glass Onion because there's not really a mystery at the core of the mystery movie. 

No, what Johnson and company imagine they're doing is making some sort of cultural statement about the venality and genuine evil of wealthy people which is rather ironic when you think about it. Watching pampered millionaire elitists vogue at being pampered millionaire elitists - who are just the WORST, amirite? - as if they're making some profound class war point doesn't work when the characters are just cartoons, flat and dimensionless. Pretty much every character can be summed up in a few words. The closest to a cutting observation Johnson makes is for Birdie to show up for the boat wearing a face diaper made of fishnet because GET IT?!?

At the center of the whole story is Miles who is meant to be an amalgam of Elon Musk (I'm sure those horrified that Musk has exposed what a tool of government fascism Twitter had served as are projecting their feels here), Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and every other tech mogul, but with the dirty little secret that he is actually an idiot who only succeeded by stealing from a black woman (yay, wokeness!) is belied by the fact that no one as stupid as Miles' is portrayed as being could've kept the front up for so long as to build a fortune and has only survived because the rest of their gang went along for their own self interests as if they couldn't have survived taking him down. 

And the less said about the brain-dead finale which serves better as a metaphor for the act of cultural vandalism Johnson made called Star Wars: The Last Jedi than the point stated, the better. Seriously.

This Is Spinal Tap wisely observed that there's a fine line between stupid and clever, but it definitely helps to not be so stupid as to think you're being clever when you're not. Ruin Johnson has always been a wildly overrated marginal talent - watch Looper sometime and try to figure out why no one noticed the paradox that occurs at the end which would've mooted the entire story - and while you can't fault the clown for taking the money and running, imagine what 20 genuinely talented filmmakers could've made with the money Netflix is pouring down this hole. You know the saying about fooling someone once versus twice. Why would anyone expect this weak joke to get any better when the third telling comes around in a couple of years?

While there are some fun performances and lines scattered throughout Glass Onion, it's complete failure at being a mystery, a farce, or a commentary render it a too long, too thin experience. As noted before, you will waste your time peeling what appears to be empty and find that it was empty.

As for the Dolby Vision and Atmos aspects, it looks nice and sounds OK, but nothing that makes you feel great for spending a lot on a snazzy home theater. If you're on the $14 Netflix plan, you'll be fine if you choose to waste your time on this.

Score: 4/10. Skip it. 


"Violent Night" Review

 It's debatable whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but after all the movies described as "Die Hard on a plane/boat/bus" (Passenger 57, Under Seige, and Speed, respectively) for the past 35 years, we finally get our Die Hard with Santa, Violent Night

David Harbour (Stranger Things) is not-so-jolly St. Nick. When we meet him, he's getting drunk in a pub, disillusioned by how greedy kids are and how Christmas has lost its meaning. After taking off from the pub roof and puking on the poor barmaid who'd followed him, he heads to America where he eventually lands on the roof of the estate of the Lightstone estate.

The Lightstones are one of those wealthy families who put the diss in dysfunctional. The matriarch, Gertrude (Beverly D'Angelo), is a cruel woman who emotional abuses her adult children - Jason (Alex Hassel, Vicious from the disastrous live-action Cowboy Bebop) and Alva (Edie Patterson) - by dangling her fortune over them. Alva wants to take over as CEO of the family business and her boyfriend, Morgan Steel (Cam Gigandet), hopes she'll produce an action film starring him. Jason just wants to win back his estranged wife, Linda (Alexis Louder), and make his daughter, Trudy (Leah Brady), happy. Trudy is a sweetheart compared to Alva's Justin Bieber-ish social media influencer/streamer brat son, Bert (Alexander Elliot).

 The interpersonal squabbles of the rich and aimless become secondary to the arrival of John Leguizamo's "Ebenezer Scrooge" and his henchmen, many of whom were posing as staff for the Christmas party event, to rob Gertrude of the $300 million in her basement safe. As little as Santa really wants to get involved, he decides that Trudy's belief in Christmas is enough to inspire him to get his murder on and fight the Hans Gruber Scrooge gang and we learn a little about Santa's origins, at least this version of him.

 Violent Night is a pip because it mashes up Die Hard, The Ref (a sadly forgotten Denis Leary film co-starring Keven Spacey and Judy Davis as a bickering couple whose crappy family's Christmas is interrupted by Leary's burglar) and those R-rated Home Alone videos on YouTube where VFX artists provide graphic renditions of the injuries the Wet Bandits should've suffered from Kevin's attacks. The kills are visceral, but in an amusing Evil Dead 2 sense, and Harbour and the cast have fun with the material.

While it will never receive the classic status afforded other Christmas-set movies, Violent Night is a lot more fun than watching the universe kicking George Bailey in the junk repeatedly. Watch Santa kick some junk instead!

Score: 8/10. Catch it on cable. (As of 1/21/23 it's on Peacock)

"Knives Out" 4K Review

After taking a huge streaming runny brown dump on the Star Wars franchise with his act of cultural vandalism, The Last Jedi, which torpedoed the Disney sequels and set the most valuable IP in media ablaze, writer-director Ruin Johnson (yeah, his real name is Rian, but culture vandals don't get to demand a damn thing) followed up with Knives Out, his spin on an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit, garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay (whut?) and a mind-blowing $450 MILLION(!!!!) deal from Netflix for two sequels. 

 With the first sequeal, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, about to plop onto the streamer this weekend after a one-week theatrical run a month ago, it was time to finally watch the original movie. We had tried to watch it when it came out on video, but my girlfriend wanted out in less than five minutes in due to Ruin's overly hyperactive crosscutting style and overly arch dialog. However, once you get past that hump, it settles down to spin a decent yarn, though it's not as great as hyped.

 Events begin with the discovery of the body of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer in his last performance), the 85-year-old mystery novel author who'd amassed great wealth, but ended up apparently dead by suicide, having slit his own throat in his attic study. A week later, ahead of the memorial, his children - son Walt (Michael Shannon), with wife Donna (Riki Lindhome); daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), with husband Richard (Don Johnson) and son Ransom (Chris Evans); and widowed daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette); along with their irrelevant teenage children - gather at the mansion where he died for additional questioning from local police detectives (LaKeith Stanfield and Noah Egan) and consulting private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig with a syrupy Southern accent) whose invitation to investigate what appears to be a open and shut case of suicide is a mystery in itself.

 As the interviews quickly proceed, with the subjects' versions of what happened the night of Harlan's death cutting against the audience seeing what actually happened, we learn that there was more diss than fun in this dysfunctional family with the old man clearly intending to cut his family off from the lavish financial support he'd provided and they'd grown to feel entitled to. But while all of them could be suspected of murdering the patriarch, all the physical evidence supports the suicide ruling. 

The mystery intensifies when the reading of Harlan's will, which he'd changed only a week before his death, leaves his entire estate - the house, the $60 million in savings, and his publishing house and catalog of works - to Marta (Ana de Armas), his personal nurse and, more relevantly, a kind friend to an old man whose family were a bunch of spoiled leeches. Marta is so decent that she literally cannot lie without vomiting. Naturally, the entire family suspects her of being a naughty nurse and presses her to renounce the inheritance.

 What Knives Out does to freshen up what could've been just a Christie pastiche is show us what actually precipitated Harlan's demise very early on and how it plays against the accounts the family members related. While the mystery that the characters think is happening is explained to us, there are still ancillary mysteries such as who wanted Blanc to look into the death.

While the cast is stacked with top shelf names, the protagonist is actually Marta as nearly everything revolves around her and it's a different sort of role for de Armas, who cools down her usual hotness here. Craig is having a ball with his accent - which gets called "Foghorn Leghorn" at one point - like he did in Logan Lucky, and while Blanc is a Hercule Poirot copypaste, there's potential as evidenced by his returning in Glass Onion. Chris Evans also has fun with his Trustafarian jerk turn; it pairs nicely with his performance in Netflix's The Gray Man. The others are game, but mostly limited to being personalities more than characters.

 Despite being on Prime Video seemingly forever, Knives Out wasn't there or anywhere to watch - not even Netflix who you'd think would want the first film in a very expensive series they've financed for their subscribers - so I had to go with a 4K HDR copy I'd *obtained* and the clarity and color was sharp, but it's not really necessary for this type of film; HD is sufficient.

While Ruin Johnson deserves to be eaten by an alligator for what he did to Star Wars and his previous film, Looper, was a paradox-laden misfire, Knives Out is an acceptably entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. It's a testament to how mediocre screenwriting these days is that it snagged an Oscar nomination despite begging more than a few questions in how certain events played out and ending with a literal 1-in-1000 deus ex machina situation, but just as Dirkflix is able to fairly appraise Jennifer Lawrence's acting even as she become a delusional toxic harridan (even before she claimed to be  the First Female Action Heroine), the fact that Ruin ruined Star Wars doesn't mean this slight caper should be slighted.

Score: 7.5/10. Catch it on cable. 

"Moonage Daydream" Blu-ray Review

January 11, 2016 was a day I dreaded for a long time. As more and more of my girlfriend's musical idols had passed away in previous years including all of the Ramones and Joe Strummer, I knew one day her biggest idol, David Bowie, would inevitably return to his home planet and that Monday was the day the news broke that he'd passed the day before from liver cancer, merely two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album, Blackstar. That was a rough phone call to make.

After Bowie's return to his homeworld, his estate gave filmmaker Brett Morgan (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Cobain: Montage of Heck) access to five million(!) items including painting, drawings, films, journals, etc. and officially blessed a documentary to be made with them. After five years of work comes Moonage Daydream, which completely fails as a documentary while excelling as a superfan's wet dream.

We'd intended to see it at the theater during its limited run, but word of mouth and some reviews gave us pause, calling it the cinematic version of those "Laser Pink Floyd" shows planetariums and museums would put on for stoners to trip out to the groovy lights while music blasted. Did we want to pay money for some weird meaningless trip? Eventually we decided to wait for home video and me being a good boyfriend bought the Blu-ray for her for about what a trip to the show would've run us. 

So how is it? Well, I watched it with her and a friend, both of whom are Bowie superfans. They both enjoyed it immensely because they are superfans and the wealth of new footage like Jeff Beck's appearance during the Ziggy Stardust concert which he had cut, BUT they agreed with my take that this is strictly a superfans only film because anyone who doesn't know what they're looking at will have no idea what they're looking at.

Eschewing the usual talking head format where people who knew the subject share their perspectives on the topic, Morgan has assembled a kaleidoscopic melange of images, unearthed performances and interviews, movie clips, and snippets of interviews where Bowie's unreliable narration - he frequently revised his legends over time - and Morgan's editing attempt to contextualize, recontextualize, interpret, and deconstruct his long and prolific career.

There are no training wheels for neophyte fans here. No one will go into Moonage Daydream who isn't part of the Bowie's Biggest Boosters club and emerge evangelized like how my seeing Stop Making Sense made me want to hear more Talking Heads beyond the handful of tunes I knew going in. There are no captions for where or when footage comes from, no guidance for the unbaptized. If documentaries like Edgar Wright's The Sparks Brothers suffer from "and then this happened and then this happened" linearity, Moonage Daydream is the opposite which demands of viewers to know his life very well already then shows you the deleted scenes from that knowledge.

As far as the Blu-ray presentation goes, the wildly divergent source materials make for uneven video simply due to old 16mm or television tapes making for crunchy images. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track however is loud and clear and really gives the surround channels a workout. My receiver's Neural:X upmatrixing gave a psuedo-Atmos effect that compensates for the Atmos mix being reserved for the Region B UK release.  

On the extras front, there ain't any other than the film's trailer. No commentary, no deleted scenes, nada. Considering the mountains of material Morgan had to cull from, this is a disappointment.

 Too often I wonder who the intended audience of some films are and this applies to Moonage Daydream as well. Bowie had fans of varying levels of intensity for five decades, but this film seems only for the hardest of hardcore aficionados. If your interest peaked with 1983's Let's Dance and you vaguely remember that there was some song talking about Major Tom being a junkie or us being heroes, then this is NOT the movie for you. At all. 

Instead go watch the documentaries David Bowie - Five Years which came out in 2013 and covered his post-Ziggy reinventions and David Bowie: The Last Five Years which was released posthumously in 2017 and covered his surprise unretirement and final two albums, The Next Day and Blackstar as well as the stage show Lazarus based on the latter. You'll actually learn a lot from those.

But if you're an uber-super-duper-mega-hardest core fanatic about all things Bowie, you'll find stuff to enjoy here and its sensory overload presentation almost makes repeat viewings necessary. Freak out, indeed.

Score: 6/10. Skip it if you're a casual Bowie listener; catch it on cable if you're a more in-depth fan; buy it if you're a mega-fan.

"Smile" Review

 I'm not a big horror movie fan; it's more the girlfriend's thing. It just doesn't interest me much and what I've seen lately like the last two Halloween debacles hasn't improved its standing in my eyes. But after she tapped out of Black Adam after about two minutes, we were looking for something to watch and the horror sleeper hit of 2022, Smile ($214M global gross for a $17M budget, though that seems high for what it is), was available. 

Smile had a brilliant viral marketing campaign where they placed actors behind home plate at baseball games who sat their smiling weirdly and generally freaking out audiences. "What's the deal with those smiling people?!?" was all the buzz and it hyped up the opening weekend attendance, but why did it have legs? So I decided to take one for the team and see what's popular with the masses and two hours later, I have to say the masses just need to start mailing their cash to me because they have no taste in movies.

Smile is about Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon, daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick), a overworked psychiatrist whose encounter with a disturbed woman (Caitlin Stasey) whose art history professor had committed suicide with a hammer(!!) in front of her ends with the woman freaking out and slicing her throat while creepily smiling.

In the aftermath, Rose begins to have hallucinations of....something threatening her, sometimes horrific apparitions, sometimes people she knows who are telling her she's going to die (rude!) and smiling at her. Her fiance (Jessie T. Usher) and boss (Kal Penn) think she's losing her marbles, but her ex-boyfriend and cop, Joel (Kyle Gallner), helps her investigate which leads to the discovery that the woman and her professor were the latest links in a chain of gruesome suicides where each victim was a witness to a previous suicide. Will Rose be able to break the chain?

There are multiple problems with Smile beyond the fact its core premise is a mashup of It Follows and The Ring. With few exceptions the performances are all subpar and Bacon is particularly one-note, though she's not given much to do by the thin script by writer-director Parker Finn expanding from his short film Laura Can't Sleep. Speaking of expanding, clocking in at nearly two hours it's easily a half-hour too long which is lethal considering how little is done with the time. 

Rather than set Rose up as a fairly balanced woman and establish a baseline to decline from, we instead are introduced to a woman already not in a great place so her descent doesn't seem as steep as we're meant to feel. The rush to get that inciting suicide in puts everything subsequent in its shadow so it's all rushed up front than slows down massively. Almost every plot twist is predictable and even the jump scares are telegraphed. The unsatisfactory ending clearly intended to set up a sequel which no one will care about makes it all a waste of viewers time.

Afterwards I asked the missus whether all horror movies are this stupid and she said pretty much, though this was supposedly better than the heavily hyped Barbarian, which she found underwhelming. As for Smile, my verdict is is 🙁.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Slumberland" 4K Review

 As the culture wars poison everything that used to be fun in the world, the disconnect between what critics and the unwashed masses enjoy or dislike seems to be growing farther apart as movies that critics applaud because they tickle their woke spots have vastly more negative ratings from viewers (who are dismissed as "toxic trolls review bombing out of bigotry"; the all-purpose excuse for bad movies these days) and vice versa as critics hate on movies for the crime of just being entertaining and the rabble enjoy being entertained.

Such as it goes with this weekend's Big Netflix Movie, Slumberland, starring Jason Momoa in a family-friendly adaptation of the classic comic Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, which I haven't read and whose critic fans really hate this movie for not being as good as. Looking now, post viewing, I see it's showing a 35% Rotten Tomatoes score from critics an 88% from fans. Since there's no political aspect to it, those excuses don't fly - it's just that critics are jaded miserable folks who want every movie to be kale? Pretty much. ("Aren't you a critic, Dirk?" you may ask? Shut up and read.) Since the missus loves her some Momo, I was roped into watching it, too.

 Slumberland opens with a prologue introducing us to Nemo (Marlow Barkley) who lives with her father, Peter (Kyle Chandler), in a lighthouse. He is a kind man who dotes on his daughter, telling her fantastical bedtime stories of his wild outlaw adventures in his younger single days with a partner named Flip, so you know he's not long for this world and movie and, yep, that emergency call he went out on the boat for during a storm kills him.

Since Nemo's mother died when she was a baby (because this always works for Disney), her sole relative is her uncle Philip (Chris O'Dowd), a wealthy doorknob salesman who has a nice large apartment that is sterile and cold-feeling. He was long-estranged from his brother (for reasons that are explained over time) and very awkward about this new responsibility - he has to Google "how to raise a child" - but he enrolls her in a posh prep school and genuinely tries to caretake her. 

Sad and lonely in this new life, Nemo falls asleep one night and is awakened when her stuffed pig, named Pig (because creativity is dead), comes to life as does her bed which smashes out her high window and walks her down the street (to the notice of no one) and then swims her to the lighthouse. (She seems weirdly chill about the whole situation, too.)

Upon arrival, she finds the lighthouse ransacked and discovers Flip (Momoa, playing it like a kiddie version of Beetlejuice), a wild satyr-like fellow with ram's horns and twitchy ears and feet, who is searching for a map of the world of dreams where he hopes to find magic pearls that can grant wishes. He demands she give it to him, but she has no idea what he's talking about. Luckily, the next night Pig unearths the map from a storage box from the lighthouse and she returns to Slumberland demanding to team up with Flip on the quest so she can get a pearl to bring back her father.

 So the odd couple proceed to trek through other people's fantastical CGI-enhanced dreams, seeking doors to the next dream that leads to their goal, all while being chased by "dream cop" (because calling them Dream Police would require paying Cheap Trick) Agent Green (Weruche Opia in a giant Pam Grier Afro wig) who wants to lock up Flip for general miscreant behavior.

 While a tad long at two hours even, Slumberland is an enjoyable fantasy lark filled with bright visuals, some occasionally above-average humor, and anchored by good performances from its three leads. Barkley avoids the annoying precocious brat trap; O'Dowd balances his deeply repressed psyche and eventual evolution (though I figured out his twist long before the movie got around to it); and Momoa is clearly having a blast as Flip with his dad bod gut and wacky antics.

Director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games sequels, I Am Legend, Constantine) brings visual panache and whimsy to proceedings and manages to balance the elements of grief, adventure, comedy, and sadness without getting too kiddie, too adult, too dark and scary, or too slight and silly. Glancing at other reviews, it appears other critics wanted it to be more like The Sandman than Candyland, because heaven forbid children get a break from having liberal doom, gloom, misery, and confusion pounded into them.

 While Slumberland is likely for many to be another one of Netflix's endless parade of streamed and forgotten movies like that one with The Rock and Deadpool and Wonder Woman doing something or the other one from the Avengers directors with Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling trying to kill each other for some reason which cost over $400 million combined to produce, it's a fine enough escape from the sad realities of the world today to a place made for mindless fun. 

For the home theater enthusiast, it's a good showcase of Dolby Vision and Atmos audio which really make the colors pop and the milieu aurally surround you from all directions. Netflix sucks because they're the only service that limits 4K content to their most expensive ($20) plan when every other service includes it gratis, but at least you can see what you're paying for.

Score: 7/10. Watch it.

"Bullet Train" 4K Review

 Movies like Bullet Train are why I don't go to the movies anymore. When the trailer dropped with its use of a Japanese-language cover of "Staying Alive", it looked like a splashy comedic action romp with plenty of stars led by Brad Pitt as colorful criminals on a Japanese bullet train; a good reason to leave the house and pay money for some entertainment. Sadly, it's a muddled mess which thinks it's far funnier than it is and wastes the time of everyone involved, most importantly the audience's.

 It opens with a concerned Japanese father (Andrew Koji) at his injured son's hospital bedside. His father (Hiroyuki Sanada) arrives, chastising him for not protecting his grandson. We then jump to Pitt's character, Ladybug (an ironic moniker because bad luck seems to follow him around), bumbling his way through the streets of Tokyo while babbling to his handler, Maria (a mostly unseen Sandra Bullock), about how he's working on being more positive and less violent in his criminal activities. This is is first job back after an unspecified hiatus and he got it because the initial hire had to drop out.

 His task is to steal a metal briefcase with a train sticker on the handle. While he figures it's going to be difficult to find on a train full of people, it's actually super easy, barely an inconvenience, as it's just sitting in the open with the other luggage. All he needs to do is get off the train. Of course, that can't happen or else the movie would be over in 15 minutes, so we're forced to hang out with all the other supposedly colorful characters.

There's Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), who is obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine and views it as the key to evaluating people, and his brother Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), whose briefcase it was as they escort home the wayward son (Logan Lerman) of a crime boss charmingly known as White Death (Michael Shannon). Then there is the Prince (Joey King), who has the Japanese father hostage as she seems to be running her own caper while presenting as a harmless young woman. Other assassins come and go so rapidly as to wonder why they went through the trouble of setting them up with backstories. 

The fundamental problem with Bullet Train is that the script by rookie scribe Zak Olkewicz (from a novel by Kôtarô Isaka) feels like one the flood of post-Pulp Fiction Tarantino wannabe gangster flicks in the 1990s where everyone spoke in pop culture references and were supposedly wonderfully eccentric personalities, but were just annoyingly shallow caricatures. The babbling of Lemon and Tangerine in the beginning almost made me turn it off because it was so trite. Just because Tarantino was able to make chattering about the meaning of Madonna's "Like A Virgin" interesting doesn't mean anyone can prattle on about pop culture. Unless you're QT (or Kevin Smith), don't. Just. Don't.

Compounding the weak script is that director David Leitch has a problem with managing tone and story which has plagued all his previous work. His official directorial debut after being uncredited co-director on the seminal John Wick (though the fact credited director Chad Stahelski has helmed all the John Wick sequels without him speaks volumes) was Atomic Blonde, which despite some kickass action scenes (e.g. the staircase fight oner) had story structure issues and one too many endings. His sophomore effort, Deadpool 2, attempted to amp up the elements of the first film, but ended up with a smaller result plagued by tone issues that made it seem mean and less fun. 

And I'd completely forgotten he'd directed the forgettable Furry Fastness spinoff, Hobbs and Shaw, which botched the basics of buddy action movies and allowed the messy story to grind to a halt repeatedly to shove in lazy cameos, which happens in Bullet Train as well. It doesn't matter if the fights are well choreographed when the story in between the action is mishandled and it's pretty clear he needs to stick to second unit/fight scene direction for he doesn't know how to tell a tonally balanced story.

 Bullet Train sadly isn't an outlier from Hollyweird these days, but another typical example that writing is a dead letter and that relying on even Brad Pitt's scruffy star power isn't enough, especially when his character is mostly passively drifting along the plot's convoluted stream, not a protagonist with agency. With the incredibly short windows between theatrical and streaming video releases - it released in early August 2022 and hit streaming in late-September - there's little urgency to rush to the theaters to see movies because it's not as if watching people fight on a train needs the big screen that silly dinosaur epics can somewhat justify (even those ceased being smart after the initial Jurassic Park). 

Bullet Train was advertised as dumb fun and only delivered half of its promise and it wasn't the "fun" part.

Score: 3.5/10. Skip it.

"Lou" 4K Review

 This week's Netflix Move of the Week is Lou, a taut, if slight, thriller which manages to use good performances to paper over a very predictable story. It's also answers the question, why does Liam Neeson get all the old grizzled badass parts and why not a woman?

Allison Janey (6'0" tall, 63 years old) stars as Lou (short for Lou), a crotchety old woman with a Dark Secret Past who lives on an island off the coast of Washington in the mid-1980s. Everyone in town knows her and she seems to get away with a lot like the Sheriff Matt Craven) not busting her for the out-of-season deer in her pickup truck bed. On her way home, she stops at a trailer she rents to a young widow, Hannah (Jurnee Smollett; yes, Juicy Smooyah's sister), and her daughter, Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman), to hassle them for the late rent and because the kid is running around without paying attention almost gets run over by Lou's truck.

That night, with a major storm blowing in, Hannah's ex-husband, Phillip (Logan Marshall-Green), whom was presumed dead in an explosion months earlier, something she was hiding from her daughter, reappears to kill a guy friend of Hannah's and kidnap Vee while Hannah was trying to restore power to her trailer. Frantic, she runs to Lou's house, interrupting her planned suicide - wait, what?!? - and after her boobytrapped truck explodes, she's clearly in the mood to track down the kidnapping bomber. Good thing she's got a certain set of skills for such a quest.

 It's a testament to the lean performances of the cast that Lou manages to be an effective story that only falls apart when you think about, which becomes more difficult as time passes because it's not especially memorable. Why does the movie open showing Lou burning papers and film, then back up to earlier that day, eventually repeating the opening? Don't know. But I was able to figure out pretty much every plot turn at the beginning of the SECOND act, so it was just a matter of waiting to be proven right.

 While predictable and forgettable, Lou is watchable and is a bit better than I've made it sound. I'm just not going to break a heavy sweat belaboring light entertainment. 

Score: 7/10. Catch it on Netflix

"Fall" Review

 Sometime in the 1980s the term "high concept" came forth to describe movies whose premises could be succinctly stated in a sentence or less. Movies like Die Hard (NYC cop is at an LA Christmas party when terrorists attack and he has to fight back despite being  wildly outnumbered) even became shorthand for higher concept knockoffs like Under Siege (Die Hard on a battleship), Passenger 57 (Die Hard on a plane), and Speed (Die Hard on a bus). 

So it's going to make for a super fast review synopsis of the high concept plot of Fall since the whole plot is a year after her husband plummets to his death in a rock climbing accident, grieving young widow Becky (Grace Caroline Currey, Shazam!) is cajoled by her bestie Hunter (Virginia Gardener, Marvel's Runaways series), who was present for the accident, to climb an abandoned TV tower out in the Mojave Desert to scatter his ashes. After they reach the peak of the rusty dilapidated tower, the ladder for the final 300-foot segment collapses, stranding them on a small platform with no cell phone signal and only 50 feet of rope to work with. Thus begins their battle for survival.

 What makes Fall so effective isn't the particular plot beats - one detail was so obvious my girlfriend and I called it immediately (thankfully, they don't drag it out when it comes up), but another event was a genuine surprise - or that despite being cute young women, they're clever enough to try to work their way out of their dire predicament (yes, that sounds sexist, but isn't my intention), but in the way their climb and stranding is visualized with a combination of visual effects and clever shooting of shorter segments (if you can call still being 100 feet up "shorter") of the tower constructed atop a mountain top to allow the natural heights to provide the backdrop. The lighting is clearly outdoors and not on a studio greenscreen or virtual LED Magic Room (as I call ILM's StageCraft tech) volume and it really makes the viewer sweat especially if they're not fond of heights.

 Overall, the movie runs a tad long and the bad breaks that befall them to extend their suffering range from infuriating to so predictable as to not be effective, but I never stop wondering how the heck they were going to beat the inexorable forces of gravity and vultures trying to kill them. Even if it's too preposterous for your tastes, Gardener's thirst trap vlogger getup provides additional eye candy for those so inclined.

 More effective than it really should've been, you should catch this Fall.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.

"Grease" 4K Review

 Olivia Newton-John passed away today at age 73, most likely from cancer which had dogged her for years. This meant one of two options for tonight's movie and despite it also being the 42nd anniversary of the release of Xanadu, we decided to go with her first movie, 1978's Grease, mostly because it's been forever since I've seen it, I've seen Xanadu many more times including within the past few years, and I've had an unwatched 4K digital copy in my iTunes account for a couple of years now.

For those unaware of what a Grease is, it's the 1978 adaptation of the 1971 musical about life in 1958 at Rydell High, presumably a school for people with severe learning disabilities judging by the fact the average age for students looks to be around 30 years old. The previous summer at the beach 29-year-old Australian Sandy (ONJ) met and fell and love with 23-year-old Danny (John Travolta), a transfer student from 1977 Brooklyn where he was a disco king, but unknown to her now leads a greaser clique called the T-Birds at school. 

At summer's end, Sandy was to be deported back to the land Down Under and feared she'd never see Danny again, but lucky for her cradle-robbing self (and for the movie to happen) she ends up at Rydell where she's immediately befriended by The Lizzies Pink Ladies (no Jeffs gang?) lead by husky-voiced 33-year-old Rizzo (Stockard Channing) who is getting hot and bothered with 27-year-old T-Bird Kenickie (Jeff Conaway, who had played Danny on Broadway, but hadn't starred in Saturday Night Fever), a dim bulb who would probably end up a cab driver and inspire a really good all-female Scottish band nearly 40 years later.

When the lovers are reunited, Danny blows her off, acting like he's too cool for a future star of Xanadu. Oh, he still loves her, but needs to front for his gang of Three Stooges rejects. She tries to date a dumb jock (a bleached-blonde Lorenzo Lamas, star of Body Rock!) which inspires Danny to try and play various sportball games because he's not willing to let his greaseball Droogs know he's sweet on her but is willing to go all jock to impress her? Whut?

I'm goofing on the movie because there's nothing I'll say that will make you like/love/hate it any more/less than you do already. I remember seeing it when it came out and I'd probably seen it once or twice in the ensuing 44 years, but there was a lot I didn't recall like how leisurely-paced it was, how long the dance contest show scene ran, the car race at Thunder Road which looks less like New Jersey and a lot like the L.A. River. Pre-MTV musicals were a different beast and it's interesting to see what little details were layered into the edges of scenes.

But ignoring that you need a crane to suspend your disbelief at the cast nearly qualifying for AARP playing high schoolers, the greater problem engaging with Grease in the 21st Century is that we're too removed from an nostalgia artifact made for a specific audience at a specific time referencing an era that wasn't too far in the past then.

The 1970s were when Boomers started to get misty about their teen lives in the late-Fifties/early-Sixties. American Graffiti came out in 1973 to tell a story about 1962; Happy Days debuted just four months later (but was actually based on a pilot which predated George Lucas' film and was why he cast Ron Howard, not the other way around) and was set in the 1950s. Perhaps it was the post-Vietnam desire for simpler times before war and Boomer hippies ruined everything.

To put it in perspective, watching Grease in 2022 is like people in 2066 watching a 2022 movie based on a 2015 musical (like Hamilton) set in 2002 (not like Hamilton). Would it make any cultural sense in a manner that would resonate with audiences waaaaay down the line? Watching Grease reminds me of watching Happy Days back in my pre-teen days; the soundtrack album was in heavy rotation along with various KISS, ELO records and first The Cars album. 

But the thin writing - we really don't get any real depth to the characters, though the cast fleshes them out - and static presentation doesn't really age well. Director Randall Kleiser hadn't made a feature before, but was recommended by Travolta after being directed in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble by him.

The 4K Dolby Vision transfer is super clean, bright and colorful, sourced from the original negative, but also suffers from source softness due to having to run soft focus to mask the ages of the elderly cast and use a 2nd generation print when the neg was damaged. Audio is also source-limited in its dynamics, no Atmos remix here (the physical disc does get one, though), but also clear. 

I didn't check out the extras, but if I do this will be updated.

If you're a fan of Grease, then you'll enjoy this 4K version; if you're so-so on it or have never seen it, it's currently streaming on Paramount+.

Score: 6/10. Buy it if you're a fan; catch on cable otherwise.

"Prey" 4K Review

 When is a Predator movie not a Predator movie? Don't know, because while it lacks the official Predator branding that the six other Predator movies have had (four Predator, two Alien vs Predator), Prey is most definitely a Predator movie which makes one wonder why they didn't tag it as such? Is it because other than the seminal original the sequels have been varying levels of mediocre to sucktastic and the brand is viewed with the same respect as Sharknado movies? 

And the fact this is getting dumped straight to Hulu long after movie theaters have returned to doing good business after two years of the Hot Fad Plague can't be a good sign, can it? Surprisingly though, Prey is a respectable although flawed entry into the series.

 Set in 1719 on the Northern Plains of what will become America, Prey is the story of Naru (Amber Midthunder, The Ice Road), a young Comanche woman who wants to be taken seriously by her tribe as a hunter, but isn't because, you know, the patriarchy and stuff. While hunting with the boys, she is knocked out after an encounter with a mountain lion. Undaunted, she heads out by herself to explore the source of the flashing lights she saw during her lion showdown which may be connected to the "thunderbird" she saw obscured by clouds the day before.

Of course what she doesn't know is that it was the spaceship dropping off a Predator (Dane DiLiegro, a 6' 9" former NCAA basketball star) and that the big bear chasing her isn't the worst of her problems. Eventually the boys from the tribe show up as well as boorish caricatured French trappers setting the stage for battle between flint-tipped spears and arrows, primitive muskets, and a giant alien with heat vision, all sorts of shields, blades, and laser-guided projectiles, who can turn invisible for good measure. Will Naru and her canine companion be able to survive this hunt? Duh.

Mercifully, the plague of wokeness that has ruined entertainment in recent years doesn't trip up Prey. While I joked about the patriarchy above, the dismissiveness of the male warriors is practical; when you're hunting things that can hunt you back, strength matters. But the script cleverly sets up how Naru's smarts make up for her size, especially her knowledge of "medicine" and how it helps level the playing field against the Predator's tech. Astute viewers will predict how it will end based on previous scenes, but it's better than just pulling abilities and tactics out of a hat. Even the one-note portrayal of the French isn't too grating especially when you see what they've been doing - they're grade-A a-holes.

While the scenery of Alberta is beautifully captured by cinematographer Jeff Cutter (who previously shot co-writer/director Dan Trachtenberg's 10 Cloverfield Lane) and Trachtenberg stages the action clearly enough, Prey makes a fundamental storytelling mistake that the original classic did in letting on that there's a monster loose.

If you haven't seen the OG Predator in a while, the very first shot of the movie is a spaceship approaching Earth and dropping something from orbit. Once in the jungle and the story is building, we see POV shots of "PredatorVision" and hints something is out there, but if not for that spoiler out of the gate, we wouldn't have known. How cool would that reveal have been? Same with Prey: We're constantly cutting away from Naru to show Big P hunting various wildlife, meaning we're just waiting for the inevitable crossing of paths (which the trailer spoils). 

Still, it's surprising that they didn't try to put this out in the theaters to make a little money. It's definitely a Major Motion Picture grade production, not a made-for-TV cheapie. Midthunder is a spunky, appealing protagonist (she's like Native American Aubrey Plaza) and some of the kills are ouchy enough, so think of it as catching it after missing it at the show.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on Hulu. 

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