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!

"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. 

"Last Night In Soho" 4K Review

 I've said it before and I'm saying it again: Edgar Wright can't write. Without a good co-writer or source material, he makes lackluster unfocused films. This first revealed itself with Baby Driver and is confirmed by Last Night In Soho, which was a box office flop and even Wright's fans rank in the basement.

Thomasin McKenzie (Old, Jojo Rabbit) stars as Ellie, a quiet girl from a small English town who is obsessed with Sixties pop culture and dreams of being a fashion designer; a dream which may come true when she's accepted to a London design school. Not used to life in the big city and feeling out of place amongst the partying and her screwing mean girl roommate, she immediately decamps from the dorms to a bedroom rented out by an old woman, Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg, in her final performance).

 The first night there, when she goes to sleep she dreams she is transported back to 1965 and watches a glamorous young woman named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Queen's Gambit and seemingly everything these days) as she seeks to become a singer. She makes the acquaintance of Jack (Matt Smith, Doctor Who) who gets her an audition at another club.

Inspired by Sandie, Ellie bleaches her hair blonde and begins to recreate the dress she saw Sandie wearing and begins to buy vintage clothes to ape her style. But as she continues time-traveling in her dreams she discovers Sandie's life isn't the high-living fantasy that it initially seemed. Then there's the problem of all the terrifying apparitions that are appearing to her in her waking hours, causing her to appear to be losing her mind to her classmates. And what's the deal with the creepy old man played by Terrance Stamp (the OG General Zod in Superman II) who is so obviously not the threat the movie tries to make us think he is?

What the trailers for Last Night In Soho hid was the ghost story angle of the plot, which made it an unexpected pleasant surprise for my horror fan girlfriend who loved it (9/10 score). But my problem wasn't the tonal switcheroo, but the unclear perspective in the way Wright tells his story. Is Ellie becoming Sandie or merely observing her? That first night Sandie makes out with Jack and he gives her a hickey and Ellie has the same hickey, but other times Ellie is clearly watching from the crowd what happens to Sandie, though there are many shots of them seeing each other in the mirror or them swapping places in scenes. And while Taylor-Joy is the current hot young thang and brings her otherwordly beauty (meaning she looks like an alien with those wide-set eyes), she is woefully miscast for the purpose she serves in the plot. (Not saying she's bad, but to explain why would spoil the ending.)

Despite slick visuals and solid performances all around, Last Night In Soho doesn't work because there is so little to work with as far as the characters. All we know about Ellie is that her mother killed herself when she was young, she was raised by her grandma, she's hung up on Sixties tunes and fashion, and she's shy. Her confidence and designs are copies of Sandie, not development of her own talents. As the specters close in, she's reacting, not attacking. And Sandie is just a MacGuffin, not a person. Her hopes and dreams are limited and her fate is merely witnessed. 

Wright co-wrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (mysteriously Oscar-nominated for 1917 which wasn't much of a character piece either) and she's no Simon Pegg either. The whole purpose of the movie was to scratch Wright's itch to recreate 1965 London and play cool old tunes including the original version of Naked Eye's "Always Something There To Remind Me," not so much to tell a compelling or interesting story. 

The 4K HDR image wasn't called upon much, but when the wet neon-soaked streets are featured, it provides a nice pop in you've got the home theater for it.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable, barely. (Currently on HBO Max)

"Interceptor" 4K Review

 This week's disposable Netflix movie of the week was Interceptor, starring Elsa Pataky (Furry Fastness 5-8 and also Mrs. Chris Hemsworth) as an Army captain assigned to a floating missile defense platform in the Pacific Ocean. One of two sites which can shoot down ICBMs from Russia - the other located in Alaska - they are apparently the mainland's only defense against attacks because we don't have any continental defenses? OK, sure, let's go with that. 

Unfortunately, she has arrived on the same day that traitorous American soldiers have taken the Alaska base, killed their comrades, and destroyed the controls for the interceptor missiles and Russian radicals have stolen 16 nuclear missiles and aimed them at America. She realizes about five seconds too late that the Alaska attack was an inside job, but is able to barricade herself and two soldiers in the command room. As the bad guys, led by Luke Bracey (no idea who this is), begin cutting their way through the blast doors while SEAL teams race to get to the platfom via helicopter but will arrive too late unless she slows them further, the race is on to save America.

The premise is your standard "Die Hard on a..." template, so whether Interceptor rises or falls comes down to the details and execution and for the most part it whiffs across the board. The problems start immediately with multiple references to something that happened to Pataky in her past, eventually revealed as her being sexually harassed by a popular General when she got her dream assignment at the Pentagon and then having her career ruined for #MeTooing him, banished to this super important defense installation and not some garbage deployment in a place with uncomfortable living conditions.

The next big problem is the villain and his plan. He's supposedly a crazy sociopath who held important gigs (because the Army puts loose canon's in important places?) and his years of scheming and recruiting traitors and allies in Russia isn't to hold America ransom for whatever reasons, but to nuke the majority of the population for the "crime" of America no longer representing her founding ideals and after almost everyone is dead, rebuilding from the ruins a better America. Yep, that seems workable. (It's also notable that while Cincinnati and St. Louis are marked for destruction, Detroit isn't. I guess contra to X's "New World" and Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing In The Street" you can forget the Motor City.)

The weaksauce virtue signaling continues with one of the command room soldiers being queried by Bracey if he was tired of being profiled as a terrorist for being Hindu. What? Was this script left over from 20 years ago when post-9/11 some Hindus were given grief by dumbasses who couldn't tell the difference between them and Muslims? No one has bothered the Hindus in forever, but according to the script written by two Australian guys who have written better things in the past - novelist-turned-writer/director Matthew Reilly and Stuart Beattie (Collateral) - America is still super bigoted. (The fact that pretty much the entire cast except Spaniard Pataky is Australian may be a factor in this weird concept of Americans.)  Of course, this soldier (Mayen Mehta) gets a moment to prove how super-patriotic he is, you bigots!

So the whole plot is kinda naff and the 1h 39m runtime is padded with endless monolouging, how's the rest of it. Enh, it's semi-adequate. Pataky seems a plausible action chick, relying on techique to overcome the brute strength of larger men she's fighting, and when she gets shot in the arm, they don't pretend she still can use it. Her bigger problem is her performance is wooden and mistakes monotone for strength. The rest of the cast nails their American accents which makes her Spanish accent even odder even with the explanation for it.

Shot on a low budget with only a few sets and a ton of imperceptible CGI enhancement, Interceptor could've been a respectable popcorn thriller, but it's too padded and too predictable to quite reach its modest goals. As far as the Dolby Vision and Atmos presentations, except for some bright lights and heavy bass on the soundtrack, they don't add much to the presentation. 

Score: 4/10. Catch it on Netflix if you're bored.

"Memory" Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Score: 3/10. Skip it.  

"The Wedding Singer" Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 6.5/10.  

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

"The VelociPastor" Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"West Side Story" Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Belfast" Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.  

"King Richard" Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The Power of the Dog" 4K Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 5/10. Skip it. 

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