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!

"Prisoners of the Ghostland" Review

 While trying to find something to watch some time ago the missus and I bookmarked a weird-looking (based on the trailer) trailer for a Shudder Original Nicolas Cage movie called Prisoners of the Ghostland. Tonight we actually got around to watching it. And afterwards we wished we hadn't.

Cage stars as Hero (movies aren't even trying anymore, are they?), a bank robber who while robbing a bank (hey, it's in the job title) with his co-robber, Psycho (Nick Cassavetes; what was I saying about names?), ended up with a lot of dead people is being held in a bizarre Japanese town which seems to be part brothel, part Western frontier town where the armed men either present as cowboys or samurais in service of the Governor (Bill Moseley, many Rob Zombie films), a white man who wears an all white suit and cowboy hat like Boss Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard

Governor wants Hero to find his "granddaughter" (read: escaped sex slave), Bernice (Sofia Boutella), and to keep him focused on his task he puts him in a swank leather suit with explosive charges on his arms and crotch (in case he gets any bad thoughts) and his neck (to kill him) and a five-day lifespan, the last two only if he finds the Bernice by the third day. Tick-tock, Hero!

As he sets off into the bizarre wasteland, he is captured and taken to an odd community built around trying to literally stop time by holding a rope attached to the minute hand of a clock tower. Again, while the people are mostly Japanese, the leader is a white guy. Hero learns of the nuclear accident that occurred there involving a prison bus and tanker of nuclear waste. By the time you factor in the choreographed background cultists dancing, it's all pretty wacky.

And it's also quite dull. Apparently director Sion Sono is a name in the Very Weird Movies genre (I only recognize a couple of his titles), but this, his first English-language movie, while being packed with weird, doesn't make much sense no matter how hard Cage tries to keep us focused. I was wondering if this was all some sort of journey to Hell parable, but it ultimately comes off as being just weird for weird's sake. By the time the final scenes with some action occur, they're welcome because they indicate the movie's almost over.

 I can see why Cage signed on to this freak show (other than for the paycheck) and he doesn't phone in his performance, but there's not much of a character for him to play and he spends too much time unconscious and carted around from one weird spot to another. Boutella has even less to do other than be exotic looking and a flashback revealing how she got a scar and how it connects to Hero's crime confuses as to what sort of timeframe things take place in. Moseley's Governor is a cartoon, again due to the script.

 While the setting and details clearly required thought and planning to execute, the underlying story is simply too thin, confusing, and ultimately irrelevant to merit the time to watch it. If you subscribe to Shudder, randomly flip through it and stop at random spots to see some weird.

Score: 2/10. Skip it (or just skip around the timeline to see some weirdness).

Oscars 2024 Review Roundup & My Awards Picks

Tonight is the who careseth Academy Awards where Hollyweird gets together to conclude Awards Season with the biggest show of self congratulations. As I've done in recent years I attempted to watch as many of the nominees in the Best Picture, Best Director, and the two screenplay and four acting categories in what I've termed the Oscars Death March as there are frequently movies I had no interest in that, in the name of wanting to make informed judgements and know where Oscar blew it or got it right, I had to see.

This year with the fixed number of Best Picture contenders at 10 that meant there were 45 nominees to slog through and in my best ever performance, I saw 43 of them including ALL the Best Picture nominees AND managed to get reviews posted for all but one (Barbie) which I viewed too long ago to properly review and want to revisit to properly evaluate.

What follows is who I would've voted for if I had an Academy ballot. (In tribute to Siskel & Ebert's traditional "If We Picked The Winners" show.) I will count down from #10 to my ultimate vote getter (I think Oscar uses ranked voting, so this is the inverse of how they'd tally) and then run through the individual awards with comments.

But enough of my yakking. Let's boogie!

#10 - Killers of the Flower Moon (Score: 3/10) - Martin Scorsese's interminable story of white oppression and murder of the Osage Indians in the 1920s was a team up with his two biggest muses, De Niro and DiCaprio, and it was 2 hours of movie dragged out for 3-1/2 hours. The only Skip It review of all nominees.

#9 - The Zone of Interest (5/10) - The banality of evil gets an extended remix in this odd dry film about living next door to Auschwitz with the sounds and ashes of genocide wafting into a Nazi family's idyllic life. Great sound design, but drones on too long.

#8 - Past Lives (6/10) - One of three foreign language films and the smallest in scale that I have no idea why it's in the running with it's frustrating story of unrequited pining. Greta Lee deserved to be nominated Best Actress, though.

#7 - Oppenheimer (6/10) - The odds-on favorite to win big is Christopher Nolan's first movie that I haven't actively hated since Inception. Not that it's a particularly good movie as it manages to sound and fury the impression of something substantive for three hours while being maddeningly sparse. Congrats for not sucking, Chris. Enjoy your career makeup Oscars - this is your The Departed.

#6 - Maestro (7/10) - Bradley Cooper's Oscar bait tour de force has the look and performances, but is undercut by a screenplay that chooses to look at the periphery of the Leonard Bernstein's life thus requiring viewers to come in with too much knowledge of his music on their own. He should've been nominated for direction over screenwriting.

#5 - Anatomy of a Fall (7/10) - An interesting psychological legal drama that lands with a splat due to an ambiguous, choose-your-own-ending-and-meaning conclusion that leaves the viewer high and dry and unsatisfied.

#4 - The Holdovers (7/10) - An odd retro-styled throwback to the way movies were in the early-1970s with a somewhat shaggy story propelled by nuanced performances by Paul Giamatti and Da'Vine Joy Randolph. The script is somewhat unsatisfying in the end, but has a lot of rich moments throughout which liven up the stock plot.

#3 - Barbie (7.5/10 pending review) - Considering the political firestorm around the blockbuster #1 movie of 2023 with one side calling it the greatest feminist triumph ever and the other calling it a misandrist hate crime and some contrary opinions in between, I was surprised that I mostly enjoyed Greta Gerwig's plastic fantastic toy commercial. While the score may change, the ranking is unlikely to move other than perhaps switching with The Holdovers.

#2 - Poor Things (8.5/10) - Yorgos Lanthimos' absolutely bonkers take on Frankenstein is the year's most original movie, weird, wacky, wild and what movies are supposed to do: Show you people and places you've never seen. Emma Stone gives a career best performance and should win her second Oscar for it.

Which leaves us my vote for Best Picture....

#1 - American Fiction (9/10) - Lost behind the generic title (seriously, how many "America [Second Word]" movies are there? American Psycho, American Sniper, American Gangster/Pie/Graffiti/Made/Beauty/Etc.) is one of the sharpest satires in memory running along with a surprisingly layered and warm family drama that mocks white liberal racism while telling a story about people who are black, but not Hollyweird's stereotypical Magical Negro or Helpless Victim framing. Writer-Director Cord Jefferson has created something special and I hope he doesn't fall off like Jordan Peele did after Get Out. Jeffrey Wright and Sterling K. Brown are excellent.

This is the first Best Picture vote that I'd be enthused to cast in a long time as even the "best movies in past years were flawed like Parasite or Nomadland. It doesn't stand a chance this year - or any year - but at least it was nominated. Go watch it. (It's currently on Fubo and MGM+; hopefully it will migrate to a more common service.)

And now onto the rest of the categories with my votes in bold and comments:

Justine Triet - ANATOMY OF A FALL
Christopher Nolan - OPPENHEIMER
Yorgos Lanthimos - POOR THINGS
Jonathan Glazer - THE ZONE OF INTEREST

Nolan is going to win, but Lanthimos is the best director in a weak field where three of the nominees could've been replaced by others like Bradley Cooper or Greta Gerwig. He made the most original and stylistic film of the year. It's on Hulu now. Go watch it.

Bradley Cooper in MAESTRO
Colman Domingo in RUSTIN
Paul Giamatti in THE HOLDOVERS
Cillian Murphy in OPPENHEIMER
Jeffrey Wright in AMERICAN FICTION

Giamatti gives his most Giamatti performance here, but it's not just more of the same. I just wish the script had resolved more satisfactorily. It's a toss-up between him and Murphy to win, but my 2nd choice would be Wright as he's been so good for so long and this is his first real leading showcase and he kills it.

I didn't see Domingo in Rustin because the movie didn't interest me, the reviews were bad, and he wasn't going to win.

Annette Bening in NYAD
Sandra Hüller in ANATOMY OF A FALL
Carey Mulligan in MAESTRO
Emma Stone in POOR THINGS

Stone delivers the boldest and bravest performance of the year (and not just because she sailed into Mr. Skin's "Great Nudity" ranking with her overload of sex scenes here which weren't that sexy which was the point). She's always been a very subtle actor thanks to her giant Na'vi-sized eyes - just watch the audition scene in La La Land as she realizes they're not paying attention - but here she has to arc Bella from a toddler's mentality to a bright woman's with matching physicality and an English accent to boot.

If Gladstone beats her because the Academy wants to Make History, it'd be a traveshamockery. Greta Lee (Past Lives) should've been nominated over her and perhaps Hüller.

Sterling K. Brown in AMERICAN FICTION
Robert Downey Jr. in OPPENHEIMER
Ryan Gosling in BARBIE
Mark Ruffalo in POOR THINGS

A stacked year with all deserving contenders that edged out some other good performances. Downey is going to win and should win both as a lifetime achievement award and being the only really recognizably human character in the clinical Oppenheimer. 2nd choice would be Brown or Gosling.

Emily Blunt in OPPENHEIMER
Danielle Brooks in THE COLOR PURPLE
America Ferrera in BARBIE
Jodie Foster in NYAD
Da'Vine Joy Randolph in THE HOLDOVERS

 The surest bet of the night and deservedly so as she had the most to do and nailed it. 2nd choice would probably be Foster who's making a comeback lately and this was far better than her turn in True Detective: Night Country. Ferrera is here solely because of her thesis statement rant about how persecuted women are which was pure agitprop and the worst moment in the movie.

Brooks was the only other performance I missed because I haven't seen the original The Color Purple since it was in theaters and I recently bought it in 4K and wanted to revisit that before watching the musical remake. As the sole nomination from the movie, she has no chance and was thus deprioritized, but I'll catch it eventually.

BARBIE - Greta Gerwig & Noah Baumbach
OPPENHEIMER - Christopher Nolan
POOR THINGS - Tony McNamara
THE ZONE OF INTEREST - Jonathan Glazer

Best pictures start with best screenplays, so this is the gimme. My 2nd pick would be Barbie because while it's stuck in the Adapted category due to it being based on the dolls, it's not as if there was a source book like every other nominee had to draw from and what Gerwig and Baumbach did was quite unique.

ANATOMY OF A FALL - Justine Triet and Arthur Harari
THE HOLDOVERS - David Hemingson
MAESTRO - Bradley Cooper & Josh Singer
MAY DECEMBER - Screenplay by Samy Burch; Story by Samy Burch & Alex Mechanik
PAST LIVES - Celine Song
As noted, Barbie should be here, and frankly I'm not super enthused about any of the nominees, so I'm going with The Holdovers for being the least flawed of the lot. Based on my issues with the rest, no 2nd pick. Weakest category of the Death March.

So that's it for this year's Oscars Death March other than catching The Color Purple (2023) and rewatching Barbie. With the exception of Killers of the Flower Moon, there weren't many movies that were too much of a chore to get through and for the most part the nominations and likely winners aren't worth burning a city down over. There could be a few upsets if the Academy decides to spread the wealth around as they've tended to do, but as long as Gladstone doesn't beat Stone (that would merit a small riot) I'll allow it.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

"Lisa Frankenstein" Review

 What happened to Diablo Cody? After her Oscar-winning debut screenplay for 2007's Juno, she followed up with the cult classic Jennifer's Body in 2009, then pretty much never wrote another movie that did business since. I see she won a Tony for her book of the Jagged Little Pill musical, but movie-wise she's been a non-entity for over a decade. And that losing streak hit a new low with Lisa Frankenstein, which also marked the feature directing debut (and likely finale) of Robin Williams' daughter Zelda.

We were watching this because a friend of the missus had claimed Poor Things - my #2 pick for this year's Best Picture - was a ripoff of the plot to Frankenhooker, which we hadn't seen. With the Oscars Death March over, it was time to check it out, but we decided to look at this first and hoo boy, was it bad.

 Kathryn Newton (Cassie Lang in Ant-Man: Quantumania) is Lisa Swallows, a teenage girl in 1989 whose mother was killed two years prior by a random axe murderer. Her father, Dale (Joe Chrest, Stranger Things), remarried a mean woman, Janet (Carla Gugino), and now she has bubbly cheerleader half-sister, Taffy (Liza Soberano, she's big in the Philippines), which doesn't match her misanthropic personality. She likes to hang out in an abandoned cemetery, making rubbings of tombstones and hanging out at the grave of a young man who died in the 19th Century.

 After accidentally getting a spiked drink at a house party and almost raped by a dorky high school boy, Lisa goes to the cemetery and wishes she could be with the dead young man forever. After she goes home, a freak storm causes lighting to hit and guess who's back from the dead?

When the Creature (Cole Sprouse, Jughead on Riverdale) shows up at her home, she's naturally terrified because it seems to be a replay of how her mother died, but then a few seconds later she realizes this is the guy from the cemetery and decides to stash the zombie in her closet. He's missing an ear, hand and penis, but with a combination of murder and an extremely defective tanning bed that Taffy won as Miss Hawaiian Tropic, she can rebuild him and he becomes more lively looking in the process.

While the premise seems to have potential as a mashup of several horror and teen movies, nothing works starting with Lisa who is simply unlikable and ill-defined as if the pages of the script where you'd set up the protagonist were lost or never written and Newton doesn't imbue her with any charm. Gugino's stepmother is a cartoon; her dad is a passive wimp who never seems to be emotionally engaged even when his wife goes missing; all the teen boys are blockheads. Only Taffy is a basically decent character which is meant to be a twist because she's introduced as a vapid bimbette. Sprouse does well with a nearly wordless performance, but it's clear his direction was "be Edward Scissorhands."

But beyond the thin script, the direction by Williams doesn't get the tone anywhere near right. Horror-comedy done properly results in the likes of Evil Dead II, An American Werewolf in London, Freaky, and the recent Amazon Prime Original Totally Killer. Black comedies like American Psycho or Heathers could go wildly wrong if mishandled. Lisa Frankenstein is a prime example of bad script meeting incompetent direction resulting in a mishmash mess of little merit.

However, in response to this disaster the missus suggested we watch a movie I've owned forever, but had never gotten around to watching though she'd seen it, Life After Beth.

Score: 2/10. Skip it!

"Damsel" 4K Review

If it's Friday it must be time for another Netflix Original Movie and this week's forgettable disposable reason why they're the most expensive service is Damsel, a fantasy movie starring Stranger Things girlboss Millie Bobby Brown as, well, a damsel in distress.

 Brown is Elodie, a poor girl from a frigid region scraping for food and firewood. One day, a proposal comes from the Queen of Aurea (Robin Wright, cuz she was The Princess Bride) for her to marry her son, Henry (Nick Robinson). The union would greatly help her people, so she heads to Aurea with her father, Lord Bayford (Ray Winstone, Beowulf), her stepmother (Angela Bassett), and younger sister Floria (Brooke Carter). Once there, they are ensconced in luxury and Elodie spends time with Henry and finds common interests.

Of course, anyone who's seen the trailer knows that this is all a ruse because after the wedding, they head to the mountains for a blood ritual surrounded by the partygoers from Eyes Wide Shut after which our damsel (roll credits!) is unceremoniously tossed into a pit where after crashing through various branches and vines to break her fall, ends up in a cave network within the mountain which is home to a dragon (voiced by Shohreh Aghdashloo and her "smoked three packs a day beginning in kindergarten" voice) seeking to burninate her. Rude!

 Turns out the Royals (BTW, what ever happened to Lorde?) made a deal long ago that in exchange for not burninating their lands, each generation they would sacrifice three royal daughters and thus the blood ritual to make these peasant girls smell like royal blood. Fortunately, Eleven Elodie is a clever resourceful girl and with some convenient help from magic healing creatures and notes left by previous losing contestants on The Royal Bachelor, she is able to turn the tables on everyone. (No, this isn't a spoiler. What did you think was going to happen?)

 While predictable and disposable, I had an OK time with Damsel. Brown is acceptably capable without being too girlbossy and other than too much time spent getting on with the twist (which is in the trailer), it passes quickly. I've seen some nerd rager YouTubers lose their minds over this being a girlboss who don't need no man/men are ineffectual and weak feminist Mary Sue hatefest a la the M-She-U, but that seems more a need to keep the outrage clicks coming than genuine anger. The villain is the Queen, so what's the problem?

As far as AV goes, the Dolby Vision presentation is bright, especially the golden carriage, and the cave scenes aren't too dim. The Atmos audio has some good bass notes like the dragon's voice and flames. Speaking of which, the way they portray the dragon breath as more of a napalm-like liquid fire than a gas flame was different and even more effective because if it sticks to you, you're burned.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on Netflix.

"Spaceman" 4K Review

Since I'm relaxing my boycott of Adam Sandler - which after some reflection seems overkill (but that's another discussion) - I was willing to watch the weird cerebral science fiction Netflix Original Spaceman, in which Sandler plays an astronaut who has a close encounter with a giant talking spider while on a deep space mission.

Sandler is Jakub, a Czech cosmonaut on a solo mission to a bizarre astronomical phenomena called Chopra which has appeared beyond Jupiter. He is battling loneliness and depression after six months heading out and this is without knowing that his very pregnant wife, Lenka (Carey Mulligan), wants to leave him, but her Dear Jakub message was blocked by his commander on Earth, Tuma (Isabella Rossellini). One night he has a nightmare that something is crawling under his face before a spider's legs erupt from his mouth.

Then one day he discovers a visitor has boarded his ship, a HUGE (man-sized) tarantula looking alien he eventually names Hanus (voiced by Paul Dano), who tells Jakub he was in the neighborhood to see Chopra, but was drawn to Jakub's loneliness and wants to help. Able to telepathically access Jakub's memories, he begins to counsel him by exploring why his marriage is falling apart. Meanwhile on Earth, after a visit to her mother (Lena Olin), Lenka spends time at a ritzy spa for pregnant women.

Spaceman reminded me of Steven Soderbergh's 2002 version of Solaris in its quiet tone and increasing sense that what we're watching isn't really happening. Is there really a friendly alien spider who develops a hankering for Nutella acting as a marriage counselor or is Jakub's guilt for being a lousy, unavailable husband manifesting as Hanus. While Lenka comes off initially as a beyatch, as we get his side of the story we realize it took two to tear a relationship.

But what it really resembles is the mopey 2019 Brad Pitt sci-fi film Ad Astra (which I saw, but somehow didn't log and have no review score for) with Pitt as an astronaut with daddy issues who travels to the fringes of the solar system to have a showdown with his father. Along the way he encounters rabid lab monkeys and Moon pirates and it's all ridiculously stupid and convoluted for a story that could've been told on Earth as a road trip movie.

Forgetting the whole "When did Czechoslovakia get a space program? or "Is the spider real?" angles, what is the reason for sending only one man on this supposedly critical mission other than to have him be depressed, lonely and susceptible to space spider marriage counseling? That sentence alone is why you'd have a co-pilot on the trip. And it's a weird choice considering the production design of the spaceship is the most realistic depiction of what real spaceships look like I can recall. Not slick and futuristic, but functional, tactile, and what an Eastern European country would put together.

But the centerpiece of Spaceman is Sandler's performance and this may be the best acting I've seen him do. While I last suspended my boycott for Uncut Gems (score: 7/10) and appreciated his raw nerve performance, what he does here is so subtle, refined and underplayed that I suspect most people won't appreciate it. Instead of just playing Jakub as mopey, glum, and po'-faced, Sandler's stillness conveys the hollowed-out depression of a man set adrift, literally and figuratively, by his circumstances and his choices. It's really something to behold and that he was doing this while suspended by uncomfortable wires, harnesses and poles is even more impressive.

Mulligan, Rossellini, and Olin don't have much to do but provide diversions to cut away to. Mulligan's Lenka is more an idea than a character which is ironic considering her role is to be the center of Jakub's guilt. If they had cut all the Earth scenes, it would've have made much difference story-wise. 

While I was left lukewarm about Spaceman, the missus really liked it and she hated Solaris, so go figure. If you're in the mood for a sad tale of a man metaphysically lost in space, you may want to give this a look if only to see what the star(s) of Jack and Jill could've been doing instead.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on Netflix.

"Poor Things" 4K Review

The final film of this year's Oscars Death March (and the first time I've managed to see ALL the Best Picture nominees) is Yorgos Lanthimos's bonkers science fictiony fantasyish dark social comedy Poor Things which is the most original and outlandish movie of the year and makes Barbie look like a documentary about poverty and slums. It's nominated for 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Production and Costume Design and it'd better win several of them.

Emma Stone stars as Bella Baxter, a young woman in Victorian London who seems to have the mentality of a toddler probably due to her "father", Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), whom she calls "God" for short, finding her freshly-dead body in the Thames after she committed suicide and removing her still-alive near-term baby and then transplanting the baby's brain into its mother's skull thus allowing him to observe the development of a new mind in a mature body. You could say he's a bit of a mad scientist.

He hires a student, Max (Ramy Youssef), from his medical school to be Bella's observer, documenting her development and when he detects affection between him and Bella, he suggests they marry to which Max agrees, basically selling his life into indentured servitude. The lawyer hired to draft the contract, Duncan (Mark Ruffalo), wonders who is the woman that a man would want to sign his life away for and prowls the house looking for her and once he finds her, decides he wants her for himself, luring her away. While Max is horrified that his fiancee is being let go, Godwin decides it will help her development.

So Bella and Duncan set off for Lisbon then a cruise ship to Greece with plenty of "furious jumping", Bella's term for sex as she had discovered her happy spot and wants it stimulated. A lot. A task Duncan is happy to oblige. But less suitable to him is her intellectual evolution as she encounters new ideas and begins reading philosophy. But because she still is still literally an infant in some ways, she makes poor decisions leading to destitution for the pair and after he abandons her, she ends up working in a Parisian brothel for a looooong time with plenty of scenes of her at work with her clients. 

While the underlying premise and commentary on how women weren't exactly allowed the most agency back in the bad old days is pretty standard stuff (oh no, the PATRIARCHY, Barbie Bella!), what makes that tangential is the world Lanthimos and company have constructed to tell the tale.

Clearly artificial and surreal, it feels like a cross between a Terry Gilliam and Luc Besson movie (The Fifth Element and Valerian and the City of 1000 Planets movies from the latter) with a dash of Wes Anderson and David Lynch on the side with fantastical cityscapes and impossible creatures like a dog with a goose's neck and head or a chicken body with a pig head. Filmed at times with extreme wide-angle and fisheye lenses, it looks out of this reality but without the digital fakeness many movies have despite using similar technology.

But the style wouldn't matter without rooting the bizarre proceedings in across the board excellent performances beginning with Emma Stone's completely committed and unabashed performance. From the way Bella's walk develops from a wobbling toddler's to a confident woman's without falling into pratfall and the way her mental and personality development arcs, it's a triumph of a performance and the only thing that will prevent her willing her 2nd Oscar is if the Academy decides to make an affirmative action choice for Lily Gladstone. And the way she puts her body forth, well then. Let's say that this isn't your typical "stripper who doesn't get naked" deal. Nope. (If you wanted more than the one nipple she exposed in The Favourite, you get it in all the suits of the deck here.)

At first I didn't dig Ruffalo's performance as the caddish Duncan, but as time went on and his bragadocious front was stripped away (no thanks to Bella's actions), he becomes a pitiable figure. If I was handing out the nominations, I would've given his to Dafoe's Godwin. Buried under a four-hours-in-the-makeup-chair mask of scars and latex, it would've been easy to play it as an amoral mad scientist. But as details of his horrifying upbringing as his father's experimental test bed are revealed, the pathos of a man bent to a path which leads to questionable wonders comes through.

While Poor Things could've benefited from being 20 minutes shorter and trimmed back some of the brothel stuff, it still excels at doing what few movies these days seem to have had much interest in delivering, taking the viewer to see people and places they've never seen before and that makes it one of the best films of the year and my second place vote for Best Picture.

Exit Note: While discussing the film with the missus, she said that there was no way the Oscars would go for such a bizarre and sexual freak show of a movie. Then I reminded her, "They gave Best Picture to a movie about a woman who f*cks the Creature from the Black Lagoon, so..." (That's The Shape of Water - aka Grinding Nemo - in case you don't get the reference.)

Score: 8.5/10. Catch it on cable. (It comes to Hulu on March 7)

"Nyad" 4K Review

Truth be told, I probably wouldn't have watched Netflix Original feature Nyad if not to check off a pair of items on my 2024 Oscars Death March watchlist, Annette Benning's Best Actress-nominated performance as marathon swimmer Diana Nyad and Jodie Foster's Best Supporting Actress-nominated turn as Bonnie Stoll, Nyad's best friend and trainer.

I'm not a fan of sports films and the trailer made it look like it was more interested in the LGBTQ+ angle Netflix tagged it as and even though Film Threat's review debunked the latter, their praise seemed more about the sports aspect. When the Oscar nominations were announced, I figured Benning's was mostly due to the most braving and stun thing an actress can do in Hollyweird: Appear old on screen. (Why else did Patricia Arquette win an Oscar for her shrill performance in Boyhood - of as I call it, Twelve Years A Movie - other than she aged 12 years on screen?)

So I wasn't going into watching Nyad with much optimism, but fortunately the performances make the formulaic and thin story worth watching. If you like sports movies, you'll probably enjoy it more.

The movie opens with a montage of actually footage of the real Nyad summarizing her life and swimming achievements culminating in her failed attempt to swim the 103 miles between Havana, Cuba and Key West, Florida at age 28. Then we meet Benning's Nyad at age 60, who despite having a career as a commentator on ABC's Wide World of Sports, is plagued by her failure to achieve her dream of the Cuba swim. She decides she's going to try and do it and taps Bonnie as her trainer.

What follows is a condensed telling of her five attempts to make the crossing between 2011 and 2013. As much an obstacle of her age and the distance is the wildlife including sharks and jellyfish (the effects of a attempt-ending run-in with a box jellyfish are pretty gnarly and nearly fatal) and the rapid and changeable currents of the Gulf Stream which requires an expert navigator which she find in John Bartlett (Rhys Ifans). He tells her the reason she failed before was from incorrect navigation, but the way she butts head against him almost leads to disaster when storms strike while they're in mid-swim.

And it's Nyad's obstinacy which overshadows her quest. Nyad is...let's go with "difficult" to get along with as she's intensely self-centered and focused on her dream, which makes her dismissive with those there to support her. At the birthday party, Bonnie tries to set her up with a woman, but when we finally see how she handles it by yammering on endlessly about herself while oblivious to the woman's increasing discomfort before finally asking the woman about herself sets up just what it's like to deal with Nyad. Naturally, this leads to everyone getting fed up with her crap and walking away after the fourth failure.

 Though it happened just a decade ago, I didn't remember whether Nyad actually succeeded in making the crossing (though they don't make many movies about people who fail, do they? SPOILER ALERT!) - I remembered her Carter-era try - so I was actually interested to see how it turned out.

First-time narrative film directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (who won a Best Documentary Oscar for Free Solo) do well with the training and swimming scenes as well as the dramatic beats between Nyad, Bonnie and John, but the flashbacks to her childhood with a broken home and sexual abuse from the swim coach she idolized are muddled and don't really seem relevant to the task at hand, but that's on the screenplay by rookie feature scribe Julia Cox, adapting one of Nyad's books, which is serviceable. The big finale is the most nail-biting moment of the film as you fear that all of Nyad's work could be for naught if an overexuberant onlooker touches her.

 But where it swims like a dolphin is in its trio of performances from Benning, Foster and Ifans. It's a fact that actresses like to get ugly for awards credibility whether imitating real people or not, but it's less a gimmick here than just what the role calls for. Nyad is a prickly personality and Benning isn't afraid to make her unlikeable while keeping us rooting for her to overcome the odds.

Foster is having a career resurgence suddenly between this and the just-concluded True Detective: Night Country after nearly two decades barely working in anything anyone has seen. (The last two movies of hers I'd seen were her odd role in the 2018 John Wick knockoff Hotel Artemis and 2013's Elysium where she delivered the worst performance of her career.) She's excellent in her supporting role and it's good to see the Academy understand that many great lead performances have equally critical supporting turns which deserve nomination. (How Christina Ricci was snubbed for her role in Monster which won Charlize Theron her Oscar is a perfect example of the Academy getting it wrong.) Here's to hoping she's looking to work more.

As with all "based on a true story" movies there are some serious corners cut like reducing the size of the support team from multiple vessels and about 40 crew to a single ship and a handful of crew which begs the question how are they staying awake? The controversy about the swim and how it was conducted isn't addressed lest it detract from the desired narrative.

While Nyad doesn't really elevate the sports biopic form to new heights, it's a pleasant, well-acted couple of hours which show that dedication and determination can overcome conventional wisdom and common sense at times. Provided a box jellyfish doesn't sting you to death.

On the technical front, the Dolby Vision and Atmos presentation didn't really seem to add much to the experience, so if you're not shelling out for the $23 tier of Netflix (those greedy jerks) then you're not missing much.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on Netflix.

DirkFlix. Copyright 2010-2015 Dirk Omnimedia Inc. All rights reserved.
Free WordPress Themes Presented by EZwpthemes.
Bloggerized by Miss Dothy