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George At 

The Movies

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  • From Here to Eternity

    Memorial Day Weekend is always a great time to revisit classic war films. They don't get any bigger than 1953's Best Picture winner FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. An all-star cast and Director Fred Zinnemann (A Man for All Seasons, Day of the Jackal) brought James Jones massive novel to the screen. At the time, the hugely popular novel was considered too profane and adult to ever be adapted. By today's standards, it's fairly calm, but there's enough drama for two films. All the drama takes place on a US Army Base on Hawaii late in 1941 as the attack on Pearl Harbor looms. Burt Lancaster (Airport, The Train) is Sgt. Warden, who runs a tight ship, often covering the loose reins of his boss, Captain Holmes (Phillip Ober). Warden is falling for the Captain's wife, Karen, seductively played by Deborah Kerr (The Gypsy Moths, The King and I, An Affair To Remember). Meanwhile, a newly arrived Private to the squad, Prewitt, seems to have been recruited for his skills as a boxer, but his boxing days are done. Captain Holmes cares more about his staged boxing matches than the military and is determined to convince Prewitt to box. Montgomery Clift (Giant) is terrific as Prewitt. Closed off, quiet and in his own head, he only opens up when he meets local club girl Lorena. In the mid-50's, "club girl" was a nice way of saying prostitute, hence the controversy. In a fascinating bit of casting, goody-goody TV star Donna Reed plays Lorena. She's very good in the unexpected role and took home an Oscar. At the film's center is Frank Sinatra as Angelo Maggio who bonds with Prewitt and seems to be the only one who can loosen the new man up. There were many rumors that the mob leveraged Columbia Pictures to hire Sinatra for the part, which of course led to a major plot point in Mario Puzo's "The Godfather". In reality, Sinatra was in the middle of his breakup with Ava Gardner and she suggested to studio heads that Sinatra would be great in the part. Sinatra won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, reigniting his film career. By today's standards, it's hard to even see what was so controversial, but the elements of sadistic bullying, prostitution and corruption still emotionally mount up by the film's end. Ernest Borgnine (The Poseidon Adventure, Emperor of the North) is brutal as Fatso, a stockade sergeant out for revenge against Sinatra's Maggio. A very young Jack Warden (Heaven Can Wait) is great as Corporal Buckley, one of Warden's trusted assistants. Bordering on soap opera territory, especially in the early scenes of Lancaster and Kerr's flirtations, Zinnemann treats everything with his usual professionalism. That famous scene with the two rolling in the surf was heavily censored at the time and considered shocking! As all of our characters reach the peak of their story arcs, the calendar slides into Sunday morning, December 7th, 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the base is a mixture of scenes shot for the film and actual footage of the attack just a dozen years before the film's release. Compared to Michael Bay's $100M+ special effects extravaganza "Pearl Harbor", the attack pales in power, but the human drama is no less effective. Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, the film won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Sinatra), Best Supporting Actress (Reed), Best Director (Zinnemann), Best Screenplay (Daniel Tarradash), Best Black and White Cinematography, Best Sound and Best Editing. A War classic worth revisiting, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY gets a solid B.

  • As Good As It Gets

    1997's AS GOOD AS IT GETS is a near perfect blend of a great actor & a despicable character, a strong supporting cast and smart writing. This rare combination generates heart and laughter in equal doses. Jack Nicholson is excellent as Melvin Udall, a reclusive romance novel writer who hates everyone in equal measure. Saddled with suffocating OCD, he aligns every plastic fork, steps over every sidewalk crack and only wants to deal with one waitress at the restaurant near his NYC apartment. Carol (Helen Hunt) is the only server that has the ability to put up with Melvin's endless peccadilloes, but she snaps back when he crosses a line. The single mother of a young boy who seems to always be sick, Carol defines a 90's helicopter Mom. Greg Kinnear (Sabrina) plays Melvyn's next door neighbor Simon, a struggling gay artist whose little dog seems to always be in Melvin's way. Everyone in Udall's apartment building is terrified of him, except Simon's manager and friend Frank (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who gives it right back to Melvin, scaring the hell out him along the way. After a vicious beating during a robbery, Frank asks (demands) that Melvin watch Simon's dog until he's out of the hospital. So begins the softening of Melvin. Nicholson is hilarious, going from a modern day Archie Bunker to a puppy loving softie behind closed doors. Carol begins to notice the change in Melvin too and the two begin a complicated dance toward a possible relationship. Writer/Director James L. Brooks (Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment) is one of the all-time best at creating characters so far removed from cookie-cutter stereotypes that his films always have moments of revelation. Characters evolve, people can change. Carol to Melvin: "When you first entered the restaurant, I thought you were handsome... and then, of course, you spoke." Whether it's Adam Sandler in Brooks's under seen "Spanglish", Shirley MacLaine in "Terms of Endearment" or Nicholson here, their transformations never seem in service of the screenplay, coming across as true. Watching the film nearly 30 years after its release, Hunt's portrayal of Carol can be grating. I've never been a giant Hunt fan and this reminds me why, but the trio of Nicholson, Hunt and Kinnear are just as enjoyable together as they were opening night back in 1997. Audiences and the Academy disagreed with me on Hunt, she won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Carol. Shirley Knight is also a great supporting actress as Carol's Mom, who pushes her to soften up and let go, just not as loudly as I wanted to yell it as the screen. Nicholson won Best Actor for his role, memorably stepping over the cracks in the walkway up to the podium to claim his Oscar. Nicholson said afterward that he was terrified everyone would hate the film because Melvin was so despicable. We all love redemption, Jack, and when it comes to character arcs and playing them from the soul, you're as Good As It Gets. His line "You make me want to be a better man" is now a Nicholson classic, but Kinnear's "Melvyn, you overwhelm me" and Nicholson's response are every bit it's equal. This laugh out loud, get choked up and then laugh some more Brooks classic gets an A. As soon as the strains of Art Garfunkel's haunting rendition of Monty Python's song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" began, Brooks owned me. Perfect.

  • Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

    "There will always be war. But to get home, Furiosa fought the world." Epic might be the only word sweeping enough to describe George Miller's brilliant new entry in the Mad Max canon, FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA. Driven by two great performances at its core and action sequences that deliver everything we've come to expect from Miller, it's a jaw dropping, violent spectacle worthy of the brand. From the moment that the Warner Bros. logo appears and Tom Holkenborg's music roars in your face, Miller immerses you back into the post apocalyptic wasteland first depicted 45 years ago in 1979's "Mad Max". What a trip. How does Miller possibly follow up on 2015's "Mad Max: Fury Road"? He takes us back to the origin story of Furiosa, the bad-ass warrior depicted by Charlize Theron in the previous film. Miller's brilliance starts off with his casting. Alyla Browne (Three Thousand Years of Longing) is a find as the young Furiosa, separated from the Eden like, secret homeland she's been raised in by marauders as the film opens. Her mother (Charlee Fraser) pursues Furiosa's kidnappers in the first great action sequence, displaying where the young warrior got her spirit. Furiosa's trail leads to the desert tent of the loudest, biggest wannabe ruler in the wastelands, Dr. Dementus, played with relish by Chris Hemsworth. Sporting a large prosthetic nose and choppers, Hemsworth delivers a lethal combination of stupidity, hunger for power and showmanship that makes Dementus a natural leader among the dregs of what's left of the world. His biker horde sweeps across the landscape like some twisted, majestic combination of "Ben Hur" and "Lawrence of Arabia". Thus begins a story that spans decades over the next two and a half hours. The story harkens back to "The Road Warrior" with the transportation of fuel in giant, futuristic tankers created from 20th century vehicles. As in "Fury Road" defenders of the fuel cover the tops of the vehicles, loaded with every weapon imaginable (and then some) to defend the precious fuel on their trips outside the refinery. That fuel route runs directly to the giant towers of The Citadel, ruled over by The Immortan Joe, a hulking, terrifying but intelligent presence, played by Lache Hulme (The Matrix Revolutions). If you know and love "Fury Road" you know how Furiosa and he interact in that film. It's interesting and sometimes jarring to see their interactions in this entry as a young Furiosa finds a home amongst Immortan Joe and his brides. When your choice as a young girl is between Joe and Dementus, your life is not easy. As the film's five defined chapters span the years, Furiosa is now played by Anya Taylor-Joy (The Menu, The Northman). Hardened, relentless and the definition of a survivor, Furiosa is soon co-driving the War Machine on its fuel runs with Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke from "Mank"). Their foreheads slathered in black oil, weapons in every crevasse of their outfits, Furiosa and Jack pilot the tankers to hell and back. Since the original film, we've seen crazy bands of attackers come after these tankers, but Miller pulls out all the stops here, topping all the previous tanker trip sequences of the previous films. The attacks come from the sides, from behind, from above. Furiosa and Jack climb all over the rig as part of their driving while explosions, flaming spears and bullets spray all around them. I sat slack jawed more than once as Miller executed incredible stunt on top of stunt, photographer Simon Duggan (The Great Gatsby, Hacksaw Ridge) moving his camera around, under and on top of the rig and all the assault vehicles. There's a lot of laughs to be had too. Immortan Joe's sons are named Rictus Erectus and Scrotus. They live up to their names. His looks of disgust at his offspring's lack of brains are hilarious. Dementus' sidekick Toe Jam is missing an eye, but rarely his hat. This is a dusty sideshow from Hades. George Shestov has been in Miller's films all the way back to "Dead Calm" in 1989 and he has one of his best roles here as The History Man, a wizened old man who's a walking dictionary for Dementus, always at his side to define a word or cite historical context. Watching Hemsworth's Dementus fail to understand 90% of it made me laugh a lot. His skin covered with tiny words, The History Man also serves as our part name narrator. I loved diving deeper into the history of Furiosa, but let's be honest. We're all here for the patented thrills that Miller lives to create. It was a thrill to watch him visually reference the original film, while expanding it straight up sand dunes and through narrow caverns. As cars speed directly toward the camera, the lens seems to jump toward the driver 10 feet at a time, thrusting them into your face as the Dolby Cinema sound roars with every pedal to the metal. At least a half dozen times, my friend and I turned to each other and said "The sound!" You can feel the engines. In ALL the right ways. Just one of the 15 minute tanker run action sequences took 78 days to shoot with over 200 actors on screen. It is stunning. Once again, George Miller negotiates a brilliant middle ground between a jacked up action flick and a thinking person's meditation on power, vengeance & survival. Miller may by 79, but he hasn't lost a step as one of the most visionary filmmakers working today. I'm hoping he's already working on the next installment. FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA devours you with sound & sight, blazing its way to an A.

  • The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

    If you told me that Guy Ritchie had been hired to create a prequel to my favorite film of all time, "Inglorious Basterds" and the result was this rip-roaring, explosively violent, hilarious blast, THE MINISTRY OF UNGENTLEMANLY WARFARE, I'd call it a hell of a follow up. Ritchie more than makes up for his last misfire, "Argyle", delivering a fast paced, suspenseful and awesome action flick that sounds like "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" and tears through the screen like a Tarantino history redux. The opening scene whistles with the Ennio Morricone-like score by Chris Benstead (The Gentlemen). All pan flutes, whips and whistles, the Sergio Leone vibes are palpable and absolutely perfect. Based on a true story, we meet the unorthodox, "Dirty Dozen" team assembled by Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear from "Skyfall" and "Men") and his chief of staff M (Cary Elwes). The OO7 vibes are intentional, since James Bond author Ian Fleming (Freddie Fox) played an instrumental part in creating Operation Postmaster. Fox smoothly introducing himself as "Fleming, Ian Fleming" is a superb nod to our man with a license to kill. It's 1942, the darkest days of WWII for London. The mission goal is to take out the Nazi U-Boats blocking American ships from joining the European theater of war. M's first pick to lead the mission is Gus March-Phillips, played by Henry Cavill (Superman, Mission Impossible: Fallout) with a mad, devil-may-care attitude that lights up the screen. He's never been better, totally believable leading a bunch of devoted crazies that love to kill for a cause. Alan Ritchson (Reacher) is Anders Lassen, a hulking archer that puts Hawkeye to shame, shooting arrows into multiple Nazis at once and beating the hell out of anyone in the way. When he runs out of arrows, he moves like Bruce Lee with a knife, reaching about ten stabs a second against anyone in a Nazi uniform. Alex Pettyfer plays sailor Geoffrey Appleyard and Eiza Gonzalez is stunning as singer Marjorie Stewart, whose assignment is to seduce the Nazi commander Heinrich, distracting him from his duties guarding the African cove where the U-boats are based. Til Schweiger played Hugo Stiglitz, a Nazi hunter in "Inglorious Basterds" and seems to relish playing the opposite side of the fence this time out, oozing Nazi menace. He's a torturing madman that can't resist Marjorie's charms, but for how long? Babs Olusanmokun (Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Dune Part Two) is great as Marjorie's partner Heron, who has established his cover as a club owner at the beck and call of the Nazi's, planning a party that will serve as cover for the mission. Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) rounds out the cast as explosives expert Freddy, whose talents are put on great display throughout. With Richie's patented quick wit and dialogue firing on all cylinders and a perfect cast executing every word, this is a feast for action fans. The bullets fly as fast as the words and everything hits its target. Ritchson is a standout in his best role to date. For me, he's a little stiff as Reacher on the Prime series, but he shows comic timing and sense of fun here that shocked me. He and Cavill are hilarious anytime they're on screen. After seeing this, I think you're going to see a lot more of Ritchson as a modern action movie hero, or whatever a 2020's version of Stallone and Schwarzenegger might look like. It's a fun twist of fate watching Cavill play the real life man that inspired Fleming's creation of James Bond. For the actor who has so long been rumored to be a front runner as the next OO7, it's likely as close as we're going to get to seeing him in the part. At the time of this review (May 2024) Aaron Taylor-Johnson appears to have all but locked up the role of Bond, James Bond. Loaded with fast paced action, globe hopping adventure and danger, MINISTRY plays like an homage to "Where Eagles Dare" and "The Guns of Navarone", poured through a violent 1970's filter. In one action scene, Benstead pulls in music from Lalo Schifrin's score for "Dirty Harry", instantly elevating the cool factor x10. Like the rest of the film, it's sly, smart fun. At one point, Lassen shouts "I'm not leaving until I have a barrel full of Nazi hearts." It's a rallying cry he lives up to in graphic fashion. As Brad Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine said in "Basterds", "We are in the killin' Nazi business. And cousin, business is a-boomin'." Ritchie has opened the Nazi killin' season back up, and delivered one of his best films in decades. Sensitive viewers run and hide, Ritchie doesn't have time for your bullshit. He's got a hilarious, taut adventure to tell. THE MINISTRY OF UNGENTLEMANLY WARFARE battles its way to a bloody excellent A.

  • Tarot

    The new horror thriller TAROT makes me wistful for the comparative cinematic brilliance of "Final Destination 4". You always knew what you were getting with the FD series, but damn did they deliver some cool deaths. That's not in the cards here. We meet a group of college students so stereotypical they could be out of a Casting 101 manual. The only standout is Jacob Batalon (Ned in the recent Spider-Man films) as the non-stop talker/comedian of the bunch, Paxton. Paxton and his squad rent a house far from their Boston college, an old creaky mansion in the woods. Super idea kids! Was Camp Crystal Lake unavailable on VRBO? When they run out of beer, they do what every good weekend rental client does, they bust down doors looking for the locked up liquor. In a feat of stupidity so bold it seems like a parody of the Geico Halloween commercial where the dopes hide behind the chainsaws, they bust into the creepy basement. No liquor, but they do find some creepy Tarot cards that look hand painted in blood and horrifying. Like morons in poorly written horror flicks should do, they decide to have their group mystic Haley (Harriet Slater) do a reading for each of them. Faster than you can yell Blackjack! each of them are being hunted down by the creature depicted on their 13th card. With a PG-13 rating, this was doomed to not be scary. But it didn't have to be so damn dumb. Most of the scary creatures are Spirit Store level creepy and there is no real horror. The best sequence is the impending death of the central casting, genetically gifted, square jawed Lucas. Wolfgang Novogratz is solid as Lucas and the use of darkness and light in an underground subway station is well done. Ireland's own Olwen Fouere (The Northman, Halo) is the best thing in the film as a psychic who has seen this kind of thing happen before and has long been on the trail of those tarot cards. She brings some interesting atmosphere every time she's on screen. Joseph Bishara (The Conjuring, Insidious) got me a couple times with his screeching violins, but even he seems to be phoning it in compared to his superb scores for "The Conjuring" films. This is the kind of movie where a couple takes time to talk about how much they love each other as three demons, the devil and Death himself stalk them through a house with a couple rooms on fire, the flames of hell encroaching from stage left. You can't fix stupid. TAROT, I fold. You get a D.

  • Challengers

    Luca Guadagnino's CHALLENGERS is a fascinating, adult look at a tennis threesome that's playing for much more than a trophy. Deftly using time and flashbacks, with life changing meetings, matches or sexual dalliances as landmarks in the timeline, the three main characters are unpredictably human. Zendaya is excellent as Tashi Donaldson, a young former female pro who's now coaching her husband Art (Mike Faist). There's a lot of tension in their discussions, while their well-heeled life of glamorous hotels and clothes presents an unblemished polish to the outside world. Tashi casually edits their upcoming Aston Martin billboard between confrontations, balancing the business of their image as a couple while battling to motivate Art. We flashback to when the couple first met and are introduced to the third person who will weave in and out of their lives. Patrick Zweig (Josh O'Connor) and Art have been roommates at boarding school since they were 12. They are as inseparable as brothers, and as tennis players, they're a lethal fire & ice combination that dominates the competition. We see them both with Tashi as Guadagnino volleys back and forth in time, from prep school, to the trio's days at Stanford. From the boys relentless flirting with Tashi the first night they met, to the modern day, to earlier matches, back to the present. Large titles pop up on screen during matches, but also when you shift timelines, keeping you in play as the puzzle of their relationships slowly clicks into place. The screenplay by Justin Kuritzkes is complicated, but smartly so. He never lets you settle in. This isn't a romantic couple. But are they in love? Director Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) pushes American boundaries of nudity and sexuality once again, but gossip would have you think this is a tawdry movie about endless threesomes. While the sexuality of our threesome (never graphically depicted) may seem fluid, there are passions, motivations and deep emotions running a straight line through the decades within. Zendaya (Spider-Man: Far From Home, Dune) has never been better, deftly depicting a complicated, smart and motivated woman whose priorities may not be traditional, but are wholly felt. There were scenes where the dialogue between her and Faist (excellent in Spielberg's West Side Story) is so painful you want to look away. O'Connor (Emma) is a wildcard as Patrick. Raw, funny, barely surviving and wrapped up in the two people he's known for years, he's a loose cannon that seems ready to explode or evaporate at any moment. It's a great performance. Guadagnino shows jaw dropping visual style in depicting the tennis matches. Zendaya, Faist and O'Connor look like they could all win the US Open this weekend. I couldn't tell how much was CGI or how body doubles were used, but the matches are fantastic. Zendaya spent three months working with tennis coach Brad Gilbert. They're all impressive. By the end of the film, Guadagnino's camera is under the players watching volleys as if the court were a clear surface. Then the camera becomes the ball, impossibly fast and spiraling from racket to racket in real time. The two players fly around the court like Gods as Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's music score pumps loudly in the background. It all works, immersing us in a pounding club remix version of tennis that's as far from staid Wimbledon as you can imagine. With our three main actors spiraling each other and sexual tension around every windswept alley or hotel room, this occasionally feels more like a DePalma thriller than it does a sports film. It's only right that a film this challenging is called CHALLENGERS. These three people have a lot in play. How far will they go for the win? More importantly, what are they really playing for? CHALLENGERS gets an A-. "For about fifteen seconds there, we were actually playing tennis. And we understood each other completely. So did everyone watching. It's like we were in love. Or like we didn't exist. We went somewhere really beautiful together."

  • Jagged Edge

    Seven years before "Basic Instinct", 1985's JAGGED EDGE delivered a sexy thriller about the murder of a wealthy San Francisco socialite. It's similarities to the Michael Douglas/Sharon Stone hit make sense, knowing both films were written by the same man, Joe Eszterhas (FIST, Jade). Jeff Bridges (True Grit, The Last American Hero) stars as Jack Forrester, husband of the murdered woman. Prosecutors seem ready to pounce on Jack from the start. He's the classic too-perfect husband with a lot to benefit from by his wife's death. San Fran AG Thomas Kransky (Peter Coyote) is blatantly positive that Jack's the killer and before long, plenty of evidence seems to agree with him. Forrester is the unanimously loved owner of a major San Francisco paper. The scenes of he and his team with the giant presses pouring forth thousands of newspapers a second are like a relic from a distant past. Remember newspapers? Jack's legal advisors at the paper introduces him to the only lawyer on their team they feel can take on his case, Teddy Barnes (Glenn Close). But she's no longer even practicing as a lawyer and clearly has a distaste for the nastier parts of the law. After meeting Jack and walking through the scene of the crime, she believes he is innocent, accepts the case and the trial is set. Director Richard Marquand (Eye of the Needle, Return of the Jedi) is, as always, terrific at pulling you into the mystery, slowly pulling back layer after layer toward the truth. Eszterhas peppers the screenplay with some terrific scenes and lines of dialogue, some of which seem especially silly 40 years later, but at his core, he knows how to write a thriller. Robert Loggia (Big, Scarface) is excellent as Teddy's longtime investigator, Sam Ransom. Sam seems like a gumshoe from a Bogart film, but his profanity and hard edge could only be from an 80's thriller. This was Loggia's only Oscar nominated performance and it's a doozy. 80's character actors surround the players in great style. Lance Henriksen (Aliens) and James Karen (Poltergeist) are especially good. John Barry's music score slides back and forth between being seductively romantic and pounding with suspense as a masked killer slowly mounts the dark stairs toward his victim. Bridges and Close are both excellent. Producer Martin Ransohoff (Silver Streak, Ice Station Zebra) famously let it be known he wanted Jane Fonda for the role of Teddy. He said Close was "too ugly" for the part. Close wanted him banned from the set and Marquand supported her. What the hell was Ransohoff thinking? I remember a lot of controversy at the time of the film's release because the final scene revealing the identity of the killer had such a quick cut (less than a second showing their face) that many audiences were caught saying "wait, what? who is that?" The filmmakers edited the final scene to make that shot about 4 seconds long, taking at least THAT mystery off the table. I miss the big studio murder thrillers of the 80's. There are twists galore, fantastic courtroom moments, unbridled sex scenes and high drama in equal measure. The final twenty minutes of the film do go a bit off the rails. Teddy is a savvy, sharp woman who suddenly seems to make some very odd choices. Head scratching to say the least. But as a whole, it still works very well and kept me guessing. JAGGED EDGE spins its way to a very enjoyable B.

  • If

    There are charming moments in John Krasinski's new film IF, but it's a long and winding road to get to the last thirty minutes that holds them. Anyone that's seen the 2019 animated film "Wonder Park" might also ponder just how original Krasinski's film is to begin with, as that film also uncomfortably mixed death and loss into an animated feel-good movie. Maybe "feel-good" has changed definition these days.... The film opens with Krasinski in the hospital prepping for some unnamed broken heart surgery as his 12 year old daughter Bea (Cailey Fleming) comes to visit. Krasinski plays the kind of Dad that always has a joke off his cuff and a song in his heart. Honestly, the opening scene is so sweet and awkward that it doesn't quite land. Fleming (Preacher, The Rise of Skywalker) is excellent though, effortlessly carrying the story on her back, even as the tone around her swings uncomfortably out of control. Bea goes to stay with her grandmother, charmingly played by Fiona Shaw (True Detective, Harry Potter), where she discovers a strange man named Cal (Ryan Reynolds) climbing into the windows of children in surrounding buildings (creepy) accompanied by a giant purple furry creature named Blue. Steve Carell voices Blue as the happiest, loudest animated creature on record. I love Carell, but he wears thin fast here. Phoebe Waller-Bridge fairs much better as Blossom, a Betty Boop/Bee like creature who also resides with Cal on the top floor of her grandmother's building. As the trailers all elude too, these are the imaginary friends or "IF's" that children have outgrown. So begins an adventure (that often felt more like a penance) as Cal and Bea plan to reunite them with their previous owners, or assign them to a new child. Meanwhile, Bea barely visits her Dad in the hospital, even though she lost her Mom unexpectedly years before. Krasinski never quite finds the right way to navigate these two tones, instead focusing on introducing a ton of star-voiced IFs that serve more as inspiration for Happy Meal toys than as characters you care about. But he has brought a lot of his star friends aboard to voice them. Awkwafina has about 6 lines as a bubble thingy, Krasinski's wife Emily Blunt is a Unicorn, George Clooney is a spaceman, Bradley Cooper is an ice cube, Matt Damon is a flower. One of the best voices on the planet, Bill Hader voices a banana. With all the voices that Hader does so well, that banana is just, a banana. Talk about unrealized potential. How about letting these actors riff! Think about the actors and the characters in "Toy Story" from Hanks to Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head, they were all distinct characters that generated huge laughs. This is no "Toy Story", hell it's not even "Cars". After what seemed like an eternity, several final act events do create some strong moments. Krasinski has proven himself to be a superb director and story teller with the "A Quiet Place" films. There's an excellent moment with Bea, her Grandmother and Blossom that speaks to grandchildren realizing who their grandparents used to be. It's perfectly shot. The final wrap up offers the first real laughs in the film. IF only the laughs had started 90+ minutes earlier. Before seeing this movie, I would have thought it was impossible to rob Ryan Reynolds of his on screen charm & humor. But somehow, Krasinski's leaves him hanging out to dry for 90% of the running time. It's an accomplishment, just not one to be particularly proud of. IF gets a C-.

  • One Life

    "He who saves one life, saves the world entire." Anthony Hopkins has always been brilliant at conveying so much about his characters, even when he isn't speaking. That makes him a brilliant choice to play Sir Nicholas "Nicky" Winton, a man who saved 600 children from the invading Nazis in Czechoslovakia, in the months leading up to WW2. Stoic, more concerned with preserving history than portraying himself as having had any kind of role in it, Nicky is turned down by numerous agencies and museums in his attempts to preserve stories of the children's rescue. The film flashes back and forth between Winton's life as a quiet senior with his wife Greta (Lena Olin) and the PRE-WW2 events that led to him saving the children. Johnny Flynn (The Outfit) plays young Nicky, an innocent accountant drawn into the humanitarian crisis as refugees flood across borders into Prague. The more involved he becomes, the more devoted he and his close friends are to the cause. Helena Bonham-Carter (Fight Club, Sweeney Todd) is Johnny's Mom, pulled passionately into the plight of the kids. Watching them fight the English bureaucracy as the Nazis continue their march creates plenty of tension. We deftly pop back and forth from the pre-war battles to Sir Nicholas in the modern day. In the modern thread, things take a dramatic turn when Winton visits Betty Maxwell, a wealthy woman whose husband owns an influential paper. Maxwell is played by Marthe Keller (Black Sunday, Marathon Man) and it's the first time I've seen her on screen in 15 years. What a welcome return. She's terrific and serves as an elegant bridge to the final third of the film and a modern part of the true story that's especially intriguing. Winton is invited onto a popular live BBC TV show called "That's Life", where surprises and many tears await. Jonathan Pryce (Evita, Tomorrow Never Dies) is a welcome addition as one of Nicky's lifelong friends. Watching Pryce & Hopkins banter at a friendly dinner is like watching two chess masters play. It's a clinic on solid acting and a welcome reunion for the two stars of "The Two Popes". If you haven't seen that one, go do so! Hopkins is excellent. Watching Winton express emotions he hasn't let loose in decades is palpable and crushing. At 86 years old, Hopkins may move slower, but he's got every bit of his chops at the ready. It's hard to watch the film and not compare it to the much more graphic, sweeping and massive in scope "Schindler's List", but it doesn't make Winton's true story any less impactful. In fact, in the newspaper obituaries after Sir Nicholas Winton died on July 1st, 2015, the UK press headlines dubbed him 'The British Schindler'. Winton lived ONE LIFE worth remembering, and the film version lives up to that legacy, earning a solid B.

  • Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

    I've been a POTA fan for my entire life. I have fond memories of seeing all five of the original films in one 1973 day, opening night of "Battle of the Planet of the Apes", in an event 20th Century Fox called "Go Ape!". I also really enjoyed Matt Reeves recent trilogy, so it's with high expectations (and some reserve) that I approached the first Ape film under the Disney/Fox banner. Taking place three centuries after the last film in the series, KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a captivating new entry that delivers suspense, action and heart. We meet Noa (Owen Teague from "It"), climbing through the steel skyscrapers of the Los Angeles from centuries before, overgrown with so many trees and vegetation that they look almost like the floating formations of "Avatar". The special effects and production design are eye popping. Noa lives a peaceful life in the shadow of his father, one of the tribe's elders. A simple act by Noa has ripples that end up attracting the attention of a war minded general named Proximus Caesar. Having twisted the words of the original Caesar into a message of dominant rule and violence, Proximus invades Noa's village in a devastating scene that reminded me of the tribal attacks in Mel Gibson's excellent film, "Apocalypto". Noa is left alone and injured. He journeys into the unknown lands that Planet of the Apes fans will recognize as The Forbidden Zone and finds many secrets and surprises that I loved discovering alongside Noa, so I won't ruin ANY of them here. Kevin Durand (The Strain, Lost) is excellent as Proximus Caesar, a fascinating mix of deadly for and saavy politician that kept me on my toes. Freya Allan (The Witcher) is also superb as a human who seems to be smarter than most, putting her square in Proximus's sights. Any film buff would agree that actor Andy Serkis took the entire art of motion capture acting to the next stratosphere as Gollum in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" and as Caesar in Matt Reeves recent trilogy. He helped the actors on this film with their performances and it shows. Peter Macon (The Orville) is off the charts great as Raka, a wise, old orangutan that Noa encounters on his journey. Macon is powerful and hilarious with his casual asides that will seem all too familiar to any human mentoring the younger generation. Teague is excellent. The CGI face capture technology is so perfected now that the apes faces convey every tick, every emotion with precision. Seeing closeups of the characters on a giant Dolby Cinema screen, they are flawless without having that "too perfect" sheen that marred early CGI attempts. We're come light years from the de-aged Jeff Bridges of "Tron Legacy". Director Wes Ball (The Maze Runner) and his team create a new adventure that had plenty of thrilling tributes to the Apes legacy. Creating a story that bridges the events of the past film, "War for the Planet of the Apes" and the original 1968 film, "Planet of the Apes", fans will find plenty of clever visual references to the original film. Jerry Goldsmith's music score for the 1968 film is an all-time great and composer John Paesano references Goldsmith perfectly, especially during a scene in which Proximus and his army hunt humans in a corn field. It's an intoxicating blend of visuals and music that had me smiling in the theater. The finale surprised me, going in very different directions than I predicted and it cleverly sets up the next film. This is the first sequel I've seen this year that actually has me excited for the next chapter. My mind is already going a million miles an hour trying to create the path ahead. For me, this is the most exciting "prequel" of sorts since Gareth Edwards so brilliantly drove "Rogue One" into the opening scenes of "Star Wars". Clearly, Ball is going to take a couple more films to get there. Saddle me up, I'm hooked. KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES exceeds all my hairy expectations, earning an A.

  • Arcadian

    Well acted, claustrophobic and wound tight, ARCADIAN delivers a surprisingly effective creature feature. As the film opens, we see a lone man, Paul (Nicolas Cage) scavenging across a strange landscape. Post apocalyptic, walled like a prison, its a strange and confusing world you can't quite put your finger on. He returns to a cave where he cradles his two twin babies. Flashing forward 15 years, those twins are played by talented actors Jaeden Martell (Defending Jacob, It) and Maxwell Jenkins (Netflix' Lost in Space). The boys work alongside their Dad, but as sundown approaches, they barricade themselves inside their farm, shutting and reinforcing every window, every door. As night falls, unseen predators try to slam their way inside, banging on every door and nearly bursting through. While it's an intense attack, the guys go about their business the next day. While Thomas (Jenkins) heads to a nearby farm to help their neighbors, Joseph (Martell) stays home, working on ways to fortify their stance. When Thomas begins to fall for the teen girl next door, Charlotte (Sadie Soverall), he gets distracted (as teen boys in love do) and leaves far too late to make it home before sundown. In his rush, he falls into a ravine, starting off a series of events that pull all the characters into escalating action and danger. I loved the way that each scene feeds the next. As Paul is pulled out of the house to search for Thomas, every character is forced into unknown territory, driving plenty of suspense. Cage makes a lot of films, that's no secret, but while the budget here may not be massive, the filmmakers spend every dollar well, creating creatures that don't disappoint. Cage is NOT calling it in as Paul, even though he spends plenty of the film flat on his back. With the scariest, fast snapping jaws since HR Giger's xenomorphs in the Alien series, the creatures also have some damn clever extending claws that reminded me of the Terminator series. You'll know exactly what "T2" scene I'm talking about. The last twenty minutes, everything reaches a fever pitch in all the right ways. Martell is a great young actor that knows his way around horror. His role as Bill Denbrough in Stephen King's "It" and "It Chapter Two" showed a young actor in total control. Martell is aging well, bringing another layer of desperation and will to the role of Joseph. He's excellent. It's no "A Quiet Place", but ARCADIAN overachieves, keeping you on the edge of your seat far more effectively than plenty of films with five times its budget. Those snapping jaws are just plain crazy, chomping up a solid B-.

  • The Fall Guy

    A pure buttered popcorn rush of action, laughs and charisma, THE FALL GUY kicks off Summer 2024 in style. Self aware & self deprecating, it's a clever tribute to the unsung stunt men that have elevated so many of the best films of all time. But at its heart, it's a hilarious love story, perfectly led by Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt. Gosling (La La Land, Drive, First Man) narrates as stunt man Colt Seavers, double for the biggest (and dumbest) action movie star in the world, Tom Ryder. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (rumored to be the next 007 and wouldn't that be great!) plays Ryder as a man the camera loves, but not nearly as much as he loves himself. The film opens with an impossible long, single-take shot that weaves through a film crew on set of Ryder's latest, as Colt flirts with one of the camera operators, Jody Moreno (Blunt). It seamlessly follows Colt up and elevator, then out on a platform where he performs a death defying drop from the top floors. Things go awry and Colt is badly hurt. Flash forward 18 months to Colt working as a valet at a Mexican food restaurant in LA for low pay and all the burritos he can eat. He's completely isolated himself in a dumpy apartment post accident. Ryder's producer Gail Meyer (a terrific Hannah Waddingham, "Ted Lasso") corrals Colt to fly to Australia immediately, saying Jody is directing her first film and needs him badly. After one last valet pick up that gets your blood pumping, perfectly set to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck", Colt's off to Australia. When he arrives, he's immediately put "back on the horse" for a dangerous car stunt by his long time friend & stunt coordinator Dan (Winston Duke, "Us" and "Black Panther"). The camaraderie between Gosling and Duke is laugh out loud funny. In one of the most unexpected scenes in the film, Jody and Colt spar when she sees him on set. She grabs a megaphone and starts describing the plot of the film to him, which is clearly based on him disappearing from her life after the accident. It's a clever and remarkably hard scene to pull off, a blend of old school, screwball comedy, fast-patter dialogue, stunt pieces and even a bit of emotion weaved in. On paper, the scene must have looked impossible, but kudos to Gosling and Blunt for nailing the landing. They create characters you cheer for, something that seems a bit lacking at theaters as of late. The fact that Jody's movie is a Mad Max/Dune/Cowboys & Aliens love story on a sandy planet, "Metalstorm", makes it even funnier. The film pops back and forth between showing the crew shooting the scenes and the final film as it will appear post CGI and it's a "Battlefield Earth"/"Road Warrior" train-wreck of great proportions. Gail swoops in with her ever-present Diet Coke and tells Colt she brought him there because Tom Ryder is missing and if Colt can't find him, Jody's dream project will be shut down. Everything that happens after that, I'll let you discover, but it was much different than what the trailers had me expecting. In a good way. Smarter. More Meta. Much funnier than expected. It's the first time I've ever found unicorns funny in a movie. You'll see why. LOL The action scenes are fantastic, with former Stunt Coordinator, now Director David Leitch (Bullet Train, Deadpool 2) delivering a final, polished film within the film and plenty of enjoyable details showing how the stunts are pulled off as Colt and team execute them. I'm a sucker for sweeping scenes with swooping helicopters, explosions, fast cars and flying bodies. Nirvana achieved. As the movie glides from comedy to murder mystery to love story and back again, Gosling & Blunt navigate every twist and turn with ease. Here's hoping this isn't the last time these two are paired together for fun. Blunt and Gosling are flawless. The pop and rock songs that are woven into the mix are perfect as well. Any film with AC/DC, Phil Collins and Taylor Swift as part of the fabric is doing some intelligent juggling. Blake Shelton sings a new version of the 70's Lee Majors show theme song over the end credits. Stick through those credits to watch the stunts behind the stunts as well as some terrific cameos that have you leaving the theater with a smile on your face. They've been trying to make a feature film of "The Six Million Dollar Man" for years. If the movie of that Lee Majors 70's TV hit is going to be half as fun as this one, somebody call Oscar Goldman and bring it to life! Packed with fun and heart, THE FALL GUY crashes, punches and explodes its way to an A.

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