Thursday, September 22, 2022

Barbarian

 


There is not going to be any suspense in this review, I will tell you right off the bat that this was a disappointment. It should not have been, but the writing, which is so good in the first act, falls off in quality and logic in the third act, and like so many horror films, it is the payoff that screws up the film. The slow burn opening gets wasted by a series of non-sensical events at the end. I just saw "See How They Run" and the director in that story wanted to rewrite the ending of Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap". There is a scene in that movie where a series of storyboards shows the direction he wanted to take. The makers of this movie must have a similar set of storyboards from the same trite minds that think all horror films have to end the same way. 

What is so promising at the start of the first section, gets added too in a second section, where it looks like we might be going into a different kind of barbaric act, featuring a non-horror situation. The character played by Justin Long, is getting a Hollywood cancellation  moment, and it looks at first as if it is going to take a unique perspective on that circumstance. The financial and professional ruin of an actor on the brink of sitcom stardom, is the event that drives this character into the scenario we saw played out at the start of the movie. Sadly, it is not to be that an injustice is giving sympathy to a potential victim. Instead, the movie plays this storyline out as a comeuppance. So again what was unique and potentially intriguing gets washed away in an act of woke contrition. 

Technically, the horror elements that are visualized are done quite well. There are a couple of jump scares and some mild gore to establish the violence bona fides of the film. It is not the acts of violence and mayhem that are the most horrifying moments however. There are three standout visual images that will really haunt you, if anything from the movie does. In a flashback sequence, we see the machinations of a serial killer/rapist/kidnapper. The point of view from behind him as he shops for products to facilitate his actions is disturbing. When we see the casual way that he gains entry into a future victim's home, it is a terrifying moment that should make every homeowner pause. This whole sequence takes place as we enter the final act. The second visual stunner is the discovery of a room, equipped with a filthy bed and a couple of other items that will induce nightmares without thinking too hard. It is this visage that startles out main protagonist Tess, into the actions that any human being would have, Fight or Flight. Unfortunately, the character has to do the stupid thing that every fan of horror films screams at the screen about, "Don't Do it!", and then she does. In my view however, the most disturbing visual moment takes place in daylight, outdoors, while Tess is in the car driving away from the site of the action. Block after block of abandoned, dilapidated houses roll past her windows. She has stayed in a vacant warzone for a night, and she is lucky to be alive. So once again, living down to the trope of the most basic horror film, what stupid thing does she do? That's right, she goes back to that neighborhood, after being warned, with the plan to spend another night there. 


Georgina Campbell is Tess, who is so smart, alert and wise on that first night. Her spider-senses tingle and she takes appropriate action, until it is time for her to do something, she herself has said not to do. Last summer there was a horror film based on a single word that every person in a frightening situation ignores "Nope". She literally says it out loud, and within two minutes does it anyway. Bill Skarsgård plays a sympathetic red herring. We are supposed to be suspicious of him but we get won over. His character goes from solicitous with Tess to dismissive for no good reason other than to make us doubt him, but it was inconsistent with the way the character had been presented in the slow burn. AJ, the Justin Long character can be forgiven his stupidity at first, he is distracted, but if he is engaged enough to complain on the phone to the worst property manager in the Detroit area, you would think he could pick up the bad vibes in the house location immediately. So basically, the three main characters are too stupid to avoid the risk right in front of them with the flashing yellow sign.

Finally in the climax, like all horror films, the monster is indestructible, and we are also asked to sympathize at the same time that murder is going on in front of our eyes. Horror films need to start working backwards. Figure out your ending before to write the opening. When you expend all the energy and creativity on the set up, whatever you have left gets used on the payoff, and it isn't enough. There was a lot to like about the movie, but all that is gold gets cancelled by acts of stupidity, improbability,  out right cliché, and the impossible. Catch it on shudder next month. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

See How They Run

 


It's not everyday you get a real farce on the big screen. Lots of films have elements of farce and are quite enjoyable as a consequence. In the last year I would say "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" and "Free Guy" are two examples of action films that have farcical moments in them. Most Wes Anderson films also feature the concept of a light, humorous play in which the plot depends upon a skillfully exploited situation rather than upon the development of character. "See How They Run" has the advantage of actually being a film about a play, which is eventually revealed to be a sort of play in itself. That is what makes it a true farce as far as I am concerned. 

The story concerns a murder that takes place during a negotiation to turn "The Mousetrap" into a movie. Those of you not familiar with the play simply need to know that it is an Agatha Christie murder mystery. It is also the longest running play in the history of theater, starting in 1952 and still playing on the West End in London to this day. This movie is not a filmed version of the play, but rather a take off on the plat, using "The Mousetrap" as a sort of touchstone or spine for the mayhem. It mocks the machinations of old Hollywood and they manner in which film makers try to take material and rework it to their own vision. The real clause in the contract granting rights to a cinematic version, states that such a film cannot be made until six months after the play closes in London. See how this is going to work?

Making use of techniques used by movies over the years, this film starts off being narrated by the stereotypical victim of these kinds of drawing room mysteries. The performance of Adrien Brody is fitfully droll and sarcastic, with just a little bit of surprise thrown in. The fact that he is in the film explains why his character is resurrected for several flashback scenes. Those kinds of scenes are also mocked in the film in a self reference that will be seen time and again in the movie. No spoiler here, but when you see the climax of the film, you will laugh out loud, hard.

The historical context of the story adds some fun twists to a murder mystery that is as convoluted as any written by Christie herself. I enjoyed having Richard Attenborough played on screen as a young actor treading the boards in the play. The Hollywood Cliché of the producer is only partially exploited, but the film director tries to compensate by being a cad and attempting seduction by casting whenever he can. Once the murder has occurred, the real stars of the film and the source of the greatest comic moments show up. Sam Rockwell is doing a Gary Oldman impression of a fifties era detective inspector. He is great playing the detached slightly alcoholic run of the mill, hardworking detective. He is partnered with eager beaver Constable Saoirse Ronan, who comically takes notes, jumps to conclusions and also plays the hero. There are bad puns, slamming doors, slightly missed moments when trailing a suspect, all of which will provoke a chuckle here and there. 

This sort of thing is hard to pull off in a film. So many times what works on stage simply seems frenetic on screen, but here the pacing is cool enough to let us enjoy the oddball characters and the silly assumptions. The final result is a charming little mystery that lampoons it's own roots in a gently comic way, and evokes enough laughter to justify going out to a theater to see it. I was pleased that the Tuesday Discount brought out a good sized crowd for this movie. It's great to hear laughter from a collective of souls in the dark.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Pearl

 


It was just six months ago that I saw "X", which so far continues to be my favorite film of the year. At the end of the film was a teaser for a sequel, and lo and behold, here it is, just half a year later. Director Ti West is swinging for the fences and I approve of the effort, but this film is not an out of the park homerun like it's predecessor. It is instead a long fly ball to center field that misses the fence but gets you standing for a couple of seconds, thrilled at the prospect if not entirely happy with the result. "Pearl" is not essential to the original story, but it is an interesting trail to follow and there are some great moments to recommend it, even if it isn't a true gem.

West has a take on these films that I think is really interesting. He is modeling the style of the movie to the times that it is set in. This worked extremely well in the 70s based "X", with it's grungy porn milieu and pacing like a slow burn horror film of that decade. "Pearl" is set in 1918, and the silent films of that era are a little hard to model your film on and still use modern equipment and storytelling. This is not a silent film, but it is a melodrama with over the top moments, long pauses on a frame in anticipation of an action, and some cutesy cinematic moments to make the movie feel old fashioned.  In a spot on reflection, the pandemic of Spanish flu serves as a reminder that the Covid-19 situation we find ourselves in, was not the first time that paranoia lead to extreme behavior in trying to avoid the illness. 


In an isolated farmhouse, Pearl lives with a domineering mother of German descent, who frequently lapses into her native tongue when admonishing her daughter. Also in the house is her father, disabled by the pandemic in such a way as to lock him in a wheelchair and render him incapable of speech. At first Pearl seems the quintessential farm girl, talking to the cow and goat, both of which she has given names to. It doesn't take long however to discover that there is something not quite right about her. In spite of her random moments of cruelty, we sympathize with her because the mother's oppression seems overwhelming and Pearl does have a husband at war, who professes his love quite beautifully in letters that he writes to her from the front in Europe. Like many young women, she dreams of stardom on the screen, in her case as a dancer. Her innocent dress up and performance for animals in the barn or her mirror in the bedroom, are condemned by her mother and she is belittled for being foolish. Later in the movie, we discover that Mom has some idea of the issues that Pearl has. Did she foment those tendencies by her attitude toward Pearl, or did she develop that attitude as a result of what she saw in Pearl? We don't quite know, but we do know it will come to a head. 

The writers of this film are the director and the lead actress, and they have made some interesting choices. For instance, the friendly projectionist might be a predator or simply a man who is looking for connection as a lonely bohemian. He does not take advantage of Pearl so much as she takes advantage of him. We get foreshadowing of this in a way that also warns us again that Pearl is not necessarily stable, despite her prim demeanor at times. When the violence starts, there is no doubt that it is coming from a dark place in Pearl rather than a reaction provoked by the people she encounters. At the climax of the film, the innocent and supportive character is the target of her delusion and rage and there is no excusing it. 

Over the course of the film, the techniques to mimic the era are less noticeable and successful. What seemed like a slow burn in the 70s era horror in the first film, feels like needless meandering in this melodramatic potboiler. Pearl pursues her dream with a distorted perception of the circumstances she is operating in. We don't see all the girls that she is competing with, but we do see both her performance and her self reflection of that performance. There are fantasy inserts that might seem like they fit a late 1920s musical, but they are confusing in this story. Pearl's imagination spills over into the real world, and I guess that is supposed to give us insight into how she is thinking, but it is an artistic choice that muddles the narrative. 

Just as things are coming to a head, and you think the film will finish on a conventional note, we get served a surprise that makes the whole movie worthwhile. Actress Mia Goth has been magnetic in the role up to this point, but she suddenly becomes hypnotic. She has a six or seven minute scene that is shot in one continuous take, never cutting to another character but always focusing on her. Like the great monologue from Quint in "Jaws", we are pulled into a confessional story that is horrifying, revealing and compelling. Mia Goth holds us in her hand the way Robert Shaw did, for a full six minutes, and we will not be able to turn away. Look, this is a horror film done on a budget without a lot of economic impact on the film business, but if the people who give acting awards don't take some notice of Mia Goth this year, they are in essence admitting that their awards are not for performance but for politics. This scene is both heartbreaking and horrifying, and it is all on Mia Goth in her voice and face. 

Nearly matching Mia Goth is actress Tandi Wright, who plays the Mother, Ruth. She is stern and frightening at times, but ultimately conveys that she is the one most frightened. The make-up, hair dressing and costumes turn her into visage of dominating truculence. She also has a moment of monologue that gives her a chance to shine. It is not as long and it is not entirely focused on her, but is is noteworthy and it is a great companion performance to Goth's unhinged innocent. 

So, "Pearl" does not reach the heights that "X"did, but it is nevertheless a worthy follow up and it leaves me looking forward to the third film in the series "Maxxxine" which will be set in the 1980s and already seems poised to get that vibe correct, based on a short teaser at the end of this film. Maybe these movies are being made for a cult audience, I guess it turns out that I am part of that cult.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan 40th Anniversary TCM Fathom Events

 


I did not remember writing about this film before, and that seemed strange to me because it is an old favorite. It turns out that it was not neglect on my part to cover the film, but rather my faulty memory, because I have a post up about this from a 35th Anniversary screening , so just five years ago. You can go there to read my comments on the film, I have not changed my opinion one iota, this is the movie that the original Trekkers will remember as the finest in the series. 

At the end of a long holiday weekend, I looked back on the last month and realized that seven out of the last nine films I have written about, are older films that were getting screenings at a theater. I love new movies as much as the next person, but I'm beginning to think that August and September are months that studios don't want us to see new films. The National Cinema Day that happened on Saturday with $3 admission at most theater chains, resulted in "Spider-Man No Way Home" being the top film of the weekend, with  a few minutes of added content for a movie that opened last December and has been on home media for months. Maybe instead of the discount, all the theaters could offer a huge choice of classic films for the weekend, I'd  be up for that.

This version of Star Trek II was a director's cut that Nicolas Meyer oversaw. As I was watching the film last night, I noticed the several slight changes that had been made. This was the same version of the movie that I wrote about five years ago, but I think it must be only the second time I have seen this version because the changes stood out for me. I worry about people tinkering with films after they have been released. George Lucas almost ruined his original Star Wars Trilogy with the refinements he made over the years. This sort of change however is not technical in nature, it is editorial and it works really well, so don't be put off if you are a purist, the movie still works. 





Monday, September 5, 2022

Giant

 


Earlier this year, we passed by "Giant" at the TCM Film Festival because it is a three hour and twenty-one minute film that would have blocked out a couple of other things we were interested in. Lucky for us, the local Alamo Drafthouse scheduled a screening on this long weekend, so we did get a chance to see this George Stevens film on the big screen. 

I have seen this film before but Amanda had not. The pairing of Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor is a compelling enough reason to see the film. Add to the mix, James Dean's final screen performance and his second posthumous Academy Award Nomination, and it becomes an essential for cinema buffs. I have always enjoyed the film but I have never thought it was as compelling as so many others seem to feel about it. Now that I live in Texas, I appreciated the first part of the story a lot more and the attitude that Texans have about the state is more relevant to me. Still, this is a big soap opera, with a little fantasy history and social consciousness weaved in to make it feel more significant. 

Rock Hudson received his only Academy nomination for this film, and he probably deserved the acclaim for the movie, especially for the second half of the story. Bick Benedict is a headstrong traditionalist who clashes with his eastern bred wife over local politics and the condition of the Mexican workers who populate the large ranch they own. At times he sounds like one of those Southerners who argued for segregation because it was the culture, rather than racial animus that drove their opinions. His slightly inebriated acknowledgement that Angel Obregon, the Mexican kid who is joining the Army, is the best man on the ranch, illustrates that he is simply blind to how this tradition could be seen as prejudicial. His pious protestations about his daughter-in-law being a fine gal, gives way toward the end when he is forced to see the injustices being thrown her way simply because of her heritage. His character as the greatest attitude change in the story arc. 

Elizabeth Taylor is fine in her role but the character is always a bit impertinent and forthright in her opinions. The best stretch of her performance is buried in the middle of the film during the couples brief separation. They still have problems when they are reunited, but you can see from her performance that Lesley feels those difficulties are surmountable once they are together again. James Dean was honored in a lead acting category, but his role is very secondary until the final act, and even there it is minimal. I did appreciate the early section where he is enamored of the new Mrs. Benedict, but he is constrained by the situation and her clear messages that she only has eyes for her husband. The visit to his small part of the ranch to share a cup of tea was his best scene in my opinion. I thought the drunken Jett of the last section was a little overdone. 

I had forgotten that Rod Taylor was in this picture, and that is understandable since it is a very tertiary role. Dennis Hopper is incredibly young and a little wooden but he comes across quite sincerely. Chill Wills is in a much more familiar part here than he was in "The Deadly Companions" which I saw earlier this year for the Strother Martin Wednesday series I did this summer. It is a big cast and the movie looked great but it's length was a bit much. "Lawrence of Arabia" is nearly twenty minutes longer, but never feels long to me. This felt quite padded at times. Still it was a great movie and great seeing it on the big screen. 

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Jaws 3-D/IMAX Screenings

 


"Jaws" on the big screen, of course I am going to be there. This is a cinematic experience and no matter how great the home video releases are (and yes I will be buying the 4K Upgrade being promoted by the current release) one should always see "Jaws" in a theater when it is possible. The screen size and sound are probably going to be superior, but even more than the technology, you are seeing the movie in the place it was made for with people who have the same desire as you, to sit in a theater to experience this masterpiece. The only question is whether the tweaking for 3-D enhances or detracts from the experience. 

So we went to two screenings, back to back in different theaters. The first had a 3-D presentation so let me start with that. "Jaws" is a perfect film, so it doesn't really need anything else to gin it up, but there were interesting moments in the film with the 3D effect. The Billboard Public Service announcement does pop a bit more and it does draw your eye to the graffiti artist's work. The scene in Quint's workshop was also a little more intriguing because some of the production background stands out more. Some of the effect was distracting however since you start looking at the things that are different rather than the things that are important. Quint's limerick gets pushed to the background because the foreground with Ellen Brody is now the 3D focus in the scene. I don't know that it lessens the film but it does alter the perspective you have and that was a little disconcerting.

The second screening was in the New IMAX where the screen size is substantially bigger and the quality of the sound and projection has been carefully adjusted to perfectly fit the venue. This was the experience I preferred. The movie looks great in both versions, but without the 3D effect, the experience is the way you are usually engaged with the film which is probably more comfortable.
I liked that the sound in the theater allowed me to hear Brody repeating the directions for the knot he is trying to tie while the reel is slowly being taken. Most mixes focus on the clicking of the reel and obscure the off screen sounds as a result. You also can make out more of Quint's improvised lyrics for 15 Men on a Dead Man's Chest. 

I am still trying to figure out what Ellen was serving at dinner, but the rest of the scene was solid with Sean imitating his father and providing a great emotional arc for Chief Brody. I have literally seen this movie over a hundred times and I still get bits and pieces of new insight each time. This is the first time it dawned on me that Meadows is driving Mayor Larry Vaughn's car when they track down Brody at the ferry.  Why the Mayor gets out of the passenger seat in this scene probably has something to do with framing the scene, but once I realized it, the moment felt strange.   

We are going back for a third screening today, just because we can. 




Friday, September 2, 2022

Lawrence of Arabia 2022 Visit


As is usual when "Lawrence of Arabia" is on the Big Screen within range, we went again to see one of the greatest cinematic experiences ever created. The Paramount Theater in Austin is finishing off their Summer Classic Movie series with some great ones. "2001" and "The Godfather Part II" are also set for the next wee, and I may try to get to at least one of those, but "Lawrence", always.

I've written about this movie several times and each time I do, I try to find a different angle to focus on. This time I'm going with something that has been staring us in the face for 60 years, but we don't really take notice, Lawrence is a funny guy, and David Lean inserts a lot of funny moments into the film. It's easy to see the story arc of our central character by how his mischievous nature and dry wit, wither in the second part of the film.

Lawrence delights in his insouciant manner with his military superiors. He acknowledges to one General that it is his manner that makes him appear to be insubordinate when he is really just delighting in word play and his own perspective on things. He can also laugh at others and take delight in the two boys who become his servant/worshipers. It is only after the loss of one of them that the bemused smile that is usually on his face fades. It comes back briefly when the battles are won or when he foolishly chooses to enter a town with a Turkish garrison. After the sadistic treatment he receives from the Turkish Bey, he almost never smiles again. 

Other characters have to cover the humor in the post intermission segment of the film. Ali pleads with God on behalf of his friend, Auda pontificates with a poisonous wit now and then, and General Allenby and Mr. Dryden provide asides and barely hidden smiles to keep a bit of humor in the film in those grimmer scenes. 

It was a long day and my companion had utilized most of her energy at work that day, so I was a little concerned that the long movie and the late evening might cause some drowsiness. The temperature in the theater solved that problem. I have not been so chilly in the desert since I saw "The English Patient" in winter at the Rialto theater where the heater had gone out. I guess they were overcompensating for the weather here in Austin. 



Thursday, September 1, 2022

3000 Years of Longing


I am not sure why this movie was released the last week of August. It is a quality piece of film making with a thoughtful theme and delicate performances from the two leads. This feels like a Spring or Fall release, not something that you dump with the action/horror trash that makes up the usual fare at this time of year. When the Lion in the MGM logo that came up in front of the film did not roar in the traditional way, I wondered what was happening. Maybe someone at MGM decided it would be triggering, or maybe that Idris Elba had enough lion roars from his film out just two weeks ago. It did make me question the thinking at the studio, and after seeing the film, I believe I was right in thinking someone in marketing has screwed up.

George Miller has been responsible for some odd films over the years. The two "Babe" pictures run in the opposite direction of his Mad Max films, and "Happy Feet", the less said about the better. "3000 Years of Longing" is a non-traditional narrative about narratives. Alithea, the subject of the initial story is a character who studies, records, interprets and investigates literary narratives. The idea that this person should be the one to discover the story revealed when a Djinn gets released from his captivity is a good one. By making her the receiver of the story, she can stand in for the all of us as skeptic and captivated audience. Idris Elba as the ancient Djinn with a story to tell is a more compelling character than the doctor he played in the recent "Beast". It feels odd to have him in back to back weeks as the lead of the major film opening that Friday. The character here is more compelling and he requires the skills of an actor to keep us enthralled in the story.

This movie reminds me of a movie from almost thirty years ago, Wayne Wang's "Smoke". The subject matter is completely different, but the films both feature narrators telling stories that pull us in. The stories may not be essential but they are compelling. What Miller has done is ladled on the visuals to go with the stories that our protagonists are sharing. This works especially well in the setting of the hotel room in Istanbul. As the two characters converse and we see the story being told by the Djinn with magic, color and incredible visual detail. Solomon's musical instrument, the concubines of the imbecile brother who will become king, the inventions of his greatest love, all are amazing images that Miller and his team deserve credit for. The three stories told in this sequence are fascinating, but sometimes they feel arbitrary, like they have to evoke the cautionary tales of wishes being granted. The problem is that the rules seem inconsistent, and that matters because when the location of the story moves to modern London, the film runs out of steam and it does not have a clear set of rules to fall back on.

Tilda Swinton plays the most normal character I have seen her as in a movie in a long time. Her career justifies her willingness to engage in the stories, but the change in her desires at the close of the middle section was abrupt, and the ground rules were ambiguous, in spite of her exposition then and at the end of the movie. As I look back on the film, I see some foreshadowing of the final outcome that I noticed but did not connect to the story. That's because we get side tracked in a totally superfluous side story about a couple of busy body old ladies living next door. Their only reason for being there is to provide a completely unnecessary woke moment, but as a piece of misdirection, it works to make the Djinn's physical shift a surprise. 



In the end, I was glad I saw the film and I liked the slightly melancholy happy ending. The plot is supposed to be told to us as a fairy tale, so I suppose that can excuse some plot contrivances and holes in the logic of the story. I mostly did not care because the two leads engaged in conversation, with the advantage of a visual palate to complete the stories that are being shared, was compelling enough for me. It may be a languid trip for some, but it was a pleasant journey with a nice fairy tale feel.   

Monday, August 22, 2022

Dr. No (60th Anniversary) Fathom Events


I was unable to find a Fathom Events Trailer for the screening of Dr. No last night, so instead you get this original trailer which is a lot of fun in itself.

I was only four when Dr. No was first released so I obviously did not see it then. It wasn't until the late part of the sixties that I caught up with it in a double bill with either "Thunderball" or "Goldfinger", I can' quite remember the match up. Whichever one it was , the other played on a separate bill with "From Russia with Love". That's how I first saw the original four James Bond films. 

Three of my five favorite 007 films are from the original Sean Connery list. "Dr. No" clocks in at number 4 of all the James Bond films for me. It was the first film in the series that launched my sixty year love for all things Bond. It is a fairly faithful adaptation of the book with a few minor changes (there is no giant squid and SPECTRE has been retconned into the film series). 


Dr. No looks great on the big screen, this was a Digital Projection so there were no flaws from the film stock, it looks like it was from the remastering done for the Blu-ray set that came out ten years ago. I have been to Jamaica, although not Kingston, and the ocean and islands do look like what you see in the film. It is a beautiful place although I know there are some dark places that you probably don't want to visit. 

When I was getting ready for "Spectre", I did a countdown of 007 films, with the top seven reasons to love each film. For "Dr. No" here are the seven things I picked. There are some additional reasons you should invest in seeing this film. Although he is the first of the sacrificial lambs to go in Bonds place over the years, Quarrel is also one of the most memorable. John Kitzmiller, who played Quarrel, was an actor I'd never looked up before, but there are a couple of important highlights to mention. He won the Best Actor Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1947, but even better, he was born in my parents hometown of Battle Creek Michigan. The parts that don't age well are when Bond orders him around when they are on Crab Key, you know, "Fetch my shoes" and that kind of stuff. Still he was a salwart companion and ally of 007, and he died bravely fighting dragons. 

This was the introduction of the Monty Norman theme, jazzed up by John Barry, which has had some controversy over the years but for which the late Mr. Norman deserves credit for writing. The theme gets used as a running score element and is mixed with some of the Island tunes that set the locale. The scene in the nightclub with all of the patrons dancing to "Jump Up" has plenty of visual charm in a simple way, and the "Three Blind Mice" calypso version is used with the Maurice Binder titles and transitioned to a live shot very effectively at the end of the titles. This is also a film notable for not having a pre-title sequence. 



As a Fathom Event, they always put in a little extra. The Trivia screen shots were a nice touch before the movie, and they included a statement from Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson on the passing of Sean Connery from two years ago. After the movie, there was a long featurette on Daniel Craig called "Being James Bond", it is not on my Blu-ray copy of "No Time to Die", but it was clearly prepared as a promotional piece for the last of Craig's Bond films. This was a legacy screening so it did not feel inappropriate to me to include it in the show. 




Saturday, August 20, 2022

Beast

 


If you look at the masthead of this site, or count the number of posts relating to the 1975 classic, you will know how much I love Spielberg's "Jaws".  In fact, in a couple of weeks there will be more posts because it is getting a release in IMAX and 3D. That may make it a little unfair to compare today's film to the beloved shark story, but in many ways it is the same story, simply adapted to a different environment. "Beast" is a nature gone malevolent film where instead of a shark we get a lion. There is an initial attack, and then the slow burn discovery of the continuing danger, followed by an extended sequence where man is pitted against nature in a single vehicle that is crippled. There are plenty more comparisons to come but I'll save those to first talk about whether the film works.

Idris Elba has been in 30 films in one form or another in the last 10 years. Before that he was in a bucket load more and some essential television shows, so it is not a stretch for him to have to hold the attention of an audience for 90 minutes. The part of Doctor Nate Samuels is low key and calm in the face of overwhelming danger. The Doctor has two children that he has brought to South Africa to visit the home of their deceased mother. The husband and wife were separated at the time of her death and as a doctor, he feels guilt about not being able to do more about the cancer that killed her. It is a cliched trope that a trip like this is designed to repair the estrangement he has with his teen daughters. That the relationships will have to be repaired under the most pressure filled scenario is typical in a movie like this [Bruce Willis and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Live Free or Die Hard is an example of the stress repairing parental bonds trope].  

The premise is simple, the family in emotional crisis suddenly finds itself under attack from an outside source. In this case the threat comes from a rogue lion, angry about the slaughter of it's pride and reeking vengeance on all humans it encounters.  In the opening sequence we get a night time attack on the poachers left behind to clean up after the initial destruction of the pride. There are a couple of moments that feel like a mid-night swim and the CGI lion is pretty effective at providing jump scares. When Elba and his friend Martin, played by Sharlto Copley, come across a decimated village, it's as if Brody and Hooper are finding Ben Gardner's boat, only this time Brody brought his kids with him. Later, it turns out that Martin is also Quint, intrepid hunter of poachers and the victim of the creatures he tries to protect. 

The lion attacks on the vehicle that the doctor and his daughters are trapped in are pretty dramatic and scary. The idea that the lion is using one of our characters as bait is similar to the mysterious behavior of the shark in "Jaws" going under the boat. Animals are inscrutable, but they do follow their nature, and we were given a foreshadowing lecture on lion behavior that tips us to how this is ultimately going to be played out. Of course a couple of characters have to do some stupid things to keep the story going in a few spots and that does undermine the value of the film. 

I don't know of anyone who wants to see animals harmed as a part of the story, but as this tale goes on, you really are rooting for something to happen to this lion. The most brutal violence on an animal is in the openings sequence, so if you get through that you will be OK. We mostly see the aftermath of the mauling that the humans get, but in the climax we are given a pretty graphic depiction of what happened to a variety of characters, and it happens in broad daylight, so night does not cover up what is going on. The locations look beautiful and there is some terrific nature photography early on, but once the peril starts, the plot takes over and most of the shots are about building fear rather than amazing footage.

"Crawl" was a similar story from a couple of years ago. It was much more aware of it's exploitation roots and leaned into them to make an effective summer entertainment. "Beast" has a little too much sincerity to pull off the entertainment value at an equally high level, but it mostly works. That is due to the two leads and the premise, more than anything else. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Spielberg Double Feature August 2022

 


Any time you can see one of Spielberg's classic films on the big screen, you should take the opportunity to do so. As repeatable as most of his films are, a theatrical presentation enhances the experience by making the action more urgent in the size of the screen, the volume of the sound system and the response from your fellow movie goers. Raiders is 41 years old, but for a Saturday matinee, with a cost of  $14, the theater was nearly full. This screen was part of the Summer Classic Film Series at the Paramount Theater in Austin Texas.

The presentation was a digital projection, so it may have lacked some of the warmth and texture of a 35mm screening, but the images were great and the movie just plays like gangbusters. The opening ten minutes is still a standard by which many action based films today fail to live up to. Indiana Jones is defined as a character by his look, his actions and the way the movie is shot. Harrison Ford does not have a lot of dialogue in the opening sequence, but when he does speak, we get a sense of the adventurous archeologist and his strengths and weaknesses.  






Not only did I get a chance to see one of the Spielberg masterpieces on the big screen, I got a second one on the same day. This year is the 40th anniversary of "E.T. The Extraterrestrial" and in celebration, Universal is releasing it on IMAX screens around the country.  We had just seen "E.T." at the TCM Film Festival back in April, and Spielberg was there to discuss it. Why would we need to go again? Because it's fricking great, that's why. 

The thrilling flying bicycle scenes don't hold up as well as you might hope, but everything else does. Once again, John Williams accounts for half the success of the movie because his score for this is so touching and appropriate that the emotions on the screen can be felt over and over again, just by hearing the score.

If the first ten minutes of Raiders defines action, the last ten minutes of E.T. defines heart. The closing moments of the film never fail to bring me the tears that I remember shedding the first time I saw this film forty years ago. Henry Thomas continues to work as an actor, after giving one of the great child performances of all time. If he had never made another film, he should be enshrined in Valhalla for this alone. 

All of you out there stewing in jealousy over this great day that I got to indulge in, you can still catch "E.T." on an IMAX screen somewhere. Why are you still here?
 




Tuesday, August 9, 2022

John Carpenter's The Thing (Round 2)

Just a quick update to remind myself that I did go and see "The Thing" again on the big screen at the Alamo Drafthouse last Friday.  They are doing a summer series on films that came out in 1982, forty years ago now, and of course John Carpenter's masterpiece is included. 




This video is from the same program seven years ago, but it still kicks ass. 

As early arrivals, we scored a nice mini-poster of John Carpenter films that have apparently played at the Drafthouse at some point or another. 

I'll be looking at the Drafthouse theaters near me to see if I can catch up with any of these movies. The only one I have never seen is "Christine". Don't ask me why, I have no idea how I missed it. 



Once again, the greatest performance in this movie is turned in by the dog in the opening section. The trainer who got this dog to stand so still and stare in just the right ominous manner, deserves a round of applause





Friday, August 5, 2022

Bullet Train

 


Director David Leitch knows his way around a contemporary action scene. Having been a producer and an uncredited director on John Wick,  he took on "Deadpool 2" and the "Fast and Furious Spinoff Hobbs and Shaw". In other words, Leitch has become adept at making action films that are short on credulity but long on humor and style, and this is one of them. "Bullet Train", to use the obvious metaphor, is a fast moving vehicle that has few stops, no real scenery and a self contained environment for the players to bounce around in.

Brad Pitt plays an operative who has gone through some kind of existential crisis and is trying to maintain his career as a top clandestine agent, without having to kill or confront anyone in a violent manner. Of course when your job is to steal valuable assets from dangerous people, your life goals may have to take a backseat to your survival skills. In this situation Pitt's character, code named "Ladybug", has to steal a briefcase containing a large amount of money. Of course there is a reason for the money to be there, and there are others on the train who are after the same thing for different reasons, and there are other "fixers" from crime syndicates all trying to eliminate one another. If you took the characters from "Clue" and you moved them from a locked house mystery, to a trapped on a train crime thriller, this would be the result. This is one of those films that plays dismemberment for laughs and violence as a mere inconvenience until the next quip or visual joke comes along. 

"Ladybug" is a Buster Keaton like character who manages to get into and out of situations with a combination of great skills and incredible luck. The physical jokes are over the top and completely unbelievable, they are also incredibly fun to watch and they are accompanied by the relaxed performance of Brad Pitt. It is as if Pitt is not only channeling the laid back character he played in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", but he is now calling on the spirit of Owen Wilson to add a zen like daze to his hipster cool. Pitt seems to know how silly it all is but is having a good time anyway. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry, in addition to using three names, play salt and pepper brothers who are contract killers/operatives for hire, who having thought they completed their mission, now have to deliver the briefcase that is the target of Ladybug. They too have cute code names, Tangerine and Lemon, and they are full of some of the same cool headed hipster violence and humor that dominate these types of movies. 

If you saw "The Lost City" earlier this year, you probably won't be too surprised at a couple of cameo spots that show up in the movie. Also, if you liked Pitt's role in Deadpool 2, we get a turnabout moment that lasts just as long in this film. Maybe this is a little close to spoiler territory, but none of it gives away plot and you know how these things go anyway, so it is really more a moment of pleasure more than surprise when these things happen. I was also a bit pleased when I finally recognized the big bad who shows up at the climax of the film, it was not a role I had any foreknowledge of and it was another moment of cinema fan service more than plot development. Speaking of plot, unlike "Atomic Blonde" which still does not make any sense, this convoluted series of set ups works pretty well at bringing everything together in a reasonably coherent way. There may still be plot holes, but you will understand why everyone is in the picture and what their motives ultimately turn out to be. Pay no attention to the other passengers who appear and then vanish from the train. At best they provide a quick joke, most of the time they would be in the way, but by the end no one cares because the action and the train have accelerated way past reality a third of the way into the movie. By the last act we are watching a live action Road Runner cartoon, and that will be fine for most of us.


"Bullet Train" is the kind of summer movie you should be looking for right about now. It has no long term agenda, there is nothing serious going on that will haunt your memories, and it is easy to watch. Any film that has a Bee Gees tune and mimics the opening of "Saturday Night Fever" must have something going for it. Layer a Jim Steinman song on top of that with a bunch of other upbeat tunes and you will find yourself refreshingly immersed in a pop culture mashup, perfect for these times and this time of year. Jump the turnstile or buy a ticket, "Bullet Train" will entertain you for the dog days of summer.

 

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Vengeance

 


I am as big a fan of comic book films and action movies as anybody you can think of, but my two favorite films so far this year are small independents created by film makers with distinct visions, and this movie is one of those films. This was written and directed by actor B.J. Novak, and I am impressed with his ability to balance the story he is telling with the subjects he is dealing with. It would be easy to see this as a take down of fly over culture, except that it isn't. Certainly, the idiosyncrasies of Texas life are shown in a humorous light, but just when you think they are being mocked, there is a note that not only validates the point but expresses some appreciation for it. Oh, and by the way, the coasts are not immune from the being targeted. In the long run, this film does a lot to unify the culture in a way that may not be appreciated by everyone, but was certainly welcome by me. 


Novak has identified Rob Reiner as his favorite director, citing the marvelous stretch of films from the early 80s to the early 90s. Among those films is "This is Spinal Tap", a mockumentary that has been an inspiration for film makers ever since and  clearly has influenced this film. "Vengeance" is a little more subtle about taking down the podcast/media establishment, but the humor and satire in this script is no less biting than Spinal Tap's songs that mimic heavy metal themes. When Ben and his editor/mentor start calling the project, "Dead White Girl", the rest of us can see that this is "Sex Farm Woman" and "Big Bottom" redux. The shallowness of our gawker consumption of true crime podcasts is also indicated by the opening conversation that Novak's character Ben has with his friend at the party. Their supposedly rational approach to relationships sound insincere from the start, and it sets up the payoff for this film at the climax. 

Everybody in the film is excellent, but I would be remiss if I neglected to take special notice of actor Ashston Kutcher in the role of West Texas music producer Quentin Sellars, with a charismatic grasp of that job, but a warped philosophy about life. He is in two long sequences in the film and those moments both owe a debt to Robert Shaw's monologue in "Jaws". Kutcher is not quite Shaw in those moments, but he is damn good and watchable as all get out. Novak's Ben is basically Richard Dreyfuss  in the monologue sequence on the Orca. We see astonishment on his face as Kutcher pulls a greater performance out of his recording artist with a story that seems incongruent but perfectly taps the inspiration he is looking for. The growing admiration Ben feels for Quentin Sellars in this moment will be juxtaposed later in the film when the ramification of the philosophy is causally laid out in front of him by a smug and self righteous charlatan. Ben's facial expressions mirror the horror and disbelief that Hooper felt as he listened to Quint. The final reaction is priceless and justifies classifying this film as a revenge drama along side the phrase comedy/mockumentary.

There are three distinct turns that the film takes in story and tone. At first we are treated to what looks like a comedy takedown of life outside of the big city. There was plenty to laugh about and the characters don't feel too exaggerated as to make the perception feel skewed. The second section goes a long way to building a warm relationship between disparate characters and the way they approach life. I have to admit that as a transplant to Texas, I learned more about the "What-a-burger" obsession that some people here have than I have learned in my two years of living here. Unfortunately, the jurisdictional law enforcement politics hits it's mark a bit too accurately in light of the police response to the Uvalde shooting. The third section of the film, forces us to confront some ugly truths about all of the characters. Our ability for denial in the face of the truth, our willingness to emotionally betray those we care for in pursuit of our own needs are both big parts of the last act. It is however redemption, in the most unlikely Liam Neeson moment of a film called "Vengeance", that will let you love or hate this film.  I felt the climax was earned, and in the end, like a long string of revenge movies before it, "Vengeance" surprisingly earns it's title.

As writer, director and principle actor in the film, B.J. Novak has earned my respect. This is a sophisticated and balanced look at our contemporary culture. He finds the sad, meaningless relationships of modern men and destroys them. The use of stereotyping is shown to be destructive in multiple directions, finally acknowledging that sophisticates are capable of being just as blind as those in the hinterlands. The tonal shifts do come abruptly, but they come from revelations that are natural and human. Maybe the journalist/writer is a little too self confident in his interviews, but he is capable of screwing up like the rest of us and gets called out for his condescension each time. The one time that being called out for his so called selfish acts, is the mic drop moment of the film.  

 



 

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Nope

 


I was a big fan of "Get Out", Jordan Peele's feature directorial debut. His second film "Us", however, was maybe the most laughably bad movie I saw in 2019. So I was worried about which way this film was going to go. The original trailer was intriguing, but not convincing on it's own. The subsequent trailers were less inspiring and I started having big doubts about how this would all work out. I am relieved to say that the film is solid, with a good deal of suspense, a couple of good scares and some humor. The action based last act seems to come out of nowhere and it feels like a slightly different movie at that point, but not a bad different movie, just not one that feels closely tied to what came before. 

Regular visitors know that I do not regurgitate the plot of the film in these reviews and I avoid as much as possible spoiler material. I am going to share something with you however that may be interpreted as a spoiler by some, so be aware...this movie is filled with red herrings and when it is done, you may very well wonder why they were all there. This is especially true with the flashback sequences to a different horror story that is told in the movie. There is no logical reason for it's presence except as a story telling piece of legerdemain, designed to distract us at times from things that are goin on in the main plot.  It is a well told story with it's own elements of suspense and horror, but it has no relationship to the events that happen here, except both stories take place in the entertainment industry.

Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer play siblings who are part of a show business group that provide horses and wrangle them on Hollywood productions. After the mysterious death of their father (an underused Keith David), they are struggling to keep their ranch together and selling off horses that are part of the family legacy. Kaluuya plays OJ, a man who has a hard time making himself heard on set and off. Keke Palmer is his sister Emerald, who has trouble in the opposite direction, she can't turn it off most of the time. When they discover something unusual taking place in the gulch where their ranch is located, they try to find a way to use that discovery to save them from financial ruin. Down the dirt road is Ricky "Jupe" Park, played by Steven Yuen, a former child star with his foot in a different branch of the entertainment industry, and he too has plans to use the discovery to his advantage. It is the convergence of these two stories that is the only thread which brings the horror elements we are shown together. 

Because OJ is so quiet, his character starts off without much relatability. I did feel that his character grew as a presence in the story and by the end, he had earned a heroic plotline. In one of those red herring sequences in the film, he gets to play against the hard type that he is shown as, and it works as a moment of humor.  Another character, Angel, Brandon Perra, is added to the mix and he also jukes the story humor up a bit while still keeping the suspense going. The slow build first act of the film sets us up really well for the edge of our seats fear and terror of the second act. There are some big unexpected moments, and the twist of the horror/sci-fi concept is revealed and sort of interesting. Michael Wincott joins the group as a mysterious cinematographer, and I don't quite get what his actions at the end are supposed to mean, but he does tend to add a little gravitas to the last section of the film. 

So not everything in the story comes together, and the resolution feels like it came out of left field, but it was fun anyway. I think the movie does mostly what you want a horror film to do. It creates a creepy atmosphere, it tells us enough about the characters to make us care and enjoy being in their company, and it ultimately produces some thrills that are fear based and suspenseful. It's nice when a movie offers you things that you were not expecting, it just odd when those things are disconnected from the plot. Enjoy going down a few dead ends, but you will get a fine amount of entertainment from everything else. 

Monday, July 18, 2022

Cabaret Fathom Events 50th Anniversary

 


As amazing as the performances are and the staging of the musical sequences is fantastic, this movie and story are haunting in a way that is difficult to explain. As the nation of Germany is about to be swallowed up by the fanaticism of the Nazis, the decadent entertainment seems to be a distraction from the coming storm. Even when the characters acknowledge the impending doom, they can't seem to escape from the complications they are living through while the pawl of doom is closing in. 

Director Bob Fosse has made a movie musical for people who don't like movie musicals. Characters don't break out in song, unless they are on a stage, or at one point in an audience listening to a staged song. His background in theater shows as these sequences of the performers at the "Kit Kat" club, are all choregraphed with just enough vulgarity to be fitting for this kind of venue, but also enough professionalism to keep us watching closely. The stories that the film is based on sound like they focus on the decadent behavior more than the Nazi threat, and maybe the poverty of the time is not fully conveyed, but I don't think any of us living today would choose this era to live in. It is the antithesis of glamour, with the exceptions of the characters of Max and Natalia, both of whom seem to have bleak futures despite their wealth.

Liza Minnelli is of course the shining star in the film. She has an unconventional beauty at this point in her life, and her persona was perfect for the somewhat deluded Sally Bowles. I get the impression that the less we know about the real characters that were the inspiration for the stories that the play and the musical are based on, the greater we will enjoy the experience. Michael York seemed to be everywhere in the 1970s, and he was very well cast as the sexually ambiguous Brian. The uncertainty of his character about his own sexuality would be a no no in today's world, where questioning an impulse is frowned upon. In 1930s Berlin, I would imagine this difficulty was much more understandable. We should have known that the romance between Brian and Sally was doomed, but there are moments when they seem to make each other happy and more confident and that is the sort of thing that drama can thrive on. 

The editing of the musical sequence with the beat down of the maître d' of the Kit Kat Club was very clever and cinematic. I also liked the choices of audience shots for some of the songs, including the one song that is performed in front of an nearly empty cabaret. There are a few scenes of violence, and knowing what the future held, I am sorry to say that the moment that disturbed me the most involved the death of an animal rather than violence at a person. The mental cruelty of the moment hangs over the rest of the film, and I don't know how people could continue to seek pleasure in times where this was widely practiced victimization. At the moment, such horrible behavior remains the exception, although every time I look at news articles, I wonder if the fascists on the left and right are aware of how much they do come off as Nazi progeny. 

I too want to enjoy the moments of singing and dancing entertainment on the stage, but Fosse manages to make us pay for that with a guilty conscience. Joel Grey steals the stage every time he shows up, and that is frequently. In spite of the fact that he has no off stage dialogue, he is as central a character as the lovers are. It is a great performance. The Master of Ceremonies is guilty of taking the anti-Semitism of the culture very lightly and that it becomes part of the entertainment may be answers the difficulty of explaining my disquiet in the opening paragraph here. 

"Cabaret" is a terrific film, that will entertain you but also challenge your sensibilities. It is a much more complex film than some seem to realize. 
 

Saturday, July 16, 2022

The Gray Man


So before I talk about the movie itself, a little bit of background on the film, exhibitors and myself. This is an expensive Netflix production, that is getting a limited theatrical release ahead of it's debut on the Netflix steaming service. The reported budget was near $200 Million and that looks like it made it to the screen. The Directing brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, who did some of the most successful MCU films, were in charge for this show. The reason that the release is limited probably has something to do with the fact that several film chains require exclusivity to theatrical for a set amount of time, and Netflix was not prepared to accept those conditions.  AMC is one of those exhibitors who will not play a movie that is going to compete with itself, at least not after the pandemic restrictions which had call most bets off. I am happy to see a film on streaming, but I much prefer the theater experience, so when given the opportunity, I took it and traveled to a nearby town to be able to see this since it was not within a ten mile radius of where I now live. With rare exceptions, this site is devoted to the cinema experience. There is too much content on streaming for me to keep up with, and I don't want to review TV. However, since Netflix make the effort to put this in theaters and I made an effort to see it in one, it will get some attention from me here.

"The Gray Man" is a spy film, which focuses on the assets that are primarily in place to kill someone. Although there may be comparisons to Mission Impossible" or the James Bond films, this is really closer to "Atomic Blonde", "The Hitman's Bodyguard", "The Accountant" or "The Eiger Sanction", which all pretend to be spy films but are really cat and mouse games between paid killers. "The Gray Man" is not a character that works in intelligence, they do not infiltrate conspiracies to bring them to an end, there is not really much suspense in the work they do. The Gray men exist in the shadows, executing directions that have been given to them rather than forging their own path. Sierra Six, Ryan Gosling's character in this film, is basically a weapon for action, not a tool of investigation. As long as you keep that in mind, you will probably be able to enjoy this film for what it is. 

The Russos have managed, along with the screenwriters and editors, to cut the story down to the minimal outline required in order to have a plot, and then filled in that skeletal structure with as much screen action as is possible, staying just this side of the nonsense that shows up in the "Fast and Furious" franchise. There are wild shootouts in crowded locations every few minutes. There are also over the top car chases on city streets between the shootouts and while they are happening. Cars don't fly between buildings or swing from one cliff to another, but people do emerge from wrecks that would kill most of us at half the speed, and they simply jump up, dust off and get in the next ride. The foot chases are sometimes tough because of the shaky cam that is used to film them, but the car chases are problematic so often because the use of frequent close ups keeps us from observing the context and knowing what the risks are.   

There are certainly joys to be had in the overkill that is employed in providing mayhem on screen. All of that is OK for an audience interested in pyrotechnics only. Any viewers who were looking for a plausible story with characters facing consequences for their choices will be disappointed. It is as if the CIA, sent it's own forces en masse to London, to collect Julien Assange or to Moscow to get Edward Snowden, and along the way they wiped out half of the security services of those countries and there were no ramifications. That's because this movie is not about anything, it is simple a diorama for moving the toy soldiers around and blowing things up. If you have seen the MCU films the Russo Brothers have directed, you will see that they are quite capable of showing interesting mayhem. They continue to be able to do that. 

Gosling is delivering an understated character as an action hero pretty well. He keeps the sardonic quips to a minimum and provides a voice that is exhausted, injured or optimistic as the situation calls for. His co-star and fellow agent Ana de Armas, is proficient physically as she was in "No Time to Die", but her character here lacks the joyful enthusiasm of that character and she is simply another action figure without much personality or purpose. That was certainly not the actress's fault, it is the screenwriting team that left her high and dry. Chris Evans plays against type in this film, as he did with his previous effort which starred  Ana de Armas, "Knives Out". The antagonist Lloyd Hansen is a psychopath with skills but no off switch. The notion that the CIA deputy director that turns him loose had any idea what was coming, undermines the credibility of the plot. Evans is not required to do much, but his hostile passive aggressiveness, combined with actual torture, will make you hope he gets what is coming to him. As usual, the gravitas of a film he appears in is provided by Billy Bob Thornton, who in the last couple of decades has become one of my favorite on screen performers. 

This film seemed to have a stink on it before it opened. I'm not sure why. It is not great but it is certainly not a terrible picture. It is an action film that goes all in on that avenue and abandons any attempt to make us care much about who gets killed except for the two leads. If you see it in a theater, you will get your entertainment value, but not much else. 

Friday, July 8, 2022

Thor: Love and Thunder

 


While there are some references to the MCU stories, this is largely a stand alone Thor film, and it has the same vibe as "Thor Ragnarok", for the obvious reason that it was directed by the same Taika Waititi who directed that film. It is in large part successful at being amusing with some fun comedic moments, but it does not quite live up to the standard set by the earlier film. "Love and Thunder" lacks some of the elements that made "Ragnarok" work. Those missing elements are critical characters from the other stories. There is no Loki or Hulk to play against, we are provided with Valkyrie and Jane Foster, two good characters but they don't stack up well in comparison. 

The Guardians do make an appearance in this film, but it is basically an extended cameo, and they are gone within the first ten minutes of the movie. That means that the main link to the Asgardians and the events of the past is Korg, voiced by Waititi himself, as a sort of storytelling narrator, injected sometimes in odd places to provide exposition, but also present for much of the action. The device has a comic effect, but it also tends to take us out of the flow of the story, which makes the movie feel a little bit like a mess. I certainly would not get rid of the character, he is too amusing to leave out of the film, but the way he is utilized emphasizes the comedy and not the narrative. 

The plot, such as it is, concerns a being who comes into possession of the NecroSword that can slay a god. The character becomes Gorr, the God Butcher, played by Christian Bale. Initially, the story seems to be about Gorr's mission of vengeance, and there is a plot device added to make the danger seem more immense, but it turns out that the ultimate goal is a means to rectify a problem, or lay waste to all the Gods at one fell swoop. The strategy for achieving the objective involves Thor's weapon Stormbreaker which has somehow assumed the power of the Bifrost bridge. To be honest, there is a pretty clear shortcut in the story that doesn't get used, and it seems like it would have been something the God of Thunder might have considered. 

A secondary plotline, and one that is actually more engaging and dramatic, involves Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her acquisition of  Mjölnir, giving her the powers of Thor. Following this story line makes it clear why Natalie Portman was willing to return to the series after having abandoned it subsequent to "The Dark World". Jane Foster is a more interesting character here and she faces a crisis that makes the decisions she choses feel more justified. The Restored  Mjölnir, Stormbreaker and Jane, all vie for Thor's attention and the comedic bits that come from that are quite clever and character based. 

There is an extended sequence in the hysterically named Omnipotent City, where Thor and his band of heroes, implore the Gods, in particular Zeus, to aid them in fighting Gorr. This scene is mostly a plot point for humor rather than necessity. Zeus is portrayed by Russel Crowe, and he assumes an accent that is both offensive and whimsically hilarious at the same time. I have already pointed out in other films, that Crowe has been slammed by middle age weight issues, but he is still a compelling persona, even if he lacks the musculature of Hemsworth's Thor [and by the way, Chris Helmsworth looks amazing in physical form.]  This is the eighth time he has played Thor, and given the credit stingers it looks like we can anticipate some more work from the current iteration of the God of Thunder. 

My reaction is positive but not with the same level of enthusiasm I had for Ragnarok. Of the four Thor Centered films (minus the Avenger movies) this ranks above "The Dark World" but below "Ragnarok "and "Thor".  I think the movie has potential to grow on me, but for the moment this is only a mild endorsement.