Friday, May 13, 2022

Da Vinci's Demons: The Ends of the Earth Review


DA VINCI'S DEMONS: 
THE ENDS OF THE EARTH 

I was both pleased and troubled by The Ends of the Earth. There is a particular moment that, while reflective of evil, was to my mind a bit too graphic for my liking. I understand that Da Vinci's Demons is more graphic sexually and in violence than I like. However, some things are a bit too much for me to enjoy.

The wicked Pope Sixtus IV (James Faulkner) is holding his twin brother, the real Pontiff, hostage. Why not just kill him and be done with it? As children, then Francesco tried, but Alessandro survived and now the imposter thinks the good twin is unkillable. That, however, does not prevent Francesco from killing his own niece in front of her father in a flashback.

At this point, that even the "good" Pope has two daughters is something we need think on.

Lorenzo de Medici (Elliot Cowan) and Piero da Vinci (David Schofield) continue on to Naples in a plan to get aid in reversing the excommunication that Sixtus has imposed on all Florence. They are attacked by criminals and later captured by border troops. 

Over at sea, Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley) is working to keep the remaining ex-slaves from thinking they will sail off the face of the earth. He cannot convince them with his evidence of a circular Earth, so he hopes a little astronomy will help. It majorly backfires, leading to tragedy and death. However, it does lead him to find to a major discovery: the Earth revolves around the Sun, not the other way around.

In many regards, The Ends of the Earth is a good, strong episode. You have excellent performances from Riley and Faulkner in particular. Seeing Leo's discovery of the solar system is a particularly strong bit of acting. Equally so is how Sixtus IV goes all Diana Ross by not having anyone look at him, coupled with him being a good and bad twin.

However, we see here at least two things that I did not think well of. First is the whole "good twin, evil twin" bit. I might have gone for a lookalike or impersonator, but a literal evil twin? I am not impressed with what can be a bit cliche, even if Da Vinci's Demons is meant as ahistorical. 

I like villains who are villains because they enjoy being villains. To be fair it does give Faulkner a chance to show range, be sympathetic and villainous. However, the "evil twin" bit just feels off. 

Second, and more disturbing, is how we see the fake Sixtus dispatch his niece. For my mind, it was too graphic when an opaquer manner would have worked. I just dislike seeing children up to teens killed. It is curious that the mass deaths on da Vinci's ship and the killing of the bandits that waylaid Lorenzo and Piero were less graphic than the one the imposter Pope committed. 

I am much distressed by the graphic violence not just on Da Vinci's Demons but from past shows like Gotham. That, however, is perhaps for another time. Suffice it to say that for the moment, this brought the episode down.

If not for that, I would have given The Ends of the Earth a higher rating. This is especially true given that it was nice to see Leonardo actually challenged in the firmest of tones by those around him. However, this is the highest score I can muster given what I saw as needlessly graphic violence.

5/10

Next Episode: The Sun and The Moon

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Da Vinci's Demons: The Voyage of the Damned Review

 

DA VINCI'S DEMONS: 

THE VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED

Things are starting to settle in Season Two of Da Vinci's Demons, with The Voyage of the Damned setting many plots forward. Good performances and threading plots elevate this episode.

It appears that Count Riario is seeking to go against the will of his uncle Pope Sixtus IV by commanding a ship go against its original plans. However, Alfonso, Duke of Calabria (Kieran Bew) is not fooled. Riario is unmasked as Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley), trying to pull a fast one. Even though he and his friend Zoroaster (Gregg Chillin) escape, Alfonso still has control of the ship.

No worries for Leo. He creates an early version of the submarine to catch up to it and use the slaves aboard to overtake the ship. Happily helping them is Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman), despite thinking the whole thing mad. Or does he?

For his part, Pope Sixtus IV (James Faulkner) is surprisingly delighted that the Medici family has retained its hold of Florence. He is especially pleased that one of his bishops, Clarice Medici's own brother, was hung for treason. It provides him the perfect excuse to excommunicate all of Florence, which he and Lorenzo de Medici (Elliot Cowan) know will bring Florence to its knees unless the excommunication is reversed. 

As Leo and Zoroaster set out on their way-out plan, Lorenzo begins his own to save his city, much to the dislike of Leo's father Piero (David Schofield). And that's not even counting the sudden appearance of Lorenzo's half-brother Carlo (Ray Fieron), whose plans are still unclear.

One of the positive aspects of The Voyage of the Damned is its opening. It gives Riley a chance to almost spoof Blake Ritson's soft, whispery Riario. Watching, I figured there was something slightly odd about how "Riario" was shot, but the vocal manner is pretty much on the mark. 

Part of me imagines that Riley was having a grand time doing a Riario impersonation; it does also reveal that despite Da Vinci's Demons eccentric world, it is not afraid to have a little fun. 

A lot of The Voyage of the Damned was just that: fun. Boardman's Amerigo Vespucci is fun, always managing to bring enough humor without being cartoonish. James Faulkner is fun. Not in a ha-ha way, but in how he is able to play two characters with equal ease. There is the wicked Pope Sixtus IV and then there is his imprisoned twin brother.

Riley is showcasing his Leonardo as a man who takes glee at his own genius, where even the risk of drowning is more inconvenience than dangerous. Granted, he does show slight fear when his calculations on his submersible are slightly off, but only slight. Besides, knowing that he is going to live, it cannot build up the tension The Voyage of the Damned wants us to have.

We even get Alexander Siddig popping up as "The Turk", though he is the only one not having any fun. The Turk is always such a downer, unable to have a moment of levity. I do also wonder what role Carlo will have, given we have never been given a single clue to his existence. That, however, remains to be seen.

The Voyage of the Damned is a good episode, having action, a touch of danger and even a few laughs. 

8/10

Next Episode: The Ends of the Earth

Monday, May 9, 2022

Da Vinci's Demons: The Blood of Brothers Review

 


DA VINCI'S DEMONS: 

THE BLOOD OF BROTHERS

Now that Da Vinci's Demons has given us a strange destiny for our title character, we can focus back on the violence and sex of Renaissance Florence. The Blood of Brothers gives us surprising twists and even a bit of comedy among the murder and mystical mayhem.

Florence is still in the grips of chaos after the murders in the cathedral and the Pazzi coup d'état. Lorenzo de Medici (Elliot Cowan) is still hovering between life and death, but so is his frenemy Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley). Lorenzo and Leo both survive, but the former is both still critically injured and enraged at the latter schtupping his mistress.

Focus, Lorenzo, focus.

As Clarice Orsini de Medici (Lara Pulver) attempts to hold on to her family's power while literally besieged, Leo comes up with yet another brilliant idea to rally the Florentines to the de Medici cause and reject the Pazzi coup. He creates an ability for Lorenzo to broadcast his voice over the people, who instantly rally to their leader and turn violently on the Pazzis.

Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock) and Zoroaster (Gregg Chillin) survive walking the plank but cannot stop Count Riario (Blake Ritson) from sailing with the astrolabe and worse, Nico (Eros Vlahos), to a new world to find the Book of Leaves. Riario discovers the art of erotic pleasure with Zita (Estella Daniels), an Abyssinian who finds our dour figure quite desirable. In order to complete his destiny of finding the Book of Leaves and rescue Nico, Leo now embarks to catch him, with a little help from cartographer Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman).

What I enjoyed about The Blood of Brothers is that the show is allowing a little bit of comedy within the crazed metaphysical hijinks. That comes primarily from Boardman's introduction as Vespucci, the man who somehow gave a whole continent a corruption of his first name: America.

Imagine if they'd named the New World "Vespucci". 

Boardman brings a levity in his Amerigo Vespucci, a bit of a rake who fakes his death to get away from creditors. One wonders exactly how many times he has "died" to pull this off. With Boardman on board, so to speak, we can hope to see more of him in future episodes.

In some ways, The Blood of Brothers feels like two episodes tied into one. You have the resolution to the attempted coup with Lorenzo managing to rally to retake power. You then strongly transition to the new journey as Leo begins his race to follow Riario, and I give credit for being able to achieve the shift with little difficulty.

As a side note, I admire how Tom Bateman managed screen credit for appearing as a corpse. Must have been a nice paycheck to get paid for literally playing dead.

Pulver again is a standout here, as Clarice's strength and resolve dominates others who would put her down because she is both a woman and a Medici by marriage. Cowan could be slightly irritating as Lorenzo given how negative and almost coward-like he came across. Ritson is a surprise as Riario as he cavorts with Zita. One would not think he had any emotions or desires, but here he is giving in to the pleasures of the flesh.

I do question how Zoroaster and Lucrezia managed to get to shore given how it looked they were far off at sea, but I'm not going to quibble too hard on this point.

The Blood of Brothers is a step up from the last episode, as like a ship slowly correcting course. Giving us surprisingly less graphic sex than past Da Vinci's Demons episodes with a hint of the violence, I thought well of how the show is slowly moving. 

6/10

Next Episode: The Voyage of the Damned

Sunday, May 8, 2022

The Northman: A Review

 


THE NORTHMAN

One looks at The Northman with respect in that it clearly stayed within its vision, even if that vision was extremely long and not very deep. Trippy, a bit bonkers and long, The Northman is a visual, if trying, feast.

Nordic Prince Amleth rejoices at the arrival of his father King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke). Aurvandil's Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) also rejoices as does his brother Fjornil (Claes Bang). Amleth is initiated into the world of men through a psychedelic ceremony led by Heimir the Fool (Willem Dafoe), the Court Jester and mystic.

There is evil afoot, however, when Fjornil kills his brother to seize the throne and the Queen. Amleth flees swearing to avenge his father, save his mother and kill his uncle. Years later, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard), has become a fierce Scandanavian warrior, a beast inside man-flesh. Killing his way through the land of the Rus, he encounters a vision from a Seeress (Icelandic pop singer Bjork), detailing his destiny towards his stepfather/uncle.

Now hiding out among captives bound for King Fjornil's realm, Amleth hooks up with the Slavic Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy) in every way conceivable. He saves his half-brother Gunnar's life, with the royal family unaware that the long-lost prince has returned. However, far from this being a happy reunion, there are a few surprises for Amleth before the Valkyries carry him to Valhalla. 

In many ways, The Northman is not a particularly original story despite being based on the Nordic legend of Amleth. I do not think it helps that the dialogue is pretty stereotypically Norse in manner, very gruff and slightly pompous. The manner in which everyone speaks is rather grand but also slightly eccentric to modern ears. One wonders if people in pre-Christian Scandanavia spoke in such tones.

However, I do not think people will watch The Northman for an exploration into Amleth's psyche. They will go for the visuals, which are exceptional. The cinematography of this world via Jarin Blashke is beautifully rendered. The final battle between Amleth and Fjornil in what looks like literal Hel is visually arresting, a vision of fire. Even the more psychedelic scenes where Amleth has visions do not look completely bonkers.

You also revel in Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough's score, full of blood and thunder so in tune with Vikings (no pun intended).

I thought well of some of the performances, particularly Kidman as the Queen who is more than what she appears to be. In his small role, Willem Dafoe as the spooky Court Jester embraces the cray-cray. Skarsgard is not asked much of save to be the stereotypical Viking warrior and show off more of his physique.

What I did have a problem with The Northman is its two-hour plus running time. I confess I did nod off for a bit, overwhelmed by the constant visions and generally crazed manner these berserkers behaved at. I also was surprised that a few times, the audience chuckled if not flat-out laughed at some of the intonations and what appears exaggerated manners of the characters.

The Northman will, I imagine, try some people's patience in its length and violence. Perhaps it would have been better to make this a miniseries versus a feature, but in terms of production I thought well of the film. I do not know if I would watch it again, but on the whole, it works as eccentric entertainment. 

DECISION: C+

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Da Vinci's Demons: The Blood of Man Review

 



DA VINCI'S DEMONS: 
THE BLOOD OF MAN

It is a curious thing that the Season Two opener for Da Vinci's Demons kind of flubs it to give us a preview of coming attractions. The Blood of Man has not a terrible start but after the curious opening kind of struggles to get back to where I think it should.

We open with a captured Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley) and Count Riario (Blake Ritson) preparing for death in what appears to be a Pre-Columbian world. Once we are about to see their killing, we then jump back to the chaos of the murder in the cathedral.

Poor Lorenzo de Medici (Elliot Cowan): dying from his slashed throat but too obsessed that Leo has been schtupping his mistress Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock) to care about his impending death. As they escape and fight, Leo comes up with a brilliant idea: a blood transfusion. Lorenzo is in no condition to give his consent (which he probably wouldn't), but Leo gets his way. In his own weakened state, he sees things that yet may be.

The Pazzi family is attempting to complete their coup d'état while poor Zoroaster (Gregg Chillin) and Lucrezia attempt to complete Leo's original mission of sailing beyond the known world. Unfortunately, Riario gets to the ship first and gets them to walk the plank. 


I think I can appreciate what The Blood of Man was going for, but somehow this "Leo and Riario are trapped by Incans" preview cut away from the tension that The Lovers had left off with. I think it is due to knowing that from now until we get this encounter with the New World, we know they will survive. 

As such, part of me no longer feels any worry for whatever travails either of them goes through. I know they will live, so why worry about Leo's health? 

Moreover, there were other aspects of The Blood of Man that I was not following. How did Riario get to the ship first? Why did we have to go forwards six months at all? Why can't Lorenzo be sensible for once and focus on how he is dying and his family may be summarily executed versus caring about whether Leo had sexy-time with Lucrezia?

I should resign myself to knowing Da Vinci's Demons will be violent, but there is something involving an eye in The Blood of Man that I thought went a bit overboard (no pun intended). 

Still, I can't throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I think Da Vinci's Demons still has some strong performances. Riley and Cowan act exceptionally well together, and Laura Pulver as Clarice Orsini de Medici comes into her own. She ensures her daughters' safety while taking command in her husband's absence. James Faulkner is going to have a grand time playing both the wicked Pope Sixtus IV and his imprisoned brother Alessandro. 

The Blood of Man would have worked better for me if it had started when I think it should have: amidst the chaos of the assassinations versus having a slow opening scene of Incan insanity. That weakened the episode for me, but I figure things will work better as we go on.

4/10

Next Episode: The Blood of Brothers

Monday, May 2, 2022

Morbius: A Review (Review #1590)

 

MORBIUS

Without a hint of irony, I can say that Morbius is astonishing. Astonishing in that the mind boggles over how alleged professional in film could make something simultaneously bland and horrendous. Morbius is somewhere between disaster and unmitigated disaster: rushed and incomplete, boring and nonsensical, it is a low point for the comic book film genre.

As children, Michael Morbius and his friend/"brother" Lucien aka Milo suffer from a rare blood disease. Twenty-five years later Morbius (Jared Leto) is a brilliant scientist who has developed synthetic blood to treat his disease. Convinced that vampire bats can help provide a cure, he procures hundreds of them to do his mad science experiments.

Despite the trepidations of his lab partner Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), he experiments on himself. Naturally, things go awry: Morbius becomes a vampire, with extraordinary physical powers. However, the blood lust disgusts Morbius and he begins a search for a safe antidote.

Milo (Matt Smith) has no qualms about living it up as a living undead. He kills with pleasure, enjoying his newfound physical freedom. The various killings are being investigated by Agent Simon Stroud (Tyrese Gibson) and his Boy Friday, Agent Rodriguez (Al Madrigal), the comic relief. The conflict between Michael and Milo will lead to a conflict between these ersatz brothers, where not all will survive.

In the two mid-credit scenes, Adrian Toomes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe Spider-Man film Spider-Man: Homecoming ends up suddenly in this universe; as Vulture, Toomes suspects Spidey had a hand in being in this strange new world. Meeting with Morbius, he suggests an alliance.


Ah, Morbius, trying to have its cake and eat it too. I can't think of a film, at least this year, that has bungled even the most basic elements of filmmaking as this one. Just about every element in Morbius is awful that it becomes difficult to single a good thing in the film. 

It is not the acting alone. Leto makes Michael Morbius less a conflicted man than a blank figure. One would not be blamed if instead of a vampire, Morbius was revealed as a zombie given how dull Leto made him. Whether it is summoning vampires to help him fly (don't ask) or romancing Martine, he looks bored with it all. 

Sadly, almost everyone save Smith, Madrigal and Gibson followed Leto's example. Arjona and Jared Harris as Michael and "Milo's" father figure looked as if they wanted to be anywhere but here. Smith figured he was in junk and went all-in on the camp. His villain, while with little rhyme or reason (was he independently rich or dependent on Harris' Dr. Nicholas) at least had some fun with things. Madrigal overcompensated with the comic relief in a desperate effort to inject some humor into something that was taking itself far too seriously.

Gibson on the other hand, somehow managed to be accidentally funny as Stroud, someone who tried to play the situation straight but instead made the preposterous nature of Morbius more obvious.  


One can't blame the actors entirely. It is hard to make lines like "You don't want to see me when I'm hungry" any less ridiculous sounding. Matt Samaza and Burk Sharpless' screenplay gave no one except perhaps for Smith anything to really work with. The story needlessly jumps from present to past and back with no setup. We start with Morbius hunting vampires, then to his childhood, then to his sudden elevation to Nobel laureate. 

Worse, when they are in Michael and Lucien's past, here things jump more. Michael just names Lucien "Milo" because he's seen so many ill boys that he can't be bothered to remember their names, but as soon as Milo 4.0 starts dying, he suddenly becomes frantic for someone he showed total disinterest literally seconds prior. Later on, we see Milo/Lucien bullied, jump to Michael asking what will happen to Milo, then see the aftereffects of Milo's bullying.

It does not make any sense, but Morbius does not care to make sense.

The visual effects look cheap, cheaper when they hide the gore to appeal to a PG-13 crowd. Efforts to tie this to a larger universe (probably the Venom-Verse) by throwing in The Daily Bugle fall flat. It is strange that Morbius feels simultaneously rushed and slow, waiting for something to happen as it flies by.

In some ways, Morbius feels like The New Mutants: cheap, a bit flat, and without much reason for being. The difference between the two is that The New Mutants was at least more aware of its limitations than Morbius was. 

I have no interest in the ever-expanding multiverses of the various comic book films, finding things more convoluted in an effort to appeal to middle-aged teenage boys who refuse to let go of their childhoods. Morbius may be a quick fix between MCU or DCEU films, but expanding into these worlds is sucking the life out of cinema. 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

The Wobblies: A Review (Review #1589)

 

THE WOBBLIES

On this May Day, I think it would be appropriate to look at the restoration of the documentary The Wobblies. Using interviews and archival footage, The Wobblies gives a human, albeit biased, face to this labor organization that had a powerful impact on our world.

The International Workers of the World had a vision of uniting all labor under one big union, though this was unskilled labor (no accountants need apply). The nickname "Wobblies" more than likely originated from their initials, though one member recalls that it came from a "Chinaman" who could not pronounce "W" and said he was a member of "I Wobble Wobble".

For the record, the term "Chinaman" was his term, not mine. 

Unlike the other major labor union, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the Wobblies detested capitalism and could not bring themselves to cooperate with the current system. Firmly opposed to the wage system, contemptuous of the bourgeoisie, unwavering in thinking the workers should share the profits, the Wobblies struck from factories to lumber mills. The Wobblies did not discriminate, accepting all races into the union (hence the admission of the "Chinaman"). 

Hearing the experiences of those who lived through the years of the Wobblies' most prominent years, The Wobblies gives one an inside look at the members, who then were in their senior years. One discusses how she declined a date with a policeman who had fought against them. Another interviewee talks about how the lumberjacks endured not only bad food and no sleeping quarters, even the plates nailed to the table lest the workers steal them.

However, in the end public opinion turned against the Wobblies. The intensity of their tactics, down to sabotage, turned people against them. They also faced the perceptions of members as lazy (the organization's initials mockingly used to mean "I Won't Work" or "I Want Whisky"). Finally, the First World War and Palmer Raids brought the International Workers of the World from their prominence into something of a relic.

The Wobblies may have influenced the Warren Beatty epic Reds both in terms of subject and in how the latter had interviews with the surviving members. Witnesses, if you will. The Wobblies/Reds connection grows in that Roger Baldwin, an ACLU founder interviewed for Reds, serves as narrator for The Wobblies.   

Part of me wonders whether someone so biased on the subject should have been the narrator. It makes The Wobblies look more an International Workers of the World promotional video than a series of reminiscences on how things were when they faced off for their beliefs.

What I found in The Wobblies, beautifully restored, is an interesting remembrance on their life and times. These lives and times are reflected for good: a parody of In the Good Old Summertime to In the Good Old Picket Line. They are also reflected for bad: using the term "Chinaman", the use of blues and harmonica to signify the "Negro" in the IWW. 

However, The Wobblies is not a dry recitation of facts because we get the human face to this organization. Less about their socialist worldview and more about the interviewees' lives, The Wobblies is a bit dry but an interesting look into this now forgotten or little remembered world.

DECISION: B-

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Ambulance: A Review (Review #1588)


AMBULANCE

As far as popcorn films go, Ambulance is decent enough fare. This is not damning with faint praise: I was entertained by Ambulance, even if it was longer than it should have been and had bits that were both predictable and illogical. 

Iraq war veteran Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is facing hard economic times, without a job and mounting medical bills coming his way. To earn some quick money, he goes to his "brother" Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), a master criminal about to embark on his biggest banking heist ever: $32 million in a meticulously planned robbery.

Of course, even the most meticulously planned robbery will inevitably have a hitch, and that hitch is from rookie Officer Zach (Jackson White), who has been persuaded to go to that bank to get a teller's phone number. From this moment, the bank robbery spins into total chaos, more so when Zach is shot. The ambulance run by cynical but professional Cam Thompson (Eiza Gonzalez) and rookie Scott (Colin Woddell) attempts to help Zach, but Danny sees it as their way out.

From here, Ambulance becomes a frenetic chase involving the local police, Mexican criminals, the FBI and the media. As Danny and Will attempt to find a way out of their predicament, Cam attempts to keep Zach alive, and Danny's FBI frenemy Agent Clark (Keir O'Donnell) attempts to capture them with the reluctant assistance of LAPD Captain Monroe (Garrett Dillahunt), the all-day chase has various people dying amidst the chaos and carnage.

I do not think a film has embraced its gleeful level of destruction as much as Ambulance. Chris Fedak's adaptation of the Danish film Ambulancen does not waste time giving us in-depth details about the myriad of characters zooming and zipping along. Instead, we get the core basics via visuals and dialogue.

We know Will is facing financial hardship and family health issues via the bills and his inability to reach a person to talk to on the phone. We know Cam is professional but aloof through her demeanor with the patients and her latest EMT partner. We know Zach is a rather shy, bumbling man from how he interacts with his partner and the cute teller he's got his eye on. As such, we are free to focus on what Ambulance thinks is the important thing: the action.

I am neither a Michael Bay fan nor hater. While suffering through Hour Two of Pearl Harbor, I was rooting for the Japanese, but thought highly of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. I think it is important to judge a film based on what it is trying to do, hence my hatred for Pearl Harbor and love for 13 Hours. Ambulance is meant to be a wild action film where things go from Point A to Point B. 

It succeeds in that effort, so it is an entertaining film. I can't go so far as to say it is a good film, but it is an entertaining one. Ambulance goes for broke in the action department, throwing all sorts of explosions and shoot-outs with naked abandon. These are enhanced by the camera work, which delights in flying all around with surprisingly impressive shots. 

The frantic style in Ambulance shows in Gyllenhaal's performance. Here, he devours the scenery with a manic, crazed glee. We find no subtlety or restraint to Danny. Gyllenhaal embraces the crazed manner with joy in a performance I found weirdly captivating. To be fair both Abdul-Mateen and Gonzalez did work hard to be a bit more grounded, even if grounded is one thing Ambulance is not. Nevertheless, they kept things from spinning into full-on camp.

It is interesting that O'Donnell's Agent Clark is gay without it being a major issue. We first see him in couples therapy with his partner, and he casually mentions that fact when asked where he was. In Ambulance, we have that call for "representation" answered but with it being only an aspect of O'Donnell's life, not the sum total of it. 

That positive, however, is countered with the continued use of Hispanic characters being criminals. It would have been nice to see Latinos not shown as gang members, so there is that. We also have the issue with length and logic. In the former, Ambulance seems to go on longer than it should as we get certain familiar beats (the final confrontations, the person who comes closest to killing Will). In the latter, I kept wondering why after fooling the LAPD and FBI, Danny and Will opted to keep Cam and Zach hostage rather than escaping and letting them go.

Other parts, like men in their forties claiming not to know who "Doogie Howser" is, and a Christopher Cross Sailing singalong are not funny but dumb.  

All things being fair, I think people will enjoy Ambulance as good entertainment that just wants to bathe us in blood and action. 

DECISION: B-

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Bull Durham: A Review

 

BULL DURHAM

As per tradition I now review a baseball-themed/related film to coincide with the Minor League Opening Day in El Paso. This year's film is a romantic comedy that blends love both romantic and athletic.

There are two kinds of players in the Minor League system. There are the young, hungry men biding their time until they are called up to "The Show" (aka the Major Leagues). Then there are the older but still hungry men who either have made it to the Majors or are for whatever reason still falling short and starting to see their chances slip away. Bull Durham takes us into this world, one where matters of the heart metaphorically and sometimes literally collide with fastballs. 

Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) is a baseball groupie, taking on one player from the Durham Bulls minor league team as her lover for the season. She calls it her own personal spring training. This season, she finds two prospects.

There's Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), a pitcher with what is described as "a million-dollar arm and a five-cent brain". Then there is LaLoosh's polar opposite: Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), a veteran catcher who has skimmed the edge of the The Show but for twenty-one glorious days has never entered this rarefied world. He has been brought in to help LaLoosh control his wild pitching style to get him to The Show. Annie and Crash do their own versions of training Ebby, now nicknamed "Nuke", but while Annie continues her affair with Nuke, she is also fighting an attraction to Crash.

She, devoted to baseball, knows that Crash is close to having the record for most home runs in the minor leagues. Crash, however, sees nothing great in what he considers a dubious record. Crash helps Nuke get to The Show, but with his purpose gone, Crash now finds himself out. Annie and Crash find that perhaps getting a grand slam is possible with each other as Nuke enters the literal big leagues.

Bull Durham is many films all in one. It is a comedy, a romance, a drama and a sports film. A fan of all these genres will find something to enjoy in the film, and writer/director Ron Shelton blends them perfectly. It is a credit to Shelton's writing and directing that Annie's voiceover works, never explaining the story but instead giving her viewpoint and hers alone.

Many films, sadly, use voiceover to move the plot forward. Bull Durham, conversely, uses voiceover merely to give one character's perspective without diminishing the Crash/Nuke story.

Bull Durham has three exceptional performances. Robbins is spot-on as the dimwitted Nuke, vapid and vain who thinks owning a Porshe and having sex is what makes him successful. A man so unaware of things that he refers to Edith Piaf that Annie listens to as "that crazy Mexican lady", Robbins excels at the arrogant but eventually somewhat more aware Nuke.

Costner is by no means playing a "grizzled veteran", especially given he was only 33 when Bull Durham was released. He instead plays a still-young, eager man aware of life and aware whatever hope he has to get back to the Majors is fast slipping. Near the end of the film he yells at Nuke, "I got brains, but you got talent," acknowledging his fate to be wise but to not have everything to move up. 

He has a weariness in his performance mixed with a sharp intelligence and a still strong sexual drive. Crash does not want sex without love, wryly telling Annie that he has been around too long to try out for it. Costner has incredible delivery in his dialogue, making Sherman's script sound authentic and natural.

It might be cliche to say that Sarandon is "sensual" and "flirtatious" as Annie, but she does showcase a pretty sexually charged character. However, along with Annie's brazen manner, Sarandon also shows quite a bit of humor, even naivete as Annie. Her attempts to seduce Nuke away from his abstinence by propping up her leg at him is hilarious. Every time she remarks on something with "Oh my" showcases a woman who can still be surprised, who might not be as sophisticated and worldly as she thinks she is. 

Sarandon's Annie is also a woman of culture, able to quote William Blake. Annie, perhaps curiously, is also a baseball devotee, able to find the weakness in a player's form both athletically and physically. What can one say about a woman who reads Walt Whitman as foreplay? That she knows a man will endure something he finds tedious in the hopes of a tryst shows Annie is aware of how men think, but in her own way, Annie is sweet, a mentor to younger players and just as vulnerable to love as those she plays with.


Bull Durham allows for smaller moments and baseball eccentricities, such as players' various superstitions or that mix of anticipation and frustration about their careers to come through. It is well-supported by smaller roles such as Trey Wilson's much-harried team manager who gives the simple advice about how to play baseball.

"You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball". 

Bull Durham is a great love story of two people who know a good thing when they see it, even if sometimes their own views collide with how to handle a talented but dumb prospect. It is also a love letter to minor league baseball: the long road trips, the smaller crowds, the events to draw local audiences in. These players, who dream of getting to The Show, keep grinding away, with only that dream of moving up keeping them just at the edge of the majors. 

See it as a romance, a comedy, a romantic comedy, a wise sports film or a drama of dreams fulfilled and unfulfilled. Bull Durham keeps them all balanced, with strong performances and a firm understanding of that lesser-known world of Minor League Baseball. It is a Show unto Itself, and Bull Durham is a delight from start to finish.

DECISION: A+

2017 Opening Day Film: Eight Men Out
2018 Opening Day Film: Fear Strikes Out

2019 Opening Day Film: Ladies' Day

2020 Opening Day Film: Mr. 3000

2021 Opening Day Film: Alibi Ike


Monday, April 11, 2022

Da Vinci's Demons: The Complete First Season. An Overview

 


DA VINCI'S DEMONS: 

SEASON ONE OVERVIEW

If there is one thing about Da Vinci's Demons that can easily be said, it is that it is not very interested in history. Instead, it is using historic figures to present an alternate history, one that has fact and fantasy blend throughout. 

The first season sets up a long thread about the Sons of Mithras, a secret society that tasks Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley) to find the mythical Book of Leaves, a hidden source of esoteric knowledge. Da Vinci, an arrogant genius, is more than up to the task. However, he has two issues to contend with.

The first is the machinations of the Vatican, headed by the villainous Pope Sixtus IV (James Faulkner) and his more villainous nephew Riario (Blake Ritson). The second is the machinations of the Medici family, headed up by Lorenzo (Elliot Cowan), whom da Vinci has wormed his way into. Leo has also wormed his way into the bed of Lorenzo's mistress, Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock), who happens to be both a Vatican spy and Riario's cousin.

Over the course of eight episodes, Da Vinci's Demons packs a lot of its story within it. I was surprised at how one episode could have so much going on, with only The Devil feeling like a bit of filler. To be fair though, it is hard to have a Dracula vs. Leonardo da Vinci episode without making it sound and play slightly ridiculous.

The sheer lunacy of the various plots and counterplots, blended with magical, mystical elements is what makes Da Vinci's Demons entertaining. It should not be taken completely seriously. Yes, the show wants us to embrace the story and characters, but it also wants us to escape into flights of fantasy.

Da Vinci's Demons is aided by a first-rate cast. Tom Riley seems almost made for the lead role: a brilliant man aware of his own brilliance. His character's habit of moving his fingers as he thinks demonstrates a strong level of method in his madness, and it is almost endearing. Haddock's Lucrezia is sharp, erotic, villainous and sympathetic all at once. Tom Bateman's Guiliano de Medici gives Riley a run for his money as the hunk, but he also makes Giuliano's frustrations at playing second fiddle to his older brother relatable.

Major credit should also be given to Ritson's Riario, who almost never shifts from his calm, sotto voce delivery. His habit of speaking softly and menacingly is what makes his crazed, almost unhinged manner in the Season One finale The Lovers all the more shocking. Faulkner too knows how to use his growling voice to great effect as the Unholy Father, and as a side note, the term "naked homicidal Pope" is one I thought I would never write.

The supporting cast ranging from Gregg Chillin's devoted friend Zoroaster to Allan Corduner's forever harried Andrea Verrocchio, Leo's artistic employer, gives the show welcome bits of light moments. They are not comic relief but do lighten the somewhat esoteric goings-on. 

There are two points in Da Vinci's Demons that I do dislike. The first is the graphic nature of the show in sex and violence. As this is Starz, the show has more leeway in what it can show. However, there were times when the gore was far too much for my own tastes. Second, I thought the nudity was more than I thought necessary. 

The second was in the exposition dialogue that seemed to plague so many Season One episodes. Too often in my view, dialogue was created to move the plot forward, attempting to explain things rather than let the situation and action do that. Again and again we had characters tell us what was going on versus showing us.

I think the latter is not as important as the former in my enjoyment of Da Vinci's Demons. There was particularly in the violence a more graphic tone that I like and am comfortable with. However, I figured this was going to happen here, so I did not go in with eyes fully closed. On the whole, I think Season One of Da Vinci's Demons will appeal to those who like fantasy and history blended.

With a little sex in it, or in this case, a lot of sex in it.

Season Two Episode One: The Blood of Man

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Moonfall: A Review


MOONFALL

Even by the schlocky standards that Moonfall is aiming at, I found that if not for one fatal flaw, I would have been able to forgive much. However, Moonfall went one step too far in its horrible execution that I could not forgive. 

Ten years after a space accident that got a fellow astronaut killed, disgraced former astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) is broke, depressed and barely hanging on. His now-adult son Sonny (Charlie Plummer) is in jail, but while Sonny's mother Brenda (Carolina Bartczak) frets, Sonny's stepfather Tom Lopez (Michael Pena) is not too concerned.

Brian's former astronaut partner Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry) could not verify his story that they were attacked from something versus the accident being Brian's fault. She, however, has stayed on at NASA and has her own problems domestic and galactic. The galactic ones are bigger due to the Moon starting to shift orbit. 

This was seen by eccentric science aficionado KC Houseman (John Bradley), who is convinced that the Moon is really a hollow superstructure. Turns out, he's right. Now KC, Brian and Jo join forces to fight the evil sentient machines bent on destroying humanity through the Moon. All this while we pop into the chaos the Earth is enduring, along with the various domestic issues that Houseman, Fowler and Harper face on our lonely planet.

I think that Moonfall took some inspiration from Ancient Aliens given that we discover that humans are descendants of aliens who planted us here. Again, I have to think that no one involved with Moonfall expects us to take any of this seriously. At least I suspect that is the case given how director/cowriter Roland Emmerich (writing with Harald Kloser and Spencer Cohen) crafted the film.

How else to explain a character say, "The Moon is going to help us!" without having audiences or actors burst out laughing. I genuinely cannot remember if this was said by Jo or KC, and to a point it does matter. KC is meant as the comic relief: the somewhat socially inept conspiracy theorist who takes selfies of himself in space and named his cat "Fuzz Aldrin". If he says, "The Moon is going to help us!", it keeps to his wackiness. 

However, if it is Jo who said it (and my memory says so), it just makes poor Halle Berry look foolish. Granted, I think she knew Moonfall was schlock and decided to try and make it a drama anyway. I do, however, feel that given her performance she could not muster any enthusiasm for either leaning in on Moonfall's goofy camp element or going all-in on making this remotely serious. 

It almost looked like she knew she was trapped in trash and just wanted to get through it.

Patrick Wilson is someone I am despairing for. I do think he has talent, but now I think his primary acting style consists of looking forever confused.

This, coincidentally, is the second film with John Bradley that I have seen in as many days (he played Jennifer Lopez's manager in Marry Me). At least here he had more to do and embraced the apparently looney but endearing Houseman. He, for whatever faults Moonfall has, at least played it like a comedy.

The unfortunate thing is that Moonfall itself did not know whether to lean in on the camp or work to play any of this seriously. It was becoming more and more laughable that Harper and crew kept meeting one disaster after another. These guys simply could not catch a break. The same can be said for the various figures left on Earth: Houseman's elderly Alzheimer's affected mother, Jo's young son, Brian's adult son, Sonny's stepfamily.

No matter the circumstance, things simply never went right for any of them. Moonfall throws in pretty useless moments such as crazed survivalists that probably wandered off Greenland and a space race that was left over from Geostorm. Yes, the latter was awful but at least I could laugh at it. The former was bad but at least it made an effort.

Moonfall did neither: not funny enough to laugh at/with, not making an effort to move past the awful cliches and bad performances. Not one of the actors save perhaps for Bradley were bothering with this, and most look embarrassed to be there. Some of the actors, fortunately were there so briefly that their deaths had no impact.

Not since I was asked to cry over a brontosaurus left to die on a pier in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom have I found efforts to make me cry so wildly misguided.

As dumb and illogical as Moonfall was, I was ready to forgive most its flaws to be more charitable. Then it happened: the bane of my cinematic experiences. It hinted that there would be a sequel.

That, I could not forgive or forget. I despise whenever a film suggests there will be a sequel. This is not like Dune, when I already know the story is so massive that a sequel was more than likely. This is something else: a vain, arrogant suggestion that I would not only endure this idiocy but that I would want more of this idiocy.

It was at that point that I threw my hands up in the air and said, "No, No, No". There really is nothing in Moonfall to recommend a second helping. There's hardly anything to recommend a first helping for that matter.

The effects were cheap looking, there is no sense of urgency in what is meant to be a literal life-or-death crisis, secondary characters came and went with nary a rhyme or reason, and the main characters were dull as dishwater save perhaps for Bradley's Houseman.

Moonfall plays like a bad SyFy Channel production without the wink-wink manner that could make it worth the time. I know people can enjoy Moonfall given how the very small audience applauded the end. However, now I wonder if they applauded it because it was over. 

DECISION: F

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Marry Me: A Review (Review #1585)

 

MARRY ME

I am pretty forgiving film reviewer in that I judge a film based on what it is trying to do versus some grand level of "art". As such, I can look at something like Marry Me with a more tolerant eye than others. Marry Me is fluff, pretty forgettable and in some ways not good. However, it is what it set out to be: fluff, pretty forgettable and in some ways not bad.

Music superstar Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) is set to marry fellow music superstar Bastian (Maluma) live in concert after singing their new smash hit Marry Me. Math teacher Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson) has the vaguest of ideas who Kat Valdez is. He, however, is roped into going to this concert/wedding for his daughter Lou's (Chloe Coleman) sake. 

Just as J-Lo, or Kat, is about to take the stage in a lavish wedding dress, she finds out via social media that Bastian had a fling with her personal assistant. Devastated, she begins rambling until she spots a man holding a "Marry Me" sign and agrees to marry him instead. That man? Charlie.

For reasons Charlie agrees to the charade of a marriage while he and Kat attempt to sort out their lives. It should not come as a surprise what happens to Mr. and Mrs. Valdez as their worlds clash: she of perpetual media exposure, he who is so disdainful of social media he still has a flip phone and rarely checks his email. Things culminate when Kat has to decide whether to sing with Bastian when Marry Me receives a Grammy nomination or go to the Mathalon in Peoria to support Charlie and Lou.

I think I was misled when it came to Marry Me. I was led to think it was an abomination. I found it to be merely inept but harmless. Is it preposterous down to bizarre? Yes. Is it poorly acted? Pretty much. Is it in some ways downright creepy? Also, yes. Despite that, I still did not hate Marry Me, even if at least one thing was a bit of a sticking point.

Maluma is 28. Jennifer Lopez is 52. Marry Me is asking us to accept that Bastian is hot and heavy with a woman old enough to be his mother.  I would find the age gap creepy if Maluma were 52 and J-Lo 28, and I imagine there might be more criticism on that matter if the ages were reversed. I do not know if having the woman be older than the man makes things better, but it does stretch believability to something already pretty preposterous.

For the record, Owen Wilson is 53.

What I found in Marry Me is dumb escapism that had the opportunity to be more than what it ended up being, but not a nightmare to sit through. In fact, if you accept the preposterous premise and do not bother to think on things, you could enjoy Marry Me for its cliches and lack of thought.

This comes through in the performances. In what might be a curious criticism, Jennifer Lopez seems too smart to play Kat with any sense of seriousness. Part of it comes from the John Rogers, Tami Sagher and Harper Dill adaptation of Bobby Crosby's graphic novel. Sometimes Kat is sensible and realistic, such as when she attends a school dance with Charlie. Other times she is a blinking idiot: when arriving at Peoria, she is astonished to find no car waiting for her.

I do not know why Kat's apparent inability to function without flunkies keeps getting brought up but given that she is more than capable of making business decisions solo it does not make sense to make her sometimes into an airhead. Moreover, Lopez overplays the comedy bits, exaggerating things to unbelievable levels.

Add to that the idea that "Kat" is pretty much the "J-Lo" persona and one wonders whether the real J-Lo was used to the best of her abilities.

Wilson does not shift from his apparent dazed and confused persona either. Charlie at times can come off as cruel and contemptuous of Kat, dismissing her work and constant media presence without realizing that for her, it is all part of her career.  Maluma is not an actor, and I will be frank in that like Charlie, I have the vaguest idea who he is. As he was not called on to do much other than sing and talk, he did well in both of those.

Marry Me is not terrible. It is dumb, implausible and more than a bit absurd. However, like Kat, it only wants to be loved. I genuinely could think of films I found less than entertaining, even some held up as a turning point in cinema. By no means "good", Marry Me is not "bad" enough for me to dislike. I would say it is a bad romp, but a romp in any case. If you do not ask much of it, you can get through Marry Me with mild enjoyment.

DECISION: C+

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

100 Years of Men in Love: The Accidental Collection. The Television Documentary


100 YEARS OF MEN IN LOVE: THE ACCIDENTAL COLLECTION

There may have been once a love that dare not speak its name, but said love dared to be photographed. 100 Years of Men in Love: The Accidental Collection, based on the book Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love 1850s-1950s, is brief and perhaps a bit dry. However, it is a good primer to this somewhat hidden world of men who went surprisingly far in revealing their same-sex attraction long before Stonewall burst gay life out into the open.

Longterm partners Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell came upon a curious photograph in an antique shop: two men in what appeared to be suggesting they were more than friends. They became intrigued by the idea that long before the openness about homosexuality, gay men could or would be daring enough to be pictured with their romantic or life partners. From that one picture, Nini and Treadwell began scouring antique shops searching for this lost history and reclaiming it.

A knowing glance, a hand on a leg, two bodies close together, sometimes in bed, down to men locking lips. Here was a hereto unknown world, one where a man could not only express love towards another man but be willing to be captured forever on film doing so. As we go hither and yon from 1870 to World War II, the photographs sometimes speak for themselves.

Loving: The Nini-Treadwell Collection

Others, however, are not as clear cut, and here is where 100 Years of Men in Love may be flawed. While some of the photographs have writings on the back that strongly indicate the subjects were lovers, most do not. As such, it is impossible to verify exactly what the nature of the relationship was between them.

Were they long-term partners? Were they briefly lovers? Was it a one-sided love affair? Were they really heterosexuals? I think Nini and Tredwell are aware that there is an ambiguity in that we are not privy to the majority of the backstories. They acknowledge as much when they mention at the end that they have levels or degrees of certainty. There is a no ambiguity when the photo has two men kissing each other, but when I saw some of the photographs, I did not get the sense that the men were lovers or even same sex attracted.

One well-known photograph series is of two young men who hold up a sign stating, "Not married but willing to be". The suggestion is that the two men want to marry each other, but is that the case? One can also draw a conclusion that they are offering themselves to women. Another photograph from their session does suggest the subjects were more than friends, but outside of a seance there is no way to know for sure.

As a side note, the images of the famous gay lovers Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas that I have seen hardly suggest the ardent passion between them. 

Even those photos that have inscriptions can have ambiguous meanings. One read "George Thompson and a buddy, 1940. Here's one of both of us before we were...well, you know". Therein lies the issue: we don't know. We can think their relationship went beyond friendship, but could it not also mean "before I came out to him, and he said No"? Could it not also mean "before we had a falling out"? 

Other images, such as the ones the film suggests was the first same-sex wedding, may not be as the photographer and subjects intended.

Loving: The Nini-Treadwell Collection

Granted, I come at this from a heterosexual perspective where images of heterosexual affection were in abundance. However, are some of the photographs a case of seeing what one wants to see versus what actually was? On some of the photographs I think even Nini, Treadwell and director/voiceover reader David Millbern would concede that things may not be as we see.

I did wonder if perhaps we are applying 21st Century ideas to 19th Century images. In the same way that the now-controversial photos Lewis Carroll took of children are seen by some as de facto child pornography, could some of these photographs now interpreted as revealing same-sex love be nothing more than good friends reflecting the ideas of their time? 

Loving: The Nini-Treadwell Collection
We will probably never get a definite answer to that.

However, 100 Years of Men in Love has some striking images that are practically pieces of art. We even learn that the selfie is not a new idea: a 1902 photograph of two men was done in such a way as to allow the subjects to see themselves as they were photographing themselves. 

Another interesting point is how many of the photographs have the subjects under umbrellas. Nini and Treadwell wonder whether umbrellas were a hidden sign for gay, the rainbow flag of the era so to speak.

100 Years of Men in Love: The Accidental Collection does at times play like a commercial for the Loving book. It is unfortunate that a long segment about a closeted World War II veteran who had a long-term relationship with a fellow soldier he met while serving did not have that soldier's family speak. It would be interesting to get more than these faces and learn about their lives.

On the whole though, 100 Years of Men in Love: The Accidental Collection has some beautiful images and does touch on how love between two men has never been truly hidden, merely obscured.  

DECISION: B-

Monday, March 21, 2022

Behind the Door (1919): A Review (Review #1584)

 


BEHIND THE DOOR

In the early days of film, the First World War was a dominating subject. Two of the first three Best Picture winners revolved around the war (Wings and All Quiet on the Western Front) and there were other films that dealt with the war. Behind the Door was slightly behind the times in that it premiered after the war's end, but it touches on subjects that still resonate today.

Broken World War I veteran Oscar Krug (Hobart Bosworth) returns to his Maine hometown, into a world far different from what he knew. Going back to 1917, we see that despite being a second-to-third generation American, Krug is suspect because of his German ancestry and his mother's German birth. He however is able to stand up against everyone in town, and his former enemy Bill McTavish (James Gordon) now joining him to enlist.

They now serve on the USS Perth, but there's a stowaway: Alice Morse (Jane Novak), whom Krug secretly married. She is hidden by the nurse's group with the hopes of disembarking at the next port, but a German U-boat has taken the ship down. Alice and Oscar have survived, but evil German captain Brandt (Wallace Beery) has taken Alice prisoner, leaving Oscar to float off. However, Oscar manages to survive. Now with a new command, Krug reencounters Brandt, who does not remember Krug. Brandt delights in recounting Alice's cruel fate, unleashing Krug's fury. Now Krug has a chance to enact his own revenge, harkening back to his time as a taxidermist. 

It is a sad note that the condition of many silent films makes them hard to watch. Behind the Door is no exception, for the version we have now is patched together from three separate sources. Even then, sometimes we see the damage dominate the center of the film. As such, it makes it hard to see. 

However, once we accept the damage will be there, we see that Behind the Door is a very strong film. Some of the visual moments showcase beautiful moments, particularly with the title cards. When a mob comes to attack Krug, we read "Somebody get a rope and start the tar to boil" accompanied by an image of a burning noose. When we see title cards as Oscar and Alice are adrift, we see the text almost float in the water.

We even get a little bit of fourth wall breaking when Beery gives us a quick glimpse when we first see him. I almost expected him to try and twirl his mustache. I put that down to a theatrical background where audiences could boo the villains.

Behind the Door is simultaneously progressive and regressive in its portrayals. It does well in showing German-Americans as loyal, patriotic people (would that films made in World War II done the same for Japanese-Americans, though to be fair a few films did). However, we get the EVIL Germans, where we see them be sexually rapacious, violating innocent American womanhood.

Behind the Door did well is that it managed to show just enough without being overtly graphic. The audience sees Alice slipping into the darkness while the German sailors swallow her up, and we can imagine the horror of Krug's cruel vengeance. We do not need the film to be overt to be filled with horror.

The film does have some issues when it comes to the acting. It does have some of that almost cartoonish silent film acting style that looks over-the-top nowadays. Of particular note is Bosworth, who at times lets his shaking fists do his acting for him. Novak was very pretty and her acting did not slip into theatrics. There were some moments that came close but not full-on grand.

Gordon's McTavish did strong work, shifting from antagonist to friend. Beery also did well as the brutal Brandt to where he was almost sympathetic in the end. His last moments, the look of horror in his face, were well-acted.

The film is also quite beautiful in certain moments.

Behind the Door, not remembered now, might be worth a remake. Sad to say that the themes of brutality and revenge in war are still relevant. While the film is itself sad, we do get a nice moment to close this tale, a curiously optimistic moment in this tale of woe.

DECISION: B+

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Everything Everywhere All at Once: A Review


EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE

I confess to struggling with the title of Everything Everywhere All at Once. The movie, on the other hand, is surprisingly simple despite the seemingly whacked-out premise. A film that works on two levels, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a wild, frenetic ride that while perhaps long is still funny, action-packed and heartwarming.

Harried launderette owner Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is facing a myriad of issues on this day. She is being audited by the IRS for various business expenses; she has her father Gong Gong's (James Hong) birthday party to finalize, a party to which her openly lesbian daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) wants to bring her girlfriend Becky to. She also is unaware her husband Wayne (Ke Huy Quan) is filing for divorce. 

Evelyn is at the IRS office, and while the sardonic auditor Diedre (Jamie Lee Curtis) is curtly dismissing a karaoke machine as a business expense, Evelyn finds herself amidst the most surreal and insane mission. Wayne insists he is really another version of Wayne from another universe, and that this Evelyn, from this universe, has to summon the resources of the other Evelyns from other universes to defeat the villain Jobu Tobaky. Jobu can see "everything, everywhere, all at once", making her dangerous.

It is unfortunate that Jobu Tobaky has the form of Joy. As Evelyn struggles between this universe and the other multiverses crashing hither and yon, she glimpses what the other Evelyns did if they had taken different routes from the path she took. Eventually, the Evelyn from this universe finds the strength to save her world.

Everything Everywhere All at Once pushes things between silly and sincere, bouncing from a world where mankind developed hot dogs for fingers to where mankind evolved into rocks that can talk without speaking. The movie excellently shifts from people laughing at poor Evelyn being overwhelmed by the mad goings-on and almost tearing up when alternate Evelyns see that different roads would not have brought her happiness.

At heart, Everything Everywhere All at Once, stripped of its wild even crazed action sequences, is about accepting life as it is versus how one would have wanted it to be. It uses the trappings of science fiction and action to deliver a moving message: life is indeed what one makes of it. 

Writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Schienert (who style themselves "The Dans") are sharp in how they crafted the film. The ironically named 'Joy', the mixing of humor and pathos (Evelyn telling Wayne she should have rejected him being funny and sad) and the blending of the various multiverses all work to make this a surprisingly optimistic story.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is about the choice to give in to fatalism, apathy and hopelessness (which Jobu Tobaky/Joy does) and maintaining a hope that this world, this life still has moments of genuine happiness (as the gentle Wayne insists). The film puts these surprisingly deep ideas about existentialism vs. optimism within a wild series of action pieces and out-of-this-world locales.

The performances were all excellent. Michelle Yeoh is an international treasure, and Everything Everywhere All at Once gives her perhaps her greatest showcase to reveal the exceptional talent she is. It certainly gives her a chance to showcase her action prowess, but it also gives her moments of comedy and drama to which reveal an actress. Whether expressing confusion to irritation at having to be dragged into this lunacy or showing the glamourous film star from another multiverse regretting her lost love, Yeoh dominates the film with a delightful brilliance.

Quan too balances the more comedic elements of the slightly bumbling Wayne with the more action-oriented Alpha Wayne. He even is allowed to show a more elegant side when he is the suave Wayne in another multiverse. Hsu mostly kept to one mode (sullen) but given that was the character it was a good turn. It is also wonderful to see the living legend Hong get in on the action, playing both villain and gentle. Curtis was wild as one of Jobu Tobaki's figures, astonished at what she can do as an action figure.

There were elements that I did not think were necessary, making Everything Everywhere All at Once long. While I got the Ratatouille/Racoon-Tootie joke, I did not think it was necessary (for the record, I have not seen Ratatouille but know the gist of the plot). The elements around Diedre's awards to my mind were vulgar and unnecessary. I know the audience found it funny, but I found it coarse. 

Minor points though, as Everything Everywhere All at Once was simultaneously wild, funny, adventurous and remarkably moving.

DECISION: B+