Amsterdam

Amsterdam is packed full of amazing actors with good performances all trying to swim above a drowning storyline. It’s like they have no idea what movie they were making and the editors do nothing to help them out.

The first few scenes hold promise, especially with Christian Bale as Dr. Burt Berendsen. He’s a veteran of the war and constantly testing new medicines and procedures to help other ailing veterans. His injuries include the loss of an eye, and the need to wear a painful back brace. When lawyer Harold Woodman (John David Washington) calls on Berendsen to assist on an autopsy, it’s clear the two have a past relationship. However, we’re still uncertain where they’re headed now. Suddenly Taylor Swift appears as Liz Meekins. It’s painful to see her trying her best. Soon enough they have her singing an awkward song before she is abruptly removed from the plot.

What happens next is a messy whodunit mystery with so much starpower that every scene feels like a battle between leading actors. At least we get the pleasure of the flashback to Amsterdam where Berendsen and Woodman first meet Nurse Valerie (Margot Robie). If there is any magic that they hope to inspire, it happens here.

The rest of it? I mean when we’re back in current times we get Rami Malek as Tom Voze with dilated eyes and a creepy distant-to-the-scene vibe. Then his wife Libby (Anya Taylor-Joy), is stiff and a nuisance, really. Unfortunately most of the characters are unexceptional and so dry you really have to reach to get that they’re being funny. I have this sensation that they did scenes in one take.

The plot is full of too many themes to pick just one. There’s nothing satisfying about the story. Robert Dinero is great, of course. The three leads are good, just didn’t feel like they had much to go on. So many others in the mix, too- including Mike Meyers, Chris Rock, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough…what a wild cast! I expected more.

Don’t Worry Darling

The drama and controversy surrounding Don’t Worry Darling’s cast and director probably didn’t do this movie any favors. Rumors swirled around a train wreck of a shoot with shouting arguments on set, favoritism, and rifts between cast members. TikTok users fueled the off-the-rails press tour with scandalous commentary about who spit on who, and who won’t look someone in the eye. I mean, with all of this – of course we want to see this movie. However, so much hype can lead to disappointment at best.

So what’s Don’t Worry Darling even about? Well, it’s a familiar story you’ve probably seen bits of before. It takes place in an idyllic mid-century modern town called Victory where all the husbands uniformly drive off to work at the secretive Project Victory, (to change the world), leaving the desperate housewives home to cook and clean, shop, take ballet lessons, and gossip with the other ladies.

Visually, Victory is quite beautiful if you’re into that Edward Scissorhands kind of vibe, as I am. Also nice to look at are Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack Chambers (Harry Styles). The story focuses on their mostly satisfying life, yes she does the cooking, yes she does the cleaning…like every day. And she is there waiting, cocktail in hand, when he arrives home. Sometimes dinner can wait – or can just be shoved off the table for a gratuitous – yet very hot – lovemaking scene.

We get our first glimpse of Chris Pine as the charismatic leader of Project Victory at a cocktail party at his house. He’s gloriously menacing, awkwardly in control. It’s obvious to us something is off, but when one of the housewives questions him publicly, Alice takes notice. The more curious she gets, the more she spirals downward. She starts to hallucinate with a hot mess of haunting images that disrupt her routine alongside a tune she just can’t get out of her head.

Olivia Wilde plays Alice’s neighbor, Bunny and she also directed the film. Her character is mostly subtle until the predictable turning point near the end. I struggled with the random and disjointed imagery as the plot unraveled. You could call it a twist – but not in the sense of – Oh wow, I didn’t know that was happening! It’s more like – Wait, what? Why? Some scenes feel pushed together in post to over explain some anti-misogyny message which I already kind of had in the beginning. You know, because the title is Don’t Worry Darling. I get it. Also, I saw WandaVision and Stepford Wives.

Harry Styles? I was pleasantly surprised! Certainly did not feel like his first acting gig even with the oddly long dance scene. Gemma Chan (Shelley) is a force. A pregnant Kate Berlant (Peg) made me laugh especially with all of the cocktails and cigarettes. Florence Pugh though – she is bigger than this movie. Maybe that’s why everything got so heated. I can still hear her breath in my ear.

God’s Country

When I hear the phrase God’s Country, I lean into an image of an expansive and lush prairie with streams and wildlife and maybe a pretty mountain range in the distance. Instead, this film takes us to a cold, snow-covered small town in Montana. The kind of place you might escape to if you wanted to be away from people.

Thandiwe Newton plays Sandra, a professor at the local university. Her mother who she was caring for has just passed, leaving Sandra alone in the valley to wrestle with her past and tackle new troubles.

When Sandra discovers a couple of hunters using her land without permission, she is quietly discontent. She attempts to ask nicely for them to stop (once), but they continue to park on her property. This does not sit well with Sandra, and she invites a conflict that brings up unresolved issues she harbors with the notion of justice.

The film is an extremely slow burn with beautiful, wintry imagery. The tension is high and uncomfortable, as it seems like she should just let this go. Then there’s a situation at the university that doubles down on Sandra’s frustration when the right thing isn’t done. She reaches peak resentment with this system – this country – that has continued to fail her throughout her life.

So when the threats and harassment continue with the two trespassing hunters, Sandra hits a breaking point. Without spoilers, I wouldn’t call her actions satisfying. It’s mostly sad. I think the film is trying to magnify injustice, but because it all falls on one person’s shoulders, it seems petty. I imagine she probably could have made better decisions if she wasn’t dealing with so much built up anger. But I also think she could have just let them hunt on her property. I’m left feeling – eh. And reminded of the sentiment: “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Gigi and Nate

Gigi and Nate is the story of a young man’s recovery journey as a quadriplegic with the help of Gigi, an adorable capuchin monkey. It’s based on true events and shares how service animals can make a huge impact on healing from life-changing events.

Full disclosure, I did work background on this movie, and it’s always fun to see the final result of the hard work of the cast and crew. And of course, it’s great to catch a glimpse of my friends and I on screen.

We get a good look at Nate’s (Charlie Rowe) fun personality and family dynamic early in the movie. There’s a lot of shallow character development before his accident. A time jump takes us to a frustrated and hopeless Nate in a wheelchair before he meets Gigi. His mom (Marcia Gay Harden) is instrumental in seeking support and providing hope when others (including Nate) seem to have just accepted life as it is now.

When Gigi finally becomes part of the family, Nate is awkwardly curious and optimistic about her. I expected him to reject her help, but he gets this like magnetism about him that relishes in the “coolness” of having a monkey as a service animal. His frustrations with physical therapy continue and without coaxing, Gigi finally steps in for the assist. It’s an overly sentimental moment, but it’s also very sweet. If you’re not rolling your eyes, you’re dabbing away the tears. Cue the music montage with all the things she helps him do as he makes his way independently through town. Awww.

The CGI Gigi is a little tough to watch sometimes – but it’s still a cute story. Charlie Rowe is charming and Diane Ladd is a witty delight as vodka-drinking Mama Blanche. A couple of scenes with Nate’s mom and Dad (Jim Belushi) are very touching. I’m a huge fan of Hannah (Riley) Alligood from Better Things, so I was happy to see her shine.

Bodies Bodies Bodies

The game Bodies Bodies Bodies has certainly evolved since I played it when I was younger. The movie is about a group of obviously rich twentysomethings that gather together for a hurricane party at a lavish estate. The two characters we first meet are Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and Bee (Maria Bakalova), who are evidently a new-ish couple. The pair bring us on to scene after a lengthy gratuitous kiss that sets us up for an exciting night.

We spend some time getting to know the other characters by way of introducing Bee to the group. The house belongs to David’s (Pete Davidson) parents, so he’s essentially the host, and Sophie’s best friend. Cue the division when David’s girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders) is annoyed by Sophie’s unannounced arrival. The sentiments are echoed by the group, and other little jabs are thrown as we learn more about the characters. Eventually everyone starts to party with the usual drugs and alcohol as the impending storm moves in.

What a perfect time to play Bodies Bodies Bodies. Everyone draws a piece of paper and whoever gets the paper with an “X” is the “killer.” They tag people out and others have to guess who the killer is. For some reason, their version also involves slapping one another upfront – what? Anyway, the mood quickly sours when the power goes out (including the wi-fi) and one of them actually shows up dead. From this point on, somehow everyone has blood on their faces, neatly smeared and splattered by hair and makeup. It’s distracting and highlighted by the use of their phones as both flashlights and spotlights. I kept hoping the screen that was on and facing them (to illuminate their faces?) would be something director Halina Reijn would show us. Kind of a Blair Witch selfie effect.

What happens next is a hilarious whodunit mystery with lots of knives in backs. No one seems to trust anyone’s innocence, exposing hidden secrets and true feelings to point blame. The ensemble expertly feeds off one another. Each character seems authentically drawn to drama and self-destruction when they aren’t hiding behind their devices. Here is where Rachel Sennott stands out as Alice. She is hysterical with her happy naivety and switching of loyalties, not to mention she has brought her 40 year old boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace) to the party. Alice is genuine as she’s pointing out the absurdity of their generation’s behavior. She delivers the best lines, and she does so convincingly, without missing a beat.

What BodiesX3 is missing is more of the build up of fear/anxiety. There are scenes that needed a sound team or a soundtrack. I lost the feeling of the storm when the rain and wind were silent, and I don’t remember a creaky floor or like anything heard in the distance to give us pause. In that sense, or lack thereof, it didn’t feel much like a slasher movie. The dark humor is the star, the kind that makes you feel bad for laughing. A lot of time is spent poking fun at Gen-Z in general, and it comes in fast with cliché commentary we expect. You know, the borderline toxic, gaslighting kind of woke vibe that might just trigger someone, or spawn an ally outside of the group chat. Yes, you’ll hear it all, and more.

Bullet Train

Bullet Train has been busy flooding my feeds with trailers for this highly anticipated action film starring Brad Pitt. So much so, that I think I saw most of the movie before I sat down in the theater. Turns out that’s true.

An unlucky assassin named Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is trying to pull back from his career to work on self growth. He is given what seems like an easy “smash and grab” job on the bullet train. But of course, he encounters obstacles (ie other assassins) that complicate his efforts. His handler, the voice of Sandra Bullock, guides him through the mission, directing and encouraging his next steps. She also lends an ear as he is talking through discovery of a ‘smart’ toilet and find my phone app, all while breaching an existential crisis.

Some of the ensemble characters have potential to be great. Take the twins, Tangerine and Lemon, (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry), who are on their own separate mission. They are escorting someone’s son along with the briefcase (yes, the same one Ladybug is after) when things start to go wrong. The pair have history and a genuine connection evident in their banter. Lemon’s obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine keeps us annoyed, although alert to other passengers.

But the dialogue really stings. It just isn’t good. And there’s a lot of it – especially during fight scenes. Ladybug’s selection of curse words is amusing, but the delivery of most of the script is baffling. It feels like they could have improvised off book with better results, if they knew their characters more.

The action is sloppy hand to hand combat most of the time, littered with obtuse comments that are trying to be funny. For some reason there’s no security on this bullet train. Only one other passenger seems annoyed by some loud voices. Then there’s a snake. Oh, and several branded water bottles along with an anime themed cart featuring a suspicious dancing mascot. Add to that endless flashbacks to stories spawning vengeance that try to explain how all of these people have come together. These hints don’t actually do that – rather, we comb through countless assassins before the aha moment is shoved down our throats.

Joey King (Prince) is actually quite convincing with her British accent, perfect posture, and hidden agenda. However, she somehow still feels emotionally disconnected even after revealing her role. Then out of nowhere comes some other chick who’s been there the whole time and is mad about her snake. What?

There’s a bit of salvation in the last 20 minutes or so, when the music and the action finally seem to pair up, and pace along with the high speed of the bullet train. What was achingly ridiculous before becomes something we can all laugh at. Sure, some guy can run and jump onto the bullet train – right? The cameos rapid fire in offering some smiles of acknowledgement, even some laughs – showing that they had fun with this. People will go see this because of the star power; and they might even like it more than me.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Marcel the Shell is pretty much something you’d find in your junk drawer. But oh this mollusk is so much more. From the creative genius of Dean Fleischer-Camp and the adorable voice from Jenny Slate, Marcel delivers heartwarming magic with creative innovations and a positive outlook.

Marcel the Shell originally started as a YouTube stop animation short project between Slate and her then boyfriend Fleischer-Camp back in 2010. In the movie, Dean, a documentary filmmaker, discovers Marcel at the airbnb he is renting and begins filming to share their story.

A small but mighty philosopher, Marcel takes us through witty commentary on life and survival with Grandma Connie (Isabella Rossellini). But what’s missing is their community – the family and friends that disappeared after the “loud people” left. With the help of Dean, and a curious sense of adventure and discovery, the two come up with a plan to find them.

Starting first with the internet, they reach out to connect with others for help. What’s most delightful is Marcel’s attitude. The consistent, gentle voice is endearing when speaking about life and the inventive ways of navigating this big house they call home. From a tennis ball rover to the strongest and hairs found in the bottom of the shower, Marcel has learned to make the best of things. With childlike understanding (and that cute voice), you can’t help but fall in love with the magic.

This works as a feature film, although it does feel like it reaches a bit beyond where it needs to. The themes of absence and longing for a sense of family or community are definitely there. But I’d rather look at it simply as a gem of filmmaking with an amusing character who gives you the warm and fuzzies with their tiny perspective on life.

RRR

RRR is an epic (and long) adventure film with incredible action, glorious visual effects, miraculous stunts, humor, and dancing! Reflecting on this movie brings back the lyrics from Moulin Rouge: “Spectacular Spectacular, no words in our vernacular can describe this great event; you’ll be dumb with wonderment.

I have never seen anything like RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt). Writer/director S.S. Rajamouli brings us a new level of bro-mance, with a bit of a fictional historical twist. Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) and Alluri Raju (Ram Charan) are separately famous rebels in India’s national history. Rajamouli spins this 1920s tale not based on truth, but rather an idealism. What if two extraordinary revolutionaries met and joined forces? It’s a wonder-filled story that negotiates heroism, love, and loyalty during the time of the British colonial rule in India.

The action sequences are packed with jaw-dropping stunts, computer imaging, and close up expressions of Raju and Bheem. So many things happen that are unimaginable – and then, you see it right there on the screen. I’m not just talking about plot points – which are truly outlandish and ripe with humor. It’s the fighting, the gore, the huge scope of action mixed with tons of background actors, and vibrant, colorful scenery. It’s intoxicating and over-the-top inspiring. And don’t forget, there’s a dance number! This is escapist cinema at its most magnificent.

At over three hours long, RRR spins into action immediately and still manages to make you want more when it’s over. I’m usually into movies that break me down in some way – dramas with detailed storylines, something that I can relate to or reflect upon. But when something like this comes along, it inspires me in a totally different way. Bravo to the filmmakers. Don’t let this one get away from you.

Nope

I’ve been hyped to see Nope since I saw the early trailers months ago. I’m a big fan of Jordan Peele’s previous work, including Get Out (also staring Daniel Kaluuya). Knowing it was shot on IMAX, I splurged to grab the upgraded viewing experience, mostly out of respect to the director. I can’t compare it to 2D, but the sound and full screen immersion was a great ride.

Kaluuya plays OJ (Otis Jr.) Haywood whose family owns a farm that trains horses for Hollywood movies. His sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) is begrudgingly part of the team that is having a hard time carrying on their father’s legacy after a freak accident kills him. A good portion of time upfront is distinguishing the siblings and developing their characters. We get doses of Emerald’s high energy and fun alongside OJ’s more patient and thoughtful work responsibilities. It’s an eerily slow build up with poignant flashbacks.

More strange occurrences erupt on the farm, including power surges and horses disappearing. The two gear up to document the visual phenomena and partner with Angel (Brandon Perea), a local tech installation guy. They anchor security cameras throughout the property to capture it, anticipating they will grab the money shot.

That is the first of several statements on the way our social world works now – in spectacle. We all know the “pic or it didn’t happen,” and our need to be the first on scene. Not to help, but to witness first hand and then to share and ultimately profit. Neighboring showman Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) takes it to the next level and creates a theme park exhibition surrounding it.

There’s a creepy backstory to Jupe, an ex-child star who witnesses his entire cast being mauled and beaten by a chimpanzee on live TV. This obviously makes him more famous than the show itself. It’s like the train wreck you can’t look away from. We’re either in front of the camera or behind the camera. It’s rare that we are just experiencing life.

Emerald brings in a famous DP (Michael Wincott) from a film they almost worked on to get the “impossible shot.” In case we haven’t caught the underlying meaning up to this point, they also throw in a faceless TMZ reporter. We get it – but honestly at this point the movie’s pacing picks up so much, we’re also saying “Nope” as the drama unravels. The music gets louder, the slow tension is releasing, and OJ deepens his understanding of the monster. The last 30 minutes are the best – but don’t let the beginning throw you off. And don’t for a minute think Otis Jr./OJ is an coincidence. We watched that white Ford Bronco race down the highway, too.

Big fan of Nope- the story, the film, the message. It’s not offering solutions, but a lens to see in from the outside. Maybe a warning. The monster feels like something you’d see in a dream. The fluidity of movement and shutter-like snapping as a precursor to capturing its prey at just the right moment. Daniel Kaluuya is calming perfection with Jordan Peele at the helm. Hat tip to new (to me) Brandon Perea for joining in on the fun and helping to bring back another song from my teenage years. And Keke Palmer who never misses a beat.

Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing is based on the best-selling novel by Delia Owens, which I didn’t read, so I’m not offering a movie/book comparison.

The film takes place in the salt marsh coastal area of North Carolina. With sweeping views and sounds of nature, a discovery of a dead body sets a darker tone. Daisy Edgar-Jones plays Kya, a reclusive girl locals refer to as “The Marsh Girl,” since she lives alone out near the swamp. The townspeople are quick to point fingers at The Marsh Girl. Kya becomes the murder suspect in Chase’s (Harris Dickinson) death.

A lot of the storyline develops through flashbacks to when Kya is a young girl. Through the eyes of young Kya, with a stunning performance by Jojo Regina, we witness the abuse of her father. Then her mother and siblings leaving at various points to escape. I mean, who leaves and doesn’t take the youngest with them? That is sad.

Eventually even Kya’s father leaves her behind. She survives with support from a local couple that buys the mussels she harvests daily. Alone and curious, she discovers and documents the wildlife of the marsh in beautiful sketches and paintings. Collecting feathers from local birds, she gets noticed by Tate (Taylor John Smith), who teaches her how to read and write and – boom- the two fall in love.

We go back and forth between the murder trial (albeit in brief, unsteady scenes), and Kya’s formative years with Tate and later with Chase (Harris Dickinson). The two boys painting the picture of dichotomy between hope and fear, being left and being found. Meanwhile Kya’s personal art grows, with the promise of maybe being published one day. Also -how is this girl meeting guys out in the middle of nowhere?

Beyond the awkward storytelling, Edgar-Jones is great as Kya, with curious and thoughtful eyes that invite you in. The overall setting is dark and dreamy. The beautiful scenery of the marsh lands and creatures that inhabit it encourage survival and growth. I love how her art brings that nature inside her home, that is already inside nature. You can hear it, feel it, and hide with her where the crawdads sing. Hat tip to cinematographer Polly Morgan for capturing such a beautiful space. And keep an eye on that Jojo Regina, she’ll be around again.