The Forgiven

The Forgiven is one of those movies that was just playing at the right time I needed it to. I had no idea what it was about, I just wanted popcorn and movie therapy.

The film stars Ralph Fiennes (David) and Jessica Chastain (Jo) as a married couple heading to a weekend long party at a lavish home in the Moroccan dessert. While en route, they have an unfortunate accident with a local boy which results in them bringing more than their marriage troubles to their hosts.

Matt Smith is perfection as the nonchalant yet mildly concerned host Richard Galloway. Along with his partner Dally (Caleb Landry Jones), he offers assistance while mostly considering the needs of his many other eccentric guests. This includes one constantly obnoxious drunk girl who must’ve meant something. Generally the whole crowd struggles to provide any agreeable personalities.

The story tries to be deeper with hints of cultural and political commentary, but it doesn’t develop into anything important. Really it’s just about a high-functioning drunk white guy who has gotten away with poor behavior for years. His wife reminds him of this with little jabs and eye rolls, each one so obviously repetitive, the wall between them keeps growing.

Once David has gone off with the boys’ father to pay his respects, Jo starts to relax and enjoy herself more. Here is where she shines. Her posture changes along with the flowing wardrobe – a sense of freedom. Chastain’s performance is sexy and inviting, and she has great chemistry with fellow escapist Tom (Christopher Abbott). Their scenes make the film a bit better (and had me googling Christopher Abbott so I can see him again). But there’s not enough.

David’s journey to the middle of the dessert should have felt curious, remorseful or at least suspenseful but instead it was long and boring. I’m not sure what writer/director John Michael McDonagh was going for here. It did feel hot and thirsty. Maybe just realizing how pretentious David is – not truly believing that anything could happen to him.

I’m not going to like all the movies. But I still like to make connections and take away some thoughts. Mostly I keep thinking about how we never really get to know any of these characters. The broad strokes provide little identity beyond occupation or race, so motivation and reconciliation are also lost. Hard to forgive a messy story when we don’t see past the surface.


Austin Butler stars in Elvis as the magnetic King himself in this new film from Director Baz Luhrmann. Luhrmann pulls us in with the flashy metallic glitz and stark editing we remember from Moulin Rouge. It’s this style along with the mash up of old and new music – both from Elvis and modern rap artists that reflect the pace of a life in show business.

Tom Hanks plays Elvis’s manager Colonel Tom Parker. With doughy prosthetics and a confusing accent, Hanks narrates the story from The Colonel’s perspective. He’s an ex-carnival showman who greedily hides in the shadows when he first sees Elvis performing, awaiting his inevitable predatory “snowman” payday. While I love Tom Hanks, his presence in this film is distracting at best.

The story’s timeline is less chronological fact and more nuanced with definable memories. Luhrmann creates feelings out of these moments as he shares Elvis’s relationship with his parents Gladys and Vernon. When he marries Priscilla (Olivia DeLong) it’s rushed through, but she remains a constant presence. The early success, the film career, the Army, the birth of Lisa Marie all pepper in along with the drug use in later years. Supporting roles from Dacre Montgomery (Steve Binder) and Luke Bracey (Jerry Schilling) stand out. The period wardrobe and historical looks, from the sideburns to the gold rings, are fantastic.

Elvis has left the building

My biggest takeaway is that this isn’t as much a biopic as it is a flashy, spiritual look at inspiration, idolatry and addiction. The best parts are the music performances, with an outstanding soundtrack. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (Gary Clark Jr.) coaxes soulful blues to a youthful Elvis. Then there’s Alton Mason as Little Richard on Beale Street with Big Mama Thornton (Shonka Dukureh) belting the Hound Dog blues. With friends like B.B. King, (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), we get a front row seat to Elvis capturing his spiritual and musical influences.

Charisma – that compelling attractiveness of charm that beckons devotion. Like Elvis, Austin Butler’s got it. He is outstanding and unforgettable, even singing a few of the tracks himself. When he performs on stage as Elvis with those sultry eyes, that rock and roll defiance and massive stamina, it takes your breath away. Every movement connects with adoring fans, encouraging more from him. Addictively, he keeps giving it over and over. The film edit of the song Suspicious Minds repeats, “We’re caught in a trap. I can’t walk out….because I love you too much baby.”

Jurassic World Dominion

Jurassic World Dominion is so hilariously bad, it’s good. This is the last movie in the Jurassic World Trilogy – which attempts to form some closure with what happens when the dinosaurs live in the wild. It brings with it a sense of nostalgia with characters from the original Jurassic Park. And ultimately shines light on a fear of powerful humans trying to rule over science and nature.

It opens to a world outrun by dinosaurs, with news clips of people being randomly attacked by flying prehistoric creatures on the beach, in the city, etc. Headlines reminiscent of title sequences for Godzilla Attacks and The Blob. Oh – we thought we could live together in harmony? Not so fast.

Chris Pratt returns as Owen Brady the dinosaur whisperer, and he still has absolutely no chemistry with his girlfriend Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). They’re hiding out and harboring Maise Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) as their own daughter now. Then there’s their pet Velocirapter, Blue, who still gets a little unruly, but nothing a raised hand can’t control. Don’t forget she can reproduce asexually. Because why not? Toss in a few million scientifically altered locusts that are destroying the food chain, and it’s time to call in reinforcements.

Back for more are Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum). There’s an erie connection between Sattler and Grant that doesn’t sit right. Malcom has a new gig with the bad scientists at BioSyn, (pronounced “sin”), and barely mutters three jokes.

“What’s the plan? Whatever happens.”

As if there aren’t enough characters for the group money shot (which happened no less than three times), they throw in more. Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise) is a transport pilot who suddenly stops thinking about her payday when she recognizes Maise is in danger. For no real reason, she joins in the fun of the rescue. However, she’s badass and has some great lines.

The next hero who changes his story on a dime is Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie). As BioSyn’s communications manager, his loyalty to its leader Lewis Dodgson doesn’t even seem questionable, until suddenly it is. He helps the trapped scientists escape as the locusts spout like a volcano through the ceiling. It’s supposed to feel like impending doom, but instead we’re like, what’s next?

It’s a whole mess of people and not enough dinosaurs. There is one well-executed action sequence with Pratt being chased on a motorbike by programmed velociraptors who are chasing a red laser light – yes like the cats love. The penultimate scene between the feared T-Rex (who gracefully positions himself in the circle logo at just the right time) and the new Giganotosaurus (lol) feels hokey and sloppy. But by this point, I’m laughing a lot anyway so I am soaking it in.

Overall Jurassic World Dominion is chaotic and cluttered with too many undeveloped characters and competing storylines, but I had a great time with it.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

Joaquin Phoenix brings us the story of cartoonist John Callahan, a quadriplegic alcoholic with a challenging yet humorous take on life. Based on a true story, John opens the film by sharing his story on a stage:

I know three things about my real mother. She was Irish American. She had red hair. And, she was a schoolteacher. Oh yeah – and she didn’t want me. Four things.

So this is what happens when you tune into a movie you’re not sure you want to watch, and within the first ten minutes something surfaces that lands on your heart: You most certainly keep watching.

One of the most intense scenes is when John is trying to get to a bottle of vodka. We see the pain erupt in his face, the overwhelming desire and not being able to reach it. He’s physically being protected from what is killing him – but he still wants it so bad. Is he pleading for a way to be able to reach it or a way to let go of it? He knocks over some furniture, and his pet rat runs free. An aha moment.

I must take a minute to talk about how amazing Jonah Hill is as Donnie, John’s sponsor. Holy shit. Magnetic and steady even while enduring his own struggles. They gave him beautiful lines, and damn, he delivers.

There’s a lot about the struggle of being powerless – not just over alcohol. The need to be creative and fearing not being good enough. Art = expression, Craft = perfection. John starts drawing cartoons again, and rather than judging his work as not good enough or imperfect – he relishes in the process, the creation, the expression of his art. It’s a joy to witness.

Drink water.

Top Gun: Maverick

Nearly everyone I know has seen Top Gun: Maverick already, or at least has plans to. Even the kids who didn’t see the original Top Gun are here for it. So I can’t waste too much time talking about how great of a movie experience it is – because you probably already know.

Predictable? Sure. But I wanted it to be. I wanted to cheer in the end, and I did.

Quick mentions on some stand out performers: Jennifer Connelly – her character lacked relevance, but good performance and wow, those eyes. My favorite of the assembled top fighter pilots is played by Monica Barbaro, callsign Phoenix. I love how they didn’t make a big deal of her being a woman.

Huge applause to Miles Teller, been loving on him since Whiplash and he freaking nails this role. And if I’m being totally honest, Tom Cruise has still got it – which is dang impressive.

When I was in high school, all of my friends and I saw Top Gun. We bought the soundtrack, we wore out the VHS tape, we suddenly loved beach volleyball and felt the need for speed. But it hit some of us different. I had a friend who was this this kind, intelligent (overachieving) football player who fell in love with Top Gun. He has said it was a big influence on him. He wanted to be a Naval Aviator. I remember I made him a model F-15 for his birthday (those things take forever). He performed a the scene from Top Gun at our Senior Assembly,”You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” with bomber jackets and all.

Long anecdote short – he went to Notre Dame undergrad before joining the service and becoming a naval aviator. Like literally landing on the boats kind of pilot. Just like he wanted. So amazing to watch someone manifest their future like this, and frankly it blows me away. He recently retired as commander of a base in Southern California AND he was able to meet Tom Cruise at the Top Gun Maverick premiere because they filmed on the base. How fun is that?

Sometimes a sequel hits that nostalgic note at the right time. It takes you back. It’s more than just a song or a catch phrase that we remember. We get the whole feeling again. That’s an experience that’s hard to achieve, and this elite team has done it.

Dr. Strange in The Multiverse of Madness

Why is the multiverse so dang complicated? I’m late talking about this, but feel compelled to mention Dr. Strange. I thought it was good, not great. Haunting, not heroic. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, but I missed the Marvel-ness of it.

Visually Dr. Strange is quite interesting. There are weird, chaotic and creative effects that I haven’t seen before. Too much time was spent defining and traveling the multiverse instead of building character motivations. A lost background actor steals one scene.

Xochitl Gómez as America Chavez is at times refreshing, but mostly distracting since everything else is so dark and she is quite a sparkle. Elizabeth Olsen is dripping with angst as Wanda Maximoff, but I could care less about that entire story arc. She seems to just scream agony and melancholy. Rachel McAdams is out of place, but I guess that’s because she’s on her way out as Dr. Strange’s love interest.

Fun visit from Mr. Fantastic who they can’t seem to get right, and other “heroes” brought in to play victims (or offering future spinoffs, we shall see). I would love to see more Wong sorcery and storyline.

I think the earlier rounds of the Dr. Strange story and his presence in other films was more invigorating and purposeful. There’s less of his “human” side at this point, so we’re going to have to just accept him as a wizard who travels through alternate universes. The fear of the end of the world is bigger than one’s own evolution or inability to reunite with the lost love of his life, who we will apparently soon meet.

This installment in the MCU left me more confused than satisfied. A visual stunner with incredible effects, heavy on the arrogance and intelligence, and lacking emotional connections for me.

The Northman

The Northman is a whole mess of a story to talk about. And let me preface this by saying I’m obviously not the target for this film. But I saw it, and I felt things.

The movie starts out with a King (Ethan Hawke) returning home to his wife (Nicole Kidman) and young Prince Amleth after an apparent bloody battle. His injuries are enough to cause him to embrace the fact that his son will soon have to take his place. He brings him into a spiritual kind of initiation cave where Willem Dafoe (The Fool) appears to hang out – and he prepares his son for an inevitable future. Minutes after surfacing from this animalistic ritual, Amleth witnesses The King’s death at the hands of his Uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Amleth flees and vows to avenge his Father’s death.

You may be thinking this story sounds familiar – because it is. The original story of Saxo’s Amleth is what we know as Shakespeare’s Hamlet. We get the madness, the mother’s kiss, and the poisonous illusions. But this stretches way beyond the simpleness of a retold tale. Director Robert Eggers paints a bloody and violent psychological version with Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) on a mythical journey of revenge.

The film is wild, gory, and outlandishly shocking. It felt twisted of me to laugh when a Viking’s nose was cut off and body parts were nailed to a thatch hut, but laugh I did. The entire tone is beastly and savage with a dash of ridiculousness. Barking and howling half-naked men fighting and groaning while seeresses lead them to their fates.

The fleshy fight scenes are visually intense even while shaded by dark, damp skies (both day and night). The camera catches it all. Imagery and meaning flows as constant as the blood from the warriors. However, I still can’t say I understand it all. The expansive landscape shots of the North setting are flat and grainy, providing no beauty or promise.

I assume The Northman is Amleth, but no one ever refers to him as that. I wish I knew more about history when I watch things like this. But even then, do I want to see it soaked in so much blood? Sure, if it teaches me something or gets me to think. “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nick Cage is a Massive Talent. So much so, that Super-fan Javi (Pedro Pascal) offers him one million dollars for an appearance at a birthday party. Of course, that sounds beneath him, until Cage finds himself in need of cash after his latest failed audition. He takes the offer and majestically jumps into the middle of an action-packed comedic adventure that might just make a great movie.

I don’t know how this works – but it totally does. Playfully self-aware and never missing a beat, the script actually comes with a good storyline. Nick gets declared an asset by the CIA and is hilariously tasked to help investigate Javi – a suspect in a political kidnapping. The two hang out and form a creative bro bond as they work (and live) through a rewrite of Javi’s screenplay.

There are many hat tips to Cage’s previous films, and not just in the secret shrine on Javi’s compound. Actual clips, memorable quotes, and comical details play up the audience’s affection for the actor and his films. And then there’s hype-man Nicky – a sort of devil-on-the-shoulder younger cgi version of Cage, who wears a Wild At Heart t-shirt. He continually steps in to remind Nick what an amazing actor he is. Cue the memorable mantra: “Nic-Fuuuuuuucking-Cage!”

Pedro Pascal is fantastic as Javi, and surprisingly not too creepy with all of his idolatry. What could be considered crazy softens into mutual admiration as the two share their love of movies, even settling in one night with Paddington Bear 2. Their friendship grows after a paranoid-filled LSD trip and movie tropes that include thwarting bad guys and rescuing loved ones.

Massive Talent is a popcorn movie for movie lovers. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any popcorn available at my theater when I saw it. Reminiscing through the diverse portfolio of Cage’s work while watching him play along was fun. Oh and yes – I did clap and cheer out loud at just the right spots. Don’t come at me.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Everything Everywhere All at Once – that feeling when everything is happening to you all at the same time? When everything is so out of our control we feel almost like victims. Maybe we attribute it to a celestial occasion – a moon wobble or Mercury Retrograde, to try and explain it. But could it be an entire separate universe?

This movie is ridiculous, euphoric, beautiful, and at times just plain crazy. There are scenes that had me laughing out loud, some that made me cringe, and others that made me weep uncontrollably. In fact, I half suspect there might have been some subliminal imaging as I was overcome with so much emotion.

Michelle Yeoh is marvelous as Evelyn. Her face shifts from wonder and fear to strength and permissiveness. Both her and Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) bounce between worlds and roles effortlessly and comically. And – wow, I remember him from Goonies and Indiana Jones. Jamie Lee Curtis is blissfully iconic as Dierda Beaubeirda. I mean, come on with that name! Just excellent.

I definitely saw a snippet of Crazy Rich Asians in one of her other worlds – and probably more references that I didn’t catch. Bringing down the curtain between the actress and the character, adding credibility to the idea of the existence of a multiverse into a real space.

I cry easily. But what happened here was more than just crying. I was struck. Confusion, elation, disgust, and graciousness collided on top of one another like layers of paint. I felt more than I was prepared to feel. And to me, this is Art. Everything Everywhere – all at once. It’s happening and we’re a part of it. We can choose how deep we sink our teeth in, but it’s all here for the tasting. I’m thankful for this experience.

C’mon C’mon

C’mon C’mon brings Uncle Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his nephew Jesse (Woody Norman) together to explore family connections and the ways we interpret the world around us. It’s beautifully shot in black and white by director Mike Mills, providing an intimate but casual backdrop to a heartfelt and emotional script.

Johnny is a radio journalist working on a story with kids sharing their hopes and dreams about the future. His sister Viv (Gaby Hoffmann) is in the middle of a mental health crisis with her husband. He offers to help by watching Jesse while she sorts things out. It starts as just a weekend gig, but turns into a long term commitment. The two create unique bond that delivers comfort through curiosity.

Johnny continues his work, bringing Jesse with him, and we get an almost documentary feel as continues to interview kids across the country. Small voices with big ideas. And yet some so simple – as adults, we’re like “Why didn’t I think of that?” It’s a wonderful journey as the two reveal perspectives of what surrounds us. Ironically, we get doses of pessimism from the kids and optimism from the adults, as they try to hide the bad things from the kids.

Meanwhile, phone calls with Viv bring out more relationship connections and struggles. Relatable stories about growing up with siblings, dealing with our parents, becoming adults, letting go to love. Things we are afraid of. And of course, the things we can’t control.

The phrase “C’mon” resonates even before it is spoken. It brings out the notion that we’re not alone; I got you. We’re in this together.

The performances are wonderful. Phoenix is a treasure and has been since Parenthood. He has this intense gaze that nearly shows what he is thinking. Woody Norman is incredible, delivering gut-punching truths with charming indifference.

Whatever you plan on happening, never happens. Stuff you would never think of happens. So you just have to come on, come on, come on…” Jesse in C’mon C’mon.