Cruella

Cruella is the next in a long line of Disney films designed to exploit their previous properties and put a reboot Twist on them. So although there are Dalmatians in this film the movie is not really about the dogs. This is an attempt to reimagine Cruella de Vil as a sympathetic character gone wrong. In the long run not much is going to change on the main stories except our perceptions of these characters as they appear early on and then return in their original form.

I didn’t expect a great deal from this movie and I was pleasantly surprised and how much I enjoyed it. Much of the credit goes to the production design team who’s amazing designs for the mansion, the workshop the cars, and all of the technical things that get used in the film are a lot of fun. In addition special notes should be given to the craftspeople who designed the clothes that were worn by the various characters but especially those made for star Emma Stone. She wears these outfits and commands the screen simply by looking outlandish and confident while doing so.

The plot of this film imagines Cruella from her earliest age until just before the events that makeup  101 Dalmatians. Cruella appears to be the orphaned child of a former acquaintance of a fashion designer, The Baroness. Of course appearances always turn out to be slightly skewed in a movie like this and there will be plot turns that confound us, amuse us, and in the long run make a little bit more sense then they probably should. I like the use of characters that are referred to in the previous films and they also have been given revised backstories. Jasper and Horace, who are Cruella’s henchman in this version of the story, turn out to be orphans that are similarly abandoned and are using petty crime as a way to survive. The movie really get started when characters get together and start plotting for Cruella to get into the fashion industry that she is always dreamed of being apart of.

There is a long sequence where Cruella is poorly used as an entry-level member of the Baroness’ Empire. The idea that she ends up scrubbing floors and being ignored despite her good ideas is maybe a little trite but it’s played for good comic effect. Emma Thompson provides great opposition as the heartless and manipulative fashion maven that Cruella is up against. The best parts of the movie are the three or four dramatic moments when Cruella’s designs upstage the Baroness at key moments, typically a fashion show. These are usually presented as clever tricks or reversals of the Baroness own plans. They are also very well designed and have a great visual flair to them. That flair makes it feel as if the Fashion World could operate in these sorts of ways. The Cruella character becomes the Banksy of the Fashion World, a renegade artist with a sense a panache. Of course the more she is blocked by the Baroness the more fantastic her revenge scenarios become.

If you were thinking of taking your children to see this film, think again, because one of the major plot points involves the murder of a woman. That death is followed up by another plot to murder another woman. Then we are given a situation where there might be even more murder involved. And there is plenty of cruelty to go along with the plotting. There are Dalmatians in the film and in the early part of the movie they are villainous. Two other dogs are the charming heroes, if you can call criminals heroes. The fact that in the end the Dalmatians become a more important part of the plot, really has nothing to do with the original movies. This is not a kids movie with dogs, it’s a movie made for adults based on characters from a kids movie. It would not do you well to confuse the two because your kids could very well end up traumatized by some of the things that take place in the plot.

It’s a little schizophrenic that sometimes we see Cruella as a victim and other times see her as the perpetrator of something evil. Admittedly the character is evil but actress Emma Stone holds back on making Cruella completely irredeemable but only stopping short to keep a PG-13 rating. I found the movie very entertaining and funnier than I expected. Worth a watch for adults, but beware bad dogs. 

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

The original film came out four years ago, and was obviously successful enough to spawn a sequel. The high concept of The Hitman’s Bodyguard is all in the title. This film is no more subtle than the original. It hits you in the face with the premise, follows it up with a lot of mayhem, and then tops it with enough vulgar language for three Al Pacino and two Samuel L. Jackson films. This is the embodiment of mindless entertainment, it often makes no sense whatsoever, but you won’t care because you are shame laughing the whole time. 


I said it in the review of the first film, and I will repeat it and emphasize it here, Selma Hayak not only gives Jackson a run for his money, she clearly wins. It must have struck the writers of this film that doubling the use of the f-word by Jackson’s character’s wife would be funny, and they calculated correctly. Hayak delivers the good twice as much and frequently in a second language which makes this even more preposterous. She is a songbird with the f-word. Poor Ryan Reynolds has to make due with using the word mostly as a rejoinder to the other two. He can barely get a f-you in edgewise. 


It’s not entirely clear why the love interest for Reynold’s character in the original film was left out, although she would have been superfluous to the story with the direction they have taken here. Instead, they have inserted a character for Morgan Freeman to join the cast and get a paycheck. He also gets a few choice f-bombs but some of the biggest laughs he generates are from Reynold’s worshipful description of his voice. 


Appearing as the bad guy is Antonio Banderas, who does most of his acting with silly hairstyles and even sillier clothing choices. I would have appreciated a bit more by play with Banderas and Hayak, they were once matched together in another hitman story, “Desperado”  about twenty five years earlier. They do get a fight scene towards the end, and unlike the Robert Rodriguez film, this one is often played for laughs. In fact most of the action in the film has a comedic element to it. 


There is plenty of blood to go around, and many of the deaths are done for comic effect. Ryan Reynold is first billed but once things get started, he becomes a supporting character to the married couple of Jackson and Hayak. He is quite a bit the Coyote to everybody else’s Roadrunner. He gets dropped, kicked, run over, shot, stabbed and generally abused, but is right back up for the next sequence, ready to do it all again. 

The story is not as strong as the first film was, although neither is particularly sturdy. I do think there are more laughs in this film and that makes it a winner in my book. This is entertainment that is crude and disposable, which means for adults, you can enjoy your date night, drink to your heart’s content, and not worry that you don’t remember much about the movie the next day,…you don’t need to. 

80s Nostalgia Central

If you were not aware, I am in essence, continuing the original project that launched this blog, with another project focused on the Summer Movies of the 1980s.  We are only a few days in so it would be easy to catch up. Those of you who have followed or subscribed to this Web Site are encouraged to do the same on this new project. The Kirkham A Movie A Day blog page will continue, this is just something extra for the Summer Season. Come on over and have some fun. 

80s Nostalgia Central: A Kirkham a Movie A Day Project
https://80snostalgiacentralakirkhamamovieadayprojectday.wordpress.com/

A Quiet Place II

One of the best horror films of the last few years has a follow up, and it does so much right that I am willing to ignore most of what is wrong (which was not much).  The original film, “A Quiet Place” tells the story of a family, coping with the after effects of an alien invasion of a different kind. We don’t know what brought this species to our planet, but we do know the impact it has had on humanity and it is devastating. Our family is a microcosm of the world, managing as best they can, but early on in the story, there is a horrifying moment that inadvertently drives an emotional wedge between an adolescent girl and her father. While managing to survive is the main story, the key theme of the film is the love that the father has for his family and the lengths to which they all struggle to express that love. The suspense is built up in a slow and incredibly tense manner, and the conclusion of the film feels hopeful despite the fact that significant loss occurs and huge barriers lie in front of the family.


This film picks up at the same spot that the first film ended, with one major side road. We have a flashback opening that reveals the first day of the alien crisis on this part of the world. This is an incredibly tense sequence, which is reminiscent of two other apocalyptic type films in the not too distant past, Zach Snyder’s reworking of “Dawn of the Dead” and the Netflix film starring Sandra Bullock, “Bird Box”. In essence we see how quickly the façade of civilization can vanish in a catastrophe. This feels like we are watching the events in real time and the overwhelming confusion and panic are shared by we the audience as much as the characters in the story. The major problem with this film is that the opening sequence is the best one on the movie, so everything else will seem a little less than it should by comparison. 

In reality, that should not be the case. There are a half dozen sequences of immense terror and even greater suspense. Like the best of Hitchcock and Spielberg, each of those moments gets racketed up with small complications that make the moment a bit more intense. Director John Krasinski, has studied those masters well. Most of those little complications have been set up in the story so they feel organic rather than tacked on, and the scenes work well in the moments. Having rewatched the first film two nights before, it was satisfying to see how efficient it was at getting to the point and moving the story along.  This movie makes a great effort to repeat that efficiency. It would have been an easy side trip to take by spending more time with the groups of humans who are coping differently than our main family, but that would take away from the dynamic of those relationships, which are the point of the story.  


Having managed to avoid the trap of turning this into another zombie movie, where we discover that humans are also the monster, Krasinski as principle screenwriter for this episode, falters a little by separating the story into two paths. It is a typical strategy, and it works adequately for the plot but not as much for the themes. Emily Blunt was the key figure in the first movie, and young Millicent Simmonds was important supporting point. Those roles are reversed her and Simmonds has to carry the movie, and her plot themes are good but had mostly been resolved in the first film. Blunt’s character here is a fierce fighter for the family, but her story is not advancing the plot, and we already knew what she is capable of. Noah Jupe, as the other child in the family does get to evolve a bit in the film, but that story line feels the least organic of all the things happening to this group. Cillian Murphy takes on a surrogate role in the film, and his character development is the new thing that we need more of in the movie. His hopelessness is a good counter point to the fragile perseverance of  the Abbot family. Because the story has been bifurcated, we get a little less time with this plot than I personally would like. I thought it was credibly developed and played well by the actors, but the transitions between the action sequences feel a little too quick for this to be a complete story.

All movies with a horror theme seem to need a jump scare or two. Some of them seem to consist only of those kinds of moments. The first film was judicious in it’s use of those kinds of scares, this one is a little more dependent on them and so it feels like a lesser film, even though it is quite good. The movie does not feel like a cash grab, I think the story sustains itself well and we as an audience had earned a follow up by giving the Abbott’s our hearts in that first film. I can also see where a follow up to this film could work perfectly well without having to force us into a contrivance to justify the story. In large part because we understand the threat in this film more clearly than in the first, it loses something. There are also continuing plot convivences that will bother people who start to notice them, and that will likely occur to many. Still, I will give a pass to those points for the suspense and energy that this film brings to a theater, and yes, I said theater. That is where you have to see this movie if you want to catch it before Independence Day.  So “A Quiet Place Part II” will not take a position on the podium of films who have sequels that are superior to the original. That will remain a fairly exclusive spot to reach. It will however satisfy the suspense fix you are looking for, and it will burnish the careers of all the principle, but especially the director and Millicent Simmonds. 

Mortal Kombat (2021)

I’m late to the party. I never played the arcade version, I don’t own a gaming platform, and I skipped the 1995 film. None of it seemed like something I would be interested in, but the world changes and I have changed incrementally along with it. I won’t be driving to Best Buy to get a Play Station or X-Box, but I will be watching this again on HBO Max, because it was a ton of fun. 


The Red Band Trailer above is frankly what sold this to me. There is a bucket full of CGI violence that will appeal to a certain audience element (that includes me) and the trailer gives you a taste. I understand that there were some gruesome images in the primitive version of the original game, and even the 1995 PG-13 film managed to make some people look twice. I’m afraid that when the steel hat that gets used as a Buzzsaw, bisected one of the villains, I cheered a little. No apologies though, because that was the kind of stuff I was looking for.

For a movie that builds up the importance of the Tournament, it was a bit discombobulating that there is no actual Tournament in the story. This whole movie is a set up for the sequel, which I have no doubt will be ready soon and should feature even higher amounts of decapitations, heart plucking and assorted dismemberment. There is plenty of martial arts style combat but much of it is infused with super powered effects and enhanced visual imagery. My personal favorite was in the opening of the film and featured samurai/ninja sword play and a flying spike on a rope. 

This is basically a violent cartoon for adults, that will probably be seen by kids anyway. The gore is not lingered over but it is in your face so if you are a parent, try to use a little discretion in deciding whether to take your kids to see this. We had a six or seven year old in the audience and he seemed a little frightened and upset at times. It did not enhance my theater going experience. There is a deep dive episode of the Lambcast [which I did not participate in] where you can get details about your favorite characters and some criticism of the story elements. None of that is essential however to understanding what is going on. You can pretty much tell the good guys from the bad, and the characters are a bit wooden but they are all based on a video game after all, so Shakespeare it is not. 


Go have a good time, eat some popcorn and support your local theaters. Then you can watch it again at home.

Wrath of Man

Director Guy Ritchie has managed to entertain me  repeatedly with his blend of hard cases, colorful language, non-linear films. As a matter of fact, my favorite film of the previous year, during which we were locked out of theaters for far too long, was his movie “The Gentlemen“. That film had a star studded cast and a convoluted plot that mixed hipster drug culture with high finance and then threw in a substantial dollop of violence. That is pretty much the Ritchie formula. “Wrath of Man” forgoes many of the tropes of a Ritchie film. As a consequence, it feels a little more generic and definitely not the film I expected.


That’s not to say I was disappointed, this movie largely delivers an action packed, violence leaden crime drama. It eschews the wisecracking criminals, and the absurdist moments that make Ritchie’s other films so unique. The one signature element that is utilized involves the non-sequential story structure. This plays out with a series of flashbacks, repeats from alternative perspectives, flask forwards and time shifting.  That structure however has become it’s own cliché, and it is used not only in films but television programs and commercials, so that freshness, is not going to be a selling point for the movie. 


The main selling point is going to be Jason Statham. If you look up movie tough guys, Statham will show up with the Dwayne Johnson, Lee Marvin, Kurt Russel and a dozen other well known actors who made their bones kicking ass and taking names. He has made more than thirty of these hard action films in the last twenty years and has built a career out of being a badass even among other badasses. So what happens here? Statham gets quiet, skips most of the fisticuffs and shoots the hell out of anything that moves. There was a sequence here where machine guns are used in combat and it was one of the more intense combinations of sound and photography and direction that I have seen. No headbutts or neck snaps or flying kicks, just a lot of sharpshooting and massive spraying of bullets. These kinds of films are not hard to find, Gerard Butler, Sylvester Stallone, Nic Cage are all making two a year these days. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s simply that there is nothing special.

To borrow a description from another movie, every magic trick has three acts,  The Pledge, The Turn, and the Prestige. Ritchie has been great about that last act in all of his English crime dramas. The pieces fall elegantly into place at the end and we are impressed by how well they all fit together and explain what happened. “Wrath of Man” fails to stick “the Prestige”. There are unclear relationships and confusing explanations, which instead of being elegantly detailed at the end, have to be worked out after everything has happened. You will probably be able to make sense of it, but we want the magician to do the trick for us, we don’t want to work it out after dinner two hours later. 


The actors are solid. Statham has that thousand yard stare down pat. Holt McCallany, who I knew from “Mindhunter” is an appealing presence as well.  Jeffrey Donovan shows up late in the movie, dominates all his scenes and should have been a bigger part of the plot. Scott Eastwood’s character will make you angry, which it is supposed to do and you will wonder why Josh Hartnett doesn’t have more to do. This movie will be satisfying for a moment but it is not rewatchable the way so many other Guy Ritchie films are.  There is nothing wrong with it except it is not what I was hoping for. 

Jim Steinman and the Movies

As a child of the 70s, it is of course inevitable that I would be infected by the virus that was “Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell”.  The original album was a late 70s antidote to Candy Pop, Disco and novelty music that made up so much of the decades music. Heh, I fully embraced all that stuff so that is not a criticism, merely an observation. I knew the singer Meat Loaf  from the movies. Yes I was one of those regulars at “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” Saturdays at Midnight. When the inaugural recording project came out, it could not helped but be noticed by the stylized cover art. 

Also on the cover was an additional credit, right at the bottom, “Songs by Jim Steinman”. That is where I first heard the name of the mad genius who practically invented the Power Ballad for the next generation of hard rock acts. I remembered reading a story about Steinman who said in the article, that one of the ways he was inspired to write the music for the album was by listening to the complete Ring Cycle by Ricard Wagner, in one sitting. That’s more than 14 hours of opera in a row. I thought that was a great idea so I went to the library to check out recordings of the Wagner Operas. I did not succeed. I listened quite a bit, but not all four operas and not all at one sitting. My failure convinced me that Steinman was crazy and also brilliant. Listening to the music on this album showed me how the scale and scope of an opera piece could be distilled down to a single musical segment (although a heck of a lot longer than most three minute pop songs). 


The follow up to the album was complicated by Meat Loaf having vocal issues and some falling out between the two over artistic issues (probably money too). They would reconnect years later, but in the interim, Steinman released a collection of his works that he recorded himself. 

I bought the LP while I was in grad school, at the record store in the University Village, right across from college. Once again I was drawn to the overblown passages, soaring melodies and humorously dark lyrics. There is definitely a style that is identifiable as a Jim Steinman work. 


This last week, Mr. Steinman passed away at the age of 73. You might think his overblown songs were relics of a particular time, that is until you go to a movie or watch one at home streaming, and suddenly, there they are again, the distinctive building structure or repeated musical runs as they crescendo behind a booming voice that suddenly becomes softer, lulling you in until it slaps you again with an operatic outburst. Steinman’s work lives on in dozens of movies. Frankly, there are many that I have never seen, and some even slipped by that I have seen but I forgot.
In concert with a Roll Your Own Top Five Lambcast, i now present an inventory of Jim Steinman music in films. Let me star with one that I was really surprised about and doesn’t seem to fit with his usual oeuvre. 

No Matter What-From Notting Hill

This is a love song, that is smooth and melodic, and soft. It is actually performed by a boyband from the era that I never heard of, Boyzone. They were an Irish singing group that had substantial success in the U.K. and Ireland. The reason the music is atypical is because this was a collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Weber. Steinman is credited with the lyrics.  It is an appealing enough song for a rom-com, and the montage of scenes form the movie suggest it was probably used to promote the film. I’ve seen Notting Hill a few times but I had never noticed this credit until this week.

The next three pieces were not written specifically for movies. The first of these is another soft rocker that is atypical of Steinman’s bombast but the lyrics and the sad melody betray him as it’s author. It was in fact a substantial hit in the U.S.  for a band from Australia.

Making Love Out of Nothing at All

As you listen to the chorus build, that is the main clue to the authorship of the song. The lyrics have the vaguely sad and empty emotional component that Steinman can be known for. 


The song was used in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie action film from 2005. It is apparently used in the Dumb and Dumber prequel that no one saw.


A more appropriate vocal for the Steinman style is found in the Bonnie Tyler version.

Paradise by the Dashboard Light

The ultimate car make out opera was of course a hit from “Bat out of Hell”, so it was not made for the movies but it has been used in them a few times

I have never seen “This is 40”, but this song is apparently used in it and I bet I can imagine how. It also was used in “Leap of Faith” which I have not seen since it came out 1992. I do however remember the brief reference to it which was a little spot on with the lyric, in “Josie and the Pussycats”. It did make me smile however so it was worth it.

Total Eclipse of the Heart

Not technically written as a song for a movie, but Steinman plundered his score for the 1980 film “A Small Circle of Friends”, to make this song’s verse melody. Bonnie Tyler became something of a muse for him when she sang this song and took it to the top of the charts (incidentally keeping the “Air Supply” song listed above from reaching number one). 

The backing vocals are credited to other singers but if you listen to the first “turn around bright eyes” it sure sounds like Steinman from “Bad for Good”. He also said he started it as a song for a musical version of Nosferatu. So while it was not written for a specific film it has been used prolifically in a hell of a lot of movies, including:
Urban Legend

Old School

Party Monster

Harold and Kumar go to White Castle

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Some Days are Better Than Others

Dead Snow 2 Red v. Dead

Trolls

Gloria Bell

Stage Mother


The remaining songs for this post were all tailored for the movies. 

Original Sin-The Shadow

As was typical in the 90s (and probably still is) a pop song was desired to play over the closing credits of a movie. “The Shadow” was a less than successful, although highly watchable take on the pulp character from the 1930 radio show and comics. The score from the film was by the great Jerry Goldsmith, with a big orchestra supplemented by synthesizers. It includes the usual innovative sounds of a Goldsmith work. The pop song for the credits is completely separate from that except that it has some of the same dark, lush melodies that might be found in the score.  No Bonnie Tyler here, instead the song was performed by dance music diva Taylor Dane.

Holding Out for A Hero-Footloose

Dean Pitchford who is the screenwriter for the movie Footloose, has a writing credit on every song in the movie, including this one. I can’t say what his contributions were, but I can say the song is unmistakably a Jim Steinman epic. 
Wikipedia quotes The A.V. Club’s William Hughes as stating that the song “displays some of the worst of its decade’s (and composer’s) typical excesses: The lyrics are laughable, and the heavy-handed synths and piano riffs come dangerously close to cheese”, but adds, “The sum of those parts transcends their limitations, hooking directly into pure emotional need like only the greatest of torch songs can.


So even harsh critics can see the transcendent nature of a Steinman song’s passion.
Once again, Bonnie Tyler is the muse that brings Jim’s song to [larger than]life.

Tyler’s original version has featured on several soundtracks, including Footloose, Short Circuit 2, Who’s Harry Crumb?, Bandits, Regular Show , The Way Way Back and The Angry Birds Movie 2.


Jennifer Saunders recorded a version for Shrek 2. 


The last two songs I’m going to mention are both from the same movie. 

Nowhere Fast-Streets of Fire

This may be my favorite song on the list (at least until I listen to the next one).
Streets of Fire is a film that was a misfire from a narrative point of view but from a stylized visual perspective it is absolute genius. 

The chorus is pure Steinman 


“You and me are going nowhere slowly

and we’ve gotta get away from the past

There’s nothing wrong with going nowhere, baby

But we should be goin’ Nowhere Fast”


The song was performed by a studio group called Fire Inc. with Laurie Sargent as the lead vocalist. Diane lane is the on screen singer Ellen Aim, the lead of her own band. This is the dramatic opening song for the movie. It has a hard driving intro and takes off from there. The last song in the movie goes the other direction.

Tonight Is What It Means to be Young-Streets of Fire

The song is led into by the big single from the film [Not a Steinman song, “I Can Dream About You”] but you can tell it is the climax of the film. The story is that the film makers expected to get the rights to the Bruce Springsteen song “Streets of Fire” and they even shot an ending featuring that tune, but the rights to use that song were denied. Steinman was asked to come up with something quickly and he gave them this song which he wrote in two days. 


According to the wiki version:
So I wrote this song that I loved and I sent it to them and he and Joel, I remember, left me a great message saying, I hate you, you bastard, I love this song. We’re gonna have to do it. We’re gonna have to re-build the Wiltern Theater, which they had taken down, it was a million dollars to re-do the ending… and I felt all his hostility for Universal. A guy named Sean Daniels, who was head of production, one day said to me, well there is hostility because we understand you waited about eight months to come up with that final song and you never did it. I said, where’d you hear that? I did it in two days. He said, Jimmy Iovine. So I went to Jimmy Iovine and I said all that to his, yeah it’s true, I know. I blamed you but you can’t be upset with me. I’m not like a writer. I’ve gotta make my way with these people. I had to have a scapegoat.


Regardless of it’s origins, it’s a great song, again by the studio band this time with vocals by Holly Sherwood. She had a solo career in the seventies and sang backup vocals on many Steinman projects.


So there you have it, a list of some great songs from movies by an artist who was incredibly successful but was not the frontman for most of his career. His Wagnerian brand of Rock music calls to mind certain emotions that mesh well with a lot of films as you can see. 


Today Jim Steinman is the angel on the beach, his hair flying out in ribbons of gold and his touch has the power to stun.

Nomadland

So this review is late in coming because I did not see this until after we did our Oscar Preview show on the Lambcast. The others who were on the show recommended it and everyone seems to agree it is the likely Best Picture winner. In our current times, with the limited releases we had this last year, and the way the Academy has consistently trended for several years toward honoring smaller movies, I can 100% understand why this will be the case. It may be limited in scope, and plot and technical innovation, but it is beautiful and it contains another marvelous performance by Francis McDormand.


I am sure that someone, somewhere will find themes in here that will offer a social criticism. In the long run, I don’t think that those ideas are what the movie is about or how it should be processed. This is a character study of a woman, who stands in for a number of like minded people, who can’t quite adjust to living a rooted life. It seems apparent that she did so for a number of years to be with her beloved husband, but the fact that her whole town vanishes seems to suit her. She is happy to be an itinerant worker, moving from job to job and place to place, in order to satisfy a need for independence that seems to define her and the others she crosses paths with.


As a travelogue, the film shows us some truly beautiful parts of our country, without simply becoming a travelogue. The vistas, sunsets, and roadside stops are all photographed in a way that draws us in but without being showy or self reverential. It is a crisp and efficient way of seeing things and the only time it seems to be drawing attention to itself is when it lingers on an image.  Otherwise, we are seeing the world the way Fern, our main character, would see it. 

While there is a sense of melancholy that hangs over Fern and the other “Nomads”, none of them seem to be bitter or unhappy. They are functioning in the moment and who thinks that every moment has to be uplifting for life to be worth? Sure Fern is a displaced person, but she never sees herself as a victim. She has multiple opportunities to settle into a more comfortable lifestyle but rejects those repeatedly because of her wanderlust and desire to be unfettered. As someone who treasures way too many things, quilts, pictures, dishes and even furniture, I know I would have a hard time with her life. McDormand shows Fern to be resourceful, and capable of managing herself. She is friendly but does not want to be encumbered by her friendships. In a number of ways, including the wandering lifestyle, she reminds me of my late sister-in-law Darla. They want to have friendships but they want them on their own terms. Comfort is less important to them than control. The ability to choose for yourself is more important than the consequences of some of those choices. 

The director Chloé Zhao, has a good eye for those things that make the character personal. I don’t think the film is a technical marvel or innovative in any way, it is just put together in a manner that works for the kind of movie it is and I think restraint in choices may have much to do with the acclaim that her work on this has achieved. McDormand is a natural for a role like this, she is less fiery than she has been in other pictures where she is the central character, but I think that shows her range pretty well. This is a graceful movie that has a lot going for it. It is contemplative without telling you what to contemplate. It can be read in a number of ways which will probably inspire a thousand think pieces in magazines and cinema schools. The best thing about it is that it seems genuine and true to the person at it’s center. 

Voyagers

“Voyagers” is a perfectly fine science fiction morality tale, that goes off the rails about halfway through and devolves into an average action film in space. The big ideas that it starts with get left behind for a replay of issues from some very familiar material. I think if they had stuck to the questions concerning the morality of the entire enterprise instead of becoming “Lord of the Flies” in space with sex, this could have been something special. As it is, you can enjoy it as a passable theatrical experience that will not sit long in your head.


Let me begin by telling you what I thought was intriguing about the concept in the first place. In order to allow the species to go forward, scientists have devised an ark, that they will send forth to populate a new planet. Since it will take 86 years to get there, and unlike other films in the genre, there is no hibernation technology, the decision is made to seed the galaxy with children derived from genetically manipulated and selected materials. The kids get raised in isolation so they do not know what it it is they are leaving behind. This is to spare them the emotional trauma of separation anxiety. Right there, you could stop and develop that storyline and have an interesting picture. That’s not what the script does. Instead, we go on an accelerated launch with only one adult to manage things for the three or four dozen four year old who are being set afloat. OK, that would make an interesting film also, but that section lasts five minutes and we then enter into teen world. Here. the emotions and biology of the passengers is being manipulated to sustain  resources, space and to avoid potential emotional conflicts. The ethics of that choice would also be a worthy trail to follow. Instead, we get the consequences of a rejection of the process and what we end up with is “teens going wild”. 


Much of what happens does not make sense given that the kids have been immersed in a controlled environment their whole lives. How do the genetic offspring of geniuses, go from docile well oiled parts of a grand plan to sex crazed maniacs within a short period of time. The story shortcut seems to be a little too quick. It also appears that in spite of their intensive education, starting practically out of the womb, they never studied ethics, philosophy, theology or any system that would justify a moral code. Some of these kids shed the veneer of civilization as quickly as taking off your coat. The main villain is practically leering with evil intent five minutes past a key point in the movie. His naked ambition remains hidden to almost all of the rest of the kids with the exception of our two or three heroic figures. There is one idea that works for a while, the rebel maniacs start exploiting fear and uncertainty among the whole crew about a possible outside threat. “The Thing” vide works well at building animosities but everyone gets pushed over the threshold so easily that it feels a bit laughable. 

The young cast is attractive but sometimes a little too mechanical. The characters are supposed to be somewhat level headed but it’s not until some really bad things happen that they wake up from the growing threat.   It was not clear why there was not more than one sustaining hand to guide these kids through the early part of their development, in fact at one point is seems as if they were going to be launched on their own. Fortunately Colin Farrell does go along for the ride, adding some credibility to the start of the whole process. I know it would be difficult to imagine him as impotent in the face of the growing problem, but the catalyst for the escalation seems to be a shortcut. Farrell certainly has a charismatic impact on the film, and that could dwarf the focus on the kids. Tye Sheridan has been solid in the things I have seen him in, and once the movie gets to the outburst of violence, he is a little more active, but early on he is playing it as a somnambulant. Lily-Rose Depp is new to me but she seemed very familiar as a type, I think if the movie was better this could have been a breakout part. As it is, she is simply the best in a largely bland set of performances. 


Production design for this movie feels a bit trapped in pre 1970s sterility. Most of the sets consist of well lit hallways with some trim on the doors. The ambient lighting reminds me of THX-1138 and 2001. The exteriors of the space vehicle are vague and brief, suggesting that the budget here was not quite as big as it might have been originally. It looks like someone who was trying to project something futuristic, but they never got past modern minimalism. There were only two of us in the theater for this screening, which suggests to me that the future is not long for this world.  

Godzilla vs. Kong

This mish mash of film ideas is all over the place. The movie has moments out of Transformers, Thor, Harry Potter and of course past Godzilla and Kong films. It creates some of the most implausible ideas to explain it’s own implausible ideas, and then shows us some amazing footage that looks like it could be two guys in suits wrestling among miniature models. So how is it that I don’t really hate this movie? It’s simple, it’s because this movie is designed to be stupid fun, based on old Japanese movies about a guy in a big green dragon suit destroying property. 


Maybe the original Godzilla from the 50s had something to say about atomic weapons and it was played straight for the most part. My guess however is that people who fondly recall these movies think of the later films, that featured Mothra, Baby Zilla, Rodan and other rubber suit characters. If the 1990s “Power Rangers” TV episodes are a delight to you, then this will be a gas. CGI monsters that act like rubber creatures in combat are just as entertaining. 


At least this time, Millie Bobbie Brown has something to do, although Kyle Chandler might as well not be in the movie. Watanabe and Hawkins are long gone, and it’s not that they were bad in the earlier films they appeared in, they were unnecessary, not the actors, the characters. Alexander Skarsgård and Rebecca Hall replace them as unnecessary characters and we are just fine as a result. Brian Tyree Henry brings the funny and Julian Dennison is the requisite non-threatening friend who assists Brown in whatever it is she is doing. 

Two stories play out, the first involves finding a secret place for the titans to have originated, and for some reason to take Kong there. The second story involves corporate shenanigan’s at “APEX” which is mysteriously linked to provoking Godzilla out of a three year non-active space. Fans of the old Toho films will know what is coming, everyone else will probably not be surprised, but let’s just say there is a reason that “Pacific Rim” exists.  


I have had serious doubts about movies that portray mass destruction on the scale depicted here. If you started adding up all the dead, you will end up with a figure that is likely to out do the dollar gross for this movie in theaters on opening weekend. Here is the thing though, there is almost no attempt to show casualties that result from the mayhem. The sailors in a fleet are almost non-existent, and the citizens of Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated spaces in the world, are invisible. Thank goodness because a lot of building get knocked over and any sense of reality would be disquieting enough to turn us off.  

It looks pretty funky, there are a few amusing moments, and the battles between the combatants are staged in a way that is so much clearer than other giants fighting each other movies. I was happy to see a solid turnout in the theater, even though this is also playing on HBO Max. We picked a Dolby Cinema experience and the sound mix was worth it. Do yourself a favor. If you have any real interest in this, see it in a theater. I watched it at home the next day and fell asleep. This is one of those foilms that needs theatrical to really work, and it does as far as it goes.