Dear Evan Hansen

I can imagine that this worked really well on stage as the actors can feed off of the audience’s emotions and the immediacy of the theater brings everyone together. That feeling is hard to replicate in a film. Movies have an influence on the audience but the energy level does not change from each showing. The emotions can only flow in one direction, and the somewhat static nature of a film , even one that is dynamic, does not provoke in the same manner. The difficulty this movie will have is less due to the material and more to the medium.

One of the problems that I have with modern musicals is that the tunes are not distinctive and the lyrics don’t lend themselves to singing along. So much of this film is made up of dialogue that is sung and could easily have just been spoken. There are not any extravagant show stopping moments. The closest you get to something that you would describe as a production number is a sequence that takes advantage of social media as a way to advance the song and character. It’s as if this movie is the anti- “In the Heights”.  That movie was all about the wild color and flourishes of a musical, this film is all internal self directed mediation where the songs are basically happening in a persons heads more than anywhere else (there are a couple of exceptions).

The story has it’s heart in the right place. The perspective of someone suffering from social anxiety, depression and ADD, is handled with a great deal of sympathy.. In my discussion of the film on the podcast this week, we had a brief debate about whether the lead character of Evan Hansen is the victim or the antagonist in the story. We all agreed he had the best intentions but we also acknowledge that old saying about the road to hell being paved by those kinds of intentions. For my part, I always try to see the context of events to try and judge actions. Evan’s deception takes place in circumstances where being honest would be hurtful to others, and he can’t bring himself to do that. The pain of the family of Connor is impossible not to empathize with. Connor was troubled, his sister at one point calls him a monster. He was certainly horrible to many others, but that seems to stem from biological and chemical issues more than anything else. The fantasy that Evan concocts would have been fine if he had not crossed a certain line and if Connor’s Mother could just accept the story on it’s face. Like every sitcom over the last fifty years, one complication has to lead to another and in this situation the result is tragic rather than humorous. 

I have heard some criticism of the decision to stick with Ben Platt as the lead for the movie. He is the Tony Award winning actor who originated the role, but he has aged enough that playing a high school senior may be a reach. I did not really have a problem with that, since I have been conditioned by years of watching movies with thirty year old’s playing teens. His voice is superlative for the way the songs are arranged and presented. I may not be a big fan of that style but I can recognize the talent it takes to pull it off. The other actors are also capable in the singing department. Amy Adams is known for having those talents but Julianne Moore and Kaitlyn Dever have not been singers in the past, at least not that I am aware of, they both meet the needs of their parts.

This movie was going to be a hard sell from the get go. In spite of it’s credentials on the Broadway Stage, is is not a very appealing subject to most audiences. In the past we have had a successful holocaust comedy and a semi successful teen terminal cancer love story, so why not a musical about depression and teen suicide? The answer is that people go to the movies for different reasons than they go to the theater. The earnestness of your stories intentions don’t always translate into a warm audience embrace. We can be manipulated emotionally, but we have to be open to that manipulation to let it have an impact on us. Movie audiences are very fussy about what they will let themselves accept. My guess is that most of the film audience, in these times, will not be receptive to this sort of storytelling. 

Copshop

I did something today that is always fun, and sometimes pays off. I spun the wheel on what to see and went in blind to watch Copshop, the latest from director Joe Carnahan and actor producer Gerard Butler. I have seen a few of Carnahan’s films, my favorite of his is “The Grey”, the Liam Neeson Wolfpunching story from 2011. Butler has become the King of the “B” movie in the last few years, and he does in fact rule. I had no idea what the story involved, I’d not seen the trailer or read a review. I chose the film entirely based on the combination of these two talents. Boy am I glad I did. This is a tasty bit of nastiness that borrows heavily from the 1970s, and that is my jam.

When the credits start at the beginning of the film, I could swear I knew the music that was being played. It reminded me of a gritty 70s film like “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3”. It sounded like a Dirty Harry score. Imagine my delight when I sat thru the end credits and confirmed that the theme music from this movie was basically “Magnum Force”, by Lalo Schifrin. There are a couple more music cues in the film that harking to the early seventies. The film does finally get to a contemporary pace and style in the climax, but first we are treated to a slow burn set up that reminded me of so many films from that earlier era that I love. We end up with two guys confined in a space and wonder how and why that are facing off. The ambiguity feels very much like some of those cop films of the dirty New York era but this is set in Nevada. 

This is a cross between “Report to the Commissioner” and “Assault on Precinct 13”. The two leads, Butler and Frank Grillo, are not good guys by any stretch of the imagination. Their showdown results in so much collateral damage that it will inspire books and movies for years if it really happened. It’s not the sort of John Wick violence where there are as many bodies as there are bullets, the dead do have some weight to them and so it feels a little more engaging from a story point of view, without the style of the modern shoot em ups that we have had in the last few years.  The best hook in the film however, is the third billed Alexis Louder, who is the real star of the film and I think is making a breakthrough with this part. She plays the cop in the middle, who adheres to a code of ethics and has the skills to fight back when needed. I thought her persona jumped off the screen from the first moment she appeared. 

It would not be fair to the supporting actors not to mention the good work they are doing in what is likely a film that most people will see as disposable. Ryan O’Nan, who will be familiar from several TV projects, is a feckless cop with corruption in his back pocket.   It is Toby Huss however who steals the show for villainy in the piece. I literally saw him in an episode of CSI just last night, but this character was very different. If the psychotic contact killer can be classified as the comic relief in a movie, than I will say that is the part that Huss plays. Anthony Lamb (not really subtle) is a competing killer, injected into the mix to add some spice, and boy does he. 

The film is not great, it has plot holes and unbelievable recoveries from gunshots that undermine any credibility. You won’t care however because it is entertaining as hell for those who like the plot to play out over the course of the film and not have everything handed to them is a series of fast cuts designed to get the adrenaline jumping. Butler does very limited action duty, and Grillo is not attempting any martial arts moves. This is a shootout at the end of a psychological puzzle, and it satisfied me completely. 

Citizen Kane 80th Anniversary Fathom/TCM

There is probably no more discussed, written about, argued over and idolized film than “Citizen Kane”. What is amazing is that it has remained near the top of so many lists of the greatest films of all time, 80 years after it first appeared. The reasons are straightforward, “Kane” created the template that so many films that came after it also follow. The visuals are creative, the movie is shot from non-traditional perspectives in most of the scenes. The Edits are integrated into the story, they are not simply stopping places before the next scene. Film Noir owes a deep debt of gratitude to Gregg Toland who shot “Citizen Kane” like it was a noir story. The film also gave us Bernard Herrmann, who would go on to create unforgettable scores for a dozen iconic films.

Far be it from me to commit to trying a new take on the classic, this will simply be a few random observations that I made at my screening. To begin, if you were seeing this for the first time and watched the opening five minutes, you would think this was a horror film. It is possible that some could classify it that way, but most of us get past those trappings as the story plays out, although by the time of the conclusion, you may revert back to that original impression very easily. 

The characters in the story appear at different ages and in various degrees of warmth or aggravation with the title character. The one exception that I noticed was Everett Sloane’s Mr. Bernstein, who somehow managed to roll with every mood that Charles Foster Kane went through, and still remained loyal to him. Maybe that would classify him as a sycophant, but after everything plays out, I thought he was the one character in the story who you could always feel sympathetic towards. Joseph Cotten’s Jed Leland becomes a self righteous hypocrite,  in spite of the fact that he is basically correct about his friend Kane. I hope that I hold no grudges so long that I could not reach out to a former friend near the end of their life and provide a small amount of solace by giving them a phone call. 

When I went to the list of credits on the IMDB page, I was amazed at the number of actors listed as having participated in this film. They are uncredited in the film but the list is as long as your arm, it includes dancers, singers, reporters, and pedestrians. Everybody got to be a part of history. Ben Mankiewicz, the TCM Host who is also the grandson of the screenwriter, provided a brief introduction and coda for the Fathom presentation of the film. There was nothing particularly new in anything he had to say, but it did include a reference at one point to the David Fincher film from last year, with the notation that the film about the making of the film got twice as many Oscars as the film that inspired it.

Orson Wells accomplishment with this film was something incredible for the level of film experience that he had, which was basically none. Regardless of the controversies over the screenplay, the author of the film is pretty clear and you can see his imprint on every frame of the movie. “Citizen Kane” does not need me to recommend it, my only purpose is to remind you that it is out there, waiting for you to discover for the first time, or rediscover for your thirtieth time. 

Cry Macho

Long in the tooth and slow in the gait, Clint Eastwood still has enough star power to wipe most other performers off the screen. This 91 year old national treasure keeps working and making the cinema world a better place as a result. While “Cry Macho” may not be up to the standards of his greatest films, it is certainly entertaining enough and it speaks to issues that seem contemporary, even though the film is set forty years ago. 

Many Eastwood films have featured him in the role of mentor to a younger character. “Gran Torino” was all about a cross cultural lampooning and deconstruction of supposed “toxic masculinity”, so it is not really a surprise that this film treads familiar ground. Clint’s character Mike Milo, is a used up man, without much to look forward to except release from this world. When his estranged friend and former employer played by Dwight Yoakam enlists him to go to Mexico City and essentially kidnap his 13 year old son from the Mother that he has divorced, Mike sees red flags but also a chance to find some purpose to his continued existence.  

There are a couple obvious problems that I want to discuss early and get out of the way. The dialogue in the two set up scenes is not good and the performances by the two leads live down to that quality. The film starts to feel like it is just conveniently setting up the road trip for us without bothering to make the characters that inspire it feel believable. The “antagonists” in the movie are the kid’s Mother and her boyfriends and entourage. They are also not very believable, in fact there is one moment that may cause a spit take from the audience. But…once Clint and the kid connect, the picture is on much steadier grounds and the characters begin to feel more as if this is a story worth telling. Young Eduardo Minett is a slightly more natural actor than his counterpart in “Gran Torino” was, but both performances feel a little amateurish. The character of Rafo does start to grow on us, in spite of some adolescent faults that are irritating early on. 

The connection between the man and the boy is of course the main point of the story, but there are some surprising detours along the way, including some time spent in a small Mexican town and the people of that town. In particular, the two fugitives, find a stronger familial bond then they have experienced in a long time. This interlude is the strongest part of the story and will make you want to forget what has been set up and instead settle down with the possibilities that are now presented to the man and boy.  Eastwood’s directing style which has always focused more on character than cinematic flamboyance, seems a perfect match for this section of the movie. There is some gentle humor and only a little tension during these sequences. Once they hit the road again, there is an opportunity for Clint to do some basic action that is still acceptable for his age.  The tension in his film “The Mule” from a couple of years ago was mirrored almost exactly when a couple of federal Mexican police pull over the two and we get some sly dialogue that apes the earlier film.

Admittedly, Clint may be a decade past where he could pull this off without difficulty. Still I think his performance here works. The romantic elements of the picture have little to do with sexual attraction and instead focus on the sorts of qualities that people really should be looking for in one another. There is a conundrum built into the mission when we get a plot point revel later in the story. Mike will not be able to resolve it, but he has prepared young Rafo well enough to be able to figure his way out of the issue when it comes up, sometime after our movie ends.

The film will have to make due with an older audience because the things that draw in the typical movie crowd these days are largely missing from this. No real gunfights, barely any fisticuffs, no action scenes per se and a romantic relationship between characters that could be their grandparents. This may be a film that works with Warner’s HBO Max/Day and date simultaneous release. I hope older audiences will go out to see the movie, but if you can’t bring yourself to do that, click the watch button and enjoy an efficient little drama that starts off shaky but finishes well. 

Jungle Cruise

A year ago when this was originally due, I was really looking forward to it. Somehow the extra year weaned me off of anticipation, the exact opposite of “Dune” and “No Time to Die”. So this movie, which has been out for six weeks was almost gone from my radar, but then I noticed that it seemed to be hanging around for a lot more time than most new releases. I had a blank spot in my afternoon and going to a movie is my default action. When I saw this was still playing and it was available as a matinee, I found the requisite enthusiasm to venture out. I am really glad I did, it was a completely enjoyable experience. 


Most of the time, Dwayne Johnson has not let me down. There are not stars that can guarantee a movie opening, not anymore. The closest we have are Tom Cruise and the former “Rock”, so maybe there is still a little hope for Hollywood in the star system. Julia Roberts was once one of those actors who could open even a bad movie, for me, Emily Blunt is the female star most likely to get me into a theater. It is not the combination of the two stars however that make this film a “want to see”, it is the premise. Disney has had varying degrees of success turning theme park attractions into film franchises.  We are still getting “Pirates” movies, but no one is clamoring for another “Country Bears”. “Jungle Cruise” just feels like it out to be a Saturday adventure film. The Disney ride at the park is inspired by “The African Queen” and “King Solomon’s Mine”. It always felt like a live action Tarzan film. Translating it to a theatrical film is mostly successful but you have to keep the context in mind. This is a Saturday Seial brought to life, it should not be looked at as anything else. 


As I was watching it, a dozen other films came to mind. I mentioned “The African Queen”, the boat in the ride and this feature is based on the boat from that film. The search for a lost treasure of course brings up a lot of films, but “Jungle Cruise” feels very much like the Brendan Frasier “Mummy” movies of the 1990s. There are moments cribbed from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” which itself cribbed from a thousand other films. When the cursed conquistadors showed up, I caught Disney stealing from their own theme park movie series and I began to wonder if Johnny Depp was going to show up. He doesn’t, but a half dozen similar ideas crop up. Dwayne Johnson plays Captain Frank Wolff, who is full of scams to keep his business going. The opening section includes a tourist cruise that gives the Rock a chance to do the kinds of puns that fill the tour at Disneyland. If I’d ever wanted to work at the Magic Kingdom, it would have been as one of the boat captains on the Jungle Cruise attraction. The corny quips are not as frequent in the rest of the film but there is a nice call back at the conclusion of the film.

The adventure is mostly light hearted but there are some deaths that occur that might bother the little kids. Nothing is too graphic but some sympathetic characters get sacrificed to elevate a sense of danger. My only film making criticism is that the movie does feel a little long. The story could have been tightened and maybe a couple of the big CGI scenes could be shortened substantially. As a live action cartoon style adventure however, I think it hits the right notes. There are a couple of places where the modern sensibilities wisely sidestep some of the cultural land mines that were present in the old ride, but only one thing seemed to be particularly woke, and it is so subtle that most kids won’t notice it.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra has done several films I have enjoyed, including, the Liam Neeson trifecta of “Unknown“, “Non-Stop“, and “Run All Night“. My favorite of his films however is the Jaws inspired “The Shallows“.  He is currently finishing up another Dwayne Johnson picture “Black Adam”, It’s a DCEU film which is scary, but it does stem from the “Shazam” stories so maybe it will work, we will see. Meanwhile, Jungle Cruise is still sailing, so hop on board, but be sure to bring a big bag of popcorn, because that is the only nutrition you’ll get on the expedition, most of this is the cotton candy that you crave in the summertime. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I don’t know all the comic book characters in the Marvel comics, because I stopped reading comics in 1969. I have nothing against them, I just developed other interests. Fans of the comics however will be burdened by their expectations with the introduction of each new character in a big screen adaptation of the comic. I both benefit and suffer because of my detachment. I benefit by not having preconceived notions about how a character should be played, what stories to be told and I don’t have the artwork from the comics haunting my brain and forcing unfavorable comparisons. I suffer because I miss out on the anticipation of a new character. I don’t have a ready data base of knowledge to draw upon when trying to figure out who is who in a new film. So which of these two sides do I prefer? It’s simple, I like my ignorance because it fuels my joy of discovery. This week, I got to discover a Comic Book hero that I suspect I will enjoy for a long time. This movie surprised me in all the good ways a movie should.

Moving into Phase Four of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe was going to be a challenge for me. Most of the characters I was long familiar with were being retired from active film service. I knew that new storylines and characters were coming, I just was not sure how I would respond to them. When Doctor Strange showed up in the MCU, I did not think I would care much for that type of story. It did not take long for me to take to it with enthusiasm. I felt the same way going into this film. I thought it might be OK, and I would live with being a little underwhelmed. It is so great to say I went the other way. This was a blast, the character has great potential, and the world building in this was not so convoluted that I rejected it out of hand. When taken on it’s own out of context, it is pretty darn great. 

There are comic fans who grow weary of origin stories, but I am not one of those. I enjoy discovering the background of a superhero, learning about their human weaknesses as well as their strengths. If you create a rich environment and colorful characters to go with the hero, so much the better. Shang Chi starts in the past, travels to different dimensions, operates in familiar contemporary environments and then takes us back to those magical dimensions that we started off with. This film also manages to accomplish something a lot of comic book movies fail at, creating an interesting climax for the final battle of the movie. We were given enough information to know that we should dread something that is coming, but it was not belabored and when it arrives, there are still surprises for us and some tension as a result. 

I’m not sure I would love a whole comedy show by Awkwafina, but I have been given enough of her in movies the last few years that I appreciate the dose level she is providing at the moment. Whenever she is on screen, expect a little injection of fun. When she gets some opportunity to act she has been solid (The Farewell), and in this movie, she gets to be more than the comic relief. There are a bunch of wonderful actors that I am not familiar with because they appear primarily in television shows or in Asian language films. Tony Chiu-Wai Leung as the powerful and evil Xu Wenwu was appropriately conflicted, he is more tunnel visioned than bad in this story. Simu Liu was great as the lead, he is not simply an iron fisted warrior, but presented as a complete character with a sense of humor and a young man’s foolishness. Michelle Yeoh, provides an elegant touch with aging beauty and wisdom to go with her character’s stern demeanor and family traditions. 

Because there are some connections to earlier MCU films, it would be a spoiler to reveal too many appearances by other actors. I will say that the presence of one character in particular helps redeem his storyline in an earlier film, and makes this one the sort of fun movie we have expected from Marvel since the first “Iron Man”. So even though the earlier MCU films have played out their plots, there are still strings to be tugged on, and doing so has lead not to the unraveling of an intricate piece of knitting, but rather it reveals some hidden gems that we will get to explore more. It’s great when a movie is so much more than you expected, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is one of those. 

Free Guy

Officially, my favorite phrase from the above preview is “Not Streaming August 13”. I know that will not be popular with some people who because of their local restrictions or personal anxiety about Covid-19, are unable/willing to go to a theatrical presentation. I on the other hand want the Cinema platform to survive, and if the studios cannibalize their audience with day and date streaming, that experience will become the horseback riding weekend of the future. You know, people going retro for a few hours but doing so on very rare occasions. My second favorite line was “Fox Firesale” because this was a Fox film that Disney acquired when they purchased Fox and it has a specialty Label, “20th Century Studios” (let’s see how long that lasts). 


Repeatedly delayed, not because of quality but in trying to get to a date where the audience will show up, “Free Guy” is an absolute delight and for my money, one of the better pictures this year. I know it will go down like cotton candy or bubblegum flavored ice cream, but there is a little more to it than just the empty calories of CGI action fun and Ryan Reynold’s arch humor. There is a moral question that the characters in this story face. It may seem far fetched to think so, but A.I. is all around us , and the future is here. This film is a bit like “Her” , only instead of worrying about the effect of A.I. on the human race, it turns it around and wonders what responsibility humans would have to an A.I. creation. It is much less grim than the Kubrick/Spielberg A.I., but some of those themes are present. At least enough so the movie is not just jokes about video games. “Ready Player One”, “The Lego Movie” and “The Truman show, all have similar plot elements that mix reality with fantasy, and this film does it through the portal of  Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing games like Grand Theft Auto. 


I’ve said it before, I am not a comic book guy. So imagine how distant I am from the video game industry that now dwarfs my beloved film world. Most kids in the next generation will more quickly recognize characters form “Fortnite” than they will classic film characters. The last video based game I played was “Space Invaders” and that was a arcade version, I know next to nothing about the on-line gaming community, despite having a “Twitch” account. I do however know some of the routines from other mass culture and I did not really have a problem with most of the references. Several people appear on screen who I think are probably YouTube Gamer celebrities, This is another place where I can see my time as a member of the culture is limited.  I am sure there were some things that got by me because I am a newb, but I still enjoyed the film anyway.


Ryan Reynolds has cornered the market on sly, insider humor touched by both naivete and sadistic comic book violence. “Deadpool” is a character that he breathed life into after first sucking it out in an early form of the character.  He has also been the voice of gentle characters in animated movies and a sweet romantic partner in Rom-Coms. His voice and demeanor make the contrasting events feel more outsized without having to exaggerate every thing about the performance (ok, except for Deadpool). He has no writing credit on this film but he is a producer, and the film only moved forward when he got together with director Shawn Levy. The nice guy in the blue shirt is his persona to a tea. Hell, even when Deadpool is being a dick, he still speaks in mostly polite tones. I don’t know Jodie Comer but I thought she was just great in the two roles that she plays. Taika Waititi was fun, but not his usual oddball self, I thought this part could have been done by any number of actors, they don’t really get the best value out of having him in the film. Lil Rey Howery was funny as heck in “Get Out” and here he is funny with a little bit of heart.  


Because we know from the beginning that we are watching a video game, the elaborate visuals will seem less impressive because they are merely being used as background for the story. It’s a good looking movie, but I suspect it would be an above average looking video game, and the drama is lessened al little bit, even though the comedy is ramped up as a result. I will say this was one of the most enjoyable films I have seen in a theatre this year. It was a little deeper than I expected but it was also funnier than I had hoped. It worked out for me, my guess is that it will do the same for you. A completely satisfying dessert that also serves as the main course. 

Pick a Date.

The Suicide Squad (2021)

“The” so as not to confuse it with it’s predecessor. The Suicide Squad seems to have a much greater division of opinions than the first one. Where it succeeds the most is by incorporating the humor of writer director James Gunn, who is responsible for the two “Guardians of the Galaxy” films in the MCU. This time out, Gunn is operating in the DCEU and he scrapes the bottom of the barrel, purposefully, to dreg up characters with which to play. The reason that this is a good idea is simple, a lot of them are going to die and you don’t want to be too attached. This may be a bit of a spoiler, which I always try to limit, but it does come in the first ten minutes of the movie; the team we see being assembled is wiped out and we discover in a do over sequence that a parallel team was deployed on the same mission. 

It’s no surprise that Harley Quinn does survive and joins in the second mission. Margot Robie was the breakout star of the previous film and has already had her own starring feature released to the audience. I think her character works best in limited doses and that is what we get here. She certainly has lots to do but is not on screen the whole time. Gunn instead focuses on the strangely matched characters on the second team and the horrible things they do as they try to accomplish the same mission. When you have a character called “King Shark” and he is basically a shark on legs, you can imagine very easily the kind of mayhem that will follow. That character is also the strongest of the squad and he is capable of ripping a human being in half with is hands, which he does. The powers that some of these characters have are a little silly, until you see them in action. Ratcatcher 2 and Polka Dot man were the standouts from my perspective. 

Sometimes it feels like Gunn is just going for the most grotesque image or idea he can think of that will shock and delight us at the same time. It does get a little tiresome at times and there is some repetition. On the other hand, there are plenty of surprise visuals that are simply silly fun and I think would get lost if he pulled in the reins too much. So it is a bit of a double edged sword. Speaking of silly fun, I again don’t want to spoil anything but the ultimate big bad in the story is why they changed the ending of “Watchmen”. The tone would just not have worked in that film the way it does here.

As a movie onto itself, “The Suicide Squad” can function pretty well. I don’t think it would fit in to have any of the DC mainstream heroes cross paths with this group. In the 2016 film, “Batman” had a small role. There is a passing reference to “Superman” in this film, but that is the extent of the connection. My suggestion to the makers of the DC films, is to refrain from doing all the team up Justice League type stories and stick to the stand alone films for a while. They seem to work better and you won’t have to worry about timelines or multiverses or any of the other strategies that the MCU is now having to deploy. 

There are a few surprises about the characters who survive at the end. Expect TV series follow ups and insertion into other films for these villain/hero types. I will say that I enjoyed immensely, the shot to the face that one of the first team characters takes. The actor is not someone I care for much and his character was reprehensible enough that you may find yourself cheering for the wrong side at times. There is a great moment for Viola Davis to shine in her part as the cold blooded architect of the Suicide Squad concept, and then there is a comeuppance from an unlikely source that seems to have delighted everyone. Her character, Amanda Waller, has been the true  villain in both films, so that moment felt earned

The Green Knight

What appears to be a fantasy adventure from the trailer above, is actually a slow moving meditative visual poem. That seems like it would be appropriate given the source material, but a theatrical film requires a few things to meet an audiences expectations. “The Green Knight” lacks those essential ingredients. That does not mean it is a worthless enterprise, but it will test the patience of most viewers and it will still frustrate those who are committed to experiencing it as it is meant by the director. 


David Lowery has made three films I have reviewed on this site before: “Pete’s Dragon“, “A Ghost Story” and “The Old Man and the Gun“. I found value in all three but not much entertainment in one of them, “A Ghost Story”, unfortunately, that is the film in Lowery’s catalogue that feels the most like “The Green Knight”. Pacing is a legitimate tool for story telling. A slow burn toward an action scene or a pause for the irony of a joke to set in can make a film better. However, when the pace feels like a slog, and the audience begins to notice that the story is not moving so much as lumbering, pacing may defeat the film’s ability to hold an audience’s attention. I think that is the case here. 
There are several scenes that are beautifully shot, but you start to notice the shot more than the story. One sequence in particular stood out for me. As Sir Gawain, Dev Patel’s central character, encounters a group of giants, the film seems to stop merely to acknowledge the fact that we are seeing giants. They do not advance the plot and in fact, there is a moment of confusion as the only other character who accompanies Gawain on his whole journey, dissuades him from following up with the giants. We never discover why, and it is just another incident but not an event that happens on the journey to confront the Green Knight.


Patel is an interesting choice for the part of Gawain. I’m sure that somewhere there is a diversity driven audience that is pleased to see a person of color in this kind of film. There may have been a time when that seemed to be a breakthrough, but for me that time is long passed. The color of a character may be important in some stories, but in this and so many other films, why should it matter? To me, the question is whetehre the actor has the characteristics to sell us on the part they are playing. Patel is brash when he needs to be and subdued when it feels appropriate. The quality of humbleness, which is a characteristic of a knight is tested by the script rather than Patel’s performance. It is easy to project onto his face the fear, confusion and dread that the audience must go through. The problems with the film have to do with things other than the casting and work of the actors.


Although the story has the components of a narrative heroes journey, it never feels that way. Each incident or event feels independent of the next. There are some call backs toward the end of the piece which try to tie some components of the story together, but it does not really succeed at doing so. There are several instances where the audience point of view is that of the protagonist, and then the perspective shifts and we get an outside view of events. This could also potentially be a time loop film since we are told the same story in two completely different ways on more than one occasion. Does Gawain need to die to meet his expectations? Is he a good man or a fallen one? How best confront your own doubts? The fact that the film asks the questions and then provides multiple answers instead of suggesting a single vision is infuriating at the end. 


We had a good discussion of this film on the Lambcast and you can listen to it here:

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/lambcast/episodes/2021-08-02T13_29_30-07_00

<figure class="wp-block-embed is-type-rich is-provider-embed wp-block-embed-embed <iframe src='https://podomatic.com/embed/html5/episode/10089707?autoplay=false&square=true&#039; height='504' width='504'frameborder='0' marginheight='0' marginwidth='0' scrolling='no' allowfullscreen>

Old

You know the routine by now. If we are getting a horror thriller from M. Night Shyamalan, there will be a slow build up, a series of crisis moments, and then a twist reveal to finish things off. Sometimes it works great, and other times it is a disaster. This one falls a little bit in the middle of the bottom half of his work. The twist you can see coming from ten minutes in, so there is not really a great surprise, the part of the movie that works is the emotional component, not the shocks and horror. 


At a luxury resort, several guests find themselves on a secluded private beach that they cannot escape from and that seems to be aging them at a rapid pace. No if you are paying attention in that first ten minutes, you will notice something about the guests, and that is where the twist gets spoiled. Shyamalan has been better at hiding the reveal in plain sight in the past but this one is not subtle enough to escape our attention. By the end of the film, everything will be revealed and suddenly you will have a lot more questions. 


The characters in the movie are fine. Those of you who worry about stories focusing on kids in movies, don’t fret. The children here are not annoying, in fact we get just enough of them to appreciate them as people before the horror elements start. Obviously, the location produces the opposite of a fountain of youth. Accelerated aging creates conundrums for the group of people on the beach, most of which will become clear as time marches on. Being on the short side of sixty, I was most frightened by the impact that the process had on a persons mental capacity. Children turning into adults over the course of a few hours is disturbing, but watching someone lose themselves and any sense of control was another. Rufus Sewell spends half the film trying to remember the name of a movie. OMG how may times have I struggled with something like that in the last couple of years? That is scary. 


One thing I do appreciate about M.Night and his movies is that he does not overdo the gore element. There is death, and it is not pretty in any way, but we are spared witnessing up close, the deaths that might be the most physically traumatic. There is one sequence near the end where that is not the case, and it was likely done for shock effect because in a horror film, most people are not going to be satisfied watching someone lay down and simply not get up again. Gael García Bernal is a little stiff as the father of the main family. Perhaps it is because he is acting in a language that is not his first. That would be the case with others in the film as well but they come across a lot more naturally in the end. Vicki Krieps is his wife and although her part is written in a self conscious manner, she never comes across that way, unlike Nikki Amuka-Bird, who is written as a parody of her profession. The kids , since they go through the greatest physical changes, are played by four actors each and the casting team did a good job matching up looks and other physical characteristics. 

So, the film is an extended episode of “The Twilight Zone”, but instead of it being filled out with special effects and gore, we get psychobabble and make up. If you are looking for a heartwarming horror movie, this might be your cup of tea. Apparently nothing addresses martial discord like having to face your own mortality. I think the rules of the story are a little inconsistent and that we get some scenes that are probably not necessary. The characters don’t seem to act the way you might expect them to, and maybe that is a good thing. Ken Leung’s character does an exposition dump every time he is on screen, but the real weakness of the storytelling is the Deus ex Machina conclusion of the film. The little touches that connect earlier parts of the movie to the exit are fine, but the resolution for some of the characters does seem a little arbitrary. If “the Happening” and “Lady in the Water” are Shyamalan’s worst, then this is closer to “The Village”. It is an interesting premise that doesn’t go very far in the direction of horror, or any other dramatic destination either. You can think about it, but don’t spend too much time doing so, the time you lose is probably move valuable elsewhere.